Hal Draper


Karl Marx and Simon Bolívar

A Note on Authoritarian Leadership in a National-Liberation Movement

(July 1970)

From New Politics (1st series), Vol.VII No.1, Winter 1968, pp.64-77.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


CONTEMPORARY POLITICS is FAMILIAR with the moot issue of the justification for authoritarian dictatorships in developing countries, where the economic and political backwardness of the people and society is taken to prove the undesirability of democratic institutions for popular control from below. Generally speaking there are two schools of apologia: one defending only those authoritarian regimes that orient toward dependence on American power and that protect foreign capital investments with adequate enthusiasm; and the other vindicating only those dictatorships that replace the old property-holding classes with a new class of bureaucratic-collectivist rulers, or seem to be on the way to do so. While the first type of dictatorship automatically becomes a member of the Free World, in Washington’s slang, the latter type may adopt a sobriquet like “Communism” or “African Socialism,” etc. with appropriate references to a hyphenated or unhyphenated Marxism.

The subject of this study is not the line of argument used to justify “progressive” authoritarianisms today, but only the relation of Marx’s views to this question, since his name is so often taken in vain. It is true Marx did not have an opportunity to express an opinion on the regimes of Castro, Nkrumah, Mao, Nasser and their similars; but as it happens, he took up a case which would seem to be a far less disputable example of a “progressive” authoritarian who led a great national-liberation movement. This was Simon Bolívar, the “Liberator” of northern South America.

The case is sharpened by the fact that Marx does not question the progressiveness and legitimacy of that national-independence movement itself; and by the fact that, over a century ago, justification-by-backwardness had a better prima-facie case than in the modern world, which on an international scale is rotten-ripe for socialism from the Marxist point of view.

There is no suggestion that the case is closed by putting Marx’s views in evidence; the aim is only to establish the facts in Marx’s case, since they have been disputed, as we shall see. We shall also see that Marx’s views, controversial over a century ago, were just as controversial only a few years ago when they once more became involved in a large-scale historical hassle in Latin America over Bolívar.

It is not only a matter of Bolívar. It is strange that there are “Marxists” today who think that support to modernizing dictatorships is a new and fresh idea for socialists, dating from about the end of World War II. In point of fact, the socialist movement began with the concept of the “educational dictatorship,” as I have discussed elsewhere, and nothing could be more natural. There were social struggles in undeveloped countries in Marx’s day too; after all, more countries were undeveloped. Indeed, the first underdeveloped countries with which Marx dealt historically were none other than England, France and Germany, taken when they were faced with the initial tasks of industrializing, under an exploiting ruling class which was yet willy-nilly performing a certain historic role. The most passionate pages in Marx are reserved for denouncing the oppressive forms of capitalist rule in the Industrial Revolution. The political form which often clothed the modernizing function of the bourgeois New Class in underveloped France was Bonapartism; and there is no political force which Marx spent more time excoriating.

Still, the case of Bolívar more clearly brings out the then-and-now symmetry of the underlying problem. True, Marx viewed Bolívar as a case of Bonapartism; but here was a Bonapartism which did not arise after a Thermidor, and still less after a whole historical interval like the third Bonaparte; rather, it was integrally involved in the leadership of the ongoing national-liberation movement itself, as in several modem cases.

Let us first establish Marx’s views on Bolívar.


THAT MARX LOOKED INTO Bolívar at all was something of an accident. In 1857 Charles Dana, managing editor of the New York Tribune to which Marx had been contributing since 1851, asked him to collaborate on the projected New American Cyclopaedia, mainly on matters of military history, biography and terminology. [1] Among the generals beginning with the letter B on Dana’s list was, for example, Bernadotte, whose biography was half military, half political; and it was as a military leader, no doubt, that Bolívar’s name got into this list. Since Engels (ghostwriting for Marx) was already overburdened with the strictly military articles, Marx undertook Bolívar himself.

Up to this time there had been no mention of Bolívar in any of Marx’s writings or correspondence – therefore no indication he had ever given Bolívar a thought before he started doing research for the article in the British Museum. We know from the Marx-Engels correspondence on the Cyclopaedia work that Marx typically started with the articles in the various encyclopedias – English-language, French and German at last.

