Mariátegui – Theory and Revolution

Eliezer Markowich Lissitzky, Tatlin at work


Considerations about the recently released book by Juan Dal Maso

Juan Dal Maso is an important Argentine researcher on the works of Antonio Gramsci and José Carlos Mariátegui. His perspective is that of a Trotskyist intellectual and militant who seeks to treat Marxist thought as a living and dynamic theoretical body, capable of permanent criticism and self-criticism, acting as part of the movement of history itself.

Although no Brazilian translation is expected, his recently released Mariátegui – theory and revolution is a very valuable contribution to the bibliography on the “Amauta” in Latin America, mainly because it seeks to demonstrate the development of Mariátegui's Marxist theory from the practical state in which it is presented in his numerous texts analyzing the world and Peruvian conjuncture, from literary and aesthetic criticism in general, until it was consolidated in the political-union projects and programs of the Peruvian worker-peasant movement and in the very foundation of the Socialist Party.

The book presents Mariátegui's thought organically linked to the world historical context in which he wrote, while at the same time pointing out in his “open Marxism” a possible path for the permanent updating of historical materialism for today's times. The author demonstrates that the global crisis, portrayed and analyzed by Mariátegui throughout his writings, has an integral civilizational character, that is, in multiple dimensions.

In his time, this meant articulating the different meanings of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the reaction or counter-revolution of the ruling classes. It is a way of analyzing the revolutionary context – its possible developments – that goes beyond the simple dichotomy “structure versus superstructure”, characteristic of the social democratic socialism in force at the turn of the 1920th and XNUMXth centuries and which would also mechanically dominate the “official” Stalinist Marxism from the end of the XNUMXs onwards. Despite the predominance of conjunctural themes throughout Mariátegui’s political writings , Dal Maso makes a careful and careful reading that establishes the theoretical guideline that makes it possible to follow, based on the lines between the texts, the path taken by the Peruvian thinker in the elaboration of his dynamic Marxism.

The exhibition on Mariátegui's analyzes of fascism are an example of this procedure, exploring central passages from his writings in this regard, with emphasis on the collection “Letters from Italy”, from which Dal Maso details how Mariátegui saw that reactionary movement the manifestation of the workers' counter-revolution in Italy, as well as the changes in interpretation of the Peruvian Marxist as he followed the Italian situation. Regarding the author's questions about Mariátegui not writing almost anything else about fascism after 1926, we have a hypothesis that we consider plausible. It is interesting to consider that, from that moment on, Mariátegui found himself increasingly immersed in the practical problems of the Peruvian revolution. The time coincides with the founding of APRA by Haya De La Torre in Mexico, as well as the founding of the magazine amauta, which would go on to play a fundamental role in the organization of internationalist political and cultural thought in Indo-America.

Regarding Mariátegui's relationship with the Third International, Dal Maso argues, with evidence, that Mariátegui did not have complete organicity with its political perspectives, which is demonstrated during the discussions held at the First Latin American Communist Conference, in 1929. It is important Keep in mind, however, that Mariátegui never voluntarily gave up joining his party in the ranks of the International. On the contrary, he tried to demonstrate to his representatives the peculiar needs of the Peruvian revolution, which ended up having no practical effect on the international communist movement.

In the analysis of political writings, Dal Maso demonstrates Mariátegui's precision in following the passage of time from one hegemony to another in the international space, the transition of the international political-economic direction from Western Europe to the United States, or more precisely, to the Anglo-American bloc with American supremacy. An interesting highlight is made regarding Mariátegui's acute perception of the imminence and character of the next war.

Pointing to the difficulty of the Anglo-North American bloc in reconciling the interests of different imperialisms, Dal Maso reminds us of the Mariateguian opinion according to which “the possible scale of the next war [would] certainly be much broader than that of the first world conflagration” (p. 49). The proximity to Trotsky's analyzes is well pointed out here by the author.

Trotsky had also already highlighted the shift of British hegemony to the United States, a new rising power, as well as the post-World War I negotiations as a set of measures taken by the victors that, in fact, prepared the way for the second world conflagration. Here, recalls Dal Maso, Mariátegui approves Trotsky's reflections on Where is England going?, work taken as a reference by the Peruvian Marxist.

Very fortunate, in the sequence, is also the explanation of how Mariátegui perceived the French economic situation in 1924 and that of Germany in 1923 – in view of the historic inflationary crisis in this country (p. 56). An excellent exposition on the German parliamentary crisis, supported by Mariátegui's notes, completes this passage of the book. Mariátegui's characterization of Tardieu's French regime at the beginning of the 1930s, presented in the book, is interesting. This would be a kind of “legal fascism”, of an eminently police nature, “transitional” between fascism and the parliamentary regime.

