Among the revolutionaries of Latin America, José Carlos Mariátegui has become very well known internationally during the past years, unmistakably he is occupying an important role in the entire Latin-American revolution. Besides numerous Marxist writings which deal with political practice and the program, he wrote a lot about Peruvian literature and culture. Beyond Latin America, only during the last decades he was moved more into the public awareness. So far the translations of his "Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad Peruana" and of a further dozen of articles have been published in German. Mariátegui comes from the Peruvian revolution of the first third of this century. Numerous political parties and even governments in Latin America refer to him. The PCP (Sendero Luminoso of J. C. Mariátegui) refers to him just by its name and very decidedly enters the claim for him.
In order to deal with him it is necessary to see the role of the Peruvian
revolution in the international context and, moreover, the role of Latin
America in general in the international development.
Peru is the country in Latin America which is characterized by the strongest and most intense reverting to its own early American history, the Incan history preceding the Spanish conquest. Thereby the country has individual national impetuses in the deep embedding of the millenia-old Indian culture which combine themselves with the more recent development of the Spanish vice kingdom and the modern Peruvian republic (since 1821). A long-standing peculiarity of the Peruvian revolution lies exactly in the reverting to this old Peruvian people's consciousness which above all embodies itself in the Incan population. This reverting to the indigenous traditions has been a characteristic feature in the literature of the country as well as of other Andine states for approximately one hundred years.
The importance of J. C. Mariátegui derives from his application of Marxism which undisputedly played such an important and propellant role in the whole world at the beginning of this century, to the Latin American conditions, and from his attempt, among other things, to join together with these traditions and to concentrate the light of materialistic analysis upon these traditions themselves. The Latin-Americans therefore are looking at him as an important and original representative of Marxism who creatively undertook to reappraise the own history as well as the history of the Latin-American continent.
Up to now the state of Peru is the core area of the old Peruvian, or rather Incan, state which at its zenith extended from Ecuador to the South, far into Chile, and according to some conjectures even to the La Plata region of South America. It was here that the most highly developed state community of the American Indians emerged that ever existed, resulting in a state of approximately 20 millions of inhabitants, with a high level of organization, of road construction and centralization although this society still was living on the Bronze Age cultural level. It was still accompanied by a good deal of phenomena which are being found frequently at that stage of development. Belonging to these human sacrifices, sacral cults and similar phenomena and a corresponding despotism are to be named here. Already a long time before Incan rule a culture of village communities had been existing in the Andes, and the Incas presumably were an "Ayllu" (this is the ancient village community in the Andes) which worked its way up to be the ruler of the other state like groupings. The Incan empire then continued to incorporate a lot of neighboring realms.
This society did not know the wheel, the script as far as we know, the
horse and several technological achievements which developed in the Euro-African-Asian
hemisphere; but on the other hand it displayed a high degree of organization,
in road construction e.g., and developed specific, relatively advanced
ethics, as far as that was possible within the context of the Bronze Age.
As other Indian cultures, too, the Incan society with its rural village
communities is characterized by deep closeness to the soil and to the development
of agriculture and of agricultural construction (terraces). Among other
things the writings of Mariátegui are valuable because he attempted
to comprehend the communist traditions of that society, which still were
existent in spite of the already developed despotism.
It is in the nature of things that the awareness of these old traditions emerged most strongly in Peru. Therefore some people view Peru to be something like a place of national rebirth for the South American continent, at least in a specific regard. This "in a specific regard" is quite important as, of course, already for a long time modern structures, a modern society have been existing in Latin America, a capitalist society which inevitably is winning through with every day. But we know that in all societies the old structures and also the old mentalities implant themselves amidst the other factors, and that they form also an indispensable component of the culture of a country. Each society brings something into modern society also by its descent. And considering this we have to evaluate this ideology and these mentalities. Therefore Mariáteguis theoretical approach to explain this individual development in a Marxist vein is of import.
