The anti-Stalinist left: some notes from the literature. Part I: The French anti-Stalinist left

This post is the first in a short series that include extracts from the academic literature on the anti-Stalinist left. Part of the purpose of the series is to argue that there has been a strong a cohesive entity that could be called “the anti-Stalinist left”, a position I take in opposition to those who would simply say that some leftists have happened to be anti-Stalinist. Hence, it is not intended to form some kind of coherent narrative, but rather gathers together evidence from the literature for the existence of such an entity.


In this edition, we focus on the anti-Stalinist intellectuals associated with the surrealist movement, including Andre Breton and Georges Bataille. 

André Breton

André Breton (Photo credit: mansionwb)

Surrealists, Stalinists, and Trotskyists: Theories of Art and Revolution in France between the Wars
Author(s): Helena Lewis
Source: Art Journal, Vol. 52, No. 1, Political Journals and Art, 1910-40 (Spring, 1993), pp. 61-68
Published by: College Art Association
Stable URL:
Accessed: 10/03/2010 09:54

From an ideological point of view, the most original of the journals was Cle, founded by Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera, and Andre Breton. A publication of the Federation Internationale de l’Art Revolutionnaire Independant (International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art), or FIARI, a PopularFront organization of artists, it sought to unite the anti-Stalinist Left, calling for a new revolutionary aesthetic that would preserve the freedom of the artist. [p.61]

In opposition to the Stalinist stance promoted by CommuneCle: Bulletin mensuel de la F. A .R .I. was launched in 1939, on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. It was a monthly published by FIARI, the organization founded by Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera, and Breton in Mexico in 1938 in the hope that it would become a rallying point for the anti-Stalinist Left. True to its internationalist principles, FIARI sections were formed in Mexico, where Rivera edited the Mexican group’s new review, Clave [Key] (1939-40), and in England, where a section was founded by the editors of the Surrealist London Bulletin (1936-40). The counterpart of Cle in the United States was the Partisan Review (1934-65), which published not only FIARI’s first manifesto but also letters from Trotsky explaining and supporting the new cause. The FIARI founders hoped that Cle would become a “third force” (neither Western capitalist nor Eastern Communist) of non-Stalinist Leftist artists and intellectuals who, as the editors of Cle declared optimistically, “will serve the closely linked causes of art, of revolution, and of man.” [p.65]

Perhaps more significantly, gauchiste ideas have had a real impact on French intellectual life since the 193os. No history of French literature can ignore Andre Breton and Benjamin Peret; no account of the development of French Marxist thought can omit the contributions of Pierre Naville and Daniel Guerin. The gauchiste ideas of 1968 did not fall out of the sky but drew on a long tradition of anti-Stalinist Marxism. In particular Daniel Cohn-Bendit expressed his indebtedness to the writings of the ex-Trotskyist Socialisme ou Barbarie grouping in the fifties. Cohn-Bendit had attended a study-group at Nanterre which included Claude Lefort, who had been a key figure in Socialisme ou Barbarie and a member of the Temps Modernes editorial team.[p.22]

Sartre and de Beauvoir were not, however, impressed by the organizational efficacity of the anti-Stalinist left.[p.24]

A companion to continental philosophy

By Simon Critchley, William Ralph Schroeder. Wiley-Blackwell, 1999

[Bataille] was a member of the Democratic Communist Circle (1931-4), an “anti-Stalinist” group led by Boris Souverine; he created Counter-Attack, an antifascist political grouping of “revolutionary intellectuals” (1935-6). [p.293]

Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The inner scar: the mysticism of Georges Bataille

By Andrew Hussey. Rodopi, 2000

Bataille’s work as an editor and critic, first for Documents and then for the anti-Stalinist Marxist journal La Critique Sociale, is characterized by a matrix of emotional responses…[p.31]

In 1933 and 1934 Bataille was not only involved in Boris Souvarine’s Cercle communise democratique and the journal La Critique Sociale, but was also a member of the group Masses, which brought together Jean Dautry, Edouard Lienert, Paul Benichou and to a lesser degree Simone Weil… In 1936 and 1937 [he collaborated with the group Contre-attaque] with members of the revolutionary Left who had recently emerged from Surrealism or the Parti Communiste de France or both… Although Contre-attaque was divided into two camps, grouped around Bataille… or [Andre] Breton…, Bataille was effectively the intellectual leader of the group… At this stage in his career Breton defined himself politically as an anti-Stalinist but also as a revolutionary thinker faithful to the demands of dialectical materialism.[p.126]

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Hinweise bei Poumista … Kunal Chattopadhyay erinnert auf Radical Socialist an Magan Desai […]

  2. we are all anti stalinism

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