“Trotsky had nothing to do with any of the Surrealist Manifestos, but he did coauthor, with Breton, the excellent ‘Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art’. I find most of Trotsky’s writings on culture uninspiring despite their often being head and shoulders above the mainstream of Bolshevik opinion on the matter. People should take the Surrealists far more seriously IMHO – they have a very honourable tradition as early interpreters of Hegel, early supporters of Trotsky and opponents of the bureaucratisation of the CP. They are far more creditable as revolutionaries than many of the later Trotskyists who are casually lauded. Ignorance of your culture is not considered cool, as someone else once said.
“In January 1927 5 members of the Surrealist group joined the Communist Party: Breton, Aragon, Eluard, Unik and [Benjamin] Péret. Others, like Desnos and Miro refused to join. Even with [André] Breton, Party membership was with qualifications. He saw the Communist programme as only a minimum programme, and criticised the Party paper as “Puerile, uselessly declamatory, cretinous, unreadable; completely unworthy of the role of proletarian education that it tries to assume”. Whilst [Louis] Aragon transformed from the “most libertarian spirit of the Surrealist group” into a horrific Stalinist hack who wrote poems honouring the Russian secret police the NKVD, others who had joined the Party began to feel distinctly uncomfortable about the Moscow show trials. It was a stormy period for the Surrealists as they tried to participate as they saw it in the workers’ revolution, whilst at the same time safeguarding their own specific preoccupations, and fighting against the Party leadership’s attempts to keep them on a tight rein. Breton was expelled in 1933, and at a Party-controlled International Congress for the Defence of Culture the Surrealists were denounced and were only allowed to speak on the last day at 2 in the morning!
By now some of the Surrealists were allying with Trotskyism and oppositional Bolshevism. Peret made contact in France and Brazil with the Communist Union* and the Internationalist Workers Party*. Breton made contact in Mexico with Trotsky when he was put in charge of a series of conferences at Mexico University on Poetry and Painting in Europe in 1938. Together with Trotsky and the Mexican painter Diego Rivera he drafted For an Independent Revolutionary Art which announced that “The revolution is obliged to erect a socialist regime with central planning; for intellectual creation it must, even from the start, establish an anarchist regime of intellectual liberty. No constraint, not the least trace of command”. This contradictory and bizarre document seems to have been written by Breton and amazingly Trotsky, with Rivera substituting for Trotsky’s signature when he got cold feet. It is not clear when Trotsky helped write this document what he thought he was doing, as it went against everything he had ever done or said.
Peret for his part had gone as delegate of the Internationalist Workers Party to the Civil War and Revolution in Spain. Here he worked as a radio broadcaster for the anti-Stalinist Marxist party the POUM, but left this post when he criticised this organisation for participating in the Catalan government. He joined the anarchist Durruti Column on the Aragon front. “All collaboration with the POUM was impossible, they wanted very much to accept people to their right, but not to their left. I have decided to enter into an anarchist militia, and here I am at the front, at Pino de Ebro”, he wrote to Breton. Two years later he paid tribute to Buenaventura Durruti, after whom the Column was named. “I have always seen in Durruti the most revolutionary anarchist leader, whose attitude was most violently opposed to the capitulations of the anarchists who had entered the government and his killing moved me very much. I think that the lesson that was the life of Durruti should not be lost.” Returning to France, he was called up at the start of the war. He was arrested for distribution of leaflets of “an anarchist character” and after a prison term managed to escape to Mexico. Here he undertook a thoroughgoing critique of Trotskyism and distanced himself from its organisations. Writing later in a letter to Georges Fontenis, the French libertarian communist militant, he remarked: “If the disappearance of the State can not be envisaged in the immediate, it is no less true that the proletarian insurrection must mark the the first day of the death agony of the State”
*The Internationalist Workers Party (Parti ouvrier internationaliste, POI) was a French Trotskyist party established in 1936, Trotsky had ordered his followers to leave the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO, which he had ordered them to join in 1934) and his most loyal followers did so while Raymond Molinier and Pierre Frank‘s “La Commune” group stayed on until they were expelled along with Marceau Pivert‘s Gauche Révolutionnaire (“Revolutionary Left”). Moliner and Frank formed the PCI, which then rejoined the ortho-Trots to form the POI, as an official section of the Fourth International. POI was dissolved in 1939 when most of the militants had joined Marceau Pivert‘s Workers and Peasants’ Socialist Party (PSOP), formed in 1938. The PSOP was fraternally linked to the Spanish POUM, which had formed in 1935.
I am not sure why the Communist Union mentioned here is. I presume it should actually be Brazil’s Communist League (Liga Communista) founded by Peret’s brother-in-law Mario Pedrosa in 1930. It was his involvement in that which got Peret expelled from Brazil, hence his return to France.