From Indigenous Struggle to Ecosocialism: An Interview with Peruvian Activist Hugo Blanco

Source: Counterpunch

The epic life of Hugo Blanco requires an epic introduction. None could do better than Eduardo Galeano:

“Hugo Blanco was born for the first time in Cuzco, 1934. He arrived in Peru, a country divided in two. He was born in the middle. He was white, but he was raised in Huanoquite, a town where his friends in games and adventures all spoke Quechua. He went to school in Cuzco, where the Indios couldn’t walk on the sidewalks, which were reserved for decent people. Hugo was born for the second time when he was ten years old. He received news from his town, and learned that Bartolome Paz had branded an indigenous peasant with a hot iron. This owner of land and people had branded his initials with fire on the buttocks of a peasant, named Francisco Zamata, because he hadn’t tended well to the cows on his property. This wasn’t so unusual in fact, but that brand marked Hugo forever. And as the years passed, this man who wasn’t Indio started becoming one; he organized campesino unions and paid with beatings, tortures, prisons, harassment and exile his chosen disgrace. . . Hugo Blanco has walked his country backwards and forwards, from the snowy mountains to the dry coasts, passing through the humid jungles where the natives are hunted like beasts. And wherever he has gone, has has helped the fallen to get up, the silenced to speak. The authorities accused him of being a terrorist. They were right. He sowed terror among the owners of lands and peoples. He slept under the stars and in cells occupied by rats. He went on fourteen hunger strikes. . . More than once, the prosecutors demanded the death penalty, and more than once the news was published that Hugo had died. And when a drill opened up his skull, because a vein had burst, Hugo awoke in panic that the surgeons may have changed his ideas. But no. He continued to be, with his skull sewed up, the same Hugo as always. His friends are sure that no transplant of ideas would work. But we did fear that that Hugo would wake up sane. But here he is – he continues to be that beautiful madman who decided to be Indio, even though he wasn’t, and wound up being more Indio than anyone.”

— Eduardo Galeano, excerpts from passages quoted in Lucha Indiegna #105, May 2015

Quincy Saul: We read in Lucha Indigena and other publications that in Peru today roughly 20% of the national territory has been ceded to foreign mining interests. We read also about the Guardians of Lakes, and the people resisting mining in Cajamarca. What are the lessons for the world that are emerging from these struggles?

Hugo Blanco: We all learn from the struggles in Peru and in the rest of the world. From the 4th to the 8th of August of 2014, we were gathered in Cajamarca weaving international alliances. The dominant system’s means of communication hide our struggles or lie about them. They are spokespeople for the enemies of humanity and nature. So one of our great tasks is to broadcast what is really happening.

The diffusion of our news awakens national and international solidarity. This international solidarity is manifested in actions of all kinds: Declarations, conferences, publications, public gatherings, and marches, all of which seek to stop the attack on the defenders of Water and Life.

“Lucha Indigena” has economic limitations – we could do much more if we had more resources, if we had a local in the capital of the country, where in addition to selling the periodical we could sell pamphlets, shirts, stickers, as we have done at times when we have received some money. We would screen some of the many movies about the struggle, host conferences, and organize debates. We would have more possibilities of weaving networks.

We would show reality, the truth of the facts: That so-called “progress” and “development” are predatory to nature; they use up all the water necessary for small-scale agriculture, (which feeds people good food) and they are leading us towards the extinction of the species. Now, there is a small network of comrades at an international level which has understood this and is beginning a collaboration with “Lucha Indigena.” To communicate with them, write to the Colombian comrade Manuel Rozental, or to the Uruguayan comrade Raul Zibechi.[1]

QS: You have said that you used to think the revolution would come in the distant future, but when you learned about climate change you realized that revolution will have to come within your lifetime. The climate scientists agree, and give us a short timeline (a 2015 carbon emissions peak). Is this a pipe dream? You have said that this revolution is possible, but not certain.[2] How can we save the world in so short a time? How can we do it while also staying true to what the Zapatistas call “the speed of democracy”?

HB: Before I thought that if my generation didn’t make the revolution, then future generations would make it. What I now see is that there will not be future generations, if transnational corporations continue to govern the world. The only thing that interests them is profit, and it is with this single objective that they direct all technical and scientific advances, attacking nature more and more. If this continues, the human species may not last another 100 years.

