From Indigenous Struggle to Ecosocialism

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 landordeathgenerations, 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.

QS: In “Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru” you talk about your “syndicalist deviation” and failure to build the Party.[4] In more recent writings you express opposition to all forms of vanguardism. This is a two part question: Tell us about how your ideas about organization have changed. And what is the most appropriate form for revolutionary organization in the 21st century? You have said that “we must braid together internationally the defense of Mother Earth.”[5] How?

HB:  The indigenous campesino struggle in the valleys of La Convencion and Lares was successful. Our slogan was “Land or Death!” We got the land. It was the first land reform in Peru, from 1961-1963 (the Velasco land reform was in 1971). It was the most complete. We didn’t leave a single handful of earth to the latifundistas, and didn’t pay them a cent. We struggled against the latifundistas, against the government, against the police and against the courts. It cost us lives and jail, but we were victorious.

At that time I thought it was a deficiency to not have built the party. But I don’t think so anymore. As the Zapatistas say, everyone will see in their time and place how to do things. If we believe we should build a party, we should do it, and if we don’t think it’s convenient, we shouldn’t. But if we construct a party, it must be the base of the party which commands, not the leaders. I repeat another Zapatista concept: Command by obeying (Mandar obedeciendo). I believe that in Peru today a party is not necessary. In other places it could be necessary.

How can we weave the defense of Mother Earth together internationally? From August 4-8th, we were occupied with this question in Cajamarca. There was an international gathering in defense of water. There were people form Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, France, Basque Country, Cataluna, and Holland. After the debates we constituted an international network, and thousands of us walked to visit the lakes (at an altitude of 4000 meters) which the Conga mining project (that has the government, parliament, courts, police and the big media as its servants) is trying to destroy. There is also another smaller and more condensed international network, with many points of view in common, which I am part of.

QS: You have written extensively about the Zapatistas. Other former guerrilas like Raquel Guitérrez Aguilar have written about how the Zapatista uprising in 1994 was a personal and political turning point for them. Was it the same for you? What’s the relationship between Zapatismo and ecosocialism? Can we say that Zapatistas are ecosocialists, even if not all ecosocialists are Zapatistas?

HB:  The Zapatistas are the best socialists I have met, with their seven principles of commanding by obeying. In the Zapatista territories, they elect not individual authorities, but groups, who are replaced after a short time. No authority at any level ever gains a cent. They are ecologists; they eat the food they grow themselves, and they don’t use agrochemicals or GMOs. They are ecosocialists even though they don’t use the term.

QS: People all over the world see South America has a region of hope for revolutionary change. Is there promise in Venezuela’s adoption of ecosocialism as official government policy? You have written about how the indigenous peoples of South America are often fighting against ‘Socialism of the 21st century’.[6] But we also can’t deny that indigenous peoples have more rights and recognition under these current regimes than ever before.

HB: We give energetic support to the “progressive” governments of South America in their rising up against North American imperialism and against internal reaction. But we fight them when they attack indigenous peoples, when they capitulate to the transnationals, or when they attack democracy. I cite some examples of “Socialism of the 21st Century”:

VENEZUELA: The indigenous Yukpa people have been trampled with the invasion of their lands by capitalist cattle ranchers. They have complained repeatedly throughout the era of Chavez, and were never given attention. An assassin hired by the ranchers killed their implacable leader Sabino Romero three days before the death of Chavez. The Bolivarian army protected the assassin’s flight. The indigenous Wayu people near the border with Colombia are also treated as hostile by the army. On paper it may call itself ecosocialist. I pay attention to what they do, not what they say.

BOLIVIA: The indigenous peoples have had a long struggle against Morales, who tried to open a highway through Tipnis, trampling indigenous populations and natural reserves. The government used police aggression in repressing the protests. Other popular sectors supported their struggle, until the government had to retreat. They have put forward a mining law which favors corporations without consulting the mostly indigenous farmers.

ECUADOR: . In the Ecuadorian constitution the rights of Mother Earth are considered, but in practice they promote their depredation. Correa is trying to impose mining in Cabecera de Cuenca, like the Conga project in Quimsacocha (Tres Lagunas). The indigenous people took me to the lakes, where we made offerings. Ecuador is also trying to exploit the oil in the natural reserve and indigenous territory of Yasuni, against the will of the majority of the country.

Of the other countries we’ll mention only few things:

BRAZIL: Even though it has a constitutional mandate, the government refuses to give titles of land possession to indigenous peoples, favoring the usurpation of their territories by agribusiness, as it destroys the Amazon rainforest.

URUGUAY: Has approved a predatory mining law.

ARGENTINA: Is promoting Yankee fracking against the persistent resistance of the Mapuche people.

In this revolutionary intransigence of not reconciling with capitulation, and being against opportunism, one could say that I continue to be a “Marxist-Leninist-Trotskist,” even though I don’t identify myself that way anymore.

