Livio Xavier

Lívio Xavier / Image: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

From a wealthy family, Lívio Xavier (1900-1988) was a child surrounded by all the comforts possible in those times and in the interior of Ceará, even though he was the third in a family of 13 children. His parents were Elisa Barreto Xavier and Ignácio Xavier – who initially was a traveling salesman and later became associated with the powerful merchant Carvalho Mota, which allowed him to set up his own company (eventually being addressed as “colonel”). The father of the future revolutionary was a supporter of the reactionary Acciolys oligarchy, ties that resulted in facilities enjoyed later by his son – when he had to travel to Fortaleza to study.

Lívio Xavier's spiritual formation, his entry into the universe of reading and writing, began very early, around the age of five, when his intelligence was already attracting attention – influenced by his mother, who read a lot, and by contact with the traders who worked at his father's firm. However, his questioning nature also kept him from participating in local traditions, especially religious ones, to which he showed indifference in terms of doctrine, but not in relation to the scenic aspects of the rituals, which would fascinate him until adulthood. In addition to aesthetic enjoyment, religious life in the small Granja (even more so with the diocesan bishop himself as his confirmation godfather) was a sign of social distinction; but he never became a believer.

From his first studies at school, he pursued intense self-education in parallel, as the family had built up a good collection of famous books: from Victor Hugo, Herculano and Júlio Diniz to José de Alencar, Joaquim Manuel de Macedo and Olavo Bilac. At the age of 13, he left the port of Camocim, the coastal city closest to Granja, to Fortaleza, where he would continue his secondary studies and live under the protection of his family's illustrious friends – until moving to Rio de Janeiro to study law. .

Lívio Xavier's political evolution, from a restless young intellectual – dissatisfied with the state of affairs – to his communist activism, included friendship and camaraderie with another northeasterner, Mário Pedrosa from Pernambuco, his colleague at the Faculty of Law, in Rio de Janeiro. The friends shared interests in the themes of art, literature and politics. In fact, both became strong references throughout the 20th century, in the Brazilian culture scene: Mário Pedrosa in art theory and criticism, Lívio Xavier in literary and theatrical criticism.

In the turbulent 1920s, the companions embarked on the revolutionary journey together. Their trajectory towards communism was based on an intense and uninterrupted common reflection, witnessed by a lively correspondence, which was recovered and published in the work Revolutionary loneliness, by José Castilho Marques Neto (1993). In letters written since 1923, Mário Pedrosa and Lívio Xavier passionately discussed the most innovative names in European literature of the previous century and made reference to new surrealist authors, such as André Breton, which played a certain role in their friends' adherence to the Communist Party of Brazil. (PCB) and, later, its drift within the communist Opposition. The French surrealists, since their first The Manifest, established a relationship between art, literature and proletarian revolution that the two companions, as far as possible, followed in real time.

Lívio Xavier and Mário Pedrosa were not part of the group of activists that founded the PCB in 1922, but from an early age they followed the Party's activity, driven by the echoes of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. In their dialogues, references to Lenin, Trotsky and the socialist revolution in Russia. Mário Pedrosa, at this time, was impressed by Lenin's revolutionary intransigence and by the imaginative power of Trotsky's prose, which he read in French versions. Between 1925 and 1927, between the Northeast and Rio de Janeiro, Lívio Xavier and Mário Pedrosa became indirectly involved in PCB activities, especially participating in the creation of the Proletarian Magazine, which had only one edition, in which Lívio Xavier contributed the article “Party and revolution”. In 1927, he joined the PCB.

At this time, the internal struggle in the Communist International (IC) was reaching its peak, whose initial tensions occurred when Lenin, the main leader of the October Revolution of 1917, was still alive, but which took on greater proportions after his death. The crisis had as its backdrop the fact that Russia, in a situation of virtual physical disappearance of the generation that made the Revolution of 1917 (as a result of the civil war and the invasion of the country by several foreign powers), with industrial activity and working population having fallen below that of 1917, had to call for the reintroduction of market mechanisms, with the aim of reactivating economic life.

