Ricardo Martinez de la Torre

Martinez de la Torre / Art by Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Ricardo Martínez de la Torre (1904-1968) had as parents Ricardo Martínez (a Spanish engineer) and Juana de la Torre. His maternal family, with a long lineage of members of Lima's elites, descends from Juan de la Torre, companion of Francisco Pizarro.

From a young age, Martínez de la Torre demonstrated a precocious literary talent. He initially studied at the Jesuit Colegio de la Inmaculada, and completed high school at Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, where he met some of the literary figures of the moment, such as Gamarra Hernández. At the age of eleven, in 1915, he wrote the novel Tragedy: the mysterious la noche – and sent some poems to a young journalist and rising literary critic who collaborated with the newspaper La Prensa, José Carlos Mariátegui.

From then on, the two will build a friendship that will lead José Carlos Mariátegui to frequent the Martínez house – even experiencing a platonic passion for the painter Juanita Martínez de la Torre, Ricardo's older sister. Despite the distance that separated them during José Carlos Mariátegui's European stay (between 1919 and 1923), the relationship of affection and closeness remained, as shown by the various postcards addressed to the young Martínez de la Torre, from Italy.

At university, he studied accounting and, after graduating, he got a job as a cashier at an insurance brokerage. The popular, in the country's capital. Close to the student movement, Martínez de la Torre witnessed the great demonstrations of 1918-1919 and the first general strike in Peruvian history. Like other members of petit-bourgeois youth, he frequented workers and student circles that were at the forefront of the struggles and social movement led by the first trade unions and the Student Federation.

From this conjunction would be born the Manuel González Prada Popular University, in which Mariátegui delivered the first Marxist speeches to the Lima public, in 1923 and 1924. Since then, Martínez de la Torre frequented Mariátegui's house and his gatherings, which brought together artists, workers and intellectuals, reading Marxist texts and interacting forming politically.

Like many politicized young people of the time (Eudocio Ravines, Jorge del Prado, Manuel Seoane, Carlos Manuel Cox), Martínez de la Torre followed Mariátegui's editorial and organizational efforts in the first half of the 1920s, as well as the creation of American Revolutionary People's Alliance (APRA), led by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre – student leader from Lima, then exiled to Mexico. These young intellectuals and activists formed the “Centenary Generation” (reference to Independence), from which the first cadres of the communist party and the aprista party emerged.

In 1927, Martínez de la Torre was called by Mariátegui to help him with the magazine Amauta, launched the previous year, in which he assumed the role of manager – a role in which he performed important work for the financial stabilization of the project. Martínez de la Torre then assumed the co-direction of the periodical and organized, from 1928 onwards, the Sociedad Editora Amauta, which encompassed editorial and journalistic activities; In addition to the magazine, the group led by Mariátegui launched the newspaper Laboratory.

Parallel to his activity as director, Martínez de la Torre contributed firmly to the publication through articles, such as “The labor movement in 1919” (1928), and “The theory of the growth of poverty applied to our reality”(1929), among others; With more than a dozen articles, the author would be one of the magazine's most prolific contributors. An important member of Mariátegui's closest group, he participated directly in the controversies that led to the split of APRA in 1928, and in the meetings that decided to create the Socialist Party of Peru (PSP), between September and October of the same year – which would later be called Communist Party of Peru (PCP).

Militant action has since taken up a large portion of Martínez de la Torre's activity. Involved both in the Party (as Propaganda Secretary) and in the newly-born General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP), at the time he would correspond with miners from the large copper and silver mines in Central Sierra – to support them in their union and political organizing efforts. Furthermore, Martínez de la Torre prepared with Mariátegui the documents to be sent to the two major conferences called by the Red Trade Union International, in Montevideo, in May 1929, and by the Communist International (IC), in Buenos Aires, in June 1929.

These documents were discussed at length at the Buenos Aires conference, with debates revolving around the name of the Party (which initially, due to the correlation of forces in Peru, should be “Socialist”, not “Communist”); and the characteristics of imperialism. The party's position was defended by its two representatives, doctor Hugo Pesce and trade unionist Julio Portocarrero, based on the document, largely written by Mariátegui, which they both presented – entitled “The problem of the reasons in Latin America".

Mariátegui's death, in April 1930, occurred at a time of effervescence in the Party's activity, with the fall of Augusto Leguía's government and a tough political struggle against APRA. Martínez, in direct contact with the South American Secretariat of the Communist International, member of the Executive Committee of the PCP, treasurer of the Party and secretary of the Anti-Imperialist League in Peru, also took over the direction of the magazine amauta, publishing three issues of it – before editorial activity was definitively interrupted. He therefore played an important role in the political direction of the movement, in particular in the massification efforts among the Minas Gerais proletarians in the mountainous region and in the debates on the national structuring of the CGTP.

