Colombian troops killed Jesús Santrich in Venezuela on May 17, 2021. Santrich was a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and spokesperson for the FARC’s negotiating team during peace talks with the Colombian government that ended in 2016. In this essay from March of 2009, Santrich as political theoretician explores the interrelations of Marxist and Bolivarian thought and the effects on both of utopian longings, political feasibilities, and the reach of history.
This English language version of Santrich’s essay from is incomplete in that some segments of the author’s lengthy quotations from various sources are omitted and sections of two long descriptive commentaries are summarized rather than translated. All translation notes are bracketed in line with the text. Editorial notes are indicated as endnotes. Thanks are due to Professor John Womack for kindly reviewing this translation. Please find additional notes on the translation at the end of the essay.
—W.T. Whitney, Jr.
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
Socialist revolution throughout the world, looking to the horizon of the communist utopia, will have to collide with worldwide capitalism for that phenomenon to be overcome definitively. Socialist revolution surely will be breaking the imperialists’ chain at its weakest link, as Lenin would have said.
In any case, Marxism must be nurtured from reality, our own history, and prevailing circumstances, as we ceaselessly search out every corner of time and space to visualize the march of society—and to influence and transform society without waiting for the right conditions to fall from the heavens.
Utopia is of the essence for Marxists just as is selective research into “significant structures” and as is the rescuing for social science and revolutionary practice of insights to be gained from a vigorous, all-encompassing overview during the transition period, with its unknown destination and constant renewal. As a guide to method and action, such research will have to look into the nature and logic of the Marxists’ movement, while understanding that no category, not even a law of social development, is self-evident. No truth of any kind is in everyone’s head automatically, no matter how brilliant he or she may be.
If we look at things dialectically, the truth is there in the depths, on the surfaces, or on externalizations of phenomena as a whole. In other words, we examine human relations in society as a whole as it evolves in a rhythm of contradictions.
Marxists must keep utopia foremost in their consciousness. It drives mass actions. They must assume that a revolutionary movement, whatever its origins, doesn’t qualify as such if it lacks that component manifesting as irrepressible effort towards change categorized as “impossible.” But utopia must always take off from a basis in realty. We humans have the duty to regard the world we want as another world That is possible. Paraphrasing Bolívar, we are looking for the “impossible,” while leaving the possible up to everyone else, every day.
The object is always to make the “impossible” possible and never have history stop, and we don’t insist on a perfect ending for all time. Even so, in the here and now, humankind has to be looking endlessly for new and better horizons.
One of the fundamental values of Bolivar as a revolutionary protagonist prior to Marx, and of Bolivarism as a current compendium of his ideas, is exactly that: commitment to the “impossible.” The essence of the Bolivarian project manifested in its customary persistence in total war against the Spanish oppressors and against all oppressors. In his role as theoretician and day-to-day protagonist of emancipation, Bolivar was a combatant not only for political autonomy, as were many of his contemporaries, but also as the champion of continental revolution. He was the father of ideas put forth but never realized—and needed now more than ever. These are the utopian ones: achievement of the Great Homeland and of the hemispheric republic, and assuring the equilibrium of the universe, etc.
The father of our Colombian nationality, Bolivar the revolutionary, the insurgent, the visionary, was seeking the total destruction of colonialism but was also attending to that which was beyond the possibilities of his time, the possibilities of the “impossible.” He foresaw the construction of a global society under conditions of equality, justice, and true democracy. From this perspective, he warned us of the danger of Yankee imperialism.
Conscious of the historical process he was part of, Bolivar knew then that he had to act with transformative determination, without voluntarism.1 On the march, he characteristically was analyzing concrete conditions and immediate possibilities. He focused on what could actually be achieved under the circumstances of his present. He always remembered that the people were the true protagonists of history, and that he, Bolivar, was but a “weak straw,” buffeted by the revolutionary hurricane. With his continental, even universal, vision—and never restricting himself to the confines of each “tiny republic”—the Liberator knew that while the Spaniards continued to oppress peoples on the continent, implementation of his ideas would be inconclusive. In that way, he was Colombian.
The reach of his Colombian dream went even beyond desire to decapitate the European thieves who rule over the universe. The utopia of the Liberator, ultimately, as with any true utopia, was preparing for “the impossible” at the level of praxis, from a base of actual circumstances.
Marxism, Bolivarianism and Utopia
To declare oneself Bolivarian and, as such, declare oneself a revolutionary on the Marxist path implies lifelong motivation derived from the hope of transforming society and finding justice. This is a constant and is strong enough with its broad vision as to point to utopia as a characteristic of political consciousness and the natural result of rational belief.
