Essay On A Heroic Deed

Mimi was calling home from a public telephone across a goldsmiths shop when she noticed two suspicious-looking men enter the shop. One of them was holding a big bag. He seemed to be carrying something heavy and bulky. Mimi watched them as they walked into the shop with a deadly calm. There were three customers in the shop and one of them had a child with her.

Mimi immediately cancelled her call back home and dialled the police emergency line instead. In the meantime, she turned her back to the shop and pretended that she knew nothing of what was about to happen. However, the reflection on the glass pane of the phone booth allowed her to keep a hawk's eye on the movements of the two men.

It was not a moment too soon when she made the call. As soon as she walked away from the phone booth, she heard the terrified screams of the customers in the goldsmiths shop and the smashing of glass. Without glancing back, she knew that the robbery was in progress. She hurried to the nearest corner to wait for the police to arrive.

She was surprised when the police officers arrived at the scene of the crime from the back lane. It was a clever tactic that took the robbers by surprise in the midst of their robbery. Mimi left before the police could find out that it was she who had made that crucial call and alerted them.

The next day, the daily newspapers reported the capturing of the two most wanted armed robbers. They also reported of a mysterious girl who heroically called the police. Mimi was proud of what she had done, but she was not about to brag about her good deed. She was just happy and relieved to know that nobody was injured in the process of yesterday's events.

Due to his family's poverty, Mariátegui left school in the eighth grade, to find a job to help support them. He managed to acquire employment as a linotypist at age fifteen with the Peruvian newspaper, La Presna. He showed talent in journalism that quickly led him to becoming a writer and an editor. At the age of sixteen, he was already showing an interest in socialism. Eventually, Mariátegui founded two  short-lived pro-labor newspapers. In 1919, Mariátegui not only supported the demands of workers and students, but grew critical of the Peruvian President Leguia, who dissolved the congress and became dictator. The government closed down the critical papers, and exiled Mariategui to Europe as an “information agent.”

Mariátegui stayed in Europe from 1919-23, the experience helped him to mature as a Marxist. He lived primarily in France and Italy, encountering a number of socialists and intellectuals such as Antonio Gramsci, Benedetto Croce, Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse. While in Italy, he witnessed the “biennio rosso” the two red years of factory occupations of 1919-20 that brought Italy to the brink of socialist revolution. Mariátegui was present at the foundation of the Italian Communist Party in 1921 at the famous Livorono congress. He also met an Italian woman, whom he married and bore him four sons. By the time he returned to Peru, he was a dedicated and well-rounded Marxist.

While in Peru, Mariátegui conducted an amazing array of political work. He lectured to workers at the Universidad Popular González Prada. He also worked with workers, socialists and trade unionists to form the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers and the Peruvian Socialist Party, which would become the Communist Party after his death. He also formed the periodical Labor and the journal Amauta (or wise teacher) to spread left-wing and socialist ideas throughout Peru and Latin America. He also wrote three books during his lifetime. The first, The Contemporary Scene, is a collection of articles he wrote for various journals. The second and his most famous work, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, an original and creative application of Marxist analysis to Peru, highlighting the importance of the indigenous for revolution, along with penetrating insights on history, culture, and education. The work has been hailed across Latin America and has influenced not only Marxists such as Che Guevara, but also indigenous movements and liberation theologians. And his last published work, which is the most relevant for our purposes was The Defense of Marxism (published posthumously), a critique of revisionism and a defense of revolutionary Marxism from a Leninist perspective. Mariátegui's writing is not objective, but fiercely partisan: “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.” [31] Unfortunately, due to declining health, Mariátegui passed away on April 16, 1930, at the age of thirty-six.

It is in The Defense of Marxism that Mariátegui most clearly sets forth his non-dogmatic and anti-deterministic approach to Marxism, and discusses the importance of myths, ethics and symbols (drawing heavily on Sorel). Unlike Sorel, Mariátegui stresses the importance of Marxist theory, stating that “Now more than ever, the proletariat needs to know what is going on in the world.” [32] And for him, the only theory that can provide guidance for the proletariat is Marxism: “Socialism, beginning with Marx, appeared as the conception of a new class, as a theory and movement that had nothing in common with the romanticism of those who repudiated the work of capitalism as an abomination.” [33] For Mariátegui, a Marxist view provided not only clarity on the goal, but it served as a guide for revolutionary political action to get there.

