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Ian Birchall


Surreal experience

(November 1993)

From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Jay Woolrich is quite wrong to read my obituary of Pierre Naville as an attack on André Breton. Breton’s record, as a poet and theoretician of revolutionary art, is an admirable one. But admiration for Breton should not lead us to ignore the problems posed by his political evolution.

It was not Breton who led the surrealists towards Communism; it was Naville who pointed the way. And Breton was much slower than Naville to recognise the rise of Stalinism. Breton was never a member of any Trotskyist organisation. The real issue was not the independence of surrealism, but the fact that Breton tried to make the surrealist group into a political organisation in its own right.

There is no simple formula, in Trotsky’s works or elsewhere, for the relation of artists to revolutionary politics. Artists who involve themselves in revolutionary politics will necessarily be torn by a contradiction between competing obligations – a contradiction that cannot be resolved this side of the revolution. Such figures as Sartre, Serge, Brecht and Gorky show different – but partial – responses to the contradiction. Once that is understood we can learn from both Naville and Breton.


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