Immigrant communities in the West often view communism as something that is inherently white and Eurocentric. Justifiably so, since communist spaces there are very often dominated by white people with outdated ideas about class struggle and who primarily recruit people of color as tokens.
Communism, however, is a science that when adapted to the historical realities and actual conditions faced by colonized people, can serve as the ideological tool to decipher the world creating a more just future.
Here are some important communist concepts to help the Latinx diaspora understand the revolutionary science from a perspective that is relevant to us and our struggle.
Traditionally, class struggle is understood as the workers fighting and standing up to the bourgeoisie, the bosses, to control the means of production. However, class struggle for historically-colonized peoples takes on a more complex character. Workers in nations that have been colonized often face an enemy which are both capitalists and white supremacists in equal measure.
For example, the majority of Black Brazilians not only face class oppression by having little choice but to give up their labor to the national bourgeoisie (made up of mainly of European descendants), they also, simultaneously, face racial discrimination, which often means dire poverty, military and police occupation of their neighborhoods, and death. This is something which is played out across Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Global South diaspora living in the West face similar conditions, exploited as workers as well as looked upon as inferior in terms of race.
In other instances, a neo-colonial bourgeois class with people who may not be white themselves, but serve the interests of imperialist powers over their own citizens. The white supremacist and imperialist factors that affect most of the working class around the world are erased with the classic Eurocentric definition of class struggle.
The simple, Eurocentric formula of a universal working class fighting their capitalist bosses not only fails to take historical colonial structures into account it also fails to expose the real material interests that the First World working class holds in the capitalist-imperialist system.
Thus, while Third World communists indeed pursue international working class solidarity regardless of color and geographic location, it must be based on an understanding of our different historical experiences.
Third World Communism
Communism in the West and around the world has Eurocentric and imperialist tendencies. The outdated ideas of Western and Westernized communists means that many of them still believe that Europe, which forms part of the First World, will play the leading role in the struggle against global capitalism. The revolution led by Mao Zedong in China punctured this Eurocentric idea, effectively inspiring the masses in the Global South to rise up against their oppressors without having to wait for the leadership of white workers.
Today, those who distance themselves from Eurocentric communism often call themselves Third World Communists, Marxist-Leninist-Maoists or simply Maoists. These labels, though they may not fully represent the Latinx experience, certainly come the closest. We have had our own communist movements and leaders from where we can draw our own labels and inspiration, notably the early 20th Century Peruvian writer and communist activist José Carlos Mariátegui, from where Mariateguismo is drawn.
Materialism vs. Idealism
Communist forms of living have been practiced in various forms and by plenty of societies prior to it being penned down by Karl Marx in the 19th Century. Marx observed human social and economic history and, despite some Eurocentric details which he was unable to cut himself loose from, he brought forward a profound materialist understanding of the world. An understanding that is still essential in any serious anti-capitalist and anti-colonial thought.
While materialism holds that one’s ideas are based on their material conditions, idealists believe the reverse. They believe ideas determine one’s material conditions. The best example of this is when people claim “poverty is a state of mind” or “if you think positively, positive things will happen.”
Importantly, for a people who have been mentally colonized largely through a foreign religion, materialism helps to anchor our actions and behavior in what can be verified scientifically through tangible facts rather than conspiracy theories, hearsay, or the supernatural.
We believe that we cannot free ourselves through positive thinking, spirituality, religion or even by “mentally decolonizing.”
As communists, our priority is changing the material conditions of the oppressed masses in this capitalist-imperialist world system. That is, to guarantee the very basic human necessities for the people through a socialist system.
Racism is very often relegated by Western communists to a mere tactic of the capitalists to divide the “universal” working class. While some may accept it as a problem, it is presented as a secondary contradiction, denying a principal experience of millions under this system. As Mariátegui and African revolutionary Omali Yeshitela have said, capitalism is racist at its very core. Capitalism denies us our existence — not only because we are workers and alienated, but because our homelands and our bodies are seen as disposable in ways that white workers in the First World are usually not.
In the West and other nations heavily influenced by Western thought, to be a liberal means to be progressive or the opposite of conservative — one who is tolerant of differences in others. Today, liberalism has become the dominant ideology for those who wish to reform capitalism and its oppressive tentacles. Importantly, liberals do not wish to dismantle capitalism and its oppressive practices. They believe everyone can live in peace and calm by reconciling with the ruling class.
