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