Of course, also some modern factors must be brought to the limelight. We must ask, for example: which significance does this Andine agriculture have for the modern Peruvian economy? There are theories which advocate that the fraction of the Gross Domestic Product which is being produced there has become a tiny one. Today out of 25 million citizens 6 millions are living in Lima alone - a concentration into the large cities, with new misery and a situation of radical change like that existing in many parts of the Third World today, which naturally brings up completely new questions.
Marx once said about Germany in the middle of 19th century that the
cause of the revolution depended upon a new edition of the great peasants'
war of 1522-1525 in Germany which had to combine itself with the proletarian
revolution. Mariátegui definitely tries likewise to integrate the
old history and the colonial early republican Latin America into the new
revolutionary development. In this way he tried to awaken the consciousness
of the society as a whole, an inter relatedness of the whole society. In
doing so, however, he did not remain without essential faults. To be clear:
we think that an unambiguous criticism of wrong and even really dangerous
aspects of his views is indispensable.
Mariátegui has been defended by the chairman of the PCP, Gonzalo, as an advocate of revolutionary violence in particular. He particularly attacked that "mediocre reformism", as he said, which in a hypocritical manner celebrates the parliamentary system, in which actually the dictatorship of the exploiting classes, even of the most reactionary comprador bourgeoisie is covered and put into practice, in which actually terror against the masses exists, accompanied by hypocritical phrases of humanity and human rights outwardly. In fact, this element among others is present in Mariátegui, we shall, however, come back to this subject later. Of fundamental importance remains the question, however: which social substance, which class does the violence serve, what is its social character? With that we have to deal here.
As for our points of criticism, we have our eyes essentially on the following ones:
First the position towards the former American, Incan society, a position which is considerably characterized by one-sidedness and an uncritical attitude, a position apparently widespread also in other indigenous writings.If Mariátegui dealt with the former Incan society, we have to consider in which way he did so correctly. If we draw from the old primary communist conditions of the past, we also have to take into consideration the utterly negative aspects of these old American societies.
Furthermore there is an obvious point in Mariátegui concerning the position towards religion, the catholic one in particular, where still several things have to be analyzed.
In his analysis Mariátegui quite often refers even to George
Sorel, who rightfully is being described by Lenin as a fideist and chaotic
person and muddle head. It is, however, exactly this idealist whom Mariátegui
tries to incorporate into his building, and of whom he absorbs elements.
In the same way his position towards religion and towards the Jesuits in
South America is unclear. Gonzalo is mistaken in calling Mariátegui
a "thorough Marxist-Leninist" as there are elements with him which are
incompatible with Marxism. So, there are elements of idealism with Mariátegui.
Finally we shall sum up furthermore:
With Mariátegui there is an epistemological phenomenon which apparently is widespread upon the whole American continent, which comes closer to pragmatism and which has its troubles with materialism and materialist cognition. Pragmatism, which means to construct a reality for oneself, is something principally different as compared with the acknowledgment of a materially existing reality, to which we come closer by the process of realization. It is necessary to principally point to this weakness. Pragmatism is something principally different from materialism, although both refer also to practice and experience. The principal approach in the whole way of thinking is playing a role here.
Now let us proceed to the concrete points. In his most famous writing, "Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality" Mariátegui writes the following in the beginning of the chapter on economic development:
The Incas were a tribe, very probably originating from the region of
the today lake Titicaca, which brought the numerous estranged "Ayllus"
as well as the centers under its military overlordship. At first they conquered
the region around Cuzco by overcoming the local powers by cunning and force.
From there they were able to take larger and even larger regions. After
300 years this state had occupied the area of a truly large empire extending
from today's Ecuador far to the Southern Andes and even, according to the
assumptions of some historicians, to the La Plata region. This community
bore the name "Tawantinsuyo". The concept of the state, at the same time
the great historic achievement of this empire, consisted in a centralization
of the forces of the single estranged Indian communities which transcended
the regions, in the unification of the language which was at least partly
achieved, in the inclusion of backward regions which were brought to the
level of the then advanced regions. This, however, did not come about without
the formation of a class society, in the course of the building of which
the Ayllus were committed to cultivate up to two thirds of their soil for
the interest of the Inca (appr. one third) and the theocracy (a further
third). A tribute system was created which had to be taken without objection.