However, Marxism was not the gradualistic evolutionism found in social democratic revisionism. Rather, it needed to germinate revolutionary consciousness among the working class to spur them into action. "Marxism, where it has shown itself to be revolutionary - that is to say where it has been Marxism — has never obeyed a passive and rigid determinism." [34] Mariátegui argued that capitalism would not topple on its own, but it would take conscious effort by the exploited. Otherwise, there was no way out. More than that, Marx's critique remained valid so long as capitalism existed — it was in the continuing struggle to transform the world, whether in the mass actions of the proletariat or the construction of socialism that Marxist theory was continually renewed. Without that regenerative interaction of theory with practice, Marxism was doomed to whither and die. “Socialism or, rather, the struggle to transform the social order from capitalist to collectivist, keeps this critique alive, continues it, confirms it, corrects it. Any attempt to categorize it as a simple scientific theory is in vain since it works in history as the gospel and method of a mass movement.” [35]

Yet there are “Marxist” theories that claim to be pure and revolutionary, believing their interpretation of the “sacred texts” provides them with the one true road map to the future. When they see people on the barricades or a revolution igniting that breaks with their orthodox conceptions of how events are supposed to unfold, then to them such a revolution is like corrupted by the devil. They sprinkle the “holy water” of their chosen Marxist quotes to exorcise this demonic spirit of the unexpected revolution. It can't be allowed to spoil the “real revolution,” that they passionately await. Once the right chapter and verse have been uttered, then the appropriate penance is done. The revolution can be dismissed and the purists can go back to waiting. Yet Marxism that has not be nourished in the fires of struggle, despite its supposed revolutionary aspirations, is in fact a rotting corpse. As Mariategui saw it, the task of revolutionaries was to apply Marxism to the situation at hand in order to make a concrete investigation of Peru (and the wider world). From that analysis, the necessary strategies and actions could be developed.

Following Sorel, Mariátegui argued that it was imperative for the proletariat to make a revolution because bourgeois society was overcome by decadence. This could be seen in its art, literature, and intellectuals. Once the bourgeoisie was a young, heroic and rising class filled with vision and destiny, that had all changed. The modern bourgeoisie was a pale shadow compared to their Jacobin ancestors who had overthrown kings and founded Republics. Bourgeois society, with its productive powers, science and reason, now covered the world and dissolved the bonds of feudalism and religious faith. After the cataclysm of the first World War and Russian Revolution, Mariátegui drew the conclusion that “bourgeois civilization suffers from a lack of myth, of faith, of hope.” [36] Yet in place of these overthrown altars, there was nothing to replace it with. Mariátegui believed that science and reason were inadequate substitutes for the old myths of religion: “Neither Reason nor Science can meet the need of the infinite that exists in man. Reason itself has been challenged, demonstrating to humanity that it is not enough.” [37]

Reason and science could only be taken so far. They could not fill the gap in the human psyche in the same way myth could. “Only Myth possesses the precious virtue of satisfying its deepest self.” [38] Bourgeois civilization ripped away the holy and the sacred, turning humanity into atomized individuals governed by the faceless market with its lust for unceasing profit. Bourgeois culture is overwhelmingly permeated by chauvinism, mediocrity, racism, sexism, and selfishness. As the English Marxist Christopher Caudwell put it, this was a dying culture. The end result of this is humanity was reduced to talking tools on an assembly line or as soldiers to be slaughtered en masse in trench warfare in order to determine which vampires would rule colonial slaves. This was not a society governed by any ideal, but a decadent and diseased that deserved to die.

So what should replace the bourgeois world lacking in myths? For Mariátegui, man “is a metaphysical animal. He does not live productively without a metaphysical conception of life. Myth moves man in history. Without myth, the history of humanity has no sense of history.” [39] It could only be a new myth that could replace the fallen idols of the bourgeoisie. That new myth was that of communist revolution. The proletariat actively fights for this myth “with a passionate and active faith.” [40] In contrast to capitalism, which had nothing to offer, Mariátegui claimed that “the proletariat affirms.” [41]

In order for the proletariat to achieve heroic deeds, a transformation is needed in their consciousness. The proletariat can not be satisfied with a bigger piece of the pie or to accept the way the world is. Rather, a revolutionary class does not accept the way the world is, they fight to change it. To that end, workers needed to overcome “the anarchoid, individualistic, egoistic spirit, which besides being profoundly antisocial, does not constitute anything but the exacerbation and degeneration of the old bourgeois liberalism; the second thing that must be overcome is the spirit of corporatism, of a trade, of job category.” [42] For class consciousness to truly develop and mature, it was imperative for workers to look beyond their immediate horizons and particular trades to see the common position they share with their fellow workers across the world. Even more than that, communist consciousness had to embrace Lenin's ideal of the tribune of the people, who is “able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects.” [43] This entails solidarity by revolutionaries in France, Britain or the United States, with national liberation movements in the colonies, even if they are seen as “traitors” by their countrymen. Such treason is loyalty to the revolution and humanity. For the tribune of the people, the struggle for women's rights, anti-racism, or against homophobia are not “distractions” or “divisive,” but had to be taken up as part of the common struggle for liberation.

