Mon Dec 11, 2023
December 11, 2023

Who was Hugo Blanco?

Nahuel Moreno said that Hugo Blanco was the greatest Trotskyist mass leader after Trotsky. And to this day this is still true. He was the undisputed leader of the Peruvian agrarian revolution, which was centered in the province of La Convención in the 1960s [1]. Throughout that process, he was part of our current and of the struggle for the construction of the revolutionary party in Peru. Today he works in the indigenous movement and continues to be an important reference for the Latin American peasant-indigenous activists and supporters.

By Alicia Sagra

Hugo Blanco Galdós was born in Cuzco, Peru, in 1934. His father was a lawyer who defended peasants, which meant that from an early age, he learned about their miseries and learned the Quechua language through contact with old peasant and indigenous leaders who visited his father.

In 1954 he went to La Plata, Argentina to study Agronomy. There he joined the organization led by Nahuel Moreno known by the name of its newspaper “Palabra Obrera.” He describes that stage of his life as follows:

“In 1954 I went to La Plata, Argentina, when there was a dictatorship in Peru. There the aprista exiles (members of the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana] arrived, like Melgar, Villanueva. My brothers, 17 and 19 years old, were imprisoned for being apristas. At that time being an aprista, or communist, was a crime in Peru. When I arrived I just found out that my brother was secretary general of the APRA cell in La Plata. Of course there was no persecution there.

I did not like the APRA. And my brother was in charge of keeping the communists away from me. I was looking for people from the POR (and/or the Trotskyist people I knew existed), because I knew that in Lima, there had been repression against the POR and in the newspaper they had published their program, which I liked.

We were in my brother’s room, which was on the Aprista Party premises. The Federated Center had fallen, for the first time, into the hands of the left. And my brother said to me: “You know what Pavón has done, he has taken a Trotskyist to the Union of Peruvian Students.” And then, I stopped listening. And my other brother said to him: “You have just come to tell him that he is looking for Trotskyists.”

There was a mobilization in support of the Peruvian students and there I met the Peruvian Carlos Salguín and I told him: “You are a Trotskyist and I am looking for rebellious Apristas, POR or Trotskyist people.” He answered me: “I am a Trotskyist of the POR-Peru and I have been deported” and he put me in contact with the Argentine POR. That is how I met Moreno, he was the leader of the POR. It was 1956.

I and other students left the university and went to work in factories [2]. In Peru there was an opening. We had to return to build the party there.

The group of Peruvians who was tasked with going back to Peru, we thought to ourselves: how could we go back there? Although we were aspirants, we had the privilege of participating in the meetings of the party leadership where Moreno was” [3].

Blanco’s going to Peru was not to join the peasant movement, but, as he well says, it had the central objective of helping the construction of the revolutionary party. With this objective, he joined the POR [4].

“Already in Peru, I tried to enter factories, but they were small factories and without unions and we tried to form them. Until I finally managed to enter an oil factory, which did have a union. At that moment Nixon, who was vice-president at the time, arrived and a demonstration was prepared against his visit in which the Peruvian POR participated and there was repression. That is when we decided to go to Cuzco, where there was a major uprising. And there began another story, the struggle of the Convention” [5].

The struggle in La Convención

Hugo went to Cuzco where worked selling newspapers and founded the union.  He joined the peasants of La Convención. He was imprisoned for participating in a mobilization in Cuzco and released under pressure from the Federation of Workers of La Convención and with their support he managed to overcome the obstacles that the Communist Party put in his way to participate in the assemblies of the Federation of Workers of Cuzco and the Federation of Peasants. He settled in the valley of La Convención and by promoting the peasant union organization, he became a great leader of the agrarian uprising that broke out in 1961, which had its center in the Province of La Convención, at the same time that he won over peasant leaders for the construction of the revolutionary party, from the moment he joined the POR.

The cry of “Ota allpa otac huañuy! (Land or death!) will travel through the valleys in the mouths of tens of thousands of peasants. When Blanco arrived in Cuzco, he found only six organized unions. By the end of his campaign, there would be one hundred and forty-eight.

In July 1961 Hugo Blanco was already an important peasant leader in La Convención and he was fighting tooth and nail with the PC for the leadership of the FTC (Federation of Cuzco Workers)”[6].