However, Martínez de la Torre's health would soon limit his many activities: with a crisis at the end of 1930 and another in 1931. Invited by Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos to teach Marxist economics, he was unable to do the job and was arrested in June 1931, accused of carrying out political propaganda. To protest his arrest, Martínez de la Torre began a hunger strike that weakened him greatly, ending up abandoning the protest when he did not receive enough support from the Party. In conflict with general secretary Eudocio Ravines, Martínez de la Torre decided to leave the PCP – in July of this same year.

In the 1930s, Martínez de la Torre's militant journey entered a phase of intense propaganda and journalistic activity. With militant friends, he founded the magazine Front and the publisher Signos, media independent of the PCP, in which he wrote texts analyzing the situation and theoretical intervention in the Peruvian Marxist strategic debate. Engaged in controversies against the Apristas, Martínez de la Torre published many articles and texts denouncing theoretical and political controversy during that decade.

Active in communist activism, Martínez de la Torre was arrested in 1935; The recently printed copies of his great work – which brought together several studies on the struggles of the Peruvian labor movement, as well as texts and documents from the actors in the struggles – were seized and destroyed, however 20 copies were saved.

At the end of the 1930s, Martínez de la Torre assumed an important role in the campaign of the democratic candidate Manuel Prado for president, animating mobilization committees in the popular neighborhoods of Lima.

In the early 1940s, the Marxist ran for deputy in the small city of Chiclayo, where he continued his theoretical and ideological work in favor of communism – even though he remained outside the PCP. After World War II, with the publication of his most important work, Points towards a Marxist interpretation of the social history of Peru (1947-1949), his political activity diminished – and there are few records about his life since then.

Ricardo Martínez de la Torre died in 1968, aged 64.

Contributions to Marxism

There is little data available about the life and work of Ricardo Martínez de la Torre. Despite being relatively absent from reports on Latin American Marxism – having been made invisible by dominant historiography for decades – Martínez de la Torre's legacy marks a fundamental moment in the history of the revolutionary movement in Peru. A figure of the inaugural years of Peruvian communism, his work in the 1920s and 1930s stands out, as an intellectual and militant, alongside José Carlos Mariátegui; and, later, as a historian who documented class struggles in Peru.

More than any other aspect of his work, it is as a historian of the social struggles of the first decades of the 20th century that Martínez de la Torre stood out. Despite never having belonged to the academy, his profoundly original production introduced hitherto unpublished methods and objects into national historiography. Mixing documents from militant organizations, testimonies and socioeconomic context, his texts seek to draw a history made from the experience of the actors in the struggle: the workers.

These texts provide essential data for the history of Peruvian unions, the strike movements in 1918-1919, the movement for University Reform, the mining strikes of the late 1920s, the housing issue in Lima, the misery of the subaltern classes and of popular culture. The nature of compiling data and documents from the time, combined with his innovative interpretative proposal, gives Martínez de la Torre's historical writings validity as a fundamental source for the history of the Peruvian labor movement.

As a communist intellectual, in addition to historical and historiographical contributions, Ricardo Martínez de la Torre's texts are divided into controversial writings and considerations on economics and culture. Very influenced by the broad and rigorous thinking of José Carlos Mariátegui, the author favors relatively short writings intended to be published in newspapers, magazines, leaflets or as political interventions. Following Mariátegui, he seeks to bring knowledge to the incipient Peruvian labor movement, actively participating in the collective effort carried out by the group that worked around the magazine amauta – publication whose objective was to promote the political formation of the working class and intellectuals, but also to serve as a tool for knowledge about Peru, compensating for the lack of available data and interpretations.

Martínez de la Torre is therefore part of both militant action and the production of knowledge – at the junction of theory and practice – when reporting, for example, the 1919 movement. His economic texts seek to demonstrate scientifically the dependent character of the Peruvian economy, and reveal its role in the accumulation of capital by imperialist countries. These longer, more detailed articles are seminal contributions to the fields of history and economics and provide information that has become references in academic studies. Declaredly revolutionary, Martínez de la Torre denies any possibility of leaving the situation of dependence, to which Peru is subjected by imperialism, other than through a popular revolution, directed against imperialism, the big bourgeoisie and the landowners.