Marx came out of this research with a powerful reaction of political hostility to Bolívar. This comes through plainly in the Cyclopaedia article, even though it was supposed to be couched in colorlessly impartial language. As was often true with Marx, political hostility also engendered an element of personal hostility; and he injected into the article a systematic disparagement of Bolívar’s personal character and abilities, taken over from his anti-Bolívar sources.

We must stress that Marx’s article on Bolívar is neither reliable nor important for any information it contains on its subject, about whom there is today much more material available. It is of great interest only for what it tells us about Marx, as he reacts politically to what he reads about Bolívar. To be sure, there is an interplay between Marx’s reaction and certain facts about Bolívar, which he will explore; but the governing aim is to understand Marx. It is unrewarding to try to correct Marx’s extremely overdrawn depreciation of Bolívar’s military talents and activities, etc. The article has many biographical details wrong. [2] But since the source of all this was Marx’s political evaluation, we are going to concentrate exclusively on the attack against Bolívar as an authoritarian and Bonapartist.

Marx’s article [3] on the “Liberator” (the quotation marks are Marx’s too) first establishes his class background, “the Creole nobility in Venezuela” of which his family was one of the wealthiest. We are told of his second visit to Europe, where he “was present at Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor, in 1804, and at his assumption of the iron crown of Lombardy, in 1805.” After an account of Bolívar’s early career in the war of independence, Marx writes: “Having proclaimed himself ‘dictator and liberator of the western provinces of Venezuela’ ... he created ‘the order of the liberator,’ established a choice [i.e. elite] corps of troops under the name of his bodyguard, and surrounded himself with the show of a court.” But “his dictatorship soon proved a military anarchy, leaving the most important affairs in the hands of favorites, who squandered the finances of the country, and then resorted to odious means in order to restore them.”

A little later Marx describes one of the charades common in Bolívar’s career, in which the general refuses to continue as dictator but finally “yields” to insistent supporters: “the dictatorship was thus invested with some sort of legal sanction.” He continues to refer to Bolívar as a dictator through the ensuing narration of military events, noting carefully his demand, at the 1816 meeting of his staff just before renewing the war, for “uniting the civil and military power in his person,” and just as carefully, the desire of other independence leaders to confide the civil power to a representative assembly instead. In spite of his promise (as Marx relates) to “assemble a congress, and not meddle with the civil administration,” when he entered Barcelona “he proclaimed . . . martial law and the union of all powers in his single person.”

When he tells of Bolívar’s blood-purge of his rival General Piar (one of the blackest incidents of his career), he mentions that Piar called Bolívar a “Napoleon of the retreat.” He writes that when the national congress of February 1819 was called, “the mere name of [the congress] proved powerful enough to create a new army,” thereby contrasting the popular mobilizing appeal of the representative institution against the dampening effects of Bolívar’s dictatorial methods.

He continues to concentrate on Bolívar’s authoritarian role as opportunity presents itself. The Angostura congress, he recounts, ousted Bolívar’s man Zea, and “On receiving this news. Bolívar suddenly marched his foreign legion toward Angostura ... and restored Zea to his dignities. Dr. Roscia, fascinating him with the prospects of centralized power, led him to proclaim the ‘republic of Colombia.’ ...”

The Cucuta congress of 1821 met, and “after Bolívar had again pretended to resign, renewed his powers.” ... “Through his Colombian bodyguard, he swayed the votes of the congress of Lima, which, February 10, 1823, transferred to him the dictatorship, while he secured his re-election as president of Colombia by a new tender of resignation.”

Then the republic of Bolivia was set up: “Here, where [his general] Sucre’s bayonets were supreme, Bolívar gave full scope to his propensities for arbitrary power, by introducing the ‘Bolivian Code,’ an imitation of the Code Napoleon. It was his plan to transplant that code from Bolivia to Peru, and from Peru to Colombia – to keep the former states in check by Colombian troops, and the latter by the foreign legion and Peruvian soldiers. By force, mingled with intrigue, he succeeded indeed, for some weeks at least, in fastening his code upon Peru.” But in Colombia a struggle broke out “between the centralists or Bolívarists and the federalists, under which latter name the enemies of military anarchy [i.e. Bolívar’s dictatorship] had coalesced with military rivals.” Bolívar used “a pretext for overthrowing the [Colombian] constitution and reassuming the dictatorship.”

