The discrepancy between utopian ideology and dystopian reality: a critical analysis of Peru’s Sendero Luminoso

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The discrepancy between utopian ideology and dystopian reality: a critical analysis of Peru’s Sendero Luminoso

Type: Master thesis
Title: The discrepancy between utopian ideology and dystopian reality: a critical analysis of Peru’s Sendero Luminoso
Author: Smits, Aimée
Issue Date: 2013-08-30
Keywords: Shining Path Sendero luminoso
Abstract: ABSTRACT-This thesis deals with one of the most important and violent revolutionary movements in the recent history of Latin America, and the only Maoist movement there to achieve a degree of success: Sendero Luminoso. It attempts to trace and explain the contradictory theoretical and ideological claims made by Sendero Luminoso. The movement initiated its struggle in May 1980, but little attention was given by the State to its activities, and for years it remained severely underestimated and considered irrelevant. The movement’s seemingly innocuous beginning in many ways represented the paradox inherent in Sendero’s rise to becoming one of the largest and most violent guerrilla movements in contemporary Latin America, in which the Peruvian state was at the verge of collapse in the late 1980s. However, it did not succeed in its utopian goal of overthrowing the Peruvian bourgeoisie government and establishing a communist state. This thesis argues that this has been due to several major contradictions in Sendero Luminoso’s ideology and strategy. This research focuses on three inconsistencies, related to Sendero Luminoso’s discrepancy between theory and practice. First of all, Sendero claimed it embodied a distinctively Peruvian Marxism, while in practice it lacked a proper understanding of the society, and neglected several Peruvian characteristics that were crucial to making the revolution successful – it overlooked the ethnic divisions in Peruvian society and underestimated the social change that had made Peru predominantly an urban and not a rural society. Hence it based its Maoist ideology and strategy on a wrong assessment of the Peruvian society. Secondly, Sendero claimed that it initiated the struggle ‘for the people’, while in fact the most marginalized people of the society became the main victims of the war that was waged in their name. Thus, regardless of its grandiose claims, for most Peruvians Sendero Luminoso proved to be a deadly paradox: it aims were unrealistic and its analysis of society badly flawed, yet it still proved to be an effective revolutionary movement capable of threatening the very existence of the state. Lastly, in theory, Sendero desired a utopian New State with a classless society. Yet, in practice, the movement was extremely hierarchical, and the means to reach its goal were not classless at all. Its internal organization replicated the colonial stratification of society, in which a privileged white elitist intellectual commanded and ‘guided’ a mass of darker-skinned youth of humble origin, hence going against the grain of its principal goal that was aimed at breaking creole power. This thesis will place the conflict in a longer national history of racism and the marginalization of rural society that contributed both to the cause and consequence of this violent episode in Peruvian history. This research draws on several primary Peruvian sources and seeks to make a contribution to literature focusing on Sendero Luminoso. Its analysis stands apart from other work published so far, combining as it does both a historical and political approach to the conflict and mainly focuses on the crucial contradictions of the organization. Therefore, it contributes towards understanding the context surrounding the initial paradoxical success and the later defeat of Sendero Luminoso and, I hope, will be seen as a contribution to the debate on this remarkable revolutionary movement.
Supervisor: Augusteijn, J
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: History (Master)
ECTS Credits: 20

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