Astrojildo Pereira

Astrojildo Pereira/ Image: Marcelo Guimarães Lima
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Life and political praxis

Astrojildo Pereira Duarte Silva (1890-1965) was born in a village in the state of Rio de Janeiro, son of Ramiro Pereira Duarte Silva and Isabel Neves da Silva. His father, of Portuguese descent and trained in medicine, was a farmer, trader and small industrialist, having migrated from the interior to Niterói and then to Rio de Janeiro.

In his hometown, Astrojildo Pereira initially studied at a public school and then a private one. With the growth of the family business, at the age of 13 he moved to Nova Friburgo (RJ), enrolling in the traditional Colégio Anchieta, run by Jesuits. Influenced by the new environment, he had the desire to be a “friar, not a priest”, but soon became disenchanted with the faith, considering that his Catholic teachers were lying – and from that moment on he broke with Catholicism. He finished secondary school at this school and, without motivation to continue his formal studies, dedicated himself for a while to his father's business.

He was then a typographer, journalist and essayist, becoming a passionate reader and owner of an “architectural self-education”, as he described himself. From an early age, he dedicated himself to political activism. With active engagement, he initially supported Rui Barbosa's liberal candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic (1910); later, outraged by the State's action against the Revolt of the Whip (1910), he adhered to anarchist ideas.

In 1913, he helped organize the II Brazilian Workers' Congress. After the event, he began to collaborate with various anarchist and union press bodies, and from that moment on he became recognized as one of the main workers' leaders.

During World War I, Astrojildo Pereira was notable for denouncing the imperialist nature of the conflict, supporting Brazilian neutrality. When the Russian Revolution of 1917 broke out, he followed the articles reproduced by the French-English agencies – which reached Latin America through the news agencies of countries involved in the War. In the news, the “maximalists”, as the Russian revolutionaries were called, would be treated as agents of German espionage, as troublesome bandits and, sometimes, as utopian or childish dreamers. Through investigations and critical analysis, Astrojildo sought to clarify what was really happening in distant Russia – governed by the absolutist regime of the tsars –, a country that, since February 1917, seemed to oscillate between a situation of chaos, a liberal regime “of Western type” and something new.

In 1918, under the pseudonym Alex Pavel, the hitherto adherent of anarchism wrote a series of letters to the dominant press of the time, in which he questioned widespread assumptions about the character of the Russian Revolution and characters such as Lenin. Later this year, with some anarchist comrades, he led the attempted armed insurrection of workers in Rio de Janeiro – being imprisoned for a few months.

It was in this process of international political evolution that Lenin and the Marxist revolutionaries became the solution to the anarchist impasse – and Astrojildo Pereira, like many libertarians of the time, would soon become a fervent supporter of the Bolsheviks and the new Communist International (IC ).

In March 1919, after a general strike and a frustrated attempt to create a Soviet, Astrojildo and his group decided to accept the call made by the newly created Communist International – and founded an ephemeral Communist Party of Brazil. The main organizers of this party, besides him, were: José Oiticica, Maria de Lourdes Nogueira, Octávio Brandão and Edgard Leuenroth. An interesting characteristic of this association was that its leaders were more anarchists than communists. And the group soon split between those who supported the Russian Revolution and those who were critical of the process.

As counter-revolutionary interventions in Russia became more acute, as well as the contradictions between the currents that supported the Bolshevik Revolution, Astrojildo began to lead groups favorable to Soviet Russia, especially through the newspaper Spartacus – although he maintained the unity of the union movement (which at this time was in flux) as his objective. In 1921, he helped organize the Third Congress of Brazilian Workers' Central (COB), seeking to bring as a model to the Brazilian union movement the line of American unionism from Industrial workers of the world (IWW) [Industrial Workers of the World], which was an example of a united front between anarchists and Marxist socialists. This effort, however, did not achieve the expected result.

After the III Congress of the Communist International and the contact he established with a representative of the International, Astrojildo Pereira decided to commit to forming a communist party. On November 7, 1921, the Rio de Janeiro Communist Group was created – which would encourage the organization of other collectives.

