Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mariátegui, the Comintern and Indigenous Peoples by Marc Becker

José Carlos Mariátegui La Chira (14 June 1894– 16 April 1930)
was a Peruvian journalist, political philosopher, and activist. A prolific writer before his early death at age 35, he is considered one of the most influential Latin American socialists of the 20th century. Mariátegui's most famous work, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928), is still widely read in South America. An avowed, self-taught Marxist, he insisted that a socialist revolution should evolve organically in Latin America on the basis of local conditions and practices, not the result of mechanically applying a European formula
 Democracy and Class Struggle is publishing an extract from a study by Marc Becker on Mariategui on Indigenous People's and the Comintern.This article shows how Mariategui was extending the Comintern discussion on the National Question to Indigenous People's in Latin America in the late 1920's.The full article appeared in Science and Society in 2006.

If the 1928 Sixth Congress led the Comintern to "discover" Latin America, the 1929 Buenos Aires conference led Latin Americans to "discover" the Indian (Gamma, 1997, 53). The proposal to establish an Indian Republic in South America originated in one of the most hotly disputed issues to emerge out of the Comintern’s Sixth Congress concerning the role of racial and ethnic minorities within a country’s larger revolutionary struggle. The Comintern determined that Blacks in both South Africa and the United States comprised subject nations, and instructed local communists to build alliances with these groups with the goal of organizing revolutionary national movements to fight for their self-determination. "One of the most important tasks of the Communist Party," the Comintern’s congress concluded, "consists in the struggle for a complete and real equality of the negroes, for the abolition of all kinds of racial, social and political inequalities." Delegates recognized "the right of all nations, regardless of race, to complete self-determination, i.e., going as far as political secession" (Communist International, 1929, 57; Degras, 1956, Vol. 1, 497). Application of this policy was as controversial and complicated in South Africa and the United States, with some white radicals replicating the dominant society’s racist attitudes, as it later would be in South America (for example, see Barry Carr, 1998, 238).
The original impetus for engaging the "Negro Question" came not from the Comintern, but from Black activists in local communist parties. Four years before the Comintern’s historic Sixth Congress, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) began actively to recruit Black members, and by 1928 a vast majority of its members were Black and the Party published material in African languages. Their success led to the discussion of this topic at the Sixth Congress in Moscow, including the drafting of slogans for independent Black and native republics in the Americas. In the adopted Theses on the Revolutionary Movement in Colonial and Semi-Colonial Countries, the Comintern applauded the CPSA’s "successes among the negro proletariat," urged them to continue the struggle for racial equality. The Comintern also encouraged the establishment of an "independent native republic," a demand that extended somewhat beyond the CPSA’s previous activities (Communist International, 1929, 57–58; ES, 1992, 14; Solomon, 1998, 79–80). Following South Africa’s lead, the Sixth Congress instructed the CPUSA to fight for the "right of self-determination for Negroes" (Communist International, 1929, 57). African–American activist Harry Haywood (1978) played a central role in these debates in Moscow, and was key in implementing this policy in the United States. Reflecting a greatly increased consciousness of racial oppression, in 1931 the CPUSA came to the defense of nine young Black men charged with rape in Alabama in the famed "Scottsboro Case." Subsequent attacks against "white chauvinism" within the CPUSA were rigorous, probably far surpassing that of communist parties in South Africa or South America (MPR, 2001, 395; Solomon, 1998; Berland, 2000). In turn, engaging racial issues forced white communists to come to a deeper understanding of United States realities (Zumoff, 2003, 342).
Emerging out of these pivotal debates on the Negro Question at the Sixth Congress in Moscow, race became one of the most contentious and widely debated topics the following year in Buenos Aires. The complicated ramifications of building alliances across racial and class divides and problems with "white chauvinism" were similar in South America to those militants encountered in South Africa and the United States, and raise similar issues of the construction of eth- nic and national identities. Even the process through which this topic came to be raised at the Buenos Aires conference indicates the marginalized nature of discussions of race among communists in Latin America. Although the original agenda that Codovilla published in La Correspondencia Sudamericana (December 15, 1928, 45) included the "Cuestión campesina" ("peasant question"), there was no mention of engaging the issues of race or Latin America’s Indigenous peoples.

