Friday, March 16, 2012

Poaching Durruti's Egg

Four years ago, when the banking system collapsed, there were still some who argued (hoped?) that it was just a temporary glitch in capitalism’s unwavering dominance.

So much for self-deluding idiots.

Capitalism is a self-destructive exploitative system. With each new day we see it fighting to save itself by the savage slashing of all the basic components of human life. Capitalism will only be able to survive by vomiting its crisis onto the backs of those it uses to produce its profits. They, in their turn, will only be able to overthrow it by their deliberate actions.

In the last year we have seen a change. The working class, the mass of the oppressed, have made their first tentative steps onto the stage of world politics again. We have no results, no victories – yet. But the first steps have been taken.

Even the biggest idiot in thrall to the supposed dominance of the market now recognises that we’re in a situation of unprecedented political turmoil. In places like Wisconsin – once a watchword for Middle American staidness and stability – revolution is no longer a dirty word, no longer unmentionable. It is beginning to make sense to the very people who will wage it.

Situations are unfolding. We continue to insist that the world must change.

For Surrealists this is something of a vindication. Our revolutionary impulses drive us to seek corresponding actions. We want to act, to engage with the crisis, to transform this world. For some it can be intoxicating to find that they are, at last, not alone. The breaking of a genuinely revolutionary wave can lead others to seek solace in what they already know.

Political developments unfold as external events. They sweep us all up by the simple fact of their occurrence, but just being swept up as the object of events doesn’t mean we’ve triumphed. For that to happen, we need to intervene as subjects, to engage with our entire beings, to contribute our deepest desires and sharpest critical thinking to the direction of the transformation.

This requires us to make some decisions. What those decisions are is being fought out already, although the discussions are all too often implicit and assumed.

Above all, we need to consider what decisions not to make.

In the current context there will be increasing pressure on Surrealists to make tactical concessions to ‘radical’ politics – to water down our Surrealism, or abandon it altogether, so that we can work in broadly ‘radical’ political and art movements. Tactical manoeuvres will be proposed, and because of the gravity of the political situation, they will be tempting. This may also be behind the recent tendency to establish Surrealist ‘liaisons’ and loose collaborations rather than groups. How very tactful this is, in the face of political upheaval, differences and disputes!

Fuck tact. Surrealism hardly lacks history on this question. Aragon’s ‘Red Front’ was a move towards propagandist writing: the controversy marked the beginning of his rapid adaptation to Stalinism, which necessitated his ditching Surrealism. Stalinism pursued its treacherous Popular Front in France as well as Spain: propagandist opposition can easily be accommodated within class collaborationist political liaisons.

In Britain, the new ‘SurrIV’ initiative is a case in point. Although in terms of numerical support SurrIV seems to be minuscule, its appearance on the scene at this juncture is both alarming and instructive. It appeared silently, like the ghost of Red Fronts past, in February 2012, and describes itself as a ‘virtual meeting place for supporters and sympathisers of the Fourth International who identify as surrealists’.

The formulation of SurrIV’s target audience as those who ‘identify as surrealists’ is a mealy-mouthed evasion, and a prime example of a lowest-common-denominator approach to forging liaisons. By both reducing Surrealism to a form of identity politics and obscuring Surrealism’s profoundly objective character, it presents Surrealism as something that is easy, accessible and makes no demands on anyone, least of all on Surrealists themselves. This is part of a general drift, which we have already critiqued elsewhere, to present Surrealism as just another instrument in the cultural repertoire, and Surrealists as a disparate and easy-going bunch of collaborating individuals. SurrIV’s vagueness on this point undermines Surrealism under the guise of inclusion. After all, Keith Wigdor, Santiago Ribeiro and every fantasy artist on the block ‘identify as surrealists’.

SurrIV states that it is ‘an informal collaborative project’, and that it ‘has no formal links with any existing socialist or surrealist groups, nor is it in competition with them’. More of that fucking tact! Placing itself explicitly outside of any existing Surrealist groups and declining to challenge them, this ‘collaborative project’ is an informal liaison precisely in an area where more formal and rigorous political discussion is necessary.