Shortly afterwards, on March 25, 1922, the Communist Party of Brazil (PCB) was founded, which would become the Brazilian Section of the Communist International (being, in the 1960s, renamed the Brazilian Communist Party, due to legal registration issues) . However, in July of this year, the country began to live under a state of siege – which would last until December 1926 – and, as a result, the new party was soon thrown into illegality.

With the Copacabana Fort Uprising (July 1922), the lieutenants' insurrection and their brief seizure of power in São Paulo (1924), Astrojildo Pereira realized that the situation at the time pointed to a collapse of the political regime born with the Republic. This led him and the PCB Central Committee to seek alliances with the rebellious military youth – a sector of the Brazilian petty bourgeoisie that represented and promoted certain democratic demands. To this end, Astrojildo Pereira went to Bolivia (in 1927) to meet with Luiz Carlos Prestes and proposed to the lieutenant commander the composition of a political alliance; On that occasion, the Knight of Hope and other insurgent military personnel read and discussed the materials and books brought by the communist.

Already under the guidance of the Third International, the objective of the PCB was to build a Workers and Peasants Bloc (BOC), with a view to forming a front that would allow alliances with the petty bourgeoisie and other middle classes against English imperialism and the agrarian oligarchies. – breaking the typical isolation of the anarchist matrix that focused on trade unionism.

In 1928, Astrojildo Pereira was elected member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (CEIC). On the eve of the 1930 Revolution, the PCB and its leadership group suffered an intervention from the IC, which accused Astrojildo and O. Brandão of exercising a petit-bourgeois leadership – a right-wing and Menshevik deviation –, due to their defense of the possibilities of alliances with the lieutenants and for propagating the thesis known as “Industrialism versus agrarianism” (which served as the basis for the theses of the III Congress of the PCB, in 1927). Both were removed and the Party began to prioritize the presence of members of working-class origin in its leadership.

Separated from party activism, Astrojildo Pereira began to dedicate himself to the businesses inherited from his father in Rio Bonito-RJ. Later, he would return to the party in a more discreet way, collaborating as a literary critic in newspapers and magazines.

In 1939, under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Culture, an event was organized to commemorate Machado de Assis's 100th birthday, the emphasis of which was on transforming him, uncritically, into national unanimity. Against all the jingoism expressed by the Vargas dictatorship, the Brazil Magazine, directed by Otávio Tarquínio de Sousa, published a special issue in which he portrayed Machado de Assis. In addition to the editor himself, intellectuals such as Graciliano Ramos, Lúcia Miguel Pereira, Augusto Mayer, Tristão de Ataíde and Astrojildo Pereira participated in this edition – who presented the essay “Machado de Assis, novelist of the Second Reign”. In the publication, everyone highlighted a Machado de Assis that was both Brazilian and universal.

The end of the Second World War and the disintegration of the Estado Novo dictatorship brought a new democratic environment to Brazilian society. In 1945, Astrojildo wrote a letter to the PCB in the form of self-criticism, requesting his rejoining the Party; Granted his request, he ran for councilor, obtaining important support, such as that of Graciliano Ramos and Otto Maria Carpeaux. However, he did not receive enough votes to be elected intendant.

In 1946, he was elected substitute for the Central Committee of the PCB and, from then on, he began to engage in political and literary analysis. He then became responsible for the magazine Literature (which circulated between 1946 and 1948, in Rio de Janeiro) – which, dedicated to literary studies, also promoted political debates.

From the 1950s until the end of his life, Astrojildo Pereira focused on writing, as well as participating in conferences and giving lectures. It was in this last phase, already established as a theorist, that he began to play an active role in cultural policy, alongside the national intelligentsia. He contributed to this by reducing the influence of Stalinism – which marked the history of the PCB until the death of Josef Stalin (in 1953).

