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The Politics of Surrealism

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2012 at 10:57 am

This review article by Amanda Armstrong first appeared in

Against The Current 143, November-December 2009

Morning Star:
surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopian
By Michael Löwy
University of Texas Press, 2009, 174 pages,
44 line drawings. $55 hardcover.

IN THE FIRST notebook of his Grundrisse, composed in 1857, Marx predicted that the “romantic viewpoint” would “accompany [capitalism] as its legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end.” (1) He believed that romanticism, with its celebration of the richness — real or imagined — of pre-capitalist life, would remain a perennial reaction to the reification of social life under capitalism.

While some of Marx’s more famous predictions on overcoming of capitalism have not yet been fulfilled, as Michael Löwy shows in Morning Star, 20th-century history has vindicated Marx’s confidence in the durability of romanticism.

In the ten essays that make up Morning Star, first published here in English as part of the University of Texas Press Surrealist Revolution series, Löwy argues that the “romantic viewpoint” found its most fitting, and most insistently anti-capitalist, 20th-century guise in the transnational and multi-generational movement of Surrealism.

Three early chapters of this attractively designed book offer broad reflections on the political and philosophical entanglements of the movement, while later essays provide political biographies of an assortment of Francophone surrealists (Breton, Cahun, Bounoure, Saban), as well as a few of their more prominent interlocutors on the Left (Naville, Debord).

The final chapter attempts a comprehensive review of international surrealist activity post-1969, closing with a message to would-be 21st-century surrealists.

Löwy reminds us that we should not be indifferent to surrealism’s past —“Anything that cannot find a spark of hope in the past has no future” — even as he insists that, if it is to have a future, surrealism must remain radically open: “The old ways, the paved roads, and the beaten paths are in the hands of the enemy. New ways must be found — the wanderer makes the path.” (p116)

As this closing exhortation makes apparent, Morning Star is a committed text, written by a participant in the movement it chronicles. This provides the book with a satisfying coherence, as Löwy’s constructive project enables him to glue together into a single, multilayered image what might otherwise appear to be unrelated historical and biographical vignettes.

At times, however, Löw’s commitment seems to discourage him from raising thorny questions about the history and politics of the movement — questions that must be worked through if we are to find new paths to surrealism and socialism in the 21st century.

Romanticisms, Left and Right

That the broad tradition of romanticism has cross-cutting and mercurial political impulses is something of a commonplace observation in critical discourse, and one that Löwy reiterates in Morning Star. As he notes, the romantic banner has been carried by both left-wing utopians from Fourier to Bloch, as well as a menagerie of reactionary cultural nationalists — agitated men who could be found skimming their copy of Herder when they weren’t busy railing against suffragists and socialists.

While a few surrealists, most notably Dalí, wandered over to this conservative camp, the vast majority allied for most of their lives with Left movements (particularly Trotskyism and anarchism), and in their works heaped scorn on the reactionary romantic fetishes of family, race and nation. One of Löwy’s projects in Morning Star is the reconstruction and explanation of these relatively consistent political commitments.

He presents two arguments for how surrealists sidestepped the conservative strains of the romantic tradition. First, Breton et al. were highly selective when drawing inspiration from the past: while they were inspired by Gothic literature, alchemy, American Indian art forms, and the rebellious verses of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, any past cultural traditions that reeked of religious hierarchy or national chauvinism drew their ire.

Surrealists were searching the archive for art forms that would shatter, rather than confirm, imperial bourgeois culture — a culture in which traditional patriarchal and religious ideals were utilized in order to sanctify hyper-modern forms of social control.

Second, Löwy suggests that the influence of Marx, a critical inheritor of the Enlightenment, channeled surrealists’ romantic passions in socially emancipatory directions. As his historical chapters make clear — particularly on Pierre Naville’s The Revolution and the Intellectuals — surrealists have widely embraced the Marxian critique of capitalism and have consistently moved in the same circles as revolutionary socialists.

While these circles were often riven by polemics and personal animosities, including those between Naville and Breton, Löwy suggests that the severity of such clashes has been overstated by historians of the movement. (2) To demonstrate the point, Löwy reveals that Naville, shortly before his death in 1993, sent an enthusiastic letter to Breton’s supporter Franklin Rosemont, of the Chicago Surrealists, expressing his hope that “your Surrealist movement will renew what we tried to do so long ago.” (p62)

By taking up Marx’s critique of capitalist modernity, surrealists have generally been able to avoid some of the destructive political and aesthetic shortcuts that are characteristic of conservative romanticisms. While conservative romantics idealize the traces of earlier, hierarchical social formations in such a way as to put a human face on inhumane social conditions, surrealists seek to expose the cracked lineaments of contemporary systems of exploitation.

Walter Benjamin’s Surrealism essay explains how these competing political aims manifest themselves at the level of aesthetic form:

“Here due weight must be given to the insight that in the Traité du style, Aragon’s last book, required a distinction between metaphor and image, a happy insight into questions of style that needs extending. Extension: nowhere do these two — metaphor and image — collide so drastically and so irreconcilably as in politics. For to organize pessimism means nothing other than to expel moral metaphor from politics and to discover in political action a sphere reserved one hundred per cent for images …. Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation,(3) and all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto. For the moment, only the Surrealists have understood its present commands. They exchange, to a man, the play of human features for the face of an alarm clock that in each minute rings for sixty seconds.(4)

Benjamin’s somewhat enigmatic analysis here provides the scattered fragments of a political-aesthetic diagnosis of surrealism which would sharply differentiate this movement from conservative romantic traditions. While such traditions trade in “moral metaphor” and the “play of human features” — idealized human forms which are meant to serve as soothing allegories of the supposedly homogenous and unified social body — surrealists circulate what Benjamin elsewhere terms “dialectical images.”

Such images split the putrid air of our petrified world, rendering uncanny and untimely the dazzling spectacles and dancing commodities that everywhere captivate our senses.

Dialectical images perform this defamiliarizing and activity-generating (“innervating”) task in a variety of ways: by juxtaposing idealized forms with images of the violence required to produce and sustain these forms, by showing the aging of industrial wonders such as railroads in a way that reveals the historicity of the present, by transfiguring marks of capitalist drudgery into signs of revolution (i.e. Benjamin’s alarm clock), by tearing objects out of their conventional contexts in order to reveal their unexpected possible uses, and by offering hints of the marvelous freedoms that could materialize in a post-capitalist world.

The black-and-white images reproduced in Morning Star, many of them surrealist montages, are compelling examples.

A number of these montages, particularly those made by Albert Marencin, deform and render uncanny conventional images of women and/or bourgeois domesticity. In one image, the nude torso of a woman is superimposed over the scene of a shipwreck, while in another, a couple of Victorian women converse with birds in a room crammed with stately public buildings.

Undoing Gender: Claude Cahun

These montages open up questions about the gender and sexual politics of surrealism — questions that Löwy addresses, though somewhat indirectly, in his lengthy chapter on Claude Cahun. Cahun, whose works have recently been rediscovered by a cohort of younger queer and feminist artists, was a prominent early surrealist who worked, like Man Ray, in the medium of photography.

Her best known pieces are self-portraits, which scramble conventions of gender and expose the violence underpinning normative heterosexual relations. Even as these photographs have had an energizing effect on a new generation of radical artists, however, her written contributions to socialist and surrealist theory are at risk of falling into obscurity.

Löwy’s chapter on Cahun does an admirable job of outlining and contextualizing her theoretical essays, while also recounting Cahun and her life partner’s courageous and creative opposition to Nazi occupation.

In presenting Cahun’s theoretical work, Löwy focuses particularly on a polemical essay she wrote in 1934, entitled Les Paris sont ouverts (Bets Are On). In it, Cahun takes aim at the instrumentalization of art for ideological ends, directing most of her ire at Louis Aragon, who by this time had begun writing canned poems in celebration of theSoviet Union.

According to Cahun, ideological poetry invokes moral ideals and utilizes soothing formal devices such as predictable rhyming schemes in order to neutralize its readers, whereas emancipatory art brings social contradictions to the surface, and thus provokes its readers to critical reflection and action.

In providing examples of ideological art, she references state and corporate ad jingles, such as “Every elegant woman is a client of Le Printemps,” and “Your Fatherland is the USSR, one-sixth of the planet” — lines of patriarchal pseudopoetry that, like Aragon’s latest works, enable little more than “revolutionary masturbation.” (p70)

Ironically, in distinguishing ideologically deformed art from authentically emancipatory works, Cahun echoed Benjamin’s aforementioned arguments about dialectical images, which were themselves inspired byAragon’s pre-Stalinist works. Her essay supplemented Benjamin and the earlyAragon’s arguments, though, as it added a psycho-sexual dimension to their more narrowly political and aesthetic reflections. It also broke new ground by aligning an emergent Stalinist culture with earlier, conservative forms of romanticism, thus setting in motion the surrealists’ decisive break with Stalinism.

Shortcomings on Sexuality

Cahun’s essays, when read alongside her self-portraits, issue a defiant surrealist response to sexual and gender oppression — a response that, unfortunately, was not always embraced by other participants in the movement. While Bets Are On was generally well received by Breton and his collaborators (in part because it explicitly criticizedAragon), Cahun’s gender nonconformity and queer sexuality met with a sometimes hostile reception, according to Löwy. (p73)

Nor were the surrealist movement’s false steps around gender and sexuality simply confined to interpersonal settings; a number of surrealist images, for instance, depict women’s bodies in ways that are less than emancipatory. From Man Ray’s photographs, which, while sometimes raising critical questions about sexuality and violence, too often simply present women’s bodies as eroticized fetish objects, to a number of early surrealist montages, which convey “shock effects” via the depiction of dismembered female body parts — so many fishnet-clad legs and made-up faces — early surrealist images, particularly those produced by men, often confirmed normative heterosexuality rather than disrupting this formation.

Of course it would be possible to pass over this failure by ascribing it to a residual “influence of the times,” or to reorient the discussion by pointing out that surrealist women produced an extensive corpus of pre-second-wave feminist art, and in this way helped spark the 1960s international movement for women’s liberation. (5) While these are no doubt legitimate responses, it seems to me that we might still have something to learn by thinking through this particular failure.

One way that we might make sense of the use of dismembered female body parts in surrealist montages is to see these images as misguided attempts to shatter the symbolically charged figure of “the woman” — a figure regularly employed by imperialist myth-makers in the form of the “national woman” or “national mother.”

The mistake of the surrealist producers of these montages was twofold. First, they assumed that this figure was nothing more than a false image which could be overcome by literally being shattered, rather than seeing it as an oppressive ideal that daily molded women’s bodies and psyches and that could only be overcome through a sustained struggle to demonstrate that women were other than this oppressive ideal.

Second, they assumed that depictions of the death and dismemberment of women were unconventional and shocking, when in reality they were both an integral element of national allegories that treated women’s deaths as sublime acts of sacrifice, and potentially complicit in the naturalization of violence against women. In this way, images that might have appeared subversive actually bore within themselves a reactionary kernel.

Only through critical feminist reflection, performed in part by surrealist women, could this kernel be exposed and overcome. This is an important lesson for the present, since, as Jacques Rancière argues in The Future of the Image, artistic processes that may have been counter-hegemonic in the past have recently been recaptured by an emergent neoliberal cultural establishment.(6)

Rather than exposing social contradictions, montage today more often sacralizes our global commodity culture by suggesting that all people and objects partake in a seamless, universal system: the montage practiced in MTV studios as well as leading art galleries invites us to revel in the exchangeability of all things, rather than work to exchange our current social order for a less damaging world.

In the face of this challenge, much critical and historical reflection will be required if we want to reconstruct an emancipatory artistic and political practice in the 21st century. For those interested in taking on this task, Löwy’s Morning Star is essential reading.

Notes

  1. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin and New Left Review, 1993), 162.
  2. For a traditional interpretation of the Naville/Breton split, see Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 291.
  3. Innervation is a keyword Benjamin also employed in his famous essay on Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility. It means, more or less, the opposite of enervation. While many early 20th-century cultural critics thought that technology had an enervating effect on the masses, Benjamin saw the possibility for technology to be employed in ways that would stimulate revolutionary energies — a possibility that the surrealists also saw.
  4. Walter Benjamin, Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia, Trans. Edmond Jephcott (NLR I/108, March-April, 1978).
  5. For an extensive compilation of surrealist women’s theoretical and artistic compositions, see: Penelope Rosemont, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (University of Texas, 1998).
  6. Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2007).
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When Poachers Turn Gamekeepers

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm

The Surrealist London Action Group (or SLAG as they prefer to be known) has responded to the creation of our SurrIV blog by circulating a misleading public statement directed against it, a statement characterised by internal contradictions and ad hominem attacks. Our initial inclination was simply to ignore it. But as it has already created a degree of confusion in the movement, a response of some kind seems to be in order. It would be unfair to expect readers to wade through the fog-bound quagmire of the SLAG statement for a second time, so we will try to keep this short, starting with a brief explanation of what we are trying to achieve.

