Saturday, March 24, 2012

Surrealism Is Revolutionary

SurrIV have now responded to our text Poaching Durruti’s Egg. There is nothing in their response that persuades us to alter any of the positions we articulated in our original text. On the contrary, the attitudes displayed in the SurrIV text merely illustrate our points.

First, perhaps Poaching should have stated explicitly that its co-authors included Surrealists with backgrounds from five different countries, representing a varied spectrum of political choices and activities, including one person who is a member of the Greek section of the Fourth International (Vangelis Koutalis, who belongs to both SLAG and the Athens Surrealist Group). This might have made it clear to slow-witted readers that the major concern of our text was to restate basic Surrealist principles, rather than to intervene in local organisational politics.

Second, let us note that SurrIV have missed all of the points of our text, and instead have put great effort into a) asking rhetorical questions with no direct connection to the issues at hand, b) pointing out entirely imaginary internal contradictions within our text (for example, there is no contradiction in seeing watering-down alliance-building and disciplinary party-building as two sides of the same coin), and c) complaining about entirely imaginary ad hominem attacks without demonstrating any, while simultaneously attempting one themselves by mistakenly attacking Paul Cowdell for having written the text In Praise of Infighting (of which he is not in fact the author, although a layout glitch in our e-zine may have given that impression).

Third, SurrIV’s claim to be merely an informal link between like-minded friends is either a tactical lie or mere stupidity. Launching a public website with an explicit political-organisational aim is not like starting a teenage hobby club or a Facebook group for a random combination of interests or shared identities. It's not as if we actually need separate forums for, say, Surrealists who are birdwatchers, Surrealists with heart conditions, Surrealists with Jewish ancestry, middle-aged social-scientist Surrealists, pipe-smoking Surrealists, Surrealists aged between 30 and 35, or any other contingent combinations of characteristics that may or may not have anything to offer to particular Surrealists in terms of individual creativity, the facilitation of social contacts, or even the highlighting of certain aspects of Surrealism, but that remain completely uninteresting in terms of Surrealist organisation.

Fourth, we note that two in particular of the arguments that SurrIV raise are very much part of the problem we were identifying in our original text:
  • The argument that it is unreasonable to emphasise the necessity of thinking about what not to do is an example of exactly the mindless political voluntarism that was the prime target of Poaching. No, gentlemen, doing something is not intrinsically better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is in fact very often better than doing just anything whatever out of mere desperation or a feeling of inferiority or a lack of any detailed assessment of the situation. Doing nothing is sometimes exactly the right thing.
  • Again, SurrIV’s attempt to counter our text In Praise of Infighting with a general argument against infighting merely proves our point. A general argument in favour of infighting (which that text does not in fact make) would be pointless, but a general argument against infighting is in effect an argument for tact, superficial alliance-making and mindless voluntarism (if not indeed for closing ranks, duty and discipline) – which was exactly what we were attacking in the first place.
To restate the point of Poaching in other terms: our basic argument is simply that SURREALISM ITSELF IS A REVOLUTIONARY PROJECT. This means that we see the revolutionary implications of Surrealism itself, and that as Surrealists our specifically Surrealist means are identical with our specifically revolutionary means: non-conformism, surrationalism, poetic phenomenology, imagination, games, creativity, refusal, research, theory, poetry, art, music... It is significant that many individual Surrealists choose to engage in specialised political struggles and organisations. It is no less significant that some Surrealists do not. Those who do not are no less revolutionary than those who do, precisely because Surrealism itself is a revolutionary project.

Despite their apparent pretensions, the SurrIV initiative is not analogous to the FIARI project of the 1930s. That was an alliance formed to place our specifically Surrealist means and resources in conjunction with the revolutionary process in the broad sense. It was explicitly not an affiliation drive for a particular political organisation, but offered a platform for genuinely revolutionary artists to ally with the left opposition of the world communist movement, which at the time was apparently led by this brilliant theorist from the Russian revolution... If anything, SurrIV probably has more similarities with the Surréalisme-Révolutionnaire project of the 1940s (an attempt to tie Surrealism to the Stalinist PCF), or with the PCI (Trotskyist) attempt to revive FIARI in the 1960s (the Paris group rejected this attempt, and consequently were attacked by the Rupture group of ‘Trotskyist-Surrealist’ artists).

The poet should first become aware of his nature and place in the world. […] He fights so that humanity can attain an ever more perfect knowledge of itself and the universe. It does not follow that he wants to put poetry at the service of political, even revolutionary action. But his being a poet has made him a revolutionary who must fight on all terrains: on the terrain of poetry by appropriate means, and on the terrain of social action, without ever confusing the two fields of action under penalty of re-establishing the confusion that is to be dissipated and consequently ceasing to be a poet, that is to say, a revolutionary.
(Benjamin Péret, The Dishonour of the Poets, 1945)

It remains a task to develop ways for Surrealism to make political interventions, to find strategies to add our resources to revolutionary processes, and to find particular techniques to communicate and collaborate with other revolutionary actors without compromising our integrity, and some of us will keep thinking and experimenting in this area – but the question of which political organisations Surrealism should support at this moment is as dead, uninteresting, boring and misguided as the ‘anarchism or Trotskyism’ question in general has been for many decades. That's simply not the point.

Paul Cowdell, Merl Fluin, Mattias Forshage, Aniano Henrique,
Patrick Hourihan, Vangelis Koutalis, Josie Malinowski,
Wendy Risteska

SLAG ~ Surrealist London Action Group

No comments: