[ A review of the first English-language biography of one of Latin
America’s most important, innovative, and enduringly relevant,
Marxist thinkers.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 RENEWING THE LEGACY OF PERUVIAN MARXIST JOSÉ CARLOS MARIÁTEGUI  
[https://portside.org/2019-10-31/renewing-legacy-peruvian-marxist-jose-carlos-mariategui]


 

 Gregory N. Heires 
 October 31, 2019
Portside 

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 _ A review of the first English-language biography of one of Latin
America’s most important, innovative, and enduringly relevant,
Marxist thinkers. _ 

 Postage stamp issued 1985 to honor José Carlos Mariátgui by the
government of Peru., Credit: Stamps of Peru 

 

We certainly do not wish for socialism in America to be an exact copy
of others’ socialism. It must be a heroic creation. We must bring
Indo-American socialism to life with our own reality, in our own
language. This is a mission worthy of a new generation.

Jose Carlos Mariategui

 

Jose Carlos Mariategui, widely regarded as the pioneer of Marxism in
Latin America, enjoyed a renaissance with the rise of the region’s
“Pink Tide” of leftist governments in the 1990s and 2000s. Yet
outside of Latin America, he remains relatively unknown. 

Orthodox Marxists targeted Mariategui (1894-1930) for supposedly
embracing nationalism and failing to accept the primacy of class over
race--charges his supporters argue lack nuance and exhibit an
unwillingness to account for the particular social, cultural and
economic conditions of Peru and the rest of Latin America.

 

MARIATEGUI’S LASTING POLITICAL INFLUENCE 

The need to shatter this misreading and to recognize Mariategui’s
contributions to Marxist literature and today’s socialist challenge
is one reason to welcomethis year’s publication “In the Red
Corner: The Marxism of Jose Carlos Mariategui” (Haymarket Books) by
Mike Gonzalez, an emeritus professor Latin American studies at the
University of Glasgow.

 

 

In the Red Corner: The Marxism of José Carlos Mariátgui
[https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1165-in-the-red-corner]
By Mike Gonzalez
Haymarket Books; 248 pages
August 13, 2019
Paperback:  $1900 with free bundled ebook; E-book:  $19.00 
ISBN: 9781608469154
ISBN: 9781608469161

 

 

Haymarket Books
 

 

 

“The Stalinist assault on his ideas, and his systematic discrediting
by the Comintern, consigned Mariategui to the shadows for a while, but
in the glaring light of the collapse of ‘actually existing
socialism,’ Mariategui has reemerged,” Gonzalez writes. 

For certain, Mariategui’s willingness to mix Marxism with Peruvian
indigenismo--while incorporating such notions as faith and
revolutionary myth into his analysis--places him outside the
mainstream. But his insistence on highlighting those themes and
others, such as, like Antonio Gramsci, incorporating the importance of
culture into his analysis, is what makes his analysis so rich. 

“In the Red Corner” traces how Mariategui laid the foundation for
many of the intellectual and political currents—not just the Pink
Tide but also dependency theory, colonial theory, liberation theology,
Third World liberation struggles, and the Zapatista uprising in
Mexico—that followed him.In “The Theology of Liberation,”
Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of the current of
religious thought that draws from Marxist economic and social
analysis, praises Mariategui for offering “a method for the historic
interpretation of society.”

 

A SELF-TAUGHT AND ANTI-ACADEMIC INTELLECTUAL 

Mariategui spent his childhood in poverty the capital of Peru, Lima.
His aristocratic father abandoned the family when he was a boy. That
left his mother, who came from the highlands, to support the children
while working as a seamstress. 

Crippled in one leg, Mariategui suffered from poor health and was
unable to study beyond primary school. He liked to describe himself as
not only “self-taught” but also “anti-academic.” 

When he was 14, Mariategui found a job as a linotype assistant and
proofreader at the newspaper La Prensa in Lima. From there, he worked
his way up the ranks in the journalism world, eventually editing a
number of publications and becoming well known in Lima’s literary
community. 

