The following is less of a book review and more of an interpretation of the lessons which Domitila Barrios De Chungara’s classic autobiography, Let Me Speak, can teach us as a new generation of revolutionaries. It was written by a Bay Area comrade and we see it as an important testament to the knowledge and wisdom we can gain from engaging revolutionary autobiographies and applying these lessons within our class struggles today.
Lessons from Domitila’s Experience
I just finished reading Let Me Speak!, Testimony of Domitila, a Woman of the Bolivian Mines. The book is a personal narrative by Domitila Barrios, where she explains her life’s struggle against poverty, sexism, exploitation, hunger…and capitalism in general. Domitila Barrios was the wife of a Bolivian miner in a region of Bolivia called Siglo XX. She breaks down their situation, detailing how the lives of miners are cut short due to overwork, bad pay, and silicosis, a lung disease mining people are all too familiar with. It’s a personal story which reflects on the historical situation of Bolivia at the time.
But I’m not planning on writing a summary of the book, but rather point out some of the major lessons Domitila’s experiences offer us.
Theory & Practice
One thing that really struck at me was how critical, undogmatic, and radical she was without having done much theoretical study. Whereas many of us radicals in the belly of the beast understand these conditions through political study, Domitila learned the contradictions of capitalism because they were brutally enforced on her and her people. She didn’t need to read State and Revolution to understand that the Bolivian military and police served the foreign and domestic capitalists, made all too clear through the frequent massacres, arrests, and deportations of people in struggle. She didn’t need to read Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism to see how American imperialism sucked Bolivia’s mineral wealth dry in order to build up its own economy and how this put Bolivia in a state of extreme dependence and subservience to foreign interests. She didn’t need to read the Communist Manifesto to understand that the workers and peasants were in a life and death class struggle against their oppressors. In fact, simply to exist, to eat, to work and to educate themselves required great sacrifices and political commitment. I love how Domitila insisted that if intellectuals and university folks were to come to help guide working people as to the laws of capitalism and the world situation, they’d better speak in terms the people can understand and not in their theoretical jargon. The concepts of class struggle, capitalism, and revolution can be grasped by the oppressed in resistance if it is done in a way that connects the dots between their personal experiences and the objective laws of our society and is not done in an elitist or condescending manner. Not that she didn’t do any political study; the repeated brutality of the military and police against her, the accusations her of being a communist and liaison to Che Guevara’s guerrillas, and the knowledge that socialism, an alternative to capitalism, existed in other parts of the world during her time, prompted her to study socialism and communism and see it as the only real path towards human liberation.