Throughout the 1930s, the opposition between Marxists and Apristas did not cool down. A considerable part of Martínez de la Torre's texts are dedicated to the fight against the Apristas, called “social-fascists” and accused of conducting an opportunist petit-bourgeois policy. Responding to the accusations of Europeanism that Marxism suffered, Martínez de la Torre contested the polyclassist foundation of Aprista rhetoric, very personalized in the figure of Haya de la Torre, who intended to defend national interests without denouncing the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the working class.

According to Martínez de la Torre, this political line is demagogic because it does not understand the role of the bourgeoisie of a dependent country, nor does it take into account the role of the capitalist totality in which Peru was inserted. For the Marxist, aprismo represented a blockage, a vestige of the Peruvian past that prevented the formation of a true class consciousness among the working masses. This rivalry became even more fierce in the context of Manuel Prado's campaign (in 1939), when Martínez de la Torre associated aprism with fascism due to its petit-bourgeois composition: a local expression of anti-communist fascism on a global scale.

Throughout the decade, Martínez de la Torre develops extensive polemical production, where he highlights the role of the PCP in the organization of the class and criticizes the efforts of APRA, which he reduces to attempts to take power, as is the case of the 1932 insurrection, repressed with a lot of blood and prisons. The role of Marxists alongside workers, in the Party and in the fighting unions, appears as the flagship of Martínez de la Torre's tactical and strategic proposals, in convergence with the positions of the Communist International.

It is worth highlighting, as a result of the positions highlighted, the prominent role of Martínez de la Torre in defending Mariátegui's legacy: both in the face of Aprista criticisms against his supposed “Europeanism”, and in the face of accusations of populism conveyed by the PCP leadership between 1933 and 1938.

Martínez de la Torre also worked in the field of aesthetics, developing a materialist approach to art and the role of the artist in capitalist society. Opposed to the conception of a “pure” art, he insists on its character as a “social product” and, as such, exposed to bourgeois domination – like all other social relations in capitalism. For Martínez de la Torre, “serving the revolution is serving art and artists”, because in socialism the work can surpass individuality and then give voice to a collective artistic expression, in which the artist is the “interpreter of the generic through the particular". The artist is therefore a “social being”, and not an exceptional individual who offers his genius to society.

In other words, Martínez attributes to the artist a role of translating and communicating – through his own expression – the reality of his class. Thus, every work has an ideological content and the revolutionary artist is one who identifies with the pains and demands of the oppressed. From this perspective, he sees every position of exaltation of the artist's “personality” as a defense of bourgeois individualism, which in order to express its art closes itself off from society; he identifies a reactionary and anti-historical bias in the individualist stance. Finally, he highlights the connection between art and society in the simultaneity of the crisis of capitalism and the crisis of art, which he perceives in the multiplication of artistic schools and their ephemerality; he understands that the enthusiasm for new things in the artistic field expresses the organic crisis of capitalism.

Like other young activists and intellectuals of his generation, Martínez de la Torre was greatly influenced by the figure of Mariátegui. The close collaboration that the two developed makes Martínez one of the director of Amauta – whose legacy is claimed throughout several of his texts. Despite this, important aspects of Mariateguiana's work progressively ceased to appear in his work, as is the case of indigenism, which Martínez claimed in the 1920s, but which disappeared in the early 1930s; or the references to the French revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel, whose theory of “myths” was quite recurrent in texts published in the magazine amauta, but which ceased after 1932.

Disputed between Apristas and communists in the 1930s, Martínez de la Torre defended the figure of Mariátegui as that of a determined Marxist and opposed to Aprismo. For the author, Mariátegui represented militant communist rectitude – although not without errors – and an unshakable theoretical perspective that sought to dialectically adjust revolutionary praxis to knowledge.

Nevertheless, a certain shift can be observed between Martínez de la Torre's thinking at the end of the 1920s, closely aligned with Mariátegui's analysis, and his more economistic conception of the following two decades. If his texts of 1929 opened the possibility of a socialist and indigenous revolution led by workers, in the process of which there would not be a “capitalist” or “bourgeois democratic” stage, his writings of 1942 and 1943 affirm the necessary character of alliances with “progressive sectors” of the so-called “national bourgeoisie” to “liquidate” the supposed traces of “feudalism” in the Peruvian economy in an initial “capitalist phase” of the revolution.

In the analysis of imperialism, Martínez de la Torre distances himself from Mariátegui's approach (who defended a position of class autonomy) to adopt a linear interpretation key, according to which imperialism imposes a “deformation” on the “normal” course of national economy. Being anti-imperialist, for Martínez, would thus imply providing political support to bourgeois forces that he believed to be “nationalist” – which would supposedly participate in the struggle for the nation's economic sovereignty.

