Marxist thought in Latin America

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-ZA013-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 22, 2021, from

2. The construction of a national identity

In keeping with the theory of historical materialism, Mariátegui (1928) held that societies evolve according to the laws of their socioeconomic development and that historical progress involves the surpassing of feudalism by capitalism and of capitalism by socialism. Apart from this traditional framework of historical materialism, Mariátegui introduced a number of variants into his concept of socialism which, when considered together, lay the foundations for a specifically Latin American approach to socialist theory. Mariátegui questioned the linear concept of history as it applied to the narrative of the superiority of European culture over the indigenous cultures of the Americas. He took the Spanish conquest of the Inca civilization to represent the defeat of a highly competent form of social organization by a less competent one. He claimed the conquest symbolized a rupture within the economic organization which grew out of the experiences of the earliest Peruvian people. These people combined a simple life with a highly sophisticated economic system which was based on hard work, discipline and the satisfaction of the people’s material needs. By referring to the pre-Columbian Inca empire as a central, although defeated, player in the history of Peru, Mariátegui demonstrated that Peru’s national identity should not be conceived without giving a prominent place to its indigenous people. As a Marxist his goal was to contribute to the formation of an Indohispanic socialism in Peru. This position involved, on the one hand, convincing non-Marxists that socialism was a superior system to capitalism in Peru, while on the other hand, convincing the white and mestizo minorities (including socialists) that the disenfranchised indigenous population of Peru was an essential and irreplaceable part of its national identity and character.

As a member of a generation of Latin Americans critical of positivist philosophy, Mariátegui combined a political interest in Marxism with other artistic and intellectual interests (see Anti-positivist thought in Latin America; Positivist thought in Latin America). He promoted the Peruvian pro-indigenous literary movement of indigenismo (indigenism) and the new thinking of the European avant-garde. He supported the merit of thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, James Joyce and Miguel de Unamuno and linked aspects of their views and teachings to his socialist interpretation of human and social reality. Mariátegui’s appreciation of the value of myth led him to the insight that the relationship between the Indian and the land could not be understood simply in materialist or strictly modern secular terms. It must include a full account of the Indian’s deeply-rooted spiritual belief that life springs from the land and returns to the land. He perceived the indigenous peasants as socially oppressed both as a class and in terms of their racial and ethnic status. He argued for a notion of national identity that would allow the Indians to come to prominence. Mariátegui’s analysis called for Marxist theory to be reformulated so that it would take into account both class and ethnicity, including the cultural aspects of ethnic beliefs.

Citing this article:
Schutte, Ofelia. The construction of a national identity. Marxist thought in Latin America, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-ZA013-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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