Mariátegui, the Comintern, and the Indigenous Question in Latin America - PDF

450 SCIENCE Science & Society, SOCIETY Vol. 70, No. 4, October 2006, Mariátegui, the Comintern, and the Indigenous Question in Latin America MARC BECKER* ABSTRACT: Victorio Codovilla, the leader

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450 SCIENCE Science & Society, SOCIETY Vol. 70, No. 4, October 2006, Mariátegui, the Comintern, and the Indigenous Question in Latin America MARC BECKER* ABSTRACT: Victorio Codovilla, the leader of the Comintern s South American Secretariat, instructed José Carlos Mariátegui, a Peruvian Marxist who had gained a reputation as a strong defender of marginalized Indigenous peoples, to prepare a document for a 1929 Latin American Communist Conference analyzing the possibility of forming an Indian Republic in South America. This republic was to be modeled on similar Comintern proposals to construct Black Republics in the southern United States and South Africa. Mariátegui rejected this proposal, asserting that existing nation-state formation was too advanced in the South American Andes to build a separate Indian Republic. Mariátegui, who was noted for his open and sometimes unorthodox interpretations of Marxism, found himself embracing the most orthodox of Marxist positions in maintaining that the oppression of the Indian was a function of their class position and not their race, ethnicity, or national identity. From Mariátegui s point of view, it would be better for the subaltern Indians to fight for equality within existing state structures rather than further marginalizing themselves from the benefits of modernity in an autonomous state. Mariátegui s direct challenge to Comintern dictates is an example of local Party activists refusing to accept Comintern policies passively, but rather actively engaging and influencing those decisions. * An earlier version of this essay was published as Marc Becker, Mariátegui y el problema de las razas en América Latina, Revista Andina (Cusco, Peru), No. 35 (July, 2002), Thanks to Harry Vanden, Juan de Castro, Thomas Davies, Torbjörn Wandel, David Robinson, Wolfgang Hoeschele, and Science & Society s anonymous reviewers for their comments. 450 MARIÁTEGUI 451 Compañeros: Es la primera vez que un Congreso Internacional de los Partidos Comunistas dedica su atención en forma tan amplia y específica al problema racial en la América Latina. Hugo Pesce IN THE 1920S, THE MOSCOW-BASED Third or Communist International (Comintern) advocated the establishment of independent native republics for Blacks in South Africa and the United States. The Comintern recognized the revolutionary potential of anti-colonial struggles and, building on Vladimir Lenin s and Joseph Stalin s interpretations of the national and colonial questions, defended the rights of self-determination for national minorities, including the right to secede from oppressive state structures (Communist International, 1929, 58; Lenin, 1970; Stalin, 1942). These discussions on the role of race and nationalism in a revolutionary movement soon extended to Latin America with the Comintern s proposal to carve an Indian Republic out of the Quechua and Aymara peoples in the mountainous Andean Region of South America where Tawantinsuyu, the old Inka empire, flourished before the arrival of the Spanish in The persistent question of whether a people s oppression was primarily an issue of class, race, or nationality came to a head at a conference of Latin American communist parties in Buenos Aires in June, At this meeting, the Peruvian Marxist intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui, in a lengthy treatise El problema de las razas en la América Latina (The Problem of Race in Latin America), adamantly maintained that the Indian Question was fundamentally one of class relations in which the bourgeois oppressed a rural proletariat, and that this situation could only be addressed through fundamental alterations to the land tenure system. The discussions of race and ethnicity at the Buenos Aires conference raise questions of how and why the Comintern came to advocate the creation of an Indian Republic in South America, and why Mariátegui, who was normally sensitive and supportive of Indigenous struggles, opposed this proposal. Was not an autonomous Indian Republic something that Indigenous peoples would find very appealing and, in fact, desire? Is Mariátegui guilty of ignoring Indigenous concerns in order to impose his own political agenda? Does Mariátegui s position betray the persistence of a deep conflict between an Indigenous racial or ethnic identity and a leftist concept 452 SCIENCE & SOCIETY of class struggle? 