According to Jürgen Mothes (1992, 157), Jules Humbert- Droz, a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI), insisted that Codovilla include a discussion of race on the meeting’s agenda. As head of the Latin Secretariat, Humbert- Droz presented a report on Latin America to the Sixth Congress and was largely responsible for bringing the region to the Comintern’s attention (Degras, 1956, Vol. 2, 448, 567; Barbé, 1966, 226, 30). As a result, in April, only two months before the conference, Codovilla added a debate on "The Problem of Race in Latin America," with a Peruvian, Brazilian, and Cuban presenting theses on the subject. In a March 29, 1929 letter, Codovilla specifically requested that Mariátegui prepare a document on the Indians’ struggle for emancipation from their current state of slavery for the meeting. Codovilla noted that he was requesting that Mariátegui, who was already well known for his defense of Peru’s marginalized rural Indigenous peoples, address this subject because of his "profound knowledge" of the problem, his "serious studies" on the topic, and because he was the only person who could provide a solid base on which the Comintern could build its strategies (Mothes, 1996, 95).

Without outside intervention, Comintern leaders in Latin America most likely would not have raised the question of the role of Indigenous peoples in the revolutionary movement. It is a reflection of the white, urban focus of the Comintern that it had to turn to a party in Peru with which it had minimal contact to make a presentation on this issue. Roger Kanet (1973, 102) similarly notes that the people Stalin charged with organizing "Black Republics" had minimal contact with African peoples. This further highlights the unique role that Mariátegui played in these debates; rather then needing Comintern encouragement to engage Indigenous issues, he was tasked with in- troducing communists with whom he previously had minimal con- tact to Latin America’s racial dynamics. He was far ahead of most other South American communists in his understanding of race, and this contributed to a perhaps inevitable clash between European and Indian views of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America. Without Indigenous or Afro–Latin intellectuals (such as Harry Haywood in the United States) within the South American Bureau, or at least someone who could clearly articulate and argue passionately for these perspectives, Comintern proposals on the problem of race in Latin American would tend to fall short of their potential. Nevertheless, the Communist International increasingly recognized the crucial role of ethnic groups in emerging revolutionary movements, and pressed onward with attempts to organize this population.
The Problem of Race
On the morning of June 8, 1929, delegates at the Buenos Aires conference turned their attention to the fifth point on the agenda, "The Problem of Race in Latin America." "Juárez" from Cuba brought a prepared statement on the "Negro Question" (especially as it related to Cuba) and "Leoncio" from Brazil critiqued the role of Indians and Africans in his country. Mariátegui’s historical and socio-economic overview of Indians in Latin America, however, was the longest and most controversial presentation. It represents his most detailed and penetrating analysis of the subject.

