Below is my translation of a letter that Alberto Flores Galindo, the Peruvian Marxist historian philosopher, dictated for circulation amongst his friends after unsuccessful treatment for cancer. In December of 1989, Tito Flores wrote down the text and gave it to Eduardo Caceres Valdivia. According to Marxists.org, where you can find the original Spanish text, the letter has been in circulation for a while and experienced a burst in popularity on the internet on the 20th anniversary of his passing in 2019.
A note on the translation: I have produced it for personal use. The translation is unlicensed and unauthorized. Therefore, it is not accompanied by or protected by any rights. If you would like to contact me to take this translation down, or for any suggested edits, use the contact info here on my website to send me an email.
On February 3rd, I was suddenly assaulted by a disease, a multiform glioblasm on the left side of the brain. In other words: a rare type of cancer that, due to its difficult diagnosis and location, required treatment outside the country. Thanks to friends I was able to travel to receive treatment for two months in New York (Presbyterian Hospital). Some time later, I had to return to the same hospital for another week. You can imagine how expensive all this was.
Despite the goodwill of many public officials, we only received promises, which led to lengthy meetings, procedures, and loss of time in the Peruvian Social Security, which, moreover, would barely cover part of the expenses. So without the spontaneous intervention of my friends I could not be telling this story, which instead showed me the richness of friendship. To experience what they call solidarity. Many intervened spontaneously. From those who contributed large amounts, to those who gave the the coins in their pocket. Others, their visits. Some, their words. The most important thing was friendship. In these moments in Peru when everything seems to collapse, affection and solidarity showed another face of the country. I would have liked to personally thank each one.
It doesn’t matter that you couldn’t defeat cancer. I missed. We lost. The end is inescapable. Death awaits me – sooner or later, in weeks or so – death. But what is transcendent is the unfolding of support. I have had to rectify myself, put aside my usual pessimism. Discover the power of solidarity. Although many of my friends no longer think as they used to, I, on the contrary, think that the ideals that originated socialism are still in force: justice, freedom, men. The degradation and destruction to which capitalism condemns us is still in force, but also the refusal to become the replica of a North American suburb.
In other countries socialism has been destroyed; here, as a project and realization, it continues to be valid, if we are able to rethink it, to imagine other contents. Find the future. None of this is fashionable. It is going against the current. We must also confront the cultists of death or those who only think of repeating the recipes of other countries. The challenge, in addition, where our lives and the building of the country are at stake. A North American branch? An Andean country? Will socialism be possible?
So far, between 1980 and August 1989, there have been 17,000 deaths. Murders of owners, workers, unemployed, peasants. They all have faces and names even if we ignore them. From a certain left (The Path) the answer ended up being similar. This has happened in a “democratic” country, with the silence of the right but also the inaction of the left. Many become spectators. So we are not only facing economic challenges, but also ethical requirements.
Now many have separated politics from ethics. Efficacy has come to the center. The need for criticism of socialism has postponed the fight against the ruling class. We are not only facing an ideological problem. The incorporation of all of us into the established order is also involved. While the country was dramatically impoverished, on the left our living conditions improved. During the years of crisis, thanks to the centers and foundations, things went well for us and we ended up absorbed by the most vulgar economic determinism. The situation was extrapolated. At the other extreme were the impoverished intellectuals, many of them provincial, sometimes loaded with resentments and hatred.
Ultimately, what will be most costly for us is to have separated morality from culture and, despite some attempts and certain isolated characters, we have lived with the deployment of authoritarianism and death. I don’t think young people should be excited about what our generation has been. Quite the opposite. Maybe I’m exaggerating. But critical thinking must be exercised on us. I think that some young people, of a certain middle class, have excessive respect for us. I do not exclude myself from these criticisms, quite the contrary. It has happened without arguing, thinking, and even less, questioning.
These problems have already been raised, although without success, in other places and times. It was the case of the populists. The name for various currents that appeared in Russia and other Eastern European countries since the middle of the last century. At first it was confronted with Marx, who later admitted the possibility of another way, socialism, that did not imply the destruction of the peasant world. It only got that far. The populists, in turn, diversified and turned against each other. From the legalists to those who perfected the practice of terror. They did not have a single line and are in force due to the problems they perceived and the controversial responses they developed. Once the problems were raised, they remained in force until, some time later, all these discussions were eliminated with the many disappeared or killed by Stalinism.
