One Day of Life exposes capitalism as villian
Friday, April 5, 2019 at 11:32AM

Manlio Argueta’s novel One Day of Life  (1980) about the exploitation of peasants by the U.S.-backed landlord government of El Salvador confronts capitalist rationalizations. It specifically counters U.S. support for fascist terror and murder, and the anticommunist ideology used to justify it.
The novel’s subject is severe exploitation in the Marxist sense – value taken from the peasants’ labor by keeping their standard of living so low that many children die of starvation. Exploitation is enforced by terror and legitimized by branding all peasants who do anything to raise their income as communists and, therefore, legitimate targets for torture and murder.
Traditional Roman Catholicism is used by the exploiters to train the peasants in fatalistic acquiescence. After the 2nd Vatican Council in the early 1960s “new priests” arrive, they teach the peasants to form buyers’ and sellers’ co-operatives that raise their standard of living. Then the National Guardsmen start to patrol Chalate, asking about the “communist priests.” The Guard tortures one of the “new priests” and we hear no more about them.
The U.S. Army Special Forces, the “Green Berets,” train the National Guardsmen in terror, torture, and murder. They feed them a U.S. diet to bulk them up, so that they look and feel superior to the peasants who cannot afford protein.
This primes the young peasant recruits to accept their indoctrination which is:
“any peasant unsatisfied with his traditional poverty-stricken life is a communist and “enemy of democracy.”
“true religion” comes from the United States, in the form of fundamentalist Protestant sects, which are imported from the United States to re-indoctrinate the peasants in fatalism and anticommunism.
peasants are poor not because they are exploited but because (a) they are part Indian, and “all Indians are lazy”; (b) there are too many peasants, because “all women are wh*res.”
Two chapters, “The Authorities” and “Them,” represent Argueta’s attempt to depict the ideology of a young peasant man who is successfully indoctrinated by the U.S. to terrorize, torture, and kill peasant families from his own village. The U.S. can trainers pound anticommunism, machismo, racism, and fundamentalist Protestantism into the heads of the trainees.
Education is used to identify peasant candidates for the National Guard. The Guardsman has made it through 6th grade, and so is recruited to be a fascist killer—another example of how capitalist education serves only the interests of the rich by indoctrinating the working class with sexist, racist and imperialist ideas to keep us divided.
Exploitation of the poor by the rich is the central theme. Lupe Guardado, the main narrator, comes to understand that the peasants are poor BECAUSE the landowners are rich. She is instructed by Chepe, her husband, Justino, her son, and Helio, her son-in-law, all of whom are tortured and murdered by the U.S.-trained National Guardsmen.
Before he is tortured and murdered by the U.S.-trained National Guardsmen, Chepe tells Lupe that God is conscience, and conscience is the poor. In short, “God is the poor.” The struggle of life is not to gain paradise after death, but to win a paradise on earth.
The “paradise” we need to struggle for is an egalitarian communist world where the capitalist ideas of sexism and racism are rejected and workers share the fruits of their own labor.
Through this novel, readers are introduced to the essential evil of the capitalist system, and the realities of U.S. brutality, mass murder, and exploitation in Latin America.

Article originally appeared on The Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party (
See website for complete article licensing information.