Wealth concentrated upon the Inca and his surrounding favorites, upon the
military bureaucratic stratum and the theocracy (all of them being members
of the Inca tribe).
The social reality of this state was by no means only idyll and harmony.
The Inca concentrated incomprehensible wealth, which culminated in the laying out of whole gardens in which everything was reproduced of gold, of precious gowns and food really in abundance. On the contrary, life of a simple peasant of a village community who had to pay tribute looked anything but extensive. He actually toiled his life long, always confined to the narrowness of his Ayllu, and as to his material well-being, this was indeed very modest. One may take into consideration the social security of his life which, though, actually was provided by the Indian community in which he lived and not primarily by the Incan system which itself existed on the fundament of these communities.
There was the "mita"- system, that is to say forced commitment of the inhabitant of the Ayllu for large works in mines, in the construction of roads and fortifications. Incidentally the Spaniards were able to tie up to this system immediately after their conquest by placing themselves in the place of the Incas. Under the Incas there was the "yanacona"- status which at least resembled the slave status of the old empires in the Mediterranean region. A great part of the phenomena of the Incan empire are to be found in other early empires as well. The emergence of slavery and of the system of tribute are not uncommon at that historical stage and thereby not to be condemned, although this Incan system shows a couple of peculiarities. But to depict all this as a communist idyll signalizes - to put it mildly - romantic blindness which cannot be accepted without objection. Obviously such an attitude towards the own history is bound to influence today's policy as well, all cultural factors being of political import.
The country witnessed uprisings, too, which were put down in blood by the Inca. It must not be forgotten that also the system of the Incas was a system of barbaric human sacrifice, which cannot be dismissed with a reference to religious fervor alone but already was a means of repression. A further obvious point was the compulsory recruiting of young women from the ayllus and the conquered cities for various functions of the Incan system. This led to a particular aversion to the Incan system. These girls were recruited to be "holy women" of the sun (the symbol of the supreme god) as well as labor force, as well as numerous bedfellows of the upper castes.
As far as human sacrifice is concerned: according to various descriptions it assumes the magnitude of several hundreds of children for certain "festive" events. It is not clear to what extent it has not been especially introduced by the Incan system. Some of the states preceding the Incas knew human sacrifice on a large scale, the Chimu e.g. (a coastal realm), and some facts indicate its having been moderated with the Incas as compared with others. It is completely certain that the number of victims was limited as compared with the Aztec and Maya cultures in Middle America, e.g. It is a fact worth notice that for example also in China a long struggle took place during the last millennium before the year 0 in order to make an end to the former large-scale human sacrifices, of which there were hundreds as so-called burial objects. It is by no means certain if the ayllus in the highlands of the Central Andes knew this human sacrifice, especially in these numbers. It is important that one must not idealize or trivialize such an empire of early times. This is a very dangerous mistake and a fatuous undertaking. With the development unfolding this human sacrifice meant a tremendous humiliation of the people. It has been handed down that giving one's daughter for sacrifice provided a privilege for the career as an official. It was a means of terror by which this rule was being held together, in addition to the force employed in the repression of rebellious people.
With view to all these facts it is eccentric to call the early state of the Incas communist as does Mariátegui. One has some justification in calling the village community agrarian communism, but it is only the productive unity, it is not identical with the Incan system. The whole thing reminds a little of Alexander Herzen who sometimes trivialized zarism and embellished the picture of the Russian village communes and called them an already existing "communism". But even Alexander Herzen is much more critically minded towards the Russian conditions than is Mariátegui towards the Old Peruvian ones.
