5 May 2008

Dadaism, Lionel Britton, and Anarchism

May 2008 of course marks the fortieth anniversary of les événements, the often violent protests which spread across France in reaction against the consumer society, the perceived bankrupcy of capitalism, stultifying conformity, the segregation of the sexes, and numerous other things. The protests also spread to many other countries in the western world, picking up many other causes in their wake, and the media have – inevitably – eagerly sought opportunities to indulge in an inkfest of nostalgia and revisionism: many living journalists, French or not, are soixante–huitards in memory if nothing else. The latest hors–série issue of Le Magazine littéraire re-publishes several pages from the May 1968 issue, four of which are from an interview the magazine had with Daniel Cohn–Bendit, a German with no belief in nationalities who was a major spokesperson for the movement which began at Nanterre University (1).

In the interview, one of the questions put to Cohn–Bendit concerns the interest of contemporary student protesters in the surrealist movement of the 1920s. He says, 'The student movement is certainly not a revolution, but a rebellion. We are in agreement. About surrealism, especially about Dada. Because Dadaism was more radical and it is influencing a part of the movement' (2).

Of obvious note here is the association of revolt with Dadaism or surrealism, as is the fact that the anarchist Cohn–Bendit (who, unlike many anarchists, did call himself that) saw the link as a positive thing. I have already noted Lionel Britton's interest in surrealism, although I have not previously mentioned anything of Britton's anarchism: it is normal, and some might argue obligatory (of which more in a later post to this blog), that the literature of the working class align itself to left-wing causes; but with the exception of the Scottish working-class writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon (a.k.a. Leslie Mitchell for his 'English' novels) who is best known for his trilogy A Scots Quair, Lionel Britton is almost certainly the only other British working-class anarchist writer of this period (3).

Cohn–Bendit's ideas seem to have mellowed somewhat in the last forty years, although by no means as much as those of some politicians who once belonged to Britain's now almost non-existent left wing.

(1) 'Quand on critique radicalement on construit', Le Magazine littéraire, 18, May 1968, pp. 20–24; repr. Le Magazine littéraire collections, Hors–Série 13, pp. 42–45.

(2) pp. 44–45. (The translation from the French is by me.)

(3) Grassic Gibbon refers to 'Saint Bakunin', and sent his son to A. S. Neill's radical Summerhill School (which continues today, in spite of the many efforts which New Labour has made to close it).


Anonymous said...

I don't know about my dad being an anarchist - I never heard him say anything about it.


Dr Tony Shaw said...

Now, you wouldn't by any chance be joking about this, would you?