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How Difficult It Is to Be God

Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru, 1980–1999

Carlos Iván Degregori; Edited and with an introduction by Steve J. Stern; Translated by Nancy Appelbaum, Joanna Drzewieniecki, Héctor Flores, Eric Hershberg, Judy Rein, Steve J. Stern, and Kimberly Theidon

Publication Year: 2012

The revolutionary war launched by Shining Path, a Maoist insurgency, was the most violent upheaval in modern Peru’s history, claiming some 70,000 lives in the 1980s–1990s and drawing widespread international attention. Yet for many observers, Shining Path’s initial successes were a mystery. What explained its cult-like appeal, and what actually happened inside the Andean communities at war?
    In How Difficult It Is to Be God, Carlos Iván Degregori—the world’s leading expert on Shining Path and the intellectual architect for Peru’s highly regarded Truth and Reconciliation Commission—elucidates the movement’s dynamics. An anthropologist who witnessed Shining Path’s recruitment of militants in the 1970s, Degregori grounds his findings in deep research and fieldwork. He explains not only the ideology and culture of revolution among the insurgents, but also their capacity to extend their influence to university youths, Indian communities, and competing social and political movements.
    Making Degregori’s most important work available to English-language readers for the first time, this translation includes a new introduction by historian Steve J. Stern, who analyzes the author’s achievement, why it matters, and the debates it sparked. For anyone interested in Peru and Latin America’s age of “dirty war,” or in the comparative study of revolutions, Maoism, and human rights, this book will provide arresting new insights.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Critical Human Rights


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Translators’ Preface

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pp. ix-xii

The book you have before you is a translation of the final work of a great Latin American public intellectual, the Peruvian anthropologist Carlos Iván Degregori, who passed away as a result of cancer in 2011. The original Spanish- language version was published by the Instituto de Estudios...


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pp. xiii-xvi

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xxii

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Introduction. Beyond Orientalismin Twentieth-Century Peru: Carlos Iván Degregori and the Shining Path War

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pp. 3-18

This book presents, for the first time to English- language readers, the multifaceted thinking of the late anthropologist Carlos Iván Degregori (1945–2011) on Peru’s Shining Path insurgency— its origins, inner culture, and appeal; its relational dynamics, especially with...

Part 1: The War That Surprised Us: Why Shining Path Happened

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1. The Years We Lived in Danger: The Armed Conflict, 1980–1999

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pp. 21-36

The night of 17 May 1980, in the small village of Chuschi in Ayacucho, a group of young people burst into the place where ballot boxes and voting lists were being stored for the national elections taking place the following day, and burned them in the public square. The news...

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2. How Social Sciences Failed? On the Trail of Shining Path, an Elusive Object of Study

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pp. 37-70

During the period from 1980 to 1999, Peru experienced the most intense, widespread, and prolonged period of violence in all of its republican history. Nonetheless, despite the importance that this internal armed conflict came to have throughout the 1980s and the...

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3. The Maturation of a Cosmocrat and the Construction of a Community of Discourse

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pp. 71-91

Up until 1977, Sendero Luminoso was one of numerous groups of the radical Peruvian Left that proclaimed the need for armed struggle to conquer power. This chapter analyzes the importance for this effort of the elaboration of a discourse, the appearance of a “cosmocratic figure,” and the construction of a “community of discourse”...

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4. Revolution by Handbook: The Expansion of Marxism-Leninism in the Social Sciences and the Origins of Shining Path

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pp. 92-110

During the 1970s, a series of texts inundated Peruvian universities. 1 These were handbooks on historical materialism, dialectical materialism, and political economy produced by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR during the Stalinist period and republished...

Part 2: Harvesting Storms: Why Shining Path Failed

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5. Youth, Peasants, and Political Violence: Ayacucho, 1980–1983

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pp. 113-134

On 17 May 1980, in the community of Chuschi (Ayacucho), the Communist Party of Peru–Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) launched its self- proclaimed “people’s war.” At the time, Sendero was basically a regional party, with very small groups outside of its principal...

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6. Harvesting Storms: Peasant Rondas and the Defeat of Shining Path in Ayacucho

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pp. 135-158

When the war began in May 1980, Shining Path was a party consisting mainly of teachers and university professors and students with little influence among the regional peasantry. Nonetheless, by the end of 1982, when the armed forces assumed military and...

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7. How Difficult It Is to Be God: Ideology and Political Violence in Shining Path

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pp. 159-172

The Partido Comunista del Perú–Sendero Luminoso (PCP-SL), or Shining Path, emerged from the encounter, which took place during the 1960s and 1970s in Ayacucho, of a mestizo intellectual elite “de provincia” and university students who were also Andean and...

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Epilogue. Open Wounds and Elusive Rights: Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

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pp. 173-182

Early in 2000, to predict that soon there would be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (hereafter CVR, the acronym in Spanish for Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación) in Peru would have sounded eccentric. How is it, then, that a window of opportunity...


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pp. 183-212


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pp. 213-236


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pp. 237-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780299289232
E-ISBN-10: 0299289230
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299289249
Print-ISBN-10: 0299289249

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 2 maps, 12 figures
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Critical Human Rights