The Soviet State, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Communist International received, in a short historical period, a new wave of members from the social classes benefiting from market measures (adopted on an emergency basis). In this scenario, in 1924, Stalin came to power, consolidating his hegemonic position in 1928. Given the circumstances, a new political direction was then announced, based on the theory of socialism in one country - elaborated by N. Bukárin, who advocated that socialism could be achieved in the Soviet Union even in the midst of hostile capitalist regimes. From 1923 onwards, Trotsky began resisting this process, but, gradually, the parties of the Communist International joined Stalinism. In 1927, Trotsky was removed from the CPSU Central Committee, and in 1928 he was deported, beginning a journey of exile.

Lívio Xavier and Mário Pedrosa formally joined the PCB precisely at the moment when the echoes of this divergence that occurred in the PCUS were reaching the Party. In Brazil, the crisis had three key points: the understanding that the country still had “feudal remains” arising from the colonial past, which led to the conclusion that the “stage” of the revolution in the country had to take place in alliance with the bourgeoisie local; union policy, which advocated the creation of unions under PCB hegemony (which generated divisions); and the Party's own regime which, under the influence of the so-called “proletarianization” of the organization, removed leaders under the argument that the weight of manual workers in management should be increased.

This set of issues was at the root of a sequence of episodes that shaped an imminent split in the PCB. João da Costa Pimenta, an important communist trade unionist from Rio de Janeiro and one of the founders of the PCB, had already rebelled against the Party's trade union orientation; Joaquim Barbosa, union secretary of the PCB, was expelled for the same reason at the beginning of 1928. With strong influence from those opposing the leadership, the Regional Committee of the PCB of Rio de Janeiro was dismissed by the Executive Committee in April 1928.

Lívio Xavier participated intensely in these clashes. He was the main drafter of a document addressed to the Executive Committee, signed by fifty other activists, including several leaders, in which the anti-democratic course of the leadership was pointed out, the imposition of guidance through administrative means was criticized and a conference was called for party to reestablish workers' democracy. The document sparked a campaign against its signatories, who were removed from the PCB. To consolidate the new status quo partisan, the leadership called for the III Party Congress, to be held without the presence of the opposition group.

Lívio Xavier was once again the main writer of a memorial addressed to the congress delegates – but which, despite circulating in party circles, was not admitted as a congress document. The “1928 Split”, as it became known, was consolidated. Mário Pedrosa followed all this from afar, as he was on his way to a cadre school in Moscow, when he was detained in Germany, where he came into contact with the theses of Trotsky and the International Left Opposition (OEI). In a letter to Lívio Xavier (1927), he expressed discouragement with the course of the Communist International, as the Bolshevik Congress had expelled Trotsky and the Opposition from the Soviet party; encouraged the comrade to act towards a revolutionary regrouping in Brazil, identified with the OEI. Lívio Xavier, however, informed him that the situation in Brazil was discouraging; the expulsion of oppositionists from the PCB had led to a dispersion of organized cadres.

During this period, Lívio Xavier assumed contact with the OEI center in Paris, which made the reorganization movements of Brazilian oppositionists revolve around him and a handful of leaders disconnected from the PCB. Disagreements with the Party leadership regarding strikes, which went back to those of the “Cisão”, reconnected these São Paulo activists with others who had remained in the PCB until then, such as those gathered in the “4R” cell of the Party, which raised related issues to those that led to the “Split” – and was equally expelled. The meeting of these elements from São Paulo and Rio, reinforced by Mário Pedrosa's return to the country, led to the emergence of the Lenin Communist Group (GCL), the first organized expression of the OEI in Brazil. In accordance with international guidance, the GCL presented itself as a public fraction of the PCB, bringing together militants who were outside the Party, due to the leadership's decision, but who fought from outside, seeking to influence it.

Thus, much of the GCL's political activity was directed at PCB members and communist public opinion within the labor movement. With this orientation, the GCL public body, the newspaper A Class struggle, in addition to a Brazilian edition of Opposition Bulletin (International). In 1930, the International Opposition Conference, held in France, registered the GCL as a member group.

