Michael Löwy


Translated by Jason Abdelhadi

We live under a regime, Kapitalism (with a capital K) which the sociologist Max Weber defined as “slavery without a master.” Certainly, the ubumasters, the chiefsubustate, the primeubuministers, the ubuankers of Wall street, and other phynancepomps exist, but they are only puppets, characters of the Karaghiozi, the Greek shadow theatre. Decisions are made by an impersonal, deaf, blind, totally rational and completely irrational system: the Financial Markets, the Stock Exchange, Kapital. We are locked up (it is still Max Weber who speaks) in a steel cage, a house of servitude, comparable to the worst despotisms of the past, but anonymous, faceless. The emancipatory surrealist revolt, which since 1924 has clearly demonstrated its irreconcilable hostility towards modern Western capitalist civilization, remains an infinitely precious compass that allows us to find North in the midst of an asphyxiating fog. In his essay on the 17th century slave revolt of the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil, Benjamin Péret wrote that freedom is the most imperious of human feelings; oxygen without which the mind and heart are weakened. Open the windows of the world, let this emancipatory oxygen in, we’re suffocating here! What is surrealism, if not the enchanted hammer that breaks the bars of the iron cage that imprisons us?

In the late 1930s an Erich Fromm published an essay entitled “The Fear of Freedom”, which attempted to account for the psychic processes that lead individuals to prefer fascist totalitarianism to freedom. But voluntary servitude was not born in the twentieth century; it always existed in the tyrannical regimes of the past, as Etienne de La Boétie had so well demonstrated in the sixteenth century. Today, the asphyxiating fog of commodity fetishism leads many individuals to confuse freedom with the free choice of a product on the shelves. It is a form of voluntary servitude that takes the deceptive mask of “freedom.” Do we not call this brutal enslavement to the merchandised Spectacle “liberalism”?

Faced with the apostles of this ersatz of “freedom”, the apologists and propagandists of this wretched counterfeit, it is time to show the true face of Freedom, fearful, savage, terrible and wonderful at the same time; capable, like the ancient Medusa , by means of a single glance to transform its enemies to stone.

What is the “spirit of Surrealism”? Walter Benjamin wrote in his 1929 essay on Surrealism: “Since Bakunin, Europe lacks a radical concept of freedom. The Surrealists have it.” Is this spirit of freedom desperate? Benjamin observed in the same essay that the true revolutionary is a pessimist, a supporter of the “organization of pessimism.” But pessimism is not despair: it is a call to resistance, to action, to liberating revolt, before it is too late, before the pessimum is realized. The Principle of Hope, of which Ernst Bloch spoke, – and who, also like Benjamin, was fascinated by Surrealism – is not the opposite of Radical Pessimism: the two are dialectically inseparable.

The surrealist spirit of radical freedom has never ceased to be present, here and now, as a net of elusive mercury, a flash of lightning that escapes the lightning rods, a tropical storm that cannot be put in a box, a couple of rivers in love that escape their riverbed.

“Figura serpentinata”, Michael Löwy