For Dal Maso, such a description would coincide more with what Gramsci called Caesarism or Bonapartism (p.67), or even Trotsky would call Bonapartism in 1934, in the text Where is France going?, and like Mariátegui years before, characterized it as a regime, at least in its beginnings, that combined parliamentarism with fascism. Although Mariátegui did not use the term “bonapartism”, Dal Maso notes that what is important in this case is the nature of the phenomenon with which Mariátegui is concerned, that is, the use, by parliamentary democracy, of active police forms as a preventive policy to deal with the class struggle (p. 69).

The author also reminds us that Marxists after Mariátegui will more precisely apply the terms “Bonapartism” and/or “Caesarism” to deal with similar phenomena, since Mariátegui did not live to witness the emergence of other expressions and political movements closer to fascism. From all this it is possible to deduce that the police or authoritarian order tries to stabilize the capitalist system, while fascism tries to transform the relationship of forces towards a new political regime. For Dal Maso, Mariátegui thus shows a “solid example of conjuncture analysis linked to the underlying trends of capitalism – crises, wars and revolutions –, but without avoiding the mediations of bourgeois recomposition, full of contradictions” (p. 70 ).

Following the book, Dal Maso discusses Mariátegui's aesthetic analyzes and artistic interests, highlighting surrealism (an expression of the fact that the Great War and the Russian Revolution are events that go beyond the limits of literary realism) and Peruvian indigenous literature (which intervenes in the historiographical discussion from outside the academy). The author notes that Mariátegui maintained, in his aesthetic reflections in the 1920s, that artists live the tension of the time, combining innovations and conservations, revolutionary and reactionary positions, sometimes expressing various ambiguities.

The new developments occurred in a context of concomitant Bolshevism and Fascism, both with considerable gravitational force over different artistic avant-gardes. Therefore, it was not possible to establish immediate links between “artistic avant-garde and revolutionary political ideas”, as this would be a more complex process than might initially appear (p. 71).

In the analysis of futurism for example, as Dal Maso highlights, Mariátegui points out how this avant-garde current became “a spiritual ingredient of fascism”, which had stimulated it and contributed to its institutionalization, once installed in power. At another point, Mariátegui praises the radicalism of Pirandello's work – the author in whose popularization Gramsci claims important participation – with its popular background, “from the street”. Here, there is the relationship between heresy and dogma, which serves Mariátegui to think not only about aesthetic tendencies, but about Marxism itself.

There, the suggestion that surrealism represents an increased and surpassed realism is interesting as a “political aesthetic”. Mariátegui would also be demonstrating that there is a change in the relationship between artists and reality that overcomes elitist and reactionary protests against capitalism. The new attitude of “recognition of modernity, machinism and capitalism as constitutive elements of the political and cultural battlefield” comes into play, in a historical era in which crowds descend on the political scene for the revolution (p. 75).

Dal Maso examines with great attention a set of texts on Mariátegui's aesthetic criticism, which are generally still very little studied in Brazil. See, for example, the contrast and comparison in Mariátegui, as presented by the author, between the futurist and surrealist artistic vanguards, considering surrealism as the movement that takes the revolution to its ultimate consequences (p. 85). Mariátegui had similar consideration for Russian revolutionary realism, “another way of accessing the new reality created by the new era, from the very center of the international revolution” (p. 91).

As we continue reading, we learn a synthesis of Mariátegui's positions on the literature of the Russian Revolution, or the realism on the rise in the Soviet Union. Firstly, its character as objective testimony of certain works, regardless of the political position of the authors. Secondly, the notion that traditional realism was in crisis, giving way to Soviet realism and surrealism as solidarity movements, the same objective with different languages.

Thirdly, the opposition of insufficiently realistic bourgeois and petty bourgeois realisms to socialist realism as a consequential realism (p. 97). Finally, there is the criticism of “literary populism” (or naturalism) – a genre of which Émile Zola would have been one of the main representatives -, a type of realism that was intended to be apolitical, without being politically or socially renewing. Quoting a passage from The artist and the time, Dal Maso records, in Mariátegui's words, that “demagoguery is the worst enemy of the revolution, both in politics and in literature. Populism is essentially demagogic[…]. The proletariat is not the same thing as the people” (p. 98-99).