Finally the pitiless bloody massacres of the Incas among themselves show that it is not a "harmonious" communist society we are dealing with but a developing slave system and feudalism emerging from barbarism. One should read what the followers of Atahualpa (the last Inca, ruler of the North) did to the partisans and even to the uninvolved retinue of Huascar during the Incan civil war. This is being dealt with even by the famous Inca biographer Garcilaso de la Vega, who is a descendant of the house of the Inca himself.
Mariátegui performs an unmistakably strong reverting to religion, not only to the religion of Tawantinsuyo, but also of catholicism and its special formations like Jesuitism. The role of Latin America for this largest religious community which has been existing for 2.000 years is characterized by the fact that it provided a special pillar, even the soil for a revival of this church during the past centuries. When this religion gained a foothold upon the Latin-American continent it was facing severe attacks from the reformation in Europe. Heavily shattered upon its old territory, it found, owing to the new discoveries, an area here in which it spread anew and gained new strength and renewed itself to a certain degree.
This religion which replaced the old sacrifice by the sacrifice of the Only One, which at least from time to time preached universal mildness, with its splendid liturgies, was very well made for winning through upon the soil of barbarism like it had done a thousand years before upon the European continent itself. Not by chance and rightfully the pope stresses today that Latin America is the most important catholic continent, a fundamental pillar of the existence of the church. Partly it superimposed overlaid the old Indian religions as for example the Incan one. Here it could play a dynamic role once again which it had lost on the old continent long ago.
In some cases catholic priests and monks defended the Indians against
a policy of downright extermination and consumption by the Iberian colonial
powers and achieved a moderation of the policy. Time and again the example
of the Dominican priest de las Casas is being mentioned. But this was an
exception. One can say that catholicism defended the rule of the colonial
powers with utmost determination, but not only this rule but also all backward
social forms. In doing so especially and particularly the Jesuits did not
form an exception at all.
Therefore, criticism of catholicism is indispensable for every revolutionary in America. No by-passing of this deep going argument with religion is possible. This becomes evident exactly by the deep-rootedness of catholicism among the people as well as by the connections to the former religions, elements of which have been built into the official Latin-American catholicism openly or indirectly.
Particularly questionable is Mariátegui's giving prominence to Jesuitism as an exemplary fruitful colonisator on the Latin- American continent. This feature is not confined to him as there are quite a few enlighted writers and even revolutionaries in Latin America who are doing alike. Although this is a subject for a comprehensive study we cannot avoid mentioning some "highlights".
The order of the Jesuits was founded when in Europe catholicism was in dire straits, not only by "reformed" faith but also by the growth of human knowledge, by the development of science and geography. The mere ocean crossings and discoveries refuted the conception of the world which previously had been favored though also pushed through by violence. Jesuits were to place themselves among those at the head of the development of this new knowledge and simultaneously fight it by all means. Jesuits immediately went out into the whole world, in contrast to their Lutherian competitors, started discussions with all directions of science and were eager to confront themselves. At the same time the continents they newly invaded, the sea routes leading around the globe were not existent according to their doctrine.
The Jesuits were organized "universally", i.e. internationalistically right from the start, recruited their activists from all European countries and were connected to the house of Habsburg which had also Spain and parts of Italy at its disposal, and so were able to spread over the newly discovered areas. This was their strong point, but upon a fundament of a simultaneous stubbornness against reality. In contrast to the Protestants the Jesuits were aligned with working in the whole newly emerging colonial world, above all of Spain and Portugal, right from the start, and over and above that at points which no Christian power had entered before. They sent colonizators to Latin America, to India and even to China and the Far East and became acquainted with new cultures. With this new "all-roundedness" they confronted the reformators in Middle Europe who mostly were limited and rooted in the soil.
Fighting science, materialistic thinking, defending catholic obscurantism
was their central duty.
