The Silly Season

Traditionally, the summer is said to be void of real news, the press being thus forced to make up stories out of very little in order to sell newspapers. It would seem that Surrealism in Britain also experiences this so-called “silly season”.

We note, with considerable regret, that there has recently appeared on the Robber Bridegroom web log, one of two blogs run by SLAG (Surrealist London Action Group) an account of the troubles that beset the London Surrealist Group between November 2005 and January 2006, troubles that resulted in the departure from the group of some of its members. There had been a tacit agreement that this matter should not be discussed in public and that nothing could be gained, certainly not for Surrealism, by doing so. This was not to hide the facts from the public gaze, but because such arguments are rarely of interest to any but a few enemies ready to see Surrealism as hopelessly divided and at war with itself.

It is annoying, therefore, that we have to pay attention to disagreements, mostly personal and internal to surrealism rather than to anything of real importance, for much of this is rather less than a storm in a teacup – a thimble maybe. But as accusations are implied, not quite openly stated, that the London Surrealist Group lacks any rigour or focus, and even that it is sidling up to Islam via the SWP, we must waste our time attempting to clarify an extremely biased, partial and one-sided account of a difficult period in the group’s history. It is particularly unfortunate that Robber Bridegroom should carry a public declaration in which various statements by, or attitudes of, members of the group have been willfully twisted into shapes quite different to the truth. We cannot see this as anything other than a dishonest and aggressive manoeuvre.

There are, consequently, several aspects of the document “Why are there two surrealist groups in London?” that we feel it is necessary to answer.

Firstly, the question of collectivity. This is claimed to be at issue, and it is especially claimed that one comrade suggested (according to our detractors) that it “was not necessary for the group as a whole to have any collective identity or shared project”, and that he wanted it to be an “umbrella group who would use the name as some kind of brand name or flag of convenience”. This is a perverse misinterpretation of what was actually said. We can quote the original statement being argued about:

“I don’t feel that members of the London Surrealist Group should adhere to an idea of the Group as a united front and holistic entity where members, as much as possible, always collaborate in accordance with set procedures. That would limit the capacity the Group has for becoming a revolutionary force to be reckoned with…My view is that the Group represents a collective of individuals who decide according to their own desires as free agents how or when they will collaborate…the heading of the Group then is used as an umbrella name for a diverse co-operative made up of people from diverse backgrounds and with different approaches to Surrealism not all of which are complementary.”

Such a statement might be disagreed with by some, as expressed it is not wholly shared by the group and its author did question whether he was explaining himself properly. However, it is clear that he was not in any way suggesting that the London Surrealist Group should become a mere “flag of convenience”. It should be understood that this point emerged during an ongoing debate conducted through emails, a notoriously unreliable medium for carrying on these kinds of discussion.

At the time of the debate in question, the response from a then-member of the group, now a member of SLAG, was, “I doubt that anyone disagrees with you about any of this”! It was only later that the real import of this became distorted into the apparently unprincipled “umbrella group”, apparently in order to support an otherwise unsupportable demand for a swathe of summary expulsions from the group. Presumably the statement was quite clearly understood in its proper context at the time, if there was so little disagreement.

Secondly, various unnamed members of the London Surrealist Group are accused of lacking “guts” for not joining in what seemed at the time, and continues to appear to have been a private argument rather than a fight over basic principles. It has never seemed to any of us to require much courage to send rude emails or indeed to shout abuse and threats over the telephone. Indeed, when one finds one’s computer is out of action or one is simply not at the computer and all that activity is contained within the computer, one might be forgiven for not responding to something that one is ignorant of.

Thirdly, we have been accused of “promoting the activities of the Socialist Workers Party”. This is only true in a very limited sense in that we listed Marxism 2006 in Communiqué. To make more of the issue than this is to conveniently ignore both current affiliations within the LSG and the group’s actual positions, about which we have always been entirely open. Is it seriously suggested, in any case, that the LSG, as an active revolutionary current, should ignore the largest annual gathering of the Left in Britain, whether or not we disagree with that event’s primary organisers? When we list the Anarchist Bookfair, will we be adjudged to have turned into an anarchist group overnight? Then be accused of selling out (again) when we mention a Socialist Resistance dayschool?

Judging by the tone of their document, the Surrealist London Action Group appears to want to portray itself as the “real” surrealist presence in London, not alongside the London Surrealist Group but at our expense, denigrating our activities and making insinuations concerning our supposed sympathies. We would like to point out a few things. They claim that their activities are based on “principles of Surrealism and revolutionary anarchism, which we regard as indivisible”. This suggests that they would expel from the surrealist movement anybody who is not an anarchist, not only some prominent current activists, but key surrealist figures such as André Breton or Benjamin Peret for example. As some of our recent documents make clear, we refute such an attitude precisely because it seems to us to fail to respond to genuine surrealist principles. That a large number of surrealists are anarchists is undoubtedly true, that some are not anarchists is also true and that some are unashamedly marxist is true as well. Breton himself maintained an openness in this regard, as have surrealists ever since. Surrealism is organised around certain principles but allows a considerable difference of opinion and political difference, it is based on a sort of heterogeneity, on a notion on non-identity which, if SLAG really bases its activity on dialectics as they claim, they should be aware of. If we abandon this, regardless of whether we adhere to anybody else’s party line we become the victims of our own party dogma. Surrealism is not a narrow sect, it never has been and if it becomes so it ceases to be surrealist.

It is true that the London Surrealist Group has been comparatively quiet in recent months, only lately becoming more visible again. To a large degree this is a direct consequence of the departures that led to the formation of SLAG. As the web space for the LSG site was owned by a member of SLAG, without any consultation they took down the website and proceeded to utilise the domain name to promote the SLAG blogs. They continue to use that domain name to make the misleading statement that the group “split” rather than that they had resigned. The decent thing to have done would have been to offer us the domain name and then SLAG could get on with whatever they wanted to do without any infringement of our name. The files for the third issue of ARCTURUS were in the possession of a member of SLAG who had been the designated editor under the rotational system we were employing at the time, and they have yet to be returned to us. We have had to rebuild, almost from the beginning, in order to come back to where we were a year ago. It has been slow and sometimes painful work, retreading the steps we had taken with so much enthusiasm in our first days as a group. First of all, we had to consider whether to continue at all and then we had to think how we should work together. It is true that the group experienced some problems, not all generated by the present members of SLAG, and we have had to address some of these before making much progress. That is hardly surprising, as the development of any group is a process that will entail difficulties from time to time. But the problems have been addressed and we are, in fact, feeling rather chipper now, ready and able to make trouble for our real enemies, not for other surrealists.

We can only hope that Robber Bridegroom’s foolish and misleading document is the last time that SLAG will associate themselves with anything so fundamentally dishonest. Regardless of this, we have made our response. We do not believe that any further statement is necessary. On the contrary, we are as convinced as ever that in-fighting is rarely either useful or interesting to onlookers, so as far as we are concerned this will be the last word on the subject. If anybody within the surrealist movement should doubt our commitment or understanding of surrealism, they can question us directly. Otherwise, we have nothing more to say on this issue.

The London Surrealist Group


~ by londonsurrealistgroup on September 6, 2006.

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