DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957) MEXICAN MURALISM REVOLUTIONARY ART , SOCIALIST REALISM AND STALINISM. A MARXIST PERSPECTIVE BY LAURENCE HUMPHRIES: PART 4.

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This is my final and concluding part of my article on Mexican muralism and Socialist realism. In this part I will be discussing the origin of Socialist realism in the early discussions of Proletarian art which emerged in the 1920’s in the Soviet Union. Both Lenin and Trotsky argued against the theory of proletarian art which emerged in the Prolecult movement in 1920.

Central to these arguments is the contribution of Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky the great Marxist soviet literary critic and a ally of Trotsky in the Left Opposition. I will also be considering the Manifesto towards  a free Revolutionary Art signed by Andre Breton and Diego Rivera. Breton a surrealist poet and member of the French Communist party the PCF was drawn to Trotsky and his criticisms of Stalinism. He and his wife would visit Trotsky in Mexico and become close friends.

Both Breton and Rivera start the Manifesto with an opening sentence on how culture should be developed . it is not the perverted Stalinist model in the Soviet union.

” We recognise  that only the social Revolution can sweep clean the path for the new culture. If however we reject all solidarity with the bureaucracy now in control of the Soviet Union it is precisely because in our eyes it represents not Communism but its most treacherous and dangerous enemy”. [1].

” The opposition of writers and artists is one of the forces which can usefully contribute to the discrediting and overthrow of Regimes which are destroying along with the right of the proletarian to aspire to a better world”. [2].

The manifesto continues to argue for art and culture.

” The communist revolution is not afraid of art. It realises that the role of the artist in a decadent capitalist society is determined by the conflict between the individual and various social forms which are hostile to him”. [3].

” We believe that the supreme task of Art in our epoch is too take part actively and consciously in the preparation of the revolution”. [4].

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Continuing their  discussions of the manifesto the authors explain the great dilemmas of artists who desire freedom to work and are stifled by the repressive autocratic outlook of Stalinism.

” But the artist cannot serve the struggle for freedom unless he subjectively assimilates it social content, unless he feels in his very nerves its meaning and drama and freely seeks to give his own inner world incarnation in his work”. [5].

” In the present period of the death agony of capitalism , the artist seems himself threatened with the loss of his right to live and continue working, he turns to the Stalinist organisations which hold the possibility of escaping from his isolation. He cannot remain there. He must understand that his place is elsewhere not among those who betray the cause of the revolution and mankind but among those who with unshaken fidelity bear witness to the revolution”. [6].

I now come on to discuss the great Soviet critic Voronsky. Voronsky like Trotsky and the Left opposition were involved in the inner party struggle against the bureaucratisation of the Party in 1928.

” During the inner party battles Voronsky developed his literary critical views which coincided on all the principled questions with those held by Trotsky”. [7].

Voronsky like other principled communists were executed by the Stalinist killing machine. Stalinism which reflected capitalism in the young workers state could brook no opposition.

” Unlike many of his close political associates he did not stand trial in the infamous Moscow frame ups  but was shot after appearing for twenty minutes before a troika of the military collegium  of the Supreme Soviet on 13th august 1937″. [8].

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In a major article ‘ Art as the cognition of Life’ Voronsky shows why the creation of proletarian art has serious problems and cannot be realised agreeing with Trotsky and Lenin on the issue.

” People advocate the creation of a new proletarian art and culture in a milieu which never had the opportunity to master the past heritage and which is sometimes instructively hostile to it.to advocate such a policy is untimely and simply harmful”. [9].

” They want to leap directly into the new art, by escaping or circumventing the old. they want to speak , shout and write in a deliberately new way thereby violating the natural continuity of art”. [10].

Giving credit to Trotsky Voronsky brilliantly smashes the arguments of Prolecult and others whose germ was Stalinism and socialist realism. Voronsky’s perception worked out dialectically that this was the path many of the young writers and artists wanted to walk down. They are of course totally innocent of the later perversion of Soviet art.

” Comrade Trotsky was absolutely justified in noting that a great confusion has been introduced into the concept of proletarian culture and art”. [11].

” Hence we are required to draw the general conclusion that only does no proletarian culture exist but that it never will and there is really no reason to regret this”. [12].

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Voronsky continues his polemic against Proletarian art.

” This means that we have no proletarian communist culture and could not have it for the time being. the problem still remains of assimilating the old culture , then we cannot put-so-called Modern proletarian art on the same level as bourgeois and aristocratic art for the latter rests  on centuries of culture something that proletarian culture does not have”. [13].