The 1827 congress of Panama had “ostensible object of establishing a new democratic international code,” but “What he really aimed at was the erection of the whole of South America into one federative republic with himself as its dictator.”

But his power was slipping. “The congress of Ocana, convoked by Bolívar with a view to modify the constitution in favor of his arbitrary power was opened March 2, 1828, by an elaborate address, insisting on the necessity of new privileges for the executive.” But Bolívar’s supporters walked out. “Under the pressure of his bayonets, popular assemblies ... anew invested him with dictatorial power.” An assassination attempt “allowed him for some time to introduce a sort of military terrorism. He did not, however, lay hands on Santander, although he had participated in the conspiracy, while he put to death General Padilla, whose guilt was not proved at all, but who, as a man of color, was not able to resist.”

The rest is a brief summary of Bolívar’s loss of power, and death in 1830.


CONSIDERING THAT THE ARTICLE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE bland and nonpartisan. Marx was clearly presenting an extremely hostile view of Bolívar’s authoritarianism by means of selection and emphasis. Through all this, the progressiveness of the struggle for independence itself is not only unquestioned but confidently assumed. The criticism of Bolívar is always fully within the framework of the view that his policy weakened the independence struggle. We have already seen this when Marx contrasted the popular appeal of the revolutionary congress to the negative aspects of Bolívar’s dictatorship. In another place Marx explains that “The further they [Bolívar’s forces] advanced, the stronger grew their resources; the cruel excesses of the Spanish acting everywhere as the recruiting sergeants for the army of independence.” He speaks of “the new enthusiasm of the people” over independence, which “turned to dissatisfaction” on account of Bolívar’s dictatorship, thus allowing the Spanish to recover. This is the picture at many points in the article. It takes for given the liberation of the Negro slaves as one of the revolutionary forces, though Bolívar is not given his portion of the credit. We may add that another of the NAC articles is Ayacucho, written by Marx and Engels in collaboration, which portrays this decisive battle as a triumph for the independence forces: “Thus the Spanish dominion was definitely destroyed,” etc. [4]

Thus, for Marx, Bolívar’s Bonapartism is counterposed to the interests of the revolution. The issue is clearly not the national struggle but Bolívars political role in it.

This is the only one of the Marx-Engels articles tor the NAC which editor Dana questioned, because of its anti-Bolívar leaning. Marx told Engels in a letter of 14 February 1858:

With regard to a rather long article on Bolívar, Dana furthermore expresses misgivings because it is written in a partisan style, and he asks for my authorities. Of course, I can give them to him, though it is a peculiar demand. As for the partisan style, I did somewhat drop the encyclopedic tone, to be sure. To see the most cowardly, mean and wretched scoundrel decried as Napoleon I was somewhat too absurd. Bolívar is a true Soulouque.

“Soulouque” is only nominally a reference to the Haitian emperor. Marx and other anti-Bonapartists commonly used it as a sobriquet for the third Napoleon. It summarizes Marx’s view of Bolívar as a type of Bonapartist dictator.

Marx’s article on Bolívar remained virtually unknown until it was republished for the first time, albeit in Russian translation, in the Marx-Engels Sochineniia, vol.II, Part 2, (1934). In 1937 it was included in the Communist-published collection Revolution in Spain, which also appeared in Spanish as La Revolucion Espanola. There was no editorial comment on Marx’s viewpoint. As late as 1951, when the US Communist Party chief W.Z. Foster published his Outline Political History of the Americas, Marx’s article was quoted favorably.

But this turned out to be the “wrong line” on Latin American history. When the second edition of the Sochineniia was published, vol.14 (1959) carried a sharp attack on Marx’s article, which was also faithfully translated in the East German Marx-Engels Werke (vol.14, 1961). The attack by the Communist editors is couched in the usual terms of “excusing” Marx for not knowing any better in his day. It decries Marx’s sources as untrustworthy (which they were indeed), and includes in this decrial also any conception of Bolívar as a “dictator.” Its claims for Bolívar as a “progressive” include this:

He succeeded in binding together for a while in this struggle the patriotic elements of the Creole landowners ... the bourgeoisie, and the mass of people, including the Indians and Negroes.

And it disposes of Marx as follows:

Naturally Marx had at that time no other sources at his disposal than the books of the authors mentioned, whose bias was then only little known. It was therefore inevitable that Marx got a one-sided view of Bolívar’s personality which was reflected in his essay. This striving of Bolívar’s for personal power which was exaggerated in the literature mentioned could not remain without influence on Marx’s attitude toward Bolívar ...

