Was South American indigenism born out of indigenous movements?
No. South American indigenism began to take shape within the set of reactions with which the ruling classes of the Spanish-speaking countries began to process US expansionism after the conquest of Texas, the invasion of Mexico and the war in Cuba.
The first reaction had been hispanist and anti-yankee. Among its theorists would be José Martí himself and above all Rodó. Although Martí was a late liberal and Rodó a colorado close during most of his career to Batlle, this first statement took root above all among the rural large landowner classes, religious and afraid of urban life, the proletariat and even democracy. They are the America of Facundo, which was reflected in Porfirio Díaz and which will infuse american modernism with elegies to the Spanish Lion and Hispanic blood. From this continental anti-US movement emerged, by the way, October 12 as an international celebration.
In this oligarchic and stale context, the first romantic reassessments of what being indigenous entails will emerge. It is no coincidence that the Tabaré of Zorrilla San Martín was performed by Mestre Bretón, the father of the Spanish opera, the zarzuela. Neither is it that Mariátegui’s first indigenismo is expressed in his enthusiastic criticism of another zarzuela, El Condor pasa, in which he sees for the first time the Inca spirit reflected in the artistic expression of the Peruvian national identity.
Mariategui’s break with the oligarchy’s nationalism is not an isolated event either. It occurs immediately after the revolt of Rumi Maqui (Teodoro Fernández Cuevas), a young liberal officer from the capital who was sent by the army to investigate a massacre of indigenous people and ended up organizing and leading a peasant revolt to reinstate a mythical Tahuantinsuyo.
What had been happening in the years immediately before the first Great Imperialist War, and which the history of Fernández Cuevas and Mariátegui’s theories reflect, is that a part of the bourgeoisie and the nationalist petty bourgeoisie was beginning to realize that the agrarian landowning classes of all the South American countries, semicolonial countries, were the main obstacle to the implantation of the national state in the territory. The state ended up in the hacienda. That is why they see the landowner as the main obstacle to the development of a national capitalism and Mariátegui will paint the large landowners as feudal.
On the other hand we find the Mexican Revolution as the political reference of the moment, or in other words: the centrality of the agrarian reform and of the peasantry -which in the distance they consider indigenous– as the basis of a national modernizing movement. And at hand they find the drive of the myth of the Tahuantinsuyo in which there was no hunger as a mobilizing element of the mountain peasantry itself.
Everyone who had seen the Mexican Revolution as a model finds it replicated in the peasant revolution within the Russian Revolution. Mariátegui certainly did. In fact, this is the dimension of the Russian Revolution in which he is most interested. His indigenism only makes sense in the framework of the goal of his anti-imperialist agrarian revolution. A context already criticized by theArgentine Communist Left in 1935 as a popular front disguised as an alliance with a non-existent revolutionary and anti-imperialist bourgeoisie.
In short: the first South American expressions of indigenism are not born from the experience of the Andean peasant movements, and even less within them. On the contrary, they are the result of a part of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie which is discovering in state capitalism the way to modernization and in the landowner oligarchy the enemy. An enemy against whom they would like to throw, in an interclassist, anti-imperialist revolution, on the one hand the peasant mobilization; and on the other the urban classes linked to the local market and the state. For that reason it will not be the Mariátegui’s PCP, but the semicolonial fascism of the MNR that will make real the creation of an indigenous political subject for the first time in the prelude of the Bolivian National Revolution.
Why did indigenism fail to appear as an autonomous political movement until the 80’s and 90’s?
Indigenism could not be, and never was, a movement of the traditional indigenous communities that, to begin with, did not identify themselves as abstractly indigenous in general, but each one as a separate group and from the perspective of its institutions.
Indigenism could only materialize as a real social movement after and during the breakdown of the indigenous communities that led to the birth of an urban petty bourgeoisie of Quechua and Aymara origin. A petty bourgeoisie with the vocation of bringing under its fold the peasantry born of the agrarian reform and directing to its advantage the inevitable process of destruction of the traditional Andean economy.
Albeit very marginally at first, this is what happened in the 60s and early 70s in Bolivia and Peru. The reforms of the MNR in Bolivia and of the Velasco dictatorship in Peru formed a first – and still tiny – generation of university students who almost automatically produced their first ideological expression: indismo or katarismo.
At the end of the 1970s, Katarists were already taking over the management of the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the union of small farm owners created by the MNR, and proceeded to reinterpret the themes of the National Revolution from the perspective of the rural petty bourgeoisie born out of the agrarian reform, arming it with a supposedly indigenous identity, rights and myths. Among the leaders of that time the most characteristic would be Víctor Hugo Cárdenas.
What catapulted these fundamentally peasant movements to the political forefront and into cultural hegemony? Fundamentally, the turn of parties like the MNR towards colonial neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s.
This turn meant the renunciation out of desperation of Perón’s original nationalist model, whether APRA’s or MNR’s, the classic version of the semicolonial economy: the state transferring income from the export sector to industry in order to sustain an internal market, a subsidized industrial bourgeoisie and an agrarian petty bourgeoisie. The aim was to replace the effort in that dependent and fragile domestic market with export industries, taking advantage of the wave of trade opening that the US began to promote in the 1980s.
The impact necessarily broke the petty bourgeoisie in two. The still fragile indigenous urban petty bourgeoisie embraced the new era. Victor Hugo Cárdenas himself became vice president of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (MNR) between 1993 and 1997.
But for the agrarian petty bourgeoisie, the situation was radically different. Indism turns into katarism and the profile of the leaders changes. As a great figure of a true Aymara nationalism, Felipe Quispe emerges. Quispe founded the Tupaj Katari Revolutionary Movement and its guerrilla, the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army in the eighties, where Álvaro García Linera, later vice president with Morales was trained as a leader.
Linera is the first intellectual from La Paz to join a real indigenous movement instead of trying to create such a movement. Years later, in 2000, his relationship with the cocalero movement and its leader Evo Morales led him to become the ideologue of MAS. His work was key to the MAS electorally and socially overcoming Quispe and becoming the focal point of opposition to the neoliberal semi-colonial model adopted by the MNR and the MIR. Morales rewarded him by offering him the vice-presidency.
Briefly: what gave rise to indigenism moving from being a discourse to a real political movement is the appearance, thanks to the agrarian reform and what accompanied it -access to the university of a tiny group of sons of the indigenous petty commercial bourgeoisie-, of a Quechua and Aymara petty bourgeoisie interested in politically articulating the disintegrating indigenous world. A petty bourgeoisie that will provide itself with a political discourse and to which the failure of the models of the 80s and 90s will give opportunities for access to power.
In this sense it is especially important to emphasize that indigenism, which, like any variant of nationalism, loves to adorn itself with ancestral claims, is a new phenomenon and as recent as the 80’s. While Rumi Maqui, Mariátegui, and the MNR had promoted an indigenist discourse to win over the Quechua and Aymara peoples in order to carry out the agrarian reform; what we now call indigenism will be the product of the the agrarian reform of the 1950s in Bolivia and the agrarian reform of the 1969s in Peru. And that is why it is much more powerful in Bolivia than in Peru, where land redistribution had a much smaller scope and depth.