Jose Carlos Mariategui

Image: Cyrus Saurius


Commentary on the political and intellectual trajectory of the Peruvian Marxist

In 1930, before reaching the age of 36, José Carlos Mariátegui died. His so brief life did not prevent him from bequeathing to history a wide body of work, which almost a century later is still up to date.

Considered one of the most influential Marxists in America, this intellectual-militant – typographer, journalist, editor, historian, philosopher – was a pioneer in interpreting the Latin American national question according to the principles of Marxism.

Dialectical and praxis communist

An erudite self-taught, the Peruvian thinker, still quite young, declares himself a “convinced and avowed” communist. In his theoretical writings, one can appreciate the meticulous examination of the sociocultural conflicts and contradictions of the interwar period – both related to his peripheral Andean and Latin American reality, and about issues at the center of the capitalist world, which he knew closely.

In your philosophical polemic "defense of marxism" [1], states that his historical-scientific and philosophical investigations are guided by the methodology dialectic: Marxism “is not an itinerary, but a compass”; “thinking right is to a large extent a matter of direction”.

From another angle, as a revolutionary politician, Mariátegui valued the ethical principle of praxis as being the core of the thinking started by Marx and Engels. He understands that theory is only verified in practice, and is corrected in it; that by existing in reality, theory transforms the real world, being in turn transformed by this new real.

As he manifests in his critical reflections on the “passivity” of the Second International (parliamentary, pacifist), Mariátegui does not write because merely appreciates ou want write but why need to say: because he felt ethically compelled to communicate what he had analyzed, what he had discovered. For him, the “positivist certainties” (the scientistic claim for an exact and unique truth) of Second International socialism are an academic “fossilization” of Marxism [2].

It is a combative (active, fighting) existential posture, so opposed to the conformism of a certain academicist, regular, “professional” Marxism – with its criticism accommodated by the habit of good standing between walls, with its morality of clean feather who, by merely writing about realities that he does not experience, limits his own criticism, and more: he exempts himself from the self-criticism with which he could glimpse his own elitism (in the concrete social practice of everyday life).

Here is the contradictory corruption of the aseptic marxism what Mariátegui criticized so much: a “Marxism” subjected to the capitalist molds of competition (intellectual, media). A “Marxism” authorized by the system that continues to “validate” discourses about what “is” or “is not” true. And this, especially in certain peripheral mutts (editorials, academics), which continue to copy and idolize what comes from outside. See, for example, the symptomatic proliferation – even in the field of the “left” (!) – of subsidiary publications from foreign media (magazines and portals that don't even dare to change the name of their foreign matrix).

Mariategui in history

A trailblazer of a Marxism attentive to the peculiarities of the colonized American reality, Mariátegui exerts great influence on various social movements to this day: from peasant and indigenous resistance groups to groups of different socialist tendencies.

Incidentally, as incredible as it may seem, he is acclaimed even by “liberals”: ​​such as Peruvian official, political and cultural institutions, who boast of his “great name in national literature” in drawn-out “historical” texts that do not even mention his political-political position. Marxist philosophy.

Almost a century after his death, the Mariateguian heritage can be observed today around the world, and it expands – as seen in the growing research on his work that has been developed in Brazil, Latin America and even in the capitalist center – in spaces normally dominated by English speaking.

His thought is present in the political debates and tactics of community occupation (of large estates) of the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil (MST); or in the indigenous guerrilla ideology of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN); or even in the offensive tactics of armed groups, such as the Marxist-Leninists of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–Ercito do Povo (FARC) – half a century of guerrilla warfare today split between a legal political movement and a portion that continues the “critique of weapons” ”.

In addition to these examples, as professor Zilda Iokoi has rightly observed, the case of the “Communist Party of Peru for the Sendero Luminoso de José Carlos Mariátegui” (PCP – Sendero Luminoso), a historic peasant guerrilla of Maoist tendencies that, despite only partially relying on the thought of the author (whom he honors), he sought to articulate the Chinese “structure of the Cultural Revolution process” with the “principles of Andean mystique” [3].

