Bolivarianism and Marxism – Commitment to the Impossible in Defense of Utopia
Translated by W.T. Whitney Jr.
Translator’s introduction: Jesús Santrich, a 30-year veteran, and leader, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was killed by irregular Colombian troops on May 17, 2021 in Venezuela. He and others had returned to armed insurgency with a renewed version of the FARC. Santrich’s death epitomizes the failure of the peace agreement signed in November 2016 between the FARC and Colombia’s government. It also marks the loss of a theoretician of socialist revolution, unappreciated at least in the English-speaking world. In the present essay Santrich explores tension playing out between the urgency of utopian longings, of hope, and the imperatives of actual conditions and of feasibilities.
Dedication: In defense of utopia, as homage to Comandante Manuel Marulanda Vélez, the Insurgent Hero of Bolivar’s Colombia, on the anniversary of his journey to eternity. The impossible is what we have to do, because others take care of the possible every day! (Bolivar)
Utopia on the level of praxis
To be overcome definitively, the worldwide phenomenon of capitalism, juxtaposed to the horizon of the Communist utopia, will have to collide with a version of socialist revolution that has a worldwide reach. Mostly certainly, it will be breaking the imperialists’ chain at its weakest link, as Lenin would say.
In any case, Marxism must be nourished on a basis of reality and of our own history and circumstances, as we ceaselessly search out every corner of time and space to visualize the march of society, and influence and transform it without waiting for the right conditions to descend from the heavens.
Utopia is essential for Marxists. So too is the selective search for significant structures and the rescue of social science, revolutionary practice, and vigorous overview of constant renewal and of movement toward an unfathomable destiny. The search for utopia as method and guide for action requires investigation of the phenomenon, the logic of its movement, and our understanding that no category, not even a law of social development, is self-evident. No kind of truth is fixed in the head of any person however brilliant he or she may be. If we look at things dialectically, it’s there in the depths, on the surfaces, or on externalizations of phenomena as a whole – in other words, we examine human relations in all of society as it evolves with a rhythm of contradictions.
Marxists must keep utopia foremost in their consciousness. It drives mass actions. They must believe that a revolutionary movement, wherever its origins, doesn’t qualify as such if it lacks that component manifesting as irrepressible effort towards change advertised as “impossible.” But utopia must continue taking flight from a basis in realty. Humans have the duty to regard the world we want as another world that’s possible. Paraphrasing Bolívar, we are looking for the “impossible,” while leaving the possible every day in the hands of everyone else.
The object is to always be making the “impossible” possible, without requiring history to stop, without ever insisting on a perfect, insurmountable ending. The fact is that man endlessly has to be looking for new and better horizons in the here and now. His commitment to the “impossible” represents, precisely, one of Bolivar’s fundamental values as a revolutionary protagonist prior to Marx. Through Bolivarism, this ideology now gets a hearing. The essence of the Bolivarian Project showed in its habit of persistence in total war, against the Spanish oppressors and against all oppressors. In his role as the intellectual, the theorist and day-to-day leader of emancipation, Bolivar was a combatant not only for political autonomy, as were many of his contemporaries, but also as a champion of continental revolution and a parent of ideologies put forth but never realized, which are needed now more than ever.
Many assume that they are on their way to certain fulfilment. This is utopia, the achievement of the Great Homeland, of the hemispheric republic, of assuring the equilibrium of the universe, etc. The father of our Colombian nationality, Bolivar the revolutionary, the insurgent, the visionary, was looking toward the total destruction of colonialism., He noted what was beyond the real possibilities of his time, the “impossible” possibilities of building a global society under conditions of equality, justice, and true democracy. From this perspective, he also warned us of the danger of Yankee imperialism.
To declare oneself Bolivarian and, as such, declare oneself a revolutionary on the Marxist path implies going through life moved by the hope of transforming society and finding justice. This is a constant, one that unfailingly marks utopia as a characteristic of consciousness, a natural fruit of rational conviction. In the hopeful search for the realization of the “impossible,” the process calls upon a mixture of illusions, realism, magic, and love for people, as the people.
This gives meaning to life. Utopia ultimately epitomizes all of these together: love, dreams, admiration, rootedness in history, a vision of the future, and full experience of all stages of time and space as necessity, duty, and humanizing desire. The essential interest of the utopian is preservation of man and nature in absolute equilibrium, thus displaying the potentials of historical memory, faith, dignity, and our identity, all as vital for existence.
Confronting oppression, the revolutionary on the march, on the path of utopia, throws off resignation. He or she is unconditionally, permanently, and creatively committed to the poor people of the world.
Let’s say then that the Marxist-Bolivarian idea of a revolutionary is that of someone whose consciousness fixes on an ideology portraying a reality not yet solidified and perhaps uncertain. The goal is set of becoming absolutely convinced that this reality will be fulfilled, “impossible” though it may seem. As with the Liberator’s ostensibly reckless expression, that’s what we are supposed to do, “because everyone else, every day, takes care of what’s possible.”
For example, that was Bolivar’s conviction as he undertook the mission, improbable for almost anyone else, of climbing over the grey hairs (“canas”) of the Andes to liberate New Granada. It was Marx’s conviction too as he wrote in support of the Paris Commune [of 1871], expressing certainty that the duty of all revolutionaries is that of “storming the heavens.” They do so, urged on by their demanding sense of ethics. They are motivated to free themselves from oppression, thus potentiating all values of human experience built into history.
The author of the Communist Manifesto, appealing to selfless purpose, was calling for struggle that would possibly involve risks. Projects were taken on that maybe looked absurd– what well-reasoned nonsense! – or unfeasible. He was calling for action needing to pass a test of fire in the face of historical commitment that shapes the circumstances, even at the risk of death. He was clarifying a concept of life; its ethics were tied to the dialectic of a reality where life moves, always to the future.
That’s how the course of human development proceeds quite generously with unbreakable determination to confront every obstacle imposed by exploitation of man by man. It’s a matter of sought-after possibility interacting with an ideal that comes close to a basis in reality, and of that combination ultimately breaking up into what, by any revolutionary’s yardstick, is a “realistic utopia.” But as occurred in France in May 1968, realism also is magical, especially when events move beyond what looks to be clearly feasible, and favorable to human potential: “We are realists, we do the impossible” was the great slogan. It expressed the determination of fired-up students who wanted change. They were rising up against an established order in France that was unjust.
His was the ‘crazy little army.” Augusto Cesar Sandino was called the “general of free men.” His guerrillas bravely took on Yankee marines invading his country. They fought because their search for truth on the complicated road of anti-imperialist struggle and emancipation not only demanded attention to meticulously planned directions, but called for daring and heroism too. The man’s audacity and valor, reflecting spirituality guided by faith, went far beyond factual awareness of the physical circumstances.
Here, then, are the “reasons” for utopia, that of “doing of the impossible because all the others every day take care of the possible” or that of “being realistic by doing the impossible,” or of “storming the heavens.” This kind of thinking has both the Marxists and the Bolivarians rising up, in our world, to the level of magical realism. And why not? Magical realism goes beyond mere rationalism. There are symbols, imagination, and creativity based on rich traditions rooted in indigenous experience in the Americas. It’s based too on the syncretism of our mixed and oppressed mestizo peoples. Playing out, this proposition looks toward installing social justice, that is to say, accomplishes what’s ideal for the benefit of humankind.
