Resurgence! Jonathan Leake, Radical Surrealism, and the Resurgence Youth Movement, 1964–1967
‘It is time to ask whether surrealist tendencies are still viable’, the French writer Pierre Mabille (1904–52) wrote in an undated essay, ‘whether they are still relevant to reality and show signs of development’.1 These words, anonymously translated and reprinted without permission, opened the first issue of Resurgence, an underground zine published by a collective of anarchist teenagers in New York in 1964. Forty years after André Breton published his first Manifeste du Surréalisme (1924), the group challenged characterisations by art critics of the movement as a ‘transitory and long dead school of aesthetics, a school comparable to cubism, abstractivism, dadaism’, taking up Mabille’s call to instead position it as a living tool for political and cultural revolt.2 Resurgence was co-founded in conjunction with the ultra-Left Resurgence Youth Movement (RYM) by Jonathan Leake (b.1946) FIG.1, encapsulating a strand of radical youth-led Surrealism in 1960s United States counterculture.
Abigail Susik’s edited volume is the culmination of a years-long effort to locate Leake and the twelve issues that he and his comrades published in the mid-1960s. A key scholar of Surrealism, Susik has continually undermined the movement’s conventional geographic and temporal borders in order to examine its post-war American expressions and lasting engagement with anti-authoritarianism.3 Her book Surrealist Sabotage and the War on Work (2021) was celebrated for its analysis of Surrealism’s challenges to capitalist ‘work’ culture. In keeping with the spirit of its subject, Resurgence! Jonathan Leake, Radical Surrealism, and the Resurgence Youth Movement, 1964–1957 constitutes what Susik refers to as ‘a local, hands-on, non-academic, and zero-contract publishing endeavor’ (p.5) in collaboration with Eberhardt Press, Portland.
Although it is estimated that RYM never exceeded one hundred followers, Susik argues that its influence was disproportionately greater than its membership. Indeed, Resurgence became an important outlet in advocating for youth revolt amid 1960s social movements, and was particularly known for its uncompromising anti-war and anti-racist commitments FIG.2. In this publication, texts by Susik, Sean Lovitt and those close to Leake – such as his brother Paul and the Chicago-based Surrealist Penelope Rosemont (b.1942) – contextualise archival images and rare material from the issues FIG.3, as well as excerpts from Leake’s unpublished memoir, Root and Branch: A Radical Sixties Odyssey, written in 1992.
Leake’s predilection for insurrectionary anarchism attracted state surveillance as early as 1960, when he was only thirteen years old. Following his participation in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protest in front of the United States embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, two years earlier, Interpol agents visited him when he was at summer camp in Switzerland. They dismissed his case due to age, but Leake was expelled from his high school not long after for the attempted arson of the campus chapel. Partially itinerant as a result, he became involved with several Leftist groups, including the International Workers of the World FIG.4, the News and Letters Committees and the Liberation League, where he met Walter Caughey, a young Texan computer programmer and ardent anarchist.
Just weeks after the Harlem uprising in July 1964 – six nights of rioting in New York that followed the murder of James Powell, a fifteen-year-old African American, by a police officer – Leake and Caughey identified the need for a group to promote teenage insurgency and founded the RYM on 10th August. That same month RYM members launched a ‘spontaneous editorial board’ FIG.5 and began work on the first issue of Resurgence, which they printed on a hand-cranked mimeograph provided by the Marxist humanist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya. ‘Our “headquarters” was located in a railroad flat at 336 East 4th Street’, Paul recalls, ‘where we slept on the floor and plotted our next moves’ (p.7).