Political formation and historical context

Born in Moquegua (Peru) in 1894, Mariátegui moved to the capital at an early age. His youth takes place in a troubled historical moment. On the one hand, with the First World War, the capitalist powers had brought humanity to know one of its greatest carnage. On the other hand, in Eurasia, the Bolshevik Revolution proposed in practice an alternative to the glaring miseries of capitalism.

He began his professional career as an apprentice typographer, at the newspaper “La Prensa”, as a teenager. In the prelude to the First War, he threw himself into writing, elaborating literary criticism and verses. Shortly after, he published his first political articles.

With his journalistic activity, he became close to the workers' movement, which had been taking shape since the end of the XNUMXth century – with a Bakuninist anarchist line, migrated to America by European militants.

Standing out as a journalist, in 1916 Mariátegui became a regular columnist for the newspaper “El Tiempo”, dedicating himself to the political struggle, denouncing the façade “mestizo democracy” – the demagogic source of “fun” that had the function of diverting the people's attention to the fact that the bourgeoisie of the Peruvian coast allied with the large rural landowners were increasingly turning the country into a “colonial sector” of US imperialism.

This was a time of high food prices. As a result of the popular malaise, the workers' movement strengthened. Mariátegui's writings – already of a socialist tendency, although not yet “Marxist” – support the strikes, criticizing the Lima ruling class.

In 1918, in Córdoba (Argentina), an intense movement for University Reform began, manifestations that would cover the entire continent. Enthusiastic, the Andean thinker claims that this is the “birth of the new Latin American generation” [4].

Another Mariateguian landmark in Peruvian politics was the foundation of the magazine “Nuestra Época” (1918), a publication that did not outline a “socialist program”, but appeared as an ideological effort in this direction. Mariátegui then began his activities as an editor, which would make up an important part of his socialist-oriented political activity.

The end of the First War marks in Latin America and in the world, a period of agitation of the working class. Mariátegui, in 1919, founded the newspaper “La Razón”. That same year, a general strike was repressed with violence and the arrest of workers' leaders. A decade of right-wing populism begins in Peru – economically pro-Yankee, but also flirting with part of the indigenist movement.

The defense of imprisoned labor leaders, promoted by Mariátegui through his newspaper, would make him acclaimed in Lima by a crowd. A month later, his newspaper was closed, and Mariátegui was discreetly deported to Europe, under the official discourse of “Peru's propagandist abroad” – a “conciliatory” exile, since, coincidentally, he (from a working-class background) was related to the wife of the president.

Europe: a woman and some ideas

Mariátegui continues his journey, breaking with his first literary experiences “contaminated by decadence” (as he would later express in self-criticism). From then on, he turned “resolutely to socialism”. He will spend three years traveling through Europe, visiting some countries of the East and West, in particular Italy – where he will reside.

Amidst the influence of the situation there – in which the Russian Revolution echoed loudly – ​​Europe brought him closer to the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, in addition to the Italian communist movement and surrealism.

In the Bolshevik Party, Mariátegui sees the convergence between theory and practice, between philosophy and science. He claims that Lenin is “unquestionably” the “most energetic and fruitful invigorator of Marxist thought” [5].

During this Italian period, Mariátegui claims to have married “a woman and some ideas”. His partner, Ana Chiappe, gives him a “new political enthusiasm” that helps him overcome his youthful end-of-century decadence [6].

Ana's family is close to the philosopher Benedetto Croce, through whom she got to know the work of Georges Sorel: a revolutionary unionist who appreciated the idea of ​​the “myth of the general strike”, as well as its defense ethics of “revolutionary violence” versus “institutional violence” [7].