Encouraged by the developmental climate that was emerging – with the Vargas (1950-54) and J. Kubitschek (1956-1961) governments –, Astrojildo would then discuss topics such as democracy, aesthetics, arts, psychoanalysis, socialism and the reality of Brazil, among others. . Many of these texts were published in Social Studies Magazine, which would become a true united front space – an environment conducive to the germination of critical thinking and reflections on national development.

With the military coup of 1964, the Marxist was arrested and his library ransacked by the police. The seriousness of the situation would eventually result in a national and international campaign for his freedom and the rescue of his books. It is worth mentioning here that all socialist or even progressive publications suffered harsh censorship during this period (including Social Studies Magazine, with which he collaborated).

A few months later, Astrojildo Pereira was released; Interestingly, his devotion to Machado de Assis was used as an argument for his release. However, with his health already weakened by prison, he died on November 20, 1965. His funeral was an event of great proportions, which was attended by hundreds of political and literary personalities. Its precious library – of great importance for the history of the Brazilian labor movement – ​​was secretly transferred to the Feltrinelli Institute, in Milan (Italy), and only with the end of the dictatorship could it be returned to Brazil.

Contributions to Marxism

Astrojildo Pereira had an intense life and fruitful passions: from a young age he dedicated himself to the cause of the workers, first as an anarchist and then as a party organizer and firm communist militant – coming to have a great political dimension for the Brazilian working class of his time.

A self-taught scholar, he was an essayist, culture and arts researcher, literary critic, political scientist, journalist and, above all, a committed revolutionary. Little fond of sectarianism, he was an intellectually broad Marxist thinker.

His consistent theoretical and political training reverberated in his work: he sought broad sources to understand Brazil and the world, as demonstrated, for example, by his contribution to the first Marxist political formulations of the national reality (when leading the PCB), and his original research on Machado’s work. He dedicated himself intensely to the dissemination of communist thought, writing texts dealing with topics such as the Soviet Revolution, Marxist theory, Brazilian reality and the construction of the PCB.

While still young, he fell in love with the literature of Machado de Assis and became one of the most important connoisseurs and critics of the work of the “witch of Cosme Velho” (as the writer was known). In this regard, Euclides da Cunha, in “The Last Visit” (1908), narrates the visit of a stranger to Machado's deathbed: the boy enters the master's room, kisses his hand and leaves, silently, as he entered; this gesture was summarized by the chronicler as a memorable moment in which the young man’s “heart” “beat alone for the soul of a nationality”. Twenty years later, it was discovered that that man was Astrojildo Pereira.

In his correspondence written between 1917 and 1918, Astrojildo Pereira analyzed the Russian Revolution and its leaders, developing an argument whose consistency differs from the articles published in the dominant press of the time, which were mere reproductions of news from Anglo-French agencies. In this series of texts, which are among the first Brazilian interpretations of the Bolshevik Revolution, he exposed the lies and inconsistencies asserted by these conservative media about Russia and Lenin, stating that the Russians were carrying out a “true revolution”, in which an effective “violent and radical transformation of systems, methods and social organisms” took place. However, only the Newspapers in Brazil published a single one of his letters. The author then decided to bring them together in a small brochure, publishing them on his own and disseminating them among the working class.

During the period from 1922 to 1930, the PCB's leading core, composed of Astrojildo Pereira, Octávio Brandão and Paulo Lacerda, dedicated themselves to spreading notions of Marxism-Leninism to the Brazilian working class: they founded publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, translated and published unpublished works by Marx, Engels and Lenin, as well as materials from the Communist International.

Throughout the 1920s, Astrojildo, Brandão and Lacerda developed one of the first Marxist interpretations of the particularities of Brazilian social formation. Based on the book Agrarianism and industrialism (1926) – written by Brandão, with the collaboration of the PCB leadership –, Astrojildo, then general secretary of the Party, wrote a report on the Brazilian situation, which would be sent to the South American Secretariat of the IC and published in the magazine International Correspondence (1928), serving as the thesis for the III Congress of the PCB (1929). The idea exposed in the work signed by Brandão stated that the dominant classes in Brazil were divided between an agrarian faction (linked to English capital) and an industrialist faction (related to American capital).

