Dear Emily Post-Avant,
I am an anarchist poet from Budapest, Hungary, and I write concern interview in Rumpus with the U.S.A. communist poet and professor Joshua Clover.
I write him twice on email with question myself, but automatic answer say something concern “sabbatical and traveling.” So in frustrate, I write you. I like Dispatches from Poetic Wars, much like some more poets here in Budapest I meet with (many of us read English with sufficience).
I feel Mr. Clover is politically perplexed with his commentariat on riots, it is very unhistorical. But this matter is not my foci. I leave matter of riots and strikes to people in United States. Your situation is pretty pathetical, but ours in Hungary is much worse, though you will not believe it.
No, my foci is Mr. Clover’s completed perplexity over historical facts of Surrealism, which he does not manage well. It is concern for left-Europeans like us that in episteme of rising neo-fascism an American communist poet, for example, could hold no command of facts concern the avant-garde poetic group of Europe that is most connect and implicate in communism! How silly!!
Allow me to quotation Mr. Clover and to make a few remarks following. He say:
The most important quote about poetry and politics that I know is from [….] situationist, Guy Debord. He was locked in a debate with the French Surrealists, many of whom by the 40s and 50s were part of the French communist party apparatus. Many Surrealists eventually argued for instrumentalizing art for political ends. Debord countered, “I don’t want to put poetry in the service of revolution. I want to put revolution in the service of poetry.” [….] If we wanted to set poetry free to be all that it could be (I know that’s a terrible slogan from the US military), we would have to change the world first. To get the kind of poetry that poetry deserves, we need to destroy capitalism. I think that’s Debord’s argument. I’m not sure he was right about as many things as I once thought, but I think he’s right about that.
My goodness grace. Does Mr. Clover not have awareness that a number of the pivot Surrealists joined Communist Party of France in early 1927 and that Breton become excommunicated in 1933 (with companions)? Those years inside PCF Breton and Péret and comrades inside CP fought to make literature free from Party directives, this was very important for them from start to finish, all through the more or less end of exhausted Surrealism in 1960s. They were quite insolent of leadership of CP and were among first who see where Third International was driving fast, even before Socialist Realism is made official. Anyway, the Surrealists who were mostly part of PCF were Aragon and shortly later Éluard, along with a handful of smaller fellow travelers. Aragon become already a Party baboon in early 30s, breaking with Surrealism, and arguing from start, as Mr. Clover phrases,“for instrumentalizing art for political ends”! Breton, Péret, et. al. fought against such “instrumentalizing” to final chasm with PCF, 1935, for example, when Breton slap Soviet delegate writer Ilya Ehrenburg on street in face hard in Paris at First International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture (Péret spit on him also), which ends every tactical solidarity attempting with CP by Surrealists, making great René Crevel to shoot himself. But to say, as Mr. Clover propose, that “by 40s or 50s” many Surrealists “were part of the French communist party [sic] apparatus” makes sound like Surrealism slowly sold soul to Stalinism and surrendered to CP, making necessary for Debord and Situationists to hate them, in favor of a poetry liberated from political directives, and this is totally wrong and ridiculous. Surrealism in 1930s–its mainline Breton flow—reject CP and embrace Trotskyism and Left Opposition (see manifesto of FIARI for freedom of art in the revolution, co-written by Breton and Trotsky)! And later, in postwar “40s or 50s,” mostly Surrealists (including Breton) are now openly anarchists—in particularity supporters of Federation Anarchiste (George Fontenis, leader of FA is close chum of Breton, Péret, and other Surrealists). Surrealists even have regular column in Le Libertaire, FA newspaper with great numbers. Here is what Péret says (by the way, he is most true libertarian communist of all and to the death, perhaps Mr. Clover should read him), in 1951, in Le Libertaire, and this causes enmity with some leading anarchists of FA, for even they want to put poetry at the service of revolution:
It does not follow that (the poet) puts poetry at the service of political action, even if it is revolutionary…. [H]is quality of poet makes him a revolutionary who must struggle on every terrain: that of poetry by his own means and on the terrain of social action, without ever confusing the two fields of action.
Even after tensions and splits and unities make FA into FAI in 1953 and Surrealists are expelled for not keeping line and wanting too much independence for art (like in PCF!), Breton and Péret and late formations of Surrealism continue open solidarity with anarchism.
Yes, Debord had some kind father-son relationship with Breton, and debate happened. This is dialectics and the struggle of culture, largely. But what does Debord say, in 1966, in a letter to Czech writer Branko Vucicovic? “The artistic value of surrealism over the course of twenty years and its partially revolutionary and liberatory content are incontestable.” He is speaking not of the Stalinist apologists Aragon and Éluard, who have abandoned Surrealism, but of those who have kept the faith of original, independent Surrealism in twenty years after the war!
–Protesting from Budapest the U.S. Ignorance of Communist Poetical History by Declared Communist Poets
Dear Protesting from Budapest the U.S. Ignorance of Communist Poetical History by Declared Communist Poets,
Thank you for this letter. I hope Mr. Clover will respond after he returns from sabbatical travel. I will of course post any reply from him. I agree that his “authoritative” comments suggest an unfortunate lack of knowledge concerning the important, complicated relationship of Surrealism to the communist movement. But we should give him the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps he was in a hurry to leave for the airport when he wrote his answers for the interview!
– Emily Post-Avant