SurrIV is a project initiated by members of Socialist Resistance, the British section of the Fourth International. Its starting point was our collective enthusiasm for generating an online forum where we could discuss our shared practice as Surrealists and Trotskyists. The aim is to upload documents, publish reviews, discuss political actions, and preview events. We hope it might become a meeting place that others will visit, whether they be fellow supporters and sympathisers of the FI, or adherents of other revolutionary traditions, from eco-socialism to anarcho-syndicalism and beyond.

SurrIV was conceived neither as an underhand way of recruiting others to FI politics, nor as a nefarious attempt to water down Surrealism or reduce it to a tool of political propaganda. It’s a sorry reflection of the political history of certain SLAG members that they impute such crude motives to others as a matter of course. For some years now the FI has focused on working openly with other political tendencies and currents, and has left crude ‘party building’ stunts where they belong – in the proverbial dustbin of history.

We hope that SurrIV will be one of many spaces where the complex dialectic that runs like a golden thread through Surrealism and the refusal of capitalist miserabilism can be explored and celebrated. We have already been fortunate enough to be given access to texts by Michael Lowy and others, which we will be uploading over the coming weeks. We hope to preview and review historical and contemporary material of interest to Surrealists, and to relate the Surrealist quest to the ongoing political resistance that we see daily on the streets.

Beyond the sterile, disinfected corridors of the most self-absorbed cabals, the establishment of such a blog would hardly be an occasion for loud lamentation and gnashing of teeth. Unfortunately a vocal minority of Surrealists have a constitutional tendency to regard any new initiative as inherently suspect, and almost certainly unorthodox. As such the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ maxim seems to apply. Although in personal contact with us, the comrades in SLAG preferred to circulate an attack without any prior warning, rather than attempt to engage in constructive dialogue. This is to be regretted. Faced with a massive wave of radicalisation, SLAG seems to feel threatened rather than enthused. “Above all,” they argue, “we need to consider what decisions not to make”. Inaction is apparently preferable to a bold throw of the dice.

That SLAG’s text accuses us on the one hand of pandering to populism (what we might call the ‘Keith Wigdor deviation’), and on the other hand of surrendering to Stalinist instrumentalism (the Louis Aragon/Red Front deviation), cannot but remind us of the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table – but this time replayed as farce rather than poetry. As a critique it simply defies logic.

SLAG demands to know: “Who is providing an alibi for whom in SurrIV?” Are we willing tools of the FI apparatchiks, or are we draping ourselves in the tattered flag of the FI to claim revolutionary credentials to which we are hardly entitled? It doesn’t seem to have entered the minds of our SLAG comrades that there is no grand conspiracy here; that we share a collective spirit of adventure which expresses itself both in our day-to-day political activism and in our commitment to the Surrealist quest. It says much about the authors of the SLAG document that they see dark motives all around them, that they are beset by fears and vague misgivings.

In the face of SLAG’s demand that Surrealists reject all forms of organisational political engagement (a demand which is an historical nonsense so far as the Surrealist movement is concerned), we would pose the following questions:

1. Is it permissible for Surrealists to be members or supporters – or even, merely, in solidarity with – political organisations, be they Marxist, Trotskyist or Anarchist?

2. If the answer to the above is ‘yes’, are those Surrealists who do support a particular tendency within the revolutionary movement not permitted then to defend that tradition and its links with and contribution to Surrealism – both contemporary and historical?

3. If the answer to the first question is ‘no’, should we retrospectively expel such comrades as Breton, Peret etc. from the movement?

4. Is it permissible for Surrealists to work within broader political, cultural or artistic networks and organisations? If not, was FIARI an impermissible deviation on Breton’s part?

It is ironic that SLAG enthusiastically references the “demand for a free revolutionary art”, yet strips that demand entirely of its historical context. They invoke Benjamin Peret’s name at the end of their text in a similarly dishonest fashion.

Fuck tact” exclaim SLAG. In SLAG’s 2011 ezine Paul Cowdell’s article In Praise Of Infighting makes the following argument:

From the inception of the movement to the present day, Surrealists have been devoting time, energy, ingenuity and material resources to hating each other’ guts. We have a glorious history of splits, infighting, self-destruction, cannibalism and general fuck-uppery […] We spit, we scratch, we scream, punch and kick, tear at each others’ veins, banish each other to outer darkness, drag each other through the shit, and every fight is always to the death.”

Paul and the other SLAG comrades celebrate this “general fuck-uppery”. We must demur. In a period which is witnessing the most profound struggles on the international stage for freedom and self-emancipation, it’s simply a waste of time and energy. The enemy is elsewhere.

Jay Blackwood, Philip Kane, Rob Marsden

March 2012

Explosive Charge: surrealism as a revolutionary romantic movement

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm

This article by Michael Lowy was first published in his book Morning Star: surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

What is romanticism?

Most Romanticism scholarship  is based on the apparently obvious assumption that we are dealing with a literary movement of the early XIXth century.  This assumption is doubly wrong :  Romanticism is much more than a literary phenomenon  – although of course it has an important literary component – and it did not come to an end either in 1830 or in 1848.    Romanticism,  as a cultural protest against modern industrial/capitalist civilisation, is one of the main  forms of modern culture,  and it extends from Rousseau – to mention the name of a Founding Father – to the present.

Most literary studies  ignore the other dimensions of Romanticism, its political forms in particular. In a perfectly complementary fashion—and following the narrow logic of academic disciplines—political scientists often have an equally regrettable tendency to neglect the properly literary aspects of Romanticism. How do they approach the movement’s political diversity?   Specialists of political Romanticism such as the German scholar Fritz Stern or the French historian Jacques Droz often sidestep the difficulty by focusing exclusively on its conservative, reactionary, and counter-revolutionary aspect while simply ignoring the revolutionary Romantic authors,  such as Rousseau,  William Blake or Hölderlin.

