Andrés Estefane and Luis Thielemann
Marxist thought in Latin America was impacted by various transatlantic intellectual, and social influences. The changes in Latin American Marxism can be placed in a five-stage chronological framework. The first stage, from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, encompasses the arrival of European immigrants, who introduced the first references to Marxist socialism, and the local development of that repertoire among workers, journalists, and intellectuals in the urban centers of Latin America. The initial influence of the Second International and Karl Marx’s texts started to change during the second decade of the 20th century, following the debates sparked by the Russian Revolution and the emergence of communism. This context framed the beginning of the second stage, characterized by the emergence of a group of thinkers who questioned the Eurocentric tone and the mechanical assimilation of European Marxism. Taking as a point of departure the particularity of Latin American social formations, and inspired by a strong anti-imperialist discourse, these intellectuals and revolutionary leaders aimed at developing an original reading of Marxist thinking, more pertinent to the rural and indigenous character of the continental societies and the structural legacies of the colonial past. A third stage began in the 1930s, after the fall of the Spanish Republic, the ascent of fascism and Nazism in Europe, and the ideological purges that followed the Stalinization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The increasing influence of the Comintern (the Communist International) deactivated the creative impetus of the early 20th century, though it did not prevent the emergence of intellectuals and local organizations—led by Trotskyism and Left Opposition groups—who strongly criticized Stalinism and the bureaucratization of Soviet Communism. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 marked the beginning of a fourth stage in the history of Latin American Marxism. That event inverted the traditional direction of the transatlantic influence, since Latin America became a landmark case for Western Marxism. In the midst of a complex and productive intercontinental dialogue with Europe, Latin American Marxism developed crucial debates on such topics as the colonial legacy of the continental capitalist development, the relationship between racial hierarchies and class struggle, and over the political “routes” to building socialist orders. These dialogues and debates came to an abrupt end after the wave of coup d’états that shook the continent between the 1960s and the 1980s. The political defeats of the attempts to construct socialist systems provoked a Marxist diaspora that brought many European intellectuals back to their own continent and sent many militants and thinkers into exile in Latin America and elsewhere. Interestingly, the evaluation of the defeat was the basis for an ample renovation of the Marxist thought, which marked the beginning of the fifth and current stage, characterized by the emergence of the Latin America’s progressive governments of the 21st century and the gradual withdrawal from the old bases of historical materialism. Although this periodization recognizes the diverse transatlantic contexts that influenced Latin American Marxism, it also seeks to highlight that the production of Marxist thinking on the continent has mainly been connected with the experience of active militants and intellectuals proscribed or marginalized in academia. By extension, the development of Latin American Marxism appears to be intimately linked to the political struggle of the continental Left, which does not negate that Latin American thinkers have also produced theoretical works on Marx.