The Vanquished: A Puerto Rican novel

Book review

The Vanquished

by César Andreu Iglesias

University of North Carolina Press, 2002, 232 pp., Paperback, $19.95

This coming week, on Sept. 23, thousands of Puerto Ricans will converge on the mountain town of Lares to commemorate the 135th anniversary of El Grito de Lares, the site of the failed revolt against Spanish colonialism in 1868. They will also demand an end to 105 years of U.S. colonialism.

This date, celebrating the anti-imperialist struggles of the Puerto Rican nation, has also been one of reflection and evaluation of the Puerto Rican national struggles, both in Puerto Rico and within the United States. This includes the various issues in the approach to the fight for self-determination and the ideological struggles within the independence movement.

The main ideological struggle has always been between those who had a nationalist bourgeois and petty bourgeois approach, and those who held a Marxist working-class approach to the same question. That difference is the underlying dispute in César Andreu Iglesias’ novel Los Derrotados, which was just released in an English translation last year by The University of North Carolina Press as The Vanquished.

César Andreu Iglesias. By Source, Fair use,

Andreu Iglesias served at different times as trade union secretary, chairman and general secretary of the Puerto Rican Communist Party (PCP). He wrote for Pueblo, the PCP newspaper. He was a founder of the Movimiento Pro-Independencia, which later became the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and was founder of its newsweekly, Claridad. Andreu Iglesias founded La Hora, which reflected the views of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. He wrote a weekly column for one of the major dailies. He also worked with and for a number of labor unions, including the Teamsters, National Maritime Union and Puerto Rican independent unions.

While his novel was originally published in 1956, the issues Andreu Iglesias raised are pertinent to the movement for Puerto Rican self-determination and, for other peoples, to understand the Puerto Rican discourse on the issue of the political status of this Caribbean nation.

Andreu Iglesias’ main character, Marcos Vega, is a traveling salesman who spent five years in jail for his activities as a member of the Nationalist Party, led by Pedro Albizu Campos. His father-in-law is a businessman who wants to put Vega in charge of one of the new stores he is opening. The only problem is that he wants Vega to tone down his nationalist politics and opportunistically proclaim support for the up and coming Popular Democratic Party. However, Vega has agreed to take part in an “armed action” against a U.S. general.

Andreu Iglesias contrasts this with the working-class movement through the character of Paco Ramos, a strike leader and brother-in-law of Delia, the Nationalist woman he has fallen in love with.

In the narrative Andreu Iglesias shows, albeit fleetingly, the conditions of the Puerto Rican working class. He also highlights the differences in thinking of the Puerto Rican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie (whether nationalist, autonomist or annexationist) during the 1950s, the start of a period of rapid industrialization in Puerto Rico. It is a bourgeosie that is always on the verge of being proletarianized and pauperized, that is forced through the colonial relationship to play second fiddle to U.S. ruling class or rebel against it in desperation, without any idea of how to move the working-class majority. In reading the novel in English, this writer kept making mental footnotes for the non-Puerto Rican reader. It is more obvious to me, after reading it in English (having first read it in Spanish in the 1970s) that Andreu was writing for a Puerto Rican audience.

The translator, Sidney W. Mintz, did not provide any notes, and unless the reader is familiar with Puerto Rican culture and political thought, they will miss many things. This should not deter anyone from reading the novel, however. Having lived and worked in Puerto Rico, Mintz, who did a beautiful translation, is familiar with the Puerto Rican culture and reality.

The dialogue may seem a bit preachy, especially to leftist readers of the novel in English. The truth, however, is that these discussions take place among Puerto Ricans. All discussions on the issues of the day in Puerto Rico eventually reach the point of what political status is the best for resolving them.

I urge the readers of the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and all progressives to pick up a copy of this book, read it, and learn more about the Puerto Rican nation from a Marxist writer. That will go a long way towards what Jesús Colón wrote about in the sketch, “How to know the Puerto Ricans,” in the book A Puerto Rican in New York: “Before you come to understand a person, to deserve a people’s love, you must know them. You must learn to appreciate their history, their culture, their values, their aspirations for human advancement and freedom.”

– José A. Cruz