Although the text brings an important reflection – supported by consistent data, in an effort to deepen Brazilian particularities –, it does so in a schematic way, which would serve to sustain illusions about the transformative role of sectors of the Brazilian ruling classes. According to the assessment of PCB leaders, the coffee monoculture would collapse, which would provoke new rebellions, such as that of the tenentista movement (in 1928); As a result, the rebels would tend to divide, allying themselves either with the nascent industrial bourgeoisie or with the new labor movement.

Astrojildo Pereira and the PCB Central Committee aimed at the growth of the Party as a social protagonist – and in effect obtained support in the turbulent society of the time. His strategy was to organize a more autonomous proletarian movement, with greater participation in the historical process, which would make it possible to carry out a sovereign and radical bourgeois-democratic revolution – in a development of events that would cause the middle classes, in turn, to break with latifundia and imperialism.

However, if the movement were unable to achieve its objectives, the course of events could lead to a transition “from above”, in which the middle classes would ally themselves with the bourgeoisie and the agrarian oligarchies – constituting an anti-popular regime (which, after all, would end up occurring, in the Estado Novo of Getúlio Vargas).

However, the inexperience of the young founders of the PCB would lead them to interpret that the rebellion of the petty bourgeoisie (the tenentista movement) meant a radicalization of the Brazilian Revolution towards the proletarian revolution; while, on the other hand, the IC debated the complications that such beliefs could lead to in the petty bourgeoisie and in the so-called “national bourgeoisies” – pointing out as an example the failed alliances in countries like South China Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek and the post-revolutionary government of Plutarco Elías Calles, in Mexico (in which communists would be persecuted). In this clash, in 1930, Astrojildo and Brandão – the main leaders of the PCB – were removed, being accused of representing a “petty-bourgeois deviation”.

Removed from the leadership of the Party, Astrojildo Pereira then began to work intensely as a journalist and literary critic, writing for various outlets. In these texts, his commitment to the dissemination of Marxism stands out, inserting this thought – which he defended as a necessary political and theoretical tool for understanding reality – in the debates of the time.

 Astrojildo, in short, dreamed of a literate, developed, sovereign and socialist Brazil – and fought his entire life for this ideal.

Comments about the work

Astrojildo Pereira wrote several articles and books in which he dealt with theoretical issues of his time – analyzing problems in Brazil, from a revolutionary perspective –, in addition to dedicating himself to literary criticism.

His first important contribution to the political debate was the booklet The Russian Revolution and the press (Sl: sn, 1918), written between the end of November 1917 (one month after the October Revolution) and February 1918, signed with the pseudonym Alex Pavel, in which the still anarchist sought to interpret the events of the Bolshevik Revolution. In this short text, he used as an instrument of investigation the critical analysis of all the data he had access to, explaining the meaning of Lenin's leadership, what the Bolshevik Party was and how the first state led by the working class was built.

Between 1919 and 1930, Astrojildo Pereira produced several articles in defense of the Soviet Revolution, as well as texts focused on the popular dissemination of Marxism and on the founding and construction of the PCB. This was recorded in party documents and in articles published in Brazilian periodicals (mainly The Working Class, in 1925), as well as in the IC theoretical magazine (The South American Correspondence, between 1926 and 1930). These writings were later collected in the book Building the PCB: 1922-1924 (1962), in which he deals with topics such as the legality of the PCB and national political freedom.

Such discussions are also shown in the debates about the formation of Brazil and the situation of the 1920s, recorded in the book by O. Brandão, Agrarianism and industrialism (1926) – which presents the interpretation of the national reality carried out by the then leaders of the PCB (contained in the theses for the II and III Party Congresses).

Em USSR-Italy-Brazil (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Alba, 1935), a book that is considered his debut work, Astrojildo brings together written texts created between 1929 and 1934. It is worth highlighting that, in 1930, Astrojildo and Octávio Brandão were in Moscow and suffered harsh criticism for alliance between the PCB and the lieutenants (having been seen as “revolutionary petty bourgeoisie”). The publication is divided into three parts.

