Can a theory that was developed by white people in the 19th Century be relevant to Latin Americans in the 21st Century?
Communism is seen by many Latinx people, especially in the diaspora, as a Eurocentric ideology that has been imposed on us. There are certain aspects of communism that are Eurocentric and irrelevant to the historical conditions of Latin Americans, as well as other regions in the Global South.
However, what many of us fail to recognize, mainly due to Western capitalist propaganda, is that the basic principles of Marxism are applicable to all societies in modern human history. Especially communities that have been and continue to be dominated by the capitalist world system.
Eurocentric or orthodox Marxist theory suggests that there’s a universal working class, regardless of race or geographical location, that is pitted against the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production. This basic equation of workers versus capitalist bosses fails to accurately describe the historical nuances for many in the Global South.
José Carlos Mariátegui, a young Peruvian writer and activist from the early decades of the 20th Century, made the first leap in welding Marxism and Indigenism. He understood that orthodox European Marxism could not possibly solve or even explain the conditions lived by the masses in Peru and Latin America, which he referred to as “Indo-America.”
Mariátegui rightly observed that the simple equation of workers versus bosses would not work in Peru. He angered his intellectual contemporaries who accused him of revisionism and idealism for placing the Indigenous and peasant questions at the center of his anti-capitalist theory and struggle. Despite the attacks on him, he insisted in his essays that the principal contradiction was that of the “Indian” and his relation to the land.
He theorized that the problem of the “Indians,” who formed the majority of the population, could not be solved through humanitarianism or other Western liberal ideals. They could only be solved by addressing land and resource ownership in a thorough materialist analysis.
Unlike his contemporaries, Mariátegui viewed Latin America’s 19th Century independence as a revolution that was led by white settlers and which privileged them at the expense of the Indigenous, Mestizo and African masses. This “revolution” took power away from the Spanish crown and transferred it to a white Spanish elite who began a relationship of dependency with the U.S. and Britain. An imperialist relationship which continues to exist two centuries later.
He was not an idealist in thinking that anti-racism alone could solve the material conditions of the masses. He also wasn’t Eurocentric in his materialism to think that class struggle alone could solve the racialized hierarchies so prevalent in the region. He applied Marxism to the specific conditions of Latin America and created an ideology that tackled the roots of our oppression.
The Latinx diaspora must revive and appropriate the heavy sword of Mariateguismo to cut through the increasingly-common liberalism that infects the minds of our people.
In an era where identity politics and cultural nationalism prevents us from taking urgent actions to address the material inequalities in our communities, where Eurocentric objectives of elementary class struggle ignore the historically racialized divisions that we face, Mariátegui serves as a sober alternative which helps us in our struggle to end capitalism and its very real racial divide.