The article below is by an internationalist collaborator of Committee Sol Peru in London.
"The success of the revolution depends upon the degree of participation of the women"- V. I. Lenin
"Women represent half of the population. The economic conditions of working women and the oppression they suffer, as no one else does, demonstrate that women urgently need the revolution and that they are a force determining the failure or success of the revolution". - Chairman Mao Tse-tung
The interview with a woman combatant in the People's Guerilla Army (EGP - today the PLA, People's Liberation Army led by the Communist Party of Peru) that forms the basis of this article in Red Youth took place in a European country in 1993. This interview was first published in "Cono Sur", an Italian magazine dedicated to information related to Latin American revolutionary movements in the context of genuine internationalist solidarity with today's living revolutions.
The current conditions that the proletarian and peasant masses in Peru are suffering, are those of a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society. Moreover, these conditions which represent economic genocide against the masses, have recently been aggravated by the new imperialist policies developed through their institutional tools such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB).
According to the book by Chossudowsky - "Economic Re-adjustment. Peru under the IMF" (Lima 1991) - "the brutality of the Fuji-shock - a package of economic measures applied by Fujimori immediately after his election - has no precedent in world history".
In Peru, working women who already faced structural unemployment and ferocious exploitation, now also additionally face what Chossudowsky calls "the programmed impoverishment of the majority of Peruvians".
Moreover, women who are also in charge of bringing up their children without any assistance from the state, are faced with brutal repression when they organise and march in protest at this situation. Chossudowsky also says that the current crisis is "the biggest Peru can remember".
In the face of such a situation, is it that difficult to understand why growing numbers of women are joining in the revolutionary struggle? Such advanced women combatants come from a background in which resistance to the crisis has become a way of life for the bulk of the masses.
"J" - is a young woman who has taken part in the revolution in a position of command within a fighting detachment of the EGP. (The EGP has now evolved into the People's Liberation Army, marking the passage from guerilla warfare to mobile warfare in the Maoist People's War in Peru).
The first thing I noticed in "J" was how her face lit-up when she realised our interest and our internationalist solidarity with their struggle.
"J''s revolutionary work was centred in Lima - Peru's capital - and encompassed three different levels: military, political and economic.
It is a Maoist principle that the army should not represent an economic weight upon the masses. Therefore, members of the PLA have to be self-sufficient in order to finance their political and military activities. For this reason, militants of the PCP (Communist Party of Peru) take part in numerous popular organisations flourishing in Lima's shanty-towns.
In these sprawling suburbs - which constitute a "misery belt" in all Latin American metropolis - people, undergoing such great deprivations, are forced to cooperate with each other so as to provide for themselves the basic services they need. Services such as exchanging products, teaching the children, entertainment, etc.
Most people cannot even afford travelling to the city centre in order to sell their labour power, and therefore they have to develop the areas where they have settled into some form of communal arrangement that allows them to sort out the problems of daily life.
Members of the PCP and combatants of the PLA also work within such organisations in preparing food, crafts, playing music, staging plays, and so on. A red thread links this self-supporting structure with the "Shining Trenches of Struggle" - the jails where PCP war prisoners also make numerous craft works and other simple manufactures which they exchange with those outside. In this way the prisoners themselves contribute to the support of their families, the People's War and also themselves, in some sort of support circuit encompassing the inside as well as the outside of the prisons.
War prisoners also must be self-sufficient in defending and protecting themselves from all sorts of fascistic onslaughts on the part of the jail system, and they cook their own food (to avoid poisoning and food mixed with ground glass, for example) and provide their own medical assistance as well, since the state authorities continuously attempt to spread tuberculosis among the prisoners by various means, including injecting it under the guise of "medical treatment".
PCP prisoners have turned these dark dungeons of reaction into places of learning and political education, as well as into luminous show cases of the wonders of communal labour in producing a livable situation for all. Their determination and industry, prevented the daily criminal attacks on the part of reaction. The frustration of reaction's underhand genocidal plans forced the regime to show the true face of its brutality as well as its inherent weakness by massacring the prisoners in numerous occasions.
For example, in 1986, the Apra regime of Alan Garcia (a peculiarly Peruvian semi-fascistic social-democrat party) massacred over 350 prisoners in the jails of El Fronton, Lurigancho and Santa Barbara, and in 1992 the Fujimori regime bombed Canto Grande jail, where over 100 were killed and 500 wounded.
The growing contradictions of an economic and political nature in Peru are increasingly polarising the forces of reaction and revolution. That is why the PCP continues to grow, since the masses also increasingly perceive that they have no other alternative to resolve their problems, except by means of revolution. They realise that there is no limit to the degree of exploitation and repression which the regime is willing to impose in order to sustain the interests of the classes it represents.
The PCP is the only force consistently and ceaselessly undermining the interests of the exploiting classes controlling the old Peruvian state, and those of imperialism, principally US imperialism, sustaining their rule.
"J" - in order to carry out her mass political work - would go into areas of the city where she was not known. The shanty-town where she worked was one of the largest in Lima. She would go from house to house talking to "people who wanted to know about the Party's programme and what are its proposals" - discussions were animated and touched lots of topics".
