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Marxism in Latin America


Latin American communist parties tended to remain chary of insurrectionary strategies and labor radicalism in the postwar years. Indeed, the most militant opposition often came from other left dissidents. In Cuba, where the Communist Party had initially collaborated with the U.S.-backed military regime of Fulgencio Batista, the leadership of a nascent revolutionary movement emerged from the populist Ortodoxo Party (Partido del Pueblo Ortodoxo), and it was inspired as much by the romantic ideal of the revolutionary atentat (a spectacular act of revolutionary violence that was meant to inspire mass insurrection) as by Leninist notions of party organization. The movement's victory in 1956 was a puzzle for many Latin American Marxists as much as for U.S. cold warriors, as was the subsequent radicalization of the Cuban revolutionary regime. In the face of U.S. economic blockade and a CIA-sponsored invasion attempt, the revolutionary government in Cuba proclaimed its Marxist-Leninist orientation and accepted the Soviet Union's political support, military protection, and economic backing. Despite the Soviet Union's increased leverage, however, the revolution's leadership continued to depart from Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy.

In the years following the revolution, the revolutionary comandante Ernesto "Ché" Guevara elaborated a new theory of revolution known as foquismo, in which the revolutionary foco, a small cell of guerrillas in the countryside, replaced the vanguard party. Ché's theory contained an implicit criticism of most Latin American communist parties, which had all but abandoned revolutionary violence. Latin American revolution was not simply a possibility, foco theory held, but also a moral imperative. Revolutionaries must create "subjective" conditions for revolution rather than awaiting the proper objective conditions. The rural peasantry, rather than the urban proletariat, was the seedbed of socialist revolution. Similarly, a socialist, anti-imperialist revolution was a prerequisite for national economic development, rather than the other way around. In Ché's view, the Cuban Revolution was a beachhead for a broader Latin American revolution; the Andes would become the Sierra Maestra of South America.

Ché is conventionally portrayed as a romantic counterpoint to the authoritarian turn of the Cuban Revolution and the Soviet Union. Indeed, in his final years Ché did publicly clash with the Soviet Union and—less publicly—with Fidel Castro, and foquista guerrillas elsewhere in Latin America often clashed with mainline communist parties. But Ché's insistence on the centrality of the revolutionary foco also helped underwrite the exclusion of other groups that had been instrumental in Batista's overthrow and a rigid intolerance of political heterodoxy. Inspired by Ché's writings and example, a generation of young revolutionaries sought to establish guerrilla focos throughout Latin America, often without any advance political work, local ties, or knowledge of the terrain. Almost all of these expeditions ended in ignominious defeat—most notoriously Ché's own expedition to Bolivia—and later rural guerrilla movements, including the foquista movements that had survived the repression of the late 1960s and 1970s, tended to abjure Guevara's insurrectionary strategy in favor of a "prolonged people's war" like those waged in Vietnam and China.

One of the most severe critiques of foquismo came from Abraham Guillén, a Spanish Civil War veteran living in Argentina and Uruguay. In his Estrategia de la guerrilla urbana (1966), Guillén echoed Ché's call for popular insurrection and Latin American liberation on a continental scale, but he also insisted that the movement would be led by urban proletariat rather than the rural peasantry. During the 1960s and 1970s, urban guerrilla movements emerged throughout Latin America, most famously the Argentine Montoneros and the Uruguayan Tupamaros. None of these movements were strictly Marxist in orientation, and they often drew their leadership from the left wing of national populist movements as well as communist dissidents. Indeed, like foquista guerrillas, they tended to clash with mainline communist parties, which often viewed voluntarist and insurrectionary strategies as little more than dangerous adventures. After Ché's death at the hands of CIA-backed counterinsurgency forces—and under pressure from the Soviet Union—the Cuban government, too, abandoned its earlier support of revolutionary focos and sought a rapprochement with other Latin-American governments.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Macrofauna to MathematicsMarxism in Latin America - Antecedents And Origins, 1929–1959: International Crises And The Search For Common Ground, Foquismo, The 1970s And After: New Heterodoxies