Joining arms with the Black Flag Anarchists, the Black Mask group and various street gangs, the revolutionary voice of Resurgence was driven by RYM’s commitments to broader liberation and radical surrealism. ‘Although we were outwardly politically destined, activated, and vocal’, writes Paul, ‘the RYM was also a surrealist, anarchist, and artistic work in progress’ (p.7). As a child of multilingual parents who participated in avant-garde circles and were friends of Salvador Dalí, Leake had an early interest in Surrealism, which was reignited by a chance encounter with the founder of the Chicago Surrealist Group, Franklin Rosemont (1943–2009), in the summer of 1964. Although their friendship was enduring – Rosemont designed the cover for the first issue of Resurgence FIG.6 and the two would reunite in Chicago in 1966 – Leake’s preoccupation with Surrealism appears to have been more fleeting. After the publication of the first issue, the ‘irrevocably anarchist’ possibilities of Surrealism were mentioned with less and less frequency,4 until they disappear entirely as Leake’s ideological position ‘degenerated’, Charles Radcliffe claimed, into a kind of ‘mystical Maoism’ (p.35).
Before Surrealism lost its place in the zine’s pages, Leake and Rosemont interpreted it not as a specific aesthetic doctrine but as, Susik notes, a valuable instrument in the ‘pursuit of total cultural upheaval’ as well as political revolution (p.18). Surrealism was attractive to both of these 1960s activists due to its promise of insurrection, affinity with anarchist thought and direct application for acts of sabotage. However, although Susik credits Resurgence with galvanising a brief phase of Surrealist discourse in 1960s Leftist publications, Leake’s and Rosemont’s expressions of the movement differed greatly. Namely, it is striking how little mention the RYM editorial programme made of Surrealism’s origins and the historical Parisian circle, especially compared to the Chicago Group’s ambitious, decades-long rewriting of Surrealist historiography.5
Perhaps this difference in approach was representative of a subtle ideological divide: it was not possible to reconcile a homage to Breton, Max Ernst or any other defining figure of 1920s French Surrealism with the RYM’s anti-authoritarian spirit or their repeated symbolic calls to ‘submerge Europe!’6 in favour of Black liberation and the rise of ‘AFRASIAMERICA’.7 To Leake and his peers, Surrealism was less a coherent cultural narrative than a convenient metaphor for total anarchist revolt. Indeed, the only manifestation of Resurgence’s engagement with Surrealist aesthetics is the psychedelic imagery FIG.7 that often circumscribes the pages, which reached a hallucinatory peak in the mid-1960s when Leake was experimenting with LSD.
Revisiting this unique and radical, although short-lived, interpretation of Surrealism today suggests that scholarship might move beyond limited conceptions of the movement – those found in novels, poems, paintings and objects – to study its neglected manifestations in ephemeral media. It serves as a reminder that Surrealism was found not only in galleries and museums, but also in polemic tracts, zines and the streets. Not interested in Freudian or uncanny imagery, the RYM preferred direct action FIG.8 and mimeographs over commercialised art forms and expensive materials. Street protests, rent strikes, insurrectionary leaflets and occasional violent confrontations with police: explosive affronts to white capitalist ideology defined their expression of Surrealism. The most remarkable insight in the book is Lovitt’s appraisal of Resurgence within the 1960s ‘Mimeo Revolution’, which he contextualised as ‘an explosion of DIY publishing in the form of proto-zines, made possible by newly available formats of cheap printing’ (p.29). Such processes, which were quick as well as cheap, provided the freedom to explore topics censored by mainstream media. This milieu uniquely allowed Surrealism to intersect with many American countercultural touchpoints in the pages of Resurgence, such as the Rolling Stones’ meteoric rise to stardom and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1971).
It is this very format, however, that makes it difficult to ascertain the publication’s reach. As an underground zine, it is nearly impossible to know today who engaged with it, and at times arguments testifying to its influence rely on speculation regarding potential readers and where it may have been distributed. Of more important note is Resurgence’s continuing relevance to the social, political and environmental issues of today, its revolutionary pages presenting what Paul called ‘a mixture of manifestos, poetry, anger, hope, good news, bad news, magical spells, anagrams, cryptic and clear symbols, visionary artwork, the wrath of change, and a sense of urgency’ (p.9). Published a year before the centenary of Breton’s manifesto, Susik’s reappraisal of Leake’s radical Surrealism gestures to the countless politicised iterations of the movement that have proliferated across the globe over the last hundred years and remain unstudied.