I asked about what sort of security arrangements she would have for her activities - She explained that the Party's intelligence services would previously select the families to be contacted, so that she already knew these people were "good ground for the Party's seed".
Working within such as myriad-like network of communications, and given the crucial role the Communist Party attaches to the spoken word as the most efficient and cheapest means of dissemination of ideas, it is not surprising that in shantytowns, cadres of the PCP are not feared, but on the contrary, regarded with respect, and even admiration.
Within a daily existence that offers scant hope, the ideological clarity and determination of the PCP cadres would instill a sense of hope and optimism, encouragement for the masses in their resistance to the inhuman conditions of life as well as to the brutality of the regime.
The Communist Party of Peru - what the bourgeois media calls "The Shining Path" - invests great amounts of time in training its cadres, regarding them as a valuable resource of incalculable value. They come from the masses, live with masses, and return to the masses as communist revolutionaries. For these reason ordinary people always say that PCP cadres are the best sons and daughters of the masses.
I asked "J" to tell me about some specific problems women must face, such as maternity, contraception and abortion. She explained to me that the Party provides medical care to the militants and their families, something of vital importance, particularly for those working underground. The medical teams are itinerant and their arrival into an area is announced to the people a few days before hand. For women who would request it, contraceptives are supplied. Anyone needing to interrupt a pregnancy would receive medical assistance from the Party.
Currently the policy of the Party is not to encourage women cadres to become mothers at a time the People's war is undergoing a moment in which the maximum commitment on their part is required. However, for those deciding to become mothers, the Party also provides medical as well as economic support.
While there are some women cadres who would lapse in their militancy because they cannot afford the time and commitment and must take care of their children, there many others who - having become mothers - will fight with even more determination, since they understand well that they are fighting also for their children's future.
This also often depends on whether it is possible for these women to have the help of parents or relatives for child-care. The PCP suggests to its militants that they should conquest the support of their families, relatives and neighbours. This is good not only to enable the militants to carry out their political work without abandoning their kids, but it is also good because in this way more and more people get involved in supporting the revolution.
"J" told me about many different ways in which the masses take part in the People's War. Only a selected group of people belong to the Party. However, the masses contribute as much as they can. "J" tells me how much she learned from the generosity of the masses - "those with hardly anything to eat would offer us a piece of their bread, a cup of mate tea, shelter for the night, or would hide us after an action".
The militant activity of "J" included organising and implementing plans for the attack of police stations, military barracks, municipal buildings and other state institutions. Also attacks against state authorities, sabotage of infrastructure, blowing-up electrical pylons - provoking black-outs which would allow other attacks to be carried out taking advantage of darkness - are activities in which "J" would take part.
She told me "when the party would indicate a target, our group would draw a plan of action and submit it for the Party's approval. Once approved, the plan would come back to us. The communication between the grassroots and the leadership is fundamental in order to act in a coordinated fashion. The Party would thus have all the information and plans offered and supplied by the grassroots detachments, whereas we would only know of our own plan. Once a plan was approved, we would sometimes have to wait days and even weeks before we would get the go ahead to commence the operation".
"J" led her EGP detachment and told me that at the beginning - as a woman - she found it not an easy thing to do, to take charge of her male comrades. However, "working in common helped male comrades to change their mentality and to learn to respect us building-up a relationship of trust, essential in order to achieve our common aims".
Women comrades in the PCP know that the principles they fight for are necessary for the liberation of all oppressed masses, and therefore, they enjoy full political legitimacy within the PCP. Male comrades in the PCP also respect women in the context of their personal relationships and vice-versa.
When in a couple conformed by militants, one of the partners would place obstacles or would impinge in his/her own personal freedom for reasons of gender, and that fact becomes evident in one or the other's political work, comrades will then intervene in the situation. They would try to discuss these problems with the couple in the light of the Party's commitment to struggling against backward ideas and chauvinistic attitudes in particular.
Peru's traditional Andean peasant culture is quite a lot more rigid than that prevailing in the urban areas. Peasant women who would stray from their husbands are severely punished but sexual harassment and adultery on the part of men is rather prevalent. On the other hand, there where the Party establishes its influence, divorce is introduced and sexual harassment is not tolerated. All these achievements have been made possible because of the progressive position of the Party and the determination of the PCP women militants.
One of the main transformations implemented by the PCP in 17 years of people's War has been the destruction of the landlord system and the seizure of the land on the part of the peasantry. We are talking of over 1,000.000 hectares, one third of the arable land in the entire country. It is also important to stress that the Party suggests that the re-distribution of land be done to the persons instead of to the family as is the custom in Peru, always to the benefit of the male head of the family. The peasant communities that have introduced these changes, have therefore also distributed land to the women, enabling them to break the roots of subordination to the males.
In conclusion, only the direct and massive participation of revolutionary women, principally working women, in taking the initiative and sharing weal and woe as part and parcel of the oppressed people in the shaping of the revolutionary process, remains the sole guarantee of a genuine defense and promotion of women's rights within a real and concrete path of liberation.
Peru Support Committee/Detroit