In that regard, utopia is a higher goal of commitment. That is so in any case relative to its appearance on presentation when the matter of possibility or impossibility is already uncertain, something that depends on extreme difficulties that may arise. It is relative also in terms of purpose inasmuch as the historical implementation of utopia evolves, but doesn’t end, like history itself.
In the hopeful quest for realization of the “impossible,” the process calls upon a mixture of illusions, realism, magic, and love for the people as a reason for 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 humans and nature in absolute equilibrium, thus displaying the potentials of historical memory, faith, dignity, and our identity as vital factors for existence.
Confronting oppression and marching on the path of utopia, the revolutionary sheds 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 of someone who fixes on an ideology that, while encompassing reality, is not yet solidified and is perhaps uncertain. The goal is set of becoming absolutely convinced that this reality will be fulfilled, “impossible” though it may seem. In an ostensibly reckless statement, the Liberator suggested That is what we are supposed to do, “because everyone else, every day, takes care of that which is possible.”
For example, that was Bolivar’s frame of mind as he undertook a mission improbable for almost anyone else, that of climbing over the grey hairs [canas] of the Andes to liberate New Granada. That was Marx’s attitude too when he wrote in support of the Paris Commune [of 1871], expressing certainty that the duty of all revolutionaries is to “storm the heavens.” They do so, urged on by their demanding sense of ethics and motivated to free themselves from oppression. In the process they enhance all values of human experience built into history.
The author of the Communist Manifesto, appealing to selfless purpose, was calling for struggle offering the possibility of risks. Projects were taken on that perhaps looked absurd—what well-reasoned nonsense!—or unfeasible. Marx was calling for action needing to pass a test of fire in the face of historical commitment prompted by circumstances, even at the risk of death. He was clarifying a concept of living, whose own ethics intermeshed with the dialectics of reality that was moving, but always toward the future. That is how the course of historical development proceeds with high levels of noble altruism and with unbreakable determination to confront every obstacle imposed by exploitation of man by man.
It is a matter of the possibility that is being disputed interacting with the ideal, and the ideal seeking to be established as reality, and all of it ultimately breaking apart as a “realistic utopia,” according to the revolutionary’s yardstick. But as occurred in France in May 1968, realism is magical also, especially when events move beyond what seems merely to be feasible on to something 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.
This definition of commitment to the “impossible,” which marks the highest commitment to utopia, delineates a concept, revolutionary of course, in which the vision of possibility, even at the level of the improbable, derives from convictions as to purpose, and from feelings and reasons favoring risk that go beyond what’s strictly rational.
His “crazy little army” liked to call Augusto Cesar Sandino the “General of Free Men”. That guerrilla force of his bravely took on Yankee marines invading his country [Nicaragua].
They fought because their search for truth on the complicated road of anti-imperialist struggle and emancipation not only demanded attention to meticulous planning, 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 envisions Marxists and Bolivarians alike as rising up, in our world, to the level of magical realism. And why not? Magical realism goes beyond mere rationalism. We have symbols, imagination, and creativity—all based on rich traditions rooted in indigenous experience in the Americas. It is founded also 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 is ideal for the benefit of humankind.
Utopia: transcendence and the means for its achievement
One of the most important aspects of Bolivar’s and Marx’s ideas about a higher and more humanizing state of being is that they are inexhaustible. That is 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 is a vision of what has to be, and goes beyond what now is. Visualized also is the highest social stage in which virtue becomes the common characteristic of humanity.
In thought and action these revolutionaries living their lives seemed to ignore any incongruence, whether obvious or merely suggested, between their purpose, which is about the “impossible,” and the means for its achievement. That is the true frame of reference for revolutionaries.
As regards utopia, the possibility is announced of hope-engendering change, even if the road to its achievement is ill-defined. That was so with the utopia of Mariátegui. Although he may have lacked really specific designs for how to get there, what plans he did propose for implementing his proposals always derived from great inspiration. It is unfair to disqualify them on grounds of action that was ineffective or of excess intellectualism inasmuch as no revolution ever anticipates the revolution that is bound to follow.
Otherwise, it does makes sense that no true version of Marxism would reject or abandon what amounts to a project of emancipation simply because it lacks clarity or certainty. Nor would the true Marxist avoid attempts to reach an explanation of capitalism and of class struggle while undertaking to confront them. And by no means would Marxism abandon utopia as a proposal for creating a humanely human world, as if to humanize the world beforehand for the sake of 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 outlined there as part of liberating transformation may indeed coexist with oppression. Fully-realized socialism is by no means imminent. And so, quite definitely, 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 with 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 was horrified: “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 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 in reaction to strong opposition from conservatives headed by Francisco de Paula Santander.2 He also refers to 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 offers unfavorable comments about the young United States. His narrative continues:]
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 constant and pressing, 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 great 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 basic rights.” 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, alternatively, culminating in the death of hope. Also, we may envision finalization as per Marcuse, for whom the situation may be such that purposes claimed to be altruistic are now favored by objective and subjective conditions that are absolutely feasible.