Dr. Hugo Pesce, presenting the document under the alias "Saco" (in honor of the famed anarchist militant Nicola Sacco who had been executed two years earlier in Massachusetts), introduced the discussion with the observation that this was "the first time that an International Congress of Communist Parties has focused their attention in such a broad and specific manner on the racial problem in Latin America." This was an issue that had received little serious study, and bourgeois critiques and capitalist governments had corrupted interpretations of the problem. A lack of rigorous statistical studies and analyses fur- ther hindered examinations. Pesce called for an objective study of the racial problem grounded in a Marxist methodology informed by an understanding of class struggle in order to arrive at a revolutionary understanding consistent with Comintern policies (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 433–34).
Mariátegui’s lengthy thesis, which focused largely but by no means exclusively on Peru and Indians, surveyed changes from the time of the Inkas and Aztecs, through the Spanish conquest and colonial period, and into the 20th century, with additional sections on Blacks, mestizos, and mulattos. Firmly grounding the discussion in a class
3 Part of this document was originally presented in Montevideo in May 1929, and included in the published proceedings from this labor conference, Bajo la bandera de la C.S.L.A. The entire essay was first published in El movimiento revolucionario latino americano, an of- ficial publication of the South American Secretariat of the Comintern, which published the proceedings from the Buenos Aires conference. Ricardo Martínez de la Torre later included it in his four-volume Apuntes para una interpretación marxista de la historia social del Perú. Mariátegui also published parts of it in his journal Amauta (No. 25, July–August, 1929), and Mariátegui’s family later reprinted it in Ideología y política, a collection of his ideological and political writings. Michael Pearlman included parts of it in his English translation of Mariátegui’s essays (1996), with other sections appearing in Michael Löwy’s 1992 anthology of Latin American Marxist writings.
analysis, Mariátegui began his discussion of race with his argument that race disguised underlying class exploitation rooted in an unequal distribution of land:
In Latin American bourgeois intellectual speculation, the race question serves, among other things, to disguise or evade the continent’s real problems. Marxist criticism has the unavoidable obligation of establishing it in real terms, rid- ding it of all sophistic or pedantic equivocation. Economically, socially, and politically, the race question, like the land question, is fundamentally that of liquidating feudalism. (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 434.)
For Mariátegui, the Indian problem in Latin America was an economic and social issue which for Indians meant an agrarian problem, and it needed to be addressed at the level of land tenure relations. Rather than embracing typical indigenista ideologies, which maintained that Indian problems would be solved through their assimilation into the mestizo population, Mariátegui believed that white colonization had "only retarding and depressive effects in the life of the indigenous races" (ibid., 435). Indians wanted equality, but they did not want to lose their unique identities. Mariátegui categorically rejected the notion that the Indian question was a racial problem, not only be- cause he denied that Indigenous peoples were racially inferior but also because he rejected biological theories that proposed that their position could be strengthened through "crossing the indigenous race with ‘superior’ foreign races" (436). Communist parties that sought racial solutions to this situation of exploitation were simply succumb- ing to a bourgeois distraction that would never be able to address this problem, and it was a mistake for the Comintern to look in that direction for answers.
Much like his denial that mestizaje would improve the Indian race, Mariátegui also rejected the notion that there was something innate within Indians that would lead to their liberation. "It would be foolish and dangerous to oppose the racism of those who deprecate the Indian because they believe in the absolute and permanent superiority of the white race," Mariátegui wrote, "with the racism of those who overestimate the Indian with a messianic faith in their mission as a race in the American renaissance." Indian societies responded to the same laws that governed any other culture. "By itself, the race has not risen," Mariátegui (1929a, 73) observed. "What ensures its emancipation is the dynamism of an economy and culture that carries the seed of socialism in its midst." This underscores E. J. Hobsbawm’s observation (1990, 67) that racial discrimination and ethnic differ- ences rarely lead to a nationalist movement. Indian liberation would follow along the same lines, and be subject to the same laws of his- tory, as the working class. In countries with large Indian and Black populations the racial factor must be converted into a revolutionary factor, Mariátegui maintained. In order to succeed, revolutionaries must convince Indians and Blacks that only a workers and peasants government comprised of all races could emancipate them from their oppression (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 439).
Whether rural poverty was primarily a result of racial discrimi- nation or of class exploitation is an issue that has long been debated in Latin America (Wade, 1997, 22–24). Mariátegui, never one for simplistic solutions to problems, appreciated the complicated nature of the interactions between race and class. "It is possible to try to face the solution that the problem of races requires," he noted, "and establish, as a result, the tasks that concern the Communist Parties in Latin America" (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 462). Rac- ism was a very real problem that needed to be confronted before class solidarity could be built, but the two forms of identity were deeply intertwined with each other. Marxists still experienced difficulties in conceptualizing issues of racial identity, with many militants consid- ering it to be a form of false consciousness that distracted from the more important proletarian class struggle. Nevertheless, in terms of lived experiences, race and ethnicity repeatedly overpowered class in debates over which was more important. Mariátegui noted that Indians, for good reason, often viewed mestizos as their oppressors, and only the development of a class consciousness could break through the racial hatred that divided these groups. Not only did Indians have an understandable disdain for their white and mestizo exploiters, but it was "not unusual to find prejudice as to the inferiority of the Indian among the very urban elements that proclaim themselves to be revolutionaries" (ibid., 466).
4 Similarly in the United States, Haywood (1978, 122) notes that "membership in the Party did not automatically free whites from white supremacist ideas" nor "Blacks from their distrust of whites." Instead, "interracial solidarity — even in the Communist Party — required a continuous ideological struggle."

Converting the race issue into class terms would, according to Mariátegui, lead Indians and Blacks to have a central role in the revo- lutionary movement. "Only the struggle of Indians, proletarians and peasants in strict alliance with the mestizo and white proletariat against the feudal and capitalist regime," he wrote, "will permit the free de- velopment of the Indians’ racial characteristics." This class struggle building on the Indians’ collective spirit, and not the encouragement of a movement toward self-determination, would be what breaks down national borders that divide Indian groups and would lead "to the political autonomy of the race" (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 466). After working through these issues, Mariátegui clearly and unapologetically cast the Indian question as a class, not race or national, struggle.
The National Question
A fundamental issue that separated Mariátegui from the Comintern was whether at its heart the Indian problem was an issue of race, class, or nationality.