Lívio Xavier, under the code name Lyon, was the main writer of The Class Struggle and, together with Mário Pedrosa, the greatest columnist of the Brazilian opposition movement. In this position, Xavier was the author of acute analyzes of class relations in Brazil, within the framework of subordination to US imperialism, which was beginning to consolidate. This is the case of an analysis that shows that Brazil's capitalist modernization was due to growing dependence on imperialism, through the entanglement between the country's internal bourgeoisie (then called “national”) and international financial capital.

The GCL, however, dispersed after a few months. The Brazilian Opposition only regrouped following a new dissent in the PCB. Sympathetic to the ideas of the Opposition since the “Split”, leader Aristides Lobo broke with the Party at the end of 1930. The discussion with him allowed the resumption of GCL activities, with old members and new militants. On January 21, 1931, at a conference in São Paulo, the creation of the Internationalist Communist League (LCI) was proclaimed.

Alongside the pioneers of the Opposition in Brazil, Lívio Xavier occupied a leading role, integrating the organization's General Secretariat, whose head would be Lobo, and the Secretariat of Agitation and Propaganda which, among other things, relaunched A Class struggle. Despite being a minority, the LCI had a presence in sectors of the proletariat. Due to his decision to be at the forefront of the actions, he gave priority to work in São Paulo, where the axis of the workers' struggle in the country had moved, even though Pedrosa remained in Rio de Janeiro; for a few years, with a modest group of militants, it played an important role, whether by promoting a unity ticket of popular forces in the elections for the 1934 Constituent Assembly, or by raising a union independence program (in the face of Getúlio Vargas' offensive against the autonomous union structure). However, what most marked the existence of the LCI was the place it occupied in the creation of the Anti-Fascist United Front, to which it even attracted the PCB (after some initial resistance). This Front starred in the main episode of confrontation against integralism (which was the Brazilian version of fascism, at the time), managing to dissolve, through mobilization, the fascist demonstration scheduled for Praça da Sé (São Paulo), in 1934.

Engulfed in a new crisis – which pitted Lívio Xavier and Mário Pedrosa against Aristides Lobo – the LCI dissolved. MárioPedrosa continued in the battle to set up a Trotskyist organization in Brazil, being a delegate from South America at the Conference that proclaimed the Fourth International (September 1938), of which he became leader. Lívio Xavier, on the other hand, abdicated organized activism, without ever moving away from Marxism, which continued to be the theoretical basis of his activism in literary criticism. In this capacity, he had an active participation, in the 1940s, in promoting the newspaper Socialist Vanguard, which brought together left-wing intellectuals who opposed Stalinism, such as Mário Pedrosa himself, Patrícia Galvão (Pagu), Geraldo Ferraz and Edmundo Moniz, among others. It was this periodical that published for the first time in the country the Manifesto for a revolutionary and independent art, by L. Trotsky and André Breton.

From then on, Lívio Xavier dedicated himself fully to his work as a literary critic, especially on the pages of the newspaper's “Suplemento Literário” The State of S. Paulo. In this activity, which continued throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the Marxist achieved great recognition, being awarded, in 1976, for his book of criticism, which originated there, Mambrino's helmet – published the previous year. However, in general, although questions of Marxism continued to be present in his writings in this last period, since the end of his experience at the newspaper Socialist Vanguard, Xavier no longer formally participated in politics.

Lívio Xavier passed away in 1988, bequeathing rich material for the knowledge of the memory and history of Brazilian sociopolitical and cultural movements of the XNUMXth century.

Contributions to Marxism

Lívio Xavier pioneered the ideas of Leon Trotsky and Trotskyism itself in Brazil. Alongside Mário Pedrosa, he always articulated revolutionary activity with literary work. Already in the 1920s, both maintained intense contact with the European avant-gardes, especially with the surrealists, of whose main organs they were readers, particularly the French magazine Clarity.

The place of Lívio Xavier's thought in Brazilian politics and culture is located in the context of the history of the PCB, an organization that has been present in the country's cultural, literary and artistic life since its foundation. It can even be said that he continued the activity of some of its founders, such as Astrojildo Pereira, a very independent thinker who would clash with the Party in the early 1930s – which had repercussions on the relationship between communists and the world of arts. and letters.

