The Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, was a Maoist revolutionary movement born of Peru’s university system. It was the creation of Professor Abimael Guzman who, with fellow professors and students, saw communism as a potential liberating force for Peru’s impoverished underclass. They began by addressing the plight of highland, Quechua-speaking “Indians,” who labored long hours in poverty under a centuries-old, colonial, hacienda system. In that system, a “patron” owned the land and exercised such complete control that he was permitted to physically punish his workers. Organizing an army in the province of Ayacucho, Guzman and his cohort initiated retribution against patrons and corrupt local government bosses. The Peruvian military responded with violent attacks on Sendero villages and cadres, which began a war that lasted from 1980 to 1995 and claimed almost 70,000 lives. In the end, what defeated the Sendero Luminoso was an inflexible party dogma. By demanding that all regional produce go to the party, that traditional tribal leadership be abolished and replaced by their hierarchy and that children be conscripted for military service, they lost the support of the people they had come to liberate. The communists could not tolerate disloyalty to the party. Their response to resistance was assassination and massacre. Though the initial years of the war were dominated by Peruvian Army annihilations of Quechua-speaking communities, “by around 1988 it was the Shining Path’s massacres that populated the map of regional death” (Stern, p. 147). The military saw an opening, began arming highland (Serrano) communities, and expelled the Maoists with that support. Today, there are still a few bands of Sendero Luminoso, but the threat of revolution has passed.
Shining and Other Paths is an anthology of history and analysis discussing the rise and fall of the Sendero Luminoso. It’s five parts cover 1) The history of oppression and resistance that gave paved the way for the failed revolution; 2) The war in the highlands and Quechua life during this period; 3) The destruction of reform efforts by both the Shining Path and the Peruvian Armed Forces, 4) The different roles and political stripes of women during the war; and 5) The legacies of this war.
Frequently, an anthology will attempt to cast a wide net, representing voices of as many different political perspectives as possible. An editor covering a nation experiencing revolution, might choose to present articles written by government, revolutionary, native, reformist and reactionary individuals, to present the full spectrum of opinions. This book is distinctive in its single-point political perspective. Its writers are uniformly of a liberal-progressive stance that is to the Right of the Shining Path and to the Left of the government. Their concern is entirely with the well-being of the Quechua-speaking population, the poor city-dwellers and the Peruvian reformers, all of whom were the main victims in this conflict. According to a report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), out of a national death toll of 69,280 people, 75% spoke Quechua as their native language.** To put this in perspective, 80% of the population speaks Spanish. Only 20% of the population speaks Quechua; yet they accounted for three-fourths of the casualties.
Shining and Other Paths is a compendium of thoughtful essays elucidating the destructive impact of the Maoist revolutionaries, and the government forces, on Peruvian society. But in many ways, this volume is a both a product and a victim of history. The Shining Path lost. It is this fact that informs the analysis recorded therein. If the revolutionaries had been successful, US leftist analysis would appear more conciliatory. After all, when the Vietnamese Communist Party was victorious, many of its wartime atrocities against perceived traitors and resistant communities in the countryside were forgotten. The rigorous demands and conscriptions imposed on farming communities by the Viet Cong were seen, by many sympathetic western scholars, as a necessary evil to create the conditions for victory and the overcoming of oppression. The Peruvian authors of this volume would also represent events differently. Within a nation where a successful revolution has occurred, a different, cleaner perspective on the events is taught in the schools and advanced to the public. Few US citizens are aware of British claims that US revolutionary soldiers scalped wounded Redcoats at Concord. The excesses of any revolution are sanitized in a campaign of honoring the “visionaries” who supported revolution and a public agreement of national forgetting. Shining and Other Paths is an insightful guide to the failures and injustices of its subject organization. But the reader must not forget the events and political agendas that inform this book’s conclusions. The writers represent views far more aligned with those of Peruvian reformers, who were assassinated by the revolutionaries, than with any other group. The Sendero Luminoso could not have gained a foothold in Ayacucho without initial Quechua support. They did speak to the aspirations of some disenfranchised Serranos. Some gave their lives for the Sendero view of the future and supported the Maoists even in defeat. I wonder what they would have said.
**"CVR. Tomo VIII. Chapter 2. "El impacto diferenciado de la violencia" "2.1 VIOLENCIA Y DESIGUALDAD RACIAL Y ÉTNICA"" (PDF). pp. 131–132.
Stern, Steve J. (ed.) Shining and Other Paths. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.