1 What explains Mariátegui, normally a critical thinker who insisted on working openly and honestly in the context of his local reality, espousing an orthodox Marxist class-based position, whereas the Comintern, often seen as a dogmatic and hierarchical organization, embraced what appears to be a voluntarist attitude toward ethnic consciousness? Mariátegui s paper was part of intense debates among communist activists worldwide as to whether marginalized and impoverished ethnic populations comprised national or racial minorities, and what the relationship of their identities to the larger class struggle should be. While these discussions brought white communists into closer contact with other ethnic groups and fostered a more sophisticated understanding of racial politics, this contentious issue also led to deep divisions within the left on interpretations of the nature of class struggles. These debates over race, class, and nationalism also challenge our understandings of the nature of the Comintern s relations with its local sections. This period offers a unique window through which to view debates within the left over the role of ethnicity in the building of a social movement. This essay extends an examination of the Comintern s discussion of race and nationalism in other areas of the world to Latin America, and in this process challenges our understandings of the role of one of Latin America s leading Marxist figures. Mariátegui concluded that the Comintern s policy of establishing Native Republics would not lead to the material improvement of the subaltern masses; rather, removing them from existing nation-state structures would only ensure their increased poverty and marginalization. Mariátegui argued that the best way to achieve liberation for the Indian (and African) masses would be for them to join workers and others in a struggle for a socialist revolution. Liberating the race without addressing underlying class issues would lead to an Indian bourgeois state as exploitative as the current white-dominated one. The categories of race and class are interlinked one cannot be understood without the other and both need to be engaged to understand diverse, multicultural countries like Peru. Mariátegui s direct challenge to 1 Wade (1978, 16) notes that ethnicity is a recent academic construction that represents a turn away from the negative ramifications of scientific racism. What Mariátegui understood as race in the 1920s, most people would see as ethnicity today. Deconstructing the use and evolution of this language extends beyond the scope of this essay, and for our purposes here race and ethnicity can be seen as largely synonymous terms. MARIÁTEGUI 453 Comintern dictates is an example of local Party activists refusing to accept policies passively, but instead actively engaging and influencing these decisions. José Carlos Mariátegui Mariátegui is not well known in North American and European academic circles, but Latin American intellectuals have high regard for his contributions to political theory. Mariátegui was born in 1894 and grew up as a sickly child in a poor mestizo family on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. As a teenager, he began to work at a newspaper to help support his family and this introduced him to the field of journalism, both as a livelihood and as a means to propagate his political views. Mariátegui lacked a formal education, but he had a keen mind and was a prolific writer. He is best known for his 1928 book, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality. This work contains a critique of Indian relations to Peru s land tenure systems. Mariátegui was also a political activist, founding the Peruvian Socialist Party in 1928 and a trade union federation the following year. Confined to a wheelchair in the coastal capital city of Lima, he never traveled to the highlands where most of the Indians lived. Despite minimal contact with Indigenous communities, Mariátegui gained wide renown and respect as a defender of Indian rights. Unfortunately, Mariátegui s health continued to fail, and in 1930 he died at the height of his career (see Chavarría, 1979; Skinner, ; Vanden, 1986; Becker, 1993). Mariátegui was clearly and irrevocably committed to both socialism and the defense of Indigenous rights. He challenged indigenista intellectuals 2 who, critiquing the Indian reality from a privileged educated and urban perspective, asserted that racial inferiorities lay at the heart of their poverty. In a 1927 polemical debate with Luis Alberto Sánchez over the relationship between indigenismo and socialism, he wrote that socialism gives order and definition to the demands of the masses. Since in Peru 80% of the masses were Indigenous, socialism cannot be Peruvian nor can it even be socialism if it does not stand first in solidarity with Indigenous demands (Mariátegui, 1994, 249). He made the materialist claim that at its core Indian oppression 2 Writing in the context of post-revolutionary Mexico, historian Alan Knight (1990, 77) defined indigenistas as elites who presented a non-indian formulation of the Indian problem that involved the imposition of ideas, categories, and policies from outside. 