This circumstance in one way or another implies movement of an epoch, a change in characteristics of the time in which one is living, a “new period,” or a transition or abrupt change in regard to previous historical circumstances. We can embrace change as a valuable tradition to be looked upon as enabling us to face the future with optimism. This involves break-up or renovation in the sense either of total rejection of what is old and of substitution the new, or of radical change that may call for throwing out the old but not doing so as an absolute. Rescue means gathering up the richest part of the past as experience.
For the revolutionary, the past doesn’t have to disappear from 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, such as, for example, the idea that we can’t find in earlier times those norms we need for direction.
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 creation. 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 experience of the past as movement that is 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, they form a unit.
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 is so in the sense of our being quite aware that historical consciousness necessarily touches upon “the old” and contains a craving for utopia. One is balanced with the other along that path we call hope.
Utopia, “realism” and history
It has long been assumed that Marxist thought was critical of “utopia” especially in reference to “utopian socialism.” “Scientific socialism” was proposed in opposition to utopian socialism on grounds that the latter offers a better future only in the abstract. The idea gained currency that that utopia is an unrealizable dream, an illusion, or something converted into pure fiction. Its advocates and followers are assumed to be imagining an unworldly, pretty place called paradise. Supposedly, they aren’t actually thinking about how to create an alternative world.
For the “realist” or “dialectical-historical materialist, “utopia” thus becomes an empty idea. These thinkers are looking for “concrete analysis of a concrete situation;” they assume “utopia” to be an “unsubstantial idea,” For them, possibility is not enough, dynamic though it may be. To fulfill the transformative role prescribed by Marxist philosophy, one does have to define means and methods. But this critique isn’t enough, in our view, without the addition of a clear design of alternative possibilities.
And, what about the impossible?
It is worth specifying that, in the Bolivarian view of things, building something is not a matter of fantasy, but is founded on real foundations. And not only that: we offer the incentive of projecting what we do into the future so that, with utopia and history now interwoven, the project takes on a dimension of ceaselessness as it proceeds always toward newer and higher horizons. The issue remains despite the opinion of Marxists that Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, or Proudhon is disqualified by virtue of his identification as a utopian socialist.
Our suggestion is, rather, that revolutionaries think of utopianism as something more than a fantasy or, similarly, more than trying to build the future, as it may seem, without firm foundations. It is now clear that socialism designated as utopian has been and continues to represent an irreplaceable contribution to Marxism. Many of those who emphasize a supposed “scientific socialism” or the “science” of an often distorted “materialism” tend to forget this. Utopian socialism is also a fundamental source of assumptions that feed into the Bolivarism of today. There too, as with Marxism, to make a utopia makes no sense apart from the action involved and the consequences of what is being theorized.
According to Guevara, the revolutionary must, in effect, be “a man who acts as he thinks.” That was how it was with Bolivar, especially as he searched for the “impossible,” or what seemed to be such. Utopia is programed to be an alternative proposition for life, one that at a given time is either possible or “impossible.” Nevertheless, utopia does serve as 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 preserves the condition of ceaselessness and, consequently, is a factor that is not used up as energy in the process of change.
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 was that of history not being used up in the era at hand, when lives are being lived. They envisioned history as a matter of action going beyond and transcending, even if circumstances appear unfavorable for success in the long term. But Bolivar and Marx conceptualized immediate horizons too. For them, these were stages to be breached on their road of 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, ever-expanding continental homeland, 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. With admiration and fear, I observe the prosperity and splendor of life in this vast region….”
[Santrich continues with excerpts taken from Simon Bolivar’s speech at the Congress of Angostura in 1819. They are not translated here.]
Neither Bolivar nor 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 apprehension on facing the danger that imperialism poses for the very existence of the planet with its catastrophic kind of developmentalism. In the face of great challenges, great resolve is necessary, really a triple boldness: action that overcomes determinism; recovery of the role of subjectivity, passion, audacity, and recklessness; and faith in the initiative of the masses, as they face the immediate prospect of “defeat.” In such circumstances, uncertainty and silence are worth nothing.
