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.1 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 Democratic party which it somewhat resembles—that it will retain plenty of loyal supporters, but in the meanwhile doing nothing and incapable of doing much.

The sects of the ultra-left remain politically negligible though perhaps a shade less inclined to be at one another’s throats than before. The (Muscovite) Communist party is the only political organization that maintains a serious independent presence, thanks largely to its influence in the Peruvian General Confederation of Workers (CGTP), not to be confused with the possibly declining Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CTP) of APRA. But the CP supports the generals and would in any case be incapable of providing a realistic alternative. In fact, so long as the armed forces remain united, there is no foreseeable prospect of the military regime being replaced.

This helps to explain one of the most unexpected characteristics of a military government that is itself very surprising: the unusual degree of civil liberties it maintains. The generals appear to be genuinely attached to these and proud of their liberalism. Not only have far fewer people been killed or jailed so far than in civilian Peru, but the present situation compares favorably with most other governments in Latin America. It would be too much to expect a perfectly clean record. There are a few old and new political prisoners, an exile or two, and though there is no censorship, the nongovernment press, though less tongue-tied than in, say, Mexico, undoubtedly picks its way with great care, except for the picture magazine Carretas which combines girls, fashions, and fairly uninhibited political commentary.

Any talk about Peru in 1971 being a repressive state is nonsense. Of course it may become so at any moment. There is nothing to prevent it. Indeed, some general or other may be arguing even now that the country could still maintain its liberal reputation even if a few more troublesome union men or ultra-left activists were put behind bars for a while. But so far the record is astoundingly good.


But if there is no opposition, there is no real support either. The generals have been joined by some civilians from the old parties, by numerous cadres from smaller groups like the Social Progressives, by a handful of left-wing intellectuals including, as is almost inevitable, ex-Trotskyites evolving yet another theoretical position, and by one of the leaders of the 1965 guerrillas, Hector Béjar. On the whole, however, the Marxist left remains in opposition, with the major exception of the CP whose combination of critical support and organizational independence does not make it welcome to the government. The less sectarian student activists who poured into some agrarian reform organizations two years ago have tended to drift away in disillusion. The politically uncommitted masses, rural and urban, may well consider this government as better than its predecessors, and accept it as the only one there is likely to be for a good while, but probably there is today less hopeful expectation than there was during the first months of agrarian reform two years ago.

This is not very surprising in the big cities, particularly in Lima where 20 percent of Peruvians live. On the eve of the military take-over something like 40 percent of Lima’s population was underemployed or unemployed, and something like the same percentage lived in anything from matting shelters to adobe shacks.2 Since then, as the mass migration from the country has continued, unemployment has continued to rise while real wages almost certainly have not. Lately a few hang-ups in food supply have not made life easier. The housing situation, which appears to have been getting worse during the 1960s, is appalling and, as continued mass invasions of urban building sites show, explosive. The nearest thing to political trouble the government encountered in 1971 arose out of a squatting incident, which led to the brief arrest of a social activist bishop by the muscle-flexing Minister of the Interior (who very soon lost his job) and to the immediate and amply publicized provision of building land, roads, public utilities, and presidential visits for the new urban settlement of El Salvador.

That the peasantry remains passive—perhaps even less expectant and positive than two years ago, though with Peruvian Indians it is hard to tell—is less surprising than it seems. The agrarian reform is indeed genuine and profound, and advancing steadily toward the expropriation of all large estates by 1975. Though on balance less drastic than in Chile,3 it is certainly no less radical and enthusiastic in its attack upon the landowning oligarchy as a class, which has already been swept away as a social and political force from the greater part of the countryside. This is undoubtedly a major change in rural life, as is the substitution of various kinds of cooperatives for the former haciendas in the highlands and on the coast.

Three reasons may be suggested for the lack of enthusiasm of the peasants. In the first place, most of them have not yet got any land. The 44,000 families who have benefited since 1969, though much more numerous than the 30,000 who got land in the six years of Chile’s “Revolution in Liberty,” are only a small fraction of the 800,000 or so who are theoretically entitled to claim land under the reform. Second, what peasants mean by agrarian reform is essentially parceling land, but this is not the view of the authorities, whose policy of setting up cooperatives arouses more suspicion than joy. Peasants are inclined to keep as far away from any government as they can, and cooperatives are identified with government.

