Peru: The Peculiar “Revolution”

While the Marxist government of Chile is cautious about what it has so far achieved, if not about its intentions, the military government of Peru has no doubt about what it is doing. It is making the Peruvian Revolution. The Peruvian government will not settle for less and resents any suggestion that it is just reformist. When on a recent visit I asked a group of officers from the COAP—the government’s brain trust—how much further they hoped to push the process of change, the answer was: until every aspect of the nation has been fundamentally transformed.

In so far as revolutions can be defined as transformations in the economic, social, and institutional structure, a case can be made for this view. The generals have already changed Peru more profoundly than, say, the Nazis changed Germany or Peron Argentina. (These parallels are not supposed to suggest any similarity between these regimes; on the contrary, they throw doubt on the facile predictions that the Peruvian generals are “moving in the direction of fascism,” whatever that may mean.) On the other hand, in so far as revolutions are movements of masses, the Peruvian process clearly does not belong with them. It is not even a “revolution from above” like Stalin’s collectivization or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It involves no mass mobilization of popular forces by the government, no struggle against mass resistance or entrenched adversaries. The masses are simply outside the transformation that has taken place.

The Peruvian military regime has, for most of its three years in power, operated in a political vacuum. Representing an organized consortium of officers whose exact nature is obscure, but which clearly represented the armed forces, the regime took power in October, 1968, without fuss or trouble, because there was no one else, and to the relief of the population. The reformist administration of Belaunde, whom the army had put into power in 1962-3 and would have preferred to support, had rapidly subsided into impotence and ineffectiveness. The major political party, Haya de la Torre’s APRA, was no alternative, even had the armed forces not been feuding with it for many years. It was also bankrupt, a fact now recognized even by the Kennedy-type US liberals who supported it for so long. The Marxist or Castroite left was negligible as a revolutionary force, as the guerrilla insurrection of 1965 proved, and relatively unimportant even as a minority working-class pressure group.

Changes had to be made, and since there was literally no other willing or capable force, the generals took over. They abolished parliament, elections, and the superstructure of party politics, though not the parties themselves. Few Peruvians regret the passing of a system that was largely regarded as differing from military government mainly in being notoriously more corrupt. Political opposition simply faded away and barely exists as a serious factor. The APRA has retired to its usual position of semisubmerged attentisme, waiting for better times, confident—like the old German Social …

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Letters

Peruvian “Indians” June 15, 1972