by Eugene Walker
Tierra o Muerte! Land or death!
Hugo Blanco, a Marxist revolutionary from the tradition of Trotskyism, was a leader of a peasants’ movement that self-organized in the valley of La Convención and Lares at the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s. They were demanding land and agricultural reform as against feudalistic share-cropping. When attacked by the military, this movement organized self-defense. Blanco was captured in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison. He served eight years before being released. He wrote of this experience in Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru in the context of Trotskyism.
Forced into exile, and at times returning to participate in social struggle in his country, Blanco made a transition from orthodox Trotskyism to activism and writing on the Indigenous movement in Peru—the struggle for territory and the environment: “Indigenous peoples have been fighting for ecosocialism for 500 years.” He was the editor of a Peruvian journal, Lucha Indígena.
Blanco’s history as a Marxist and in Indigenous struggles shines a light on the needed exploration of Marxism and the Indigenous movement in Latin America today—a conflictive, contradictory story. He came, of course, from the land of José Carlos Mariátegui, that most creative Latin American Marxist, who, in the 1920s, forged a unity of the struggle for socialism in Peru with the Indigenous dimension: “In Peru the working class is four-fifths Indian. Our socialism would not be Peruvian—it would not even be socialism—if it did not first consolidate itself with the Indigenous demands.”
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of the twentieth century a closed, rigid concept of Marxism was the dominant thought of the radical Left. Blanco, in contrast, was a revolutionary who made important history in the Marxist movement in Peru, and made serious contributions to the present Indigenous movement.
HUGO BLANCO IN HIS OWN WORDS
For Marx there were no bibles, reality is worth more than a thousand books, all of this is why I’m a Marxist. I don’t like to define myself as Marxist, because it isn’t a religion. But I have a lot to be grateful to Marx for, because he taught me dialectical materialism. By being dialectical I know that the American reality is different than Europe’s. That’s why I try to interpret American reality as an American. Therefore, for me, there isn’t any contradiction between my indigenous struggle and dialectical materialism.
I do not agree with Sendero Luminoso [the Maoist/Pol-Potist Shining Path]—and neither with those who believe in taking power by elections. Whether by arms or by elections, both struggle to take power. In this sense, I am a Zapatista. I do not believe in struggling to take power, but to build it.
In Peru all the Left self-defines itself as Mariateguist, but it seems that none of these Mariateguists have read The Seven Interpretive Essays of Peruvian Reality, Mariátegui’s fundamental work, in which two of the essays are dedicated to the Indigenous issue: “The Indian Problem” and “The Problem of Land.” And they completely ignore the Indigenous problem. That is why, together with some comrades, we have started to publish the newspaper Lucha Indígena.