The poet armed: The Marxism of Roque Dalton

Camilo Ruiz Tassinari


It is now an extended opinion that the closure of revolutionary possibilities in Western Europe in the mid-twenties produced a variant of Marxism divorced from politics and economics, and instead focused on culture and philosophy. Latin America constituted a partial exception to this rule, and the reason for this doubtless lies in its turbulent politics and the force of radical parties until the 80’s.
What kind of Marxism did Latin America produce, then? One should start by noticing the continuous predominance of Communist Parties within the radical left throughout this period. To the extent that some Latin American Marxists did produce original works in the track of the classical European “political” tradition, originality and theoretical innovation was a function of departure from given Stalinist dogmas.
This is clearly the case of Roque Dalton. Arguably the most important poet of contemporary Salvador, and one of the most original poets in Spanish of the last half century, Dalton is now widely read as a poet, and has been the object of at least two important scholarly studies.
Dalton was also a communist militant. His convictions and his political life profoundly influenced his poetry, but he was also a Marxist thinker in his own right. His political and historical output surpasses his literary one. Yet his political and historical oeuvre has been almost completely ignored.
I try to trace the development of his thought from the early sixties up until his death. I claim that being a witness of the Prague Spring made him particularly receptive to destalinization; and that his work is best understood as a partially fulfilled attempt to break with Stalinist ideas. This project had two variants: excavation of the early history of the Communist Party of El Salvador and the reasons of its failure in 1932; and the production of more orthodox political oeuvre in which he tried to arrive at a thorough understanding of the contemporary situation of his country and the political strategy that communists should follow –and attempt that would cost him his life.

Camilo Ruiz Tassinari
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Latin America - Roque Dalton - El Salvador - Latin Marxism