What audacity implies, even for the true revolutionary, is to not let defeat become capitulation to domestication, submission, and regret of purpose. This is 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 sow pessimism within the left. They’ve succeeded in doing so in regard to many former revolutionary groups and especially among the so-called progressive intelligentsia.
Those elements have long been ready to perform their nauseating role of apostates. They’ve built upon the deceptive notion that we are confronting a universe radically different from decades back and that, therefore, we need new coordinates for action and new ways of thinking. Consequently, we see abandonment of analysis and political action typical of our “post-modern” era. Therefore, we are supposed to say goodbye to Marxism and that “chimera” that is socialism, and in the same breath say, “with good reason.” It would be farewell also to “outmoded” thinking represented by Bolivarism and its ideal of the Great Homeland.
In the realm of revolutionary consciousness, this is unthinkable. If we are true Marxists and Bolivarians, our utopias of socialism and the Great Homeland must show the greatest moral strength, even in the worst of circumstances. They would be as unbreakable as the morality of Bolivar of 1812, who, having been defeated in Puerto Cabello, reemerges in the “Admirable Campaign.”3 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, supported fully by the oligarchy, betrayed the independence cause and delivered troops and arms to the Spanish army, which at the time was almost moribund in Pativilca.
In those unfavorable circumstances, Sucre himself, the hero of Ayacucho, whom the Liberator considered to be his most valued officer, advised Bolivar “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: “I will triumph.” Bolivar’s faith in victory was absolute.
It was under those same terrible circumstances that Bolivar announced, “My watchword is to win or die in Peru.” The latter didn’t happen, and in the year 1825, the army of the Liberator, with its infantry, calvary, artillery, and navy again fully mobilized, was the foremost military power of America.
As regards Marx and Marxism, the meaning of utopia was on display in Marx’s vindication of utopia in the concrete situation of the Parisian workers in 1871 and in Lenin’s reflections on the situation of the Russian revolutionaries of 1905. In the first instance, Marx takes the example of the Paris Commune to propose that actions there varied in essential ways from views he put forth in the Communist Manifesto. The rising of 1871 gained Marx’s enormous admiration in several ways such as, for example, “the destruction of the parasitic state.” This sought-after outcome he identified as the essence of the program and objectives of those Paris revolutionaries.
Lenin also justifies utopia in his criticism of Plekhanov who complained of those daring to rise up that, “they didn’t really have to take up arms.” But in well-taken advocacy, Lenin rescues the role of subjectivity, of romanticism, if you will. He denounces a misunderstood or mistaken version of “materialism” that ends up disqualifying those who risked everything for the option of dignity. Lenin claims that the revolutionaries of 1905 would have gained Marx’s admiration no less than did the Paris communards in their attempt to “storm the heavens.” Like Marx, Lenin takes the side of the Commune of Paris despite its supposed failure and everything else. He also views 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 informing his captors that even this, his defeat, would play a role in stimulating the Bolivian people’s awareness. We realize that the example of an individual’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 after a fight or succumbing to oppression with no 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 trying to do so. This approach represents a break from whatever kind of sterile orthodoxy, or useless “objectivity.” Ultimately, “being realists and doing the impossible” wins out, against all odds. That was the case with Bolivar’s determination to ascend the Andes, which was a matter of “doing the impossible because every day everyone else takes care of the possible.”
Denial of Utopia
Where is the satisfaction in denying utopia? Who gains when dreams and energies are fenced in? These are the very dreams and energies that are already aroused and pushing us to create a society with no exploiters, a society of dignity, justice, and happiness? The future of humanity requires the strengthening of utopia, and today more than ever. That is because imperialism poses imminent danger to our survival.
To deny utopia is to reject creative possibilities for humanity and—even more—to deny individuals the possibility of revolutionary transformation. Today, the eradication of humanity itself is well within all scientific possibilities. Such a vision of disaster was once unimaginable. But we who refuse to believe that man is by nature a wolf in human form are duty-bound to struggle for utopia and sustain it. Our utopia is about human existence and nature, and about collaboration, mutual aid, and happiness—the highest state of being. Therefore, the essence of the problem is fully revealed now, in our own 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 through the destructive power of capitalism. But we will not idle around patiently waiting for an automatic end to capitalism and for a communist alternative automatically to flourish. Humanity’s conscious intervention is necessary. It is our immediate duty. Revolutionaries must connect utopia with liberation practice, at whatever cost.
For FARC revolutionaries, the utopia of Marxism and the Utopia of Bolivarism coincide fundamentally in that enduring 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, calling for the development of emancipatory, continental unification, it surely provides the necessary foundation for the construction of socialism within an Indio-American perspective. It. 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”, man dominated by the ephemeral, man of a transitional reality, man of the kind alluded to by the dying Bolivar 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. They are ready to seize the ideal with craziness, if need be. This is creative, instructive and paradigmatic craziness, the kind practiced by the Liberator himself. He is one who—as the distinguished Colombian poet and historian Juvenal Herrera Torres might have said—“leads our people, that multitude of Sancho Panzas, in the style of Don Quijote. He merges them into a whole and they blend into a single epochal gallop toward the conquest of utopia. What craziness! This is the craziness we need so that humanity may advance, although the common wisdom has us vegetating passively like slaves and servants. But then again, they always say that anything out of the ordinary is crazy.”
Furthermore, according to this idea, It is the revolutionary who combines thought and action, who thinks and then acts to redeem utopia. Or as exemplified by the Liberator, he is like Christ, Don Quixote, or Bolivar himself—in other words, history’s fools and triflers. That is to say: there is man as man ought to be, the one who, now facing the imminence of capitalist chaos, confronts oppression in order to contribute to the forging of a different world, even if he won’t be enjoying it for himself.
This is no easy task, because those vociferating about the end of history and the death of ideologies have always sought to finish off utopia, finish off redemptive dreams of being human. They try 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 and placid militants, nihilistic and fatalistic. It turns out, however, that the journey of the true revolutionary—who above all, is a builder of the future—is defined by optimism as a condition for history’s march.
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 show that as long as revolutionary conscience exists, the possibility of “should be” requires that all utopian energy created for us by our historical consciousness be released. The object is to transition without fail to a society without exploiters or exploited.
Within this framework of ideas, to anticipate an end-point that is a specific or particular type of utopia is in no way admissible. That is simply because, as we’ve suggested, utopia may manifest throughout history with diverse characteristics at various times. It operates on the assumption of new stages of humanizing development, new dimensions, and no finalization.
To admit the end of utopia would be like admitting the possibility of the end of history.
We propose to go beyond the ideology of the utopian socialists, as Marxist critique tried to do, but also to go beyond and not deny. We propose to go beyond the purposes and goals of scientific socialism, or, more straightforwardly, beyond the ideals and goals of really-existing socialism, which largely failed. Or we could continue advocating for the society of labor as utopia, or stay with the idea, along with Marcuse in the 1960s, that humanity’s big purpose is no longer reflected in a “utopian dream.” Marcuse concluded that the historical moment had arrived when It is 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 maybe can be built because the conditions are right. From that point on, we have Marcuse’s argument that utopia is ending, and the message is taken “that the new possibilities of a human society and of its surrounding world are a given, but are not within the same historical continuum with respect to the previous society.” (Marcuse. “The End of Utopia” Barcelona 1986)
But in the revolutionary sense, both Bolivarian and Marxist, utopia does exist 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, remain separate from unavoidable experiences, in particular, the failings of really-existing socialism. The implication is that we improve things by seizing upon the positives of different experiences.
In conclusion, the historical sense of utopia and of “making the impossible” relates to ideals of social transformation which, in a given situation, may lack subjective and objective factors in their favor. We suggest they haven’t reached conditions of maturity, a prime example being Bolivar’s life-project of building the Great Homeland, or that of the Paris Commune with the appearance of communism, or even in the twentieth century with attempts at creating models of socialism. Many such conditions failed to 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, that Bolivarian and Marxist synthesis in our own time, stands in opposition to nature or history.
That Utopia Called “Our America”
For revolutionaries to return to “doing the impossible,” in the radical sense, temporarily, even at the level of extreme difficulty implies “not staying seated 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 means that there’s no waiting around for subjective and objective conditions to ripen before action is taken, but rather, they exist and action catalyzes them.
In that respect, it wasn’t generally appreciated, 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 socialism. But the material conditions for 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 unfolding of the Marxian utopia in practice—that initially didn’t lead to Batista’s overthrow—that did strengthen aspirations to higher altruistic purposes. After a heroic armed insurrection and after taking power, those comrades did raise their voices against imperialism and did defend the most deeply-felt concerns of the exploited peoples of the world.
They did so in that magnificent document titled “The First Declaration of Havana.”
