El mito del socialismo indígena en Mariátegui


GERARDO LEIBNER: Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 1999.

Scholarly interest in José Carlos Mariátegui, a Peruvian marxist from the 1920s, has steadily grown in recent years. Gerardo Leibner's book, a translation of his doctoral thesis in history at the University of Tel Aviv, extends and builds on this interest. Leibner notes that many scholars focus on Mariátegui's creative adaptation of European ideas to the Peruvian situation. Less studied is the question of the revolutionary socialist potential of Peru's Indigenous peoples. Leibner helps fill this gap through placing Mariátegui's views on the "Indian Question" in the context of ideological trends in early twentieth-century Peru and relating his activity to contemporary indigenista organizations and Indian uprisings.

Leibner writes a strong, compelling, and thoroughly documented intellectual history which establishes the nature of a variety of influences on Mariátegui's socialist and indigenista ideals. Although solid, these contributions are not entirely new. There is a rather large body of work on Mariátegui's political thought (Robert Paris, La formación ideológica de José Carlos Mariátegui; Harry Vanden, National Marxism in Latin America, etc.), and a failure to build on this secondary literature gives the book a certain feeling of covering ground that others have already traversed. This is particularly true when positioning Mariátegui's thought in relation to that of the anarchist Manuel González Prada (p. 59 f.) and other early indigenistas.

Nevertheless, Leibner extends and complicates our understanding and interpretations of Mariátegui's views on the nature of the Indians' socialist orientation. Leibner establishes that Mariátegui's discussion on Indigenous issues extended far beyond the famed polemic with Luis Alberto Sánchez (126). He notes the Amauta's frustration with growing Eurocentric attacks on his belief in the socialist potential of Indians that he attempted to establish in a document presented to the first congress of Latin American communist parties, which met in Buenos Aires in June of 1929 (131). The most important contribution of this book is the analysis of the relations between modern revolutionary ideologies and traditional Andean cosmology in the formation of Indigenous uprisings in the 1920s.

Several times Leibner comes back to Mariátegui's frequent quotation of Luis Valcárcel's phrase: "el proletariado indígena espera su Lenin." In probing who this Lenin might be, Leibner contrasts the idea of a Tupac Amaru-style restoration of Tahuantinsuyu with an urban mestizo indigenista leading Indians in a modernizing socialist revolution (155). I would argue that rural Indians in the Andes in the early twentieth century were not struggling for either of these options (201), but instead favored a third way of an Indigenous-led and directed program of modernization that responded to their needs and concerns. Leibner notes that hacendados feared socialist and anarchist interventions in Indian communities not for their foreign ideological influences, but because of their ability to awaken latent myths and aspirations (177). I would add that external agents also provided rural organizations with critically important logistical support in achieving their political goals.

It is in this area that the book offers its most interesting contributions, as well as providing its largest disappointment. Most scholars who write on Mariátegui approach him as a philosopher rather than a political actor. Leibner begins to bridge this gap by looking at Mariátegui's concrete contacts with Indian and popular organizations. He mentions organizations such as the Asociación Pro-Indígena and a 1915 Rumi Maqui uprising in Puno, but I am left wanting to know more. What was Mariátegui's relationship to this increasing number of Indian rebellions? What was the precise nature of his interactions with popular organizations, particularly those defending the interests of rural Indians, in the 1920s? This data cannot be discovered through an analysis of his published writings, but requires a different type of archival research and inquiry.

Despite increased contacts with Indian communities, Mariátegui failed in his attempt to publish a small newspaper entitled Ayllu, targeted at the Indigenous peasantry, which was to parallel the working-class newspaper Labor (168). Confined to a wheelchair in coastal Lima, Mariátegui never visited the sierra highlands where most of the Indians in Peru lived. Perhaps more research will simply verify Leibner's conclusion that Mariátegui had minimal contact with Indians, and that the real disappointment is for those of us who wish to idealize Mariátegui and hold to a myth of an Indigenous socialism linked to an urban marxist vanguard. This is an interesting and important book, which will find its place on the shelves of those interested in Mariátegui's thought, Peruvian indigenismo, and the formation of race relations and popular organizations in early twentieth-century Peru.

Marc Becker Truman State University




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