Lívio Xavier's main contributions to Marxism in Brazil are contained in his writings as leader of the GCL and LCI. This contribution was centered on the search for a dialectical, non-mechanistic Marxist interpretation of the national reality, opposing the schematism that until then affected the elaborations of the PCB. The positions of Lívio Xavier and the groups he led can be summarized in the resolutions and communiqués of these organizations, most of them in partnership with Mário Pedrosa. The texts sought an alternative to the vision of Octávio Brandão – whose work Agrarianism and industrialism (1926) established the foundations of pecebist thought during these times – in an effort to understand national formation from its situation as a former colony and, therefore, as a dependent country.

In the positions expressed publicly by Lívio Xavier and MárioPedrosa, the thesis of the country's feudal past was dismantled, as well as the idea of ​​a “progressive bourgeoisie” that supposedly opposed the conservative agrarian bourgeoisie. They showed that, on the contrary, the Brazilian bourgeoisie was not a product of the confrontation with feudal classes, but that its advent resulted directly from seigneurial privileges and that, at a certain point, it was elevated to the world market by international capital.

Thus, classic struggles of the bourgeoisie in the central countries of the capitalist system (such as that for the affirmation of the sovereignty and unity of the nation) took place in Brazil in the form of internecine battles between different regional fractions for hegemony (which appeared as an opposition between centralization and federalism) . The authors demonstrate that the struggle for such hegemony pushed the most dynamic sectors of the bourgeoisie towards increasing subordination to imperialism, especially through loans; As a result, there was a strong tendency for the Brazilian bourgeoisie to use the State to obtain the necessary conditions to consolidate their businesses, which led to bureaucratization and state authoritarianism.

The elaboration of the two authors anticipated analyzes that, only later, other scholars of the Brazilian reality would arrive at. In their work, both leaders aimed to build a Brazilian organization of Left Opposition. They understood that it was necessary to promote the self-organization of the proletariat, the only force capable of leading the nation to carry out a program of sovereignty and national development, in the transition to socialism.

Lívio Xavier was a pioneer in the introduction of literature and, in general, surrealist art in Brazil. He had first-hand access to publications from the most left-wing wing of European surrealism (A. Breton, Pierre Naville, Louis Aragon and others), receiving publications such as Clarity e La Révolution Surréaliste. Xavier, at this stage of his youth, boldly related the ideas of Aragon and Breton with Trotsky's positions on the issue of culture and art. He and Pedrosa planned a study of national art, never carried out as such, with the aim of building a revolutionary “Brazilian social theory”.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the PCB adopted the line of “proletarianization”, which assimilated the cultural policy emanating from Moscow (led by Andrei Zidanov), especially after the Congress of Russian Writers in 1934. This policy alienated an important generation of literati trained during the October Revolution and who demanded a certain flag of freedom of art – which was in force throughout the 1920s. Lívio Xavier spoke out against this orientation, especially when the PCB criticized the publication of the work Stone way, by Ceará writer Rachel de Queiroz, considered at odds with the Party line.

Lívio Xavier later developed a cultural orientation coinciding with the ideas summarized by Trotsky and Breton in Manifesto for a revolutionary and independent art (1938). He defended “complete” freedom for art – being critical of the “socialist realism” defended by Zidanov.

Thus, with regard to the problems of culture, art and literature, he developed in his criticism – with an erudite and universalist bias – the positions he acquired in the Trotskyist movement. In the 1930s, this brought him closer to Rachel de Queiroz who, after being expelled from the PCB for disagreeing with criticism of her work, briefly became close to Trotskyism.

Around this time, in the midst of Trotskyist activism, the theorist moved to São Paulo, where he worked at the Night Diary, in which he closely followed the evolution of figures of Brazilian modernism such as Oswald and Mário de Andrade and Pagu. From this period, his “Preface” to André Malraux’s classic is well remembered, the human condition(Rio de Janeiro: Mundo Latino, 1948), with an interesting artistic and literary criticism of Stalinism.

The course of Lívio Xavier's aesthetic thought was guided by his relations with surrealism, established autonomously, before the famous conversations between Trotsky and Breton, in Mexico, in an approach similar to that which Walter Benjamin carried out towards the same group. Also, for the author, surrealism was a counterposition to idealistic bourgeois morality and the affirmation of an ideal of freedom that was distinct from traditional humanism – establishing a vision of “communicating vessels”, in André Breton's expression, between reality and reality. dream, between reason and drunkenness. For Xavier, as well as for Walter Benjamin, surrealism adorned with the slogans of the communist manifesto (1848), by Marx and Engels.

Not by chance, the newspaper Socialist Vanguard, to which Lívio Xavier contributed regularly, published the The Manifest by Trotsky and Breton, in 1946. In 1972, Lívio Xavier would reinstate the topical problem of this text, in the article “Surrealism and the manifesto without adherence”. Thus, after abandoning formal political activism, he worked as a critic and journalist defending “the freedom of art for the revolution, the revolution for the freedom of art”.

Lívio Xavier's reflections on culture, art and literature were dispersed in a myriad of articles published in the press, especially in the newspaper The State of S. Paul. His influence in the context of Brazilian literary criticism marked an epoch, according to the testimony of important contemporary thinkers – such as Antonio Candido, who observed that great writers of his time publicly expressed their appreciation for the Marxist's opinions.

Comment on the work

Lívio Xavier's literary fortune was not reflected in many books. As a revolutionary leader, within the scope of the GCL and, later, in the LCI, Lívio Xavier produced numerous writings that, however, he did not subscribe to, as they appeared as collective resolutions of political groups. As a journalist, his works are dispersed in articles in newspapers Night Diary, Socialist Vanguard and, mainly, in his column called “Revista das Revistas”, published in the “Suplemento Literário” of The State of S. Paul. His contribution to Marxism was strongly linked to the introduction of Trotskyism in Brazil, both in terms of ideas and in the field of organization, especially in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Below is a list of works capable of summarizing Xavier’s written contribution: “Outline of an analysis of the economic and social situation in Brazil” (1931), published in the newspaper A Class struggle (confiscated edition), and later recovered and republished in the work Against the current of history: documents from the Internationalist Communist League (1930-1933), organized by Fúlvio Abramo and Dainis Karepovs (São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987); Storm over Asia (1934), written under the pseudonym “L. Mantsô”, addressing problems of the revolution in Asian countries; Childhood on the Farm (1974), autobiographical work; the highlighted Mambrino's helmet: selected critical essays (Rio de Janeiro: José Olímpio, 1975); Ten poems by Lívio Xavier illustrated by Noêmia Mourão (São Paulo: Cultura Brasileira/Massao Ohno, 1978); and the appendix entitled “Documents”, containing the correspondence between Lívio Xavier and Mário Pedrosa from 1926 to 1930, included in the book by José Castilho Marques Neto, Revolutionary loneliness: Mário Pedrosa and the origins of Trotskyism in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1993).

It was at the head of the LCI press that Mário Pedrosa and Lívio Xavier, under the respective pseudonyms M. Camboa and L. Lyon, published in the newspaper A Class struggle (1931) one of the first comprehensive analyzes of the situation in the country after the 1930 Revolution, under the title “Outline of an analysis of the economic and social situation of Brazil” – as an alternative to the PCB line, still situated on the basis of the work by Octávio Brandão, Agrarianism and industrialism, of 1926. In this famous work, Xavier and Pedrosa started from the conditions in which the development of the industry, in the context of the coffee monopoly on the world market, led the fragile local bourgeoisie to increasing subordination to foreign capital, hence “their political incapacity , his blind and scoundrel reactionism and – on all planes – his cowardice.”

