“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
…and Frida’s reality was a lifetime of extreme physical pain and tortuous suffering, punctuated with a tempestuous emotional turbulence.
Artist Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the daughter of Hungarian Jewish father and indigenous Mexican mother. She grew up in Mexico City at a time when Mexicans were beginning to take great pride in their native culture and traditions. Frida was proud of her pre-Columbian heritage and wore local costume, including long embroidered skirts in bright colours, big silver earrings, flowers, and jewellery from the folk tradition. Her distinctive look gave her a brand, yet averted attention from her tiny, weak, disabled body. (more…)
I have been been reading lately about Jack Abrams. His basic life story is told by Nick Heath at Libcom, and he is a minor character in The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta Anarchist and Labor Organizer by Elaine Leeder. He was born in Russia in 1883, went to America in 1906, worked (like many key anarchist activists of the period) as a bookbinder, became a trade union militant and anarcho-syndicalist. With about a group which included his partner Mary Abrams and Mollie Steimer, he edited the underground newspaper Frayhayt (Freedom), from an apartment at 5 East 104th Street in East Harlem. The most dramatic and well-known part of his story came in 1918, as told here by Nick Heath:
He was the author of two leaflets calling for a general strike against the US intervention of spring –summer 1918 against the Russian Revolution. These called for a social revolution in the United States. The paper was folded up tightly and posted in mailboxes around New York and the leaflets each had a print run of 5,000. The federal and local authorities began to be on the lookout for the authors of this propaganda. He was arrested on the 24th August 1918 along with Jacob Schwartz. The two were beaten with fists and blackjacks on the way to the police station. There further beatings were dished out. The arrest of the Frayhayt group signaled the start of massive repression of the anarchist movement in the United States. The Abrams case as it became known was a was a landmark in the suppression of civil liberties in the USA. Schwartz died in October due to the severe beatings he had received, although the authorities put it down to Spanish influenza…
On October 25th 1918 Jack , together with Sam Lipman and Hyman Lachowsky, was sentenced to 20 years hard labor and fined $ 1000 on charges of “anti-American activities.”, whilst Mollie Steimer received fifteen years and a $500 fine… In mid-1919 was filed an appeal, and in the meantime Jack and the others were released.
Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas was one of the people active in the campaign that led to this release. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but was notable for the dissenting opinion of Oliver Wendell Holmes (joined by Louis Brandeis):
we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threatened immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.
The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. “That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.
Anyway, the group tried to escape to Mexico but got waylaid and some went to Russia, where (ironically, considering the defence of the revolution had got them locked up) they witnessed the deepening repression of the Bolshevik state, and before long were deported from there too. Eventually, in 1926, Mary and Jack Abrams wound up in Mexico, in Cuernavaca, not far from Mexico City, where he joined a group of Spanish anarchist exiles, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom).
Steimer’s route to Mexico was even more complex, also via Russia, where she was imprisoned by the GPU (forerunner of the KGB), to Berlin, from which she fled when Hitler came to power, to France, where she was again interned in Camp Gurs as a German. (She must have been there, May-June 1940, at the same time as Hannah Arendt. I wonder if they met?) Then to Vichy – according to Wikipedia “Steimer was aided principally by May Picqueray (1893-1983), the militant anarchist editor of Le Refractaire, who had previously assisted the couple by protesting their imprisonment in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1923.”
And here’s Fleshin at his trade:
They retired to Cuernavaca in 1963.
My first remembrance of the many visits we made to Mexico City is from 1945, when I was nine. As others were gathering in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II, we saw the giant parade that wound through downtown Mexico City. Abrams took me to the major sites and to children’s films, willingly spending hours with me while my parents went off to experience Mexico’s revolutionary culture. In a later visit, either 1949 or 1950, Abrams, who had learned from my parents that I had already begun to circulate in the orbit of New York’s young Communist movement, did his best to warn me about the ethics and true nature of Stalin’s regime.
As we all walked through the streets of beautiful Cuernavaca (now a famous tourist resort), my parents spotted the painter David Alfaro Siqueras, one of the founders of the Mexican muralist school. The famed artist approached Abrams to say hello, and much to my shock, Abrams refused to shake his hand and exchange greetings. “I don’t talk to murderers,” he shouted at Siqueras, and turned and walked away. When he had calmed down, Abrams told me about Siqueras’s role in the attempted murder of Leon Trotsky at his estate in the Coyocan suburb of Mexico City, when the painter led a group of machine-gun-toting raiders in a failed effort to kill the exiled Bolshevik.
