Communist Party USA
“I still call myself a Communist, because Communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.” — Pete Seeger, The New York Times Magazine, 1995 Many artists have called themselves communist or have been members of communist parties around the world. One would think that with artists like Pablo Picasso, Dashiell Hammett, and Jean-Luc Godard, communism would receive some kind of recognition for its artistic contributions. These three alone are giants in their respective fields. So, where is the praise for Communist artists? I imagine it remains locked up in a vault somewhere alongside the Islamic Golden Age — that fertile period in world history when artists and thinkers in Baghdad and Muslim Spain made monumental contributions to the arts and sciences, contributions that, for political reasons, remain unknown to many Westerners. Those who adhere to right-wing politics are not inclined to give due respect to the contributors of the Islamic Golden Age (mostly Brown and Black people) for their groundbreaking work in astronomy and mathematics. I’m sure they feel the same way when it comes to giving Communist artists their proper due. Revolutionary artists Many communist artists are household names. Spanish master Pablo Picasso is one of the movement’s greatest artists, having cofounded the Cubist movement, co-invented the collage, and created some of the most influential works of art in modern art history. His 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon resulted in Picasso eclipsing Henri Matisse to become the leading figure in modern art. Art critic Peter Plagens, in a 2007 Newsweek article, called it “the most important work of art of the last 100 years.” Picasso’s Guernica (1937), which is one of the artist’s best-known works, is regarded by many art critics as the most powerful anti-war painting in history. In the words of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Alejandro Escalona, “Guernica is to painting what Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is to music.” Picasso, who had joined the French Communist Party in 1944 and remained a loyal member of the Party until his death, was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. Picasso dominated Western art in the 20th century, but he wasn’t the only Communist painter from that century who had an immense impact on the art world. In Mexico, two giants emerged and carved out their own place in art history. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are not only two of Mexico’s most revered artists, but they’re also two of the most important artists to ever come out of Latin America. Assuming for a moment that Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí are “Hispanic” and not white Europeans (Spaniards), as I consider them to be, Rivera and Kahlo would rank alongside those masters as the greatest Latino/a artists the world has ever known. In the 1920s, both Rivera and Kahlo had joined the Mexican Communist Party, through which they met and later married. (Rivera was later expelled from the Party for being a “Trotsky sympathizer,” and though he was indeed a Trotskyist, he remained a devoted Communist throughout his life.) Along with David Alfaro Siqueiros, also a Communist, Rivera is among the most celebrated Mexican muralists of the 20th century. He was an idealist who, through his art, created a mythology around the Mexican Revolution and promoted Mexico’s indigenous past, while simultaneously advocating Marxist beliefs. Rivera could turn his hand to any style, from Cubism to Post-Impressionism, and he was responsible for the revival of fresco painting in Latin America. Since his death, the Mexican government has declared Rivera’s works as “monumentos historicos,” and in 2018, his…
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O Communist, where art thou?