The first is about the USSR, bringing together letters that the author wrote when he lived there (mostly from 1929) and articles that he wrote in the period from 1931 to 1933, when he no longer belonged to the ranks of the Party. In this part, he addresses issues of the economy and class struggle.

In the second part of the book, he deals with fascist Italy. It shows how the fascists tried to impose themselves as a third way, supposedly neither capitalist nor socialist, a project doomed to failure. It denounces the guidelines and incoherence inherent to fascism, following the IC's understanding that fascism is the “political expression” of a “direct dictatorship” – a demagogic ideology that disguises itself under a supposedly “national” discourse, with its primary objective being the to crush the revolutionary movement of the working class, especially its communist vanguard, through terror. And it also demonstrates the failure of the fascist economy, presenting its State as regressive and parasitic – as the most aggressive part of capital.

The third and final part covers his articles on Brazil: “Manifesto da counterrevolucion”, from 1931, and “Campo de Batalha”, written between 1933 and 1934. In the first, he addresses the danger of the Legions – mainly the São Paulo Legion, which claimed in that moment a “Brazilianness” –, showing the rapprochement of this group with Plínio Salgado Filho, a supporter of fascist ideas. In the last of his writings, Astrojildo analyzes post-1930 Brazil, portraying it as a country economically dependent on imperialism; It also explains the conflict between the great powers for a new division of the world, stating that this fight would lead to a world war – as, in fact, it happened (and it is worth noting that this text, written in the 1930s, is still very current).

In the following decade, he published Interpretations (Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Student House, 1944). The work is divided into three parts: “Brazilian Novels”; “Political and social history” and “War after war”. The first part contains innovative essays, introducing the literature around the construction of an idea of ​​nation; Here we find again “Machado de Assis, novelist of the Second Reign” (1939), the essay that opens the work. In another essay – “City novelists: Manuel Antônio de Almeida, Rui Barbosa, Joaquim Manuel de Macedo and Lima Barreto” – he analyzes these authors and their works based on the transformation of the environment of the city of Rio de Janeiro and the country as a whole ; by interpreting the process of changes in habits and customs, keeping the authors themselves and their writings as a guiding thread, he observes the transition from estate society to bourgeois society.

In “Mirror of the bourgeois family”, the author comments on the novel Vertigo, by the novelist Gastão Cruls (1888-1956); In the essay, Astrojildo highlights how Cruls, in the architecture of his novel, describes the “bourgeois family types”, which is a kind of class psychology – the “psychology of bourgeois people in any country”.

the second part of Interpretations – “History and social policy” – brings together texts such as: a commentary on the book Southern populations of Brazil (1922), by Oliveira Viana; “Rui Barbosa and slavery” (1944); and “A biography of Padre Feijó”.

The third and final part of the work – “War after war” – stands out for the writings: “War, the Bible and Hitler”; and “Position and tasks of intelligence” (from 1944). It is worth highlighting this last article, in which the Marxist explains that the process of opening towards a regime with more democratic spaces in Brazil could not be restricted to political aspects, but should also encompass the economy, society and culture; In this sense, he points to the end of illiteracy and the expansion of schools and universities, seeking to build a broad policy that would reach all sectors of society and break with the heavy slavery and oligarchic legacy. With in-depth and broad analysis, this text, which remains current, would come to establish itself as a canon, becoming important in Paulo Freire's literacy action, in the works of the São Paulo theaters Oficina and Arena, and in the Brazilian Cinema Novo movement.

It is also worth presenting the book Machado de Assis (Rio de Janeiro: Livraria e Editora São José, 1959). In the work, Astrojildo escapes the artistic dogma of “socialist realism”, which demanded that artistic production express a proletarian political option beforehand – with an explicit positioning. Thus, he presents us with a Machado that was very different from the reading given to him at the time: an absenteeist, a foreigner in politics and society, in favor of abolitionism and a staunch critic of society.