In convulsive Italy, he witnessed occupations of factories and workers' congresses, in addition to approaching the group of the magazine “Ordine Nuovo”, among which was Antonio Gramsci. Around this time, he experienced the creation of the Communist Party of Italy, strengthening contact with Gramscian thought and other Italian Marxists (such as Terracini).

Fascism: consequence of social decrepitude

Mariátegui's European stay was also a viewpoint from which he could observe the Orient: from the Chinese Revolution and the awakening from India, to Arab movements and various post-war resistance groups. In these events, he perceives the decline of aging modern Western society.

His analysis of modern-Western decrepitude gains strength when he looks closely at the Italian fascist rise. In the phenomenon, he would soon identify a response by big capital to a profound social and political crisis: the “crisis of democracy”.

It should be noted that, if at the beginning of his European stay, Mariátegui brings the humility of an open disciple to the center of modern thought, he progressively begins to be disappointed with the misfortunes he witnesses in Europe, starting to assume an “inverted anthropological perspective” (in peripheral subject that critically analyzes the culture eurocentric dominant).

With such a reverse look, the Latin American Marxist manages to capture details of the western crisis that were, until then, neglected by the Europeans themselves. This is the case of the decay of the so-called “bourgeois democracy”, which he soon conceived as being a new farce to be redesigned with the authoritarian traits of fascism.

For Mariátegui, fascism was the solution found by the bourgeois order as a reaction to the “crisis of democracy”; or otherwise, a structural adaptation to the new times of monopoly imperialism, in which liberal-democracy, with its parliamentary institutions, no longer served the interests of the bourgeoisie [8].

Intuitive Marxism: towards a critique of bourgeois impotence

In parallel with all this sociopolitical effervescence, Mariátegui has access in Europe to the works of thinkers such as Freud, Nietzsche, Unamuno. He is very interested in the newly created psychoanalysis, as well as in the intuitive philosophy of the German philosopher – especially in that such analyzes help to understand the evident human irrationality. In these thoughts he finds critical tools for denouncing the alienation, impotence and artificiality of modern man: a be castrated, inserted in a repressive bourgeois and Christian sociocultural structure.

However, before the purists of Marxist academicism accuse him: Mariátegui's Marxism remained faithful to the principles of historical-materialism; he never flirted with any proposal for an eclectic synthesis – but he used some specific psychological and philosophical-vitalist concepts as an auxiliary instrument in his endeavor against the reformism and the mechanistic determinism (i.e. against the aforementioned academic fossilization of Marxism).

It is from the enormous tragedy of Europe that Mariátegui would come to clearly understand the historical reach of the tragedy of America. When he returned to Lima, in 1923, the still young thinker already openly defended the communist cause.

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



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

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

[3] IOKOI, Z., “The actuality of the propositions of Mariátegui, a Latin American revolutionary”, in History Project (PUC-SP, 2005).

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

[5] defense of marxism [idem].

[6] MARIÁTEGUI. “Autobiographical notes”. In Literary Life, 1930, Buenos Aires.

[7] marx in america [idem].

[8] “Crisis of democracy”. In The contemporary scene and other writings (Complete Works / Volume I). Lima: Editora Amauta, 1925.

See this link for all articles


  • João Cândido and the Revolt of the Whipwhip revolt 23/06/2024 By PETRÔNIO DOMINGUES: In the current context, in which there is so much discussion about State reparations for the black population, the name of João Cândido cannot be forgotten
  • Fear and HopeJoao_Carlos_Salles 24/06/2024 By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES: Against the destruction of the public university
  • The collapse of Zionismfree palestine 80 23/06/2024 By ILAN PAPPÉ: Whether people welcome the idea or fear it, Israel's collapse has become predictable. This possibility should inform the long-term conversation about the future of the region
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Theological manual of neoliberal neo-PentecostalismJesus saves 22/06/2024 By LEONARDO SACRAMENTO: Theology has become coaching or encouraging disputes between workers in the world of work
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones