“The Ideologues of Reaction” by José Carlos Mariátegui

Mariátegui in October, 1928.

We present below a short article by the great Peruvian socialist revolutionary José Carlos Mariátegui which appeared in 1927 in the Lima weekly Variedades, a magazine published from 1908-31, and is available in Spanish in Mariátegui’s complete works. The piece has been translated here—for the first time, as far as we know—by a member of the MDSO, for the insights it offers students for considering the ideological landscape of our own time. Written four years after his return to Peru following a period of study and exchange from 1919-23 in Europe, mainly Italy, Mariátegui surveys the state of dominant European thought from first-hand knowledge in the context of a series of facts: the German November revolution and subsequent events (Kapp Putsch, March Action), the Treaty of Versailles, the Italian biennio rosso, Mussolini’s March on Rome, the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr, and the Dawes Plan.

While skepticism and disillusionment spread among the liberals, the intellectual flunkeys of reaction and fascism were presented by history with new opportunities for their ambitions: Ramiro de Maeztu and the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera in Spain; Charles Maurras of Action Française, first formed during the antisemitic Dreyfus affair; and an array of figures in fascist Italy Giovanni Gentile, Alfredo Rocco, Curzio Malaparte, and Giuseppe Rensi. A gallery of canines who learned to read and write, worthy only of contempt.

Today, more and more, we are once again faced with the need to understand the material circumstances that explain a crisis of liberalism and a growth of reaction, including fascism. Nor should we forget Mariátegui’s prognosis that the “last word of the bourgeoisie” might still belong to a renovated capitalist liberalism.

The Ideologues of Reaction [1]

José Carlos Mariátegui

The reactionary deed has led to the reactionary idea, as I had the opportunity to point out regarding Maeztu’s adherence to the dictatorship in his country[2]. We now have a prolific philosophy of reaction; but in order for it to flourish smoothly, reaction itself was first necessary. I do not purport to say that reactionary intellectuals were absent prior to the crisis of democracy and liberalism, but that their theses, disjointed and fragmentary, had the character of a romantic protest, or of a crisis of pessimism in democratic institutions and principles, not that of an affirmative and belligerent system or doctrine that it has acquired after the fascist march on Rome. The general attitude of the Intelligentsia was, until the peace, a more or less orthodox acceptance of the ideas of Progress and Democracy. Reactionary thought contented itself with theoretical speculation, almost always with a negative and, in many cases, a literary character. Now, emerging from its cloister, it is winning over many intellectual adherents, causing great strain on the frightened and yielding conscience of democracy, and assuming the spiritual representation of Western civilization, badly defended, certainly, by its liberal ideologues, in whose ranks skepticism and disillusionment seem to have spread. In order for reactionary ideology to thrive in such a way, it was necessary, on the one hand, for fascism to proclaim and propagate its coups d’état and, on the other hand, for General Dawes[3] and the Yankee bankers to impose their economic control on the defeated Europe, the same as on the victorious Europe.

When Europe appeared to be shaken by revolutionary turmoil, and torn apart by its economic contradictions and its nationalist passions, the Intelligentsia was inclined to adopt an ominous and pessimistic attitude. Spengler’s theory, hastily interpreted as the prophecy of an already-unleashed cataclysm, engendered a mood of defeatism and hopelessness. Guglielmo Ferrero, identifying the destiny of Western civilization with that of capitalist democracy, introduced gloomy omens into the Latin spirit—although his distasteful preachings did not catch up to the Saxon spirit. In the rush to declare the bankruptcy of civilization, the length of time covered by Spengler’s prediction went unnoticed, within which began, precisely, a period of imperialist Caesarism, that very soon would have to inaugurate Mussolini[4], the old socialist agitator, reluctant as anyone else to draw inspiration from the philosophers.

Only after Europe entered a stage of capitalist stabilization, with the operation of the Ruhr settled and the revolutionary threat of Italy and Germany averted—and when, with some surprise, the intellectuals felt momentarily protected from the danger of confiscation or rationing—were theories developed and disseminated, from all corners, calling for and consulting with the reactionary dictatorships.

But this apologetics prospers, until today, practically in the countries where the demo-liberal idea, due to its scarce roots, has been easily beaten by the fascist method. The ideology of reaction belongs above all to Italy, although the fascist intellectuals present themselves, under many points of view, as those who suckle on the nationalism of Maurras. Italy occupies first place in the movement, not only because Gentile, Rocco, Suckert, etc., have undertaken the enterprise of explaining fascism with more spirit and originality—though perhaps greater recognition should be given to Giuseppe Rensi, whose Principi di Politica Impopolare[5] distinguishes him as one of the intellectual pioneers of reaction—but also because, in Italian fascism, reactionary theory is the child of the practice of the coup d’état. Suckert, at the very least, gives his thesis something like the sentiment of the truncheon. France, due to the attachment of its tribunes to the parliamentary and republican tradition, has contented itself with arriving at the prelude of dictatorship. It is not able to produce, despite the distinction of its ingenuity, a fascist literature emancipated from the Italian experience. René Johannet and Georges Valois imagine that they are direct disciples of Georges Sorel; but Italian fascism places the great author, so diversely understood, of Reflections on Violence among its teachers. And, Henri Massis, upon proclaiming the Roman order as the supreme law of the civilization of the West, subscribes to a concept of Italian fascism, which sees the greatest and most living spiritual reserve of Europe in the Latin character.

From his scholastic perspective, according to which the foundation of European civilization consists simply and exclusively of the Roman tradition, Henri Massis has carried out a defense of the West. Let’s call it an ex officio defense; since Western civilization does not seem highly prone to choosing its lawyer from among the ranks of the Roman Church.

The restoration to which fascism aspires—if we pay attention to its rhetorical allusions to the Roman Empire, although we should not forget that this same movement in its origin appeared anticlerical and republican—is still too improbable for the destiny of Western civilization to be indissolubly linked to the Latin character and to Catholicism. The dilemma of Rome or Moscow is no more than temporary. There still does not exist any serious reason to doubt that the last word of the bourgeoisie will not belong to Anglo-Saxon capitalism, in the conflict between Roman law and Soviet law.

The West, so eagerly defended by Henri Massis, is only partially Catholic and Latin. The capitalist phenomenon that dominates the entire modern age has been nourished by Protestant thought, individualistic and liberal, essentially Anglo-Saxon. The Reformation, a historical fact that Massis repudiates in an orthodox manner, still nurtures this culture with its sap, a culture which the French writer, with a scholastic zeal, wants to reduce to a Roman formula. This is something that even a simple novelist, without too much philosophical baggage, such as Paul Morand, has managed to notice.


1. Published in Variedades: Lima, October 29, 1927.

2. See the article “Maeztu, Ayer y Hoy” in José Carlos Mariátegui’s El Alma Matinal y otras Estaciones del hombre de Hoy (Editors’ note).

3. See the article “El debate de las deudas interaliadas” in La Escena Contemporánea by the author (Editors’ note).

4. See the chapter “Biología del Fascismo” in La Escena Contemporánea by the author (Editors’ note).

5. Principios de Política Impopular.