Furthermore, in opposition to the text “Anti-imperialist point of view” (1929) by Mariátegui, Martínez de la Torre, in 1943, resumes the debate on the national question of Peru, based on a definition by Josef Stalin (Marxism and the national and colonial problem, 1941). Points such as the defense of the right to establish a separate indigenous national state, as well as the exaltation of the Soviet model of multinational federation, oppose the Mariateguian proposal of a multiethnic socialist state – based on a socioeconomic redefinition of Peruvianity. Furthermore, Martínez de la Torre abandons the idea of ​​claiming the collectivist tradition of original peasant communities (ayllus), to restrict indigenous participation in the Peruvian Revolution only to “rural workers” – no longer to “comuneiros”. 

Despite these divergences, it is finally worth mentioning the words of Mariátegui himself, in the introduction to the important article by Martínez de la Torre, “Labor movement in 1919” (1928), in which Amauta states that “the conquerors, the viceroys, the caudillos, the generals, the literati, the revolutions of this country, easily find abundant biographers, although not always estimable”, but the “chronicle of the workers’ struggle” – a great contribution by Martínez de la Torre – “is about to be written”. Ricardo Martínez de la Torre occupied this position: as an actor and historian of the proletarian and peasant struggles in Peru in the first half of the XNUMXth century.

Comment on the work

Ricardo Martínez de la Torre has written poems and literary texts since he was a child – as is the case with the aforementioned novel Tragedy (s/l: s/e, 1915). Later, other literary productions debuted: gold lamp (Lima: s/e, 1925), composed of poems; It is The limousine love (Lima: s/e, 1925), a lyrical novel. Later in the magazine amauta his last poetic texts were published, such as “Pogrom”, from 1928 (an evocation of misery and proletarian hope); and the “Himno Vitarte”, from 1930 (a hymn dedicated to the workers at the Vitarte textile factory).

His vast ideological, economic and political production is comprised in the four volumes of the voluminous anthology Points towards a Marxist interpretation of the Social History of Peru (Lima: Empresa Editora Peruana, 1947-1949). The first edition of this work (Lima: Empresa Editora Peruana, 1935) had been seized in the previous decade by the police, with only a few copies remaining; Thus, after World War II, the work was republished in an expanded edition.

Notes is a compilation that includes texts by Martínez de la Torre, José Carlos Mariátegui and several documents from the labor movement and Peruvian Marxism from the first half of the 1910th century. A symbol of his struggle in the intellectual field, the edition contains a large part of Martínez de la Torre's writings, including reports of struggles, strikes and confrontations from the 1948s to XNUMX, as well as historical elements and documents of immense importance to history of the class struggle in Peru.

The first volume contains accounts of the struggle for the 8-hour working day (in particular the 1919 movement); a historical overview of the emergence of Socialist Party of Peru; and elements of the controversy that led to the split between APRA and the socialists. The second volume presents Mariátegui's ideological theses; correspondence between Mariátegui and Haya de la Torre; and documents about the founding of the PSP. The third volume compiles documents relating to the emergence and first years of General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP). Finally, the fourth volume brings documents and articles that deal with the unionization process in Peru, as well as several episodes of worker and peasant struggles.

Among the texts by Martínez de la Torre present in Notes, there are articles on the most varied topics. The works commented below are some of the most significant in theoretical and historiographical terms (although he also has important texts on cyclical and tactical issues).

In the first chapter of volume I, there is the author's best-known text, “The labor movement in 1919”, published in the magazine amauta (nº17, 18, 19) and as a book by Editorial Amauta (Lima, 1928). In it, Martínez de la Torre describes in detail the process of struggle that led to the first general strike in the history of Peru, offering historians and activists a document of great historiographical and political value.

Still in this volume, in “The theory of the growth of poverty applied to our reality” – originally published in amauta (n. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27) –, the author provides a lot of socioeconomic data on the Peruvian reality, as well as an overview of imperialist penetration in the country's economy and politics. The extensive text brings to the Peruvian debate many data from publications by the Communist International and theoretical proposals from Marx and Marxist thinkers (Karl Radek, Karl Kautsky), as well as discussions with indigenous productions (Hildebrando Castro Pozo, Dora Mayer de Zulen).