Closing the exhibition on Mariátegui's aesthetic analyses, we have a critique of Peruvian literature, in which the Peruvian Marxist articulates avant-garde and national issues. Participation in the literary environment of the time had provided the young Mariátegui with an approach to international reality and the possibility of “leaving (at least with his thoughts) the asphyxiating atmosphere of Lima” (p.13). Participated in the literary group Colonida in 1916 (along with writers such as Abraham Valdelomar – founder – and the poet César Vallejo), who proposed overcoming the provincial, conservative and colonial situation that characterized literature in the Andean country. This stance allowed, at the same time, a return to the national and indigenous. This is how Mariátegui could conclude that cosmopolitanism led to the autochthonous (p. 100).

For Mariátegui, as presented by Dal Maso, there are three moments of development of literature in a people. First, the colonial moment, during which local literature is simply dependent on the “other”. In the second moment, the cosmopolitan period, these people assimilate, at the same time, characteristics of various foreign literatures. The third moment is the “national period”, in which indigenous literary expressions manifest their own personality and their own feelings.

Representing the second and third moments are writers such as González Prada, “enemy of elitism and colonialism” and Abraham Valdelomar, who represented “the revolt against academicism” and the “rupture with the colonial past”, both responsible for the transition from colonial period to the cosmopolitan (p. 102). Cesar Vallejo “represented the indigenous feeling, with a new style and technique”, just as Luís Eduardo Valcárcel was, in the words of Mariátegui, “to whom we owe perhaps the most complete interpretation of the autochthonous soul”. Mariátegui, therefore, considered indigenism as “the current current” of Peruvian literature, but more than that, it was an “aesthetic-political phenomenon”, in the words of Dal Maso (p. 103). Despite being literature written by mestizos and non-indigenous people, it sought to know not what Peru was, but what Peru is.

For Dal Maso, Mariátegui's political reflection sought to unite the international class struggle movement with the emergence of the indigenous issue, which in the 1920s re-emerged in several territorial conflicts in different parts of Peru. Most of these ideas would be summarized in five fundamental texts: in addition to the 7 Tests (1928), also Aniversario and Balance, Peruvian PS Program Project, Anti-imperialist Point of View e The problem of the reasons in Latin America, the first two from 1928 and the last two from 1929.

Dal Maso demonstrates that the detailed analysis of the texts mentioned reveals the development of the Mariateguian perspective on the relationship between politics, economics and the indigenous issue, atavistically linked to the “land problem”; the modernization of the Peruvian economy in the imperialist context of increasing dependence on US capital; finally, the political core of the Mariateguian project for the Peruvian revolution.

An always interesting discussion in the general scope of the Peruvian colonial and indigenous question is about the existence or not of “feudalism” in the constitution of the country, from the colony onwards – in fact, a theme familiar to Brazilians, whose high point is the controversy, which continues still today, between Nelson Werneck Sodré and Caio Prado Júnior. Mariátegui is assertive about the existence, in the country, of “feudalism” or “semifeudalism”, or even “feudality” – a term without a useful translation into Portuguese and used in Brazil in its literal form in Spanish, when it comes to Mariátegui.

Dal Maso, following the issue in the Peruvian debate, offers very interesting solutions to the problem. He recalls that Mariátegui himself made it clear that he never thought about installing a feudal system identical to the European one, nor did he see this characteristic of the Peruvian social formation as a “stage” in the development of capitalism that required an alliance with the “national bourgeoisie”.

In fact, the author continues, the “pre-capitalist” elements that resemble feudal extra-economic coercion practices formed one of the main ways of exploiting indigenous labor, as well as “almost slave”, “semi-slave” work. -salaried”, etc. The fact that the colony produced for the world capitalist market does not mean that it did not harbor, in its territory, social relations closer to feudalism than to modern capitalism (p. 116).

Thus, Dal Maso concludes that defining a social formation by the destination of its production may be insufficient to understand its internal structure, especially if it has obvious hybridization characteristics between capitalist and pre-capitalist forms of exploitation of the workforce. Another discussion in this field presented in the book in great detail is the issue of “Inca communism”.

The author reminds us that Mariátegui made a distinction between the communism of the Andean communities and the authoritarianism of the Incas. Thus, the work of the communities could be qualified as “communal, communal or communist”, but the existence of a priestly and warrior caste freed from work, such as that of the Incas, did not fall within these categories (p. 119). Dal Maso also covers the Latin American debate regarding the characterizations of the social formation of the Inca Empire in the works of authors such as Liborio Justo, Álvaro García Linera, Luis Vitale and Eduardo Molina.

In his approach to social classes, unions and parties, Dal Maso reflects on Mariátegui's practical and theoretical initiatives with the immediate objective of organizing the Peruvian proletariat into a united workers' front, which would culminate, in 1929, in the founding of the Confederación General de Trabajadores del Peru, made up of miners, oil workers, agricultural workers, merchant sailors, rural workers, textile workers, railway workers, printers, drivers, brewers, among others.