Among the most important aspects of the higher and more humanizing state of being as proposed by Bolivar and Marx is that it is inexhaustible. That’s so, because inspiration also derives from a continuous source of creation. Their boundless imaginations conceived of an ideology in which duty serves the human collective and transcends to glory in the sense of satisfaction through fulfillment of duty. Moreover, as action is underway, a vision of purpose is being projected. It’s a vision of what has to be, beyond what now is. Visualized also is the highest social stage in which virtue becomes the common characteristic of humanity.
In practice these revolutionaries in thought and action may ignore any apparent or definite incongruence between their purpose, which is the “impossible,” and the means for its achievement. That’s the true outlook of the revolutionary.
In utopia, the possibility of change that provides hope is announced, even if the road to its achievement is ill-defined. That happened with the utopia of Mariátegui. Although he may not have had really specific designs for how to get there, those plans for realizing his proposals that did exist always derived from great inspiration. They cannot be disqualified on grounds of ineffective action or excess intellectualism. It makes sense, certainly, that no revolution would be able to anticipate the revolution that will follow it.
Otherwise, it’s logical that no true version of Marxism would reject or abandon, because of a lack of specific clarity or confidence, what, in effect, has to be the project of emancipation. Nor would it abandon, either, attempts to total up an explanation of capitalism and of class struggle in order to confront them. By no means would it abandon utopia as a proposal for creating a humanely human world, humanizing it in view of the struggle to come.
The Bolivarian utopia
Without entering into details about content or aspects of ideology, we can say of the Bolivarian utopia that, as it appears, the social order that is outlined as part of liberating transformation may coexist with oppression. Fully-realized socialism is by no means imminent. But, unquestionably, strong foundations of justice may be established within the context of the most perverse and inhuman systems of colonialist exploitation, even those sustained over the course of centuries by means of the whip and, infamously, by segregation. The Bolivarian utopia does respond to the lacerated shoulders of indigenous servants, to the enslavement of Africans and Afro-descendants.
Bolivar’s ideology served the construction of a new society without the oppression and cruelty of the old system, which even the most “advanced” liberalism of that era accepted as natural and necessary. That was evident, for example, in Philadelphia with provisions of the [U.S.] Constitution that defended the “sacred right to property,” which included the possession of and control over enslaved people. The Liberator took exception: “One man owned by another! Man as property!”
Property, slavery, racism, individualism, and utilitarianism were the key aspects of “advanced” U. S. liberalism of that era. Nor was provision made there for the independence of indigenous peoples. Later on, the Liberator noted that “Washington’s code” is not democracy, because we cannot conceive of democracy without freedom; “You know that one cannot be free and a slave at the same time without violating natural laws, political laws, and civil law.”
Santrich here devotes several paragraphs to documenting Simón Bolivar’s thinking and struggles over the course of decades. He describes the context of Bolivar’s military operations and political proposals, particularly the impact of strong opposition from conservatives headed by Francisco de Paula Santander, (1) He also dwells upon lessons learned from “The Spirit of the Laws” by Montesquieu (1748) and from the teachings of philosopher and pedagogue Simón Rodríguez, Simon Bolivar’s mentor in Europe and later in America. He comments on the sad example of the young United States. Santrich then concludes this section as follows.
All in all, the main aspect of Bolivar’s social project of justice and equality was the abolition of indigenous servitude and of slavery. In his writings, markers of such thinking are very clear. For example, in 1816, a time of great uncertainty about the destiny of the emancipation struggle, a time when adversities were a constant and close reality, he writes: “Considering that justice, politics and homeland imperiously claim the indispensable rights of nature, I have come to decree the absolute freedom of the slaves who have groaned under the Spanish yoke in the last three centuries.”
With this resolution and with greater determination, the Liberator was now nourishing his struggle for emancipation with truly revolutionary and profound social content aimed at destroying the main economic institutions of the Iberian colonial system. This initiative of his guerrilla struggle in the East would soon appear in his memorable speech to the Congress of Angostura (1819). He was proposing a constitutional principle: “Nature, justice and politics call for the emancipation of slaves. I leave to your sovereign decision the reform or revocation of all my statutes and decrees, but I beg for the confirmation of absolute freedom for enslaved people, as I would beg for my own life and life itself.” Referring to “The poor indigenous people,” Bolivar “resolved to do everything possible for them, first, for the good of humanity, and second, they have the right to it.” To achieve this purpose was an essential part of his utopia.
Utopia and epochal change
Now the question of “the end of utopia” is posed to us in the sense of its altruistic purpose being fulfilled, or of it culminating in the death of hope. Marcuse proposes as criteria for an ending, one, that conditions favoring altruistic purpose now manifest as objective realities, and, two, that subjective conditions now turn out to be absolutely feasible. Whatever the case, this circumstance implies movement peculiar to the era, a change characteristic of the moment, a “new period,” a transition or an abrupt change from a previous historical circumstance.
One can assume break-up and/or renovation, in the sense of total rejection of the old and its substitution by the new. But in terms of radical change, there is the idea too that the old may be thrown out, but not absolutely so. Instead, the richest part of the past is gathered up in the rescue; valuable tradition is preserved in order to face the future with optimism. So, for the revolutionary, the past doesn’t have to disappear from the creative vision. We accumulate experience to help build the new. The idea of simply changing “the old for the new” is an absolute fallacy, typical of absurd conclusions associated with Modernity, this one holding that we can’t find in earlier times the norms we need for direction. In truth, we are absolutely dependent on ourselves to draw out the normative elements we need.
The past cannot be undervalued simply because it is the past. To the extent that social constructions have historical meaning, the past contains normative principles drawn from experience that enable future creations. To the extent that history is the vision of humanity’s movement as a whole in every temporal and spatial dimension, the revolutionary surely sees the experience of the past to be proceeding as inevitably linked to the projection of new goals for the future. That means that history and utopia go together, one with the other. They are interrelated, or, if you like, are doing the same thing together.
We can say without fear of being mistaken that no revolutionary spirit exists that hasn’t necessarily been touched by the magic of historical consciousness. That’s so in the sense of being aware that historical consciousness necessarily includes “the old,” and, at the same time, fervor for utopia. It’s an association based on balancing one with the other along that path we call hope.
Utopia, “realism” and history
It’s long been assumed that Marxist thought was critical of “utopia” especially in reference to “utopian socialism.” The notion of “scientific socialism” advanced primarily with its critique of presenting a better future only in the abstract, with the implication that, above all, “utopia” is an unrealizable dream, an unattainable illusion. To be “utopian” suggests conversion to pure fiction, a situation in which mentors and followers alike are delusional in simply imagining paradise as a pretty and unworldly place and never thinking about how it might be created.
The idea of “utopia” is not new, but according to “realists,” or dialectical-historical materialists, or anyone striving for concrete analysis of concrete situations, “utopia” is an idea lacking all substance. Possibility is not enough in itself, dynamic though it may be. We have to define means and methods in order to outline the transformative role prescribed by Marxist philosophy. But this criticism is not enough, we would add, without a clear design being offered of the possible alternative.
