Seen in this light, the magazine Amauta and his significant Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality stand out as far-reaching projects. Gonzalez performs a careful reconstruction of the fundamental aspects marked out both in the political approach of the magazine (published between 1926 and 1930), and in the book, which appeared in 1928. Gonzalez highlights the colonization process, the remembrance of “Inca socialism” and the different historical temporalities that marked a country on the periphery of the world capitalist system.
In the Red Corner also dedicates a chapter to Mariátegui’s incursions into literature as an integral part of his Marxism and an anticipation of alternative potentials. For Mariátegui, literary, and artistic production had important resources to offer in the construction of an authentic imaginary of “nation” that would start from Peru’s irreducible plurinationality, its identities and its struggles, its narratives and hidden memories. In this direction, Gonzalez builds a relationship between Mariátegui’s imagination—an indispensable element of creation—and the reconstruction of the “tradition of the oppressed,” as Walter Benjamin put it in his “Theses on the Concept of History.” For Gonzalez, furthermore, “A realism of the future, for Mariátegui, must embrace not simply what is visible to the observing eye, but also what is buried and sensitive to the ‘pulse of the times.’”12 In fact, there is a relationship between Mariátegui’s approach and the Latin American literature of writers like José María Arguedas and Gabriel García Márquez.
Conjuring with Mariátegui, or in Search of a Lost Heritage
Gonzalez devotes the last two chapters to characterizing both the type of party founded by Mariátegui and his Marxism. These are delicate topics, since it is precisely in the intense debates on the question of strategy that Mariátegui’s ideological operations and political work take place. Since there is no systematic elaboration of the concept of the party in Mariátegui, it is difficult to build a definitive answer to such politically controversial issues.
In any event, the Peruvian intellectual’s vision was never frozen and was enriched as his political experience and his interactions with various social agents and militants in Peru expanded. Gonzalez emphasizes the text, “The First of May and the United Front,” designed to gradually build up an incipient class movement in a common front of urban workers and peasant and indigenous organizations. The first task of the movement was to discover its “own identity and its own uniqueness.” One of the pillars of Mariátegui’s political formation was the united front policy, developed by Lenin and Trotsky at the Third Congress of the Communist International in the context of the first defeats of the European revolutions. The objective was to create a mechanism for the accumulation of social and political forces by entering into the mass organizations and build a hegemonic force of the proletariat.
The traces of Mariátegui’s vision of the party form, according to Gonzalez, include the rejection of the “Creole policy” based on its warlord leaders, dominant in Peruvian politics since the middle of the nineteenth century. Instead, he emphasized defense of the socialist “vanguard” not as a conspiratorial and enlightened minority, but as a “conscious” and “combative” element of the exploited classes. In this way, the “vanguard” would not come to the class from the outside:
[Mariátegui] was concerned to build what would be a spur to joint struggle between each sector of the exploited class, and a forum of debate, respectful of a diversity that reflected the working-class movement itself, and capable of drawing together the experiences, visions (or passions as he was inclined to call them) and demands of the peasantry and the indigenous communities as well as workers.13
In the prism of the party-united front dialectic, Gonzalez sees Mariátegui as an unfaithful “Marxist-Leninist,” so to speak, permeated by contradictions, distancing him from the rigid, centralist, top-down, orthodox, and authoritarian organizational practice of Stalinism. It is interesting to recall a note by Antonio Melis, regarding the issue of Mariátegui’s Marxist heritage: The common reference to an intellectual tradition, he says, “does not hide the presence of distinct and opposing interpretations.”14 In the present case, Mariátegui’s intellectual and political autonomy is most evident in his “critical infidelities” in his use of authors (such as Lenin, Georges Sorel, Piero Gobetti, and Benedetto Croce), interpreted in the freest possible way. In any case, Mike Gonzalez is not the first and will not be the last to seek to establish a distance between Mariátegui and Stalinism in favor of an approximation to Lenin and Trotsky.
Finally, the construction of Mariátegui is praised by Gonzalez because of his development of a Marxist method that seeks a rich “understanding of the historical and cultural circumstances of Latin America.”15 What Mariátegui did was to “draw on every source of knowledge, in theory and in practice, in order to make sense of his own world. In doing so he enriched Marxism in a global sense.”16
Smoke Clouds: Reinterpretations of Mariátegui and Critical Horizons
I would like to add some final notes on important gaps in In the Red Corner, and to outline some methodological and epistemological challenges for future Mariátegui investigations that remain open, in expectation of a rigorously creative and original reinvigoration of a timeless body of work. In no way are these observations intended to overshadow the merits of Gonzalez’s research.
In my opinion, In the Red Corner presents some of the difficulties in elaborating questions that have not yet been resolved or simply not yet formulated in the field of biographies of Mariátegui. To solve these, it would be essential for the author to carry out a survey and presentation on the “state of the art” of the main works in the academic literature. To what extent does this study differ from such authors as Genaro Carnero Checa, Diego Mesenger Illán, Oscar Terán, Osvaldo Fernandes Díaz, and Miguel Mazzeo, to cite examples from different generations?17 Relatedly, there is also the absence of a sustained bibliographical discussion on Mariátegui in English by the author (he only makes occasional citations of some works), and the differences between this political biography of Mariátegui from previous studies.