Sunday, September 16, 2012

Machu Picchu Speaks Again

“An Anthology of the Writings of Jose Carlos Mariategui,” forward and translation by Harry Vanden and Marc Becker, 2011.

Some non-fiction books are read to absorb facts.  Some books are read to bolster a polemic or to refine theory.  Some books are read for affirmation.  Some for background. Some even for enjoyment.  This book is one of those you read that stimulates thinking.  Unless, of course, you are a Peruvian, in which case it might help on all of these points.

This anthology is a compendium of 3 fragmentary books and many newspaper articles from the Peruvian Marxist JC Mariategui, from 1924-1930.  Mariategui was instrumental in the founding of the Peruvian workers movement and in a real, concrete and creative analysis of Peruvian society.  Mariategui in essence uses the Marxist ‘method’ to come to socialist conclusions about his country, Latin America and world politics. 

One of Mariategui’s great theoretical contributions is the incorporation of the ‘indigenistas’ – indigenous people – into the socialist project.  Peru had a population of which 4/5s were native Peruvians, descended from the Incas.  The ordinary republican liberals ignored the indigenistas, except in the sense of a vague humanitarianism, charity and social work.  Like Mao Tse-Tung and the Russian Bolsheviks, Mariategui understood that the problem of revolution could not be solved without bringing in the peasant majority.  One of his main continuators, Hugo Blanco, a Trotskyist activist who led a peasant uprising around Cuzco in the 1960s, still leads the “Federation of Campesinos of Cuzco.”  

His second great contribution was to point out that Inca society incorporated many aspects of primitive communism that still existed within the indigenista communities, and that this provided a road for a modern communist movement to appeal to the Peruvian peasantry on the land question.  His solution to the poverty and oppression of the native people and the Peruvian land problem was not social work.  It was the destruction of the feudal land-tenure system which existed in the highlands and the virtual slavery of the large capitalist farms on the coast dedicated to cotton and sugar, and their return to collective ‘Inca’ ownership.  Small individually-owned plots, according to Mariategui, are not viable - and this has been proved given the experience of the counter-revolution in Russia on agriculture (see review of "The Race for What's Left," below).  One example of the "Inca" collective work is the irrigation projects administered by the peasant communities themselves. (also similar to local collective Indian water management as mentioned by Vandana Shiva, reviewed below.) He evaluated the Peruvian capitalist class and saw they could not even complete a bourgeois revolution in land rights, but in fact ceded power to the feudal power of ‘Gamonalismo’ – large landowners who also controlled the local state apparatuses.  He makes equations between the actions of the Soviets regarding the Russian peasant collective ‘mir’ and the Inca equivalent, the ‘ayllu.’ 

His third contribution was to itemize the semi-colonial/imperial character of the Peruvian economy, in which cotton, sugar, oil and copper were privately owned, and pulled out of the country by firms from the United States and England, the profits exported, and very little left for Peru except as minimal taxes and low wages.  In essence, U.S. mining corporations had replaced the brutal Spanish conquistadors.  Because of the production of these resources by the indigenista workforce, which took them away from local production, food products had to be imported.  Additionally, the Peruvian government now had to go to the English bankers begging for loans from the Peruvian profits exported to London!

On questions of organization, he rejected premature attempts to form a ‘party’ not rooted in the masses, and advocated that all ‘classist’ labor groups be incorporated into one organization - one front.  His style was generally one of polemics against ideas, not people.  He opposed the ostensibly ‘progressive’ but actually bourgeois-nationalist APRA.  In 1928, he was finally part of a group organizing a Marxist and ‘vanguard’ Leninist ‘Socialist Party.’  However, democratic-centralism was not mentioned related to this group.

Mariategui’s education was wide-ranging, and in these selections he writes about psychology (Freud), literature (Gorky), the women question and feminism (Kollantai), ‘race,’ film (Chaplin) and art (Breton).  Here and in other writings, Mariategui shows his close acquaintance with many aspects of European philosophy, especially the French revolutionary syndicalist George Sorel.  Mariategui is notably interested in feminism, and seeks to identify it closely as part of the Peruvian struggle for liberation, and not just an odd, ‘western’ idea.  He analyses the white/ creole/ mestizo ruling and middle classes in Peru, and elsewhere in Latin America.  He describes their attitude as one of looking down on the former black slaves, the indigenistas and any other non-white nationalities like the Chinese, and hence they are more likely to sympathize with the imperialists on even this cultural level.  He opposes Pan-Americanism as a ‘cloak that hides U.S. imperialism” but supported Pan-Latin American unity against imperialism, following Jose Marti and Bolivar.  He followed the revolutions of the time in Mexico and Nicaragua, and also the U.S. military interventions in Haiti, Nicaragua & Panama

One section is a refutation of a ‘spiritual socialist’ attack on Marxism by Henri de Man, a Belgian, called ‘In Defense of Marxism.”  His comment on de Man’s approach denounced ‘drug-like Oriental occultism and Asian metaphysics.”  However, Mariategui was also influenced by Catholicism, and incorporated the need for ‘myth’ and ‘belief’ into his struggle for socialism, somewhat similar to the role it plays for Zizek. (see several Zizek books, reviewed below.)  Mariategui was a Leninist in the sense that he believed the working class could not passively wait for capitalism to collapse, but that it had to rise to the historical occasion.  But he adds that in essence, the voluntarism of a revolutionary is driven not just by logic or reason, but by an over-arching myth that can also transform a proletariat.  The anthology links his influence to the development of Latin American “liberation theology’ by Gustavo Gutierrez.

Mariategui’s method is to look at the actual conditions of Peru, and draw his strategy and tactics from that, not from a sterile repetition of Marxist verities.  In this, he actually follows Marx.  American Marxists - especially in the socialist organizations - would do well to follow his example.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 16, 2012

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