Chairman Gonzalo’s Life, Politics, and Practice

By Nélida Tello

December 3 marked the 87th anniversary of the birth of Abimael Guzman Reynoso, known to the world as Chairman Gonzalo. This year’s commemoration is the first since Chairman Gonzalo was viciously murdered by the reactionary Peruvian State, with the backing of US imperialism, on September 11, 2021, following 29 years of solitary confinement, torture, and intentional medical neglect. Chairman Gonzalo, the undisputed leader of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP, Partido Comunista del Peru) and the world proletarian revolution, sacrificed his life to defend the People’s War in Peru, to fight for Communism, and to uphold the proletarian ideology which he defined: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the third and superior stage of Marxism.

As the leader of the PCP and the People’s War, Chairman Gonzalo united poor peasants and workers and led them in combat to concrete victories towards the conquest of power. The People’s War grew in strength since its initiation in 1980, growing to threaten the existence of the old Peruvian State. It was through the People’s War that Chairman Gonzalo gave the people and proletariat across the world the tools to end their oppression and exploitation. Through his work to define Maoism, he is the heir and continuator to the towering figures of the international communist movement: Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong. His theoretical and practical work provides universal lessons for all those who fight for a new society.

Early Life

Chairman Gonzalo was born Manuel Ruben Abimael Guzman Reynoso on December 3, 1934, in Mollendo, a port town on the Pacific Ocean, located in the Arequipa region of southern Peru.

When he was in high school, a naval mutiny erupted in the port of Callao in southern Peru, where military troops violently repressed the rebellion, killing 250 people. The fighting masses did not waver and fought back, killing 60 soldiers in the uprising. Eventually, the rebellion led by the social democrats of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA, Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) capitulated, which greatly influenced the political development of Chairman Gonzalo and soured his attitude toward APRA, which now forms part of the Peruvian government.

In his interview with the Peruvian people’s newspaper El Diario, Chairman Gonzalo mentions the betrayal of APRA during the uprisings: “I also had the occasion […] to see the uprising in Callao in 1948, to see with my own eyes the people’s courage, how the people were brimming with heroism, and how the leadership betrayed them.” Through this experience Chairman Gonzalo recognized that the interests of APRA were not in favor of the masses of Peruvian people.

In 1953, at the age of 19, Chairman Gonzalo attended the National University of San Agustin in Arequipa, Peru, where he majored in Law and Philosophy. Student struggles at his university, workers’ strikes, and confrontations between APRA and communists, influenced his work within the school. His Philosophy thesis “On the Kantian Theory of Space,” was a reflection of his growing interest in Marxism, analyzing time and space according to Kant from a Marxist point of view.

In 1958, he joined the Regional Committee of Arequipa of the Communist Party of Peru and soon became a regional committee member.

He moved to Ayacucho in 1962 after being offered a teaching position at the National University of San Cristobal de Huamanga. He began teaching Philosophy at the university where his lectures drew in large crowds of students and locals who wanted to hear him speak.

As a militant of the PCP, he waged a relentless struggle against revisionist elements in the Party, who sought to transform the PCP into a toothless organization rather than a revolutionary Party. Chairman Gonzalo said, “I committed myself to work within the [PCP] and to wipe out revisionism, and I believe that together with other comrades we achieved it. We gave up on one or two who were too far gone, they were dyed-in-the-wool revisionists […] So through this whole process I was becoming a Marxist, and the Party was molding me, resolutely and patiently, I believe.”

The Red Fraction and Anti-Revisionist Struggles

Chairman Gonzalo led the Regional Committee of Ayacucho of the PCP in the 1960s and formed what is known as the Red Fraction within the PCP. A fraction is a group of like-minded people united in principle and action that openly states its political stance to carry out struggle within the Party.

Using the teachings of Chairman Mao as guidance, the Red Fraction was composed of PCP militants who struggled against those who were afraid to take up arms against the Peruvian State in order to conquer power for the poor peasantry and workers. The Red Fraction recognized that in Peru, the peasantry was the main fighting force while the proletariat was the leading class of the revolution. Under the leadership and guidance of Chairman Gonzalo, the Red Fraction took on the task of reconstituting the Party, in other words, to change its trajectory from a reformist party to a truly revolutionary one by winning over members, defeating the false Marxists (revisionists) in the Party, and ratifying a new Party constitution that affirmed revolution.

