The manifesto of Portuguese Marxist culture

The magazine Sol Nascente, published in Porto from the end of January 1937, despite a titular banal evocation of the solar myth of a new era and its beginnings as the work of underage university students, was destined to become relevant in the history of contemporary Portuguese ideas, by eloquently recording the transition from the expectation of social and political progress as a result of the diffusion of “lights”, inscribed in republican and libertarian thought, to a Marxist worldview, which was seen as a scientific guide for human emancipation.

The biweekly publication of science, art, and criticism is therefore representative of the ideological changes that marked the final years of the 1930s, insofar as it was the most important space for the national reception, codification, and affirmation of New Humanism and Neo-Realism, as they were called, with deliberate ambiguity.

“Fundamento”, with which the magazine introduces itself along the entire opening cover, explained the initial programmatic purposes: Sol Nascente “will be guided by the most serene critical perspective (...) aiming to contribute to the elevation of the Portuguese cultural level, joining efforts with others who nobly assert themselves (...) does not forget our Eça’s clear phrase: the end of all human culture is to understand Humanity”.

The pursuit of this eclectic aspiration led the young editors to request collaborations from already established publicists. As these calls were well received, the periodical’s quality was remarkably high, with the publication of original texts by presencistas José Régio, Alberto de Serpa, and Adolfo Casais Monteiro, and seareiros António Sérgio, Irene Lisboa, and Castelo Branco Chaves. The covers, with the reproduction of artwork selected by Dominguez Alvarez, provided the publication with artistic distinction.

Abel Salazar was the magazine’s tutelary figure during the period in which it was published in Porto. This middle-aged, republican, uncompromising Freemason histologist, who had just been expelled from a university teaching post, and was an unexpected noteworthy painter and draughtsman, appeared to the freshman editors as a major reference and example, even as the living personification of the scientific, critical, and artistic ideas mentioned in the periodical’s subtitle.

The “good Salazar” was also the author with the largest number of published pieces, some of them unusually extensive, to the point that the many parts of A Crise Europeia were eventually published in book format. This outstanding collaboration was focused on the diffusion of neo-positivist theses and Kretschmer's characterology, as well as on the conversion of the latter into an interpretative foundation of the historical development of Humanity and the Modern Era, in which the dogmatic and radical schizothymic mentality would prevail, as the political evolution of Russia, Germany, and Italy illustrated.

Abel Salazar’s commitment to the apodictic dissemination of his doctrinal convictions originated two polemics focused on the pedagogy that should be obeyed by the dissemination of knowledge, in which Adolfo Casais Monteiro and António Sérgio argued against his peremptory tone.

The cultural success of Sol Nascente was not, however, accompanied by a stable economic situation, but rather by turmoil that took on sufficiently dramatic proportions for the owner and the Porto directors to agree to hand over the magazine’s publishing to the young intellectuals from Coimbra.

Afterwards, the magazine was written by communist university students, close to some of the Porto directors and editorial staff, who transformed it into a symbol and a means of disseminating and affirming Marxism and Leninism in Portuguese culture. Fernando Pinto Loureiro and Joaquim Namorado led this new cycle, assisted by Manuel de Azevedo, the publication's factotum, who transferred his registration to the University of Coimbra in the school year of 1938-1939. Jofre Amaral Nogueira, António Ramos de Almeida, Armando Bacelar, José Augusto da Silva Martins, Fernando Sá Marta, Afonso Ribeiro joined them as regular writers, often using different pseudonyms. António José Soares and António Ramos Ruivo took charge of the illustrations.

Thus, the biweekly periodical became the “manifesto without deviations, clearly oriented in a diamatic sense”, as recommended by Jorge Domingues, who directed O Diabo, a press partner who went through similar programmatic vicissitudes in Lisbon.

The language of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, in the Stalinist canonical version or its French philosophical translation, the concept of imperialism as the superior state of capitalism, the defence of committed realism in letters and arts, references to Gorki and Romain Rolland, but also to Lorca and Portinari, as well as the literary and theoretical works published by Éditions Sociales Internationales, constituted the discursive and emblematic source echoed in the magazine’s pages.

Despite adverse censorial circumstances, the direction of Sol Nascente celebrated this fundamental programmatic inflection, namely on the occasion of the periodical's second anniversary: with it, ​​the magazine went from an imprecise orientation towards a situation in which “a certain method won by sympathy quickly led to the acceptance of a doctrine”.

As such, Marxism was culturally inscribed according to a conceptual, argumentative, symbolic, and pragmatic model that was sufficiently appealing and effective to structure the most vigorous current of thought and action of Portuguese cultural life in the following decades.

It should be recalled, in this regard, that some of the authors who participated in the dissemination of this new vision of the world, history, and existence, such as Arquimedes da Silva Santos and Manuel Campos Lima, admitted to using the publication as a sort of doctrinal guide.

However, according to a famous thesis by Marx, the Coimbra editors did not restrict their mission to the interpretative arena, since their goal was not strictly intellectual, but rather practical; their motivations were inseparable from the imperative of daily fight against Salazarism and the defence of socialism, namely the internal and external politics of the USSR.

By claiming to know the solution that allowed them to transform the world, the new staff made revolutionary purposes and cultural projects inseparable from each other, so the magazine's evolution can only be understood by taking into account the primacy of converting theory into committed practice, that is, the political pragmatics that presided over its production.

For those who believed that no revolutionary action could exist without revolutionary thought, the spread of Marxism, in its current version, represented the obvious preliminary task, expressed both in the enunciation of its discursive, mythical, and ritual order and in the relentless fight against popular conceptions in the educated milieu. At the ideological level, Raul Proença and António Sérgio, Seara Nova’s directors, were targeted and repudiated as utopians. In literature, the focus fell on José Régio, such that Sol Nascente fully transcribed a famous piece of the polemic that Álvaro Cunhal engaged in with the greatest figure of Presença.

For those who shared the then common motto “national in form and socialist in content”, the great generational challenge was to foster a Portuguese Marxist culture that breathed literary and artistic life into concrete and combative representations of the country’s reality. Thus, one’s own empirical knowledge would prevail over ideological abstraction, without, however, failing to incorporate its interpretive and intentional dimensions. The subsequent history of neo-realism, a designation that Portuguese Marxist culture gained in the pages of O Diabo and Sol Nascente, testifies to the vigour of this orientation.

For those who took the USSR as the touchstone that made it possible to distinguish progressives from enemies, the defence of Soviet foreign policy emerged as a sufficiently intense duty that the magazine’s own survival was, in its name, definitively compromised. After the magazine's publication was suspended by the state censorship due to a commitment to limit its content to cultural matters, the insistence on justifying the invasion of Finland by the Red Army, in the opening article of the final issue, represents a gesture of direct and reckless political combat, one that is difficult to explain even when considering the precarious situation in which the clandestine press found itself.

Finally, it should be noted that the competence demonstrated in ideological dissemination, the shrewdness shown in the constitution of a national cultural current, and the firmness of purposes can only be attributed to the merit of the communist writers who produced the periodical in Coimbra.

As such, these intellectuals garnered their own authority, independent from outside goodwill, which was confirmed, shortly after Sol Nascente’s ban, with the publication of the “Novo Cancioneiro”, “Novos Prosadores”, and “Cadernos Azuis” collections, followed by the acquisition of the magazine Vértice, intended to continue the work they had started in the biweekly periodical that was described, from the beginning of 1938, as the “magazine of young thought”.

Luís Andrade