José Carlos Mariátegui

José Carlos Mariátegui
José Carlos Mariátegui

José Carlos Mariátegui was the founder of the Socialist Party of Peru, which was later transformed into the Communist Party of Peru. He was also one of the more influential social theorists in Latin America.

José Carlos Mariátegui was born on June 14, 1894, at Moquegua, a dry, dusty town on the outskirts of the Atacama Desert, close to Peru's southern border with Chile. It was 11 years after Peru's disastrous war with its southern neighbor.

His father was Francisco Javier Mariátegui Requejo, a grandson of Francisco Javier Mariátegui (1793–1884), one of the original signatories of Peru's declaration of independence in 1821. When José Carlos Mariátegui was a young boy, his father abandoned the family and left his mother, María Amalia La Chira Ballejos, to look after the three children.

They moved to Lima and then to the town of Huacho, north of Lima, close to where San Martín had proclaimed Peru's independence. When he was eight José Mariátegui suffered a bad injury to his left leg and spent four years in a hospital in Lima. When he was 14 he started working for the newspaper La Prensa, initially running errands, then becoming a linotypist, and ending up as a journalist.

He also found work with the magazine Mundo Limeno. In 1916 Mariátegui decided to leave La Prensa to join a new slightly left-wing daily newspaper called El Tiempo. By this time he had been heavily influenced by the Spanish socialist Luis Araquistán.

After two years Mariátegui had sufficient confidence to leave El Tiempo and try to establish his own magazine but had trouble getting anybody to agree to print it. He then decided to establish his own paper, La Razón, which was the first avowedly socialist paper in Peru.

In May 1919 La Razón supported a strike held to try to get legislation restricting work to an eight-hour day. It also wanted price controls for basic goods. This rapidly began to annoy the president, Augusto B. Leguía y Salcedo, who decided to defuse the matter by forcing Mariátegui to take a government scholarship to study in Europe. As a result, Mariátegui left to go to Europe in 1920. After a brief time in France, Germany, and Austria, he moved to Italy and there married Ana Chaippe, returning to Peru in 1923.

Very soon Mariátegui was becoming well known as a Marxist and also a friend of Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, who led the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance. Together they worked on Claridad, a Marxist magazine, and when Haya de la Torre was deported Mariátegui remained as editor, dedicating its fifth issue, in March 1924, to Lenin.

Personal tragedy was to strike soon afterward when he had to have his left leg amputated. However, he struggled on and in the following year, 1925, wrote La escena contemporánea (The contemporary scene), a collection of essays on the problems facing the world at the time.

In the next year he was running the magazine Amauta, which projected his ideas of socialism and Latin American culture throughout South and Central America. He was arrested in 1927 and placed under house arrest by Leguía.

Initially, Mariátegui planned to move to Buenos Aires or Montevideo but in the end he decided to stay in Lima, where he established the Socialist Party of Peru in October 1928, with himself as general secretary.

This political party later became the Communist Party of Peru. As he was formalizing his ideas, also in 1928, Mariátegui wrote Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, which covered the social history of Peru from a Marxist standpoint. In 1928 and 1929 Mariátegui founded and edited the journal Labor, about the labor movement in Peru.

Mariátegui helped in the founding of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers in 1929, and this body was represented at the subsequent Constituent Congress of the Latin American Trade Union Conference, which was held at Montevideo. Mariátegui died on April 16, 1930, from complications that resulted from his injury to his leg. He was 35 years old.