Surrealpolitik: Surrealistic communication as symbolic terrorism: The example of Marcel Mariën’s theory of political campaigning

Author: Hagen Schölzel


Quick Summary

Surrealism, terrorism, and PR. Pretty fascinating read about Marcel Marien, a Belgian surrealist and a PR professional. Notes that Ed Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and was developing his theory of propaganda during the 1920s when surrealism was also developing, and both of them proceeding according to Freud's ideas of the unconscious. Marien's program involves the creation of two spurious political parties, the Imaginary Party and the Counter Party. They would secretly share the same headquarters. They would have two facets: one public and legal, the other secret and illegal. They would stage campaigns based on a thorough empirical understanding of PR (propaganda), and between the two of them secure a parliamentary mandate. The campaign is built from a foundation of "leisure clubs", nominally staunchly anti-political and non-ideological. The parties consciously avoid using normal political language, style, symbols, and rites, in order to "mask" the political nature of the enterprise. From this base a "grassroots" campaign is gradually developed. The secret headquarters, run by a tiny number of elite representatives, is funded by crime and terrorism: real or implied violence directed against bank managers, up to and including flamethrowers as necessary. All the modern tools of PR are employed. Men of vision and independence are to be identified and discarded. Petty disputes over minor differences as "artificial competition" are to be encouraged. Ultimately, the secret common headquarters would be revealed in order to provide a psychological shock and stimulate a spontaneous people's revolution.


There are 6 quotes currently associated with this book.

Taking into account the well-known 'revolutionary' spirit of surrealism and its reputation as a kind of 'cultural terrorism' or even as a kind of catalytic converter to establish a culture favourable to 'real' terrorism, the question arises, whether Marcel Mariën’s surrealistic campaigning concept represents a kind of terrorist communication theory. (page 194)
Tags: [Surrealism, Propaganda, Terror]
Surrealism and its impact on literature and art count as a kind of cultural or aesthetic terrorism (Eburne, 2006), and its psychologically shocking methods of activating the unconscious evoke certain parallels to shock doctrines of paramilitary terrorist attacks (Lindemann, 2001). Surrealism as a theoretical design also evokes some parallels with military terror practices such as gas attacks or with terrorist attacks against social infra- structure, civil society and psychic health, because both are indirect, 'contextual' attacks not directly targeting the adversary's military body but its living environment (Sloterdijk, 2006, 2009). Quasi-surrealistic communication practices of camouflage and disorienting attention are also used for military concerns, for example, in the so-called war on terror (Taussig, 2008). In the eyes of certain controversial observers, surrealism thus represents a relevant inspiration or a decisive cultural element responsible to a certain degree ideologically for terrorist occurrences throughout and beyond the 20th century, up to the suicide attacks on 11 September 2001 in the United States (Clair, 2001). But there also exist clear arguments against this interpretation, claiming that the rhetoric of violence and terror as cultural phenomena does not necessarily mean or imply terrorism in the sense of physical violence (Eburne, 2006; Hecken, 2006; Lindemann, 2001). There is no necessary link, and, in any case, several intermediate steps lie between symbolic destruction by surrealism and physical violence by terrorists. Nevertheless, surrealism obviously represents a kind of 'war within and in particular against the public sphere' (Lindemann, 2001: 21). (page 195)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism & Politics, Terror]
[T]here exist strong common references in theory between early forms of professional PR (or propaganda)...and surrealism, which also strived to influence public opinion. Surrealism arose in Paris in the first half of the 1920s, a time when on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, in the United States, Edward Bernays developed his concept of propaganda, which was finally put on paper in his canonical book Propaganda by the end of the decade (Bernays, 1928). For PR researchers and practitioners Bernays usually counts as one of the founding fathers of their professions, and it is well known that he, being the nephew of Sigmund Freud, developed his theory of PR campaigning partly on the basis of his uncle's psychoanalytical theory. It is this same basic source of inspiration in psychoanalysis that surrealists share with Bernays. (page 195-196)
Tags: [Surrealism, Propaganda, Dreams]
Exactly 30 years after Bernays' Propaganda was first published, Belgian surrealist Marcel Mariën, who also worked in marketing and advertising, developed his own campaigning theory on the basis of surrealistic thinking. His piece, 'Théorie de la révolution mondiale immédiate', [theory of the immediate world revolution], appeared in 1958 in the surrealistic periodical Les lèvres nues in Brussels (Mariën, 1958). In the text, Mariën develops an alternative, surrealist concept of propaganda. (page 196)
Tags: [Surrealism, Propaganda]
A second secret element is the clandestine headquarters, which should consist of a 'tiny number of men' who were willing and prepared to undertake 'more or less concerted action' (Mariën, 1989: 67). As a first task, the group should produce a basic liquid capital required for initiating the campaign. To this purpose, Mariën’s (1989) envisages 'real' terrorist acts:

"[T]he single opportunity to procure that money obviously consists in getting it there, where it is. [...] A blade against the throat, the threat of some Asian torture as well as hostage-taking would make each bank manager a precious and entirely compliant auxiliary tool. [...] Employees and customers [...] are not at all prepared to resist the onslaught of machine pistols, hand grenades, teargas or, if necessary, flamethrowers." (pp.122, 127) (page 197)
Tags: [Surrealism, Humor, Truth & Real, Propaganda, Culture, Terror, Capitalism, Conspiracy, Disinformation]
Surrealism and PR worked within the same field of interest (How to organize society by communication?) and employed similar means but they developed different strategies with regard to different ends ('How to orient society in a specific direction?' versus 'How to encourage people to develop their own ways and aims?')...

Surrealism took off from this point to launch the critique of a too-statically organized mass society, answering to demands of economy, politics and science but not to the individual. This society thus had to be dismantled and rebuilt. Mariën's programme of triggering self-organized revolutionary activities by crowds envisaged achieving this by communicative campaigning. This paradoxical idea of 'non-leading' represented a remarkable difference compared to Bernays' interest of arranging society in an 'objectively' proper way. For Bernays (1928), the problem is not that we start with a too static organization but rather that society is in a state of 'chaos' which needs to be put in proper order by PR (pp.9–18). The irrational masses needed to be oriented by rational elites towards rational objectives, that is, to bring 'an idea to the consciousness of the public' (Bernays, 1928: 38). Therefore, in Bernays' (1928) vision the 'conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society' (p.9). (page 202,203)
Tags: [Surrealism, Propaganda]