Their defense had to go to the point where they set themselves up as the defenders of science, otherwise their propaganda had been powerless. In this way they were able to achieve at least some delaying effect. The catholic church granted them the permission, in contrast to other orders, to make contacts with all forces, included those of the enemy, and to dispute in order to listen into the enemy and to achieve even greater adaptability. As fundamental principle we may emphasize what Ignatius of Loyola posed for his disciples. Read the self speaking basic principle from the "Rules about the fundamental ecclesiastical convictions", which corresponds to this role:
(Quoted and translated from "2.000 Jahre Christentum", p. 466, "Spiritual exercises", The Age of Reformation)
And it is the same ideology prevailing also in their political ways
of proceeding. The Jesuits, in seeming contrast to the cruel policy of
extermination and consumption as put into practice by the Spanish conquistadors
and later feudal lords, created a policy by which they seemingly tied up
with the elementary communal endeavors of the Indian natives, whether they
be characterized by the primeval commune or by the village commune. They
created the "Indian reductions", small creations resembling states in which
they organized certain Indian tribes which obeyed to them, according to
their level, and in which the Jesuits influenced them educationally. In
this way they concentrated them under their control, taught them elementary
craftsmanship but kept them upon a very primitive level. Thus they acted
in contrast to the violent slave owner practice of other colonialists,
but at the same time they prevented the further development. In the opinion
of some theoreticians close to the Jesuits they even took Incan society
as the model for the structure of their theocratic "reductions" in Paraguay
mentioned by Mariátegui in such a positive way.
Moreover, this "good regime" restricted itself to certain Indian tribes which co-operated with the Jesuits in this way. The position towards other tribes who did not obey is not too different from the position of the colonisators towards the Indians.
The Jesuits were not opposing either slavery in a principal
manner. They protected the Indians within their reductions and, in the
early stage, armed them against the "Paulistans", which were Portuguese
and mestizo slave hunters. The ban against slavery issued by the Spanish
state at the instigation of the Catholic church was valid only for the
Indians. Against the enslavement of black people from Africa and their
use as labor force in America the Catholic church and the Jesuits did not
oppose. This slavery actually was accepted.
They, the Jesuits, stood for a very special concept with regard to "their" Indians. To satiate to a certain degree and prevent a further development was the concept of these reductions which, however, prevented a certain neglection and brutalization and therefore had certain positive aspects as compared with the most brutal exploitation of the feudal and slavery type in particular.
Not even new priests were recruited by the Jesuits from the Indian population under their control. Further intellectual development was rejected. Teaching languages was rejected, the Indians were not allowed to speak Spanish or Portuguese in order to prevent connections with other Spaniards or Portuguese. And the Jesuits used the reductions to obtain wealth and, from the reductions as the base, to materially equip the Jesuit order worldwide, as considerable wealth was being created in the various reductions in the course of time.
De facto the Paraguayan colonization which had its counterparts also in Peru was sort of a stronghold by which they provided their above descripted, in the end counterrevolutionary counter reformatory activities with a certain base. This, though, can not be omitted if one is to assess the activities of the Jesuits in Latin America, and about this nothing is to be read with Mariátegui who otherwise displays a high intellectual level.
What do we read in Mariátegui:
These are statements about the role of the catholic church and the Jesuits
which really deserve a good deal of attention. Mariátegui deals
with this extensively in the chapter The Religious Factor.
The same position towards idealism becomes clear immediately with a further point: the position towards George Sorel who is being quoted by Mariátegui in his chef d'oeuvre several times as a recognized ideologist and economist next to Marx.
About Sorel a lot has been written already in the former labor movement from 1900 to 1922, he belonged to the leaders of anarcho-syndicalism in France. But this is not all. Lenin called this ideologist and political journalist a muddle head in his famous work "Materialism and Empiriocriticism". But this characterization is not sufficient either to describe the whole extent of the reactionary abysses of that man. Sorel did some criticism of reformism which was on the rise then, but what was the key signature of that criticism? He criticized reformism while preferably extolling the old society of before 1789, by trying to play off the forces of monarchism, of myth and similar things against modern society. He, too, came close to catholicism or rather did not even separate from it. In writings like "La decomposition du Marxisme" ("The decomposition of Marxism") he radically attacks the substance of the political teachings of Marx. Sorel tied up with Henri Bergson's philosophy.