It’s worth specifying that, in the Bolivarian view of things, building something is not a matter of fantasy, but is founded on concrete bases. But not only that: we have the incentive of projecting it into the future so that, with utopia and history being interwoven, the project takes on the dimension of ceaselessness while proceeding always toward newer and higher horizons. The issue is not that of now defining whether or not Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, or Proudhon are disqualified in the eyes of Marxists because they are designated as utopian socialists.
Our suggestion rather is that the revolutionary not think solely of utopianism as a fantasy or, in other words, not try to build the future without firm foundations. It’s now clear that so-called utopian socialism has been and continues to be an irreplaceable contributor to Marxism. And it’s also a fundamental source of convictions that nourish Bolivarians of today inasmuch as they, with Marxists, hold that utopianism is meaningless if it’s divorced from action and the consequences of what is theorized. Those who emphasize the “realism” and the supposed “science” of a distorted “materialism” seem to forget these aspects of utopian socialism.
According to Guevara, the revolutionary must, in effect, be “a man who acts as he thinks.” It was that way with Bolivar, especially in his search for the “impossible,” or what looked to be that way. Utopia is fated to be an alternative proposition for life, one that at a given time is either possible or “impossible.” But in any case, utopia is a factor in sustaining the perspective of constant movement toward new stages of humanizing social development.
As regards history, then, utopia is the pull for its development. And in the search for what may look to be impossible, it protects the notion of ceaselessness and, consequently, is a factor not being consumed as energy as change continues.
Bolivarism and Marxism: utopia as vision of the future.
With Bolivar first and then with Marx, a vision of the future was presented as a constant. Their perspective on history held that it wasn’t going to be used up in the era at hand, when lives are being lived, but was always programed for action going beyond and transcending, even if circumstances appeared unfavorable for realization in the long term. It’s not as if Bolivar or Marx did not lay out immediate horizons too. They did so, but as stages to be used up on their road of continually searching for horizons of the future. Out there, they anticipated fertile societies rising over a terrain of democracy and equality.
The case of the Liberator, he of the great continental homeland with an ecumenical projection, he who sought not to subjugate but to liberate, is one example: “Flying through and among the coming ages, my imagination is fixed on future centuries, and observing from there with admiration and fear the prosperity, splendor, and life this vast region has received ….” [Santrich continues with his long quotation from Simon Bolivar’s speech at the Congress of Angostura in 1819]
Neither Bolivar or Marx was pessimistic about the future. They may have experienced disillusion and setbacks in their own time, as issues were settled in one way or another, but not as regards the future.
Perhaps one of the most fateful legacies for revolutionaries is that which leads to apprehension on facing the danger imperialism poses for the very existence of the planet as it sketches out a catastrophic kind of developmentalism. Uncertainty and silence are worth nothing. In the face of great challenges, great resolve is necessary, really a triple boldness: action that overcomes determinism; reclaiming the role of subjectivity, passion, audacity, and recklessness; and faith in the initiative of the masses, still facing the immediate prospect of “defeat.” What audacity implies, even in the case of the true revolutionary, is to not let defeat become capitulation to domestication, submission, and regret of purpose. That’s what the class enemy is attempting to do in reproaching us for the fall of many socialist projects – or those claimed as such – in order to sew pessimism in the hearts of leftists. They’ve done do effectively with many former revolutionary groups and especially among the so-called progressive intelligentsia.
Those elements have been set to performing their nauseating role of apostates. They’ve built upon a deceptive notion that we are confronting a universe radically different from decades back and so we are in need of new coordinates for action and new ways of thinking. The result has been abandonment of analysis and political action quite typical of our “post-modern” era. We are supposed to say goodbye to Marxism, therefore, and the “chimera” that is socialism, and farewell also to “outmoded” thinking summed up in Bolivarism and the ideal of the Great Homeland – and for us to believe we have good reasons for doing so.
In the realm of revolutionary consciousness this is unthinkable. If we are true Marxists and Bolivarians, even in the worst of circumstances, our utopias of socialism and the Great Homeland must show the greatest moral strength, as unbreakable as the morality of Bolivar of 1812, who, having been defeated in Puerto Cabello, reemerges in the “Admirable Campaign.” (2) This is the Bolivar who, after each of his failures in struggle to expel the Spanish empire from Our America, emerges from every adversity “like the sun, sending rays everywhere.”
To understand the sublime morality of a revolutionary utopian in the face of setbacks, we remember Bolivar. We recall that extremely difficult time in Peru when the counter-revolution found new strength as the result of treason, when Torre Tagle and Riva Agüero ,with the full support of the oligarchy, betrayed the independence cause and delivered troops and arms to the Spanish army, which at the time was almost moribund in Pativilca.
Sucre himself, the hero of Ayacucho, whom the Liberator considered to be his most valued, advised Bolivar in those unfavorable circumstances “to evacuate Peru” for the sake of “preserving the most precious part of our sacrifice [Colombia].” We gain clarity, however from the description Pablo Morillo provided of his encounter with the Liberator in Pativilca [in 1823]. The Spanish diplomat, on his way to Chile on a diplomatic mission, interviewed Bolivar, who was in appalling circumstances, “so thin and exhausted.” Seeing him in that pitiful situation, Mosquera asked him, “And what are you going to do now? Then Bolivar, his hollow eyes coming to life, answered me, ‘I will triumph.’” Bolivar’s faith in victory was absolute.
It was under those same terrible circumstances that Bolivar announced that, “My watchword is to die or triumph in Peru.” The first didn’t happen, and in the year 1825, the army of the Liberator, with infantry units, calvary, artillery, and navy reassembled, was the foremost military power of America.
As regards Marx and Marxism, the significance of utopia is on display both in Marx’s justification of utopia in the concrete situation of the Parisian workers in 1870 and in Lenin’s reflection on the situation of the Russian revolutionaries of 1905. In the first case, Marx takes the example of the Paris Commune to offer proposals suggesting that actions there varied in essential ways from views put forth in the Communist Manifesto. The rising of 1871 gained Marx’s enormous admiration in several areas such as, for example, “the destruction of the parasitic state,” which led him to assume that that was the essence of the Paris revolutionaries’ program and objectives.
Lenin also justifies utopia in his criticism of Plekhanov who complained of those daring to rise up that “they did not have to take up arms.” But in well-taken advocacy, Lenin rescued the role of subjectivity, of romanticism, if you will. He argued against a misunderstood or mistaken version of “materialism” supposedly disqualifying those risking everything for the option of dignity. Lenin claimed that the revolutionaries of 1905 would have gained Marx’s admiration no less than did the Paris communards and their attempt at “storming the heavens.” Like Marx, Lenin was on the side of the Commune of Paris despite everything and its supposed failure. He also assumed the “defeat” of the rising of 1905 to have been positive and exemplifying.
These instances recall Che in La Higuera [in Bolivia] as he was telling his captors that even this, his defeat, could play a part in shaking up the Bolivian people’s awareness. What one realizes is that the example of a man’s selfless action can lay the foundation for moving toward a better future. As for the Paris Commune, Marx had written that, “the bourgeois canaille of Versailles pushed the Parisians to choose between ending their struggle and succumbing to oppression without a fight. The demoralization of the working class in the latter case would have represented an enormously greater disgrace than the fall of any number of their ‘chiefs’.”