A very relevant moment in this reflection refers to the particular characteristics of indigenous labor, with its seasonal aspect, as described by Mariátegui (p. 124). Throughout the year, the same indigenous worker alternates his place of work between cultivating his own land, agricultural work on large estates on the coast or in the mountains, and mining work. He is, at the same time, a peasant, an agricultural worker and a miner.

The union should prepare itself, therefore, to deal with the education and political organization of this mass of workers at these different moments, as stated by the Peruvian Marxist in an excerpt from a quote from ideology and politics, recorded by Dal Maso: “The unions, of the agricultural proletariat and the miners, will have a heavy burden in the tasks imposed by the temporal affluence of these indigenous masses, and their education by the union will be all the more difficult the less their class feeling is” (p 124).

Regarding the potential for political organization of the indigenous peasantry, Dal Maso presents his disagreement with García Linera on the idea of ​​cooperativism in Mariátegui, arguing that the indigenous community as a space for political organization is also present in the writings of the Peruvian Marxist, remembering that the form of indigenous community organization and the collective organization of the proletariat appear in his writings as convergent, although differentiated: “but the subject could not be presented as an underestimation of the political potential of the community by Mariátegui” (p. 127).

Here also appears the approach to a central issue of the class struggle, which is the relationship between oppression and exploitation and the need not to organically separate the two dimensions of the struggle. For Dal Maso, on a more general level the class issue determines the indigenous issue, but on a more specific level the indigenous issue, related to Peruvian history and politics, overdetermines, in turn, the class issue (p. 129 ). The author mobilizes the Althusserian concept of overdetermination for this solution, articulated with the assumptions of the brief epistolary between Marx and Vera Zasulich about the possibility of the socialist revolution beginning in a country with backward capitalism, by peasant hands.

It is possible to extend the argument used by Dal Maso along the same Maoist/Althusserian epistemological path and mobilize the dichotomy “main contradiction x secondary contradiction”, asking ourselves whether immediate protagonism in a revolutionary situation would not be assured to the class or fractions of working classes that are more organized at a specific historical moment, regardless of their position in current production relations.

The analyzes of the Chinese and Mexican revolutions – great revolutions with a marked peasant character, in fact – made by Mariátegui are also reviewed in the book. Very important is the discussion of how Mariátegui came to the conclusion that the Mexican Revolution could not result in a socialist revolution (passages cited from Themes from our America, pp. 146-149). In March 1930, as demonstrated by Dal Maso, Mariátegui already had a completed reading of the process, polemicizing against those who believed that the Mexican Revolution could lead to socialism through the intervention of the caudillos in dispute.

Next, the author focuses on the characterizations of an Indo-American socialism elaborated by Mariátegui, with emphasis on the text “Birthday and Balance” and for the foundations of the Socialist Party Program, a text that is in line with the first. For Dal Maso, the theory of revolution in Mariátegui has a less generalizing and abstract character because it always deals, specifically, with the Peruvian or Latin American conditions of the revolution. Thus, this “partial theorization” present in Mariátegui explains less in relation to a general theory of revolution, but explains more deeply the concrete conditions of the space-time with which it deals.

There is in Mariátegui's thought, according to Dal Maso, a kind of “tension” between internationalism and national politics, a tension that would come, in a certain way, from his own judgment regarding Trotsky and his disagreement with the positions of the Opposition. Left in Russia. There would be a “paradox”, according to the author: “While he had gone ahead of Trotsky by indicating the socialist [and internationalist] character of the revolution in Latin America, Mariátegui had positioned himself against him by defending socialism in a single country” (p 169).

However, there is not necessarily a paradox, we think, between disagreeing with the Left Opposition and supporting the socialist character of the revolution in Latin America. Even though he agreed with Trotsky on the Russian issue, the internationalist character of Mariátegui's vision for Indo-America was supported by two concrete autochthonous elements, namely the community of indigenous races and the region's semi-colonial dependence. This gave him the concrete elements to support an immediately internationalist cause for the American continent, a concreteness that he apparently did not see in Trotsky's proposals for the Russian and European situation. On the contrary, from Mariátegui's perspective, the revolution in Western Europe had already been defeated by the forces of reaction, while in Peru and Indo-America it was a question of initiating the political organization of subaltern autochthonous groups.

