One of the most intriguing and hotly debated questions in modern Peruvian history is why the APRA and not the Communist party was able to mobilize the Peruvian masses at the conjuncture formed by the Wall Street crash of 1929, the fall of the dictator Augusto B. Leguía, and the onset of the Great Depression. Adam Anderle, a Hungarian Marxist historian, focuses on this and other important problems in an award-winning (1981) book from the Casa de las Américas.
This is no plodding, thinly researched, overly ideological work on Latin America from the Communist bloc. Anderle has done his archival homework, and, on the basis of exhaustive research, has produced a highly sophisticated interpretation of Peruvian politics between the wars, a period that has received, at least after 1930, scant attention from historians. The book fills still another void by comprising the first detailed analysis of the formation and evolution of the Peruvian Communist party whose early foundations were laid by José Carlos Mariátegui. And it is perhaps here that Anderle makes his most significant contribution, as he analyzes the failure of the Communist party in 1930 to assume the leadership in mobilizing the Peruvian masses, thereby leaving the way open for APRA to emerge as the party of the masses.
Anderle argues that the Communist party, under the failed leadership of Eudocio Ravines, incorrectly assessed the 1930 political situation. Underestimating the widespread nationalist (anti-American) and democratic sentiment among the working and middle classes, the party, according to Anderle, adopted a totally unrealistic sectarian policy which prematurely stressed imminent revolution by means of class war and the seizure of power by the workers. No efforts were made to broaden the party’s appeal towards the peasantry on the land question or sectors of the distraught middle classes via a strategy of “united front.” The subsequent suppression of the Communist-led, but largely spontaneous mobilization of miners in Cerro de Pasco in November 1930, which reverberated in popular unrest throughout the country, left the party and its future possibilities bankrupt. APRA proceeded to successfully exploit this failure by skillfully diffusing its broader message of anti-imperialism, antilatifundism, nationalism, and democracy to a much larger segment of the country’s dislocated population.
The argument is persuasive and well documented, and constitutes a significant contribution to the literature on twentieth-century Peru.