If Indian and African alienation was due to racial oppression, then the solution lay in struggling for social equality. If, on the other hand, Indian and African communities com- prised national minorities, then communists should join their struggle for a separate independent republic with state rights.6 Drawing on Lenin’s and Stalin’s writings on nationalism, the Comintern saw Latin American countries as multinational societies similar to Russia, with subordinate nationalities existing alongside the dominant western one. Oppressed nations had the right to self- determination, including the right to establish their own independent nations. Minority populations, however, had the right to the preservation and development of their languages and cultures, but not the right to secede to form separate states. Similar to the situation of Africans in South Africa and the United States, Comintern rhetoric in South America extended beyond strug-
In a study of the Negro Question in the United States, Berland (2000, 199) suggests that prior to the Sixth Congress there was a certain degree of fluidity between concepts of race and nation. Even the Program of the Communist International adopted at the Sixth Con- gress called for "complete equality of all nations and races" (Degras, 1956, Vol. 2, 497). But by 1928 understandings of these terms had hardened.
Haywood (1978, 261) later argued that this was a false dichotomy, and that calls for self- determination and equality were not in conflict with each other. Haywood (1978, 323) further maintained that while "race played an important role . . . it was only one element and not the central question."

gling for racial equality to demanding an independent republic. In China, these ideologies appealed to anti-imperialist nationalist lead- ers who could utilize them in their anti-colonial struggles (Weiner, 1997, 158–59), but the coherence of these policies broke down in Latin America’s neocolonial setting where revolutionaries were not fighting against European political control and subaltern ethnic groups had yet to acquire a nationalist consciousness.
Two factors help explain why the issue of nationalism emerged at this point and why it so dominated these discussions. On one hand, the Comintern viewed the racist treatment of African Americans as the "Achilles heel" of capitalism in the United States. Second, this was a period of Stalin’s ascendance as a leader and theoretician of interna- tional capitalism (Caballero, 1986, 58). Stalin (1942, 12) was particularly interested in the "national question," and his definition of a nation as "a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture" influenced subsequent debates. Under his governance, it was logical to extend his interpretations of the multinational situation in the Soviet Union to the role of Blacks in South Africa and the United States, and Indians within Latin America. E. H. Carr (1964, 89) notes that in the early 1920s Comintern leaders were "concerned in the na- tional question mainly as a means of imposing measures of discipline on recalcitrant groups in European parties," but that "interest in move- ments outside Europe was still perfunctory." Latin America was not included in these early discussions of the national and colonial question (Carr, 1978, 960). By the late 1920s, however, shifts in the Comin- tern led communists around the world to advocate the creation of independent republics. In Canada, communists began to call for self- determination for the Quebecois (Avakumovic, 1975, 254). Communists in Australia became deeply involved in Aboriginal rights issues (Boughton, 2001, 266). In Latin America, activists proposed the cre- ation of Black Republics in Cuba and Brazil, two countries with the highest African diaspora populations in the Americas (Andrews, 2004, 150; Dulles, 1973, 473). "Making the Negro Question a national question also internationalized the fight for black rights," Jacob Zumoff notes, "placing it on the same plain as the Irish or Jewish questions" (Zumoff, 2003, 336). Within this broader context, proposing an Indig- enous Republic in Latin America would be a logical and by no means unprecedented step.
In the conclusion to his lengthy statement on race in Latin America, Mariátegui directly contradicted the Comintern’s proposal to establish an Indian Republic in the South American Andes, where a concentration of Quechua and Aymara peoples formed a majority of the population. Although Mariátegui conceded that the establish- ment of such autonomous republics might work elsewhere, in Peru the proposal was the result of not understanding the socioeconomic situation of the Indigenous masses. "The construction of an autono- mous state from the Indian race," Mariátegui maintained, "would not lead to the dictatorship of the Indian proletariat, nor much less the formation of an Indian state without classes." Instead, the result would be "an Indian bourgeois state with all of the internal and external contradictions of other bourgeois states." Mariátegui continued to note that "only the revolutionary class movement of the exploited indigenous masses can open a path to the true liberation of their race" which would result in political self-determination.
Mariátegui recognized that European norms of nationalism would not necessarily apply to the Peruvian situation. In Europe, for example, Germans might form a nation but, as Anthony Smith (1998,
29) notes, "cultural differences only sometimes coincided with the boundaries of political units." Indeed, since only one-tenth of language groups correspond with political boundaries it would entail an unjustified jump in logic to assume that the Quechua and Aymara peoples formed a nation. Since Quechua peoples live along the spine of the Andean highlands stretching from Colombia in the north through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to Argentina and Chile in the south, the Comintern proposal would entail a fundamental rework- ing of political boundaries dating from the beginnings of Spanish colonization in the 16th century. Isolated in the mountains without an industrial base or an outlet to the sea, would such a country be economically viable? Reflecting a fundamental division between ethno-cultural and political definitions of nationalism, Mariátegui believed that the existing nation-states were too deeply entrenched in South America to warrant rethinking their configuration. The Comintern’s underestimation of the level of state formation, together with the misapplication of the "National Question," led to a policy which Mariátegui rejected as irrelevant and unworkable. Not only would European solutions not work in Latin America, but even the question of race was not the same in all Latin American countries and therefore new solutions would have to be worked out for differ- ent places within the region. At its core, Mariátegui challenged es- sentialist notions of nationalism. Mariátegui emphasized that Indian poverty and marginalization were fundamentally an issue of class oppression, and that the solution to Indian problems lay in ending the abusive feudalistic land tenure patterns under which Indians suffered (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 463).
The assembled delegates, and in particular Codovilla, attacked Pesce for a variety of "errors" that they detected in Mariátegui’s the- sis. From the Comintern’s point of view, Mariátegui’s most serious shortcoming was his failure to follow a Leninist line that interpreted the Indian problem as "a ‘national question’ that could only be re- solved through a separatist movement of self-determination rather than a multiclass revolutionary movement" which the socialists in Peru currently pursued (Chavarría, 1979, 161). The formation of a nation was based on the penetration of capitalist relations and, according to Peters, the representative from the Young Communist Interna- tional (YCI), this process had not been completed in Peru. Peru lacked the level of capitalist development necessary to have developed a unitary nation. In fact, Peters predicted that before this could hap- pen uprisings in Peru and Bolivia would erase national boundaries and lead to an Indian republic rooted on a new social base (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 468).
Pesce, defending Mariátegui’s arguments, maintained that inter- preting the Indian question as a nationalist issue with the goal of Indian self-determination and separatism would be a mistake because it would exclude mestizo peasants and urban workers from the strug- gle. Although Indians comprised a large part of the revolutionary movement, their exploitation must be understood in class rather than racial terms (Chavarría, 1979, 161). Portocarrero, using the alias "Zamora," reiterated this point with the observation that already in Peru many of the Indigenous land struggles were against wealthy Indian caciques ("chiefs"). Pesce argued that it was simply naive to believe that an Indian state would erase class divisions, since even in the Soviet Union this had not been an automatic process (Martínez de la Torre, 1947–1949, Vol. 2, 470, 473). Woodford McClellan (1993, 387, 388) later presented a similar conclusion that although the Comintern "played a generally positive role in the growing worldwide assault on racism and colonialism," its actions were limited because it "had no clear program for eradicating discrimination directed against Soviet minorities." Ironically, in taking this position the Peruvians ech- oed a statement that the Comintern brought to this meeting. "The Communist Party," the resolution read, "must be a party of only one class, the party of the proletariat." The Party should not exclude poor peasants, but rather should include them as an integral part of the struggle (La Correspondencia Sudamericana, May 1929, 15).