For a year the process of unionization, the occupation of haciendas, and armed confrontations with the police continued. The policy discussed in the SLATO (Latin American Secretariat of Orthodox Trotskyism) of promoting peasant organization in the struggle against the large estates incorporated the defense of the indigenous as an oppressed nation.

“The “Indian” is an oppressed nationality. Although the wall that separates him from the mestizo and the white is not as solid as in the case of the U.S., the humiliation, the crushing of which he is a victim are greater. Their language, their music, their clothing, their tastes, their customs are mocked, crushed, denigrated (…) Undoubtedly, the struggle in the countryside is of the peasant against the landlord [7]; but the vindication of the Indian, of the oppressed nationality, is a fundamental ingredient. That is why we have always spoken in Quechua throughout the struggle, we have always exalted the Indian”[8].

And, as Nahuel Moreno stated, “the great problem that arises is how we combine this struggle for land and the vote for the peasantry [9] (which is a struggle that interests the rural masses) with the problems that afflict or worry the urban masses and especially the working class of Lima.”[10]

Unfortunately, this combination was not realized. Efforts to find a solution abroad did not produce results. Palabra Obrera de Argentina sent one of its leaders to Cuba to ask for material support, but that help did not arrive. Thus the peasant insurrection was isolated and repression, especially the persecution of Hugo Blanco, increased.

Hugo Blanco is captured

In August 1962, Blanco, with a group of comrades, was forced to form a guerrilla group to defend himself.

“What was foreseeable happened. Strong repression against us caused the collapse of everything (…) except the only solid thing that existed: the peasant movement. Although due to its protection, they could not imprison me, my action was very limited (…) It was precisely the isolation that forced us to turn from militia into guerrillas.”[11] This armed detachment was approved by the peasants’ mass meetings.

This armed detachment was approved by the peasant assemblies.

“The support of the peasantry was almost absolute, exciting. It fed us, clothed us, guided us, protected us (…) As our stomach and our backpack had limited capacity, we received a little from each one, so that no one would feel offended (…) any allusion to payment would have been an insult (…)”[12].

Hugo Blanco and his armed detachment continued touring the different zones and signing as “Secretary of Agrarian Reform of the Departmental Federation,” the resolutions approved by the peasant assemblies. They had three armed confrontations. Finally, on May 15, 1963, Hugo Blanco was arrested. He was saved from being assassinated because there was a discussion between his captors who did not agree to kill him.

A great international campaign succeeded in having his death sentence commuted to 25 years in prison. He was amnestied after 8 years and deported to Mexico, from there he went to Argentina where he was imprisoned again and a new international campaign achieved his freedom.

The great mass support he had was evidenced by the fact that he was elected to the leadership of the Federation of Peasants during all the years he was imprisoned, but not only that.  It was very moving, listening to him in a talk he gave to PST militants in La Plata when he told us that when he was persecuted, in every peasant house in La Convención there was an extra bed, it was the bed for Hugo Blanco. He also talked about how important it was for him, when he was incommunicado, to see every night, through a small window that looked out onto a hill, FREEDOM FOR HUGO BLANCO written with torches.

The same relationship with the mass movement was shown when returning from exile as a member of FOCEP[13], he ran in the elections to the Constituent Assembly of 1978 and was one of the candidates with the most votes.

Hugo Blanco was not a guerrilla leader.

Although this is how many sectors present him, this has nothing to do with reality. Hugo Blanco continues to be a great defender of grassroots democracy, of the assemblies, which is the opposite of the actions of all guerrilla leaders, who never took into account the opinion of the worker and peasant bases.

Nahuel Moreno explains this when he polemicizes with Mandel (Germain) on the actions of Hugo Blanco in Peru: “Does comrade Germain forget that everything Hugo Blanco did was done from the peasant trade unions and not from a “revolutionary army” created by the party, on his own initiative? Does comrade Germain forget that the armed struggle arose as a necessity of the peasant movement (unionized by Hugo Blanco) to defend itself from the repression unleashed by the regime in the face of the massive occupation of lands? What does that armed struggle, the fruit of a moment of the class struggle in Peru, have to do with the “strategy of armed struggle” of the majority for all Latin America and for every moment of the class struggle? Does comrade Germain forget that this armed struggle arose as a necessity of the peasant mass movement and not as an initiative of the party nor of the vanguard”[14]?

