Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 3, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

In preparing reading material for an Introduction to Marxism mailing list on Yahoo, I scanned in a chapter of Jose Carlos Mariategui’s “Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality”. One thing led to another and before long I had scanned in all seven essays which were then added to the Marxism Internet Archives.

Recently I decided to finish the job and scanned in the rest of the book, including an Introduction by Jorge Basadre, an author’s note, and a glossary.

Basadre’s introduction is very informative, as this excerpt would indicate despite the reference to Christopher Columbus that might raise some eyebrows:

On March 31, Variedades, a Lima journal, interviewed Mariátegui for a series it was publishing. Mariátegui refused to define art or his concept of life “because metaphysics is not in style and the world is more interested in the physicist Einstein than in the metaphysicist Bergson”; and he stated that his ideal in life “is always to have a high ideal.” In his opinion, journalism, the daily episodic history of mankind, had been created by the capitalist civilization as a great material, but not moral, instrument. He confessed that six or seven years earlier his preferred poets had been Rubén Darío, later Mallarmé and Apollinaire, then Pascoli, Heine, and Aleksandr Blok, and that at the moment he preferred Walt Whitman. His favorite prose writers were Andreyev and Gorki. He considered the theater still too realist and analytic and hoped it would become impressionist and synthetic. “There exist, however, signs of evolution. The Russian genius has created the ’grotesque’ and the musical setting. In Berlin, in ’Der Blaue Vogel,’ I saw ten-minute musical scenes that had more substance and emotion than many dramas of three hours.” Eleanora Duse, by then tired and fading, was the actress who had most impressed him. Among composers he preferred Beethoven, and his favorite painters were Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Piero della Francesca, together with Degas, Cezanne, and Matisse and the Germán expressionist Franz Marc. He judged the contemporary epoch to be revolutionary, but more destructive than creative. As the men most representative of the times, he chose Lenin, Einstein, and Hugo Stinnes, in that order. From the past he admired Christopher Columbus and from the present “the anonymous hero of factory, mine, and fields, the unknown soldier of the social revolution.” He enjoyed travel because he thought of himself as essentially a wanderer, inquisitive and restless. When asked which of his writings he liked best and was most satisfied with, he replied that they were still to be written. Regarding the so-called decadence of the Old World, he said: “Europe’s decadence is this civilization’s decadence. The future of New York and Buenos Aires is tied up with the future of London, Berlin, and Paris. The new civilization is being forged in Europe. America has a secondary role in this stage of human history.”

Mariategui’s wonderful author’s note is worth quoting in its entirety:

I bring together in this book, organized and annotated in seven essays, the articles that I published in Mundial and Amanta concerning some essential aspects of Peruvian reality. Like La escena contemporánea, therefore, this was not conceived of as a book. Better this way. My work has developed as Nietzsche would have wished, for he did not love authors who strained after the intentional, deliberate production of a book, but rather those whose thoughts formed a book spontaneously and without premeditation. Many projects for books occur to me as I lie awake, but I know beforehand that I shall carry out only those to which I am summoned by an imperious force. My thought and my life are one process. And if I hope to have some merit recognized, it is that—following another of Nietzsche’s precepts —I have written with my blood.

I intended to include in this collection an essay on the political and ideological evolution of Peru. But as I advance in it, I realize that I must develop it separately in another book. I find that the seven essays are already too long, so much so that they do not permit me to complete other work as I would like to and ought to; nevertheless, they should be published before my new study appears. In this way, my reading public will already be familiar with the materials and ideas of my political and ideological views.

I shall return to these topics as often as shall be indicated by the course of my research and arguments. Perhaps in each of these essays there is the outline, the plan, of an independent book. None is finished; they never will be as long as I live and think and have something to add to what I have written, lived, and thought.

All this work is but a contribution to Socialist criticism of the problems and history of Peru. There are many who think that I am tied to European culture and alien to the facts and issues of my country. Let my book defend me against this cheap and biased assumption. I have served my best apprenticeship in Europe and I believe the only salvation for Indo-America lies in European and Western science and thought. Sarmiento, who is still one of the creators of argentinidad [Argentine-ness], at one one time turned his eyes toward Europe. He found no better way to be an Argentine.

Once again I repeat that I am not an impartial, objective critic. My judgments are nourished by my ideals, my sentiments, my passions. I have an avowed and resolute ambition: to assist in the creation of Peruvian socialism. I am far removed from the academic techniques of the university.

This is all that I feel honestly bound to tell the reader before he begins my book.

Lima, 1928


  1. love to see you blog about Hugo blanco’s continuing struggle for socialism and ecology in Peru!

    Comment by Derek Wall — September 3, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

  2. Hi Louis,

    I’m posting this here because I don’t know how else to contact you; sorry for this. I’m wondering if you’ve read Walter Benn Michael’s recent article on race and class in the LRB? Here it is: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n16/mich02_.html. I’d love to read your take on it, and I’m sure that other loyal readers would as well! Cheers,


    Comment by Ed — September 3, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  3. I’m really interested in the mailing list you mention at the beginning of the post. Is the list up-and-running? If so, how do we subscribe?

    Comment by James Leveque — September 3, 2009 @ 11:28 pm

  4. The class is over but you can read the archives here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marxism_class/

    I should add that I will be trying something like this in the future but Youtube based. I will announce it here.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 3, 2009 @ 11:38 pm

  5. Pietro Lombardo came not by usura
    Duccio came not by usura
    nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura
    nor was “La Callunia” painted.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — September 4, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  6. Another great work of agitprop you could do would be to start something like they have in the UK, where they note the “top 100 lefty blogs”. See http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.com/2009/09/top-100-left-blogs.html

    I guess your blogroll might be a starting point.

    Comment by Cecilieaux — September 4, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  7. […] Mariategui […]

    Pingback by From the archive of struggle no.32 « Poumista — September 28, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

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