These words reaffirm our absolute confidence that the example of these revolutionaries can be an impetus for “storming heaven,” or at least for trying to do so. This approach represents a break from whatever kind of sterile orthodoxy, or from useless “objectivity.” Ultimately, “being realists and doing the impossible” wins out, against all odds, as was the case with Bolivar’s determination to ascend the Andes. What that adds up to is “doing the impossible because every day everyone else takes care of the possible.”
Denial of Utopía
Where’s the satisfaction in denying utopia? Whom does it serve when dreams are fenced in and energies too that are aroused for creating a society with no exploiters, a society of dignity, justice, and happiness? The future of humanity today more than ever requires that utopia be fortified. That’s because imperialism poses imminent danger to our survival.
To deny utopia is to deny creative possibility for the human being, and even more, the possibility of revolutionary transformation of that very same human. Today, the finishing-off of humanity, the vision of that once unimaginable disaster taking place, is well within all scientific possibilities. But those of us who refuse to believe that man is fit by nature to be a wolf in human form are duty-bound to struggle for utopia and to sustain it. It’s a utopia not only of human existence and nature, but of its best state of being, with collaboration, mutual aid, and happiness. The essence of the problem is on full display for us, in our time – Communism or chaos
What’s in play is the very survival of the human species, of life, of nature in general, all put at risk because of the destructive power of capitalism. But we will not wait patiently and without action for capitalism to end automatically so that the communist alternative can flourish. The conscious intervention of humanity is both a necessary and immediate duty. It requires revolutionaries to merge utopia with the practice of liberation, at whatever cost. As regards revolutionaries of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), we view the utopia of Marxism and the utopia of Bolivarism as coinciding fundamentally in the undying purpose of social justice within a context of freedom and dignity.
Nevertheless, the essential Bolivarian line of thinking may not fit with a strict definition of socialism, as usually conveyed. But it surely provides the necessary foundation for the construction of socialism within an Indio-American perspective, one that calls for developing a process of emancipating continental unification. We are convinced that its realization depends exclusively on humanity itself, but above all on revolutionaries, on the Quixotes, or, better said, on people as they ought to be.
This is not man as he is, focused on short-term, transitory reality, which is man that the dying Bolivar alluded to in Santa Marta, according to Gil Blas. We need, in short, people who are given to dreaming, to making a utopia of the possible and impossible, and disposed to achieving the ideal with craziness, if one chooses. This is creative, instructive and paradigmatic craziness, the kind the Liberator himself takes on. According to the distinguished Colombian poet and historian Juvenal Herrera Torres, that’s how “Don Quijote might employ to lead our people, that multitude of Sancho Panzas, as they merge into a whole and get mixed up in the same epochal gallop toward the conquest of utopia. What craziness! It’s the craziness we need for humanity to advance, when the given wisdom is that of vegetating passively like slaves and servants! They always call it crazy anything that’s out of the ordinary.”
Further, it’s the revolutionary, according to this idea, who combines thought and action that follows. What’s involved is man who acts as he thinks, man who redeems utopia. Or as exemplified by the Liberator, he is like Christ, Don Quixote, and he himself – in other words, history’s fools and triflers. Or, he is man as he ought to be. He now confronts the imminence of capitalist chaos and confronts the oppressor as he contributes to forging a different world – with no possibility of enjoying it for himself.
This is no easy task, because to finish with utopia, finish with redemptive dreams of being human, has always been the purpose of those who vociferate about the end of history and the death of ideologies. They are trying to persuade us that the installation of capitalism would be a superior state of human development. They would convert us into an immense flock of passive consumers, of placid militants, nihilistic and fatalistic. But it turns out that the journey of the true revolutionary, who above all has to be a builder of the future, is defined by optimism as a condition for the march of history.
Historical meaning of utopia
We will have to fight every day so that productive forces are not converted into the means for destroying the planet. We will be showing that as long as revolutionary conscience exists, the possibility of having to be has to have all the utopian energy that historical consciousness creates that will transition without fail to a society without exploiters or exploited.
Within this framework of ideas, the end of a determined type of utopia, of a particular utopia, is in no way admissible, for the simple reason that, as we’ve suggested, utopia may present with diverse characteristics at different times, throughout history. What it does do is to take on new stages of humanizing development, new dimensions, but no finalization.
To admit the end of utopia would be like admitting the possibility of the end of history.
We would propose to go beyond the ideology of the utopian socialists, just as Marxist critique tried to do, but to go beyond and not deny. We would also propose to go beyond he purposes and goals of scientific socialism, or, more straightforwardly, beyond the ideals and goals, in large measure failed, of really-existing socialism. Or we could continue advocating for the society of labor as utopia, or also, along with Marcuse in the 1960s, stay with the idea that the purpose for the world was no longer that of a “utopian dream.” He had concluded that the historical moment had arrived in which it’s now possible to construct a free society because the development of productive forces has reached a level allowing for the eradication of hunger and misery.
Attending to this last idea, we might then say that a non-repressive civilization can be built because the conditions for it exist and from that point on, we have the Marcusean evidence of the end of utopia, an end that signifies “that the new possibilities of a human society and of its surrounding world are a given, but are outside of the same historical continuum in respect to the previous society.” (Marcuse. “The End of Utopia” Barcelona 1986)
But in the revolutionary sense, both Bolivarian and Marxist, utopia certainly exists in its own continuum of dialectical change and, for all of its breakup and radical change, it does entail connection with the past. It can’t be a static concept, but is imbued with changing propositions that, all along, have nothing to do with types of experience that were unavoidable, in particular, the failings of really-existing socialism. The implication is that of improving things by seizing upon the positives of various experiences.
In conclusion, the historical sense of utopia and of “making the impossible” relates to ideals of social transformation which, for a given situation, may lack subjective and objective factors that are in their favor. Those factors, we suggest, are without conditions of maturity, as with, for example, the time of Bolivar and the building of the Great Homeland, or the era of the Paris Commune with the appearance of communism, or even still in the twentieth century with its attempted modelling of socialism. Many such conditions did not crystalize in an outcome that would satisfy genuine Marxist ideals, or come close, or that might have allowed for movement to superior stages. But in no way is utopia anti-nature or anti-history. There’s nothing telling us, for example, that the utopia of socialism and of the Great Homeland, which synthesizes Bolivarian and Marxist integration in our own time, opposes nature or history.
That Utopia Called Our America
In the mind of the revolutionary, a return to “making the impossible” and doing so radically, under difficult circumstances, and for short-term gains, calls for an end to “sitting in front of the house waiting for the dead body of imperialism to pass by.” That well- known adage from the Second Declaration of Havana looks to identify which subjective and objective conditions, originating from who knows where, would exert an effect and, with their presence, might be a catalyst for action.