The key claim, that “Naturally Marx had at that time no other sources at his disposal” than the anti-Bolívar books he cited, is intended to suggest that Marx’s view of Bolívar was merely the result of misinformation, rather than of political opinion. Even if one grants that Marx innocently accepted the “misinformation,” this does not change the political meaning of his reaction to this “misinformation.” If you react to the news that the US has dropped an H-bomb on Peking by denouncing Washington, then this is an indicator of your political views, even if it turns out later that the news was misinformation.

Marx reacted to his image of Bolívar with a kind of political attack which nowadays is ridiculed not only by Communist Realpolitiker but also by a legion of bourgeois “realists,” who agree that undeveloped nations need dictators. The conclusion is inescapable that Marx put a human value on democratic freedom which is alien to both of these varieties of “realism.”

But as a matter of fact, the Communist editors’ claim is quite false. It is not true that “Marx had no other sources at his disposal” etc. It is not true that an anti-Bolívar attitude was prevalent and accepted when Marx wrote his article.

We have already mentioned that, in working on the NAC articles, Marx went through the extant encyclopedias – French, German, and English-language. The articles which he read in these encyclopedias were overwhelmingly pro-Bolívar, mainly uncritically so. This can be checked with little trouble in the then current editions of the Encyclopaedia Americana, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Penny Encyclopaedia, the Encyclopedie du XIX. Siècle, the Dictionnaire de la Conversation, the Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon. For all four countries represented here, the picture is unequivocal. It was Marx’s article that was out-of-step, and that is exactly why Dana questioned it apprehensively.

As for the Communist editors’ claim that modern scholarship disposes of Marx’s view of Bolívar’s political role, and that Marx “exaggerated” Bolívar’s striving for personal power:

A discussion of the state of modern scholarship on Bolívar’s dictatorial ambitions is not possible in this article. It is a thorny subject. On the one hand, there is the standard hagiography, or Bolívarolatry, of most Latin American writings on the subject. On the other hand, the polar-opposite view is now represented most prominently by Salvador de Madariaga’s devastating job Bolívar [5], whose impact was fatally weakened by its essentially pro-Spanish slant to the point of drawing attention away from its massive documentation. The result was an anti-Madariaga furor which we cannot here untangle.

However, if we limit ourselves to the single question of Bolívar’s authoritarianism, the picture is not quite so complicated. The numerous and violent denunciators of Madariaga have had little to say on the facts in this respect, preferring either to ignore them or to justify them with fairly common varieties of anti-democratic argumentation. [6] In the light of Madariaga’s factual structure, Marx’s attack on Bolívar’s dictatorial politics suffered only from mildness.

But, because of the guerra a muerte around Madariaga, the next section is not based on his work, but on the work which has gained the widest acceptance in Latin-Americanist (not Latin American) circles: Gerhard Masur’s Simon Bolívar. [7]

Masur’s book is not, and does not pretend to be, impartial. It is frankly pro-Bolívar, often openly slanted. Masur frequently surrounds disagreeable facts about Bolívar’s authoritarianism with passionate argumentation to justify it. But the point is that he presents many of the facts.


Bolívar’S POLITICS MUST BE VIEWED in two periods – before and after the final military victory in 1825 – not because there was really a qualitative change but only because of the nature of the rationalizations. As long as the fighting was going on, Bolívar’s dictatorship could be defended as a military necessity, though it was not. After victory, this apologia is not available. Hence the existence of the viewpoint, which was embodied in the Communist editors’ attack on Marx, that Bolívar became objectionably authoritarian only in his last years.

Bolívar’s first important political pronouncement was the 1812 Manifesto of Cartagena. It marked his first clear demands for highly centralized “strong” government. “Our compatriots,” he said, “are not yet capable of exercising their legal rights.” And “government must prove to be formidable and ruthless without regard to law or constitution, until peace is established.” That he meant dictatorship was shown the next year when his forces took Caracas and he openly assumed the dictator’s role.