From a communist point of view, however, to be a liberal means to be conservative in all but name. They tend to focus on isolated cases of oppression, be it multinational companies, corrupt individuals, individual cases of racism and sexism, gentrification, etc. However, they never tie these symptoms to the cause: capitalism-imperialism. Omitting the root cause of all of these injustices makes them collaborators of global capitalism by default, even if it is through ignorance.
This term refers to the privileged layer of the working class within the capitalist world order.
From very early on, communist thinkers such as Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin observed that capitalism tended to resolve conflict with some layers of the working class by granting them certain material benefits. In Europe, this could be seen mainly with relationships between the bourgeois class and skilled workers who organized themselves into unions to demand concessions.
As Dr. Zak Cope has pointed out and demonstrated, these concessions given to a privileged layer of the European working class are then extended to all citizens of the imperialist First World nations, including its working class. This happens to such an extent today that workers in the United States, Europe, Australia, Japan and the entire First World continue to receive certain benefits that are undoubtedly traced to the imperialist exploitation of Third World nations.
This relationship that the First World working class has with the ruling class weakens the possibility of international solidarity and tends to rationalize liberal ideology, watering down communism and validating imperialism. When we take the theory of a labor aristocracy into account, white privilege is also given a material basis, rather than it being simply explained as a mere social construct that can be done away with through anti-racism alone.
Like racism, sexism is often seen as a secondary contradiction to Eurocentric communists — an issue that can be ironed out once the primary class contradiction is sorted out.
In Latin America and for the Latinx diaspora, machismo leads to gender violence and homophobia towards the LGBT+ community. It has its roots in the Spanish colonial invasion and their cultural and religious practices and continues to be a major societal problem. While the liberal virus in the West and Western-influenced countries see feminism as a way to level the playing field for mainly white women under capitalism, revolutionary communists see the liberation of all women, those of non-conforming genders and the LGBT+ community as an inseparable part of the struggle against the capitalist-imperialist system as a whole. That is, it cannot be a socialist or communist revolution if it isn’t a simultaneous struggle that combats all forms of sexism, gender violence, and homophobia.
This term is usually understood to mean the period in which Europe colonized large parts of the world between 1492 and the middle of the 20th century. Between that time period, many countries apparently achieved freedom from their colonial masters, but the majority went from being direct colonies to indirect ones serving the interests of Western imperialist nations.
Latin America’s independence, for example, was actually the transference of power from the Spanish Crown to the landed white settler elites, whose descendants continue to hold economic and political power. This explains why many of us still use the term “colonialism” to explain the current situation on our continent.
Whilst nationalism in the West often has racist and chauvinistic connotations and is seen by many leftists as reactionary, it has also been a revolutionary tool used by communists in the Third World to defend themselves from imperialist attacks. In this sense, then, it is important to understand the differences between First World nationalism and Third World nationalism.
For example, to be patriotic of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, or any other Western European nation is to be a chauvinist by default. Celebrating and being proud of nations that have been built and maintain themselves through oppressing other nations means you support the capitalist-imperialist system.
On the other hand, when people in nations like Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Syria, etc., demonstrate their patriotism, they are are defending their nations from imperialism by default. Nations who have been, or continue to be, attacked by imperialist forces are justified in using nationalism as a weapon of defense, a weapon which has helped many Third World nations inspire their populations to defend their homelands from foreign invasions.
Nationalism, when coupled with communism, can also serve as a tool to uplift historically oppressed nations. For example, the Mapuche in Chile, the Garifuna in Honduras and the Maya in Guatemala all have rich histories from where they can gather inspiration to fight for self-determination and justice.
Whilst Western communism, in general, tends to be Eurocentric, Trotskyism, in particular, is known for its dismissal of revolutionary struggle outside of Europe. For Trotskyists, the “legitimate” revolution against capitalism can only come from European and Western workers. The “backwardness” outside of the West means revolutions elsewhere cannot be complete and are often dismissed as mere “populism,” even rejecting the theory of a labor aristocracy to protect white workers from their interests in imperialism.
In contrast to Trotskyists who believe in the theory of “Permanent Revolution,” Maoists and Third Worldists understand that revolution can indeed occur in a single country or region, and the workers in the Global South need not wait for their more “developed” European counterparts.