In that respect, it wasn’t generally appreciated that, when Cuban revolutionaries decided to attack the Moncada Barracks, or when later they undertook the voyage of the Granma, that an insurrectional rising would be forged against capitalist exploitation and in favor of installing socialism. But the material conditions for a rebellion against capitalism were indeed present in Cuba and with daring, valor and conviction, rebels undertook to “storm the heavens.” The rest of the history is well-known. It was precisely with the practical unfolding of the Marxian utopia – that at first didn’t lead to Batista’s overthrow– that aspirations to higher altruistic purpose were strengthened. After a heroic armed insurrection and after taking power, those comrades did raise their voices against imperialism and did defend the most urgent interests of the exploited peoples of the world. They did so in that magnificent document titled “First Declaration of Havana.”
This document had emerged in reply to the so-called “Declaration of San José de Costa Rica”, which was nothing more than anti-communist scribbling directed against Cuba by that plague-ridden sewer called the OAS (Organization of the American States).
On September 2, 1960, evoking that constellation of Our America’s conscience that is José Martí, the First Declaration of Havana condemned imperialism “that with miserable submission of traitorous governments has, over the course of 100 years, converted Our America into a zone of exploitation, into the backyard of financial imperialism and Yankee politics. This is the America that Bolívar, Hidalgo, Juárez, San Martín, O’Higgins, Tiradentes, Sucre, and Martí, wanted to be free. The Declaration set forth a “liberating Latin Americanism” in opposition “to pan-Americanism which represents only the domination of Yankee monopolies over the interests of our peoples.” It condemned “the attempt to preserve the Monroe Doctrine, used until now, as José Martí anticipated, ‘to extend dominion in America’ on behalf of voracious imperialists so they could ‘better inject the venom of loans, canals, and railroads.’”
That valiant declaration closes by reaffirming that, “Latin America will soon march forward, united and victorious, free from bonds that turn its economies into wealth handed over to U.S. imperialism and prevent its true voice being heard in the meetings where tamed foreign ministers notoriously parrot the line of their despotic master”.[Santrich goes on to quote at length from the Second Declaration of Havana which was issued in Havana on February 4, 1962 in response to the OAS having expelled Cuba.]
Many revolutionaries on the continent were convinced that “They did not have to sit back and watch the corpse of imperialism pass by.” With great determination, they and others set out on that path for human redemption which is the struggle for socialism. They took into account the example of the Cuban revolution, whose premises fed into Marxist ideology with the life-affirming vitality of Latin American thought, that of Jose Martí in particular.
In Colombia, for example, Communists carried out armed resistance for more than a decade and then, around 1964, they achieved greater cohesion by forming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). They did so under the guidance of legendary guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda Vélez. Even before its symbolic founding date of May 27th, this nascent revolutionary army proclaimed its Agrarian Program. That happened amid the clamor and confusion of fighting that erupted in response to the government’s military aggression against Marquetalia, [the revolutionary farmers’ small settlement].
The central aspect of this document was the proposal for “revolutionary agrarian reform.” The idea emerged there of building a “People’s United Front” in order to destroy Colombia’s well-ensconced system of big-parcel landowning and establishing a government of “national liberation.” The seventh point of the statement says: “this program proposes as a vital necessity struggle for forging of a single and very broad front of all the democratic, progressive and revolutionary forces of the country. Until the land issue is settled, the front will engage in unceasing combat
with this government in thrall to Yankee imperialists who impede the Colombian people’s successful realization of their desires.”
“For that reason, we call out to all peasants, all workers, all employees, all students, all artisans, all small manufacturers, all workers, all democratic and revolutionary intellectuals, all of the national bourgeoisie ready to fight against imperialism, all political parties of the left-center who want progressive change. We invite one and all to a great revolutionary and patriotic struggle for a Colombia for Colombians, for a democratic government of national liberation and for the triumph of the revolution.”
The Agrarian Program was endorsed by guerrillas heading the resistance and by around one thousand small farmers. Two years later at their Constitutive Conference, Marulanda’s insurgents adopted the name Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. In the Political Declaration of that event, which took place between April 25 and May 5, 1966, participants denounced imperialist aggressions against the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, against the Yankee occupation of Santo Domingo and the devastation afflicting Viet Nam. The Declaration highlighted the Tricontinental Conference in Havana, [which met in January,1966], as a space for solidarity action “undertaken by the democratic world against imperialist aggressors…”
[Santrich cites various statements within the Declaration that are in line with positions taken at the Havana conference.]
The Declaration concludes: “We., the guerrilla detachments of the Southern Bloc, have joined together in this Conference and formed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which will initiate a new stage of unified struggle of all revolutionaries of our country, by all workers, peasants, students and intellectuals, with all of our people, in order to further mass struggle towards popular insurrection and the seizure of power for the people.”
Marulanda fought for 42 more years. Neither the enemy nor the greatest adversities could lead him to surrender. For more than half a century he trapsed through the mountains in search of his utopia, like no other revolutionary of the continent. He offered his life every day in a war of resistance to achieve that ideal of a New Colombia. His thinking on the development of praxis would turn into careful reflections and initiatives that he converted into programs opening the way to shaping Marxist and Bolivarian ideology. His struggle had passed not only from a claim on a plot of land to participation in Colombia’s revolution, but also moving on to the very cause of continental emancipation and the founding of socialism in Our America, that unified, great homeland Bolivar would dream about. Through thick and thin, all of his life, and with rifle in hand, Marulanda departed for eternity on March 28, 2008. He was certain that the building of communism was the only route toward human redemption. He departed from us persuaded of the validity, the legitimacy, and necessity of armed insurrection in struggle for establishing a better world without exploiters and exploited. Observing that marvelous self-denial, we ask ourselves with Bolivar: “What better way is there to achieve freedom than to fight for it?
Evidently, in the minds of revolutionaries of Marulanda’s stature, there’s no waiting around for the right conditions for revolution. Rather, they are determined to fight to create it.
We may also say that they are committed to contributing subjectively to create those conditions. That’s because, according to such criteria, fully correct, consciousness can exert real influence over structure. Indeed, as Bolivar was maintaining, unity is being forged while emancipation is being accomplished, and emancipation takes place while unity is being formed. And the future begins now: “What does it matter to us if Spain sells slaves to Bonaparte or keeps them, as long as we ourselves are resolved to be free? These uncertainties are the sad effects of ancient chains. They actually say you must stay calm as you do big things. That’s strange: 300 years of calmness are not enough? The Patriotic Junta respects, as it should, the nation’s Congress. But the Congress owes something to the Patriotic Junta, the center of light and of all revolutionary interests. Let us fearlessly lay the cornerstone of South American freedom: to vacillate is to lose ourselves”. (Simón Bolívar speech July 4, 1811)
Bolivar was lashing out at those who claim conditions still weren’t right for proclaiming independence, when, for him, the urgency was about the unification and liberation of all America, not just about liberating Venezuela. Our homeland is America! And America is the equilibrium of the world, disposed toward service for humanity. That is the utopia of Bolivarian thought with its internationalism, solidarity, and deep humanism, for which Manuel Marulanda Vélez was a militant partisan, and around which he formed his army.