In 1815 his Letter from Jamaica strikes the same note on the impossibility of extending democratic rights to the people: “As long as our fellow citizens do not acquire the talents and virtues which distinguish our brothers to the north [the US], a radical democratic system, far from being good for us, will bring ruin upon us. Unfortunately, we do not possess these traits ...” At, this time Bolívar was thinking in terms of a hereditary Senate composed of the wealthy families of the Creole upper classes, with an elected lower chamber based on property qualifications for voting.

At the 1819 Congress of Angostura, Bolívar (according to Masur) already wanted, but did not openly propose, a lifetime presidency, which would control all national power without responsibility to Congress or courts. His speech attacked “absolute democracy” (which meant democracy), and Masur remarks that “his concepts of state were closer to those of Napoleon than to the men of the Terror.” In fact, “Bolívar’s ideas approximate those of Napoleon and anticipate something of the fascist system.” He thought in terms of an elite class, “irreconcilable with democratic principles,” and Masur points out (what is obvious enough) that to this day South America is ruled by such elite oligarchy of wealth.

In 1812 the Congress of Cucuta adopted a constitution too democratic for his taste. It is “Colombia’s death knell,” he complained. He blamed the “lawyers and ideologists”: “In the end,” he wrote, “the literati will do so much that they will be outlawed by the Colombia Republic as Plato outlawed the poets of his Republic. These gentlemen think that their opinion is the will of the people, without realizing that in Colombia the people are in the army ...” (A false statement if taken at face value, the army being very small; what Bolívar meant was that the people who counted were the military.) As for others, “Their only right is to remain passive citizens,” he wrote, and again denounced people who wanted a republic like that in the North.

His opportunity to insist on dictatorship came with military success. In 1822, after taking Guayaquil, he deliberately encouraged “anarchy and confusion” (says Masur) so that he might declare himself dictator of the province to save it from anarchy and confusion. He next aimed to be invested as dictator of Colombia. First he demanded an all-powerful presidency for himself: “I am convinced,” he wrote, “that Colombia can only be kept in order and well-being by absolute power.” While bitter resistance in Colombia kept him from achieving his goal, he did become Dictator of Peru after victory there in 1823.

When peace came after the battle of Ayacucho at the end of 1825, Bolívar did not reverse his field but pressed more strongly than ever for an authoritarian regime in all the new republics. His goal was committed to paper in the form of the Bolivian Constitution which he wrote himself, and which to the end of his life he proposed for adoption by all s the other countries singly and collectively as well as by the projected “Federation of the Andes,” his longed-for empire.

“Bolívar’s constitution,” writes Masur, “restricts the people, as far as possible, from exercising any influence on government; it emulates ? Napoleon’s consular government.” It “admits no form of self-government.” Of the three legislative chambers, the Censors are responsible for “morals” and elected for life. The Tribunes (administrative supervisors) and Senators, once elected by a complicated system, are never freely elected again: the citizens are permitted only to present candidates, from whom each chamber chooses its own successors. The “sun” of this system is the President, who is named for life, and then appoints his own successor, the vice-president, who is also the prime minister – and hereditary.

Masur is moved to write that all this “merely made Bolivia a monarchy without a monarch, with an elected kingship such as the Catholic church and the Holy Roman Empire possessed.” (But the Pope does not designate his own successor.) Bolívar explained: “According to such a procedure, elections would be avoided, elections which are the greatest scourge of republics and which produce only anarchy.” Masur adds: “The other parts of the constitution do not need detailed analysis. Those paragraphs that deal with human rights are short and somewhat vague; those concerning administration are traditional; those which take up the administration of justice are open to question.”

Colombia resisted imposition of the Bolivian system; so did Peru but in August 1826 Bolívar imposed it there by force. Masur’s heart is plainly sore at the telling: “Bolívar was now accustomed to dictatorial power.” In Peru “his position assumed the attributes and prerogatives of a sultanate.” We are reminded that “Bolívar had said on many occasions that South America could be ruled only by an astute despot.” To achieve his end, Bolívar more and more allied himself with reactionary clericalism to add the power of the Church to the backing of the wealthy and the landed.

How and why Bolívar failed to achieve the personal dictatorship he sought, in spite of his prestige as “Liberator,” is another story; the nub of it is the fierce resistance of the mass of people to his aims. By 1829, when he faced the issue of bulling through to power behind his praetorian legions, he was already a physical wreck for quite different reasons; and he died the following year.