454 SCIENCE & SOCIETY was a socioeconomic issue rooted in the unequal distribution of land and the failure to overcome the legacy of feudalism in the Peruvian countryside. While many indigenistas believed that the solution to Indian poverty and marginalization lay in their assimilation to western culture, Mariátegui maintained that Indian society would only be transformed through a socialist revolution. Cold War studies of communist movements typically discounted Comintern policies such as the one to create independent native republics as unilateral Soviet decisions designed to respond to Soviet foreign policy interests without bothering to gather any local input (Draper, 1960, 350; Kanet, 1973, 122). Newer studies encourage multidimensional analyses of this history that locates interpretations of the ambiguities of local communist movements in an international context (Johanningsmeier, 1998; Storch, 2000; MPR, 2001). As Mark Solomon (1998, xxiii) notes, ties to the Soviets and the Comintern were neither automatically self-destructive nor magically beneficial. Far less work has been conducted on these issues in Latin America than in other areas of the world. Preliminary studies, however, indicate similar dynamics, with the Comintern being neither as monolithic or local radicals as passive as is often assumed (Ching, 1998; Carr, 1998). Mariátegui was an internationalist who found value in joining a global revolutionary movement but, like communists elsewhere, he faced the challenge of adapting the Comintern s centralized policies to his local reality. First Latin American Communist Conference Bolshevik leaders formed the Comintern in Moscow in 1919 with the goal of fostering a world revolution. Initially the Comintern concentrated its efforts primarily in Western Europe, where it expected that an industrial proletariat would lead a world revolution. Neither Marx nor Lenin had paid much attention to Latin America, and before the 1920s Spanish anarcho-syndicalism had a much stronger influence on the left in the region. When the Comintern began to turn its eyes to marginalized sectors of the world, it focused its efforts primarily on Asia, where it believed anti-colonial struggles would lead to a socialist revolution. Michael Weiner (1997) and Wendy Singer (1998) point to the difficulties the Comintern had in coming to terms with agrarian societies in China and India, problems that MARIÁTEGUI 455 would also later be manifested in Latin America. Latin America, similarly lacking capital accumulation and an organized urban proletariat, did not appear to provide the basic objective conditions necessary for a socialist revolution. As a result, with its predominantly rural, nonindustrialized population, this region initially remained largely removed from Comintern discussions. Most of the communist parties were small and insignificant groups, maintaining only tenuous relations with Moscow (Carr, 1978, 966). Reflecting this marginalized nature, E. H. Carr does not engage in a sustained discussion of Latin America until the penultimate chapter of his monumental multivolume A History of Soviet Russia. When the Comintern did arrive, it did so through the more Europeanized and urban countries of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, largely to the exclusion of Indian and agrarian countries like Peru. Victorio Codovilla, who had emigrated from Italy in 1912 and subsequently joined the Argentine Socialist Party, established the South American Bureau of the Comintern in Buenos Aires in 1926, becoming the chief contact between Moscow and local organizations and the most significant Comintern leader in South America. In contrast to independent Marxist thinkers such as the Cuban Julio Antonio Mella and Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui, Codovilla demonstrated a much closer and more faithful intellectual and political dependence on Moscow, and his actions came to characterize the role of the Comintern in Latin America (Löwy, 1992, xxiii; Liss, 1984, 56 59). It was not until 1928 at the historic Sixth Congress that the Comintern began to pay a significant amount of attention to Latin America. For the first time, Nikolai Bukharin, the chair of the Comintern, noted in his opening speech to the congress, Latin America had entered the orbit of influence of the Communist International. The Sixth Congress pointed to the revolt of the Indians in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as events that bear witness to the widening and deepening of the revolutionary process (Clissold, 1970, 74; Communist International, 1929, 6). Delegates from the Sixth Congress returned to Latin America dedicated to implementing the program that they had drafted in Moscow. Using La Correspondencia Sudamericana, the South American Secretariat s bi-weekly newspaper, as a coordinating tool, Codovilla organized two meetings for In May, labor groups from 15 countries gathered in Montevideo, Uruguay, for the Congreso Constituyente de la Conferación Sindical Latinoamericana 456 SCIENCE & SOCIETY (Constituent Congress of the Confederation of Latin American Labor Unions). Because of his poor health Mariátegui could not personally attend, but he sent Julio Portocarrero, a worker and one of the founders of the Peruvian Socialist Party, as the head of a small delegation. Agricultural and Indian