Friday, August 18, 2006

WHY ARE THERE TWO SURREALIST GROUPS IN LONDON?

There are currently two Surrealist groups in London: the Surrealist London Action Group (i.e. us) and the London Surrealist Group. The co-existence of two groups in the same city may seem confusing, and we do sometimes receive enquiries from people who are not sure why the two groups exist or which is which. This confusion is cleared up fairly straightforwardly.

All the activity of the Surrealist London Action Group (SLAG) is based on principles of Surrealism and revolutionary anarchism, which we regard as indivisible. Our main strategic priorities are to foster international collaboration and activity, and to develop the programme of poetic materialism. In addition to our two manifestos, we have issued a number of political and theoretical statements on this blog outlining our positions on questions of atheism, sexuality, academia, patriarchy, psychogeography, state repression, popular culture and many other topics (all available in the blog archive).

The current core-members of SLAG are former members of the London Surrealist Group (LSG), from which we split in January 2006. Leaving the LSG was for us a painful but absolutely necessary decision. The LSG was broken apart by the profound divisions in the group, not just at the level of individual personalities (although there were plenty of divisions there too!), but most importantly at the political level. In particular, there was no explicit consensus within the LSG about the meaning of collectivity. This meant that the group looked robust from the outside but in reality was very fragile. During the autumn and winter of 2005 there were some disputes within the LSG. These started off being about relatively minor practicalities, such as putting links on the website or disseminating particular political statements. But they quickly escalated into a major battle over the whole meaning and purpose of the group, because there had never been any explicit agreement about those things in the first place. One LSG member in particular argued that it was not necessary for the group as a whole to have any collective identity or shared project: he just wanted it to be what he called "an umbrella group" of individuals who would use the name "London Surrealist Group" as some kind of brand name or flag of convenience. To those of us who formed SLAG, this was completely unacceptable and a violation of one of the most basic principles of Surrealist activity. We expected the rest of the LSG to join in the argument at this point, to express their own views on what collectivity means for a Surrealist group, and more particularly to back us up in our insistence that a Surrealist group should be more than just a disparate bunch of self-sufficient (and self-serving) individuals. To our surprise and disgust, no-one else expressed any views about it at all: there was simply silence. Apparently they were either too apathetic to have an opinion or too afraid of an argument to express one. After several months of bitterness and wrangling between us on one side and our lone opponent on the other, with no-one else having the guts to take a position on what seemed to us to be the most basic of issues for Surrealists, Paul Cross, Jill Fenton and Merl all left the LSG to set up SLAG.

We occasionally receive messages from a certain member of the LSG referring to "unresolved issues" between the two groups. We do not have any unresolved issues! For us, all issues were resolved by our departure from the group. We have achieved far more in the six months since we founded SLAG than any of us could have hoped to have achieved either in the LSG or as self-sufficient individuals. In particular we have been able to deal with our internal political differences and debates in a genuinely constructive, that is, dialectical, manner, and to publish our political views without having to wade through the treacle of other members' political ignorance and apathy. Although the LSG has not made any public political statements since the split, their recent communiqués give the impression that they have recently developed a more explicit political outlook, insofar as they are using their publications to promote the activities of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)! Most of the British Left rightly regard the SWP as unprincipled opportunists, not least for their accommodation (under the aegis of the Respect Party) of religious organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. SLAG's specifically Surrealist opposition to the SWP would take too long to go into here: we shall discuss it in another posting if necessary.

Nevertheless, despite the seriousness of our differences with the LSG, we bear them no personal ill will, and we have been happy to see them continue their own form of Surrealist activities. Indeed we participated with pleasure in their recent mass dérive, not least because we think that all and any forms of Surrealist activity, in London and elsewhere, should be wholeheartedly and collectively supported. From their refusal to participate in any of our public activities (including the whole of the London International Festival of Surrealism as well as the Capitulus LVI international détournement game), we take it that they do not share this position. That is their choice. For our part, SLAG's uncompromising commitment to Surrealism, to international solidarity and collaboration, to freedom, love, eroticism, poetic materialism, Revolution, and the pursuit of the Marvellous, is as all-consuming as ever.

SLAG
August 2006

4 comments:

Brandon said...

Thank you for this informative statement.

Pearl Handel said...

Jill Fenton has left SLAG in the wake of this statement. At her suggestion the statement was published with the collective signature of SLAG. Without disputing the veracity of the statement Jill then decided that she no longer supported it. Jill is a nice person with good intentions. We hope that she will now enjoy the quiet life she deserves.

Robert said...

geez, call me old school, but i also see surrealism and revolutionary anarchism as inextricably linked


the people who just want to do "art" shld go off and just do that...hope their stuff makes it into a museum someday so little old ladies can sniff at it


wish i lived in London...id be down with you lot :)

Andy Parnell said...

The SWP I've never trusted on the Left. It almost destroyed Respect and it almost destroyed the Socialist Alliance in Australia. Even so, I would still work with an SWP member on shared projects. That said, there -are- major differences between Socialists and Anarchists politically and Breton's legacy of combining the two types of Surrealists into one movement to me, means we need to accommodate each other's politics as one somewhat unhappy family internationally. However, I wonder if the SLAG/LSG split is a common problem amongst surrealists worldwide? Can those of us who stay true to Marxism, Hegelianism, Trotskyism actually be in the same Surrealist groups of those of us who are Anarchists or will things always end up in splits such as this? As for myself, I've always been on the Communist side of the fence but I choose to find what might be in common with other Surrealists rather than our differences. It is true that Anarchists in the Surrealist movement seem to be dominate at this juncture in history but this tends to fluctuate wildly over the course of the past century. Anyway, I am glad both groups are still alive and well in London. May the revolution of the mind continue!