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  • On Impure CommunismRethinking Radical Democracy in Two Early Latin American Colonial Utopias (1516–32)
  • Víctor M. Pueyo Zoco (bio)

The purpose of this article is twofold. On the one hand, I intend to introduce a concept that might shed some light on the much-debated question of radical democracy. This is the concept I would like to refer to as "impure communism." On the other hand, I am perfectly aware of the absurdity (not to mention the brazen boldness) of such an ambitious enterprise, that is, the enterprise of defining impure communism in purely theoretical terms. Thus, I will talk about impure communism not in terms of what it potentially could be but in terms of how it actually solves a very specific historical plight: the purported Spanish inability to produce utopian thinking during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Early capitalist Spain, or so the argument goes, would have failed to spur a genuine utopian literature of the sort her European counterparts cultivated. Instead, Spaniards, faithful to their inner Sancho Panza-esque appreciation for everyday things, devoted to [End Page 123] their millennial penchant for immediacy, would have preferred to transplant those foreign-grown utopias on American colonial soil with, of course, disappointing when not tragic results (Manuel and Manuel 1971, 1–30; Eliav-Feldon 1982, 15–16; Cro 1994, 4–6).1 That is where the dream would have gone awry. These practical utopias, although well intentioned and carefully fashioned after their literary models, would have not lived up to the true spirit of utopia, therefore disqualifying Spain and the Spanish colonies as a legitimate source of utopian thought.

There is, to be sure, a good deal of truth to this argument. Many of the works usually cited as examples of Spanish literary utopias are marginal and unconvincing; some are in Latin (Juan de Maldonado's Somnium), others are brief interventions scattered in Renaissance dialogues by intellectuals like the anonymous author of the Viaje a Turquía (ca. 1557) or Alfonso de Valdés (see King Polidoro's speech in the Diálogo de Mercurio y Carón). A few of them are even excerpts taken from specula principium like the Libro áureo de Marco Aurelio by Antonio de Guevara (chapters 31 and 32), or interpolations found in political treatises like the De motu Hispaniae by Maldonado himself. However, one might argue that the aforementioned and other Spanish texts do not differ much in content from the classic literary utopias written by More, Günzburg, Campanella, or Bacon. Moreover, Omníbona, another speculum in the Xenophontean tradition that was well known to scholars but still unavailable to the public until three years ago, reads indeed like a bona fide literary utopia, one that exceeds the 400-page limit in Ignacio García Pinilla's first edition of the book (2016). The same can be said about Mariano Baquero Goyanes's contention that the "Spanish repugnance for utopia" ("repugnancia española por las utopías") extended well into the eighteenth century (1962, 22). Beyond Sinapia, the full-on Spanish utopia popularized and studied by Miguel Avilés shortly after, José Carlos Martínez García published a catalog that included 20 more utopian texts written in Spain by the end of the eighteenth century (2006, 259–69). Twenty, one might dare to say, is a respectable figure for a country typically regarded as a barren land for utopia. The argument is indeed very much alive today. Of course, northern Europeans had been blessed with the ability of thinking, whereas Spaniards and the peoples they colonized could always perform worldlier, low value-added tasks, such as cooking, gold [End Page 124] mining, and practicing utopia. Of course, northern Europeans were res cogitans and the imaginary south (which includes Southern Europe and Latin America) were res extensa in good-old fashioned Cartesian jargon. This was precisely the argument that would retroactively engender the myth of the Spanish "realist spirit" as opposed to French and German idealism, a myth that would enable Ramón Menéndez Pidal first, and Francisco Franco later, to re-interpret the Hispanic canon in a seasonable national-conservative key (1918, 205–35). How could...


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