*Mariátegui, José Carlos
Mariátegui, José Carlos
As both his biography and his bibliography reveal, José Carlos Mariategui is a genuine product of his time, and now considered one of the most original thinkers of the modern era. Mariategui represents both branches (political and cultural) of the bifurcated Peruvian thought of the time and historical circumstances in which he lived and worked.
He took an active part in the intellectual atmosphere that was shaping the Republic of Peru socially, politically, and culturally. At the national level, both political and cultural spheres meet in Mariátegui’s special interest in indigenous, economic, and literary issues, a convergence masterfully portrayed by means of the essay, the genre for which he is best known. This is clear from reading his most celebrated work, Siete ensayos de interpretacion de la realidad peruana (1928; Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality), a text which has undergone more than 50 editions and several translations. In this corpus of seven essays, Mariátegui confronts the most important aspects of the Peruvian reality of his time, unearthing the past, unraveling the present, and composing a view of the future, all through his most original assessment of Marxist theory. The titles of these seven essays illustrate his particular perspective: “Esquema de la evolución ecónomica” (“Outline of the Economic EvolutionZ), “El problema del indio” (“The Problem of the Indian”), “El problema de la tierra” (“The Problem of the Land”), “El proceso de la instrucción pública” (“Public Education”), “El factor religioso” (“The Religious Factor”), “Regionalismo y centralismo” (“Regionalism and Centralism”), and “El proceso de la literatura” (“Literature on Trial”).
Mariátegui’s visionary and active involvement in Peruvian economic, political, and cultural matters—as national and international columnist, and as founder of Amauta, one of Latin America’s most prestigious critical forums—won him the reputation of being the first Marxist thinker of Latin America, as well as one of the most original interpreters of Marxist methodology, particularly as concerns possibilities for a more accurate portrayal of both Peruvian and other Latin American national realities. In this respect, he ranks with other outstanding intellectuals, such as Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács.
Mariátegui’s original view of Marxism reflects the influence of the deep religious, mystical, and poetic insights characteristic of the first part of his life, a period mostly spent in poverty and solitary seclusion due to his weak constitution. These insights surface in his view of Marxism as a social revolutionary praxis that cannot rest solely on invariably applied, objective, and scientific precepts, as was originally envisaged by the orthodox line of Soviet Marxism. Mariátegui realized that the application of such a social theory cannot be detached from the particular historical, social, economic, geographical, and cultural circumstances of a given nation. Thus, upon his return from forced exile in Europe in 1923, he came to understand that a “religious factor,” discovered within the popular masses, was part and parcel of “popular” behavior, as exhibited, for example, in such religious events as the Catholic procession. Mariátegui foresaw that if the masses could be imbued with the same mystical, mythical, and unifying fervor as that observed in these public acts, they could equally adopt such fervency in their pursuit of cultural and economic liberation from the feudal system that prevailed after their conquest and colonization by the Spanish crown.
Mariátegui’s attempt to understand and portray Peruvian history and culture through the Marxist screen leads him to envision an indigenous socialism more in accordance with Peruvian historical circumstances, which he rightly perceived as being different from those of either Soviet and European countries, or even from those of other Latin American societies. For instance, he incisively points out that four-fifths of Peru’s population consists of indigenous groups who contribute significantly to the Peruvian economy. Despite this indisputable fact, the indigenous population was not considered politically as a national group. Rather, the Peruvian nation had been viewed as made up mainly of white and Creole descendants of the conquering ruling class. Mariátegui rightly concluded that Peru was indeed constituted by several layered and separately coexisting sociocultural groups. One of these groups was the “modern feudalistic” Creole bourgeoisie, which subsisted mainly on trade with its European counterpart.
Mariátegui pondered the means of re-creating a modern “Tahuantinsuyo” (Peru) and concluded that it could only be accomplished by resorting to the imagination. This is the leading thrust of his famous seven essays, which deal not so much with economic problems as with those of culture, religion, and literature. Not surprisingly, Mariátegui even thought that in order better to portray Peruvian reality, it had to be re-created in the form of a novel—literature, he believed, is a key tool for the elucidation of the social and political reality of a nation. Nevertheless, torn between literary, ideological, and political conceptions, Mariátegui elected the essay as the form that provided him with the space to merge these keen and multifaceted visions.