In this context, the “Esboço” criticized the characterization of the country made by the PCB, based on the idea that the mass of the Brazilian population would be made up of small landowners, a petty bourgeoisie with a profile transplanted from European reality, which did not correspond to real life in Brazil. . In this sense, this text is a milestone in the construction of an interpretation of Brazilian reality beyond the hegemonic vision of the PCB. It had a problematic recovery to reach us, since the newspaper A Class struggle, in which it originally appeared, was seized by the police, and its subsequent publication in a book required a translation of the French version – published by the OEI Secretariat.

In the text published with the title “Documents” (included in the aforementioned Revolutionary loneliness, by Marques Neto), we can observe the construction of Xavier's conceptions, within the framework of the GCL and the LCI, through correspondence between him and M. Pedrosa from 1926 (the period prior to his joining the PCB) until 1930 (when he was already in full activity at OEI). There, in a somewhat unsystematic way, his political and aesthetic ideas emerge embryonically through the discussion about the Brazilian and global situation and the problems of the PCB.

In fact, the question that permeated Lívio Xavier's work as a militant and as a critic (for years, in collaboration with Mário Pedrosa) was the lines of force of a cultural policy – ​​and how to think about them in contrast with the PCB's policy. Under this guidance, his criticism dialogued with the most important literary movements in the country in the last century, valuing invention, but without refusing to question even the most creative artists. This was the case of his well-known essay on the theater of Oswald de Andrade, included in Mambrino's helmet – mature work, originating in the middle of the 20th century, during his long journalistic activism on the pages of The State of S. Paulo. In this critical book, the author reviews several decades of art and literature in Brazil. The articles gathered in it include interpretations of various works of literature and visual arts, including themes of philosophy, history and political science – which denotes his broad intellectual training.

At the end of his life, after years of pontificating in the “Suplemento Literário” d'The State of S. Paul, published the book of reminiscences, Childhood on the Farm (São Paulo: Massao Ohno, 1974). He then released the aforementioned volume of poetry – Ten poems by Lívio Xavier illustrated by Noêmia Mourão.

Lívio Xavier also carried out an important activity as a translator, which he began as a militant task, when he translated works by Rosa Luxemburg into Portuguese (Reform or revolution) and Leon Trotsky (terrorism and communism e My life, from 1929), for Editora Unitas – being appointed by Trotsky as the “authorized translator” of his works in Brazil. Over the years, the communist also translated, among others, authors such as: N. Machiavelli (The prince e political writings), P. Kropotkin (Around a life), B. Spinoza (Ethics), FW Hegel (a compendium of Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences), Thomas Mann (death in venice), Edgar Allan Poe (The well and the pendulum), A. Labriola (Essays on Historical Materialism), and Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi's Memoirs).

Recently, Unesp's Documentation and Memory Center (Cedem) announced a book dedicated to Xavier's correspondence, Lívio Xavier: correspondence and correspondents (not yet published).

Furthermore, the Unesp Digital Library makes available rare works from Lívio Xavier Collection (, collected throughout his life; works that form part of a larger bibliographical set, made up of thousands of writings and documents that are under the responsibility of Cedem. Already on the portal Marxism 21 ( the text “Outline of an analysis of the economic and social situation in Brazil” (1930) has been digitized.

*José Eudes Baima Bezerra He is a professor at the State University of Ceará. Author, among other books, of Right to education and continued progression (Venetian).

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP.


ABRAMO, Fúlvio; KAREPOVS, Dainis (Org.). Against the current of history: documents from the Internationalist Communist League (1930-1933). São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987.

BARBALHO, Alexandre. Lívio Xavier: politics and culture. Fortaleza: The House, 2003.

CASTRO, Ricardo Figueiredo de. “Mário Pedrosa, Lívio Xavier and the origins of Marxism in Brazil”. Marxism 21, 2013. Available:

FACIOLI, Valentim (org.). Breton-Trotsky: for a revolutionary and independent art. São Paulo: Paz e Terra/Cemap, 1985.

KAREPOVS, Dainis. Underground fighting. São Paulo: Hucitec/Ed. Unesp, 2003.

LÖWY, Michel. The Morning Star: Surrealism and Marxism. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2002.

MARQUES NETO, José Castilho. Revolutionary loneliness: Mário Pedrosa and the origins of Trotskyism in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1993.

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