“In the Red Corner” closely examines Mariategui’s central role
in the development of trade unionism and the left in Peru, while
weaving together a biographical study with a look at Peru’s
history. 

Latin American scholars and students will appreciate how Gonzalez
draws from key works of Mariategui to put together a penetrating
analysis of the many challenges facing Peru as it emerged from Spanish
colonial rule. 

A peculiarity of the Andean country was that at independence it lacked
a strong national class. Its economy remained dependent on foreign
powers (with Britain and the United States, replacing Spain), and the
country had weak governmental institutions, a small manufacturing base
and a semi-feudal structure outside of Lima in which the Indian, or
campesino, majority occupied the lower ranks in the gamonalism system
in which the indigenous class was subjected to the rule of land
barons. 

Mariategui explored how the country’s economic and political
progress was impeded by an entrenched, white oligarchy as Peru emerged
from colonialism.

The European-looking class promoted an export-based economy that
opened the door to British and U.S. companies. In the early years of
the post-colonial era, the economy was structured around the export of
guano and nitrates. Allied with the economic and political elite,
including the military, foreign companies (particularly from the
United States) invested heavily in mining, agricultural and financial
centers). Well into the 20th century, Peru failed to follow other
Latin American countries that adopted the import substitution model to
develop their economies. 

Gonzalez devotes a chapter to Mariategui’s seminal work, “Seven
Essays of Interpretation of Peruvian Reality,” which studies the
economy, the land and Indian “problems,” public education,
religion, regionalism and centralism, and literature. He argues
convincingly that the book, along with Mariategui’s other works on
the Peruvian reality, remains fresh, offering us the themes and a
methodology to draw from even though the Peruvian reality has
undergone deep transformations over the decades. 

The “Indian Problem” -- the marginalization of the country’s
majority indigenous population--was one of Mariategui’s major
preoccupations. 

As the economy developed, the indigenous agricultural people benefited
little from the advances in education, remained in semi-feudal living
conditions and were not drawn into the modernizing political system. 

The prolonged exploitation of the country’s campesino class was at
the root of the “dirty war” resulting from the insurgency of the
Maoist Shining Path movement in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the Shining
Path invoked the legacy of Mariategui to justify its misguided armed
uprising and brutality. 

Today, of course, the indigenous population is much more integrated
into the country’s modern economy and political system. But many of
the millions who have migrated from the countryside the cities are
stuck in the ranks of the urban poor, struggling in the face of
discrimination and racism.

 

RACE AND INDO-AMERICAN SOCIALISM 

Among leftists and other intellectuals, Mariategui was a pioneer
insofar as he recognized the primacy of race in Latin America. 

His focus on race—not to mention the national question—ran afoul
with orthodox Marxists unwilling to loosen up their class-based view
of the world. Comintern representatives in Latin America were troubled
with the growing focus on national questions and race as opposed to
the international class struggle. 

Mariategui’s view that socialists should appeal to the
communist-like beliefs of campesinos--rooted in collective economic
activities of the Incan economy--along with the trade unionists in the
growing market economy also deviated from orthodoxy. 

Mariategui said that the “communitarianism of the Incas cannot be
denied or disparaged for having evolved under an autocratic regime.”
He referred to the Incan empire as the “most advanced primitive
communist organization in recorded history.” He described
“Indo-American socialism” as the alternative to imperialism. 

As both an actor and theoretician, Mariategui fully embraced socialism
after he and his co-editor Cesar Falcon at La Razon ran into trouble
for criticizing the Leguia government in 1920. They were given the
choice of going to prison or going into exile in Europe. Not dumb,
they chose to go abroad.

 

ITALY AND THE POLITICAL BANKRUPTCY OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY 

It was in Italy where Mariategui deepened his political beliefs and
commitment to socialism. 

The worker uprising in Turin shaped his vision of trade unionism. He
witnessed the founding of the Italian Communist Party, and he was
deeply disturbed over the liberal elite’s failure to stand against
the emergence of fascism. 

“What he had seen in Europe made very clear that liberal democracy
was in its death throes,” Gonzalez writes. “Its promise, its myth
of the relentless development of productive forces, had been exposed
in the first great industrial war. Social democracy and the politics
of reform had exposed their complicity in the lie and revealed as they
did so that capitalism had no inherent commitment to the full
development of humankind.” 

Mariategui returned to Peru in 1923. He took up his work again as a
journalist, editing a number of publications, and he resumed his
participation in trade union activities.  

He enjoyed a public platform when Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, a
central figure in Peruvian politics with whom he would eventually
break, invited him to be a lecturer in the “History of the World
Crisis” lecture series at the Universidad Popular that began late
1923. The lecture series helped him become a central voice in the
debates about indigenismo, nationalism, reformism and imperialism. 

Gonzalez recounts the famous debate between Mariategui and Haya de la
Torre—a pivotal moment in the country’s political history—that
has continued to play out in modern Peruvian politics. Haya de la
Torre led the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA). The
twice-elected president of the Peru, APRA’s Alan Garcia, shot
himself this April as the police arrived at his home to arrest him on
corruption charges. 

Mariategui at one time contemplated joining APRA and had a close
political relationship with Haya de la Torre. But hesplitwith Haya de
la Torre after it became clear their visions were irreconcilable.
Mariategui objected to Haya de la Torre’s electoral ambitions and
the party’s devotion to cross-class initiatives and state
capitalism.

 

THE UNITED FRONT 

Mariategui believed a socialist party should follow a “united
front” strategy. The united front’s agenda was to bring together
the struggles and demands of a working-class organization and the
mobilization of indigenous and peasant people.This strategy, of
course, also differed from the prevailing position of socialist
orthodoxy with its focus on the industrialized working class.
Mariategui discussed his political strategy in one of his early
documents, “The First of May United Front Manifesto,” a collection
based on his Universidad Popular lectures and the magazine that he
edited until he death. 

Mariategui’s publication, Amauta, provided an important forum for
the debate over the path to socialism. Two years before he created the
magazine, Mariategui had become the first general secretary of the
Socialist Party, which later became the Communist Party of Peru.

 

MYTH AND REVOLUTION 

With his commitment to including the peasant struggle, race, myth
(religious-like revolutionary idealism) and the uniqueness of the
Peruvian reality in the center of his analysis, Mariategui certainly
fits into the heterodox Marxist tradition. His version of Marxism was
rooted in a methodology dedicated to understanding and shaping actual
history, practical human activity, revolutionary consciousness and
what he described as “myth,” a vision or even religious-like ideal
that inspires action. 

“Socialism and syndicalism, despite their materialist conception of
history, are less materialist than they might appear,” Mariategui
wrote. “They rest on the interests of the majority but they tend to
ennoble and dignify life. Western people are mystical and religious in
their own way. Is revolutionary emotion not a religious emotion? It so
happens that religion in the west has moved from heaven toearth. Its
motives are human, social, not divine. They belong to life on earth
and not to life in heaven.” 

Mariategui passed away in 1930. That year, Amauta, the avant guard
magazine that he founded eight years earlier, folded after a run of 32
issues from 1926. 

The title--often translated as “wise man”--is the Quechua term for
teachers during the Incan empire. It also became to be an endearing
nickname for Mariategui. Gonzalez’s examination of Mariategui’s
impact on the political left in Latin America and his contributions to
Marxist literature shows why he remains one of the great teachers of
the region today. 

“Our revolution cannot be an imitation or copy,” Mariategui said,
reflecting a spirit on the Latin American left that remains true
today. “It must be a heroic creation, an epic struggle to create a
new world.”
 

_Book author MIKE GONZALEZ is a British historian and literary critic
who was Professor of Latin American Studies in the Hispanics
Department of the University of Glasgow. He has written widely on
Latin America, especially Cuba and the Cuban Revolution of 1959_.

_[Essayist GREGORY N. HEIRES, journalist and Portside Labor moderator,
is the senior associate of the Communications Department of District
Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, in New York City. He is also the blogger
of __www.thenewcrossroads_ [http://www.thenewcrossroads]_.]_

_ _

 

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