Tina Modotti a Revolutionary Photographer and Stalinist Agent was born in Udine Italy 1896.Pino Cacucci an Italian journalist has written a very useful account of Modotti’s life concentrating on her political activities as well as her photographic abilities. The Modotti family left Italy and eventually emigrated to America settling in San Francisco where Tina was able to work in the Early Silent Cinema as an actress and a model. While in San Francisco she met and married a fellow actor and Poet Robaux de Richey.
While in the USA she met and became lovers with Edward Weston the great American Photographer. It was from him that she learnt her craft and allowed Weston to take nude photographs of her. She travelled to Mexico City with Weston while still married to Weston. Weston was also married with a son.
Modotti while in Mexico City learnt her craft and observing poverty and the ordinary people she became very politicised . In the late twenties the Mexican Communist Party had been turned into a tool of Stalinism. “Modotti joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1928”.. Mexico City was full of artists and personalities who would influence her. It was in Mexico City that she learnt her craft of Photography and started taking pictures of poorer people and the Peasants in the countryside. Cacucci shows how eventually Modotti would meet some one who would change her life Vidali Vittorio (Carlos Contreras) the major Soviet Agent in Mexico and the planner who orchestrated the assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940. “In 1927 Modotti met the a man who would change her life (Vittorio Vidali) An Agent of the Bolshevik GPU”. .
De Richey by this time put up with Tina’s affairs and he himself a weak man died in Mexico City while composing poems for Modotti.
Modotti became more and more involved in the work of Stalin’s Communist Party in Mexico and under Vidali’s tutelage starting working for the GPU translating and doing secretarial work. She also had affairs with Xavier Guerroo a leading member of the Mexican Communist Party but in 1928 she would meet a young Cuban Communist Julia Antonio Melba who she would fall in love with. Cacucci details how deep this love was with Melba .”Modotti fell deeply in love with Melba and she realised that she had never felt these intense emotions. He loved her with frenetic urgent passion”. . Both Melba and Modotti worked together in the Hands off Nicarguay committee. “Together with Modotti he managed the hands off Nicarguay Committee the organisation supporting Augusto Cesare Sandino’s fight against Us Occupation”. .
Mella was not your ordinary Stalinist like some in the Mexico Communist Party , as a young militant from Cuba Cacucci shows that he had revolutionary credentials ” Mella was impressed by Lenin and fervently pored over the few Writings that he had managed to obtain, but he was also fascinated with the commander of the Red Army who had guided his men into battle in an armoured Train:Lev Davidovitch Bronstein better known as Trotsky”. . “In 1925 he along with Carlos Palino organised the constituted congress of the Cuban Communist Party”. .
By now Modotti had finished her affair with Edward Weston and was living with Mella. Mella shared some of Andres Nin’s criticisms of Stalin and adopted a leftist position although he never openly sided with Trotsky and the Left Opposition. “At the 4th international Congress of the Syndicalist Organisation Mella met Spanish Communist Andres Nin who explained to him the theory of Left Opposition”..
Nin would be murdered by the GPU in Spain. Vidali was the executioner together with a number of other GPU assassins . In 1929 Modotti and Mella were out walking together when Melba was gunned down by unknown assassins , Modotti was devastated and the Mexican Police for a time accused Modotti of the murder and was arrested for a few days. That was the end of Modotti’s revolutionary Zeal from now on she would be a loyal Party Hack following every twist and turn of Stalin’s GPU.
“Mella’s death marked the point of no return for Modotti. the Party is always right was the anaesthetic that enabled her to overcome her uneasiness The answer to all uncertainties”. .
She still wrote to Weston and told him that in 1930 she was deported from Mexico city. She comments in a letter to him “I suppose by now you know what has happened to me .That I have been in Jail for 13 days and then expelled”..
Cacucci tells the state of Modotti at this time.”Modotti was 34 years old had lost all contact with the photographic world , relying on the support of the Communist International was now essential. The price would be the rejection of any doubts or uncertainties any distinction between comrades who erred and Traitors”. .
Modotti and Vidali returned to Moscow and Caccuci shows how indifferent Modotti is to the situation and her role as a Loyal Stalinist agent. ” Modotti continued to participate in all executive committee meetings. She refused to get involved in the controversies about Trotskyism and Bukharism. she was asked if she was in complete agreement with the Party line. She responded with a simple Yes”..
This was the period of the purges in Moscow , the Trials , the Killings of anyone who disagreed with Stalin and his Henchmen. Modotti just followed and carried out orders.
Stalin was extremely worried about the situation in Spain. The revolutionary upheavals by Anarchists and Trotskyists meant that Stalin’s influence was waning on the world stage. He was determined to eliminate anyone who stood in his way .That meant eliminating all opposition including Trotskyists and anarchists.
Modotti and Vidali travelled to Spain to do work for the GPU. Another commentator has spoken of Modotti’s role in Spain.” Blinded by tyrannical self-discipline desperation to win the war and belief in the value of correct Ideology the woman who braved hails of Gunfire to save children’s lives sacrificed Alberto Beschouhet for what she believed to be the good cause”. .
Although Modotti never physically murdered anyone there is evidence that she colluded with Vidali to trap and murder honest Revolutionary fighters who in the end were murdered because they did not carry out the wishes of Commissar Stalin.
Her relationship with Vidali deteriotated and she returned to Mexico City after pleas to be let back in people who were friendly to the Mexican Government were able to arrange for Modotti to live out her Life in Mexico. Modotti was in Mexico City when Leon Trotsky was murdered by a Stalinist Agent Mercader. There is no evidence to link Modotti with the crime. In conversation with Jose Hernadenez she said referring to Vidali in connection with Trotsky’s murder “He is just a murderer and he dragged me into a monstrous crime .I hate him with all my heart and nevertheless I am forced to follow him until the end”..
Modotti returned to her Photography and she died in strange circumstances in Mexico City in 1942.
Cacucci has written a very useful Biography which portrays Modotti both as a Photographer but as a GPU agent who in the end deserted her ideals of Revolutionary fervour when she had joined the Communist Party in 1927.
1) CACUCCI. P. TINA MODOTTI A LIFE. PG.51.
2) DITTO PG 5.
3) DITTO PG.64
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5) DITTO. PG.68.
6) DITTO. PG. 76.
7) DITTO. PG. 102.
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9) DITTO. PG.120.
10) DITTO. PG.122.
11) SHADOW FIRE SNOW, THE LIFE OF TINA MODOTTI PATRICIA ALBERS. PG. 304.
12) TINA MODOTTI-A LIFE-PINO CACUCCI.PG. 204.