Simón Rodríguez and the Utopia of Bolivarianism
That utopia may become reality does not imply that it ends, but rather that it transforms into higher aspiration, that qualitative mutation takes place. We may say, similarly, that just as matter achieves higher forms of development, so too utopia evolves to the degree that it moves toward realization. And we reiterate this because there are many who may not want utopia to die, but not in the sense that they crave its evolution to vital permanence. Instead, they prefer that there be no fulfilment, so that, ultimately, their kind of utopia follows the path of annihilating hope.
As part of revolutionary consciousness, utopia remains as a goad for constant struggle as it reflects or projects goals for the future, dutifully carrying them from a plane of pure abstraction to a plane of fulfillment through action at any cost – or at least through a try at realizing long-term emancipatory practices. With respect to the ideal of the Great Homeland, the American utopia, and Bolivar’s utopia, we recall the words of the Liberator’s teacher and “maestro”, Simón Rodríguez: “It is not a dream or delirium, but rather is philosophy to hope that, if all people know their obligations, and are aware of the interest they have in fulfilling them, they will all remain faithful, because they will be working to make good on principles. And where this happens won’t be imaginary, like the Utopia delineated by Thomas More. Their utopia, in reality, will be America.”
Rodríguez locates utopia in a context characterized by culture as the essential element for building a new democratic and republican social order where the common good comes first. But in common with his teacher Simón Rodríguez, the Liberator harbored transformative notions for the short-term, for his own time, even though Rodríguez’s ideas applied also to future ages. His doing so might be viewed as his favoring a utopian scenario that was more feasible. But for the teacher this was a step toward a higher-level utopian situation, for which conditions perhaps didn’t yet exist, but which were to be imposed as a supreme human duty.
Simón Rodríguez, who survived the Liberator, outlined the unique type of society Bolivar was projecting. Assigning a fundamental role to reason and calling for a new society without traces of the old, his ideas would become part of Bolivarian ideology, of which he was a prominent founder.
Santrich next details various aspects of Rodríguez’s thinking with the aid of quotations from the latter’s writings. Rodríguez’s message of human solidarity is emphasized. Santrich maintains that, in comparison with Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Rodríguez was a more effective advocate for the common good and sharper critic of individualism. Santrich expands upon Rodríguez’s criticism of Jeremy Bentham, the
founder of utilitarianism, a British school of philosophical thought. Bentham is identified as a favorite of Colombia’s liberal anti-colonialists who opposed Bolivar.
Santrich then notes that: While Benthamism signified a divorce from the Spanish spirit with its new pattern of ethical ideas, metaphysics, and theory of law and of the state, it was rendering anti-ethical judgments on Hispanic tradition. It was representing, in essence, the ideals of a commercial and industrial middle class, pragmatic and rationalistic, that was still pledged to maintain the colonialist regime’s slaves and servants, in harmony with the United States, which Bolivar fervently opposed.
We point out that, as regards Simón Rodríguez, his thought entered into Bolivarian ideology in a major way. Rodríguez is recognized as a prominent socialist thinker whose influence on the Liberator was unquestionable. It makes sense that we explore the impact of this teacher’s socialist ideas as we explore the political consciousness of his disciple.
Rodríguez is usually categorized as a proponent of utopian socialism. He is placed in that camp ultimately by virtue of the non-scientific character of his ideas and the contrast they represent with socialist ideas following the publication of the Communist Manifesto. That would be time-frame marking the emergence of scientific socialism, at least according to Marx’s evaluation enshrined in the Anti-Dühring that claims that socialist theories prior to the Manifesto correspond to a period of immaturity of capitalist production and of the proletariat. (4)
Nevertheless, we reiterate that these theories are antecedents of and a primary source for the Marxist approach. They contain ideas of enduring value with as much depth and maturity as those put forth, for example, by Rodríguez that refer to the creative force of the whole people as the basis for social development and renovation of society. This was a line of thinking that Bolivar implemented with much conviction and that now absorbed internationalism and solidarity as fundamentals of social construction. And within such, education is the space where intellectual activities and practical action are unified as the basis for the new society.
What’s involved is the Bolivarian concept of a “morals and enlightenment” campaign that contributes to revolutionary transformation and which implies, at least in these aspects, a scientific convergence with Robinsonian thought which Bolivar the Liberator expands upon in practice. (Another name used by Simón Rodríguez was “Samuel Robinson.”) The striking originality with which Bolivar’s teacher – whatever his name – affected him obviously did not originate from a void. There was a thread connecting the teacher with the socialist thought he encountered in Europe on his travels there. That thread also connected them with the communitarian tradition of American Raizal communities that he admired and affirmed. (4)
Simón Rodríguez and Gracchus Babeuf – the socialist utopia
Simón Rodríguez had the opportunity of close exposure to the atmosphere of the Parisian revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. That’s the basis for our being able to affirm that as a scholar and restless thinker, he must have gained access to the first French socialists, and especially the most radical ones, as indicated also by the very content of his proposals. At the time when Rodríguez was traveling through Europe, Babeuf was already manifesting the clear intent in his thinking to lead France toward an agrarian communism by means of a dictatorship of a revolutionary government. Babeuf was the organizer of “the conspiracy of the equals,” [a failed coup attempt in 1796], and Barbés and Blanquí followed him with similar tenets. These are taken up by Marx and Engels to delineate their idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the Communist Manifesto of 1848.
It’s clear, then, that the guiding thread of socialist thought that went from Simón Rodríguez to Bolivar fed into Marxism also. Babeuf’s ideas did not disappear with his death which took place amid the terrible repression of 1797.His supporters were active until a few years after the death of Bolivar [in 1830] and his influence had such visibility that the name of Babeuf merited an appearance in the Communist Manifesto itself.
The radiant era of Babeuf coincided with the period preceding Rodríguez’s return to America in 1823, by which time the latter had already been become an authentic, thorough-going socialist. But fine, apart from whether or not there exists contact of an intellectual or temporal nature, it was to be expected that all those marching together with them, the revolutionaries, did coincide in their awareness and purposes. How could that not have been so as long as what motived them was the profoundly human feeling of love for the people?
Rosa Luxemburg explained that “socialism, as an ideal of communist community, as an ideal of social order based on equality and fraternity of all men, is more than a thousand years old”. She added that, “among the first apostles of Christianity, among the religious sects of the Middle Ages, and in the peasant wars, the socialist ideal appeared as the most radical expression of revolution against [existing] society. But as an ideal we can support in any historical moment, socialism was the beautiful vision of a few enthusiasts, a golden fantasy always out of the hand’s reach, like the ethereal image of a rainbow in the sky”. So then, how can we not admit the possibility that in an age of emancipation like the one Bolivar was living in, such an ideal may not also have existed? But beyond that, there exists clear evidence that such was the case.
Precisely between 1820 and 1830, socialist thought has notable impact, as represented by three great and universally-recognized thinkers: Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and Fourier (1772-1830) in France, and Owen (1771-1858) in England. This is so even as we recognize that they did not outline a commitment to the revolutionary seizure of power to make their proposals real or establish socialism. But we have to praise their huge theoretical contribution as fundamental to the shaping of Marxist theory.
