Lenin and Marx as Symbols of Liberation?

Lenin und Marx als Symbole der Befreiung?

Are historical representations and collective memories one and the same thing? Why and how do they coincide or differ? Local and national contexts most definitely play an important role in this respect. But it is also important and necessary to examine which social and cultural processes influence citizens in aligning memory and history. Let us consider a recent and very drastic example.



Communism is still alive

The picture above shows a students’ meeting in Guerrero, Mexico, on November 23, 2014.[1] The students gathered are discussing protest actions in response to the disappearance of 43 fellow students on September 26, 2014.[2] The students who disappeared were most probably abducted for protesting against discrimination and other forms of political violence. This incredible incident has produced the most important political scandal in Mexico in recent years. As can be seen, images of Marx, Engels, and Lenin are among the permane…

Categories: 3 (2015) 3
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2015-3302

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3 replies »

  1. I have always read Carretero’s studies with interest and admiration. This BlogJournal’s entrance is, like most of Carretero writings, really suggestive. But after read it I need to do some brief comments. I agree with Carretero about the proximities and distances between collective memory and historiographic research. I particularly share his conclusion, in which he argues that both practices can correct state national and authoritarian historical narratives. I know how the restrictions on length for posts in PHW excludes a lot of the answers that Carretero has. Despite this I want to point out more issues. The spirit of my comment is no other than to promote the discussion about public history.

    My perspective about the students’ disappearance last September differs from that of Mario Carretero. The students’ abduction by the hands of the county police and the drugs dealers’ gunmen was a state crime that tried to eliminate any social, rural and independent organization. Moreover, this criminal act was just one more of a large chain of human right violations against poor and marginalized people in this zone. This terrible history began, at least, five decades ago.

    On the other hand, I have to put some questions to Carretero’s text: if we seek mural paintings on other walls of the teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa we will found a lot of different historical symbols, like the 70s Mexican’s teachers and guerrilla soldiers who studied in the same school and died for an army bullet. Student’s historical consciousness is maybe of more importance as underpinning in this collective memory – with its particular indigenous shape of history’s account – than it is Marxist “Weltanschauung”. How can we include this other history, with its collective memory and its traditional social fight and, above all, a cultural different knowledge in our interpretation of Ayotzinapa’s students’ historical thinking? On another subject, if using a picture of Lenin does not necessarily imply that we agree with Stalin crimes, why do we have to make an automatic interpretation of it as “clearly forgotten”, when we can think it differently: that the students prefer Lenin´s imperialism theory to Stalin’s genocide? In the same direction, why do the author assume that Marx and Lenin’s figure are part of a collective memory rather than a exhibit of a systematic, scientific and critical study of Marxism that is scheduled in the school curriculum – like at a lot of universities? Finally, one important use of public history is to guide the present action to a desirable future. What kind of history – collective memory, historiographic research or political use of the past – do the parents of the disappeared students need to find their sons? The answers, for me, are not in the gap or alignment of professional history with collective memory. We might find the responses in the right of the subalterns to write their own history, the history they need in the struggle for social justice.

    To have understood the politic contexts during Mexican history curriculum reforms is important to read deeply in Carretero’s text. He is right when he asserts that Mexican history curriculum has an old and traditional national trend. In 1992, the most conservative groups were against the intention to erase some national history fiction, like Carretero says. But the more important struggle about the curriculum was driven by the political left. The neoliberal administration went to revalorize an old liberal dictator to justify the economic changes, like privatization, reducing social costs and opening the trade boundaries. The center of the controversy were the official textbooks, not the curriculum. 2004 was different: The new curriculum was designed by a neoconservative group. In the first version of the syllabi, the secondary history curriculum erased any trace of Mesoamerican civilizations. They did not want to teach more Indigenous history in compulsory education. The most important reaction in that time came from professional historians, who stressed the inclusion of ancient Mexican history. Fortunately, the government lost the fight and its racist and Hispanic syllabus never became effective. In my view, the struggle for Mexican history curriculum wasn’t between historiographical science and national and political trends. It was neoliberalism against democratic movement in the first place, and racism, catholic and neoliberal parts of the society in opposition to historians and Indigenous history moreover.

    • Thanks for your comments, Sebastián. I almost totally agree with you; as a matter of fact, I have considered the Mexican case of History Education in my book (Constructing Patriotism, chapter, 2). In this case, space limitations prevented me going into details that you provided very brilliantly. On the other hand, my purpose this time was to make a comparison with between Mexico and former communist countries; not just to analyze the Mexican case. Anyway, thanks again for your rich contribution. Best, Mario

  2. I’ve read the post with much interest. Basically I agree with your ideas but I want to propose another perspective on this point. I think that mexican students find marxist symbols (or the founding fathers of marxism) so appealing because nationalist historiography and some interpretations of marxist legacy, (v. gr. Marta Harnecker) that are so widely spread all over Latin America, deal in similar ways with the past and the present. Total history – Their interpretations of the past pretend to explain almost everything: from slavery to art history.

    In both cases, nationalist perpectives of history and some versions of marxist historiography propose a single mechanism (the existence of a “natural” community or class struggle) through which everything might be explained. But there is something else: those “totalitarian” interpretations are not only about the past but they prescribe actions and strategies in the present. This kind of “teleology” has to be desactivated if we want to make room for more inclusive versions of history. I’m not quite sure if it is only a problem of nationalism or of nationalist historiography: the mexicans study their past and know nothing about how russians suffered under communism. Maybe it is also a matter of modern epistemologies.

    On the other hand I agree that history and collective memory are not the same thing. But history is not better or more necessary than memory. Even though, as you say, collective memory is possible through selective forgetting and history pretends to avoid forgetfulnes, that is an illusion and not an innocent one. History, to make sense, has to leave behind lots of documents, facts, evidences. Like in Borges tale, “Del rigor de la ciencia”, if a historian pretended to incorporate all evidences she would be crushed under them.

    I think that the difference between history and memory is not a matter of more or less forgetfulness. Collective memory deals with experience, it is the way a group of people, in a specific moment, copes with past and present situations. Memory changes as anyone knows. Even individual memory changes in a life time, as Freud explained so masterfully. Collective memory is not the place where to find facts and chronologies but it is not fiction either, in the sense of a false account of what happened. In collective memory another kind of truth is hidden: A tale of what was important or significant for different generations through history. It is a different kind of record, as you suggest. History as a discipline is a way of making sense of the past, conditioned itself historically, with a sense of time and causality that is only a way of interpreting reality. I’m sure that a combination of historical explanation and collective memory narratives would be very usefull in broadening students empathetic skills, as long as none of them pretend to be the truest version.

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