José Carlos Mariategui – II

Image: Anderson Antonangelo


Commentary on the political and intellectual trajectory of the Peruvian Marxist

Mariátegui's thought has the principle of praxis as the foundation of historical-materialism: an “active” perspective that distances him so much from the “parliamentary Marxism” (passive, pacifist) of the Second International (the Socialist International); as well as of “academic Marxism”, markedly theoretical, of the current later known as Western Marxism (as was the case of certain representatives of the so-called Frankfurt School, among others) – intellectuals closed in the purism of academic debates, little committed to concrete political militancy and works base.

On the other hand, Mariátegui's Marxism has in the dialectic another basic principle of thought started by Marx and Engels, which in turn distances it from certain simplistic interpretations, affected by positivism or modern scientism; for example: “social evolutionism” (of the Second International), which “naturalizes” human historical evolution; and “mechanical” theories, which wanted to rigidly transplant European models to other completely different realities, such as “stageism” and other propositions of the Third International (the Communist International, for which he militated, but always maintaining his critical independence). For Mariátegui, in America – largely peasant, indigenous and mestizo – Marxism has to promote a dialectical process between the knowledge of tradition and that of modernity.

Mariátegui's Marxism, in short, is guided by the principles of dialectics and praxis, thus preserving what can really be called "orthodoxy" in terms of historical-materialism: (a) praxis, as it is not enough in theorizing, but it has the duty to intervene in the world, from there to rethink this new transformed reality; (b) dialectical, as it argues that intervention in reality must take place from the judicious interpretation of each reality, an action operated not according to copies of other societies, but rather through the rigorous orientation of the dialectical methodology (“compass” that, when observing the universal and specific contradictions of the historical context of each people supports them in choosing their paths).

Return to Peru :polemics with the reformists

In 1923, upon returning from exile, Mariátegui met with Haya de la Torre, a student and political leader who invited him to participate in the González Prada Popular Universities, the seed of what would become the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) – an international political movement reformist bias.

He would give two dozen conferences there to spread Marxism, in which he presented his vision of a polarized world scene, in which social-democratic (evolutionary) theses no longer make sense. For him, workers' organizations cannot just be “agnostic and colorless university extension institutes” – but have to be active “class schools”. The center of these debates was the “indigenous issue” – a theme that would become central to his work.

It is important to note that Mariátegui's attraction to Marxism – despite its different influences – stems from his search for a long-term explanation for his nation's historical processes; and concomitantly, of a revolutionary proposal that would dialectically link the past, present and future.

Her attraction to Marx does not come only from the greatness of this thinker – as a critic of knowledge or a fighter for communism –, but is rooted in the practical intention of an integral understanding of the indigenous civilization, atrophied by colonization; the need to break with this depleted structure.

In this sense of the “emancipatory” quest, political reformism, subjugated to the ruling classes, has nothing to contribute. It is necessary to promote the union of urban workers and peasants – and to organize the socialist revolution.

National question: it is necessary to make the nation

Lima, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, was already a cosmopolitan capital, although it had more to do with Europe than with the impoverished indigenous interior itself. Peru was a country fractured into very separate regions and with peculiar “historical rhythms”: the coast, the mountains and the Amazon jungle.

In the context of his reflection on the national question, Mariátegui derives from this fact one of his main theses: Peru was still a “draft”, an incomplete nation. As he analyzes in his greatest work, Seven essays on the interpretation of the Peruvian reality [1], Peruvian formation as a nation had been interrupted.

In his interpretation, he describes a revolutionary process that takes place “from above”, through a non-classical way – a theme that I discuss in the book Marx in America: the praxis of Caio Prado and Mariátegui [2]. It is an original analysis, which refrains from copying classical European models – and is close to that elaborated by Gramsci (for Italy), or that of Caio Prado Júnior (for Brazil).

According to Mariátegui, what is needed is Peru – a country whose elite was almost always guided by foreign models, until indigenism, around the 1920s, partially interrupted this trend. At that time, what prevailed, even in the socialist sphere, was the Eurocentric idea that the emancipation of indigenous peoples would consist in making them “civilized” (in western terms). This only began to change with the action of the Indians themselves, who, in the 1910s, inaugurated a new cycle in their long history of resistance against the domination of the colonial State and the landowners, whose milestone was their participation in the War of the Pacific.

This conflict with Chile was the trigger for the self-criticism of the Peruvian socialist milieu, which realized that the indigenous populations did not need to be “awakened”, but that the revolutionaries themselves had to relativize their Eurocentric references, paying attention to the practical experience of the native mobilizations.

For a Latin American communism

In his debate on the question of the Indian, Mariátegui intends to submit the different tendencies of the time to a radical socialist critique. This is the case of “creole nationalism”, defended by the mixed-race elite, subaltern to the foreigner – and that aims to be “white”: a part of the ruling class that, despite its “nationalist” pretensions, is in solidarity with colonialism.

Contrary to this, Mariátegui proposes an avant-garde nationalism, which claims the “Inca past”, an indigenous society that he conceives as “agrarian communist”.

With the foundation in 1926 of the magazine Amauta (“wise”, in Quechua) – the name by which he would be known – his approach to APRA was weakened. In controversy with this organization, he criticizes its “paternalistic indigenism”. It argues that in Latin America one could not have just an image or copy of European communism, but rather that a “heroic creation” would be necessary, in which the native peasant community, essentially “solidarity” in its social relations, would become the basis of the contemporary state: communist.

It also rejects the theory of certain indigenists based on “racist” theories who, in symmetrical opposition to Eurocentric racists, claimed that the Indians had something innate in their species that would “naturally” lead them to liberate themselves. “Race” by itself is not emancipatory – ponders Mariátegui –, the Indians, as well as city workers, are subject to the same “laws” that govern all peoples. What will ensure indigenous emancipation is the “dynamism” of an “agrarian communist” economy and culture that carries “in its entrails the germ of socialism”.

It is the role of the revolutionary, he urges, to convince the Indians, mestizos and blacks that only a government of united workers and peasants, representative of all ethnic groups, can free them from their oppression.

Indigenous question: the revolutionary “hope”

In 1927, Mariátegui took over the publication of “Tempestad en los Andes”, a radical indigenist work by historian and anthropologist Luís Valcárcel. In the prologue, the Peruvian thinker writes the phrase that would become an emblem of his Marxism: “indigenous hope is absolutely revolutionary”. From there, he develops the idea that the socialist revolution is the “new myth” of the Indian, the mobilizing principle of the revolutionary – the transforming “faith” according to which Andean communism should build its pillars.

Discarding “philanthropic” approaches to the indigenous problem, he understands the question as being of an economic nature. The problem of the Indian is the problem of the land: it is the latifundia.

Arguing with APRA, he accused his “indigenism” of being paternalistic, a theory created “vertically” by mestizos from the literate classes; something that, despite being useful in condemning landlordism, exudes a philanthropy that is neither adequate nor useful for the revolution: communism cannot be confused with paternalism.

In the text "The problem of the earth” (1927), Mariátegui declared himself a “convinced and avowed” Marxist.[3] The following year, gathering dozens of essays written since 1924, he publishes his classic Seven essays on the interpretation of Peruvian reality – high point of his “investigation of the national reality according to the Marxist method”.

Around this time, the break with Aprista nationalism takes place. In a letter to Haya, he exposes his disagreement, especially regarding the class alliance policy. Haya responds, accusing him of Europeanism. In his reply, Mariátegui defends the aforementioned dialectical synthesis of knowledge: “I believe that there is no salvation for Indo-America without Western science and thought”; “my judgments are nourished by my ideals, my feelings, my passions”.

In defense of the Communist International

Still in 1928, Mariátegui coordinated the founding of the Peruvian Socialist Party, prioritizing its link to the Communist International – an organization from which it would never again distance itself, while always maintaining the independence of its criticism.

For him, his party (which did not use the name “Communist” for a tactical reason) should adapt its actions to Peruvian social conditions, but without failing to observe universal criteria, since national circumstances were subject to world history. The method of struggle of the Socialist Party – he declares – is Marxism-Leninism, and the form of struggle, revolution.

It was a fervent moment in his life, a time when he began major political-philosophical polemics. He contests not only conservative nationalism, but also the Europositivist dogma that predicted a certain “natural evolution” in socialism (always along the lines of European history).

In rehearsal "Anti-imperialist point of view” (1929), deepens his criticism of the idea of ​​“national bourgeoisie”: in Latin America there is no part of the bourgeoisie identified with the people. He understands that Latin American elites have no interest in confronting imperialism, as the reformists “naively” believe. This is because, unlike eastern peoples, the elites are not linked to the people by some common history or culture. On the contrary: “the aristocrat and the bourgeois” despise the “popular”, the “national”; first of all “they feel white”, and the mestizo petty bourgeois imitates them.

Only the socialist revolution can stop imperialism in a radical way - he says in The problem of the reasons in Latin America (chapter of “Ideología y politica”).

Shortly afterwards, in 1930, the health of the Peruvian thinker and activist again became complicated. On the eve of his death, the still young Marxist urged revolutionaries to study “Leninism”.

Dialectics of knowledge: between community tradition and modernity

According to Mariátegui, in the midst of the process of political and existential alienation that is inherent to capitalism, the Soviet Revolution awakened the “morning man”, the being tired of the artificially lit night of post-war bourgeois European decadence. And for the social construction of this new man, socialism must absorb – dialectically – the assets of all sources of knowledge to which the contemporary world could have access: not only Western contributions, but also those of other peoples, such as the indigenous [the morning soul].

Confronting economic and cultural aspects, the author analyzes qualities of different historical periods and socioeconomic models, offering important concepts to Marxist thought: a concrete revolutionary utopia that proposes a dialectical synthesis between western and eastern knowledge (in the sense of non-western), between the modern and the ancient, between objectivity and subjectivity – among other potentially creative oppositions.

Mariátegui's intention is to revitalize Marxist praxis – at the time smothered by reformism contaminated by positivist ideas from the Socialist International. He understands that contemporary man needs “combative faith”. The First War showed humanity that there are “facts superior to the prediction of Science” and, especially, “facts contrary to the interest of Civilization” – he writes in The Twilight of Civilization (chapter of “Signs and works”).

His conviction is that unthinking progress, promoted by capitalism, results in an increase in barbarism. From mere technical progress one does not obtain “naturally” human evolution, but on the contrary, observing the totality of the social set, one sees the worsening of human disorientation, in a self-destructive civilizational process.

This is a clear reality in the eyes and bodies of the periphery of the system, today increasingly evident, but always underestimated from the Eurocentric perspective

A “romantic-realist” Marxist: myth e action revolutionaries

The Mariateguian Marxist conception exalts the value of the community traditions of America, highlighting factors that allowed the Indian to enjoy a better quality of life, before the European invasion - as is the case of the "solidarity" characteristic of the Inca people (in contrast to the " competitiveness” of capitalist society).

However, Mariátegui is clear that, if in the past the Indian worked with pleasure and more fullness, today it would no longer be possible to give up modern science. The task is, therefore, to relate the best fruits of contemporary “Western” thought (whose apex is Marxism), to the best legacy of “Eastern” wisdom (in the Peruvian case, it refers to the “non-Western” knowledge of the Andean peoples). , materialized in their habits of mutual cooperation and revolutionary faith).

In this sense, he defends the idea of ​​a “socialist romanticism”: a renewed romantic spirit that, incorporating the objective epistemic posture of “proletarian realism” (anti-positivist perception, which perceives man as an imperfect being), cultivates the subjective energy present in the hope for a new society.

As a reaction to dehumanized modernity – to the accommodated, “skeptical”, “nihilist” bourgeois man –, it re-elaborates the concept of revolutionary myth (based on the idea of ​​Georges Sorel): a “superhuman hope”, utopia that brings a new enchantment before life. His effort is to unite the invigorating and idealistic impulse of romantic subjectivity with the always conflicting concreteness of realistic objectivity.

Romanticism and realism are for Mariátegui two postures intrinsic to Marxism, which compete for revolutionary transformation – according to a romantic-realist dialectic.

*Yuri Martins-Fontes He holds a PhD in History from FFLCH-USP/ Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Author of Marx in America – the praxis of Caio Prado and Mariátegui (Avenue).

To read the first part go to


Mariátegui's main philosophical and historical-political works – in addition to his correspondence, literary criticism, etc. – were published in 1959, in a popular version, by the publisher Amauta (Lima), in 16 volumes written by the author, with the title Complete works.

In 1994, in the commemorative milestone of its centenary, the same publisher would publish total Mariátegui, most complete edition, which includes his early writings and extensive correspondence.

beyond the classic Seven essays…, among his books, stand out the contemporary scene (1925); and the posthumous works that the author left pre-organized:

– “Defensa del marxismo – polemica revolucionaria” (1928–1929/ published in 1934), whose first edition in Portuguese (Defense of Marxism: Revolutionary Polemics and Other Writings”) appears only in 2011, in an edition of Boitempo that also brings other key texts by the author [4];

- The morning soul and other stations of today's man (1923–1929/published 1950);

- The soap opera and life (1955)

Apart from these books, selections of his texts were later organized by their editors, as Themes from Nuestra America, Peruanicemos to Peru, letters from italy, signs and works, and in particular ideology and politics (a book that deals with indigenism, socialism in Peru, and Mariátegui's Marxist political-philosophical position).


[1] MARIÁTEGUI. Jose Carlos. Seven essays on the interpretation of Peruvian reality. São Paulo: Expressão Popular/ Clacso, 2008.

[2] MARTINS-FONTES, Yuri. Marx in America: the praxis of Caio Prado and Mariátegui. São Paulo: Alameda/ FAPESP, 2018.

[3] “El problema de la tierra” would become one of his seven essays, composing his classic book together with the following writings: “Economic Evolution Scheme”; “El problema del indio”; “The public instruction process”; “The religious factor”; “Regionalism and centralism”; and “The process of literature”.

[4] MARIÁTEGUI. JC; MARTINS-FONTES, Y. (org., trans. and introduction). Defense of Marxism: Revolutionary Polemics and Other Writings. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.


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