A certain number of Marxist thinkers have a different approach.  They see the common axis, the unifying element of the Romantic movement ,  in its opposition to the modern bourgeois world. This hypothesis is  by far the most interesting and productive. However, the bulk of the research inspired by Marxism suffers from a serious disadvantage.  Like many of the non-Marxist writings mentioned above, Marxist analysts often perceive in Romanticism’s anti-bourgeois critique only its reactionary, conservative, retrograde aspects.  This applies to Karl Mannheim and Georg Lukacs, and their numerous followers. Ernst Fischer and Raymond Williams are among the few exceptions.

One could tentatively define Romanticism  as a form of sensibility irrigating all fields of culture, a worldview which extends from the second half of the 18th Century up to today, a comet whose incandescent “core” is the revolt against modern industrial/capitalist civilization, in the name of certain social or cultural values of the past.  Nostalgic for a lost paradise—real or imaginary—romanticism opposes itself, with the melancholic energy of despair, to the quantifying mind of the bourgeois universe, to commercial reification, the platitude of utilitarianism, and above all, to the disenchantment of the world.

While many Romantics want to restore  the past,  in a regressive or reactionary way, revolutionary Romanticism projects the nostalgia into a utopian future.  Sharing the modern revolutionary values  –  liberty,  equality,  fraternity – it dreams of a new world were some of the lost qualities of the pre-capitalist communities could be retrieved.

What is surrealism ?

Like Romanticism,  Surrealism has often been reduced to  a literary school or group of artists,  devoid of any political dimension.   A striking example is the recent exhibition of surrealist paintings in Paris (2002),  at the Modern Art Museum  (Centre Beaubourg),  under the heading  “Surrealist Revolution”.  The attendance of hundreds of thousands of people at the exhibition illustrates the public interest in Surrealism today;  but the exhibition,  and the prospectus distributed,  free of charge,  to the visitors,  studiously avoided any mention of the revolutionary political commitment of the Surrealists.   In response,   some people  – linked to the present Surrealist Group in Paris  – decided to play a practical joke :  they  substituted an unofficial version,  printed in the same format and characters,  for the official prospectus,  stating,  among other things :  surrealism is not an aesthetic enterprise,  but “a revolutionary movement,  whose desire for freedom and subversive imagination aims at overthrowing capitalist domination.”   Consequence :   the organizers  – or some of them – felt they had to take away the first prospectus,  and replaced it by a new version,  which  acknowledges the emancipatory and revolutionary meaning of surrealism…

Too often, surrealism has been reduced, by scholars and specialists,  to its paintings, sculptures or poetry compilations.  Of course,  it does include all these manifestations, but in the final analysis,  it is,  above all, and foremost, a certain state of mind. A state of insubordination, negativity, revolt, that draws its positive erotic and poetic strength from the  depths of the unconscious, the  abyss of desire, the magic well of imagination. This  state of mind  is present not only in the “works” that inhabit museums and libraries – but just as much in games, attitudes and behaviours.

Surrealism could  be tentatively defined as  a movement of revolt of the spirit and an eminently subversive attempt to re-enchant the world. That is, to re-establish,   at the heart of human life, the “enchanted”  dimensions , erased by bourgeois civilisation: poetry, passion, mad love, imagination, magic, myth, the marvellous, dreams, revolt, utopia. Or, in other terms, a protest against the narrow-minded rationality, the mercantile spirit, the petty logic, and the dull realism of  capitalist, industrial society, and the utopian and revolutionary aspiration to “change life”.  As Walter Benjamin wrote,  in his fascinating essay from 1929 on Surrealism,   “Since Bakunin,  Europe lacked a radical concept of liberty.   The surrealists have it”.

Surrealism and Romanticism

Of all the cultural movements of the 20th Century,  Surrealism  is probably the one  which  embodied, in the most radical fashion, the revolutionary dimension of romanticism.  The revolt of the mind   and the social revolution, change life (Rimbaud) and transform the world (Marx):  these are the two polar stars which have oriented the movement since its beginnings, driving it in the permanent search for  subversive cultural and political practices.  At the cost of multiple secessions and defections, the core of the Surrealist group, around André Breton and Benjamin Péret, has never abandoned its intransigent refusal of the established social, moral and political order—nor its jealously-guarded autonomy, despite affiliation or sympathy with different currents of the revolutionary left.  This started with Communism  – Breton’s entry into the PCF in 1927 –  was followed by Trotskyism  – Breton’s visit to Trotsky in Mexico and the collective drafting of the call “For An Independent Revolutionary Art” (1938) –  and Anarchism: the collaboration of the Surrealists, from 1951 to 1953, on the journal The Libertarian, organ of Georges Fontenis’ Anarchist Federation.  In 1961,  the Surrealists were among the initiators of the well known  “Manifesto of the 121” against the Algerian war,  calling for the right of disobediance.   And the present Surrealist Group in Paris has been active in the opposition to the two Gulf Wars,  or in support of revolutionary movements such as the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.

The Surrealist Movement’s opposition to modern capitalist civilization is neither reasonable nor moderate:  it is radical, categorical, irreducible.  In one of their first documents, “Revolution First and Always” (1925), the founders of Surrealism proclaim:

Everywhere that Western civilization rules, all human connection has ceased, with the exception of anything motivated by economic interest, ‘payment in cold, hard cash.’  For more than a century, human dignity has been reduced to the level of  an exchange-value…We do not accept the laws of Economy and Exchange, we do not accept enslavement to Work…[1]

Much later,  remembering the very beginnings of the movement, Breton observed,

At that time, the Surrealist refusal was total, absolutely unable to let itself be channeled into the political arena.  Every institution on which rested the modern world, and which came to its logical outcome in the First World War, was scandalous and aberrant in our eyes.[2]

That visceral rejection of social and institutional modernity did not stop the Surrealists from referring to cultural modernity—that which derived from Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

The favorite targets of the Surrealist attack on Western civilization were abstract and narrow-minded rationalism, realist conventions, and positivism in all its forms.[3]  In the First Surrealist Manifesto (1924), Breton denounced the attitude which is shown in the banishment, “under the guise of civilization, under the pretext of progress,”   of anything that hints at the chimerical; faced with that sterile cultural horizon, he affirmed his belief in the omnipotence of dream.[4]  The search for an alternative to this civilization would remain present throughout the full history of Surrealism—including the 1970s, when a group of French and Czech Surrealists published (under the direction of Vincent Bounoure) La Civilisation surréaliste (Paris, Payot, 1976).