The case of Gracchus Babeuf is another matter. Indeed, it must be said that this revolutionary was set on taking power. Here we are undoubtedly dealing with a great enforcer of the communist utopia, a true pioneer of bold action toward fulfilment of the “impossible,” a promotor of realizing the ideal, even risking his life in the cause. He is fully prepared for sacrifice as a true revolutionary, even to the extent of giving up on paralyzing “rationality.” He is always ready to surmount the injustices of the bourgeois regime, but beyond those tasks, ready also to build a new order. Already he is proposing to establish a peoples’ dictatorship, quite similar to the one Marx and Engels revisited in the Communist Manifesto half a century after Babeuf’s death.
Contrary to what Rosa Luxemburg herself puts forth, Babeuf and “the power of his critique and the magic of his futuristic ideals and socialist ideas” exemplify aspects of his theory and practice that can only be seen as quite transcendental. That he was killed along with only “a handful of friends in the counter-revolutionary wave” and that he may not have achieved conditions and gathered followers such that his ideas might have been fulfilled do not mean that his trail, like that of the heroic Rosa Luxemburg herself, won’t end up being “more than a luminous trail in the pages of revolutionary history”. Of course, that’s the way it will be, and they are that now, clearly, and much more.
For Gaius Gracchus Babeuf, pioneer communist fighter of the vanguard, action was the result of thought, aside from whether or not some of his basic ideas were correct. That fact alone, together with his aspirations to overthrow injustices of the existing social system and replace it with a communist one elevates him to the level of indispensability. Even standing before the court that sentenced him to death, Babeuf delineated his utopia in an unflinching manner. That which Simón Rodríguez inherited from Babeuf nourished Bolivarism from its beginnings. All of these efforts may not have achieved the purpose of installing socialism, and happenings since represent various failed experiments of “socialist creation” and capitalist domination raging most savagely in the greater part of the planet. None of these phenomena, old or new, can be considered to be buried and unseen under the smoking rubble of the Parisian barricades, under the ruins of the Berlin Wall, and under the destruction left by “smart missiles” launched by imperialism in its wars of re-colonization.
The Marxian ideology of social justice rises on the bedrock of hope, deeds, perseverance and resistance, even amid ruins and debris. It’s strengthened with new experience that now has the grace of converging with the power contained within the Bolivarian project. And, may it be said in passing, this last cannot be considered as buried under the perfidy of Santander-like practices aimed not only at finishing off the image of the Liberator, but the emancipation project itself, and his utopia.
It’s undeniable that Marx explored the laws of capitalist anarchy more successfully than anyone else in his time. He began with deep study based on his own thinking and methods which drew upon the best contributions of universal thought. Marx revealed the logic suggesting that the communist utopia was feasible and explained in a fundamental way how the very laws regulating the economy of capitalism set the stage for its own fall. He showed similarly that the growing anarchy of capitalism becomes incompatible with the development of society and meanwhile generates true economic and political catastrophes rendering the very existence of humans risky and even unsustainable. Accordingly, the guarantee that society doesn’t perish in uncontrolled convulsions lies in transition to modes of production consciously organized by people themselves.
Even with negative socialist experiences, ones that never materialized as an alternative to capitalism, it’s more evident every day that our only alternative is socialism and that the communist utopia is required, both as a historical necessity and by the very laws of capitalist development. This is apparent from the growing devastation of the planet generated by predatory capitalism, from the enormity of the present world capitalist crisis, and from the desperation now of great financiers and devotees of the free markets as they beg the state to rescue them.
From the continent of hope, as Bolivar called it, we revolutionaries of Our America must without hesitation make common cause with the revolutionaries of the world to propel and catalyze all the potentials of utopia. We would take back the rich heritage of generations of revolutionaries who preceded us, whether as Bolivarians, whether as Marxists, whether one and then the other. We would create from internationalism and solidarity the life-giving force of unified action. What’s required now at a time of urgency is struggle against the oligarchies and imperialism, with no respite being allowed for reactionaries, and with all forms of struggle and all available means being applied. We reply on that spirit of sacrifice learned from our heroes, even though in this mission of “doing the impossible,” of “storming the heavens”, we may be called voluntarists, putschists, adventurers, even terrorists. Ultimately, for the revolutionary, utopia is no repository of ethereal reflections, but is a spur for action, for practical work fully oriented to the taking of power.
Now is no time for retreats or for learned reflections about whether or not this is a revolutionary situation – as if endless speculation were our only assigned task, as if conditions of misery and nonconformity were so lacking as to make us forget the oversaturation of exploitation and imperial humiliations. As Bolivar would say: “Those doubts are the sad effects of old chains. They tell us, ‘Calm down’ as we prepare great projects! Are not 300 years of calm enough?”
How necessary, then, are the Babeufs who don’t wait for developments, but who move toward them. And necessary too are those who dare to declare “War to the death” against the murderers attacking us every day. How indispensable are the ones who pursue their own “Admirable Campaign” in spite of warnings of failure. And we need those who raise their voices and who act on behalf of that new Manifesto reiterating that we need now to make the revolution, have nothing to lose but our chains, and have a whole world to win. It’s imperative to look towards the torch of utopia, which, shining, lights the path to emancipation.
But it’s worth saying: there will always be, to spare, gentlemen like Dühring, Santander, Bush. or Uribe Vélez, each one in his own time and own sauce, whose flag is the filthy rag of counter-revolution. They disqualify and persecute those who dare dream of “the greatest possible happiness” for humanity. But surely, they will no longer call us “social alchemists”, or “firebrand of discord”, “fools” or “madmen,” “charlatans”, “pamphleteers” or “dinosaurs” – but rather “terrorists,” or any number of other denigrating and unimaginable epithets within this “florilegium” of insults, as Engels would say (signifying “anthology”), along with those who usually confront us in the ideological field, or with obscene media warfare.
Nevertheless, with such a combative Marxist and Bolivarian inheritance,
not even the collapse of what in some countries was called socialism – or of what was taken for it – or the disastrous fascist wars waged by today’s oligarchs will convince us that we absolutely have to accept a reign of exploitation and humiliation imposed on mankind. Our leitmotif is hope, and so be it, or as Bertolt Brecht wrote: “today injustice walks with a firm step, and oppressors want to rule for another ten thousand years and guarantee with their violence that “everything will stay the same.” And among the oppressed many now lament, ‘We’ll never have what we want.’”
With Brecht we will have to go back and say: “Whoever is still alive do not say “never.” What’s firm is not firm. Nothing will stay the same. When rulers have spoken, the ruled will speak. Who dares say never? Who does oppression depend on? On us! On whom do we depend for it to end? On us also! Let the one who is down rise up! Anyone who is lost, let that one fight! Who can hold back those who know what’s what? So, the defeated of today are the victors of tomorrow, and what’s “never” becomes this very day.
Because utopia can’t stay quiet, these are more that “pure fantasies.” No one may condemn humanity to a course that inevitably is chaotic and unpredictable, cruel and unjust. We must continue looking for that sought-after world that is different and better, that allows us to depart from prehistory. That’s what Marx predicted when he said this will happen when a truly rational, just and equitable social system exists on earth. That’s the necessary dream that rationalizes existence for a revolutionary. It may seem “impossible.” Some think the idea is useless and fantastical. They say the dreaming up of “impossible” things is called utopia, and they may be correct.