Last, for the people on the expropriated estates to be bossed by technocrats who depend on the government, or even in theory on some annual meeting of cooperator/shareholders, does not seem any different from being bossed by technocrats who depend on an absentee landowner. The boss is still Ingeniero Somebody; if not the one who ran the hacienda before, very likely one who ran some other hacienda before. I asked a servidor of a large cattle ranch about the cooperative of which he is now a member. “What cooperative?” he answered. And on the same SAIS,4 rightly regarded as a showplace of reform, the attitude of the former ranch hands is, “Well, they say we’re the bosses now. But we’re bosses who take orders and don’t give any.”

More unexpected is the passivity of the class that is perhaps the clearest beneficiary of the present regime, though it did well enough under Belaunde: the urbanized and modernized Indian middle stratum of the cholos.5 The sons of Indian kulaks and village entrepreneurs fill the big universities, whose students have multiplied perhaps fifteen-fold since the 1940s, providing the social base for the ultra-radical but short-lived Maoism of students who rapidly turn into respectable citizens after graduating. The country clubs, which have multiplied outside Lima on the model of the institutions of the old creole middle class and the expatriate foreign executives, are filled with such families, pouring out of overloaded autos to pass a Sunday in a style which is still in many ways demotic, like the Impressionists’ restaurants on the Marne: small businessmen, professionals, perhaps above all bureaucrats.


Unlike earlier generations of their kind, the new cholos do not seem to despise or sever their links with Indian origins. Probably most of the adults continue to speak Quechua as well as Spanish, and they certainly appreciate “down home” music and dancing, which remain the basis of Peruvian popular show business. The “shade of contempt and condescension” which Bourricaud noticed in the use of the word cholo in the 1960s is rapidly disappearing. The military regime is aggressively pro-Indian (though there is only one Indian in the top levels of agrarian reform). It is as much given to idealizing the Incas as official Mexico is the Aztecs, but with better reason, and lucky enough to possess a suitable culture hero in the great rebel Tupac Amaru. It is even planning bilingual schooling.

The cholo middle stratum lacks any obvious enthusiasm for the Peruvian revolution, probably because the regime has not so far notably improved the possibilities of “bettering themselves” that the cholos already enjoyed, except for very limited groups of technically qualified professionals. The bulk of them, in Lima at least, continue to live a life of struggle against low salaries, large families, high prices, poor living conditions, endless journeys to and from work, and occasionally uncertain supplies. Like most Peruvians (except the hostile students) they are not against the government, but neither are they actively for it.

The generals are increasingly troubled about the political void that surrounds them. It is not merely that a government that is sincerely devoted to making life human for all Peruvians and is, to say the least, the best administration the country has had within anyone’s memory would naturally welcome more appreciation. They know that lack of popular commitment makes their task more difficult. Can a revolution, even “The Peruvian Revolution,” really be carried out simply by taking the vehicle of the state and pointing it in the desired direction? In Peru, an orderly, peaceful advance of bureaucrats flanked by lawyers and technicians will be blessed by historians for the ample and systematic documentation they generated. But, the observer asks himself as he works his way through the serried and ordered files of a Zonal Office of Agrarian Reform, is this really how revolutions are made?

In fact, the military government knows it is not. The very lack of any genuine impetus from below, or obvious social basis, has already pushed the armed forces into the virtually unique role of not just telling the civilians what to do, but actually being the government and administration. Not only are all ministers senior officers but down to subaltern functions decisions are made by uniformed colonels, captains, or lieutenants. They have to be, inasmuch as the routine forces of administration, however loyal and efficient, cannot be relied upon to infuse themselves with the required dynamism.

One might say that in Peru the modern army, an increasingly bureaucratic organization, has accepted its destiny and actually become a bureaucracy. But it did not want to. The officers of the COAP say emphatically that the criteria of recruitment and promotion and the training of officers will not be modified to qualify them for the administrative tasks that they will have to carry out until they can hand them over to the civilians again and get back to the military hardware. That this is what they want I have no doubt. But it does not look as though they will be able to do so for a long time.