Abrams often socialized and became friends with other exiles, despite occasionally severe political differences. He was a regular guest at Trotsky’s walled-in compound, where the two played chess and argued about Bolshevism. After his death, Trotsky’s widow presented Abrams a set of Trotsky’s favorite Mexican-made dishware as a remembrance of their solidarity and friendship—a gift which Abrams later passed on to my parents. Often in later years, I would serve cake to my Stalinist friends on these plates, and after they admired the beauty of the design and craftsmanship, I would tell them whose dishes they were eating from, and watch them turn pale.
Abrams also befriended the great painter Diego Rivera, who spent his years moving from Bolshevism to Trotskyism and back to official Soviet Communism. Despite these twists and turns, and probably because at critical moments Rivera had opposed Stalin, Abrams maintained the relationship. Once, he took me to meet the artist and watch him paint the murals—some of the last he was to create—in the Del Prado Hotel in the main part of the city. In later years, the hotel would cover the murals with curtains because of embarrassment about their anti-Catholic and revolutionary themes. Rivera gave Abrams some of his paintings, one of which Abrams gave to my parents. My mother kept it in her New York City apartment.
Further reading: Abrams, Jack. J. Aybrams-bukh dos lebn un shafn fun an eygnartike perzenlikhkayt. [Jack Abrams Book, The Life And Works Of A Peculiar Personality] Mexico City: Centro Cultural Israelita de Mexico, 1956. 329pp [via YAB] If anyone has this, and wants to write a guest post based on it, please get in touch!
Harry Dean Stanton
“Harry Dean Stanton and his band perform “Cancion Mixteca” (“Paris, Texas“) @ Philip Dane’s Cigar Lounge, Beverly Hills. This clip appeared in the episode titled “The Roots of Everything” (History of the Blues) of the ABC series “Access All Areas” and went to air April 6, 1997.”
“The CECAM marching band is used in “Cancion Mixteca”, which thematically covers the Mixtec mythical character of the Sun Archer and the constant migration of the Mixtec people.”
Rebekah del Rio: Llorando (Crying)
Lila Downs: La Sanduga
Amparanoia: Dolor, dolor
Los Hermanos Zaizar: La muerte de Zapata [corrido]
Antonio Aguilar: Corrido De General Zapata
Flaco Jimenez: Viva Seguin
If our generation happens to be too weak to establish socialism over the earth, we will hand the spotless banner down to our children. The struggle which is in the offing transcends by far the importance of individuals, factions, and parties. It is the struggle for the future of all mankind. It will be severe. It will be lengthy. Whoever seeks physical comfort and spiritual calm, let him step aside. In time of reaction it is more convenient to lean on the bureaucracy than on the truth. But all those for whom the word socialism is not a hollow sound but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats, nor persecutions, nor violations can stop us! Be it even over our bleaching bones, the truth will triumph! We will blaze the trail for it. It will conquer! Under all the severe blows of fate, I shall be happy, as in the best days of my youth! Because, my friends, the highest human happiness is not the exploitation of the present but the preparation of the future. – Leon Trotsky “I stake my life” 1937 (to the Dewey Commission – see video below)
George Orwell noted this in his diary on the 22nd:
The Beaverbrook press, compared with the headlines I saw on other papers, seems to be playing down the suggestion that Trotsky’s murder was carried out by the G.P.U. In fact today’s Evening Standard, with several separate items about Trotsky, didn’t mention this suggestion. No doubt they still have their eye on Russia and want to placate the Russians at all costs, in spite of Low’s cartoons. But under this there may lie a much subtler manoeuvre. The men responsible for the Standard’s present pro-Russian policy are no doubt shrewd enough to know that a Popular Front “line” is not really the way to secure a Russian alliance. But they also know that the mass of leftish opinion in England still takes it for granted that a full anti-fascist policy is the way to line up Russia on our side. To crack up Russia is therefore a way of pushing public opinion leftward. It is curious that I always attribute these devious motives to other people, being anything but cunning myself and finding it hard to use indirect methods even when I see the need for them.
Rustbelt Radical published one of Trotsky’s most moving pieces of writing, “It was they who killed him“, his obituary for his son Leon Sedov, murdered by the GPU in late 1938.
Also read: Daisy Valera: Trotsky as taught in Castro’s Cuba; Robert S Wistrich: Trotsky’s Jewish question; Liam Mac on Russia TV; Permanent Revolution: on the assassination; Alex Snowdon: The Lessons of Trotsky; Ted Sprague: another assassination attempt; Libertarian communist criticisms of Trotsky; CultureWares: the icon’s aftermath (from which most this post’s images are stolen, in an act of proletarian expropriation, apart from the one of the stamp, which is from here).
From the Daily Bleed.
Typographer. He fled to Argentina in 1923 to escape Italian Fascism, where he joined the Anarchist Circle (Renzo Novatore) in Buenos Aires & printed & published the review “Culmine”.