Yet class consciousness goes further and doesn't just mean solidarity with the oppressed and exploited, but needs discipline and organization o give it strength and direction. “I want to say to you that it is necessary to give the vanguard proletariat, along with a realist sense of history, a heroic will for creation and implementation. The desire for betterment, the appetite for well-being, are not enough.” [44] When the proletariat is fired by the vision of a new society, they will know that it won't come down from the skies due to the inexorable development of “economic laws,” but through organization and active struggle. This struggle entails a vanguard infused with the “myth” of a new egalitarian society freed of exploitation and oppression. It is that ideal, not the texts of Marxist theory or science, that allows revolutionaries to endure prison, man the barricades, sing songs, and march together against impossible odds. In pursuit of that myth, the word “comrade” becomes more than a word, solidarity becomes concrete, and the lyrics the “Internationale” are ideals to be achieved. "The strength of revolutionaries is not in their science; it is in their faith, in their passion, in their will. It is a religious, mystical, spiritual force. It is the force of myth." [45]

Ultimately, the proletariat is not struggling for a myth, but to create a new and superior civilization. As Mariátegui said, “we do not wish that Socialism in America be a tracing and a copy. It must be a heroic creation.” [46] This heroism means the proletariat had to become aware of their historic mission, shake off their subservience to the ruling class, take the destiny of humanity firmly into their hands and to construct socialism. “In the class struggle, where all the sublime and heroic elements of its ascent reside, the proletariat must elevate itself to a “producers’ morality,” quite distant and distinct from the “slave morality” that its gratuitous professors of morals, horrified by its materialism, officiously attempt to provide. A new civilization cannot arise from a sad and humiliated world of miserable helots with no greater merits or faculties than their servility and misery.” [47]

Yet reformists argue that such a vision is utopian since the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state will inevitably bring disruption to production, massive upheavals, and that socialism will begin at a lower productive level than bourgeois society. Arguably, Mariátegui would accept this since “revolutionaries from all parts of the world must choose between being the victims of violence or using it.” [48] It is only natural that a revolution will disrupt things. What else is to be expected? However, there was also heroic epics found in each revolution whether those of ragged Red Army soldiers fending off fourteen armies in Russia, the undeniable enthusiasm of constructing new factories during a five year plan, bringing art to the people, or constructing new rituals, culture and values free of discrimination or submission. All of these deeds may take place in ruins, but a new socialist world will rise in its place, to serve the interests of redeemed humanity. Mariategui would no doubt have nodded in agreement with the Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti, who expressed his revolutionary optimism as follows: “We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute.” [49]

For Mariátegui, as opposed to Sorel, myths did not substitute Marxist theory and analysis, but were a necessary supplement to it. While the revolutionary proletariat needed to know the world in order to change it, this was not enough. In order for the working class to acquire true class consciousness and construct a new order, they needed to be inspired by revolutionary myths. Myths would raise the proletariat to a higher conception of life and give it the required faith to face the impossible odds and harsh ordeals that awaited them. Yet Mariátegui argued that the power of revolutionary myths was not just faith in a distant ideal, but in enabling the masses to turn the “myth” of communism into actuality.

IV. Myths of the Movement[50]

Despite the scientific and secular claims of Marxism, socialism, and communism, our movements are not immune from the power of myths, symbols, and rituals. Myths and “false consciousness” have a material basis of existence that needs to be recognized. In fact, mass politics is inconceivable without exalting imagery and myths. Socialist politics can not be conducted solely by rationally combating “false consciousness” in people's heads by explaining the labor theory of value or the relation between base and superstructure (although theory is definitely needed) or by selling newspapers. The politics of socialism and communism operates at multiple levels, one being to rationally challenge incorrect ideas, while others involve the symbolic and the mythical.

Even in the most secular and rationalistic communist movements, where it is assumed that priests tricked and manipulated people, elements of the mythical and the symbolic played a great role. Take the example of Blanquist communists in France during the 19th century who were led the insurrectionist Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Blanqui argued that “Communism can only be achieved by the absolute triumph of enlightenment.” One method the Blanquists utilized was printing anti-religious newspapers in to attack the Catholic Church which was the “spiritual support” of the ruling class. Doing so they believed would awaken the people. What the Blanquists ultimately believed was needed for the revolution to triumph was an organized conspiracy led by an enlightened elite, not reliance upon the mass of workers to revolt which they believed was impossible because they were under the influence of priests and the ruling class. Once the Blanquist coup succeeded in overthrowing the old order, they would institute an “enlightened dictatorship” that would undertake the pedagogical task of educating the people in secular and republican values.

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