Even so, they need the people, and after months of difficult backstage discussion a plan for “social mobilization” was finally announced—details to be filled in later—in the summer of 1971. The scheme will give scope to the various left-wing civilians who have thrown in their lot with the government, though it will be headed by a general, Leonidas Rodriguez, a handsome officer of whom, it is safe to predict, more will be heard since he combines his new functions with the command of the Armored Division. No military coup has much chance of winning against this division. How exactly the mobilization of the people will work, nobody quite knows. It will not be a party or a “movement.”

It will certainly not operate through any existing party, parties, or independent organizations, labor unions, peasant unions, or the like. Lacking any civilian organization and cadres of its own, the government is unwilling to hand over “social mobilization” to forces out of its control, and more especially to the enemies it fears, such as APRA, the nearest thing to a mass party in Peru, or the supporters it distrusts, such as the CP. (It was notably cool toward the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution which the CP encouraged at one point and which have since faded from sight.)

Official statements and commentaries so far are remarkably vague (“A long and difficult process in the course of which multiple and complex problems will arise…”; “to contribute to the creation of conditions which will stimulate the emergence of autonomous popular organizations,” etc.).6 Presumably “mobilization” will operate through the organisms created or encouraged by the government, such as cooperatives, “industrial communities,” community organizations of the shanty-towns now called “young towns,” etc. In fact, nobody knows. Something, it is hoped, will evolve.


What will or might evolve depends on the nature of the government and its “Peruvian Revolution,” a matter much discussed by the left, which has, with the exceptions of Fidel Castro and the old-style communists, taken a rather negative view of the generals. The left regards them as bourgeois reformers who have now (the date of self-revelation varies with the commentators) revealed that they will not evolve into left-wing progressive nationalists, but are seeking a new kind of dependent niche in a new version of a global imperialism. Such arguments are put forward in a very simple-minded way or in more sophisticated but still circular versions by sympathizers of the Peruvian ultra-left.7 They are also put forward with admirable lucidity and intelligence by Anibal Quijano in his Nationalism and Capitalism in Peru: a Study in Neo-Imperialism,8 the best statement of the opposition case which analyzes the regime’s economic policy up to the spring of 1971.

All these arguments tend to assume a) that the Peruvian military must be for capitalism because they refuse to be for socialism, b) that the international situation of Peru to which they aspire can only be described as “neo-imperialism,” and c) that there is a serious possibility of a Peruvian economy based on a (dependent) domestic bourgeoisie. These assumptions somewhat oversimplify a very complex and ambiguous situation.

The complexity of the situation is indicated by the very existence of the arguments and uncertainties of the left, which have two sources. The Peruvian military are undeniably genuine reformers who have undertaken “steps not only against the popular masses but also against the political agents who had served the bourgeoisie in the previous period.”9 It is also almost impossible to believe in their program. Still, they believe in it, and have stuck to it with remarkable consistency, allowing for a good deal of tactical flexibility. Those who claim to have detected in them a decisive turn to the right (or, much more rarely, to the left) have tended to confuse tactical zigzags with changes of direction. But the road is sufficiently well marked for it to be clear where the military regime wishes to go.

The argument of President Velasco’s regime is simply summarized.10 Until 1968 Peru was capitalist, and it was dependent, underdeveloped, poor, and backward because capitalism generates these things. Hence the regime is anticapitalist and revolutionary, because it would make no sense simply to “modernize,” thus prolonging the system that generates all these evils. The mechanism that kept Peru down was a combination of local oligarchy and foreign imperialism. (“Is it not true that Peru was always under the rule of a small group of Peruvians who grew rich on the backs of our people and mortgaged the national wealth to the foreigner?”) The regime opposes the oligarchy with an obviously sincere passion, not because it is economically inefficient but because it is the crucial link in the chain of imperialist exploitation.

The novelty of its agrarian reform was not technical but political. The reform of Belaunde, apart from remaining on paper, had specifically excepted the modern efficient sugar estates of the chief domestic and foreign oligarchs on the coast. The generals began their reform by expropriating these because they represented the most efficient, hence dangerous, oligarchs. On the other hand the new Peru is certainly not to be communist, for the usual antitotalitarian reasons. Moreover, neither system is at present a very attractive model: “Both today show unequivocal symptoms of enfeeblement and crisis.”

