Passing of Hugo Blanco. A permanent rebel at the service of those from below

By Carlos Maradona and Guillermo Pacagnini

On Sunday, June 25, comrade Hugo Blanco, one of the most important Trotskyist leaders of the Latin American mass movement, passed away. Born to political life by the hand of our historic current and Nahuel Moreno, he was a protagonist of the peasant uprising of Cuzco, one of the most important revolutionary experiences of the continent, part of the upsurge opened with the Cuban Revolution and also one of the laboratories where the first great polemic on strategy in the Trotskyist movement was developed: party building or the guerrilla foco. We vindicate his trajectory of struggle, of promoting permanent mobilization, his passion for the workers’, peasants’ and popular organization and his revolutionary morality both in his intervention in the mass processes and in parliamentary tasks.

His beginnings

Hugo Blanco Galdós, born in Cuzco, Peru, in the year 1934, was the son of a lawyer father, defender of peasants in that area of Peru. From an early age, he learned the Quechua language and started his relation with peasant leaders.

Very young, in his twenties, when there was a dictatorship in Peru, he travelled to Argentina with the goal of studying agronomy in the University of La Plata. It was in that city where he met the organization Palabra Obrera, oriented by Nahuel Moreno. In our country there were many exiled young Peruvians, among them the brother of Hugo Blanco. Many of those exiled had been militants of the APRA (1) in Peru. Hugo Blanco had learned about Trotskyism through the Partido Obrero Revolucionario in Peru and in Argentina he tried to connect with Trotskyist organizations. That is how he learned about Palabra Obrera, which had a strong implantation in workers and student sectors in the city of La Plata. Hugo Blanco and other Peruvian comrades, left the university and went to work in factories in the area. Hugo Blanco did so in the cool store Swift of Berisso. When the dictatorship fell in Peru and an opening came, he and other comrades returned, now with the idea of strengthening the construction of a revolutionary party in Peru. For that reason, he joins the Peruvian POR.

In Peru, it was much more difficult to work in a factory than in Argentina, but Hugo Blanco managed to do so in a small oil mill that did not have a union. At that time, Richard Nixon, Vice-President of the USA, arrived in Peru and a large demonstration was prepared to condemn his visit. The POR actively participated in the march and a fierce repression was unleashed. Comrades were arrested and a process of searching for others began, among them Hugo Blanco. At that time the party decided that he should travel to Cuzco where a very important peasant uprising was taking place.

The uprising of La Convención and the role of Hugo Blanco

When he arrives in Cuzco, Hugo works as a canillita (newspaper seller) and founds a union. He begins to associate with the peasants of the province of La Convención. He is imprisoned for participating in a mobilization and with strong pressure from the Federation of Workers of La Convención he is released. He moved to the valley of La Convención and there he began to promote the peasant organization, with the experience in organization that he had acquired in Argentina. In 1961 a great agrarian uprising broke out in the province of La Convención and Lares. There Hugo Blanco became an important peasant leader, he helped to incorporate other leaders to the party and a great strengthening of the POR took place. The cry of “Ota allpa otac huañuy” (Land or death) became the rallying cry of tens of thousands of peasants. With the work carried out by Hugo Blanco and his comrades in Cuzco, the number of organized unions increased from 6 to 148. In June 1961 Hugo Blanco became one of the most important peasant leaders in Cuzco and began a dispute with the Peruvian Communist Party for the leadership of the Federation of Workers of Cuzco.

Throughout the entire year a process of unionization, occupation of farms and armed confrontations with the police developed. The international current promoted by Nahuel Moreno, the SLATO (Latin American Secretariat of Orthodox Trotskyism) promoted with all its might the struggle against the large estates and gave hierarchy in its program to the defense of the indigenous as an oppressed nation. The armed insurrection advanced in Cuzco but did not manage to spread to the whole territory of Peru. From Argentina, Palabra Obrera launched an international campaign of support, a comrade of the leadership was sent to Cuba to ask the government of Fidel Castro to support this uprising and material aid, but that aid never arrived. The peasant insurrection was becoming isolated and a strong repression began against its leaders, in particular against Hugo Blanco.

In August 1962, the protection of the peasants had prevented Hugo Blanco from being captured, but he was forced to assemble a guerrilla unit to hide in the mountains in order to survive. Finally, on May 15, 1963, Hugo Blanco was arrested and sentenced to death. A large international campaign promoted by the SLATO succeeded in having the death penalty annulled and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Eight years after his arrest, an amnesty was declared and he was deported first to Mexico and from there to Argentina. While he was detained, he continued to be a symbol of struggle and organization for the peasants of Cuzco, who organized with torches, a large poster that read “Freedom to Hugo Blanco” on the slope of one of the hills. This process gave rise to a very important debate in the Peruvian party and the Trotskyist movement on the policy to unite the peasant struggle with the urban working class and, above all, the strategy of party building in contrast to guerrilla warfare. In the same way that the impulse of the Cuban revolution drove great processes of mobilization, the policy of the guerrilla foco aborted and was disastrous for those processes. This happened in the context of the Peruvian process, where unfortunately the orientation of the SLATO, which proposed not only to develop the peasant struggle raising their demands as part of the transition program, but to unite the agrarian revolution with the urban masses and to call for the building of the revolutionary party, was not carried out. The foco policy and the abandonment of the strategy of building a party prevailed. A policy adopted by Mandelism which later led to the split of the IV International. Hugo Blanco, although he would later abandon Moreno’s current, would recognize the correctness of his proposals (3).

The FOCEP experience and the link to the indigenous movement

At the end of the 1970s, Hugo Blanco returned to Peru after many years in exile. In 1978 a large movement of workers and peasants developed, also driven by Trotskyism, which gave rise to the formation of the FOCEP (Student, Peasant, Worker, Student and Popular Front). In the 1978 elections to the Constituent Assembly, the FOCEP obtained 12% of the votes and Hugo Blanco was one of the most voted candidates.

The FOCEP achieved a strong implantation and development, but by not advancing in the construction of the revolutionary party, an extraordinary opportunity to connect with the growing anger among workers and peasants was lost and this experience was frustrated.

In 1980 he became a representative and in 1990 he was elected senator. From the National Congress he was once again the spokesman for the struggles and demands of the workers, peasants and popular sectors of Peru. This term was interrupted in 1992 by Fujimori’s self-coup.

Hugo Blanco never abandoned the struggle nor took advantage of his achievements for personal interests, although he moved away from Trotskyism and linked with the indigenous movement, he always defended the interests of the peoples. He directed for many years the magazine La lucha indígena and continued the battle against imperialism and capitalism, defending with all his strength the interests of the exploited and oppressed and the democracy of the bases and the assemblies to decide everything in the indigenous and peasant movement.

A life at the service of struggles

As we can see, Hugo Blanco’s whole life was marked by struggle, mobilization, the defense of peasant, workers’ and popular causes and the battle for the trade union and political organization of the people. Beyond his distancing himself first from our current, adhering to Mandelist revisionism and later from Trotskyism, his militant life expressed decades of struggle and organization that all revolutionaries of the world must vindicate.

In 2003 Hugo Blanco suffered a stroke from which he was able to recover, although it left sequels in his organism. On Sunday, June 25, at the age of 89, he died in Sweden, where his children had managed to transfer him for a highly complex and very expensive medical treatment, for which they asked for solidarity support. This time the disease beat him and took away an extraordinary peasant and popular leader, an eternal defender of the rights of the exploited and oppressed and a builder of revolutionary organization to fight for the rights of those at the bottom.

From the MST – International Socialist League we bid farewell with great sadness to comrade Hugo Blanco. But this sadness does not tarnish the vindication of a life put at the service of the struggles and that is why Hugo Blanco will always be in the struggle and the organization of the peoples of the world, in this battle so unequal but so necessary against capitalism, against imperialism and against all those who want to advance against the peoples. Farewell comrade Hugo Blanco, till socialism.

  1. APRA: Peruvian Popular Revolutionary Alliance or Aprista Party, traditional Peruvian party originally born as a bourgeois nationalist movement.
  2. Land or Death. Peasant struggles in Peru. Writings of Hugo Blanco where he recounts his experience with the peasant uprising in Cuzco.
  3. Peru: two strategies. Texts by Nahuel Moreno and exchange of letters with Hugo Blanco and other POR leaders.