It’s part of the ABC of the Surrealist movement that Surrealist collectivities as such cannot be ‘supporters’ of any particular political group or party. Surrealism can only support the social revolution as a process – ‘au service de la révolution’, not in the service of political groups. As our comrades in Athens have written of the relationship between Surrealists and the Left:

These two dimensions of the human adventure, political practice and subjective expression, in this society are segregated. The Left tries to piece them together, without questioning the segregation itself. Within its parties and organizations, as a rule, there is no space for subjectivity, but there is always space for a periphery of artists, as ‘fellow travellers’, thus setting up an alibi that compensates for the lack of any creativity on the part of the politically enlisted subjects. The segregation is repressed. It is not only that it does not tend to be challenged, but also that it is corroborated as something given in advance. […] Where we need to turn our gaze is towards a new community, a universal culture and universal polis, that will breathe within the social field, that will sublate the division between mental and manual labour, that will be incarnated by self-organized collective undertakings, that will be exercised through labour that is also a game, that will unfold itself in a time admitting of many unrepeatable times, many self-emancipated subjectivities.

Who is providing an alibi for whom in SurrIV? If the Fourth International is turning to Surrealists to enhance its artistic or cultural credibility, it is clearly doing so as an add-on, with no attempt to transform its own subjectivity or creativity, in exactly the way the Athenian text describes. This attitude to the position of artists is made explicit by Artists of the Resistance, an initiative of the Coalition of Resistance: ‘We must remember that we are not just artists but fighting against all cuts.’ Artist, know your place! The Coalition of Resistance is supported by the Fourth International.

If, conversely, SurrIV is turning to the Fourth International for the latter’s revolutionary credentials, then it inevitably makes its participants’ Surrealism secondary to their support for Fourth International. In that sense the SurrIV initiative is reminiscent of the old Stalinist tactics of opening up small controlled zones of so-called fellow travellers, zones in which no real travel is ever permitted to take place. Those who choose to enter those zones will become useless to Surrealism and, in the process, will also become useless to the social revolution.

Let’s be clear about what it means to ‘support’ the Fourth International. The Fourth International is an actual political network, made up of particular political organisations (in the UK, the organisation in question is Socialist Resistance). SurrIV is thus, absolutely explicitly, a meeting point for ‘supporters’ of a specific political network. But the Fourth International itself has a very particular and well-known take on what ‘support’ for it means: supporters of the Fourth International, in their role as supporters, seek to build the Fourth International and to persuade others to join its cause. By definition, then, and despite their mealy-mouthed protestations of innocence, SurrIV is not simply an example of Surrealists engaging in discussion with or about a revolutionary political current, exchanging ideas and criticisms. They can’t have it both ways: if they are not working to build the Fourth International, then they don’t really support it. The launching of the SurrIV initiative is not about what its participants bring to the revolution as Surrealists, but about using their Surrealism as a calling card for the Fourth International.

So how can Surrealists engage in revolutionary struggle without compromising either Surrealism or revolutionary politics? We must go into these struggles acting on our own impulses, adding our own subjectivities, stepping out into the unknown while struggling to realise our own perspectives. Manifestos aren’t just holiday documents, the right thing to be heard saying. They must embody what you’re actually fighting for. The demand for a free revolutionary art was, and must remain, a call for ‘free creation’ and a gathering of forces against ‘the loud choruses of well-disciplined liars’. That doesn’t mean making tactical concessions or finding the lowest common denominator for joint action. It means fighting at the height of our artistic and theoretical powers.

Independent revolutionary art must be genuinely independent and revolutionary, and must ‘uncompromisingly reject the reactionary police patrol spirit’. Disagreements between independent revolutionary artists – and there will be many – will thus be conducted with all of our passions and convictions, and will be conducted for our revolutionary goals. Alchemy and synthesis, not subordination or compromise.

In 1937, back from fighting with the POUM on the Spanish front, Péret half-dreamed the words:

My beloved inclined toward anarchist attitudes and admired Durruti. She was not entirely with me, she wasn’t born to my life, but I hoped that she would make up her mind soon, that she WOULD BLOOM.

She must make up her mind soon. The world is waiting for her bloom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could the Ordo Innominate help?