He organizes a demonstration for the release of Sacco & Vanzetti, but when they are executed on August 23, 1927, Di Giovanni turns to violent actions with the Scarfo brothers (Alejandro & Paulino); many bombs are set off, especially aimed at North American interests. For example, on December 25, 1927, the National City Bank was bombed, & on May 3, 1928, the Italian consulate.
This spiral of violence is condemned by the anarchists of FORA (Fédération Ouvrière Régionale Argentine) & “La Protesta.” See Osvaldo Bayer, Severino Di Giovanni, the idealist of violencia (1970).
1935 — Canada: Emma Goldman‘s four lectures in Yiddish this month continue to be her most successful in Montreal, drawing an audience of 200 when Emma speaks on “the element of sex in unmarried people” today, & raising money for the first time in Montreal when she speaks again to the women’s branch of the Arbeiter Ring on Feb. 17.
During the month Emma decides to return to France in the spring after receiving further discouraging reports from friends who have met with Labor Department officials in Washington, D.C., about chances for readmission into the Land of Freedom.
As other possibilities close, she looks increasingly to her proposed book venture as a means of support; she also pursues the idea of a sustaining fund as she inquires about receiving an advance from a publisher.
Source: Emma Goldman Papers
1936 — México: Workers strike the Vidreria Monterrey.
Kingsolver doesn’t appear to suffer from writer’s block and she certainly hasn’t been twiddling her thumbs. Her understanding of Mexico and Spanish in The Lacuna are exemplary, and she must have researched deeply into the lives of Kahlo, Rivera, and Leon “Lev” Trotsky during the time he was one of Kahlo’s lovers. She doesn’t distort them into flawless heroes. They’re iconic figures, but portrayed warts and all: love affairs and self-obsession and revolutionary contradictions on all sides.
From The Daily Bleed:
1864 — Spain: Juan (also spelled Joan) Montseny (aka Federico Urales) lives (1864-1942), Reus, Catalonia. Teacher, novelist, publisher, anarchist militant, companion of Teresa Mañé (Soledad Gustavo) & father of Federica Montseny. [Details / context]
1877 — Algeria: Pierre Jules Ruff lives (1877-1942), Algiers. Militant anarchist & antimilitarist. Arrested & perished in a Nazi concentration camp.
[Details / context]
1888 — Spain: In Seville, Ricardo Mella republishes the newspaper “Solidaridad” which is, as Max Nettlau characterizes it, one of the last ramparts of anarcho-collectivism in Spain. On January 12, 1889 it publishes his article, “La Anarquía no admite adjetivos” (Anarchy needs no adjectives). [Source: L’Ephéméride Anarchiste] http://www.hetera.org/mella.html
In 1906 she began a series of essays with the title “Alle Donne, Emancipiamoci!” (To the Women: Let’s Emancipate Ourselves!) See Jennifer Guglielmo’s article, archived at the Stan Iverson Memorial Library, Donne Sovversive: The History of Italian-American Women’s Radicalism /library/DonneSovversive.htm
1909 — Jerzy Andrzejewski lives. Polish novelist, short-story writer, & political dissident.
Portrayed in Czeslaw Milosz’s Captive Mind (1953), which revealed the problems of intellectuals living under Stalinism.
In the 1950s & ’60s Andrzejewski moved towards more or less open criticism of the government, starting from the novel The Inquisitors (tr. 1960). His ambiguities of style & thought eluded simplistic interpretation & several of his works went unpublished. In 1979 he helped found the workers’ defence committee (KOR) to aid families of striking workers, who were jailed or dismissed from their jobs.
1909 — First edition of The Little Red Songbook published.
1911 — Mexico: Huerta’s troops battle the anarchist Zapatistas, El Texcal & Tetillas.
1920 — Russia: Start of peasant insurrection in Tambov; Bolsheviks unable to suppress the revolt until May 1921. Similar problems had arisen in 1917, when peasants seized land from the gentry, reaching the level of near insurrection in Tambov.
1936 — USSR: Purge Trials begin, “Darkness at Noon”. August 19-25, Trial of the Sixteen in Moscow. Convicted of high treason in the first of the Moscow show trials, the old Bolsheviks Kamenev & Zinoviev (former pals of Stalin & Trotsky) are executed. Smirnov executed. Radek placed under arrest.
1936 — Federico García Lorca dies. Andalusian poet/dramatist/artist. Murdered by Franco’s fascists. Accused of subversive activity, however evidence today suggests that it was a hate crime in response to his homosexuality. His writings remained censored until Franco died in 1975. Despite this, Lorca became one of the most widely read writers in the world.
Gacela of the Dark Death
- I want to sleep the dream of the apples,
- to withdraw from the tumult of cemeteries,
- I want to sleep the dream of that child
- who wanted to cut his heart on the high seas.