The criticism of the reformism of the socialists, of the participation in parliaments, of the opportunistic amalgamation with the bourgeoisie was a pretext for him in order to elevate the reactionary forces of the past. Sorel as well represents the decaying catholicism. After the Dreyfus-affair and the unmasking of the neoclerical forces and after the downfall of the provocation connected to the Dreyfus trial the first forms of fascism arose in France with the "action francaise" founded by Maurras. Together with these people, i.e. with fascists, Sorel sat down at one table in 1906 and co-operated with them. This was not completely by chance, as in his writings the bare glorification of war - without asking for the meaning of the war! - is to be found. For him war is a way to rejuvenate a society which allegedly is going limp! Elements surfaced which immediately influenced the time to come. The massacres of the First World War went too far to him later, he distanced himself, this "romantic of war". Nevertheless it remains that he took part in the preparation of the war. Afterwards he, the intellectual promoter of fascism, praised Lenin's revolution simultaneously, confined to Russia, however, always promoting nationalism, always splitting the revolution in the different countries.
Now we read in Mariátegui:
To put these myths on a par with ancient religious myths is something
different, belongs to a very different line. Sorel belongs to those reactionaries
which, at the end of the last and the beginning of this century, like certain
ultra rightists tried to fabricate new myths as indispensable components
of an irrational view desired by them as a necessity.
We, too, are working on a certain criticism of the fundaments, are criticizing a certain abstractness of Marxism, but we are far from equating certain cults of the labor movement, say certain faux pas like the personality cult with ancient myths and to emphasize them as necessary components of society. It is an invention of the ultra rightists like the fascist ideologist Alfred Rosenberg that for the 20th century a "myth" had to be constructed, that society is not able to exist without and that in the end this idealistic myth is passed off as the guiding thread for the society of the fascists.
It cannot be disputed that there are very valuable starting points in Mariátegui's analysis which are interesting still today, and prove that he has a great deal in common with the most important socialist theoreticians, in spite of his rapprochement to religion. Mariátegui tries hard to explain the stagnative development of Latin America:
In order to explain the positive assessment of the Jesuits Mariátegui
continues by referring to the essay of Sorel
Sorel does not stand alone with his referring to Bergson and even Nietzsche. Exactly in the beginning of the century a lot of bourgeois ideologists were busy to fight the scientific view of nature by all means and to push through a revival of fideism. It is a central task of revolutionary and Marxist ideology to declare war against these currents of irrationalism and willful disfigurement of materialistic knowledge.
In this way there is a direct bridge between the anarcho-syndicalist Georges Sorel and the later fascist Mussolini, who was the direct forerunner, the model for Hitler. All of this is still waiting for to be analyzed. Is it really possible for Mariátegui to quote Sorel as an authority in questions of economy? We resolutely doubt that. We think it necessary to analyze these questions. Concerning Latin-American socialism, too, there are questions to be clarified.
It cannot be overlooked, after all, that Mussolini previously had been
a prominent socialist leader representing the so-called left wing in Italy,
who later served as the helper for the entire fascism in Europe and created
the first relatively big fascist state in the "modern" meaning, who was
an immediate forerunner also of Hitler-fascism in Germany.
Here, after all, we come full circle.
Above we saw how Jesuits made use of old societies for extremely reactionary purposes. These principal historical questions which pose themselves in connection with Mariátegui are also questions to be posed about the latest socialist history, about Soviet revisionism and his activities in Latin America. They also concern parties which directly refer to Mariátegui. One must demand clarification in this field.
The state of affairs cannot be accepted. Here one sees that the international movement needs an exchange. The strength of catholicism and clerical reaction in Latin America does not come by chance, neither does its emission upon socialism on this continent.
How necessary is it that socialists and Marxists and those who develop things further for the time to come sit down at one table and talk things out. From that all can learn.
Copyright by Klaus Sender, Berlin, 1997
Translation by WG