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Friday, June 26, 2020 Leer en Español

Of Marxism and Murder: The Professor in the Peruvian Prison

He graduated from preaching Marxism in the classroom to practicing it in the field.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

To waste your life chasing delusions is bad enough. To sacrifice innocent lives without remorse as you pursue those fantasies is downright criminal. It defines you as a sociopath and a homicidal maniac.

Abimael Guzmán is all of that and worse. At age 85, he presently resides in a maximum-security prison at a Peruvian naval base near Lima. Unrepentant and unlamented but for a handful of radical sycophants, he is living testimony to the terrible power of socialist extremism. Thirty years ago, he was Peru’s most wanted man.

“Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it,” economist Thomas Sowell once observed. “The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.”

Guzmán came from one of those very institutions Sowell was describing. He was an academic.

I started my career as a college professor, so I am quick to note that academia isn’t monolithic, and its ranks aren’t universally rotten. Nonetheless, especially in the social sciences, it’s a world glutted with otherwise-unemployable, socially-dysfunctional pontificators.

Often protected from reality by tenure and taxes and dripping with self-importance, the worst of them revel in gossip, nit-picking and department politics—and that’s in their spare time when they’re not poisoning idealistic young minds with discredited dogmas.

Few of them could manage or market or strategically plan their way out of a soggy paper bag, which is why a smart hiring rule at productive businesses is to steer clear of academics. Many harbor a deep resentment of free enterprise; they hate that it rewards individuals not for the academic degrees they’ve purchased but for the value they create in the marketplace. Today, they are a significant source of the “ideas” that are laying waste to parts of our inner cities and college campuses.

Two years ago, faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh held a bicentennial birthday bash for Karl Marx. As Grove City College’s Paul Kengor noted, addressing the 100 million killed by Marxist regimes was not on the agenda. Maybe this is what British philosopher Bertrand Russell had in mind when he famously said, “Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.”

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Guzmán taught philosophy at a university in Ayacucho, Peru. From his earliest days in the classroom, he drenched his students in Marxism and became ever more radical as he did so. He was arrested more than once for participating in violent street protests. He enjoyed denouncing other faculty members and visiting speakers who did not share his viewpoint (intellectual integrity and objectivity were not his strong points). He formed an underground terrorist organization called Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) and in 1980, he and his merry band of senderistas declared war on Peru—its government and any expendable peasants who stood in their way. The result was two decades of rampaging mayhem which claimed the lives of 70,000 Peruvians.

Also dead was a 25-year-old American named Gus Gregory of Torrance, California. He was in Peru to teach poor campesinos techniques for raising superior sheep and alpaca. The jeep he and a Peruvian veterinarian friend were driving was ambushed by Comrade Guzmán’s men. Gregory was shot in the back of the head as a warning to anyone not yet signed up for the “people’s” revolution. Ironically, Gregory considered himself a leftist but he wasn’t left enough for Shining Path.

For his thoughts on Guzmán I asked my friend Edwar Escalante, a native of Peru and now a professor (a good one!) at Angelo State University in Texas. He wrote:

Abimael Guzman became Peru’s number one enemy. Though his Marxist revolution promised a change to favor the poor, the Shining Path’s repression was ruthless against the most impoverished communities. Guzmán had a disdain for the peasantry’s local arrangements. He believed the poor would adhere to his cause without question. However, it was the poorest of the poor who rejected his rules and initiated the massive self-defense movement that defeated him.

Another Peruvian friend, Luna Vladimir of the Association for Economic Education in the Andes advised me that the 2001 Truth and Reconciliation Commission charged Shining Path with deliberate mass murder against any people it regarded as enemies to their plan for power:

This translated into slogans such as “beat the land”, which involved the murder of authorities, especially local ones: mayors, governors, judges. The diabolical characteristics of the Shining Path are described in its own political party documents, and in the directives to its militants, to “pay the blood fee” and “induce genocide” since they had calculated that “the triumph of the revolution will cost a million dead people”.

Guzmán’s trail of death and destruction included blowing up voting booths, bombing buildings and intersections, torturing for the sake of torture, and other “vanguard of the proletariat” amusements. Karl Marx was one of the former philosophy professor’s intellectual inspirations for these crimes but his God was China’s Mao Zedong. Guzmán visited China in 1965. He took the official sucker tour and departed with admiration for Mao’s brutal policies that killed 20 million people in the name of creating a socialist paradise. In 1988, during a rare interview amid the war, Guzmán said this:

With regard to violence, we start from the principle established by Chairman Mao Zedong: violence, that is the need for revolutionary violence, is a universal law with no exception. Revolutionary violence is what allows us to resolve fundamental contradictions by means of an army, through people’s war.

Theodore Dalrymple is an English psychiatrist, former prison doctor and a distinguished fellow at New York City’s Manhattan Institute. In a 2006 article for the New English Review, he wrote:

The worst brutality I ever saw was that committed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru, in the days when it seemed possible that it might come to power. If it had, I think its massacres would have dwarfed those of the Khmer Rouge. As a doctor, I am accustomed to unpleasant sights, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Ayacucho, where Sendero first developed under the sway of a professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzmán. I took photographs of what I saw, but the newspapers deemed them too disturbing to be printed.

Where the means justify the end, as they do for most ideologies, mass murder becomes more likely, perhaps even inevitable in ideologized states. The capacity for cruelty, and the enjoyment of cruelty, that lies latent in almost every human heart, then allies itself to a supposedly higher, even transcendent purpose. Original sin meets social conditioning. A vicious circle is set up: and eventually, viciousness itself is taken to be a sign both of loyalty and of higher purpose.

The greatness of a crime is thus a guarantee of the greatness of its motive: for who would order the deportation of whole nations, for example, cause famines, work millions to death, shoot untold numbers, unless he had some worthy higher purpose? And the more ruthlessly he did all these things, the higher his purpose must be to justify them. To participate in the worst of crimes is then to be the best of men.

Guzmán’s ivory red tower collapsed when he was arrested in September 1992 in the house of a Lima dance teacher. That event is loosely told in a 1995 novel, The Dancer Upstairs, and in a 2002 film of the same title produced and directed by John Malkovich. Guzmán was sentenced to life imprisonment for his murder spree; in 2018, he was retried and sentenced to a second life term.

If you’re interested in the details of the wasted, blood-soaked life of this nutty professor, you won’t be disappointed in the 2019 book by Orin Starn and Miguel La Serna, The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes. It would make a great Christmas present for any Antifa friends you might have. A reader will see first-hand how bad ideas must inevitably produce bad results, even if the perpetrators think they have “the common good” as their motivation. I close with a paragraph from that book:

Everything began with praiseworthy, even noble intentions. The great Communist longing to redeem humanity from misery and injustice motivated Shining Path to its war. When the gaunt Franciscan friars came ashore in Peru with the Spanish conquerors, they offered salvation in the next life. The senderistas and their Communist faith promised the more immediate earthly heaven of a new socialist order…In the shiny new world, as Marx somewhat vaguely imagined it, a liberated humankind would renounce profit’s unhappy pursuit. The evolutionary destiny of our species lay in Communism’s blessed state of mutual responsibility and the common good.

If you take that last sentence with anything but a grain of salt, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

For additional information, see:

The Realities of Evil by Theodore Dalrymple

The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes by Oren Starn and Miguel La Serna

Shining Path by InSight Crime:

The Shining Path: A Tragic Period in Peru’s History by Thomas Adams

How Difficult It Is To Be God: Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru, 1980-1999 by Carlos Iván Degregori

From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez: Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship by Paul Hollander

Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception and the Dogmas by Thomas Sowell

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is