Anthony Smith (1998, 45) argues that ethnicity "is crucial to an adequate understanding of nationalism." Does this mean that Mariátegui opposed the plan to form an Indian Republic because he was unaware of the ethnic consciousness of Peru’s rural population? After all, isolated through both his physical infirmities that confined him to a wheelchair and deep regional divisions that divided Peru’s mes- tizo coast from the Indigenous highlands, Mariátegui did not have a lived experience of Quechua and Aymara peoples. Mariátegui argued, however, "that progress in Peru is false, or is at least not Peruvian, so long as it does not include the Indian." Mariátegui did not ignore the level of ethnic affinities and identities of Indigenous peoples that crossed existing national borders. He was, to be sure, a strong inter- nationalist committed to the unification of the working-class struggle. But he also firmly believed that these struggles must be rooted in and respond to the specifics of a local situation. In his presentation to the Buenos Aires conference, Mariátegui noted that all countries in Latin America did not face identical racial problems. Furthermore, the active participation of Indians was necessary to correct these historic patterns of injustice. Mariátegui claimed that "socialist ideas have strengthened a new and powerful movement for the revendication [sic] of the Indian" (1929b, 78–79), but what he increasingly observed was that "Indians themselves begin to show a new consciousness." Elites had seen Indians as incapable of achieving their own libera- tion, and so this task fell to urban, white and mestizo intellectuals who paternalistically treated the Indians as objects rather than as authors of this process. Now, instead of paternalistic governmental ruling elites treating Indian poverty as a charity case, Indians had begun to address the underlying economic, social, and agrarian causes of their poverty and marginalization. They would find their own liberty. Divided, Indians had always been easily defeated, but united, their strength would mean victory.

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