problems were among the wide variety of subjects discussed at this meeting. Mariátegui contributed an essay on the Indigenous problem that outlined the socioeconomic situation of Indians in Latin America. Building on his previous writings, he maintained that the roots of Indian poverty lay in existing land tenure patterns. Perhaps an indigenous revolutionary consciousness will form slowly, Mariátegui concluded, but once the Indians have made the socialist ideal their own, they will serve it with a discipline, tenacity, and strength that few proletarians from other milieus will be able to surpass. The delegates enthusiastically received Mariátegui s deep faith in the revolutionary potential of the Indigenous masses, and they voted Portocarrero onto to the Confederation of Latin American Labor Unions executive committee (CSLA, 1930, 159; Chavarría, 1979, 158). After the conclusion of the Montevideo conference, many of these same delegates crossed the Río de la Plata to attend the Primera Conferencia Comunista Latinoamericana (First Latin American Communist Conference) in Buenos Aires, June 1 12, Debate at the congress was largely restricted along the lines of Codovilla s interests, which focused on the labor movement, anti-imperialist struggles and the organization of communist parties. Mariátegui, who asked Dr. Hugo Pesce to be his representative at this conference, drafted three position papers: Antecedents and Development of Class Action in Peru, An Anti-Imperialist Point of View, and The Problem of Race in Latin America. Not only was this the first international meeting of Latin American communist parties; it was also to be the only and last, representing a brief opening between the Comintern s discovery of the continent and the subsequent closing of intellectual and political space for activists in Latin America to design and implement solutions to their own problems. According to Alberto Flores Galindo (1989, 31, 33), Mariátegui had minimum contact with the Comintern before the 1929 conferences. In fact, it was perhaps dictator Augusto Leguía s accusations that Mariátegui was involved in a communist plot in 1927 that brought the Peruvian to the attention of Codovilla and by extension the Com- MARIÁTEGUI 457 munist International. Leguía probably leveled these charges due to Mariátegui s rising status as a leader among the subjugated masses, but their fallacy is evident in the fact that most of the important intellectuals and literary figures who came to Mariátegui s defense were leftists, but no high profile communists such as Mexican muralist Diego Rivera took up his case as a cause célèbre as they did for Augusto César Sandino s fight against the United States Marines in Nicaragua at the time (Stein, 1995). As César Germaná (1995, ) observed, Mariátegui never became a disciplined militant in the international organization, but neither could one consider him completely separate from it. He did, however, identify with the goals of the international organization. Mariátegui instructed Pesce, who was brought into a secret communist cell within the Peruvian Socialist Party for the purpose of his participation at the Buenos Aires conference, to pursue affiliation with the Third International. Although the Comintern was impressed with Mariátegui s level of intellect and important contributions to the Buenos Aires conference, it rejected the Peruvians application for membership in the International because of their deviant stances on a variety of ideological issues (Chavarría, 1979, 162). From the beginning, the Peruvians clashed with the Secretariat over a variety of issues, and Mariátegui s arguments triggered intense polemical debates. The assembled delegates, and in particular Codovilla, severely criticized Mariátegui s deviance from the established line on a variety of issues, including the Indian question and his emphasis on the realidad peruana, which implied that this country had a national reality that was at variance with that of other countries such as Argentina and Mexico. Coming from Italy and not always aware of the subtleties of socioeconomic differences within Latin America, Codovilla did not want to adjust his Marxist critique for Peru (Flores Galindo, 1989, 42; Chavarría, 1979, ). Mariátegui resisted accepting directives from Moscow because, as Harry Vanden (1986, 90) notes, they clashed with his creative view of Leninism which demanded that good revolutionary praxis be based on the careful application of Marxism to the concrete reality of different nations rather than general directives that might have little to do with local conditions. Francisca da Gamma (1997, 54) situates these clashes within the context of the eurocentric nature of the Comintern and its leadership. Codovilla, in particular, acted in an arrogant and insulting 458 SCIENCE & SOCIETY manner to the Peruvians who came from a more Indian and agrarian society. Since delegates from more European countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile) as well as from urban areas
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