Astrojildo Pereira

Image: Liubov Popova


Considerations on the re-edition of the PCB founder's books

Astrojildo Pereira (1890-1965) was a man who marked his time, despite being defeated in the political struggles fought throughout his life. Loser as an anarchist, then as a Marxist expelled from the Communist Party (PCB) in the early 1930s, after being the legendary general secretary and one of the organization's founders in 1922. In the period of ostracism, he devoted himself to the family business of banana trade in Rio Bonito, in the interior of Rio de Janeiro, with incursions also in the capital, when he produced the essential part of his work.

He returned to the PCB after the Second World War, at the cost of painful self-criticism, which was not enough to lift him back to leadership positions, but allowed him to be recognized among his comrades, starting to act mainly as an intellectual. He would still suffer new defeats, perhaps the most painful one imposed by the 1964 coup, which imprisoned him, aggravating the health conditions that led to his death in November 1965, a few months after he was released. One of the arguments for releasing him was the author's admiration for Machado de Assis, national unanimity, about whom Astrojildo Pereira wrote texts recognized by scholars. The devotion came from his youth, when he starred in the episode of the kiss on the hand of the witch from Cosme Velho on his deathbed.

The case became famous in a chronicle by Euclides da Cunha at the time, reproduced in the collection of five books by Astrojildo, now republished by Boitempo publishing house. As a bonus, there is a volume by Martin Feijó with the biography the cordial revolutionary. The new edition of the works – which were scattered and out of print – allows assessing the relevance of the author not only as a politician, but also as a social thinker and cultural critic. The reissue comes in commemoration of 100 years of the Communist Party and 200 of Independence. The ephemeris provide an opportunity to shed light on this indispensable thinker to help unravel the enigma that is Brazil.

As he is a communist leader, the political dimension is important above all else. In the book Formation of the PCB, 1922/1928, originally published in 1962, Astrojildo gives his version of the history of the early years of the party he headed, highlighting in particular his role in the brief period of legality, from January to August 1927, shortly after the end of the state of siege that had lasted until the end of the government of Arthur Bernardes. Although it does not comment on its anarchist past, the work is full of criticisms of that movement that is adverse to “any form of unitary and centralized leadership”, averse to “any form of participation in elections and parliamentary struggles” (p. 68, 100).

Astrojildo was almost 32 years old when he helped found the PCB, he was a man with extensive previous militancy, an anarchist since 1911. PCB formation express their desire to get rid of this stain that hung over him and other founders, often accused in the internal struggle for their anarchist origins. In this book and in the others, the author makes general observations about anarchism as the “antecedent of the founding of the PCB”, but does not address his own participation as a leading political actor in the movement. A gap that is largely filled in the biography written by Feijó and in the comments by specialists that make up the collection, such as those by Segatto for the first volume, whose ear is by Fernando Garcia de Faria.

They also tend to value the experience of the PCB in the 1920s, when it had considerable relative autonomy from Moscow, which enabled, for example, the formation of a political front, creating the BOC, as the Bloc Operário e Camponês was known. The BOC also expressed an attempt to approach rebel movements such as the lieutenants, from which Luiz Carlos Prestes would lead, whose conversion to communism was influenced by Astrojildo Pereira, who visited him in December 1927 in Bolivia, where he was in exile.

Astrojildo Pereira goes off on a tangent when the topic is the history of the PCB at the end of the 1920s, which would lead him to the loss of the position of maximum leader and soon to his expulsion in the so-called obreirismo phase, which led to the purge of other intellectuals such as Heitor Ferreira Lima , author of the introduction to the volume USSR, Italy, Brazil. Originally published in 1935, it includes writings by Astrojildo Pereira, especially from the early 1930s, when he continued to be a communist, although expelled from the party. It seeks to analyze the advance of fascism in Italy, as opposed to what seemed to be the future of humanity, seeing with enthusiasm the implementation of the five-year plan in the Soviet Union. He also dealt with the influence of these two antagonistic experiences in Brazil. A theme that seemed buried in the past, but gained unexpected relevance in the recent political context of the advance of the extreme right, as Marly Vianna recalls in the unpublished introductory text and Dainis Karepovs in the book's cover.

In its turn, Interpretations brings together writings from 1929 to 1944 on Brazilian novels – about half of the volume –, political and social history, as well as the context of World War II, imposing “tasks to intelligence”. In the presentation, Flávio Aguiar points to Rio de Janeiro as a character that runs through the entire “amazingly good” book. As an appendix, there is an article by the young Florestan Fernandes commenting on the first edition for the morning leaf in 1945, partnered with the author in the intellectuals' struggle for democratization. Also included was Nelson Werneck Sodré's long testimony, from 1990, about the life and work of his friend Astrojildo Pereira, in addition to Pedro Meira Monteiro's ear, which highlights the excellence of the Rio author's criticism when dealing with the class struggle " without surrendering to easy schemes”.

Machado de Assis it is the main theme of the volume that bears his name and also brings “single notes”. The presentation is by José Paulo Netto, with ear by Luccas Eduardo Maldonado. Appendices gather writings in the press about Astrojildo Pereira, produced at different times by Euclides da Cunha (1908), Rui Facó (1958) and Oto Maria Carpeaux (1959), for whom the author achieved in this book “the perfect balance of tradition and revolution” .