The military answer is less easy to describe briefly, except in the meaningless phrase “neither capitalism nor communism.” It has in it much that is reminiscent of the social Catholicism of the generals’ interwar youth. There is the dream of harmonizing capital and labor as mutually dependent and functionally necessary parts of the social organism,11 and consequently a deep distrust of organs of the class struggle or sectional pressure groups. There is the search for forms of economic organization that eliminate or modify the crude employer/worker relationship, especially in big business.12 Hence the enthusiasm for “cooperative organization,” a slogan that suggests all these things, but is vague and ambiguous enough to cover everything from de facto technocratic management to a kibbutz.

However, the anti-technological traditionalism that in the past often accompanied this type of ideology is quite absent. “Peruvianism” lies not in any appeal to continuity and the community of the past, in which little is to be found that inspires the regime except perhaps the oppressed, exploited, but also struggling (Indian) people of Peru. Its populist sympathies, however, do not extend to the traditionalism of the peasantry.

This positive program is either too vague or utopian. Hence the question is not so much what the regime wants to heppen, but what is likely to emerge from its efforts, which will inevitably be somewhat different. Moreover, there is no automatic congruence, but a probable contradiction between the aims of a Peru liberated from imperialism and underdevelopment and of a harmonious social organism. Critics on the left assume that since the regime is not socialist or communist—though actual disclaimers of socialism are not easy to find—it cannot develop except through some form of capitalism and must perpetuate imperialist dependence in some shape. Its more naïve spokesmen, against all the evidence, regard the declared aims of the government as so much window dressing, designed to make the new version of dependent capitalism more palatable to the masses.

Left-wing supporters somewhat more cautiously take the view that the anti-imperialism is genuine, the reforms so far “progressive” or at least not incompatible with what a progressive government might have done, and that the logic of their position may push the regime to the left. Of course it is equally possible that at the fork of the road the generals may take the wrong turn, but that fork has not yet been reached.

Such arguments illustrate the difficulty of categorizing a regime that refuses to fit into any of the familiar analytical slots, perhaps because the slots are not present. The truth is that the regime attempts to fill a vacuum. It could hardly represent or act for a Peruvian bourgeoisie even if that were its intention: it would have to take its place because there is no national bourgeoisie in Peru. There is nothing like the recognizable social phenomenon of revolution in Peru, but still less is there a counterrevolution or even an attempt to forestall revolution by well-judged reform, though this was in the minds of some of the generals.

The regime is there instead of the revolution that did not occur in 1960-3 but left behind it a necessity to ratify and systematize certain changes, which nobody else could do. The peasant risings of the early 1960s amounted politically to no more than an accumulation of localized unrest. Economically and socially they killed the traditional latifundism of the highlands, as the owners realized perfectly well. But the peasants themselves were unable to bury its rotting corpse. The military had to substitute for a bankrupt political system, totally incapable of anything except responding to the pressures of foreign enterprise and the local oligarchy. They had even, as we have seen, to take the place of the state machine. About the only thing the officers really “represent” is people like themselves, i.e., professional men of generally modest provincial middleclass background making their careers in the public service. But this in itself does not get us far.

The only forces the army does not replace, because they are already socially present, are those of the working class and the labor movement; which are also the only ones (apart from the students) to maintain independent institutions under the new regime. Hence the government’s suspicion of both APRA and the CP, both essentially proletarian-based—the organized peasant movements of the 1960s have disintegrated—and especially its deep suspicion of labor unions. Politically the small Peruvian working class is not a serious problem. Unlike its counterpart in Chile, it does not provide the basis for an alternative government. Its strongest components, the miners and the workers on the “agro-industrial” estates of the coast, are labor aristocrats totaling perhaps 50,000 and 30,000 adult men respectively. Unlike the peasants, however, they constitute not merely a force of nature, but, through the unions, an organized and structured force. At the very least they have leaders who can be blamed.

The military rulers of Peru, as their conversation makes very clear, do not understand unions and wish they were not there. Their relations with them illustrate a major weakness of the Peruvian Revolution and explain, though they do not justify, some of the left-wing hostility to it. The government has made big mistakes in labor policy where it has controlled the situation directly, i.e., in sugar estate cooperatives, and will probably make similar mistakes with industrial labor, if its uneasiness about the way unions are going tempts it into direct control there.