It also highlights the rise of Machado de Assis through work: a man who, from a poor background, born on the hills, from a factory worker would become one of the greatest Brazilian writers. For Astrojildo Pereira, Machado, by exalting Brazilian and national things, offered the country's writers an idea of ​​cultural policy – ​​synthesized in his critical, diverse approach that breaks the idea that literature would be limited to entertainment.

In 1962, on the occasion of the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the PCB, Astrojildo Pereira brought together important texts of his – which form part of the fundamental bibliography of the early years of the Party –, published as Formation of the PCB: 1922-1928.

The following year, it came to light impure criticism (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1963), a book that has an emblematic title. In it, Astrojildo starts from the principle that the writer's work requires taking sides; If there cannot be a “pure literature”, there is no “pure criticism” either. The supporters of impure criticism They do not believe in “art for art’s sake” – that is, superficial art that disregards political and ideological issues. It was a response to the publication of Pure criticism (1938), by Henrique Abílio. The work is divided into three parts. The first, “Essays and reading notes”, brings together articles on Eça de Queiroz, Lima Barreto, José Lins do Rego, Machado de Assis, Monteiro Lobato and José Veríssimo, among others, also including text on the trade union movement in Brazil.

The second part, “Testimonies about the new China”, contains essays such as: “China today”, “China without walls”, “Journeys to Planet China”, “The new China”, and “Loto Flower”. The third part, “Culture and society”, brings together several writings that concern issues that arose at the time (and remain current), such as: “Poetry and society”; “Bicentennial of Encyclopedia French”; and “Science and society”.

Posthumously, bringing together articles written by him – prepared and already published at different times in his life – it was edited Historical and political essays (São Paulo: Alfa-Ômega, 1979), a book presented by Heitor Ferreira Lima and brings together five essays: “Formação do PCB” (reissue of the 1962 work); “Sociology and apologetics” (1929), “Rui Barbosa and slavery” (1944); “Manifesto of the counter-revolution” (1931); and “Battlefield” (1933-1934).

Online, your work can be read on portals such as: UNESP Documentation and Memory Center (www.cedem.unesp.br); and Marxism 21 (https://marxismo21.org).

*John Kennedy Ferreira is a professor of Sociology at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA).

*Felipe Santos Deveza He is a postdoctoral fellow in Latin American history at UFF. Public school history professor and college professor of American history. Author, among other books, of The communist movement and the particularities of Latin America (UFRJ/UNAM).

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP [nucleopraxisusp.org].

References


ARIAS, Santiane. “Astrojildo Pereira and the Social Studies Magazine". Novos Rumos magazine, no. 44, 2005.

BELOCH, Israel. “Astrojildo Pereira”. Marxism 21. Disp: https://marxismo21.org.

BUONICORE, Augusto. “Agrarianism and industrialism: the first encounter of Marxism with Brazil”. Red, Jun. 2006. Disp.: https://vermelho.org.br.

DEL ROIO, Marcos. “The trajectory of Astrojildo Pereira (1890-1965)”. Marxism 21, 2015. Disp: https://marxismo21.org.

______. “Astrojildo Pereira: founder of Marxism in Brazil”. Marxism 21, 2012.Disp: https://marxismo21.org.

DEVEZA, Felipe. “Astrojildo Pereira and the Russian Revolution of 1917”. Critical Convergence Magazine, no. 10, 2017.

FEIJÓ, Martin Cezar. A cordial revolutionary: Astrojildo Pereira and the origins of a cultural policy. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2022.

OLIVEIRA, Ilka Maria de. “Astrojildo Pereira behind the scenes of Literary History”. Lyrics of Hoje, v. 30, no. 3,2013. Disp: https://revistaseletronicas.pucrs.br.

RIDENTI, Marcelo. “Astrojildo Pereira”. Left margin, n. 39, 2022. Disp.: https://aterraeredonda.com.br.

VIANNA, Mary de AG “Astrojildo Pereira, a revolutionary”. In: PEREIRA, Astrojildo. USSR-Italy-Brazil. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2022.


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