Finally, the largest volume, with more than 400 pages, is impure criticism, collecting texts on politics and culture produced between 1930 and 1960. The unpublished presentation is by Josélia Aguiar, the ear fell to Paulo Roberto Pires, and the appendix contains the text by Leandro Konder from 1990, with a brief assessment of the author's contribution.

As can be seen, the collection brought together a group of important intellectuals to present and comment on Astrojildo's work, whose density speaks for itself, in clear language. Several of them note that the best part was produced during his time away from the PCB, although he continued to identify himself as a follower of Marx and Lenin, whose funeral he had witnessed in Moscow. This gives food for thought, it suggests that communist militancy would limit creative thinking on the part of its intellectuals, who struggled to get rid of the dogmas of Soviet Marxism.

Something corroborated by theorists who made their most consistent contribution after leaving the party, even if they continued on the path of historical materialism, the emblematic case of Jacob Gorender. It is also known that the classic communist thinker was Caio Prado Jr. which, however, has always been relatively marginalized in party politics. This leads to the question: if communist militancy tended to hinder the original thinking for thinking about the Brazilian social formation, if Astrojildo Pereira produced the best of his work when he was outside the PCB, why did he return to its ranks in 1945? Why did the main leader of the 1920s agree to occupy a politically secondary position until he died?

Answering these questions is not simple, even more so in the restricted space of a review. First, it is necessary to consider the political conviction, the fidelity to its ideals, the belief that the party would be the best way to organize the workers in search of socialism. In addition to this factor, the works give some clues that can be found, for example, in Astrojildo Pereira's detailed analysis of two novelists with whom he identified. Lima Barreto and Machado de Assis, like him, were relatively outsiders, although Astrojildo Pereira was white and had more material resources. He studied in good private schools, but did not reach higher education, building a self-taught path. The three had the ambiguous desire to deny order and to be recognized by the established intelligentsia. Astrojildo Pereira was a pioneer in reading Machado de Assis as a critical author of the constituted order, and in valuing Lima Barreto

Once Astrojildo Pereira allowed himself to read Barretiana's work to understand the displaced place of this writer in the intellectual milieu, by proposing affinities between his characters and the novelist, then it would not be unreasonable to think of Astrojildo Pereira's analysis of Lima Barreto to understand his own trajectory as an intellectual. He uses the same procedure in relation to Machado de Assis, who “even when he tried to analyze others, he always ended up analyzing himself” (Machado de Assis, P. 34). The at the same time lucid and passionate defense that Astrojildo Pereira makes of his interpretation of Machado de Assis as an author with “instinct and conscience of nationality”, whose work expressed fine political and social criticism, is basically the defense of his own positions.

Here is the hypothesis to solve the riddle: between the impulse of rebellion in the style of Lima Barreto, which made him almost an outcast, and the accommodation with the current order without losing the ironic critical gaze of a Machado de Assis, Astrojildo Pereira found his synthesis in communist militancy, at the same time radical and constituent of alternative institutionality, with its specific criteria of legitimation and consecration. Intellectual recognition, as a kind of consolation prize in the view of the leaders, was perhaps much more than that for the author. It would mean the possibility of disseminating his ideas and obtaining the intellectual prestige that would be more difficult by other means, if he remained diluted in a secondary position among the dominant ones.

Organization in the party gave the possibility of escaping the isolation of an alternative author like Lima Barreto, who lived in an era that imposed limits on critical intellectuals, even more so on those coming from outside established intellectual circles. The same limits that Machado de Assis tried to circumvent, participating with his irony and skepticism in the system itself. The emergence of the Communist Party would provide the institutional alternative that Barreto and Machado did not have. Astrojildo Pereira found in it the place to express something that had been revealed since his youth, the feeling of revolt with the more general situation of the country, the people and the workers, which came together with the search to make his voice heard in closed political circles and intellectuals. A tension between fighting against order and the desire for institutional recognition, in the tortuous process of counter-hegemonic construction.

Despite all the political adversities, Astrojildo Pereira was far from being defeated, judging by the joint relaunch of his work, the fact that he named a foundation, and the admiration that many intellectuals devote to him – not just those who consider themselves his heirs. He won the coveted place in the gallery of Brazilian social thought, perhaps bananas in place of the potatoes of the famous philosopher-character Machadian, as if he were singing a certain song of his time: “Yes, we have banana”. Yes, we have Astrojildo.

*Marcelo Ridenti He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ghost of the Brazilian revolution (unesp).

Originally published in the magazine Left margin no. 39, 2nd. semester of 2022, Boitempo.



Astrojildo Pereira box.

Astrojildo Pereira. Formation of the PCB: 1922-1928 – notes and documents. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2022, 192 pages.

Astrojildo Pereira. USSR Italy Brazil. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2022, 184 pages.

Astrojildo Pereira. Interpretations. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2022, 280 pages.

Astrojildo Pereira. Machado de Assis: essays and separate notes. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2022, 280 pages.

Astrojildo Pereira. impure criticism. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2022, 416 pages.

Martin Cezar Feijo. The cordial revolutionary: Astrojildo Pereira and the origins of a cultural policy. São Paulo, Boitempo, 256 pages.


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