Though the military rulers persistently refuse to believe it, union leaders are not secretly trying to sabotage the Peruvian Revolution or to turn it communist, if we except the scattered locals where the influence of the ultra-left is generally temporary. (“They can rarely maintain it,” a union leader told me. “The university style of action is not the working-class style.”) The APRA’s federation, like its parent body, is politically quiescent. The rising CGTP shares the CP’s attitude toward the regime, though actively organizing and campaigning for changes in the largely unreconstructed Ministry of Labor. It would certainly prefer not to embarrass the government it actively supports.

On the other hand, especially with an eye to its rivals, it must take account of the militancy of its members. In the cities they are for action because real wages are drifting lower, while in the mines the government’s own anti-imperialism has encouraged the permanent hostility of the miners to their foreign employers, and their bargaining strength is greater than ever.13 Leaders of genuine labor movements cannot coerce their members and must to some extent follow them, especially today. They are quite unlike army officers, though this is difficult for military men to understand.

On the sugar estates the failure to understand the unions has been particularly counterproductive. These strongholds of a militant, because fairly young, unionism—several did not win recognition until the early 1960s—were also strongholds of APRA in its main bastion, the “solid North.” The government frankly hoped that the new cooperatives would also replace the unions. What did the workers need unions for if they actually owned the firm? More than this. Presumably in order to prevent the cooperatives from being taken over by APRA supporters not only was their electoral system made too complex and manipulable, but party and union functionaries and ex-functionaries are ineligible as delegates or functionaries of the cooperative. This would be rather like banning registered Democrats and UAW activists from taking part in the running of a collectivized Chrysler plant. There have even been attempts to deprive union leaders of cooperative membership, met by strikes for their reinstatement.

A strong and recognized union, irrespective of political affiliation, has to negotiate with management, irrespective of its character; and, as the old managers of the haciendas learned, the other way round. Left to themselves the old unions and the new managers would have done the same, leaving the complex problem of the members’ dual interests as co-owners and employees to settle itself by practice. That is what seemed to be happening in the first months after expropriation, when, incidentally, APRA influence in the unions was receding rapidly, at least in the region I then visited.

The result of the government’s policy has been the precise opposite of its intention. Management (i.e., the technicians and white-collar workers who are the cooperative officials) is as separate from the workers as before; the unions have been pushed back and have become marginal and consequently militant; the APRA influence has revived; and the militants of the ultraleft are attracted from all over the country by the magnet of endemic industrial friction. The past year has seen strikes, semi-riotous demonstrations, resignations of managers and committees, and even the sentencing of strike leaders to light jail sentences and heavy fines for “sabotage of the agrarian reform.” These are awkward developments in what were intended to be the showcases of the Peruvian Revolution.14 They have been met by increasingly direct intervention by military functionaries and policemen in the management of the cooperatives.


Where then are the generals going? The simplest to predict are their international relations, for here the conflict between intention and result is least acute. The regime aims to make Peru independent, but since the country is poor, weak, and backward, it is realistic enough to know that it cannot do without some foreign assistance. To be more precise, it believes that the costs of going it alone are prohibitive, as indeed they probably are. The major objective is to break the monopoly of US power without falling into dependence on any other single state. What would suit the government best is enough world rivalry between numerous powers—US, USSR, perhaps the Common Market, perhaps China—for little countries to diversify their dependence and have maximum room for maneuver.

Peru also hopes rather than expects that united action by Third World states will give each weak country a little more strength. At the moment, with the US in political and economic recession, prospects look promising, and Peru is negotiating for trade, technical assistance, and investment with everybody from China to Japan and West Germany, as well as the US and the USSR. What if US power recovers? The officers, who discuss all these matters with a most agreeable frankness and lack of humbug, shrug their shoulders. A weak and backward country has to make the best of the world as it finds it.