It 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 an imperialism “that with miserable submission of traitorous governments has, over the course of 100 years, converted Our America into a zone of exploitation, into a 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 “attempts to reinstate the Monroe Doctrine, utilized 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 accumulated wealth handed over to U.S. imperialism and that prevent its true voice from being heard in meetings where tamed foreign ministers notoriously parrot the line of their despotic master”.… [Santrich then quotes at length from the Second Declaration of Havana which was issued in Havana on February 4, 1962 in response to the OAS’s expulsion of 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 nurtured 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 its 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 establish 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 a thousand or so 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 quotes from various statements within the FARC’s Declaration that are in line with positions taken at the Havana conference. That Declaration presented by what is also known as the Southern Bloc Guerrilla Conference concludes with the following paragraph:]
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 make him surrender. For more than half a century he traipsed 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 reflecting Marxist and Bolivarian ideology. His struggle passed from a claim on a plot of land to participation in Colombia’s revolution. It took up the cause also of continental emancipation and the founding of socialism in Our America, that great and unified homeland Bolivar dreamed about.
Through thick and thin and with his rifle in hand until the last moment of his life, Marulanda marched to eternity on March 28, 2008, convinced that the building of communism was unquestionably the only route toward human redemption. He left us persuaded of the validity, legitimacy, and necessity of armed insurrection in the struggle to establish a better world without exploiters and exploited. We observe that marvelous self-denial and 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 determine to fight to create them.
We may say also that they are committed subjectively to creating those conditions. That is because, according to such criteria, entirely correct, consciousness can exert real influence over structure. Indeed, as Bolivar taught, unity is being forged while emancipation is accomplished, and emancipation takes place while unity forms. 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 counsel us to stay calm as we do big things. That is strange: 300 years of calmness are not enough? … 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 that conditions still weren’t right for proclaiming independence, this at a time when he was seeing unification and liberation of all America, not just Venezuela, as urgent. Our homeland is America! And America is the equilibrium of the world, disposed toward service for humanity. That is the utopia full of internationalism, solidarity, and the deep humanism of Bolivarian thinking for which Manuel Marulanda Vélez fought, and around which he formed his army.
Simón Rodríguez and the Utopia of Bolivarism
That utopia may become reality doesn’t imply its ending, but rather its transformation into higher aspirations. Qualitative mutation takes place. We say, similarly, that just as matter achieves higher forms of development, so too utopia evolves to the degree that It is fulfilled. And we reiterate this because there are many who may not want utopia to die, although by no means do they seek its evolution to vital permanence. Instead, they prefer that utopia not be fulfilled. Their kind of utopia follows the path of hope being annihilated.
As part of revolutionary consciousness, utopia serves as a goad for constant struggle as it reflects or projects goals for the future. As a duty, it moves goals from a plane of pure abstraction to one of fulfillment through action, at any cost, directed basically toward long-term emancipatory outcomes. 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 It is a philosophy of hope. It assumes that, if all people know their obligations and feel impelled to fulfil them, they will all remain faithful, because they will be striving 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 framed by culture as the essential element for building a new democratic and republican social order in which the common good comes first.
Together with his teacher Simón Rodríguez, the Liberator harbored transformative notions applying to future ages. But his horizons were short-term also, applying to his own time. In other words, his aspirations could be viewed as a utopian scenario based on greater feasibility. But they did represent a step toward a higher-level utopia, 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, had a vision of the unique type of society Bolivar was projecting. Assigning a fundamental role to reason and calling for a new society without hang-overs from the past, his ideas would become part of Bolivarian ideology, to which he contributed in fundamental ways.…
[Santrich next details various aspects of Rodríguez’s thoughts, introducing quotations from the latter’s writings that highlight a message of human solidarity. Santrich maintains that Rodríguez was a more effective advocate for the common good and sharper critic of individualism than Jean-Jacque Rousseau. Santrich expands upon Rodríguez’s criticism of Jeremy Bentham, the British founder of the school of philosophical thought known as utilitarianism. Bentham is identified as a favorite of Colombia’s liberal anti-colonialists who opposed Bolivar. Santrich continues:]
While Benthamism signified a divorce from the Spanish ethos with its new pattern of ethical ideas, metaphysics, and theory of law and the state, it rendered judgments contradictory to Hispanic tradition. It represented, in essence, the ideals of a commercial and industrial middle class, pragmatic and rationalistic, that was determined still to maintain the colonialist regime’s slaves and servants, in harmony with the United States, which Bolivar detested.
We point out that Simón Rodríguez’s thinking entered into Bolivarian ideology as a fundamental component of its deepest conceptualization. Rodríguez is recognized as a prominent socialist thinker whose influence on the Liberator in this regard is well established. It is only natural that the impact of the teacher’s socialist ideas would influence the shaping of his disciple’s political consciousness.
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 appearing after publication of the Communist Manifesto. That is the time-frame marking the emergence of scientific socialism, at least according to Marx’s evaluation as enshrined in the Anti-Dühring.4 There, Marx claims that earlier socialist theories correspond to a period marked by immaturity of both capitalist production and the proletariat.
