The wisdom of José Carlos Mariátegui

HE DIED AGED just 35, disabled for his last six years by the amputation of a leg. But in his short life José Carlos Mariátegui managed to become Latin America’s most influential Marxist thinker, at least until Che Guevara came along. Barely known today outside Peru, he also played a significant role in Latin American culture in the late 1920s, a period when artists and writers were trying to establish national identities based on the recognition of mestizaje (racial mixing) and of workers and peasants. An exhibition, currently at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid and then bound for Lima, Mexico City and Austin, Texas, introduces Mariátegui to a broader audience while establishing him as a cosmopolitan figure at the hinge of revolutionary politics and artistic vanguards. It offers lessons for the region today.

The child of a mestiza mother and an absent aristocratic father, Mariátegui was an autodidact who became a journalist and writer. Exiled by Peru’s authoritarian regime, he lived in Europe from 1919 to 1923, mainly in Italy and Berlin. He attended the first congress of the Italian Communist Party and was influenced by its founder, Antonio Gramsci, whose thought was a bridge between liberalism and Marxism and who stressed the importance of culture. Mariátegui was introduced to a...

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