We have already seen Hugo Blanco’s explanation of why he had to resort to the guerrilla method. But so that there are no doubts about his position on the subject, let us see what he said in 1970, in an interview carried out by Imprecor and reproduced in Revista de América N 1 [15]

Blanco: It is very sad that Fidel supports this bourgeois, pro-imperialist government, because of its policy of development of the country and its anti-imperialist demagogy. This is the government that has massacred peasants, that stands by the side of the national bourgeoisie and the imperialists in their conflicts with the Peruvian workers and that is repressing the students (…).

Why does Fidel place his trust in a government that fights against peasant women? Why does he not trust that comrade who fought for her land and fed, clothed, and protected her guerrillas fighting in the mountains? Does Fidel believe that only the guerrillas and the bourgeois armies are capable of making a revolution? It will be the masses of Peru who will make the revolution, Comrade Fidel, and they will use the guerrillas only as one of their weapons.

(…)

Blanco: From the answers we have given to the other questions it is clear that we do not consider the guerrilla struggle as a strategy, but only as a tactic to be used at certain moments and under certain circumstances.

To elevate the rural guerrilla struggle as a general strategy for all Latin American countries was a grave error on the part of Fidel and Che. It has been a very painful experience for all of Latin America. Fortunately, the harsh reality is forcing many Fidelist comrades to reconsider. They are beginning to understand that the choice is not between opportunism or guerrilla warfare, but between opportunism or revolution.[16]

Hugo Blanco today

Hugo Blanco has distanced himself from Trotskyism, he does not belong to any political organization and he directs the magazine “Lucha indígena”.

Unlike so many other leaders, he did not go from the “trenches to the palaces.” On the contrary, from his current indigenist vision, he has continued the struggle against imperialism and capitalism, defending the interests of the exploited and oppressed, always vindicating the grassroots democracy of the peasant and indigenous assemblies.

Hugo Blanco was a glory of our current. The political, programmatic, and ideological differences that we have today, do not change anything of that glorious past nor our great respect for him and his permanent struggle.

[1] One of the 13 provinces that make up the department of Cusco, in southern Peru.

[2] Hugo Blanco worked as a worker in the Frigorífico Swift of Berisso.

[3][3] Conversations with Nahuel Moreno, homage edition 30 years after his death. Testimony of Hugo Blanco. Ediciones Marxismo Vivo

[4] Revolutionary Workers Party, Trotskyist organization, belonging to the SLATO (Latin American Secretariat of Orthodox Trotskyism), and organization founded by Moreno before the refusal of the North American SWP to centralize the International Committee, the sector which grouped the organizations which confronted the Pabloite deviation in the rupture of the IV International in 1953. In the SLATO were other leaders, such as Luis Vitale, and it grouped the Argentine, Chilean and Peruvian parties.

[5] Idem

[6] Labor and internationalist Trotskyism in Argentina, Cord. Ernesto González

[7] Gamonalism was a system of power in the hands of the landowners, which arose in the middle of the 19th century and was maintained until the agrarian reform of 1970, in southern Peru.  Not all of these landowners had inherited the land, but many of them, by means of trickery, had stolen it from the indigenous people.

[8] Hugo Blanco, Land or Death. The peasant struggle in Peru

[9] Only the literate voted and at that time illiteracy reached 80% in the rural areas of Cuzco (quoted in El trotskismo obrero e internacionalista en Argentina, page 210).

[10] Nahuel Moreno’s letter of April 1961.

[11] Hugo Blanco, Tierra o muerte. The peasant struggle in Peru.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Frente Obrero, Campesino, Popular, which obtained 12% of the votes.

[14] Nahuel Moreno, El partido y la revolución, Ediciones Marxismo Vivo, p. 276.

[15] Imprecor, magazine of the Unified Secretariat. Revista de América, magazine of the Bolshevik Fraction, predecessor of the LIT-CI.

[16] Report on Bejar, Gadea and Blanco, published in Revista de América N 1 (May 1970).

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