The author's record that Mariátegui remained within the framework of the “Second Period” of the International, that is, the United Front policy and the defense of the workers and peasants blocs, is interesting. Thus, the Peruvian Marxist characterized APRA as an organization of the petty bourgeoisie, and the Socialist Party as an organization of workers and peasants. For Dal Maso, Mariátegui's formulations about the “practical socialism” of indigenous communities brought him closer to bipartite formulas such as “worker-peasant” (whether “bloc” or “party”), even though his politics were “much more classist than expressions of this type might suggest” (p. 180).

For Dal Maso, the unfolding of these premises in Mariátegui would expose their ambiguity, their limitations. We think, however, that there may be more dialectic than ambiguity here. Let us remember that Gramsci himself seemed to have a more dialectical and flexible conception of a United Front than other members of the Italian communist movement and the International itself in the years of the rise of fascism.

The final parts of the book deal with the new philosophical perspectives through which Mariátegui sees the beginning of the 186th century. The new era inaugurated by the Great War and the Russian Revolution brought changes in the conceptions of history and political action. The transition from an evolutionary and positivist conception to another, heroic and voluntarist, was on the agenda. For Mariátegui, both Bolsheviks and fascists expressed these changes in their own way. For him, Marxism was also subject to the “emotion of our time” (p. XNUMX).

In any case, Dal Maso makes it clear that, for Mariátegui, there are issues that are characteristic of Marxism beyond the historical period in which it is inserted, such as the realistic explanation of the historical process based on the importance of economic facts, the centrality of the class struggle to understand society and revolution as a path to transforming capitalism. For Mariátegui, according to Dal Maso, there would be equivalence or translatability between the historical movement that began with the Russian Revolution and the anti-positivist reaction. At the same time, Marxism would go beyond Hegel's philosophy and, finally, could adapt to new conditions and ideological currents.

From Mariátegui's perspective, Marxism, on the one hand, has certain historical-theoretical coordinates of origin, but its contents go beyond them in its own right and, on the other, it has the capacity to adapt to new philosophical trends without falling into irrationalist and anti-scientific (p. 190).

Here comes into play one of Mariátegui's most peculiar adaptations to Marxism, the Sorelian concept of “myth”, as “part of this reading of the adaptation of Marxism to the new conception of life” (p.190). Myth would appear as a resource linked, especially in the XNUMXth century, to collective social struggles.

For Mariátegui, as postulated by Dal Maso, the myth of social revolution would be the translation of the Sorelian myth of the General Strike into the language of Bolshevik Marxism. He drove the revolutionary process, while Marxist theory continued to claim the scientific rationality that the bourgeoisie had abandoned. This is one of the ways in which, at all times, Mariátegui puts into practice the ability of Marxism to constitute theoretical analyzes in close relationship with concrete and contemporary facts.

This leads to the idea, as Dal Maso recalls, referring to the book by Segundo Montoya Huamaní Conflicts of interpretation surrounding Mariátegui's Marxism, that Mariátegui’s Marxism is, in fact, “open Marxism”. Examples of this would be the assimilations, made by the Peruvian Marxist, of Croce's method of historical interpretation and of the myth and the “morality of producers”, by Georges Sorel. Mariátegui “integrates them into a reading that seeks to maintain the defense of fundamental questions of Marxism, while at the same time placing it in accordance with the climate of 202th century ideas” (p. XNUMX).

The way in which Dal Maso presents the dynamism of Mariátegui's thought helps to reinforce one of the most important ways of defining Marxism itself, that is, as a worldview that is not only critical, but constantly self-critical, an “open Marxism”. The book ends with a set of short, but fertile, comparative propositions regarding the similarities and distances between Mariátegui's thought and classic authors of Marxism such as Antonio Gramsci and Léon Trotsky, as well as theoretical interlocutors of Amauta's work such as José Aricó, Michel Löwy and Aníbal Quijano.

Finally, Juan Dal Maso's book takes a careful approach to Mariátegui's method of thought and creation, demonstrating the connection between his conjunctural analysis texts and programmatic-theoretical texts, which influence each other reciprocally. In the Peruvian Marxist's opinion, this dynamic constitutes a systematization of the analyzes of concrete situations through which Mariategu's theory is being constructed, without ever becoming immobilized in a theoretical body closed in its own conclusions. What Dal Maso demonstrates is that, debating the currents of thought and philosophical trends of each era, Mariátegui's work promotes a Marxism that constantly renews its theoretical elaborations.

* Leandro Galastri he is professor of political science at Unesp-Marília. Author of Gramsci, Marxism and Revisionism (Associated Authors). []


Juan Dal Maso. Mariátegui: theory and revolution. Buenos Aires, Ediciones IPS, 2023, 232 pages.

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