Nevertheless, we reiterate that these theories anticipated and contributed to the Marxist approach. They contain ideas of enduring value and were of as much depth and maturity as ideas that, as in Rodríguez’s case, 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 took up in practice with much conviction and that already encompassed internationalism and solidarity as fundamentals of social construction. Contained within was the theme of education as a space where intellectual activities and practical action come together as the basis for the new society.
Also involved was the Bolivarian concept of a “morals and enlightenment” campaign directed toward revolutionary transformation. The implication of these considerations at the very least is that of a scientific convergence with Robinsonian thought, which nurtured Bolivar, the Liberator, in his work. [Another name used by Simón Rodríguez was “Samuel Robinson.”] Clearly, the striking originality with which Bolivar’s teacher—whatever his name—affected him did not originate from a void. There was a thread connecting the teacher with socialist thought he encountered in Europe on his travels there. That thread also connected Bolivar and Rodríguez with the communitarian tradition of American Raizal communities which the latter admired and affirmed.5
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 is 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 a 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 is evident, then, that the guiding thread of socialist thought that went from Simón Rodríguez to Bolivar also connected with Marxism. 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 and thorough-going socialist. But apart from whether or not there was contact of an intellectual or temporal nature, it was to be expected that all the revolutionaries marching with them did coincide in their awareness and purposes. How could that have been otherwise as long as they were motivated by a 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 [in earlier times] 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 Bolivar’s, such an ideal might not also have existed? But beyond that, there’s clear evidence that such was the case.
Precisely between 1820 and 1830, socialist thought exerts considerable 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 to establish socialism. But we have to recognize their huge theoretical contribution as fundamental to the shaping of Marxist theory.
The case of Gracchus Babeuf is another matter. It must be said that this revolutionary was certainly set on taking power. Here we are undoubtedly dealing with a great advocate of the communist utopia, a true pioneer of bold action toward fulfillment of the “impossible,” a promotor of realizing the ideal, even risking his life for the cause. He is fully prepared for sacrifice as a true revolutionary, even rising to a plane that goes beyond that of 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 transcendent. 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 does not mean that his trail, like that of the heroic Rosa Luxemburg herself, is not going to end up as “a luminous trail in the pages of revolutionary history”. Of course, That is so now, and then some.
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 unflinchingly delineated his utopia. What Simón Rodríguez inherited from Babeuf nourished Bolivarism from its beginnings.
None of these efforts has achieved the purpose of installing socialism and, as now is the situation after several failed experiments of “socialist creation,” capitalist domination rages most savagely in the greater part of the planet. But neither those old attempts or the new ones can be considered as buried under the smoking rubble of the Parisian barricades, nor under the ruins of the Berlin Wall, nor 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 is strengthened with new experience that now has the grace of converging with the power of 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 doing away with the image of the Liberator, but with the possibility of his emancipation project, and with his utopia.
The Bolivarian Marxist Utopia Now
It is 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 logic suggesting that the communist utopia was feasible. He 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. These add risk and even unsustainability to the very existence of humanity. 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, those that never materialized as an alternative to capitalism, It is 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 for rescue.
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 potential of utopia. We would take back the rich heritage of generations of revolutionaries who preceded us, whether as Bolivarians, as Marxists, or both. 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 oligarchies and imperialism, with no respite granted the reactionaries, and with all forms of struggle and all available means being applied. We rely 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. Equally indispensable are those 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, having nothing to lose but our chains, and have a whole world to win. It is imperative to look towards the torch of utopia, which, shining, lights the path to emancipation.
But It is 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 discredit 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.” We will be called “terrorists,” or any of the other denigrating and unimaginable epithets within this “florilegium” of insults, as Engels would say (signifying “anthology”), that they’ve long used against us in their ideologic and obscene media wars.
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 seek to rule for another ten thousand years. With their violence they ensure that ‘everything will stay the same.’ And many of the oppressed sorrowfully say, ‘We’ll never obtain what we need.’”
Now with Brecht, we must respond:
Whoever is still alive, do not say ‘never.’ What’s firm is not firm. Nothing stays the same. When rulers speak, the ruled talk back. Who dares say never? What does oppression rest on? On us! Whom do we depend on for it to end? On us, again! Let him rise who is down! Whoever is lost, let him fight! Who can hold back the one who knows his condition? For the vanquished of today are the victors of tomorrow. What’s ‘never’ becomes today.