I believe that the capitalist system today, in its neoliberal stage, has entered into its final crisis, an economic, ethical and political crisis. Some call it a “crisis of civilization.” This crisis can conclude in two ways: One in which a unified humanity kicks the transnational corporations out of the governments of the world, and directs its own destiny. The other way is if humanity cannot do this, and the government of transnationals exterminates humanity, including of course all the components of the governing transnationals. This is why I said that before I fought for social equality, and now I fight for something more and more important – the survival of my species.

QS: How can the revolutionary ideologies of the industrial working class (Marxist-Leninism, etc) work together with the revolutionary cosmovisions of indigenous peoples? One sees revolution as progress, the other as return. (Not return to the past, which as you have said is impossible, but “a return to the principles of communal society on the continent before the invasion.”[3]) One seeks mastery over nature, the other seeks harmony within it. In your life you have embodied and encompassed both, so you are in a rare and unique position to answer this question. It is an ideological-spiritual question, but also a practical-strategic one — must indigenous peoples join the industrial working class in a factory system? Or must factory workers join indigenous nations in subsistence living?

HB: Now that we have begun to talk of Marxism, let’s talk about him. I respect Marx a great deal, he has been one of my fundamental teachers. It is he who best analyzed capital, and has taught us the method of dialectical materialism. When they asked him if he was a Marxist, he said that Marxism didn’t exist. What happened is that since we came from Christianity, we were left without a Bible, and there are those who are looking for a substitute. I admire and respect Marx and his teachings, but I don’t take his writings as a Bible.

Marx was a human being, capable of being wrong, such as when he thought that since socialism would come after the development of capitalism, the revolution would be made in England or in another developed country. Fortunately Lenin was not dogmatic, and he understood that the chain could be broken in its weakest link, and was one of the drivers of the Russian revolution. Departing from this same premise, Marx said that he thought that the conquest of India by the English was positive – I am not in agreement with this.

But we don’t forget that Marx talked about “primitive communism.” We also don’t forget the admiration and respect that Engels had for the primitive “gens.”

José Carlos Mariategui got to know the indigenous community, but this didn’t fit the Stalinist “official line” of the “revolution in stages:” “First the democratic-bourgeois revolution against feudalism supporting the ‘progressive bourgeoisie’, and later the socialist revolution.” To this he said “the revolution in Peru will be socialist or it will not be.” We don’t forget that in his most famous work “Seven Essays,” two of them are dedicated to the indigenous, “El Problema del indio,” and “El problema de la tierra.”

In terms of Lenin, he is another of my great teachers. However, I believe the necessity of a party is relative. On the point of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, I am not for any dictatorship. We have seen in Russia how it turned into the dictatorship of a bloody bureaucracy that massacred the proletariat and buried the revolution.

Marx said that it is better to see reality than to read 100 books. As I respect him, I follow his advice – and what do I see? That because of the treason of Social Democracy and Stalinism, vigorous workers’ revolutions were destroyed, as in Austria and Spain. The bourgeoisie read Marx too, and it knew that the proletariat would be its gravedigger. So it fought back with outsourcing, (so that the worker wouldn’t be able to claim an increase in wages from the factory owner, because the owner didn’t contract the worker) with the hierarchal organization that divides workers, and with automation, etc. Meanwhile, capital is ferociously attacking nature, and those who are most connected to nature are the indigenous peoples, who use their collective organization to struggle in its defense.

Trotskysm? Trotsky said that Trotskyism doesn’t exist. The organization of the Fourth International sought to revindicate the revolutionary tradition against the distortions of Marxism, which the bureaucracy made for its own interests. They predicted that if the workers in the cities and the country didn’t recover power in the Soviet Union, it would fall into the hands of capitalism. Unfortunately, this happened – the principal leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union became the most important neoliberal capitalists. The objective of “Trotskyism” was to combat the soviet bureaucracy which governed the communist parties of the world. As those bureaucracies have disappeared, why be a Trotskist? I have to join with those who are fighting against the neoliberal system, fundamentally in defense of nature. Naturally everything I have learned from what is called “Trotskyism” I continue to use, such as confrontations against bureaucracies. But it would be stupid to tell the youth: “In the last century there as a debate in the Left.” I have to tell them about the attack on the environment and how to struggle in its defense. Trotskyist comrades in France and Spain have joined with non-Trotskyist revolutionaries in the same organization, which seems correct to me.

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