October 12: two complementary packages of impostures and nationalism

12 October, 2021

October 12
Columbus statue. Caracas, October 12, 2004

October 12 again. And back again with the barbarities and outbursts of the Spanish right wing, López Obrador’s cynicism and the moralizing and “decolonizing” delusions of the identitarian university left. Each one with its own agenda but, however noisy it may be, their confrontation is only apparent. All are in fact selling us the same outdated product: a terminal nationalism which is as anti-historical as the system feeding it.

Table of Contents

What is actually being contested on October 12?

May 25, 1910. Civic parade celebrating the first centennial of Argentina's independence.
May 25, 1910. Civic parade celebrating the first centennial of Argentina’s independence.

All the positions heard in the “debate” on October 12 start from a series of common misunderstandings. The first of these, taking for granted that the debate itself is about a moral judgment: was the discovery and conquest of America “good” or “bad”?

Answering absurd questions is always sterile. One should rather ask why the question is being asked that way

A significant clue: in this historical judgment on October 12, everyone speaks in terms of the nation, which is shocking because there was no nation anywhere on the globe in 1492. It would still take three more centuries for the very concept to be outlined.

In fact, as soon as we listen to them it becomes clear that, under the form of a moral debate, they are discussing which historical account is the most suitable to construct the nationalist discourse regarding the origins of the nation and according to the interests of the classes and projects they represent.

The Spanish and Latin American right wing vindicates October 12 because it sees in the Conquest the origin of the current Latin American bourgeoisies, or more precisely, the bases for the advent of those classes as administrators of the nation three hundred years later. Put another way: they are celebrating themselves and their origins.

The left wing, on the other hand, denounces October 12 as the starting point of an “indigenous genocide” and steps on the moralizing pedal as part of a strategy to change the foundations of the national discourse.

The underlying idea they intend to convey is that the reason Ibero-American countries remain semi-colonial countries is not that the decadence of capitalism as a global system which makes it impossible, but rather the corrupt ruling classes born in the mold of the Conquest. They tell us: give the opportunity to “the peoples“, or what is the same, to the petty bourgeoisie, and an independent development of national capital will become possible on the basis of a strengthened state capitalism. Investments, technology and access to solvent markets will magically appear through “the will of the people”.

This is nothing new, it is the origin of indigenism as a political ideology starting in the 1910s.

The first South American indigenist expressions were not born out of the experience of the Andean peasant movements and even less so in their midst. On the contrary, they were the result of a part of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie who discovered in state capitalism the way towards modernization and also found in the landowning oligarchy the enemy.

An enemy on which they would like to dump, in an interclassist and “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. That is why it will not be Mariátegui’s PCP, but the semi-colonial fascism of the MNR (National Revolutionary Movement) who will bring about the creation of an indigenous political subject for the first time during the prolegomena of the Bolivian National Revolution.

Bolivia and indigenism, questions from readers, 11/15/2020
Read also: Bolivia and indigenism, questions from readers, 11/15/2020

Should the Spanish government “apologize”?

AMLO standing in front of portraits of Madero and Lázaro Cárdenas
AMLO standing in front of portraits of Madero and Lázaro Cárdenas

Over the past few years, both positions’ bone of contention has been Mexican President López Obrador’s call for Spain to apologize for the Conquest of Mexico.

The Spanish government has tried to wriggle out and let the ball drop, aware that in reality what López Obrador is asking for is Spanish imperialism’s backing in a rhetorical dispute that is not so much being played out against the Spanish state or capital as within the Mexican ruling class itself. The aforesaid attempt by the Spanish government to stay out of trouble has cost Spanish imperialism an even greater loss of influence in Mexico. Loss of influence that has been immediately taken advantage of by its European rivals.

In case there was any doubt that this whole “debate” is nothing more than a dispute within the ruling classes on either side of the Atlantic in which factional parallels take precedence over national differences, in Spain the immediate reactions came, in terms that could well have been shared by the leaders of the PAN, Piñera or Duque, from a right wing embracing the most fanatical nationalism and the crudest anti-communism, and which has gone on to vindicate the Conquest as being almost a model of humanitarian action.

On the other hand, in Spain there have been emerging, in the environments of the university petty bourgeoisie and its political expressions, discourses converging with the Ibero-American left nationalism. The most significant thing about them is that they attempt to have it both ways with indigenism and Spanish nationalism. They are the most genuine supporters of “apologizing”.

What they have in common with the so-called “revisionists” who claim the Conquest as a “national glory” and denounce the “black legend”, is that they both “forget” a fundamental fact: on October 12, 1492 there was no nation… nor was it expected by anyone.

As difficult as it may be for nationalists to accept, the subject of October 12, the Conquest and the colony were not non-existent nations and nation-states. The Conquest was nothing other than European feudal expansion. The same feudal warlords and crowns which shortly before and simultaneously asserted themselves by subjugating the south of the Iberian Peninsula, Northern Africa and the Macaronesia, Brazil and Goa.

If Spanish nationalism – whether right-wing or left-wing – feels concerned and challenged by American nationalisms, it is because the former and the latter share two basic historical falsifications: the existence of the nation before the birth of capitalism and the idea of the nation as a homogeneous and age-old historical subject.

Was October 12 historically progressive or reactionary?

October 12 opened the door to a period in which the first framework of the world market is outlined, linking China and Asia through the Philippines to Europe and America
October 12 opened the door to a period in which the first framework of the world market is outlined, linking China and Asia through the Philippines to Europe and America

October 12, as the moment ushering in the Conquest of America and the Philippines, caused economic earthquakes and reorganizations from Europe to China and laid the groundwork for the capitalist world market that would follow.

For this alone its historical sense is necessarily progressive. Without a world market there could never have appeared a universal class and with it the historical prospect of a universal human community. This applies not only to the American Conquest, but to the British domination of India and the entire so-called “European expansion” up to the first two-thirds of the 19th century.

Were they accompanied by genocides and countless crimes? Yes, of course. Nothing else can be expected from the expansion of a system based on the exploitation of one class by another. But that in no way alters their historical meaning and significance.

Read also: October 12 (in Spanish), 12/10/2018

Is October 12 worthy of celebration or reprobation?

Official names of October 12 in the various states of the Americas
Official names of October 12 in the various states of the Americas

As much as we understand the historically progressive character of October 12, 1492, we workers have no part in celebrating feudal glories, the origins of the current Spanish-American ruling classes or the historical delusions of the Spanish ruling class.

Whether they call it “Hispanic Heritage Day”, “Indigenous Resistance Day”, “Day of the Meeting of Two Worlds” or “Diversity Day”, they are all trying to invite us to see ourselves as part of the nation or of the people. In other words, they invite us to proudly represent ourselves as part of the system exploiting us. Their goal is for us to identify with it.

In the end, all the power of the ruling classes which have already finished their historical cycle is built on the weakness of the working class to imagine itself independently, as a political subject capable of standing on its own. The nationalist tactic makes political use of that weakness inherent to every exploited class: the difficulty to imagine itself without an exploiter.

AMLO and reparations, 3/27/2019

We have nothing to do with either the advocates or the detractors of October 12 because neither nationalism of one nor the other can offer us anything other than our own exploitation and sacrifice.

We have no national holiday to celebrate because we simply have no nation or nationality to defend.