In the light of these facts. Bolívar’s drive for personal dictatorship was not in the least “exaggerated” by Marx (contrary to the claim of the Communist editors) nor has modern scholarship contradicted Marx’s overall picture in this respect. On the contrary, of all the encyclopedia accounts of the period which we mentioned, only Marx’s corresponds with historical truth – as far as concerns the political issue we have been discussing.


THE FACTS ARE ONE THING – justificatory rationalizations another. To this day, more than a century after Marx registered his protest against Bolívar’s anti-democratic views and goals, what other voice has been willing to make a basic criticism of this authoritarianism, or to counterpose faith in democratic institutions against the dictatorial leader of the independence movement?

From the South American hagiographers who do touch on this issue, there are only the usual justifications. [8] Enrique de Gandia offers a typical statement: The Bolivian Constitution, autocratic to be sure, was “a reflection of the monarchical ideas which were then held by Bolívar, San Martin and the greater part of the sensible [sic] people.” But not by the overwhelming majority of the people, not even a century and a half ago. For over a decade, until the mythmakers turned him into a sun god, the masses execrated his name even after his death; for them, only Marx speaks even now.

“Bolívar,” writes this apologist, “made a constitution in order to be able to govern energetically and tranquilly.” So says every dictator. But the scheme for the lifetime president, hereditary vice-president and self-perpetuating legislature was a fantasy even in 1826; it could not have kept the people “tranquil” except in their graves.

Vicente Lecuna, the high priest of the Caracas cultists, has only this to say on our subject in his attack on Madariaga’s book: “Sr. Madariaga lacks political vision. He does not understand the grandeur of Bolívar’s continental ideas for the formation of a great state [not true of MadariagaH.D.], nor the Bolivian Constitution, which was conceived with the idea of giving political stability to his creation.” Stability above all was also the great vision of Hitler’s thousand-year Reich. A.F. Brice is cruder: he explains that “democracy” does not require “government of the people by the people” nor by a majority of the people, but only by the “active citizens,” not necessarily under universal suffrage. This political principle is propounded for today too.

Carleton Beat’ Eagles of the Andes: South American Struggles for Independence (Philadelphia, 1963) pays little serious attention to political issues, but the final chapters do not neglect to explain that “There was no basis for democratic or representative government” – the same rationalization that the same author could make for Russia or Cuba today, and just as untrue.

V.A. Belaunde’s Bolívar and the Political Thought of the Spanish American Revolution (Baltimore, 1938) becomes critical at times of Bolívar’s last period; but the summary in his Preface is a straight-out eulogy of the “originality” of Bolívar’s “program of organic, hierarchical and technical democracy” (undefined) as against “individualistic democracy.” He calls it “democratic Caesarism,” which has a “unique value” in that it “liberates the political structure from the domination of the will of individuals,” in which respect “Bolívar had an intuition of the real evil in pure democracy ...”

We have already mentioned that Masur, while presenting a sufficiency of damning facts as a scholar, tries very hard to whitewash Bolívar’s dictatorship. (His preface even expresses agreement with “the essence of Bolívar’s political credo.”) Having made clear that the facts show Bolívar to be an authoritarian, he editorializes his hero into an “authoritarian democrat.” Like Belaunde, he labels the product “democratic Caesarism.” All of these terms are undefined. On the very next page after he has himself said that Bolívar’s ideas “anticipate something of the fascist system” (a stronger statement than any we would make), he still finds it possible to write: “He wanted a democracy, but a stable democracy.” (There is nothing in Masur’s book that shows Bolívar really wanting any kind of democracy.) On one page he writes, “His will was totalitarian,” but (since he never got his will) a couple of pages on he says, “His dictatorship should not be compared to or confused with the abuse of power that characterizes the totalitarian tyrants of our own day.” Which is true as far as it goes: Bolívar’s aspirations were Bonapartist, as Marx saw, and one must not be anachronistic.

Masur’s summary judgment is: “Bolívar remained dictator, but no one can doubt that this was the only possible solution at the time.” A strange claim: far from being the only possible solution, it is indisputable that Bolívar’s dictatorship was no solution at all; it crashed ignominiously. The danger of “anarchy” of which Masur often speaks (he is echoing Bolívar) resulted from the clash between the efforts of the ruling oligarchy to impose oppressive controls on the people, and the struggle of the latter against this oppression. This “anarchy” could be avoided, and the “tranquility” of Gandia achieved, only if the masses bent their necks without fighting back – always the authoritarian’s dream of law and order.

