The Rise and Fall of the Shining Path: Lessons for North American Insurgents

by Keith Preston

Throughout the 1980s, few guerrilla groups around the world were more feared or notorious than Peru’s “Sendero Luminoso”, or Shining Path. The group had its roots in a split from the Communist Party of Peru in the late 1960s led by a philosophy professor named Abimael Guzman, who provided an eccentric variation of Maoism as an ideological framework for the movement. Throughout the 1970s, Shining Path built a following for itself among student radicals in Peruvian universities. Around 1980, the group began an armed insurgency against the Pervuian government, having assembled its own militias in the process of its growth as a movement. Over the course of the next decade, Shining Path came to control much of the rural territory of Peru and began advancing towards the capital city of Lima. Despite its initial successes, the movement began to fall apart in the early 1990s.

A principal problem was the cult-like organizational structure of the Shining Path. A cult of personality had developed around Guzman and his capture in 1992 had the effect of decapitating the insurgency. Another issue was the alienation of the peasant population from the insurgency due to its disrespect for the traditional culture of rural Peru and the extreme brutality of Shining Path attacks on its perceived enemies, the ranks of whom included rival leftists and community organizers as well as the Peruvian ruling class and government itself. The alienation grew to such a degree that the peasants would often back the government’s efforts to repress the insurgency until the government’s atrocities began to overshadow even those of the Shining Path. What can North American radicals learn from the example of the Shining Path? There are two essential lessons. First, an organizational structure that is capable of surviving the death, capture or incapacitation of its leadership is indispensible. An interesting example of this is the Nuestra Familia crime syndicate which thrives in spite of the incarceration of all of its leaders in maximum security American prisons, in complete isolation from one another. While leadership itself cannot simply be done away with, the body of the insurgency must be able to operate even in the absence of the head. The organizational structure commonly referred to as “leaderless resistance” would appear to be the appropriate model, with individual militants operating within the context of clandestine networks set up for the purpose of sharing intelligence and coordinating mutual activities.

Another important issue is the necessity of maintaining an attitude of respect for the institutions and cultures of local peoples. Ordinary Americans may well look the other way when System Pigs and their stooges become targets so long as they do not feel threatened in the process. However, “citizens” will not accept violent crimes committed against ordinary persons or threats to their livelihoods or things that they hold sacred (for example, affronts to their various religions). As the insurgent militia, paramilitary and guerrilla organizations evolve in the United States and Canada, and as the armed struggle commences, it will be essential that the insurgents conduct themselves properly within the territories that fall under rebel control. The best plan is to simply leave ordinary people alone and let them go about their business, in the process seizing the holdings of enemy governmental and corporate institutions and placing them under popular control and setting up common law courts or arbitration panels for the sake of settling disputes arising from common crimes or economic rivalries. Unnecessary massacres of the type that occurred at Oklahoma City or the World Trade Center should be avoided at all costs in order to prevent popular alienation. The average Joe needs to believe that he is either better off, or at least no worse off, under the rule of the insurgents than under the rule of the present regime.

The elimination of the present regime should occur with as little disruption in the daily lives of ordinary people as possible. Electrical and other utility services should continue except in cases of military emergency. Television and radio programming should continue to operate on schedule except where necessary to silence enemy propaganda or communications systems. The ideal situation would be one where everyday people continue to go about their business, traveling about from work to school to the grocery store to the beauty salon to the drinking hole and so on, all the while the insurgents are pulling the rug out from under the System Pigs, shutting down police departments in favor of revolutionary militias, eliminating the state’s court system in favor of our own common law courts, releasing prisoners and eradicating the prison-industrial complex, turning corporate operations over to consumer coops, dismantling enemy governments and setting up our own revolutionary councils, allowing different cultural, religious and ethnic factions to go their own way and form their own private associations, seizing military bases, armories and nuclear silos and shutting down the imperial war machine and stripping federal, state and municipal treasuries in order to provide reparations or severance compensation to prisoners, social security recipients, dislocated military, police or low-level corporate or bureaucratic workers, and some kind of settlement to America’s historical racial/ethnic conflicts.

It can be expected that the end-product of such a revolution would be quite “liberal” in the traditional Jeffersonian, as opposed to modern totalitarian, sense. The general level of individual freedom would be considerably higher than at present. However, there might also be a proliferation of a number of relatively or intensely closed communities, particularly among those operating within the framework of some sort of racial, religious or cultural exclusivism or some sort overty authoritarian political ideology. Sparta will have to co-exist with Athens and the Puritans will have to co-exist with the Libertines, pluralistically when possible, spatially segregated when not. Furthermore, the majority of the population of North America will not be part of the revolution. The Radical Alliance, even transcending the traditional boundaries of Left and Right, will still be a minority, although a militant minority that is subsequently able to obtain power way beyond its numbers (like present-day Zionists). Therefore, co-existence between citizens and radicals will also be necessary. A polycentric network of governmental, economic, educational and legal institutions will be needed in order to accommodate such divergent interests and separate conflicting elements from one another for the sake of preserving the social peace and avoiding counterrevolution. Following the Revolution, there will likely be a new insurgency launched by remnants of the former regime that could result in a civil war that would last for decades. The achievement of ultimate victory by the Revolution will require political leadership of the highest caliber on the part of the revolutionaries. The System Pigs are primarily fools and incompetents, and their counterrevolutionary efforts would likely be inept and involve considerable terrorism against civilian targets. The citizens must come to realize that Anarchist rule will be “just” and “tolerant” as conventionally defined, indeed even more so. Ultimately, we must also win the war for “hearts and minds”, not because we are do-gooders or humanists, but because we are faithful Machiavellians.

Copyright 2005. American Revolutionary Vanguard. All rights reserved.

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