Chairman Gonzalo had seen the great struggle that Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communists waged against the revisionist Soviet Union after the death of comrade Josef Stalin and the restoration of capitalism in the country. This monumental international two-line struggle shaped Chairman Gonzalo’s outlook toward revolutionary politics.

Mao’s struggle against Soviet revisionism was exemplified in “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement,” also known as the Chinese Letter, which thoroughly exposed the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the attempts to denounce the legacy of Stalin. “The [Chinese] Letter took me into the great struggle between Marxism and revisionism,” Chairman Gonzalo told El Diario.

In the 1960s, the Red Fraction waged a relentless struggle against revisionism inside of the PCP. It opposed the revisionism of Jorge del Prado, who represented the anti-Marxist revisionism of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Head of State after the death of Stalin. Khrushchev put forward the bourgeois lines most succinctly characterized by the renunciation of revolution in favor of ‘peaceful coexistence (with capitalism),’ ‘peaceful competition,’ and ‘peaceful transition (to Communism).’

The Red Fraction united the entire party against the positions of Jorge Del Prado, at the time a leader in the PCP, and successfully defeated him. Del Prado was expelled at the 4th Conference of the PCP in January 1964.

The wedding of Chairman Gonzalo and Comrade Norah (both sitting in center)

In 1964, Chairman Gonzalo married Augusta La Torre, also known as Comrade Norah, a co-founder of the Red Fraction. Comrade Norah was a member of the Central Committee until her death. At the historic First Congress of the PCP in 1988, the Party resolved on naming Comrade Norah a heroine of the Party and the People’s War, raising the slogan, “Honor and glory to Comrade Norah!”

Alongside other Peruvian Communists, Chairman Gonzalo traveled to the People’s Republic of China in 1965. Once in China, they participated in the Political-Military School of Shanghai, which was designated for the formation of communists in Latin America. That same year, the PCP held its 5th Conference, where the Party united on adopting and defining its general political line based on Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

Between 1963 to 1980, the period of establishing a general political line and reconstituting the PCP, the Red Fraction engaged in three major two-line struggles against various elements in the Party. The two line struggles consisted of the Red Fraction struggling against the anti-Marxist positions of Patria Roja; the attempts to destroy or liquidate the PCP by Saturnino Paredes; and the self-proclaimed ‘Bolshevik’ group who negated the possibility of revolution.

Patria Roja, a fraction in the PCP, denied the existence of a revolutionary situation in Peru and the contributions of Chairman Mao, going as far as betraying the PCP’s agreements by refusing to uphold Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. The fraction was expelled for violating the directives and agreements adopted by the PCP in its 5th Conference.

At the 6th Conference of 1969, the PCP united around the Basis of Party Unity and on the need to reconstitute the PCP. Saturnino Paredes and his group did not agree on the need to reconstitute the PCP or the Basis of Party Unity and developed a plan to destroy the PCP, with the Red Fraction waging struggle against his positions.

The ‘Bolshevik’ group, which operated principally in Lima, developed a left liquidationist line that affirmed that the party could not fight under a fascist regime and a correct political line was sufficient. Chairman Gonzalo told El Diario that the ‘Bolshevik’ group, “held for example that there was stability in society and therefore a revolutionary situation did not exist. They said that fascism would wipe us out, that mass work wasn’t possible, that we should concentrate on training cadre through study groups.” This ‘Bolshevik’ group was crushed by the Red Fraction in 1975.

The PCP was finally reconstituted by the Red Fraction under the leadership of Chairman Gonzalo in 1979. At the 9th Plenary Session of the PCP, Chairman Gonzalo expelled the remaining right opportunists who opposed the initiation of the armed struggle, a group known as the 1st Right Opportunist Line (ROL). They were right opportunists because they posed as having the correct political line to lead the PCP but held that the poor peasants and workers of Peru were not ready to take up arms against their exploiters.