But as Bolivarian Marxists, that corresponds precisely to us. We struggle for the “impossible,” but not inside the time frame of a single life. To gain what is obviously indispensable and attainable for the survival of the species won’t fit within that limit; maybe that’s what they call “realism.” Our realism can be that, but above all, it’s also about “doing the impossible.” That’s why there never will be lacking those of us with arms already raised who shout from every corner of America, “We are here!” We are resolved to build paradise here on earth. We are the ones with the unbending perseverance of combatants like the insurgent hero of the Colombia of Bolivar, Manuel Marulanda Vélez. We repeat his creed of love for the poor, as we amplify his voice and his teachings.
He says: “if they push us from the bank of the river, we cross to the other side of the river; if they push us from the mountain, we escape to the other mountain; if they push us out of a region, we look for another region.” He expands the experience and transforms the principle to say: “if they push us from the bank of the river, we will be waiting for them on the other side; if they push us from the mountain, we will be waiting for them on the other mountain; if they push us out of one region, we will be waiting for them in another region”. Then working the principle to elaborate a precise idea: “Now we go back and look for them on the bank of the river from which one day they pushed us out. We will go back and look for them on the mountain from which one day they made us flee. We will go back and look for them in the region where one day they made us run.” (Quoted by Arturo Alape: The Lives of Pedro Antonio Marín, Manuel Marulanda Vélez, Tirofijo. Planeta Editores. 1989,).
As with Marulanda, then, communist ideology will survive in each Bolivarian combatant and in the entire insurgent army founded by him, while stories of his death and that of his utopia are heard in the confines of the forest and mountains. With these teachings from that outstanding expression of revolutionary militancy, the insurgent hero of Bolivar’s Colombia, we have reiterated many times that in the case of the FARC, we don’t belong to an organization where Bolivarian or Marxist ideas frolic on the desks of clever ideologues imposing a glitzy kind of pacifism and the meek docility of postmodern intellectuals. The uncompromising thinking forged by Manuel Marulanda Vélez is no conceit.
Thus, with its Marxist, Bolivarian, utopian and Marulandista consciousness, the FARC, confronting capitalism, in crisis despite its huge military might, will modestly persevere and will by no means disregard the military aspect of the class struggle. The penitent, reformist, and halting ones often camouflage this with pacifist rhetoric due to cowardice and opportunism. This is a special matter about which we of the FARC repeatedly call attention to as we follow a road opened up with a whole life of dedication on the part of Comandante Manuel. We thereby testify to its relevance.
With his words, then, we repeat with more conviction than ever that, “The efforts and sacrifices in 43 years of revolutionary action and confrontation of the commanders, guerrillas, leaders of the Clandestine Communist Party, civilian population, those fallen in combat, those imprisoned in the countryside and cities now are showing the ruling class of the traditional parties, and of the state, that revolutionary struggle is just and urgent, and is, therefore, impossible to defeat, whatever previous governments and the present one say.. We conclude that sooner or later the only solution remaining for those who govern is that of political negotiations with the insurgency – that is, if they don’t want to lose all those privileges acquired over many years.” (Manuel Marulanda Vélez: Letter to the combatants, December 2007)
Besides, we think it’s no longer possible to be bewitched by the siren songs of self-defeating lackeys calling for disarmament. We have lived confronting each annihilation offensive of the oligarchic and imperial monster. We know its innards. “Our sling is that of David”! There is nothing more to say but the words of the unforgettable Julius Fucik, spoken against fascism.
In the name of the Bolivarian communist utopia: “When the struggle is to the death/ Those who are faithful resist/ The undecided give up/ The cowards betray/ The bourgeoisie despair/ And the hero fights”.
Victory will be ours! Before the sacred altar of our dead, we have sworn
to win, and we will win!
Mountains of Colombia, March, 2009
1. Francisco José de Paula Santander (1792 – 1840) was a military and political leader during Colombia’s 1810–1819 independence war and was the new country’s acting president between 1819 and 1826 and its elected president between 1832 and 1837.
2. The reference is to Bolivar’s campaign of 1813 in which his “small army of around 650 soldiers … set out from New Granada (present-day Colombia) on the ambitious, one might say “foolhardy,” task of fighting [its] way to Caracas to liberate Venezuela from the Spaniards.”
3. “Anti-Dühring” is the shorthand title for a book published by Frederick Engels in 1878 that was highly critical of the socialist theorizing of the writer Eugen Dühring. It has represented a major contribution to disseminating the ideas of Marx and Engels.
4.The Raizals were and are Afro-Colombian people living on islands off Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Source: The original Spanish-language version of the author’s essay is accessible at: https://rebelion.org/bolivarismo-y-marxismo-un-compromiso-con-lo-imposible/ and at: http://www.cedema.org/uploads/MARXISMO%20Y%20BOLIVARISMO.pd
Translator’s additional note – in regard to Santrich: Born in 1967 in Caribbean-facing Sucre department, and killed by Colombian paramilitaries on May 17, 2021 in western Venezuela, Santrich was a leader of the Second Marquetalia, a dissident offshoot of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He joined that force in 2019 in response to the failure of the peace agreement between the FARC and Colombian signed in November 2016, and in response also to attempts by the Colombian government and US agents to extradite him to the United States. Santrich, who was part of the original FARC for 30 years, and a leader, served for four years as spokesperson for the FARC negotiating team in peace talks with the Colombian government representatives in Havana.
Santrich studied law and philosophy at Barranquilla’s University of the Atlantic. He was severely sight-impaired as the result of Leber’s syndrome, a degenerative eye disease. Following deadly assaults from 1986 on, leveled against the left-leaning Patriotic Union electoral coalition of which he was a member, Santrich joined the Communist Party’s youth organization. When in 1990 an attack directed at Santrich, then known as Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, took the life of his friend Jesús Santrich, he adopted that friend’s name. A year later he joined the FARC.
In regard to purpose: A prime object in presenting Santrich’s essay in English has been to honor a revolutionary combatant who pursued social and political justice in a place that sorely needs it. Another has been to promote access to the author’s creative political thought. Santrich applies ideology inherited from the founders of Marxist thought to special conditions of Latin America and the Caribbean. He documents the exposure of Simon Bolivar to early stirrings of the European socialist movement.
To the familiar fare of U.S. and European-based socialist analyses over many years, Santrich adds elements like struggle over land, indigenous peoples as victims, and above all, national liberation. In broadening the arena of struggle and highlighting special characteristics of the Americas, he follows the lead of dissident ideologists like José Mariátegui and Ernesto Che Guevara, one with his “Indo-American Marxism” and “socialism as heroic creation” and the other with references to a “great feeling of love” and “moral incentives.”
More on sources: The essay of Santrich translated here appears also in The Social Thought of Jesús Santrich, an anthology of his writings and sketches published online by Ediciones Espartaco in 2018 at the “Campus of New York University.” That 293-page compendium contains interviews, poems, stories from and reports about indigenous peoples, and other essays, among them “From Beethoven to Marulanda – the Romantic Roots of the FARC’s Marxism.” The book is accessible at https://resistir.info/livros/jesus_santrich_antologia.pdf.