In the Red Corner


Mike Gonzales gives a fascinating outline of the subject of his forthcoming book ‘In the red corner: the Marxism of Jose Carlos Mariátegui’, detailing the life and politics of an important Marxist who shaped the early working class movement in Peru.

Born in Moquegua, Peru, in 1894, Jose Carlos Mariátegui was a radical in his early teens, a declared socialist by his early twenties, and “a convinced and committed Marxist” by  the time he returned from Italy early in 1923. At that time, he had just under eight years of life left, making his contribution as a thinker and an organiser all the more remarkable.

He shaped the early working class movement in Peru, creating a platform for the development of the left and reinterpreted Marxism for the reality of Latin America, and as revolutionary, he challenged both reformism and the idea of gradual change under bourgeois leadership, and the sectarianism of the Communist International (the Comintern) and its insistence on imposing on all socialist movements the model of the Russian Revolution as the only strategy worthy of the name.

In the struggle between two systems, between two ideas, we don’t see ourselves as spectators, nor are we seeking a third way…Although socialism was born in Europe, it is a world movement from which no country that moves within the orbit of civilisation can stand aside…”

Mariátegui died in Lima in 1930 at just thirty six years old. His impact on his own country and more broadly in Latin America was extraordinary, yet for nearly six decades he was forgotten and ignored, his ideas distorted and parodied. 

A Marxist for our time

As the 20th century drew towards its end, Latin America was confronting neoliberalism in its fiercest guise. Multinational corporations were gouging out its mountains, its forest cover was devastated to make room for soya cultivation and cattle-raising, new dams for industry drove millions off the land into the poor barrios surrounding all its major cities. What had been gained in social policies was swept away, the trade unions undermined, and the gulf between the rich and the poor widened.

The response was what came to be called ‘the pink tide’, as new grassroots movements arose across the region resisting neoliberalism. They mobilised the poorest and the most marginalised – indigenous communities, the urban poor on the one hand, and on the other a new generation of students encouraged the mobilisation of women and expressed a rising ecological consciousness. In Ecuador three governments fell as a result of mass protests by indigenous organisations. In Bolivia, the water and gas wars marked the new century with victories against multinational companies bent on seizing control of the country’s natural resources. In Venezuela in 2002, the attempt to bring down the government of Hugo Chavez failed in the face of a mass movement. 

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