Manuel Mora Valverde

Manoel Mora Valverde - Art: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Manuel Mora Valverde (1909-1994) is one of the main Costa Rican social activists and political thinkers of the XNUMXth century. He was a reference for the Caribbean communist political formation and a prominent lawyer. Born into a middle-class family – educated, but impoverished –, and the eldest of twelve brothers, he was influenced from an early age by his father – the foreman and labor leader José Rafael Mora Zuñiga –, having contact with political activities and struggles workers' social At the same time, he inherited from his mother, Lydia Valverde, the academic spirit and interest in knowing the world and people, both of which were hallmarks of his personality throughout life.

As a child, he had to face, accompanied by his family, his father's exile in Nicaragua, after the house where he lived was the target of an attack; at that time, Costa Rica was governed by Alfredo Gonzáles Flores (1914-1917), a friend of his father, who was eventually overthrown in a military coup. In exile, Manuel Mora Valverde sees his father organize workers into armed groups of resistance and combat against the imposed dictatorial regime. Another striking fact of the period is the death of two of his sisters, due to the family's lack of resources for medical treatment. These events awakened in young Mora a sense of justice and equality that would last throughout his political, academic and intellectual trajectory.

He did his primary studies at the Juan Rudín School, and secondary at the Liceu de Costa Rica, during which time he was a colleague of Mario Echandi Jiménez (future president between 1958 and 1962). He was so successful in secondary education that, after completing it, the Ministry of Education offered him a scholarship to study Mathematics in France, an invitation he declined.

He began his political activity at just 15 years old, when he began to participate in meetings of the Anti-Imperialist League of Costa Rica, linked to the Communist International and local branch of the Anti-Imperialist League of the Americas, a collective formed at the time by prominent national intellectuals and activists, such as Carmen Lyra, Carlos Luís Sáenz, Rómulo Betancourt and others. Such influences made the young Mora participate in anti-fascist associations and progressive collectives, such as the Associação Revolucionaria de Cultura Operária (ARCO), which he joined in 1929. This process of political formation and social struggle in his youth would culminate in his relevant participation in the foundation, together with a group of workers and students, of the Costa Rican Communist Party (PCC), in 1931.

Around this time, he entered the National School of Law, an institution from which he obtained a bachelor's degree in 1940, beginning his professional career as a lawyer.

In 1934, the newly created Communist Party organized and mobilized around 10 rural workers from the Atlantic region of the country in the fight for better working conditions in banana production. This episode, historically known as Huelga bananara [Banana strike], is considered the first proletarian collective action, in Costa Rica, against an American company – the famous United Fruit.

In the elections of that same year, Manuel Mora Valverde, still a law student and only 25 years old, was elected one of the first communist deputies in the country, a position to which he would be re-elected until 1948, when the Civil War broke out (which would last from March to April of this year). During this period, he stood out as an exceptional orator, always guiding his speeches and actions in defense of workers, especially the unemployed and poor, and denouncing the privileges of the national agrarian elite and its relations with imperialism.

He was also responsible for the organization of four national revolutionary periodicals, aimed at strengthening the education of poor workers, the dissemination of communist ideals and the social mobilization of the masses: The revolution (1929-1931), Work (1931-1948), Adelante (1953-1961), and Libertad (1961-1993).

In 1940, with the advance of Nazism in Europe, Manuel Mora Valverde was the main figure in the strategy of expanding alliances, developed by the Communist Party, with a view to guaranteeing the defense of democratic freedoms and national interests against imperialism. At the local level, the pressure for social and economic reforms – exerted by movements organized by the communists, such as the Union Liaison Committee and Peasant National Union – will also have repercussions on the consolidation of such alliances. This process will involve an agreement between communists, progressive sectors of the Catholic Church and the government of Calderón Guardia (1940-1944), resulting in the modernization of state institutions and the democratization of national laws; a kind of “bloodless legal revolution”, which will promote the incorporation of social guarantees in the Magna Carta, the enactment of the National Labor Code, and will create the National Social Security Fund.

One of the most outstanding aspects of these alliances was the change of name of the Communist Party, which is now called Vanguarda Popular, with the aim of incorporating into its ranks citizens and politicians linked to the Catholic Church - who rejected the denomination "communist", still who shared many of his ideas.

In 1948, the non-recognition of the national elections by the traditional Costa Rican elites resulted in the aforementioned conflict – the country's Civil War –, which led to Manuel Mora Valverde's exile in Mexico (until 1950).

However, even exiled, the Marxist would play a central role in the armistice (agreed in 1948), being one of the negotiators of the Pact of Ochomogo, signed in Costa Rican territory (April 17), by Mora himself and José Figueres Ferrer (leader of the conservative National Liberation Army), under the testimony of Father Benjamin Nuñez Vargas. Although such an agreement represented the maintenance of the social conquests achieved, it will not be fulfilled by the established government board, dominated by the dominant classes; thus, in the 1949 Constitution, the Communist Party will be made illegal – a gesture that will result in persecutions, arrests and murders of socialist leaders, workers and peasants. Only in 1975, the Communist Party will return to legality.

