Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Aug 22 07:10:08 MDT 1999

George wrote:

Hi Louis,
What does "indigenismo" mean?

One of the more controversial aspects of Mariátegui's thought is his description
of Inca society as socialistic. More recent scholarship, such as Thomas
Patterson's, makes a convincing case that the Incan empire was a classic "tributary"
society. In the Byzantine world of Maoist polemics, detractors of the Peruvian "Shining
Path" try to make Mariátegui appear like a fool. How could a movement regard an
"Inca worshipper" as a major Marxist thinker? Clearly the Incas were repressive.
Mariátegui, to the contrary, understood the true nature of the Incas. He wrote
in a lengthy footnote to the third essay in his collection that calls for
understanding the Inca state in context:
"It is not possible to speak abstractly of tyranny. Tyranny is a concrete fact.
It is real to the extent that it represses the will of the people and oppresses
and stifles their life force. Often in ancient times an absolutist and
theocratic regime has embodied and represented that will and force. This appears
to have been the case in the Inca empire. I do not believe in the supernatural
powers of the Incas. But their political ability is as self- evident as is their
construction of an empire with human materials and moral elements amassed over
the centuries. The Incas unified and created the empire, but they did not create
its nucleus. The legal state organized by the Incas undoubtedly reproduced the
natural pre-existing state. The Inca did not disrupt anything. Their work should
be praised, not scorned and disparaged, as the expression of thousands of years
and myriad elements."
The nucleus of the Inca state was the ayllu. This was the egalitarian and
collectivist core that Mariátegui supported, in distinction to the sometimes
arbitrary and cruel practices of the Inca ruling-class. His embrace of this
culture was not romantic or reactionary. It was an attempt to ground the
Peruvian revolutionary movement in the traditions of resistance against Spanish
colonial rule. It was a celebration of Tupuc Amaru's revolt. It was also a
rejection of the institutions that capitalist Spain imposed on the indigenous
We must understand Mariátegui's Indian nationalism in the context of the
awakening that was taking place throughout Latin and Central America, as
intellectuals and revolutionaries sought to create an authentic national
culture. It inspired the Mexican novelists and mural painters to look to Aztec
culture, another ancient civilization like the Inca's. Mariategui's embrace of
the Inca past helps to fortify the revolutionary movement of the present era, as
he states in "Nationalism and Vanguardism":
"In opposition to this spirit, the vanguard proposes the reconstruction of Peru
on an Indian foundation. The new generation is recovering our past, our true
history. Our antiquarians content themselves with the fragile, courtly memories
of the viceroyalty. Vanguardism, on the other hand, seeks truly Peruvian and
more remotely ancient materials for its work.
"And its indigenismo is neither literary speculation nor a romantic pastime. Nor
is it an indigenismo that, like many others, reduces itself to an innocuous
apologia for the Incan empire and its splendors. In place of a Platonic love for
the Incan past, the revolutionary indigenistas show an active and concrete
solidarity with today’s Indian.
"This indigenismo does not indulge in fantasies of utopian restorations. 1t
perceives the past as a foundation, not a program. Its conception of history
events is realistic and modern. It neither ignores nor slights any of the
historical facts that have modified the world’s reality, as well as Peru’s, in
these four centuries."
Louis Proyect (

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