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Marx and Latin America: coffee, philosophy and revolution

A roundtable to mark the birthday of the revolutionary thinker offers an opportunity to reflect on his philosophy and generate new ideas for the people of the continent. The event will be held in London on 20 May.


Karl Marx by Mayall. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Marcella Via


“The significance of a thinker such as Karl Marx stems from the scope of his ideas and theories, and the impact he has had at a global level. Without his ideas, proposals and theories, the world would undoubtedly be a very different place today.”

“In fact, Chinese leader Xi Jinping recently advised people to read the communist manifesto – a testament to the validity and importance of Marx”.

The statements above belongs to Claudio Chipana, a Peruvian philosopher and member of the Café Filosófico collective, who explains that Marx is remembered “for the progress that is yet to be made as we move towards a world with greater solidarity and equality, and less exploitation”.

That is why Café Filosófico has decided to organise a roundtable on “Marx and Latin America” as part of its longstanding “Latin American Encounters” event series to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the German philosopher, economist, socialist and militant communist.

The Prisma put three questions to Chipana to understand the rationale, content and philosophy behind this roundtable event.

Claudio Chipana. Photo by Marcos Ortiz

Why does Marx matter for Latin America?

We should approach Marx from a modern, rather than a historical, perspective. I believe that Marx’s ideas continue to be valid when we analyse capitalism.

Capitalism today is in crisis. We are living through a period of neoliberalism. Your country (Colombia) and my country (Mexico) are siding with the United States. I would argue that we are satellite countries shackled by the prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund. We are living under what Marx might call a market dictatorship, we are subjected to a consumerist society and that is our reality: we are ever more dehumanised, ever more divided and ever more unequal.

His ideas stand the test of time: capitalism is alienation. It does not satisfy our needs. We confuse the material with the human, and with the social relationships that define us as human beings. What defines us as humans is not money, or the fantasy of the fetishization of money, or goods, or capital. Alienation is the term Marx gives to this inversion of the relationship.

Also, just as there are capitalist countries such as those I have mentioned, in the Latin American context there has been a trend since the Cuban revolution that has been and continues to be inspired by the ideas of Karl Marx. These ideas are based on the view that socialism is a superior social structure that should replace exploitative capitalism.

His central argument of the historic materialism in the political economy and in philosophy coincides with a drive towards progress in the form of the elimination of exploitation of man by man, exploitation of one class by another, and exploitation of women based on their gender.

Why does Marx matter today?

Nowadays, in every part of the world, especially in Latin America, Marx is viewed with deep suspicion. There are two trends in Latin America: the neoliberal worldview based on unchecked, consumerist and alienating capitalism, and the worldview that emerges when key countries and figures such as Chávez and Lula (who is in prison) take a better path. This is especially true of Venezuela – a bastion not of dictatorship, but of the opposite.

Photo Pixabay

It has always been said that Marx represents dictatorship rather than democracy. But the reverse is true; we must spot the propaganda.

We are living through a pivotal moment. In 1989-1990, statues of Marx were torn down. Today, in Manchester, a statue of Engels is being erected. Times are changing, and we must see everything from a different perspective.

What is the purpose of this roundtable?

To clarify Marx’s ideas, discuss them and, above all, debate the main concepts: emancipation, liberation, equality, and putting a stop to the exploitation of man by man and by capital that oppresses not only workers but also gay people, women, people of colour, indigenous groups and more. Evo Morales demonstrates that now is a key time to hear about the validity of Marx’s ideas.

Photo Pixabay

In Latin America, we need to generate new ideas rather than copying existing models. Each country must devise its own solutions, but the ideas of socialism, equality and a society based on true democracy emanate from the radical criticisms that Marx made of capitalist society. That means doing away with obsolete concepts. We live in new times shaped by new movements.

The “Marx and Latin America” roundtable – featuring a panel made up mostly of women – offers an opportunity to discuss, reflect and draw conclusions regarding Karl Marx. The aim is to refresh our image of Marx.

“Marx and Latin America”. Day: 20 May. Time: 5.30pm. Location: Latin American House, 10 Kingsgate, London, NW6 4TA. For more information, please contact Claudio Chipana on 07427635608

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