The weakness of this position is that a weak country known to be unwilling to risk all has less bargaining power than it might have. There are people, including foreign businessmen, who think that Peru has been giving somewhat better terms than necessary to investors. Indeed, by current international standards the recent oil and copper contracts with foreign corporations are not ungenerous, while the Mining Law of 1971 is quite acceptable to them.15 Still, an argument about the percentage of royalties or repatriable profits must not be confused with one about fundamentals. To describe Peruvian policy as “without hesitation…pro-imperialist” (Letts) is to devalue language. In mining Peru has deliberately opted not for nationalization (though the state company will be very big) but for a state monopoly of marketing and most of the refining, which is a tenable point of view. In oil it has opted for what amounts to a service contract rather than a concession. The generals’ policies are not in any way socialist, but since they do not claim to be socialists this observation is tautology rather than criticism. On the other hand their intention is plainly anti-imperialist.

So, undoubtedly, is their effect. The US corporations will doubtless resign themselves here as elsewhere to doing business under drastically less favorable conditions than in the past and will discover that money can still be made in the new way and indeed, given the troubles of the US economy, must be so made. Conversely, they can console themselves with the reflection that, if even the USSR calls on Western corporations to build plants, Peru will still find it advantageous to do business with them. So long as the capitalist industrial states remain richer and technologically more advanced than the socialist ones and the Third World, this will be the case, unless socialist regimes return to the ancient aim of a just austerity, denying themselves the products of technology of richer nations; which few of them seem inclined to do, and none can, except at the price of rigid isolation. But to say that US corporations will survive in Peru does not imply that nothing has changed. One has only to look at Peru’s northern neighbor Ecuador, the greatest banana republic of them all, to observe the difference.

However, the generals’ policies are not intended to be anti-business, in spite of putting all the basic industries into the public sector. They are certainly in favor of indigenous capitalist development, doubtless under the control of a commanding state sector, but also benefiting from its activities. Such a symbiosis is today normal, and in Latin America even the dynamic local capitalisms of Brazil and Mexico rely largely on it. But Peru is not Brazil or Mexico. There is no effective national bourgeoisie, and military decisions are unlikely to create what several centuries of history have denied the country.

What is most likely to happen is that the extreme weakness of domestic private enterprise and the restrictions on the participation in it of foreign capital will make the public sector grow far beyond the original intentions of the government. It will have to, unless Peru is to relapse into its old pattern of dependence. This will raise acute questions, analogous to those in Eastern Europe, about the suitability of large state bureaucracies in backward countries as economic entrepreneurs, about the role of incentives, technocrats, etc. However, unless we regard, say, Bulgaria or Rumania as capitalist, these problems alone are not enough to characterize a state as “bourgeois-reformist.” Nor, of course, enough to characterize it as socialist.

The Peruvian strategy of development is thus debatable, but cannot so far be regarded as “pro-imperialist” or “pro-capitalist.” The main danger that Peru may one day revert to type lies in the fact that its transformation is so controlled and orderly, the regime’s fear of disruption and chaos so great, and the hope of getting by without a critical confrontation with the US so attractive that it will undoubtedly tempt the government into concessions. The alternative would be to risk plunging into one of those iron ages which have been a normal part of the history of revolutions. The generals’ real weakness may be that they want to combine revolutionary change with peace and quiet, thus making themselves vulnerable to blackmail from outside. But it is absurd to deny that they mean what they say or that they are not passionately determined to secure the independence of their country.

One has much more serious doubts about the social than about the economic aspect of the regime. There are two weaknesses here. In the first place planners and administrators tend to concentrate on “hard” economic matters that produce measurable results, while paying little more than lip service to the social objectives of the government.16 One would not guess from their documents about “the agrarian sector” that there is a major agrarian reform with specific and non-economic objectives and problems. The natural desire to keep production growing, or at least undisrupted, favors giving it overriding priority and keeping the management structure the way it is.

Socially, the biggest problem of the countryside is that the reform will—and if it provides workable family units must—leave vast numbers without land: up to 80 percent according to one estimate.17 But farm administrators are more preoccupied with the inefficiencies and high labor costs of overstaffed units, and tend to hope that the landless will just migrate somewhere. Technically it is easier to get quick and good results from the reform on the coast. So the hard, expensive, but essential job of creating the basis of efficient peasant farming in the Sierra is postponed.

