Autobiographical testimonials. Part Two: Marxism and Internal Colonialism

Received: September 12, 2019

Acceptance: September 20, 2019

In the previous number of Encartes was published the first part of these testimonials. In it, Rodolfo Stavenhagen spoke of episodes from his childhood and early youth: the first years in Mexico, the discovery of anthropology and experiences with indigenism. This second part jumps back to the 1960s: doctoral training in Paris, followed by two years of professional work in Brazil that culminated in the return to their adopted country. Both parties collect fragments of various conversations held with Rodolfo about his intellectual experiences and moral convictions, at his home in Cuernavaca, under the generous hospitality of his wife Elia, during 2015. We try to follow a certain chronological order, but not there was a predetermined agenda: the conversation flowed spontaneously. Unfortunately, his health was declining. He passed away the following year. Many interesting things remained to be said.

When Rodolfo arrived in Paris in the fall of 1959 to study for his doctorate, the city was the scene of vigorous and renovating intellectual movements of global impact. Anthropological structuralism stood out, led by Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Marxisms of various kinds: one of them linked to structuralism (his standard bearer was Louis Althusser), others to Maoism, Trotskyism and various anti-colonialist visions. Existentialism and dogmatic Marxism (still marked by the Stalinist heritage) no longer excited the young; Sartre himself leaned toward Mao Zedong's thesis. In the early 1960s, the premature death of Albert Camus occurred, the independent thinker who put intellectual and ethical honesty before any orthodoxy. Historians disputed over the social and economic history introduced by the School of the Annales. Two radical figures, influenced by structuralism but with their own paths, caused schisms: Jacques Lacan among psychoanalysts and Roland Barthes among literary critics and semiologists. In 1961, Michel Foucault published History of madness and began his controversial career and enduring epistemological discussions. At the same time, Algeria's war of independence was raging, culminating in 1962, which founded irreconcilable passions and questioned French political ideas.

The student Stavenhagen entered the Practical School of Higher Studies, which allowed students to choose courses and develop their own research project from the beginning, under the direction of a mature researcher. (Section VI of this institution was dedicated to economic-social knowledge; later it became independent and adopted the name of School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences). But the fledgling Ph.D. did not adhere to any orthodoxy. He chose as director the Africanist Georges Balandier, one of the founders of political anthropology in France. An independent leftist thinker, he did not have the fame of Lévi-Strauss, but his academic worth was no less. For Rodolfo, the discovery of Africanist anthropology paralleled that of the colonial origin of Third World countries, which included those of Latin America. The decision to write his thesis on a very little explored topic: social classes in postcolonial countries, predominantly agrarian, represented a challenge to the prevailing dogmas; responding to him required immersion in a literature practically ignored by the Mexican academy (certainly by the enah, as he comments in interviews). Getting to know the postcolonial world and its struggles was helped by his friendship with several fellow students who would later become figures of the international intellectual left: Claude Meillassoux, Samir Amin, Michael Lowy ... These years resulted in Rodolfo's internationalist vocation, his interest for the rights of colonized peoples, and a book that today can be considered classic: Social classes in agrarian societies.

In the last section of the excerpt published here, Stavenhagen recounts his experience as secretary of the Latin American Center for Social Sciences Research and founding editor of the journal Latin America, in the period 1962-1964. It was in those years when he and Pablo González Casanova coined the concept internal colonialism and made it a powerful analytical tool. They were also the times in which the network of researchers emerged in our continent that impacted the social sciences of the world with the discussion on the dependence. One of these researchers was, of course, Rodolfo Stavenhagen. But his Brazilian years ended abruptly, with the military coup that toppled President Goulart.

In the near future, further excerpts of these conversations will be accessible on the website of ciesas West. I reiterate my thanks to my admired and long-awaited friend Rodolfo and Elia Gutiérrez from Stavenhagen. I also thank Regina Martínez Casas, who took charge of the video recording and participated appropriately in the conversations, and Saúl Justino Prieto Mendoza, for his efficient help in editing.


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