Finally, what about that very model of a modern liberal, Salvador de Madariaga himself? We know, of course, that he takes pains to exhibit Bolívar’s dictatorship, as he systematically takes apart the pretenses of the Bolívar cult. But he is for it, not against it. He makes clear more than once he believes Bolívar to have been right in his ambitions: “Bolívar did want a monocracy; and Bolívar was right,” he says in italics. “Far from yielding to those demagogic notions which have led to compulsory suffrage and to the granting of the vote to the illiterate in his own native land. Bolívar would divide citizens into active and passive ...” and “had Congress listened to him and granted him his uncrowned kingship and even his hereditary Senate, the new state would have begun its independent life under better auspices.” In fact, Madariaga believes Bolívar was remiss only in not pushing boldly for an outright monarchy for himself!

Our Spanish liberal’s view of the matter is just about the most openly reactionary of all those we have so far considered. The connection with his over-all thesis is not hard to see, and he virtually makes it himself “what Bolívar was driving at was the reconstruction of the Spanish Empire without the Spanish king.” If this is so, then in Madariaga’s eyes why spill the blood of a continent in order merely to change a crowned monarch for an uncrowned one? [9]


THUS MARX REMAINS, TO THIS DAY, one of the few champions of the democratic aspirations for which the northern South Americans fought against their “Liberator.” He does not accept the rationalizations for dictatorship, which have not changed much in a century and a half. [10]

We stated at the beginning that we are not here arguing the issue of authoritarianism itself, against those who would ridicule the very idea of counterposing a struggle for democratic rights to the “realistic” dictatorship of Bolívar. But at least we can restate die issue, as follows.

In one corner is Masur’s formulation of the justification for authoritarianism which was already well known in Marx’s day. Bolívar’s dictatorship, says Masur, was “a dictatorship of training – intended to mature a people that was immature.” This is the notion of the “Educational Dictatorship” which was the most widely accepted idea of the early socialists and communists whom Marx combated.

But nowhere in history do we know of a dictatorship which trained the masses to become “mature” democrats – except insofar as it “trained” them to fight against it. Just as there has never been any imperialist domination of a backward people which carried through the well-advertised White Man’s Burden of preparing the subjects for self-rule – except insofar as it stimulated the people to organize themselves for revolution. A people do not become “trained” for democracy nor do they “mature,” except by their own fight for democracy, against the power that tells them it is “training” them – and against the intellectual servitors who apologize for the dictatorship with these arguments.

There seems to be a contradiction: if there is no way for people to become “ready” for democracy except by fighting for democracy, then it follows they must begin fighting for it before they are certified to be “ready.” And in historical fact, this is the only way in which democracy has advanced in the world. The continuous solution to the contradiction lies in the process of revolution itself. This is a dialectic which will always be jeered at by those mentalities which know how to celebrate revolutionary struggles only after they have been straitjacketed by a new oppressive establishment.


1. The NAC was edited by George Ripley and Charles A. Dana (New York, Appleton, 1858-63) in 16 volumes. Dana, greatly impressed by the brilliance of the military-affairs articles sent in by Marx though actually written by Engels, excluded Marx from writing on more controversial subjects for the NAC because he wanted a bland, objective and impartial tone, and he did not expect Marx to do this successfully on more ideological subjects. The detailed story of Marx’s relation to the NAC will be included in the introduction to an edition of Marx-Engels’ collected Articles in the New American Cyclopaedia which I am preparing.

2. Including the subject’s name, which appears as “Bolívar y Ponte.” Marx obviously did not understand the Spanish surname. Bolívar y Ponte was the name of the subject’s father, but his own was Simon Bolívar y Palacios. Even in 1963 the editors of the Marx-Engels Werke, Vol.29, repeat Marx’s mistake in their name index.

3. Written in early January 1858; published in the NAC, Vol.3, pages 440-446; English original reprinted only in the Marx-Engels Revolution in Spain (Marxist Library, Vol.12), New York, International Publishers, 1939.

4. More about Marx’s views of this period on Latin American independence from European control and intervention will be found in his 1861-62 dispatches to the New York Tribune and the Vienna Presse against intervention in Mexico. Most of these are in the Marx-Engels collection The Civil War in the United States (N.Y., International Pub., 1937); see also pp.64, 201 on Haiti, Cuba and Central America. Another article, The Mexican Imbroglio, was Marx’s last in the Tribune, 10 March 1862.