Second, the government’s own social plans, e.g., for “communities” in industry, mining, fisheries, etc., are inadequate. These are essentially devices to promote workers’ co-partnership and profit sharing within each enterprise as well as (through the Community of Compensation of the Mining Law) to make equal the shares in enterprises of varying profitability. The financial details need not detain us. Participation in management is also envisaged, but on a more modest scale than in the West German Mittbestimmungsrecht, and excluding union leaders. This is obviously insufficient to change the character of management. The government has high hopes for the “communities,” including no doubt the hope that they will supersede unions. This is improbable. Since they are still largely on paper, little can be said concretely about their functioning. An authoritative union view is that they will do no more than give some workers a useful insight into management. The prevailing business view is that they will diminish the profit incentive but could probably be circumvented.

The generals’ intentions are not in doubt. To make life better and more humane for most Peruvians and to bring the people, whom previous regimes treated as little better than cattle, into the affairs of their nation are the goals to which they give at least theoretical priority.18 There has been a lot of hard thought, as about educational reform, the present system having largely failed, in spite of the apparently large if unbalanced expansion of the 1960s. The average period of school attendance for all Peruvians is three years; 88 percent drop out of high school, and there has been no diminution in the basic core of illiteracy, which is officially (and optimistically) given as 4 million or about 30 percent of the population.19

There are also some sensible ideas about the development of the 610 do-it-yourself settlements in which perhaps 40 percent of urban Peruvians live,20 but what they have done so far is inadequate for both the economic and social objectives of the regime. To take a single example. It will take more than has so far been done to turn the bottom 20 percent of Lima’s population, which received in 1967 just 1.3 percent of the city’s total income—in Mexico the corresponding figure was about 6 percent—into genuine citizens, or even into a market for Peruvian industry. Thirty-seven percent of Limenos receive less than fifty dollars a month in Latin America’s most expensive city.21 The government has borrowed from Mariategui, the founder of the Peruvian Communist party, the splendid slogan: “Let us peruvianize Peru.” For people such as these it is still far from realized.22


“If you were a Peruvian, what would you do?” The visitor is likely to be asked this question by young intellectuals not already totally committed to some political sect, and the answer is almost impossible to know. In the first place, the Peruvian military regime is one of those phenomena on which, as with de Gaulle and British entry to the Common Market, the views of the native and foreign left tend to differ, though international tact and loyalties may attempt to conceal the divergences. It is easy to think of Peruvian regimes of which socialists would approve more enthusiastically, but none that looks remotely probable, even after the end of the present one, which seems at the moment an unlikely contingency.

In the second place, the attitude that seems most reasonable, a critical support of the regime for the time being, is not one for which the military themselves have any sympathy, partly because they do not really trust any civilians, mainly because they do not trust anyone who is not totally committed to them. Like most governments, what they want is unqualified support, but unlike politicians’ governments, they are not accustomed or resigned to the kind of supporter who from time to time turns critic.

On the other hand, however much one may sympathize with the personal difficulties of Peruvian intellectuals, they are not among the country’s major problems, which are enormous, under the best of circumstances. Its agriculture consists of a few patches of oasis, a few ribbons of mountain valley dotted with handkerchief-sized Indian fields, a few strips between the high sierra and the Amazonian jungle, and endless rough grazing with a few marginal potato patches on the high puna. Nobody since the lncas has managed to cultivate the highlands effectively.

Peru has no industry that could stand up even to the competition of industry in Chile or Colombia. Its vast and booming fisheries depend, like their predecessor, the briefly successful guano industry of the nineteenth century, on the farming of the developed world, or more exactly on the Western broiler chicks and hogs which feed on fish-meal until some cheaper food comes along.23 It has mineral wealth in large variety, but this is the kind of resource that requires the sort of investments and technology that tend to put Peru at the mercy of foreign enterprise. About the only advantage the country has over other underdeveloped economies is that it does not depend on any single export commodity.

Peru may not be, in the nineteenth-century phrase, “a beggar sitting on a heap of gold,” but its people remain poor and desperately backward. The Incas are gone for good, but their descendants are repossessing their country. From the highlands squat, big-chested, earth-colored men and women flood into the coast and into the subtropical valleys, filling the shanty-towns with the curiously baroque Christian names, the Quechua surnames of the sierra. Four hundred and fifty years of subjection have taught this people of muzhiks in ponchos nothing except how to endure, to survive in their tight but now disintegrating peasant communities, to distrust and not to show their thoughts to their rulers. These are not good qualifications for life in the 1970s, in spite of the passion for learning and progress which has been filling the highlands with primary schools and the cities with families seeking a better education for their children.