In Peru we have only thought about a communist tradition, forgetting those who were defeated but who perhaps suggested ways that could be useful for discussion. Don’t look for another recipe. Make our own. In all fields. Insist with all our imagination. We must return to the essentials of critical thinking. which does not always coincide with being digestible or doing profitable projects. It is different to think for institutions or for subjects. Socialism should not be confused with a single track. Nor is it a traced path. After the failures of Stalinism it is a challenge for creativity.
In Peru we have only thought about a communist tradition, forgetting those who were defeated but who perhaps suggested ways that could be useful for discussion. Don’t look for another recipe. Make us one. In all fields. Insist with all our imagination. We must return to the essentials of critical thinking, which does not always coincide with being digestible or doing profitable projects. It is different to think for institutions or for subjects. Socialism should not be confused with a single track. Nor is it an outlined path. After the failures of Stalinism it is a challenge for creativity.
We are too used to reading and repeating. Know how to quote. But if you want to have a future, now more than before, you need to get rid of the fear of creativity. The right advances in all areas. They are ready militarily. They also give the illusion of a new discourse. A really cynical discourse, which has many deaths behind it. But to be admitted, those leftists who frequent receptions more than polemics, and cultivate good manners, dress to suit.
On another side of the city, long, aggressive marches and street clashes have become frequent. They demand urgent answers. Do we search for them? The question is posed only as the dilemma between those who admit violence and those who opt for a legal path. Just as a new alternative is needed, it is necessary to think about the way. Some believe that there are already established recipes and that they only have to apply them. When revolutions have been successful, it has not been this way. On the contrary, they are always exceptional.
It takes intellectuals. But I insist how unfortunate the disagreement between them and the political militancy is. Here too there is a responsibility of those who have been too preoccupied with the immediate struggle, the imposition of a sect, the dispute for miniscule power. This is how you get old. It will be very difficult for us to rise to the occasion. But not all is lost. Other characters may appear. Besides, we already have children. I hope these young people lose their admiration and respect for us, and take on what has not been able to be done.
To have passed forty years in this country is to have made too many deals, acquiescences, silences, setbacks. Let’s rediscover the utopian dimension. The socialism of Peru is a difficult encounter between the past and the future. This is an ancient country. Rediscover the most distant traditions, but to find them you have to think from the future. Do not repeat them. On the contrary, find new ways. Lose the fear of the future. Renew styles of thinking and acting. This might be impossible without a break with those excessively power-hungry leftists, hardly interested in the voters.
I suspect that there is no open-ended time. Since the 16th century, the excluded and fought Andean cultures have been able to resist, change and continue. They were defeated in the 18th century. The Andean aristocracy then disappeared, the peasant society was fought, its members were deported and exterminated. However, the peasant world will survive. In the twentieth century, new confrontations. First in the early 1920s, then around 1960 and now. Capitalism does not need that Andean world, it ignores it. It proposes to disappear it. It has tools and possibilities that it did not have before. This has happened in other places but here it is not inevitable to destroy it.
We must propose another way. It was raised by José María Arguedas, but twenty years have passed and our challenge is how, in what way. The answer is not just on a desk. It will require a change of life. Young people can do it. Many of us are prematurely old men. Domesticated.
Some imagined that the votes of the left belonged to them, but the popular classes think, even if others do not believe it. They do not give blank checks. Let’s remember how the votes fluctuate. The poor do not belong to them.
Do not take all this as a criticism by someone – I insist – who imagines themself above others. Quite the opposite. It is partly an autobiography. I end up avoiding putting myself as an example of anything. The truth is that in few places have we had such a large but at the same time so uncreative intelligentsia. Unable to give his own country the possibility of a new Marxism. I insist that while in many other Latin American countries socialism has been destroyed, here it is still in force. Still. Despite being cornered.
Thank you very much to all the friends and of course on those who disagree with me. Always my style is aggressive but it does not cancel the affection and gratitude to all of you, even more so with those who I have discussed the most. Disagreeing is another way of coming together. And of course when they came to help me they were not interested in knowing what position I had on culture or politics.
A hug. What great friends!