QS: You seem to be ambivalent about the term “ecosocialism”. You have written that “in South America we cannot use the term ‘eco-socialist’,”[7] but also you have written many things in favor of ecosocialism. In 2009 in Belem, you began to call yourself an ecosocialist. Tell us how you came to this, how it emerged from your earlier experience and political philosophies, and how do you see it developing locally and internationally in the century to come?

HB: Of course I am an ecosocialist, as are the indigenous peoples, even though they don’t use the term. I believe along with indigenous peoples that it is the collective which rules, not the individual. The indigenous peoples and I defend Mother Nature, water, and forests, so we are ecologists.

What I have said is that the word “socialist” has been prostituted. By Michelle Bachelet, who used in her first government a Pinochet “anti-terrorist” law against the Mapuche people, and by the governments of so-called “21st Century Socialism” in the anti-indigenous cases mentioned above. And in the so-called “First World” the term “socialist” has been used by Tony Blair, invader of Iraq, by José Zapatero in Spain, to implant neoliberalism, and now the neoliberal government of France as well calls itself “socialist.”

I don’t have any ambivalence: I consider myself an ecosocialist, and I repeat, I believe that the indigenous peoples of the world are struggling and dying for their ecosocialist conviction, even though they don’t use the term. 

QS: Ecosocialism is a relatively new revolutionary ideology and worldview, even as it draws on ancient roots. Having participated in and witnessed almost a century of the development of other revolutionary ideologies, how would you advise ecosocialists to think, work and organize themselves? What are some pitfalls to avoid, obstacles to overcome, horizons to aim for, visions to dream of?

HB: Earlier I indicated that I don’t believe in “the correct line.” I don’t consider myself “the vanguard”, and I don’t even believe in it. I am about 80 years old, and when I was young I enjoyed learning from the elders. Now that I am an elder I enjoy learning from the young and from children. This is not an ingenuous turn of phrase, it is the truth. We elders have a lot in our memory, and we consciously or unconsciously return to it to find solutions to current problems. The young person confronts the problems of their times spontaneously. It’s very possible that they’ll be right and I’ll be wrong.

With that said, I’ll give my opinions: We are struggling against the large transnational corporations that govern the world. We know that their sacred principle, which they will sacrifice any other consideration in order to fulfill, is “to gain more money in as little time as possible.” They know very well that the attack against nature to gain more money will carry us to extinction, but this is much less important than the fulfillment of their sacred principle.

This is the true morality of the system. Derived from this is the ultra individualism which the system teaches us, even though it doesn’t say so clearly: If you can take your brother’s inheritance, do it. The sooner your parents die, the better; you’ll get the inheritance. You should the best, the victor; in order to ascend you have to crush the heads of others. Bullying is the beginning of the moral apprenticeship of this system; it does not exist among indigenous peoples (and for those who are interested, look up “Ubuntu” on the internet.)

We know that these transnational corporations have at their service the governments of the world, the parliamentary majorities, the armies, the police, the judicial powers, the supreme courts, and the means of communication. There are governments who resist a little because of pressure from below; they make a fuss, but in the end they capitulate.

It is against this that we must struggle, in defense of nature, of humanity and its survival. Our strength is that there are more of us below – if we awake and unite, the triumph will be ours. Let us join hands with those at the bottom of the whole world. We must be consistent in unmasking all the governments.

Our goal is that humanity governs itself, without bosses, without leaders. Loving, respecting, and caring for our Mother Nature. Everyone loving and respecting each other. You are my other I. Everyone in their time and place will see how to struggle. There can be organizations of local resistance, parties; provincial, national and international networks. “Wanderer, there is no path – the path is made by walking.”[8]

Quincy Saul is the author of Truth and Dare: A Comic Book Curriculum for the End and the Beginning of the World, and the co-editor of Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz. He is a musician and a co-founder of Ecosocialist Horizons.

Hugo Blanco is leader of the Confederación Campesina del Perú (CCP, Campesino Confederation of Peru), leader of Trotsky’s Fourth International[1][2] and author of numerous books including Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru.


[1] /

[2]    “Impidamos la extincion de la especie humana” by Hugo Blanco

[3]  “12 de octubre Día de la resistencia ¡Fuera minería del Perú!” by Hugo Blanco

[4]  “The great deficiency in our work in La Convencion and in Cuzco was the absence of a well-organized party. Our failure to broaden the movement, the lack of a more correct view of the process, the putschist deviation of some comrades, the very poor organization of the armed struggle, were symptoms first and foremost the absence of a party, of a vanguard nucleus whose capabilities would correspond to the magnitude of the peasant movement that developed… As for the absence of the party in the countryside, it is indisputable that this was due to a serious syndicalist deviation on my part, produced not by an erroneous conception on this matter, but by other causes…” (1972, p36)

[5]    “Hoja de vida de Hugo Blanco” by Hugo Blanco

[6]    “Let’s Save Humanity from Extinction,” by Hugo Blanco, Capitalism Nature Socialism, July 2013

[7]    “Let’s Save Humanity from Extinction,” by Hugo Blanco, Capitalism Nature Socialism, July 2013

[8]    From a poem by Antonio Machado.