In the 1980s, Manuel Mora played a prominent role in regional geopolitics, participating in the mediation in the negotiations for peace agreements in El Salvador and Guatemala, and in preventing the US invasion of Nicaragua.

Already octogenarian, in 1993, he was granted the Rodrigo Facio Award, from University of Costa Rica; and the year following Distance State University of Costa Rica (UNED) awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.

Manuel Mora Valverde died at the end of 1994 – being honored by the Legislative Assembly of his country with the title of Meritorious of the Fatherland, one of the main national distinctions.

Contributions to Marxism

In addition to the fruitful political activity guided by the defense of workers and the search for social justice, Manuel Mora has an essential contribution to the Marxist debate, by proposing what he himself defined as the “typical communism” (with “tico” being a colloquial denomination of gentilicio, synonymous with “Costa Rican”).

Unlike other Central American countries, in Costa Rica communism was able to establish itself, based on a characteristic that became characteristic of local politics: the view that social conflicts should be faced through institutional and legal agreements. National political action, therefore, has a very peculiar reformist character, a trend that the Communist Party will reproduce, as it expands its representation, from the mid-1930s onwards.

Manuel Mora Valverde is seen as a representative of the Marxist current known as radical humanism – being close to authors such as José Carlos Mariátegui, Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, Fernando de los Ríos and, more recently, Pablo Guadarrama González. Above all, he claims the centrality of the human being (humanism) as the ultimate goal of socialist theory and political actions. He distances himself, therefore, from the structuralist currents of Marxism – which emphasize the structural mechanisms of society, reducing the importance of revolutionary praxis.

The author was greatly influenced by the writings of the “young Marx” (prior to 1848), by the progressive social theories of the Catholic Church, and also by the contributions of Lenin – especially his interpretations of the need for us to understand scientifically the requirements of the development of the material life of society. society, but without moving away from real life and the interests of the working class and the popular masses.

From the absorption and analysis of this international debate of revolutionary thought, Manuel Mora Valverde develops his own interpretation of the Costa Rican case, based on the specificities of his nation. The trajectory of his Marxist conception is based on the quest to understand politics as a succession of processes that arise from reality. The author considers society within the framework of the possibilities of a country or region – and in the case of Costa Rica, ends up orienting its action towards parliamentarism and the adjustment of party structures.

One of the central concepts he problematizes is that of the State; it reformulates the theory of the State, based on the Marxist tradition, to explain the mechanisms of domination and the possible alternatives for overcoming it and achieving social change. That is, for Manuel Mora Valverde, it is in the objective understanding of domination that the possibilities of evaluating its mechanisms and characteristics are found, as well as the viable strategies for overcoming this situation. In this sense, the disputes around the nature of the capitalist State cannot be detached from the strategies and tactics of the political action with which it is intended to confront this State – and, more than that, to subvert it. He understands that it is only through the revolutionary path that this process of social transformation can be achieved.

However, the revolutionary component claimed by Manuel Mora Valverde has a more reformist than disruptive meaning. Despite acknowledging the centrality of the revolution, the Marxist argues that this process should be conducted from legal instances and institutional transformations – as paths to socialist construction. That is, he understands that the State should be a tool for developing the necessary mechanisms to alleviate imbalances and inequalities – in a process that would lead the nation to socialism.

It is this reformist character of Manuel Mora Valverde's Marxism that will compose his political theory and practice – guided by the notion of typical communism: a properly Costa Rican political praxis, which has its main mechanism of action in the reform of the State (via an increase in legal social regulations, in favor of workers).

It should be noted that this reformist nature of his Marxist thought will be criticized by some analysts, who will classify his proposal as being a “colonized socialism”. However, it is necessary to contextualize the historical period in which Mora produced his analysis, in which World War II and the Cold War were central elements that delimited the local possibilities of struggle and transformative political action – especially in Central American Costa Rica, always subject to heavy US imperialist influence.

In this way, Manuel Mora Valverde relied on a set of Marxist and Leninist principles – but not rigidly, adapting them to the local and regional reality, from which he mobilized them. His current of thought was expressed in the national State reform of the 1940s, which, under the fundamental influence of Manuel Mora Valverde, placed human beings at the center of the political debate – approving norms and laws that modernized and democratized the country.

Finally, it should be said that Manuel Mora is recognized as responsible for elevating Costa Rican politics to the rank of science. Indeed, by guiding his political action towards historical materialism – as an epistemological position as well – he understands that the origin of socialist ideas, social conceptions and political theories must be scientifically sought: in the material life of society, and especially in the reality of workers and the less favored population.