Chairman Gonzalo fought courageously to reconstitute the Communist Party of Peru through a long process. Amid two-line struggle, he forged the historical contingent that initiated the armed struggle, the People’s War, on May 17, 1980.

The People’s War and Confirmation of Maoism

May 17, 1980 is known as ILA-80 (Inicio de la Lucha Armada, 1980), the Initiation of Armed Struggle. Launching actions in Chuschi, a district of Ayacucho, militants of the PCP burned blank ballots and a ballot box just one day before the presidential elections were to be held in Peru. The militants placed red flags along with wall paintings of the slogans “It is right to rebel!” and “Power grows from the barrel of a gun!” accompanied by hammer and sickles in Chuschi’s town square. These militants had formed part of the PCP’s First Military School, where they received training on weapons and other military matters.

Peru had been ruled by a military government for twelve years, and the elections of 1980 symbolized the transfer of power from the hands of the military to a supposedly ‘democratic’ government. However, both governments represented the dictatorship of the reactionary ruling class, which work in service to US imperialism, selling out the interests of the people to massive transnational corporations. This is part of the system of bureaucratic capitalism, which according to Chairman Gonzalo “is the capitalism that imperialism generates in the backward countries, which is tied to decrepit feudalism and subjugated to imperialism…”

The PCP mobilized the peasantry to fight for agrarian revolution, which is the means to overthrow the semi-feudal order of the big landlords (known as the latifundium) in the countryside of the third world. The PCP’s enemies wish to ignore that the majority of those fighting under the banners of the People’s War were mainly indigenous peasants who recognized the truth that only a New Democratic Revolution would destroy the root of their exploitation: imperialism, bureaucratic capitalism, and semi-feudalism, and establish a new State that would benefit the proletariat, the poor peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie. Chairman Gonzalo stated that the joint dictatorship of the revolutionary class must be carried out under the leadership of the proletariat.

In the initial stages of the People’s War, the PCP did not have modern weapons to fight with, but as they advanced in the armed struggle they gained knowledge, strength, and arms. The PCP waged the People’s Struggle without foreign assistance, as there were no longer any socialist countries to back them, with both China and the Soviet Union now fully on the capitalist road.

Some of the most striking actions in the first years of the People’s War include the guerrilla actions in Lima, and Ayrabamba, a department in Ayacucho. In Ayrabama, 21 peasants armed with sticks and rocks surrounded the San German estate on July 10, 1980, and appropriated the goods the landlord had stolen from the peasants including their weekly pay. In Lima, the Municipal Building of San Martin was set ablaze. Chairman Gonzalo led the Party in the path of encircling the cities from the countryside, as poor peasants joined the fighting to overthrow local police and seize territory in order to build a New Democratic State administered by committees made up of the people. Along with this strategy, he developed the theory of Unified People’s War, Chairman Gonzalo’s unique contribution which says that the megacities of the third world must be a complement to the war in the countryside.

Through the People’s War, Chairman Gonzalo tested the theories based on the teachings of Mao. The PCP realized that they had actually been applying a third, higher stage of Marxism, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, in order to make advances in their revolution. The Party united at the 4th National Conference of the PCP in October 1986 on making Marxism-Leninism-Maoism the command and guide of the world proletarian revolution. The PCP raised the slogan “Uphold, Defend, and Apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, Principally Maoism!”

In 1988, the Party held its historic First Congress, the highest decision-making body of the Party. The Party struggled for decades to make the Congress possible, but it was the People’s War in Peru that provided the conditions to make it possible. At the Congress, the Party summarized the positive and negative experiences it had learned and established the Basis of Party Unity (BPU) on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, Gonzalo Thought. The Congress deliberated on the Party’s General Political Line and the path it would follow to conquer power throughout Peru. The Congress also elected a Central Committee to lead the Party.

In the midst of class struggle and leading the People’s War in Peru, Chairman Gonzalo defined the ideology of the proletariat as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and applied it to the specific conditions of Peru, generating Gonzalo Thought as the guiding thought of the Peruvian revolution.

The Arrest of Chairman Gonzalo and PCP Leaders

The People’s War had shaken the foundations of Peru for twelve years, and the reactionary Peruvian State sought to decapitate the revolution by making Chairman Gonzalo their top target. With the support of US intelligence agencies, the Peruvian State under fascist President Alberto Fujimori captured Chairman Gonzalo and part of the Central Committee of the PCP in Lima in September 12, 1992. With information it obtained in this raid, the National Directorate Against Terrorism (DIRCOTE, Direccion Contra el Terrorismo) pursued and captured other leaders of the PCP, but despite its efforts could not completely destroy the Party or end the People’s War.

Following this attack by the reaction, the PCP was left without a leading body. Two-line struggle emerged between those in the Party who wanted to end the People’s War and those who wanted to continue waging it. The leftists in the PCP fought to unite the people against the fascist genocidal regime of Fujimori and form a development plan for the General Reorganization of the PCP (RGP, Reorganización General del Partido).

The reactionary Peruvian State and the US understood that the strength of the PCP is the support of the Peruvian people and that its militants consciously subjected themselves to the ideology and leadership of the Party. After Chairman Gonzalo’s capture failed to end the People’s War, the State thought they could defeat the PCP by using its leader to turn the party against itself. The US invested millions of dollars towards this futile goal. Together with the Peruvian State, they schemed to defame Chairman Gonzalo as a capitulator of the People’s War by manufacturing ‘evidence’ that he supported ending armed struggle in favor of peace talks.

CIA agent Rafael Merino fabricated the lie that Chairman Gonzalo signed peace letters affirming the end of the People’s War—Merino later confessed to writing the letters himself. The peace letters were addressed to the fascist Peruvian president Fujimori and requested peace talks, stating that without its leadership, the PCP could no longer lead the People’s War. Vladimiro Montesinos, a CIA agent and a representative in the Fujimori government, created video reenactments of Chairman Gonzalo signing the peace letters to spread the lie of the defeat of the People’s War.

The manufactured peace letters contradicted what Chairman Gonzalo had exclaimed in his ‘Transcendental Speech’ on September 24, 1992, following his capture:

“We are here as children of the people and we are fighting in these trenches, they are also trenches of combat, and we do it because we are Communists! Because here we are defending the interests of the people, the principles of the Party, and the People’s War. That is what we do, we are doing it and will continue to do so!”

The old State and CIA plots have been reinforced by Elena Iparraguirre, Miriam, who was part of the Central Committee and was captured alongside Chairman Gonzalo in 1992. She is the head of the second Right Opportunist Line (ROL), who defended the peace letters as if they were written by Chairman Gonzalo. The ROL proclaimed the defeat of the People’s War, and pushes revisionist lines that semi-feudalism has supposedly ended in Peru, even as the peasantry rise up in massive rebellions against the latifundium to this day.

Furthermore, the ROL created MOVADEF (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights), to endorse candidates in elections and legitimize the old Peruvian State. Most recently they aligned with the presidential election of Pedro Castillo, the lapdog of US imperialism who carried out the final execution of Chairman Gonzalo.

The Greatest Man of the Present Era

As with any great figure, Chairman Gonzalo’s life and legacy cannot be summed up lightly or briefly. There is no doubt his towering contributions transcend across history. Chairman Gonzalo dedicated his entire life to serve the PCP, the masses of Peru, and the world proletarian revolution, arming the people and workers with the ideology, Maoism, that will lead them to liberation. For this, he will be celebrated by the masses for ages to come. He defined Maoism through class struggle, by initiating the still undefeated People’s War in Peru. Through 29 years in solitary confinement and inhumane conditions, Chairman Gonzalo never denied the PCP, the People’s War, or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and delivered a defeat to the reactionaries upon his death.

The assassins of Chairman Gonzalo had hoped that with his death, the People’s War and the revolution in Peru would end, but as Chairman Gonzalo himself told his captors, they can “keep on dreaming!” Chairman Gonzalo’s practice and teachings continue to forge revolutionaries and communists around the world, legions of steel ready to overcome all storms. The People’s War, despite setbacks, only continues to grow in importance. It heralds the birth of the future People’s Republic of Peru and has embodied the all-powerful ideology of the proletariat, Maoism, which, through Chairman Gonzalo’s life and sacrifice, takes its place to guide the path towards humanity’s Communist future.

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