What are their prospects? If we leave aside the “strong and sober” who become the cholo lower middle class (inevitably the parallels with Tsarist Russia come to the minds of students of Peru), they are social disruption, underemployment, and poverty. The flight from the land, the uncontrollable growth of a megalopolitan slum zone, which are taking place in Peru today on a huge scale, are extreme versions of the social changes familiar in later nineteenth-century Europe, but in those days (and for those countries) capitalism worked, at least inasmuch as it created enough employment to absorb the new immigrants at a modestly rising standard of living. Hence, outside periods of acute and lasting depression, it seemed plausible enough to concentrate on the rate of economic growth, with employment (and the distribution of the new wealth) by and large left to take care of itself.

But today this will not work, least of all in such countries as Peru. It will merely produce a permanently unsolved social-agrarian problem in the mountains, without the massive remittances from emigrants to Birmingham and Turin which keep analogous areas in Ireland and southern Italy afloat today, and a flood of new townsmen with which neither the economy nor the social administration can cope.

The military regime is not to be blamed for its inability to solve the problem of providing work for the people, which implies fundamental social reconstruction, for (with the possible exception of China) no other regime in an underdeveloped country, socialist or otherwise, seems to have given social reorganization deliberate priority over economic growth, and whether even the Chinese are succeeding is obscure, like so much else about that country. But it would be highly unwise for the rulers of Peru to overlook the urgency of their country’s situation. As it happens, the boom years of the 1960s and the collapse of the old rural quasi-federalism have given them a breathing space and an opportunity.

At the moment Peru is not on the verge of a social explosion, as it seemed to be between 1958 and 1963. But there is no reason to believe that tension will remain slack permanently. Agrarian pressure may well revive in the highlands, social discontent is certain to grow in the giant urban jungles, as it has in Bogotá and Caracas, where it has been reviving the political fortunes of even such discredited political contenders as the ex-dictators Rojas and Perez. (But not, one may add for the benefit of optimists on the extreme left, those of the local Marxist movements.) The Peruvian military have so far been fortunate enough to plan and act without constraints, other than those of their country’s weakness and backwardness. The time for them to consider whether their policies are adequate to achieve their objectives is now.

It would be both unfair and unprofitable to write off the military rulers of Peru summarily, as many on the left are inclined to do. Unfair, because they are serious and devoted men genuinely trying to revolutionize their country and make it independent, however reasonably we may disagree with them. They measure themselves against the major social revolutions of Latin America: not against the capitalist Mexico of the past thirty years, but against the aspirations of the Mexican Revolution. They deserve the compliment of being taken at their word.

Unprofitable, because they are for the politically foreseeable future Peru’s best chance. They may fall victim to dissension within the armed forces, under the pressure of economic difficulties or social tensions, but their most likely successor would be a Brazilian-type military regime, which would be distinctly worse. They may not achieve their objectives, and it is important to point out in what ways their ideology and the nature and limitations of their policies make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to do what they say they want to do. But there is no one else in view who at present stands a realistic chance of achieving them, still less the more advanced objectives of a socialist Peru. The vacuum in Peru remains. There is still no one else to fill it.

The case of the left which rejects the generals is not only that they have turned or are likely to turn the wrong way (the latter is perfectly arguable) but that an alternative exists: a hegemonic Marxist mass movement is an immediate or at least imminent possibility.24 Unfortunately, there is no good reason to expect this. The history of Latin America is full of substitutes for the genuinely popular social revolutionary left that has so rarely been strong enough to determine the shape of its countries’ histories.

The history of the Latin American left is (with rare exceptions such as Cuba and Chile) one of having to choose between an ineffective sectarian purity and making the best of various kinds of bad jobs: civilian or military populists, national bourgeoisies, or whatever else. It is also, quite often, a history of the left regretting its failure to come to terms with such governments and movements before they were replaced by something worse. Today, most of the Argentine left recognizes that it must work with and through the Peronists, who are the labor movement. Twenty years ago hardly any of them did. The Peruvian generals, a rather special variety of such a substitute phenomenon, may fall, fail, or change the character of their regime. If they do any of these things, it will not be an occasion for self-congratulation.

This Issue

December 16, 1971