Because utopia is not quietude, these thoughts go beyond “pure fantasies.” No one may condemn humanity to a course that is inevitably chaotic and unpredictable, cruel and unjust. We continue looking for that sought-after world that is different and better, the one that lets us leave prehistory behind. That is what Marx predicted when he said this will happen when a truly rational, just and equitable social system exists on earth. That is the necessary dream that for a revolutionary rationalizes existence. It may seem “impossible.” Some think the idea is useless and fantastical. They say utopia is to dream of “impossible” things, and they may be correct.
But as Bolivarian Marxists, all of that is precisely about us. We struggle for the “impossible,” but not within the time-frame of a single life. To gain what is obviously indispensable for the survival of the species and is attainable won’t fit within that time limit; maybe That is what they call “realism.” Our realism may be like that, but above all, It is also about “doing the impossible.” That is 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 pattern 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 adjusting the pattern, we elaborate a precise idea: “Now we go back and look for them on the bank of the river from which they one day 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 from which 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 that he founded. All the while, stories of his death and of his utopia are heard in the confines of the forest and mountains. These teachings from the insurgent hero of Bolivar’s Colombia, that outstanding expression of revolutionary militancy, allow us to say as combatants of the FARC that our organization is no place where Bolivarian or Marxist ideas frolic on the desks of clever ideologues who represent 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, in confronting capitalism, crisis-ridden despite its huge military might, will modestly persevere and will by no means disregard the military aspect of the class struggle. That is something that those who are penitent, reformist, and resigned often hide with pacifist rhetoric stemming from cowardice and opportunism. We of the FARC repeatedly call attention to this tendency as we follow a road opened up by Comandante Manuel. He testified to its relevance with a whole life of dedication.
We repeat his words with more conviction than ever:
The efforts and sacrifices of 43 years of revolutionary action and confrontation by the commanders, guerrillas, leaders of the Clandestine Communist Party, civilian population, those fallen in combat, and those imprisoned in city and country now demonstrate to the ruling class of the traditional parties, and of the state, that revolutionary struggle is just and may no longer be postponed. Defeat is impossible, despite claims from previous governments and the present one. We say that those who govern will sooner or later find their solution to be in political negotiations with the insurgency—that is, if they don’t want to lose privileges accumulated over many years. (Manuel Marulanda Vélez: Letter to the combatants, December 2007)
Besides, It is impossible henceforth for us to be bewitched by the siren songs of self-defeating lackeys who call for disarmament. We have lived confronting each annihilation offensive of the oligarchic and imperial monster whom we knew from the inside out. “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 ones 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
Additional Translation Notes
Born in 1967 in Caribbean-facing Sucre department, and killed by units of the Colombian military on May 17, 2021 in Western Venezuela, Santrich was a leader of the Second Marquetalia, a dissident offshoot of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He joined that force in 2019 due to the failure of the peace agreement between the FARC and Colombian signed in November 2016 and in response to attempts by Colombia’s government and US agents to extradite him to the United States. Santrich, a combatant of the original FARC for 30 years, and a leader, served as spokesperson for the FARC’s negotiating team in peace talks with Colombia’s government in Havana that ended in 2016.
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 against the left-leaning Patriotic Union electoral coalition, of which he was a member, Santrich joined the Communist Party’s youth organization. In 1990, when 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.
We present Santrich’s essay in English to honor a fallen revolutionary who pursued social and political justice in a place that sorely needs justice. We also want to broaden awareness of the author’s creative political thought. Santrich applies ideology inherited from the European founders of Marxism to the political conditions of Latin America and the Caribbean. He documents Simon Bolivar’s exposure 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, slavery, and 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 in Spanish by Ediciones Espartaco in 2018 at the “Campus of New York University.” That 293-page work contains interviews, poems, stories from indigenous peoples, and other essays, among them “From Beethoven to Marulanda—the Romantic Roots of the FARC’s Marxism.” That edition is accessible at https://resistir.info.
↩ Voluntarism is a theory of philosophy emphasizing that willpower governs human affairs more than does understanding or reason.
↩ Francisco José de Paula Santander (1792–1840) was a military and political leader during Colombia’s 1810–1819 independence war and the new country’s acting president between 1819 and 1826. He was president from 1832 to 1837.
↩ 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.”
↩ “Anti-Dühring” is the shorthand title for Frederick Engels’s book published in 1878 that, criticizing the socialist theorizing of the writer Eugen Dühring, did much to disseminate the ideas of Marx and Engels.
↩ The Raizals were and are Afro-Colombian people living on islands off Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
About Jesús Santrich
Jesús Santrich was a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and spokesperson for the FARC’s negotiating team during peace talks with the Colombian government that ended in 2016.
About W. T. Whitney, Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician.