José Carlos Mariátegui’s Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality

Mariátegui is an individual I was introduced to when I read his essay “The Indian Problem” for one of my classes this semester. I instantly related to a lot of his points and was interested in his takes that seemed to enter a realm beyond what I was used to reading from Marxist European scholars. Mariátegui is one of those names that I now always drop when those anti-capitalist but anti-willing-to-actually-investigate-a-solution people tell me Marx was just a white guy. Mariátegui was a Peruvian intellectual who passed away when he was 35 in April of 1930. 

What really stuck out to me is his insistence to use the already “socialist” and “collectivist” legacy of the Incan empire to evolve an organic praxis toward a socialist revolution rather than applying blindly a European bandaid. This is something that we as leftists talk a lot about today; what social conditions evolved past what Marx would have seen and how do we find an appropriate and Marxist formula to push. For example, there has been a lot of discourse over gun ownership in leftist spaces. While I agree that the proletariat according to Marx needs to never surrender their arms to protect themselves against the bourgeoisie and that restrictionist-gun laws in this country have historically targeted marginalized communities, leftists nowadays also recognize the unprecedented change in mass-destruction gun-based violence. Something technically and literally Marx could never have seen. So, like Mariátegui, instead of blindly applying a mechanical transaction, let’s actually engage with Marxist values and the fight to protect the proletariat. 

This was also a great refutation of that “communism has never worked” claim that so many of my classmates love to repeat from their fathers (the same ones they disavow for being homophobic/racist, but apparently when it comes to communism they know best). Scholars like Mariátegui prove that societies and peoples, and perhaps even before the Incan Empire but also in Andean communities, have thrived in communitarian (and certainly anti-capitalist) societies for centuries. And that socialist efforts were never able to become communist, thriving states for the most part because of the neoliberal, capitalist, attacks of sanctions and economic warfare of literal fascism. So to the students who tell me that… you’re the ones who are being racist by not realizing that egalitarian societies existed before your white ancestors colonized them for centuries. 

It’s going to take a little more time for me to digest and engage with the intricacies of these essays but for now, this is my initial reaction. Certainly, for any young Marxist interested in gaining an un-fallacious perspective on the realities of non-westernized and white socialist revolutions, Mariátegui is for you.

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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