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José Carlos Mariátegui: An Anthology reviewed on Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

José Carlos Mariátegui

José Carlos Mariátegui

José Carlos Mariátegui: An Anthology

Edited and translated by Harry E. Vanden and Marc Becker Monthly Review Press, New York, 2011. 480pp., $29.95 / £18.95 pb

ISBN 9781583672457

Reviewed by John Green


José Carlos Mariátegui is not exactly a household name among Marxists outside Latin America, let alone among the wider left. In Latin America, however, his writings have played an influential role in the development of socialist politics and have impacted on recent progressive governments that have been elected in the wake of the collapse of the dictatorships and the neo-liberal economies associated with them. For this reason alone, this recent publication of an anthology of his writings is long overdue and much to be welcomed.

I realise that comparisons can be invidious, but Mariátegui’s life and writing have uncanny similarities to Gramsci’s. Born in Peru in 1894, he suffered from a crippling leg injury and continued ill-health throughout his short life. He was largely self-educated, becoming a journalist, political philosopher and activist. He died at the tragically young age of only 35, but his legacy has been enormous.

He is considered one of the most influential Latin American socialists of the 20th century. His most famous work, Siete Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana (Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928)), is still widely read in South America. While his ideas may not be as philosophically profound as those of Gramsci, they have been and are the most significant contribution today in attempting to apply Marxist ideas in the context of Latin American reality, and as a counter balance to those who have attempted, and continue to attempt, to impose Eurocentric interpretations.

Mariátegui championed the indigenous peoples, their experiences and social organisations; he comprehended the revolutionary potential of the peasantry and also asserted a mature Marxist feminism. Che Guevara, among other leading Latin American Marxists, was very influenced by his writing. His ideas have remained central to the ideological struggles throughout Latin America….

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