“El bacilo de Carlos Marx,” or, Roberto Arlt, the Leninist
The interwar period (1918-1939) saw the rise of an international movement for the creation, the promotion, and the defense of proletarian literature and art. During this period, the Argentine writer Roberto Arlt was closely involved with local communist and socialist politics and formed a part of the literary scene surrounding such politics in Buenos Aires. Although his roots in interwar communist radicalism have been acknowledged, the full implications of situating Arlt in this way have not yet been explored. That is, his work has not been discussed in terms of the way it formed a part of the interwar literary left and its quest for a socially viable form of identity that might shoulder the burden of representing the old left’s class-conscious revolutionary. By approaching Arlt’s work from the standpoint of interwar literary radicalism, the paper treats the characteristics of the proletarian novel and socialist realism on the peripheries of both global capitalism and the once newly emerging socialist order of the Soviet Union. The paper advances two interrelated arguments that both go against the current critical consensus on Roberto Arlt’s oeuvre. On one hand, the paper reads Arlt’s Los siete locos (1929) and Los lanzallamas (1931) from the standpoint of Marxist value theory and value-form critique, pointing out how the materialism that underpins Arlt’s novels is grounded in labor. On the other hand, and in keeping with interwar political and literary radicalism, the novels are organized from the standpoint of labor. As such, they are structured around the possibility of a class-conscious point of view even if they do not directly depict class-conscious proletarians and focus instead on the salaried masses. The following discussion advances a new understanding of radical realist aesthetics in 1920s and 30s Argentine literature and situates in relation to communist political and literary praxis of the interwar years.