5. The Spanish edition of his Bolívar was published in two volumes (Mexico City, 1951). The English edition (London, New York, 1952) is in one volume, less fully documented.

6. A bibliography of the anti-Madariaga literature would itself be a major enterprise, no doubt. Leaving aside periodicals and reviews, I have been able to find the following more or less serious attempts to refute Madariaga between book covers:

  1. Eleazar Lopez Contreras, Tebas de Historia Bolívariana (Madrid, 1954); chapter El Bolívar de Madariaga. Misrepresents content of Madariaga’s book; purely hagiographic tone; no discussion of Bolívar’s authoritarianism.
  2. Fernando Diez de Medina, Sariri (Le Paz, 1954); chapter Los DOS Bolívares: Refutacion a Madariaga. A dithyramb on the Hero; no discussion of our issue.
  3. Joaquin Gabaldon Marquez, El Bolívar de Madariaga v Otros Bolívares (Caracas, 1960). Mainly a literary effort in cussing out Madariaga; no discussion of our issue.
  4. M.A. Osorio Jimenez, Bibliografia Critica de la Detraccion Bolívariana (Caracas, 1959). The section on Madariaga’s book is devoted to quoting A. F. Brice.

The next four are discussed in section 5 of this article.

  1. Vicente Lecuna, Cataloge de Errores y Calumnias en la Historia de Bolívar (New York, 1956), Tomo I, last chapter El Odio de Madariaga a Bolívar.
  2. Enrique de Gandia, Bolívar y la Libertad (Buenos Aires, 1957).
  3. Angel Francisco Brice, El “Bolívar” de Marx Ampliado por Madariaga (Caracas, 1952); reprinted as first part of his Bolívar, Libertador y Estadista (Caracas, 1953).
  4. Brice, Bolívar Visto por Carlos Marx (Caracas, 1961).

I have not been able to obtain the booklet by Vicente Donoso, Por Que Madariaga Difama al Libertador? (La Paz, 1952) but the title does not promise much. The most considerable recent South American biography of Bolívar, in the opinion of some, is El Libertador by Augusto Mijares (Caracas, 1964); it has a few references to Madariaga on specific points, but not on our issue. While Mijares is not entirely uncritical, his foreword, entitled Justicia, provides a handy statement of the moderate hagiographer’s viewpoint: “To require that an author be objective in relating a passionate life is nonsense ... Nor am I attracted by the classical representation of Justice as a blindfolded statue holding a balance. I prefer the fighting justice of the saints and heroes.” He ends: “I declare that this work of inquiry in no way diminished my respect for the Liberator, and that I finished his biography with the same devotion with which I began it.”

Another enlightening passage is from R.C. Pardo’s foreword to Brice’s pamphlet (No.viii above). Explaining Brice’s unique qualification, he writes: “He corrects errors and clarifies concepts, without offending anyone, and succeeds in bringing off the Liberator without blemish from this difficulty. It can be said that Brice, like a good Bolívarian, has profound faith in the Liberator and thereby fathoms the obscurest points with a minimum of fear.” The point could hardly be made more dearly.

7. University of New Mexico Press, 1948. In spite of its extensive reputation, it was not translated into Spanish until 1960, and then published in Mexico (the site also of Madariaga’s Spanish edition). Masur certainly cannot be charged with any sympathy for Madariaga’s book; he violently attacked it in the Hispanic American Historical Review.

8. For these, see fn.6.

9. Cf. Madariaga, op. cit., pp.338, 522-23, 529, 602.

10. But the biggest gap in Marx’s article in this article, and generally in the literature of Bolívarology, is the lack of attention to the class struggle within the South American camp against the Creole ruling oligarchy which led the revolution. Yet its great weight as a historical factor is plain from a multitude of facts in Masur’s and Madariaga’s work which remain unexplored – particularly the extreme smallness of the revolution’s base among the lower classes and the Indians, who varied mainly from apathetic to pro-Spanish. Very suggestive is Juan Bosch’s recent book Bolívar y la Guerra Social (Buenos Aires, 1966), especially in putting Bolívar’s drive for dictatorship into the context of ruling class interests.

Last updated on 25.2.2009