Finally, Mariátegui’s legacy lies in his recognition that Peruvian historical circumstances, more than academic or orthodox theory, demanded the allure of a myth that could initiate the transformation into a socialist society based on the collective and cultural constructs of historical Peru. In this regard, his visions echo those of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado in his realization that the path of a nation is not traced beforehand, but rather must be found within the nation itself. This is tantamount to a utopian project that must be undertaken by the peasantry and working class of Peru together, for, as
Mariátegui believed, without them there could be neither vindication nor liberation. This process of re-creation demanded Mariátegui’s evolving a language capable of reflecting the new Peru he envisioned. This he endeavors to do by further elaboration of key terms and concepts such as feudalism, peasant socialism, civilization, and revolution as the process of liberation and struggle that must be undertaken by living immersed in a disarticulated society.
Mariategui’s literary conception and essayistic style are understandable given the autodidactic education and journalistic practice that placed him amid everyday sociopolitical and cultural Peruvian reality. From them he derives his free and influential style, divested of academic pretension and affectation. Mariategui’s originality allows us to label him, paraphrasing the Mexican essayist and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, “one of our true [Latin American] writers.”
Born 14 June 1894 in Moquegua, Peru. Copy boy at age 15, and journalist, from age 18, La Prensa (The press) newspaper, Lima; contributor to various journals, including Variedades (Varieties) and Mundial (Universal); journalist, El tiempo (The times) newspaper, 1918–19; cofounder, Nuestra Época (Our epoch), 1918, and La Razon (Reason), 1919. Traveled to Europe, 1919–23. Married Anna Chiappe, 1921: one son.
Returned to Lima, 1923. Lecturer, Gonzalez Prada People’s University, and editor of its Claridad (Clarity), from 1923. Became ill partly as a result of overwork, and had leg amputated, 1923. Cofounder of Minerva publishing house, 1925, Amauta left-wing journal, 1926–30, and Labor newspaper, 1928–29. Cofounder, Peruvian Socialist Party, 1928, and Peruvian General Federation of Workers, 1929. Died in Lima, 16 April 1930.
Essays and Related Prose
La escena contemporánea, 1925
Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana, 1928; edited by Elizabeth Garrels, 1979; as Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality, translated by Marjory Urquidi, 1971
Defensa del Marxismo, la emoción de nuestro tiempo, y otros temas, 1934
El alma national y otras estadones del hombre de hoy, 1950
Ensayos escogidos, edited by Anibal Quijano, 1956, and Augusto Salazar Bondy, 1971
Crítica literaria, 1969
Fascismo sudamericano: Los intelectuales y la revolución y otros articulos ineditos (1923–1924), 1975
Páginas literarias, edited by Edmundo Cornejo U., 1978
Invitadon a la vida heroica (selection), edited by Alberto Flores Galindo and Ricardo Portocarrero Grados, 1989
Textos básicos (selection), edited by Anibal Quijano, 1991
Other writings: political works, poetry, and two historical plays.
Collected works edition: Ediciones populares de las obras completas, 20 vols., 1959– 70.
Aricó, José, editor, Mariátegui y los orígenes del marxismo latinoamericano, Mexico
City: Siglo Veintuno, 1978
Becker, Marc, Mariátegui and Latin American Marxist Theory, Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1993
Belaúnde, Víctor Andrés, “En torno a los Siete ensayos de José Carlos Mariátegui,” La Realidad Nadonal (1980):1–152
Flores Galindo, Alberto, La agonía de Mariátegui, Lima: Desco, 1980
Melis, Antonio, Albert Dessau, and Manfred Kossok, Mariátegui: Tres estudios, Lima: Amauta, 1971
Paz, Octavio, “A Literature of Convergences,” in Convergences: Essays on Art and Literature, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and London: Bloomsbury, 1987
Quijano, Aníbal, Reencuentro y debate: Una introducción a Mariátegut, Lima: Mosca Azul, 1981
Skirius, John, editor, El ensayo hispanoamericano del siglo XX, Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1981
Stabb, Martin S., “The New Humanism and the Left,” in his In Quest of Identity: Patterns in the Spanish American Essay of Ideas, 1890–1960, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967:102–45
Tord, Luis Enrique, El indio en los ensayistas peruanos, 1848–1948, Lima: Unidas, 1978
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