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The knight of wisdom

Expelled from the Brazilian Communist Party, Astrojildo Pereira dedicated himself to thinking out a pioneering cultural policy for the country

Astrojildo Pereira: influencing, after his death, Paulo Freire, the New Cinema and Tropicalism

Astrojildo Pereira (1890-1965), a founder and the first secretary-general of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), was one of the most restless, intense and controversial personalities involved in the attempt to develop a cultural policy for Brazil. Those were the thirties and the forties, intellectuality had come to the boil – made up of names like Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira and Otto Maria Carpeaux, his friends – and, later, would emerge into modernity. Firstly, Astrojildo preferred to dedicate himself to politics, but, thanks to the party that expelled him in 1931, Brazil gained one of its most brilliant scholars of literature, a thinker well shaped by reading Machado de Assis since he was a young man.

In spite of the criticisms of his adversaries in the party, it was amongst the intellectuals that the image of a sensitive and profound person was disseminated. Hence the title of the book by the professor of comparative communication at the School of Communication of the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation (Faap), Martin Cezar Feijó: The cordial revolutionary – Astrojildo Pereira and the origins of a cultural policy ( (250 pages, R$ 26) A revolucão cordial- Astrojildo Pereira e as origens de uma política cultural. Recently launched by the publishing house Boitempo, with its publication partly sponsored by FAPESP, the work was the theme for a doctorate by Feijó at the School of Communications and Arts, of the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP), in 1999.

This is Martin Feijó’s tenth book, and not the first about one of the few men who have really thought out Brazilian cultural policy. In 1983, when he was working for the Municipal Department for Culture of São Paulo, Feijó published What is cultural policy, in the First Steps collection, by the Brasiliense publishers. After two years had gone by, now as the cultural editor of The Voice of Unity, the party’s newspaper, the author went to Rio Bonito (RJ), where Astrojildo was born, interviewed intellectuals who had shared his company, like Francisco Assis Barbosa, corresponded with Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and visited Niterói, where Astrojildo lived.

“I went to find out which facts precededhis attraction for communism and Marxism”, he explains. As a result of his studies, he published Political Formation of Astrojildo Pereira –Formação Política de Astrojildo Pereira (published by Novos Rumos), which deals with the period of his life up to the involvement with the party. At the first moment, the professor thought about writing a biography of Astrojildo. In 1990, though, he changed course, and decided to look for the concept of cultural policy within Astrojildo’s life and work, for his doctorate. This was how there emerged a book with the looks of a biography, without the abstruseness of academic texts, but permeated with the author’s main concern over the cultural policy, still not formed, for Brazil. “My aspiration is for it to be a starting point for political/cultural thinking for the future, not for the past”, says the professor.

Machado de Assis
The work is based on two important pillars that guided the life of this intellectual: communism and Machado de Assis. Several stories in which he played a leading role turned him into a sort of legendary figure and illustrate the strength of these two vectors in his trajectory. While still a communist leader, he was convinced that his party had to establish an alliance with the army captain Luís Carlos Prestes – the “Knight of Hope”, who had just crossed the country in the intention of transforming the scene of backwardness and misery in Brazil. It was 1927, and Astrojildo went by train to Corumbá, in Mato Grosso, and continued by car to Puerto Suarez, in Bolivia, to talk to Prestes. Before leaving, the communist left the soldier Marxist books.

And the soldier read with attention this literature “which brought a new possibility for his yearning to transform the world, and not just overturning a government”, as Feijó observes in the book. And so, it was through his hands that the military leader was converted to communism. “This meeting led Astrojildo to receive one of the strongest criticisms within the party, that of being a ‘Prestist'”, Feijó notes. “This was one of the explanations for his expulsion from the PCB, after having been dismissed from the position of secretary-general in 1931.”

But, as people are wont to say, there is no evil without some good. “His expulsion was fundamental for him to begin to work on a cultural policy for the country; it was when he was removed from the militancy that he got more involved with intellectuals from Rio de Janeiro, started to write, and went back to Machado de Assis”, says Feijó. A moving story also shows to perfection Astrojildo’s admiration for Machado and how much the writer was important for his intellectual upbringing. In 1908, when the future intellectual was 17 years old, the writer was on his deathbed at his home in Cosme Velho, in Rio. Without telling anyone, the young man took the ferryboat from Niterói and made his way to the house where he knew nobody.

He knocked on the door, and, not without reluctance, his entry was permitted. The lad went into the bedroom, knelt down, and kissed his hand. He said farewell to everyone and left. The sick man was to die a few hours later. And only over 30 years later would it be known who “that lofty boy” had been, quoted by Euclides da Cunha, one of the witnesses of the scene, through the book published on Machado by Lúcia Miguel Pereira. He was, then, already a man with an enviable trajectory. He had countless credentials: cultural journalist, historian, militant, thinker, publicist, self-taught man, and, more notably, the main strategist for a left wing cultural policy.

Machado de Assis and Formation of the PCB are two of his definitive books. But, for Feijó, his most important text was Machado de Assis, Novelist in the Second Reign – Machado de Assis, Novelista do Segundo Reinado, published in 1939 in the Academic Magazine, where Mário de Andrade used to work. He also points out Tasks for Brazilian Intelligence – Tarefas para a Inteligência Brasileira, published in 1944, in which Astrojildo presented decisive proposals for discussion, one year later, during the Writers’ Congress in São Paulo.

“He stated that the intellectual is the agent of the cultural process, so that he has to be unconnected from the State and from the party as well, to be able to think out the country without shackles”, says Feijó. “And he says that the path lies with education, with teaching to read and write in primary and secondary schools; that is to say, it is not enough to learn to write, you have to learn to understand what you read, and to think.” It is as if there were an unbroken line that makes up a path through the decades of the 20th century.

“Paulo Freire caught this same concept, and many of the proposals in that text and defended there were developed, afterwards, by the New Cinema, by Tropicalism, and by the Arena and Oficina theaters”, says Feijó. “This cultural effervescence is rather in debt to Astrojildo, his group of people, and, even, to Machado de Assis, since besides being a great writer he also tried to think out a cultural policy within the limits of his times”, he concludes. Now, the attempt has to be made to take the end of this line and take it forward through the 21st century. The Cordial Revolutionary opens a few doors for reflecting on the subject and for acting.

The project
The cordial revolutionary – Astrojildo Pereira and the origins of a cultural policy (nº 00/05755-0); Modality Publication Assistance; Coordinator
Celso Frederico – ECA/USP; Investment R$ 5,000.00