” In short we have no proletarian art in the sense in which bourgeois art exists. the attempt to present the contemporary art of the writer-proletarian and writer-communists as proletarian art , independent of and opposed to bourgeois is both naïve and based on a misunderstanding”. [14].

Referring to the emergence of the Stalinist clique controlled and led by mainly former emigres of the old regime who were supporting Stalin in his destruction of the best artists in the Soviet Union Voronsky shows the source of this demand for proletarian art.

” Petty political intrigue has been introduced into literature , circles are hastily cobbled together, people are expelled or excommunicated , obscurantism is fostered and such anti-literary atmosphere is created that it is becoming hard for a writer to breathe”[15].

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Although Diego Rivera had shown some agreement with Trotsky on a number of issues he broke with Trotsky in 1939. Trotsky had this to say about Rivera’s break with Trotskyism and his eventual return to Stalinism. It was as if Rivera had learnt nothing from his experiences with Stalinism.

” I spent many months on Diego rivera to save him for our movement but did not succeed . But every International has had experiences of this kind. the First International had troubles with the poet Freilgarth. The second and third Internationals had trouble with Maxim Gorky .the Fourth International with Rivera . In every case they separated from us.”. [16].

A footnote explains the reason for Rivera’s break with Trotskyism.

” He was Trotsky’s host in Mexico at first but Trotsky was forced to break from him publicly in 1939 over the Presidential campaign of 1940 in which Rivera supported the candidacy of a right wing General Juan Andreu Almazin”. [17].

This concludes my article on Diego Rivera ,Mexican Muralism and socialist realism. I have shown that in spite of Rivera’s break with Trotskyism for a period he made a contribution to Revolutionary art . This Marxist analysis shows what Trotsky said in the inner party struggle in the SWP in 1938 ‘you may not recognise the dialectic but the dialectic recognises you’. I have discussed the contribution of the great Marxist literary critic Voronsky and shown that his writings on art were prophetic as Trotsky’s were in identifying the future of Proletarian art which became Stalinist art Socialist realism.

FOOTNOTES

  1. ART AND REVOLUTION WRITINGS ON LITERATURE POLITICS AND CULTURE: MANIFESTO TOWARDS A FREE REVOLUTIONARY ART. LEON TROTSKY( ANDRE BRETON DIEGO REIVERA) PATHFINDER PRESS. PG.125
  2. DITTO.PG.125
  3. DITTO.PG.125
  4. DITTO.PG. 127
  5. DITTO.PG.127
  6. DITTO.PG.127-8
  7. ART AS THE COGNITION OF LIFE SELECTED WRITINGS 1911-1936: ALEXSANDER KONSTANTINOVICH VORONSKY. MEHRING PRESS. FOREWORD XIV
  8. DITTO.FOREWORD XXI
  9. DITTO.PG.152
  10. DITTO.PG.153
  11. DITTO.PG.155
  12. DITTO.PG.155
  13. DITTO.PG.158
  14. DITTO.PG.160
  15. DITTO.PG.165
  16. WRITINGS OF LEON TROTSKY 1939-1940: AMERICAN PROBLEMS AUGUST 7TH 1940: LEON TROTSKY. PATHFINDER PRESS .PG.342
  17. DITTO.FOOTNOTE 227 .PG.449

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4 thoughts on “DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957) MEXICAN MURALISM REVOLUTIONARY ART , SOCIALIST REALISM AND STALINISM. A MARXIST PERSPECTIVE BY LAURENCE HUMPHRIES: PART 4.”

    1. Christian,
      I have heard that as well .the document comes from a collection of essays written by Trotsky in the SWP Publishing House whether it was without Rivera’s agreement is debateable Stalinists from the Mexican Communist Party were causing provocations and launched physical attacks against Trotsky the first one led by his fellow Muralist and a arch Stalinist Siqueiros the 2nd one successful , there would be many Stalinist fellow travellers who would write this to both malign and denigrate Trotsky I’m sure Rivera although he may not have signed it agreed with its sentiments. he was after all a member of a Trotskyist organisation until 1939. Laurence

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      1. I did not say that Rivera was not consulted about signing it, he probably read it before signing it, but I read that he did not participate in writing it. He was no theoretician, while Breton and Trotsky were. My source for the information was a book about Breton.

        Liked by 1 person

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