Em For 'collective service', published by Ediciones Frente (s/l) in 1932, Martínez develops a broad analysis of the situation in which he characterizes Peru's dependent place in the world capitalist economy and its effects on the conduct of the class struggle by union bodies and revolutionary parties at the national level ; in particular, he develops the example of a tram conductors' strike in Lima.

In its initial volume, Notes It also contains a compilation of writings by Martínez de la Torre, previously published by the magazine amauta and by Front Editions - Anti-aprist pages (1933) –, in which there are articles dedicated to criticizing Aprism figures and their doctrine, of a “polyclassist”, “petty-bourgeois” and “demagogic” character.

There is also the text “With the CGTP of Mariátegui"(The Tribune, 25-29/09/1934), in which Martínez de la Torre vindicates the legacy of this great Peruvian Marxist thinker against what he identifies as an “opportunist” and “reformist” drift within the union – in particular the CGTP’s approach to aprism , which leads to his distancing from the radical mass current defended by the Communist Party. Martínez de la Torre produces a refutation of “aprism” in the name of Marxism-Leninism and the Mariateguian legacy.

Already in his long essay “Political reflections on art” – apparently unpublished, written between 1936 and 1937 –, the author develops a materialist analysis of the work of art and the role of the artist in the revolution and socialism.

Finally, the first volume of Notes ends with a text of great historiographical importance, written in the early 1930s: “This is how the 8-hour day was conquered”. In it, Martínez de la Torre gives a history of the Peruvian trade union movement since its beginnings, at the turn of the 1919th century, bringing numerous documents, pamphlets, speeches and reports of struggles up to 1978. This article was published again in XNUMX, as a complement to the reissue ( in book format) of the text The labor movement in 1919 (Lima: Ediciones Cronos, 1978).

Regarding the second volume of Notes, it contains several writings from the period 1939-1945, when Martínez de la Torre was active in the electoral campaign of the liberal democrat Manuel Prado – an occasion in which he waged harsh polemics against aprism. In Fundamental tasks of our movement (s/l: Ediciones Frente, 1942), the author argues that the task of communists is to fight for bourgeois democracy and against fascism, together with sectors of the petty bourgeoisie. Very marked by the context of the anti-fascist struggle of World War II, the text defends a broad front of polyclassist action against the reactionary forces of the Peruvian and global political spectrum.

There is also an essay in the volume entitled “Is Peru a nation?” – published years earlier (s/l: Ediciones Frente, 1943) –, in which Martínez de la Torre moves away from Mariátegui's ideas on the national question, and referring to Stalin's writings, rejects as “populism” the proposal of strategic alliance between the peasantry (of indigenous collectivist tradition, founded in the ayllus) and the industrial or rural proletariat.

The writing “The University Reform in Argentina” (vol. II) was previously published in amauta (n. 30, 31, 32) and, soon, by Ediciones Frente (1943); has the particularity of counting on comments by Argentine communist Paulino González Alberdi, written during his stay in Lima as advisor to the PCP and representative of the Communist International, in 1930.

Finally, it is mentioned that in the fourth volume of Notes There is a section titled “Why did you resign from the Communist Party?”, in which several letters written at the end of 1931, accompanied by footnotes, present the conflicts between the author and the Party leadership.

Ricardo Martínez de la Torre's articles in the magazine amauta are available on the portal Cultural Magazines (https://revistas-culturales.de), gives Universität Tübingen (Germany). And his posthumous tribute to Mariátegui, from 1932, is available on the portal marxists (www.marxists.org).

*Jean-Ganesh Faria Leblanc is a historian, with a doctorate in Latin American Studies from the Université de Lyon.

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP.


COLL, Edna. Information index of the Spanish American soap opera (v. 5). San Juan: Editorial of the University of Puerto Rico, 1974. Disp.: https://books.google.com.br.

FLORES GALINDO, Alberto, Mariátegui's agony: the controversy with the Comintern, Lima: DESCO, 1980.

GUADALUPE, Sebastián, “Ricardo Martínez de la Torre and the Peruvian historiography of the worker movement”. Magazine of the Seminary Institute of Andean Rural History, no. 8, 2022. Disp.: https://revistasinvestigacion.unmsm.edu.pe.

JIEFETS, Lazar; JIEFETS, Victor. Latin America in the Communist International, 1919-1943 – Biographical Dictionary. Santiago de Chile: Ariadna Ediciones, 2015.

ROUILLON, Guillermo. The heroic creation of José Carlos Mariátegui (volume I): the Age of Stone. Lima: Arica, 1975.

______. The heroic creation of José Carlos Mariátegui (volume II): the Revolutionary Age. Lima: Alfa, 1984.

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