Benjamin Péret (Rezé, Loire-Atlantique, July 4, 1899 – Paris, September 18, 1959) was one of the most important French surrealist poets and a prominent Trotskyist militant. His literary influence can be seen in writers such as Octavio Paz and César Moro. Peret was married to lyric singer Elsie Houston, sister of Mary Houston Pedrosa, wife of modernist critic and Trotskyist militant Mário Pedrosa (Aracy A. Amaral. Tarsila, sua obra e seu tempo. pg 287).
The young man was forced by his mother to enlist in the French army on the eve of the First World War. This provoked in him a deep repulsion for authoritarianism, which he sought to fight throughout his life.
After World War I, he joined the Dada movement, which he broke with his friend André Breton in 1922. Both, together with personalities such as Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, and Paul Éluard, founded Surrealism. Together with Pierre Naville, he was responsible for editing the first issues of the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste (1924). He earned his living as a newspaper editor and police writer at the Petit Parisien.
In 1927, he married the Brazilian lyrical singer Elsie Houston. Between 1929 and 1931 he resides in Brazil, militating with Mário Pedrosa, Lívio Xavier, Aristides Lobo, in the formation of the Left Opposition in Brazil. On August 31, 1931 his son Geyser is born in Rio de Janeiro. Expelled from Brazil in 1931 by Getúlio Vargas, he returned to France.
He took part in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans. In 1936 he met the “logicofobist” painter Remedios Varo in Barcelona, with whom he had a long relationship, marrying her in 1943, when Elsie Houston died.
After the occupation of France by the Nazis he goes to Mexico, where he stays from January 1942 to 1947. In Mexico he meets Natalia Sedova (Trotsky”s widow), in exile in Mexico City (1941-1948). He then returns to Paris to work with Breton in the direction of the Surrealist Movement until his death. He was the only one of the founding Surrealists to remain at Breton”s side until the end. He was buried in the Batignolles cemetery in Paris.
Péret in Brazil: cultural agitator
In early 1929, the year of the publication of the Second Surrealist Manifesto, Péret decides to move to Rio de Janeiro with his wife, the Brazilian Elsie Houston. Together with Elsie, Péret travels throughout Northern and Northeastern Brazil between 1929 and 1931, doing ethnographic research.
On January 21, 1931, together with Mário Pedrosa, Lívio Xavier, and Aristides Lobo, Péret founded the Trotskyist Communist League – (Left Opposition). Péret (who had the codename Mauricio), was one of those in charge of the Agitprop (or agitation and propaganda) Commission. Among his plans as a cultural agitator was the creation of a cinema cooperative, to exhibit revolutionary films, and the production of a pamphlet in “popular language” about the Coup of 1930 (Marques Neto, 1993, p. 179).
Sergio Lima, author of the book A Aventura Surrealista (Editora Vozes) also recalls that the surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, when he came to Brazil, in 1929, was welcomed by an intellectual and political vanguard, linked to the anthropophagic movement and the Trotskyist left, such as Patrícia Galvão – aka Pagu -, Flávio de Carvalho, and Mário Pedrosa. “Pagu and Flavio were guests of Péret in Paris in 1934
Art critic and Trotskyist militant Mário Pedrosa, a founding member of the Communist League (Opposition), was a friend (and later brother-in-law) of Benjamin Péret, whom he met during a long stay in Europe in 1928. In a letter addressed to his friend Lívio Xavier, Pedrosa describes the poet thus