Comment on the work

Manuel Mora Valverde was not a Marxist theorist who devoted himself especially to writing or to the development of academic studies. His already published work is limited to speeches (which were transcribed) delivered in Parliament, during the period in which he was a deputy; and some articles in local and regional journals. The importance of such texts lies in their ability to articulate an interpretation of national vicissitudes, with a political and pragmatic action by the Costa Rican Communist Party.

In this sense, the author's notable contribution to Marxist thought is the fact that he analyzed the current situation, in which he was inserted, based on considerations of the socio-historical process that formed this current reality; and then, from this procedural dimension, he derived and proposed strategies and paths of practical political action in favor of workers and peasants.

A large part of his theoretical contributions – political speeches and conjuncture texts – are essentially concerned with inserting the Costa Rican case within the international revolutionary debate, especially through the discussion of imperialism. Such texts, however, are also permeated by denunciations regarding the precarious social conditions of their compatriots, as well as by the defense of the need for democracy and the centrality of revolutionary ideals for the construction of a new Costa Rica.

Among the author's bibliography, the best known book is Speeches 1934-1979 (São José: Presbere, 1980), also available in digital edition (São José: Imprenta Nacional, 2013). It is a compilation of his political and revolutionary activities – speeches that cover an overview of his general ideas (briefly presented here). It is possible to separate these texts into three major moments prior to 1945, and two later.

In his 1937-1938 political speeches, he highlighted the need to develop a communism of his own for his nation, geared towards Costa Rica's cultural and economic needs. Likewise, he relates his own political reading to practical actions. To this end, it affirms the need to guarantee a democratic order (refuting the revolutionary bias of the Costa Rican Communist Party): a process in which the social struggle is for legal reforms in favor of both workers (for example, with an increase in the minimum wage), and peasants (with the establishment of agricultural land and credit policies). At that time, the Costa Rican Communist Party was expanding its institutionality, so Mora sees, then, the need for an active parliamentary practice, in favor of the working classes and democracy.

Among his main declarations of that period, those gathered in the book Three speeches in defense of democracy (São José: Impr. La Tribuna, 1937), in which the author presents his definition of the democratic ideal and relates it to a set of pragmatic strategies of party political action.

His speeches between 1939 and 1940 are guided by denunciations of the advance of Nazi-fascism and its local repercussions. It is during this period that Manuel Mora Valverde shows his tendency towards reformism, making speeches in favor of the constitution of democratic alliances between divergent political sectors – even under the leadership of the communists –, in order to guarantee minimal social reforms. “For the affirmation of our democracy” (Central Committee of the Costa Rican Communist Party, San José, 1939) is his most eloquent speech, in which he claims popular sovereignty as a democratic element – ​​non-negotiable and inalienable – necessary for the advancement of social guarantees.

In his third major block of speeches, covering the years 1941 to 1944, Manuel Mora Valverde highlights the need for the Costa Rican economy to develop autonomously – free from US influence. He proposes and develops a communist economic plan based on the formulation of production strategies and planned orientation of the national economy. He claims the need for technical bodies, salary increases and attention to Latin American geopolitical dynamics as central factors for building a socialist future. Your speech "Imperialism: Our Sovereignty Over the State Department” (Costa Rican Communist Party, São José, 1941) brings together the author's main arguments in this regard, denouncing the obstacles to national development generated by the influential foreign presence in Costa Rican territory.

Finally, his speeches from the post-1945 period constitute a diverse set of themes that, however, have as their guiding thread the incessant search of the Marxist for the reduction of injustices and inequalities present in his nation.

The conferences in the years preceding the Civil War (1948) are marked by denunciations and appeals by Manuel Mora Valverde in favor of democracy and national social stability. Already after the Pact of Ochomogo, with the conflict appeased, his speeches turned to the economic and social modernization needs of Costa Rica, emphasizing the need to overcome poverty and misery.

*Abel Cassol is professor of sociology and anthropology at the Federal University of Maranhão. Author, among other books, of Social institutions and traditional food markets (EdUFRGS).

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP,


ARAYA, Germán Chacón. “Manuel Mora Valverde: reflection on his political thinking”. Espiga Magazine, n. 24, Jul-Dec. 2012. Disp:

______. “Costa Rican communist exile in Mexico (1940-1950): the case of Manuel Mora Valverde”. American Repertoire: Second New Era, n. 29, Jan-Dec. 2019.

CRUZ DE LEMOS, V. de la. “Manuel Mora Valverde: facets of his life and his struggles”. Reflexiones Magazine, San Jose, n. 1, v. 31, 1995. Disp:

JIMÉNEZ, Ivan Molina. “The participation of the Communist Party of Costa Rica in the 1930s: the case of the 1934 rallies”. History and Politics, no. 13, 2005. Disp:

NUÑEZ, Mauricio Ramirez. “The geopolitical thought of Manuel Mora Valverde: vision and validity in the XNUMXst siglo”. Pro Veritatem, n. 5, 2019. Disp:

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