Surrealism, communism, anarchism

Alex Trotter uburoi at
Tue Aug 2 20:45:43 MDT 1994

This is an interesting post I saw on the avant-garde list. I'm forwarding
it because it seems like something students of Marx and Marxism would be
interested in.

--Alex Trotter

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 15 Jul 1994 00:48:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: Beast of Eden <boe666 at>
Subject: Surrealism, Anarchism, and Communism

On Wed, 13 Jul 1994, Leon Bovett wrote:

> Why do you consider surrealism to be connected with anarchism? It was
> constitutionally linked to communism, and indeed it was Breton's
> extremity which drove many from the group - including the members he
> expelled.

The relationship of Surrealism to Communism was always a problematic
one.  Breton officially declared that Surrealism was a Communist
movement, but with the rise of Stalinism, the Party declared that the
avant-garde was counter-revolutionary and all Communist artists would
have to adopt Socialist Realism.  Aragon and Tzara did this readily and
left the Surrealists.  Breton and company fumbled around for a few more
years trying to be accepted by the Communist Party but soon went over to
Trotskyist Communism.  Trotsky was now in exile and adopting less hard-
line positions than when he was in power (sound familiar?) which included
an arts policy that was friendly to the avant-garde.  The Surrealists
stayed with this position for a few years, but eventually ended up in the
Anarchist camp by the end of WWII.

Around this time, a faction called the Revolutionary Surrealist Group
broke off from Breton.  Its goal was to re-emphasize the political side
of Surrealism including strong links to the Communist Party.  The Party
would have nothing to do with avant-garde art and this alliance was
dissolved.  The Revolutionary Surrealists evolved through several
movements (most notably COBRA), fusing with certain groups (such as the
Lettrists), and undergoing various splits, eventually ending up as the
Situationists.  The Sits used Marxist analysis and language, but pretty
thoroughly rejected Leninism and, indeed, much of Marx himself, ending
up with an anti-state position close to anarchism.

One could also bring up the case of Max Ernst, who was a lifelong
anarchist.  Ernst even named one of his collages "The Ego and Its Own"
after Stirner's magnum opus.

So anyway, a case for an anarchist bent in Surrealism can be made.  If
you want to discuss this topic further, perhaps the avant-garde list would
be a better place to do so.  I'll try and post some info on that list
here, since some of the topics that have come up here touch on topics
discussed on that list and some of you may be interested.

Beast of Eden


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