Breton and his friends had never hidden their profound attachment to the romantic tradition of the 19th Century—whether German (Novalis, Arnim), English (Gothic novels) or French (Hugo, Pétrus Borel).  What does romanticism mean for the Surrealists?  To them nothing is more detestable than the petty academic approach which made it a “literary genre.”  Here is how Breton put it in his conference in Haiti on “The Concept of Liberty of the Romantics” (1945):

The image of Romanticism imposed upon us by scholars is a falsified  image.  The use of national categories and absurd pigeonholes which only separate literary genres serves to prevent the consideration of the Romantic movement as a whole.[5]

In fact, romanticism is a  worldview —in the sense of a Weltanschauung—which cuts across nations and eras:

It must be observed that Romanticism, as a specific state of mind and mood whose function is to everywhere instill a new general conception of the world, transcends those fashions—very limited—of feeling and speaking which were proposed after it (…).  Through the swath of works produced by or deriving from it, notably through Symbolism and Expressionism, Romanticism imposes itself as a continuum.[6]

Surrealism even places itself within this long temporal continuity of Romanticism as “state of mind.”  Critiquing the pompous official celebrations of the centennial of French Romanticism in 1930, Breton comments in the Second Surrealist Manifesto:

We  say that this Romanticism,  of which today we are willing to conceive ourselves as the tail—but a very prehensile tail—by its very essence, even in 1930, remains uncompromising in its negation of these bureaucrats and their festivals; its century of existence is only its youth, which has been wrongly called its heroic epoch, and can only honestly be taken for the first cry of a being just beginning to make its desire known through us.[7]

One cannot imagine, in the 20th Century, a more categorical proclamation of the topicality of Romanticism.

Nothing would be more false than the conclusion, from that explicit allegiance, that the romanticism of the Surrealists is the same as that of the poets or thinkers of the 19th Century.  It forms, by its methods, its artistic or political choices, its outward behavior, something radically new, which  fully belongs to the culture of the 20th Century, in all its dimensions, and which cannot be considered   a simple re-edition, or even worse,  an imitation of the first Romanticism.

Of course, the Surrealist reading of the romantic heritage of the past is highly selective.  What attracts them to the “gigantic façades of Hugo,” to certain texts of Musset, of Aloysius Bertrand, Xavier Forneret, and Nerval is, as Breton writes in The  marvelous against the mystery (Le merveilleux contre le mystère), the “will to the total emancipation of man.”  It is also, in “a good number of Romantic or post-Romantic writers”—like Borel, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Daumier or Courbet—the “completely spontaneous hatred of the bourgeois type,” the “will to absolute non-compliance with the ruling class,” whose domination is a sort of leper against which  –  if one would prevent the most precious human acquisitions from being stripped of their meaning and contributing only to the daily-worsening debasement of the human condition  – it is no longer enough to brandish the whip, but  one day we must apply the branding iron.[8]

The same is true for the German Romantics.  Breton did not ignore the “fairly confused but ultra-reactionary doctrine” espoused by Novalis in his essay Europe, or the Christian (1799), or the hostile position taken by Achim d’Arnim against the French Revolution.  But that did not prevent their works, veritable  lightning stones (pierres de foudre), from shaking the foundations of the bourgeois cultural order, through their questioning of the separation between real and imaginary.[9]  Their thinking thus took on a profoundly utopian/subversive dimension, as for example when Novalis, in his philosophical fragments, “reclaimed as his own what was the magical postulate par excellence  (…) :  ‘It depends upon us that the world must conform to our will.’”[10]

Magic and primitive arts

The Surrealist passion for pre-Modern cultural forms and traditions would also be selective:  Unhesitatingly, the Surrealists would  draw from alchemy, the Kabbala, magic, astrology, primitive art from Oceania or America, and Celtic art.[11]  All their activities on this terrain are aimed at exceeding the limitations of “art”—as separate, institutionalized, ornamental activity—to enter the limitless adventure of the re-enchantment of the world. Nevertheless, as revolutionaries inspired by the spirit of the Enlightenment, of Hegel and above all of Marx, the early Surrealists were the most resolute and uncompromising enemies of the values at the core of romantic-reactionary culture:  religion and nationalism.  As the Second Manifesto states:  “Everything must be done, every method must be available to destroy the notions of family, nation, religion.”  At the gates of the lost Surrealist paradise can be found, in flaming  letters, that well-known libertarian inscription:  Neither God nor Master!

Let’s examine two examples of this Surrealist re-interpretation of “archaic” or pre-capitalist elements:  magic and primitive arts.[12]

André Breton, in L’art magique, defined magic as “the whole of human operations having as their goal the imperious domination of the forces of nature through the use of secret practices of a more or less irrational character.”  It  “implies protest, even  revolt”; pride too, in its assumption that man “controls”  (disposes of)  the forces of nature.  Religion, in contrast, is the domain of resignation, begging and penitence:  “Its humility is total, because it leads (man) to pray for his very unhappiness to the power which has refused to answer.”[13]

The sacred, in its religious, hierocratic, clerical, institutional forms, can only inspire, as a system of authoritarian prohibitions, an irrepressible desire for transgression, profanation and de-sacralization on the part of the Surrealists, through irony, scorn or black humor.  Sacrilege or blasphemy are the highest forms of politeness  when faced with holy monsters.

Breton borrowed the concept of magical art from Novalis.  It was that “very great romantic spirit” who chose those words to describe the art form he hoped to promote, both rooted in the past and shot through with a “strong tension toward the future” :

In the sense in which he (Novalis)  understood them, one could expect to find not only the quintessential  product of a millennium of experience, but also its supersession owing to its conjunction into a being of the most brilliant lights of the mind and heart. [14]

For Breton, all art originated in magic; he proposed the designation of specifically magical art for that which “re-engenders to some degree the magic which engendered it.”  What did the ancient magician and the modern Surrealist artist have in common?  In his inquiry into magical art, Breton declared that they “both speculate on the possibilities and the methods of enchanting the universe[15]

First of all, magic had been condemned, persecuted—the witch hunts!—and banished by institutional religion, which had in its place imposed the holy, the sanctified, the venerable as separate and inviolable realms.  It had been subsequently effaced by capitalist/industrialist civilization, which rejected or systematically destroyed whatever was not calculable, quantifiable or capable of being transformed into merchandise.  The enterprise of the total disenchantment of the world which, according to Max Weber, characterizes bourgeois modernity, has driven from human life not just magic, but everything that might escape the rigid and narrow-minded confines of instrumental rationality.

If magic attracts the attention of the Surrealists with an irresistible strength, it’s not because they want to control the forces of nature through ritual acts.  What interests them in so-called “primitive” magical practices—as with alchemy and other hermetic arts—is the immense poetic charge borne by these activities.  That charge—in the explosive sense of the word—helps them to sap the established cultural order and its shallow positivist conformity.  Different forms of magic give off sparks which can ignite the fuse and thus aid Surrealism in its eminently subversive enterprise of the poetic re-enchantment of the world.

The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of  primitive art.  The attraction of “primitive”  or “savage”  cultures is a recurring theme in romanticism, where it can inspire, as for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the revolutionary critique of modern civilization.  Marx and Engels did not hide their admiration for the egalitarian, democratic way of life of those still living at the stage of “primitive communism,” like the indigenous peoples of North America.  Engels was greatly inspired, in The Origins of Family, State and Private Property (1884), by the work of the American anthropologist Lewis Morgan, whose writings celebrated the free and interdependent universe of primitive folk, represented by the Iroquois Confederacy.  Here is a passage from Morgan’s work, cited by Engels, and in turn cited—in reference to the two preceding authors—by Breton in his presentation on romanticism in Haiti (1945):

Since the beginning of civilization, the accumulation of wealth has become so enormous, its forms so diverse, its application so extensive and its administration so skillful in the interests of the property-owners, that this wealth has become, in the eyes of the people, a force impossible to master(…).  Democracy in its administration, fraternity in society, the equality of rights, and universal education will inaugurate the next, superior stage of society (…).  This will be a revival—but in a superior form—of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.[16]

Still, the early Surrealist interest in primitive civilizations was not limited to their ways of life, but was also, and more, focused on the spiritual quality of their artistic works.  Oceanic art represents, according to André Breton—in his famous 1948 article “Oceania”—“the best-ever effort to understand the interpenetration of the physical and the mental, to triumph over the dualism of their perception and representation.”  He goes so far as to suggest that the Surrealist path, at its beginning—that is, throughout the 1920s—“is inseparable from the seduction, the fascination” exercised by the works of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the North Pole, or New Ireland.  Why such a strong attraction?  Here is the explanation proposed by Breton in the same text:

The marvelous, with all its assumptions of surprise, luck, the fulgurant vista of something other than what we can fully grasp, has never, in plastic art, known the triumphs which it is afforded by such high-quality Oceanic objects.[17]

The extraordinary charge of subjectivity in primitive arts also seduces the Surrealists.  Here’s what Vincent Bounoure—Surrealist and expert in primitive arts—has written regarding the surprising flash, the “piercing rays,” of the eyes of Oceanic figures:

The power of subjectivity (the mana of old-fashioned ethnological  vocabulary) expressed by the gaze  : there is no  reality to which Oceania had  been more sensitive.  Such an incitement was completely lacking in Greece  –  Hegel ceaselessly reproaches (Greece) for its marble eyes, the vacant stare of its gods.  It’s quite remarkable that the expression of the gaze had suggested to the Oceanic peoples the use of methods foreign to the art of sculpture, powerless by itself—always according to Hegel—to express the interior light.  Oceania had innumerable materials at its disposal to intensify that strength.  Inserted in the orbit of the eye, cowries, seeds and berries, pearls and shell each in turn animate the Oceanic subjectivity.[18]

Explosive charge :  Haïti  1946

For those inclined to doubt the intrinsically revolutionary nature of Surrealist romanticism, a particularly striking example illustrates the explosive charge of the message transmitted by Breton and his friends, and its capacity, in favorable circumstances, to raise the insurrectionist spirit.  We must again turn to André Breton’s discourse, in Haiti, during his stay there in 1945-46.

First, the (little-known) facts of that episode:  Breton’s conference (December 1945) on Surrealism in Port-au-Prince—which included the ardent formula, “We hold the liberation of man as the condition sine qua non of the liberation of the mind (spirit) ”—had raised a passionate interest among Haitian students and youth.  In   January 1946 they published a special issue of their review La Ruche—founded by the poets René Depestre, Jacques Stéphane Alexis and Gérard Bloncourt—dedicated to Surrealism, which included the text of Breton’s speech.  The publication was outlawed on the orders of President Elie Lescot—a puppet of the USA—who arrested certain of its editors, provoking a student strike which became, in the insurrectionist climate of Haiti at that time, a general strike, overthrowing the president.  Commenting on these events, several observers, among them René Depestre, have corroborated the role of Breton’s conference, which had acted as a kind of spark on the powderkeg.[19]

Certainly, the revolutionary ambition of the Surrealists—like that of certain Romantics—is greater and more vast than just the transformation of social or political structures.  But it nevertheless includes the insurrectionist action, the act of breaking chains, as an essential moment of  the emancipatory  hope.


[1] La Révolution Surréaliste, No. 5, 1925.  The text was signed by a large number of artists and intellectuals of the group, including Breton, Aragon, Eluard, Leiris, Crevel, Desnos, Péret, Soupault, Queneau, etc.

[2] André Breton, “La Claire Tour” (1951), in La Clé des champs, Paris 10/18 and J.J. Pauvert, 1967, p. 42.

[3] As Marie Dominique Massoni, editor of the journal  SURR (Surréalisme, Utopie, Rêve et Révolte), published in Paris since the 1990s, has stated quite well, the Surrealists share with the Romantics “the refusal to see the world as existing only on a logical, mathematical, useful, verifiable, quantifiable basis—in sum, a bourgeois basis.”  M.D. Massoni, “Surrealism and Romanticism,” in Max Blechmann, Revolutionary Romanticism, San Francisco, City Lights, 1999, p. 194.

[4] André Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism, Paris, Gallimard, 1967, p. 19, 37.

[5] André Breton, “Evolution of the Concept of Liberty Through Romanticism,” 1945, Conjonction:  Surréalisme et révolte en Haïti, No. 194, June 1992, p. 82.

[6] André Breton, “Perspective Cavalière,” 1963, Perspective Cavalière, Paris, Gallimard, 1970, p.227.

[7] Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism, p. 110.

[8] André Breton, “Le merveilleux contre le mystère” (1936) in La Clé des champs, op. cit. p. 10 and “Position Politique de l’art” (1935), in Position politique du Surréalisme, Paris, Denoel-Gonthier, 1972, p. 25-26.  There is an interesting analysis of the relationship between the Surrealists and German Romanticism in the recent book of K.H. Bohrer, Die Kritik der Romantik, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989, p. 48-61.  On the link between Surrealism, Romanticism and the student revolts of the 1960s, see R. Faber’s essay, “Frühromantik, Surrealismus und Studentenrevolte, Oder die Frage nach dem Anarchismus,” in Romantische Utopie, Utopische Romantik  (ed. R. Faber), Hildesheim, Gerstenberg, 1979, pp. 336-358.

[9] André Breton, “Introduction” (1933) to Achim d’Arnim, Contes Bizarres, Paris, Julliard, 1964, p. 18, 20, 21.   Se also Tristan Tzara,  in his essay  « Le surrealisme dans l’après-guerre » :  « Romanticism is essentially revolutionary,  not only because it celebrates the ideas of liberty,  but also because it proposes a new way of living and feeling,  according to its dramatic vision of the world,  made of contrasts,  notalgias,  anticipations ».  (In Tristan Tzara,   Oeuvres Complètes,   tome V, Henri Béhar, ed., Paris:
Flammarion, 1982, p. 62.)

[10] André Breton, “Sur l’art magique,” 1957, Perspective Cavalière, p. 142.

[11] As Marie Dominique Massoni observes, “the power of desire and the marvelous inclines them (the Surrealists) toward hermeticism, as with the Romantics before them.  From Enter the Mediums to the canvases of Camacho or Stejskal the Surrealists follow close behind the alchemist Eugène Canseliet and the esoteric tradition, divested of its occultist hodgepodge, very often in honor of the Romantics.  Breton had inscribed on his tomb: ‘I seek the gold of time.’  The reference to Romanticism as well as to alchemy is obvious there.”  Revolutionary Romanticism, p. 197.

[12] In the same spirit, I have examined the place of myth in Surrealism, in my book (with Robert Sayre), Romanticism against the tide of  Modernity,   Duke,  Duke University Press,   2000.

[13] André Breton, L’Art magique, Ed. Phébus, 1991, p. 27.

[14] Breton, “Sur l’art magique,” Perspective Cavaliére, p.140.

[15] Ibid, pp. 27, 261.

[16] Breton, “Evolution du concept de liberté à travers le romantisme,” Conjonctions p. 90.  For a remarkable analysis of Marx’s Ethnological Notes and his interest in Lewis Morgan, see North-American Surrealist Franklin Rosemont’s essay, “Karl Marx and the Iroquois,” Arsenal, Chicago, Black Swan Press, 1989.

[17] André Breton, “Oceania,” 1948, La Clé des champs, pp. 278-280.

[18] Vincent Bounoure, Le Surréalisme et l’arts sauvages, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2001, p. 204.  Here is how Bounoure, the principal instigator of the pursuit of the Surrealist adventure in Paris after 1969, explains the Surrealist’s fascination for Oceanic art:  “The systematic recourse, with which the Surrealists pursue their program, to the mental functions which had been choked off bit by bit through the course of several thousand years of pretended civilization, their refusal of that dismemberment and that mutilation, cause them to impatiently listen for the secrets which seem to them to have been preserved by the Oceanic peoples, and which their formal creations leave transparent.”  Ibid, p. 285.

[19] René Depestre, “André Breton in Port-au-Prince,” in Michael Richardson (ed.) Refusal of the Shadow:  Surrealism and the Carribean, London, Verso, 1996, p. 232.  The joy was short-lived: after a few days of freedom, the Lescot regime had been replaced by a military junta, which expelled André Breton from Haiti…

The Libertarian Marxism of Andre Breton

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

This article by Michael Lowy was first published in his book Morning Star: surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

Predictably, the centennial of André Breton’s birth was marked by all sorts of officious, academic and media celebrations . However, these commercial apparitions were meaningless; Breton remains an unrecoverable.  His vast project, inevitably unfinished,  of alchemical fusion between mad love, the poetry of the marvelous, and social revolution, is un-assimilable by the bourgeois and philistine world.  He remains irreducibly opposed to that society, and as uncomfortable as a great bone—full of inscriptions and images, like the ornaments of the Solomon Islanders—in the throat of capitalism.

The revolutionary aspiration is at the very source of Surrealism—it is not by accident that one of the movement’s first collective texts, written in 1925, is called “Revolution First and Always.”  That same year, the desire to break with Western civilization led Breton to investigate the ideas of the October Revolution, for example, Trotsky’s  essay  Lenin.  Though he joined the French Communist Party in 1927, he did not give up , as he explains in his pamphlet Daybreak, his “right of critique.”

In the Second Manifesto of Surrealism of 1930, André Breton draws all the conclusions of that act, affirming “totally, unreservedly, our adhesion to the principle of historical materialism.”  But while making  the distinction—the opposition, even—between “primitive  materialism” and “modern materialism” (as Friedrich Engels would have said),  Breton insists that “Surrealism considers itself indissolubly linked, through the affinities which I have pointed out, to the  method of Marxist thought and to that method  alone.”

It goes without saying that Breton’s Marxism does not coincide with the official vulgate of the Comintern.  Perhaps one might call it a “Gothic Marxism,” that is, a historical materialism sensitive to the marvelous,  to the dark instant of revolt, to the illumination  which pierces, like a lightning, the sky of revolutionary action. In other words, a reading of Marxist theory inspired by Rimbaud, Lautréamont and by the English Gothic novel (Lewis, Maturin)—without losing sight for even an instant of the vital need to fight the bourgeois order.  It might seem paradoxical to unite, like communicating vessels, Capital  with The Castle of Otranto, The Origin of the Family and A Season in Hell, The State and Revolution and Melmoth.  But it is in that singular movement  that André Breton’s Marxism was formed, in all its unsettling originality.

In any case, this Marxism, like those of José Carlos Mariategui, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse, draws upon the subterranean current running through the 20th Century, beneath the immense blockades constructed by orthodoxy:  Romantic Marxism.  By this I mean a form of thought which is fascinated by certain cultural forms of the pre-capitalist past, and which rejects the cold, abstract rationality of modern industrial civilization—but which  changes that nostalgia into a force in the battle for the revolutionary transformation of the present.  If all Romantic Marxists fight the capitalist disenchantment of the world—the logical and necessary result of quantification, commercialization and reification of social relations—it is with André Breton and the Surrealists that the Romantic/revolutionary urge to re-enchant the world through imagination finds its most striking expression.

Breton’s Marxism is also distinguished from the rationalist/scientific, Cartesian/positivist tendency, strongly marked by 18th Century French materialism—which dominates the official doctrine of French Communism—by its insistence on the Hegelian dialectical heritage of Marxism.  In his conference inPrague in March 1935, on “The Surrealist Situation of the Object,” he insisted on the capital importance of Hegel’s philosophy for Surrealism:

Hegel, in his Aesthetic, was beset with all the problems which today, in poetry and art, can be considered the most difficult, and with an unequaled lucidity he resolved them, for the most part (…)  I would say that today, it is still Hegel who must be consulted as to the well- or ill-foundedness of Surrealist activity in the arts.[1]

Some months later, in June of that year, in his famous address to the Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture, he returned to the charge and fearlessly proclaimed, in contrast to a certain anti-Germanic chauvinism:

It is in the German-language philosophers above all that we have discovered the only effective antidote against the positivist rationalism that continues to enact its ravages here.  That antidote is none other than dialectical materialism as a general theory of knowledge.[2]

This adherence to Communism and to Marxism did not hinder the existence, at the heart of Breton’s evolution, of an irreducibly libertarian position.  It’s worth repeating his profession of faith from the First Manifesto of Surrealism of 1924:  “Liberty is the only word I still exalt in.”  Walter Benjamin, in his 1929 article on Surrealism, called on Breton and his friends to articulate the “anarchist element” of revolutionary action with its “methodical and disciplined preparation”—that is, Communism.[3]

The rest of the story is well-known:  Growing closer and closer to the position of Trotsky and the Left Opposition, most of the Surrealists (but not  Louis Aragon!) definitively broke from Stalinism in 1935.  This was not a rupture with Marxism, which would continue to inspire Surrealist analyses, but with the opportunism of Stalin and his acolytes which “unfortunately tend(ed) to annihilate the two essential components of the revolutionary spirit,” which are the spontaneous refusal of the conditions of life proposed to human beings, and the vital need to change them.[4]

In 1938, Breton visited Trotsky in Mexico.  Together they wrote one of the most important documents of the revolutionary culture of the 20th Century, the call “For An Independent Revolutionary Art,” which contained this famous passage:

The revolution must, from the very start, establish and assure an anarchist regime of individual liberty for cultural creation.  No authority, no constraint, not the slightest trace of commandment! On this issue Marxists can march hand in hand with anarchists…[5]

As we know, the passage was penned by Trotsky himself, but one might also imagine that it is the product of his long conversations with Breton on the shoreof LakePatzcuaro.[6]

Breton’s anarchist sympathies manifested more clearly in the postwar years.  In the 1947 book Arcanum 17, he describes the emotion he felt when, still a child, he discovered in a cemetery a headstone with the simple inscription, “Neither God Nor Master.”  Commenting on these words, he raises a general reflection:  “Above art and poetry, whether we wish it or no, flies a flag alternately red and black”—two colors between which he refused to choose.

From October 1951 to January 1953, the Surrealist group in Parisregularly contributed articles and leaflets to the journal Le Libertaire, the organ of the French Anarchist Federation.  Their principal correspondent in the Federation was, at that time, the libertarian communist George Fontenis.  It was during this time that Breton wrote the flamboyant 1952 text entitled “La claire tour/The Light Tower,” which gives the libertarian origins of Surrealism:

Surrealism first came into being in the black mirror of anarchism, well before it defined itself, when it was nothing more than a free association among individuals rejecting spontaneously and outright the social and moral constraints of their time.[7]

Thirty years and many betrayals later, he declared himself  once more  partisan of anarchism—not that which is easily caricatured, but “that which our comrade Fontenis describes ‘as socialism itself, that is, that modern revindication of human dignity (our liberty as much as our well-being).’”  Despite the intervening rupture in 1953, Breton never burned his bridges with the libertarians, continuing to collaborate with certain of their initiatives.[8]

This interest and active sympathy for anarchism did not at all  lead Breton to renounce his adhesion to the October Revolution and the ideas of Leon Trotsky.  In an intervention on November 17, 1957, André Breton insisted and signed,

Against winds and tides, I am among those who still find, in the memory of the October Revolution, a high degree of that unconditional enthusiasm which I bore toward it in my youth and which implies total self-sacrifice.[9]

Saluting Trotsky’s gaze, as he appeared in an old 1917 photograph in the uniform of the Red Army, he proclaimed, “Such a gaze, and the light emanating from it, can never be extinguished, no more than Thermidor could have altered the traits of Saint-Just.”[10]  Finally, in 1962, in an homage to Natalia Sedova Trotsky, who had just died, he hoped that one day history would  accord Leon Trotsky “not only justice…but will be called to accept, in all their vigor and amplitude, the ideas to which his life was given.”[11]

In conclusion, Surrealism and the thought of André Breton are perhaps that ideal infinite  point, that supreme mental location where the libertarian trajectory meets that of revolutionary Marxism.  But we must not forget that Surrealism contains what Ernst Bloch calls “a utopian excess,” a surplus of dark light which surpasses the limits of every social or political movement, however revolutionary it may be.  That light emanates from the unbreakable heart of  night of  the Surrealist spirit, from its obstinate search for the gold of time, from its headlong dive into the abysses of dream and the marvelous.


[1] André Breton.  “Surrealist Situation of the Object,” in Manifestos of Surrealism.  Richard Seaver andH. Lane, translators. Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor Paperbacks,University ofMichigan Press, 1972.

[2] Maurice Nadeau.  Histoire du Surréalisme:  documents surréalistes. Paris: Seuil, 1988, Vol. 2.

[3] Walter Benjamin.  “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,” In Benjamin Reflections.  Edited and introduced by Peter Demetz.  New York:  Schocken Books, Random House, 1989.

[4] Nadeau, p. 309.

[5] André Breton and Leon Trotsky, “Manifesto For an Independent Revolutionary Art,” in  What is Surrealism?  Selected Writings.  Edited and introduced by Franklin Rosemont. New York:  Pathfinder Press, 1978.

[6] Arturo Schwarz.  Breton/Trotski.  Paris:  10/18, 1977.  Also Gérard Roche.  “La rencontre de l’aigle et du lion:  Trotsky, Breton et le manifeste de Mexico,” in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, No. 25, March 1986.

[7] André Breton.  “La claire tour,” in La Clé des champs, Paris: 10/18, 1973.

[8] Atelier de création libertaire de Lyon.  Surréalisme et Anarchisme  1992, 1994.

[9] Schwarz, p. 194.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Breton, “Homage to Natalia Sedova-Trotsky,” in What is Surrealism, pp.306-308.