Indians and Leftists
This is an Electronic Appendix of documents to accompany my book Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements (Duke University Press, 2008).
The Latin Americanist, June 2009
INDIANS AND LEFTISTS IN THE MAKING OF ECUADOR’S INDIGENOUS MOVEMENTS. By Marc Becker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008, p. 303, $22.95.
Historian Marc Becker provides a thoughtful account of the rise of Ecuadorian indigenous politics in his book Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Indigenous Movements. Becker’s text is a valuable contribution to the growing body of literature pertaining to Ecuador’s Indigenous movement. Becker’s presentation differs from that of previous works in that he provides a comprehensive and intensely detailed historical account that supports his argument: that identity has not been subordinate to class despite scholarly treatments of the political left as a paternalistic force that exploited Indigenous peoples in order to advance its own agenda. In Indians and Leftist, Becker suggests that Ecuador’s Indigenous movements should be understood with respect to a “continual cross-fertilization between urban left-wing intelligentsia and rural Indigenous activists, and a fluidity of thinking that has consistently foregrounded economic needs as well as identity issues” (3). Becker’s discussion of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements examines the transition from locally situated movements and rebellions in the eighteenth century to the rise of Ecuador’s national Indigenous organization CONAIE in the late twentieth century, all the while placing leftist politics at the center of his discussion of Ecuadorian Indigenous politics.
Becker begins with the assertion that an understanding of Ecuador’s contemporary Indigenous movement necessitates a detailed recognition of the cultural, political, and historical processes that are responsible for shaping the movement into its current form. The strength of Becker’s work rests in his ability to provide a theoretically and temporally deep analysis of Indigenous resistance in Ecuador. Becker provides evidence of indigenous organizing and resistance dating back to the eighteenth century in highland Ecuador as opposed to focusing solely on indigenous politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This is a clear departure from the work of other scholars who have examined the growth of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements (see Pallares 2002 and Yashar 2005 for example). Explicit in Becker’s work is the suggestion that Indigenous resistance in Ecuador is not a recent phenomenon.
Becker credits the influence of Ecuadorian leftists including the Communist Party and the Partido Socialista Ecuatoriano (PSE) as having lasting impacts that helped to shape Ecuador’s contemporary Indigenous movement. Becker’s work is unique in that he interprets leftist influences as a fundamental component for the success of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements, yet simultaneously argues that ethnicity has also had a prominent role in the development of Indigenous movements. In fact, Becker recognizes that the concept of “Indigenous nationalities” is not a recent development, but instead can be traced to communist influence in the 1930s (171).
Whereas it has been common for scholars to suggest that class consciousness overshadowed ethnic consciousness until the latter part of the twentieth century, Becker asserts that “both class and ethnicity have been critical to the success of an Indigenous movement: the two cannot be easily separated” (14–15) while simultaneously noting that class components and leftist support were vital to lending cohesion to Ecuador’s Indigenous movement. Becker cites the 1931 Congreso de Organizaciones Campesinas as one example of the combined effort of Indigenous activists and leftist organizers that promoted both class and ethnic consciousness. According to Becker, the congress placed ethnic identity on even footing with class consciousness by beginning the congress with a procession of Indigenous peasants in native dress and ending the congress with an Indigenous festival. This is one of numerous examples that Becker employs throughout his text in order to illustrate the interconnectedness of Indians and leftists in the making of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements. Ultimately Becker problematizes an understanding of class in opposition to ethnicity and instead urges scholars to recognize the simultaneous existence of class and ethnic discourses by Ecuador’s Indigenous movements.
One of the strengths of Becker’s work is his ability to link the local and the national in order to provide the reader with a grounded historical context for understanding Ecuador’s contemporary Indigenous movement. For example, Becker focuses a great deal of his energy on providing examples of local resistance in Cayambe province while at the same time shedding light on the relationship between local activism and national change. As Becker moves from local to national he continually provides support for his argument that leftists played a significant role in the formation of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements both past and present.
If there is a weakness to be found in Indians and Leftists it is the limited attention paid to Ecuador’s Amazonian Indians and their influence on the development of Ecuador’s Indigenous movement. Becker does discuss Amazonian Indigenous organizations, but this treatment clearly takes a backseat to his presentation of Indigenous organizing in the Ecuadorian highlands.
Indians and Leftists is a thoroughly researched text and Becker’s knowledge of the history of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements is deftly demonstrated. Becker presents a great deal of new documentary evidence that is a much needed addition to the currently available scholarship on Indigenous movements in Ecuador. Becker’s text provides a new perspective on Ecuador’s Indigenous movements and it is sure to be the subject of much debate. Indians and Leftists is a valuable addition to the growing body of research pertaining to Latin American Indigenous movements and it is a must-have for scholars with an interest in Ecuador.
Pallares, Amalia. 2002. From Peasant Struggles to Indian Resistance: The Ecuadorian Andes in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Yashar, Deborah J. 2005. Contesting Citizenship in Latin America: The Rise of Indigenous Movements and the Postliberal Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.