- I don't want to hear again that the dead do not lose their blood,
- that the putrid mouth goes on asking for water.
- I don't want to learn of the tortures of the grass,
- nor of the moon with a serpent's mouth
- that labors before dawn.
- I want to sleep awhile,
- awhile, a minute, a century;
- but all must know that i have not died;
- that there is a stable of gold in my lips;
- that i am the small friend of the West wing;
- that i am the intense shadow of my tears.
- Cover me at dawn with a veil.
- because dawn will throw fistfuls of ants at me.
- and wet with hard water my shoes
- so that the pincers of the scorpion slide.
- For i want to sleep the dream of the apples,
- to learn a lament that will cleanse me of the earth;
- for i want to live with that dark child
- who wanted to cut his heart on the high seas.
1936 — Spain: Camillo Berneri, after organizing an Italian anarchist column within the Francisco Ascaso Column in the Pedralbes barracks (renamed “Bakunin”), with Angeloni & de Santillán (from the CNT-FAI), leaves Barcelona for the Aragonese front.
Berneri landed in Catalonia on July 25 with a cargo of rifles & ammunition. Berneri hosted a rally before 100,000 people in Plaza de los Toros in Barcelona before departing for the front. His unit engages the attacking Nationalist army on the 23rd of this month & drove them back. Because of problems with his vision & hearing, Berneri was sent back to Barcelona. There he worked to warn people about the important implications of the imminent fascist landings in the Balearic Isles, did propaganda work, attacked the Madrid government for its politics of compromise which were damaging Catalan autonomy, & criticized the ambiguous behaviour of the French & English governments. He wrote for ‘Guerra di Classe’, & often visited the ‘Amigos de Durruti ‘ (Friends of Durutti) before Communist agents murdered him in 1937.
2000 — Luce Fabbri, (1908-2000) dies. A life-long anarchist thinker, writer & activist.
Luce died of a heart attack in Montevideo, Uruguay at the age of 92. She wrote many books, including biographies of her father, the famed Italian anarchist Luigi Fabbri, Elisée Reclus, & Machiavelli. She lectured widely & produced numerous books on anarchism, as well as collections of poetry (La poesìa de Leopardi (1971)). Wrote Influenza della letteratura italiana sulla cultura rioplatense (two volumesHer latest book was La Libertad entre la Historia y la Utopia: Tres Ensayos y Otros Textos del Siglo XX (Freedom in History & Utopia; Three Essays & Other Texts of the 20th Century [REA, 1998, 145 pages]). Her life will be documented in a forthcoming biography by Margareth Rago.
- Molly’sBlog 2010-09-13 17:24:00 (mollymew.blogspot.com)
- Tom Wetzel and the Trotskyists (revolutionbythebook.akpress.org)
- September’s Backlist Sale! (revolutionbythebook.akpress.org)
- We Have a Choice!! (annarky1.wordpress.com)
- What is anarcho-syndicalism: revolutionary unionism (propertyistheft.wordpress.com)
- anarchist notes (september 3, 2010) (slackbastard.anarchobase.com)
At the bottom of the post, below the fold, book notes and the archive of struggle.
On this day in 1900, in Mexico, Regeneración: Periódico Jurídico Independiente was founded by Jesús Flores Magón, Antonio Horcasitas, and Ricardo Flores Magón. This was a key event in Mexican anarchism and in starting the Mexican revolution. Read more here, here and here.
On this day in 1927, there were global demonstrations against the execution in the US of the Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. In Paris, 200,000 supporters marched. More on Sacco and Venzetti from the People’s Informative.
Continue reading for reviews of books on Mandel, Silone, Orwell and Berlin and for archival material on Brinton, James, Dunayevskaya and others.
Nigel Anthony reads from Bertrand M Patenaude’s account of the exile and subsequent assassination of Leon Trotsky, who was outmanoeuvred by his great rival, Josef Stalin.
A carpy review in The Oxonian made me want to read the book more:
The dustbunnies that Patenaude brings to light range the gamut, from real bunnies—Trotsky kept them on his Mexican patio as pets and tended to them just before his murder—to oral sex, a frank discussion of which appears in a letter that Trotsky wrote to his wife Natalia during the liaison with Frida. Why Patenaude believes that readers want to know about Trotsky’s erections, or rather lack thereof, is anyone’s guess. But blinded by the temptations of salaciousness, Patenaude forges ahead into the biographical depths, right down to the revolutionary’s anus: apparently, certain species of Mexican bacteria aggravated Trotsky’s colon, which was already irritated by colitis.
The book’s effusive details, some fascinating and others wholly unnecessary, hardly end there. For example, we learn that Trotsky briefly lived in the Bronx before returning to launch the revolution in 1917; the surrealist André Breton offended Trotsky by stealing Mexican figurines from a church the two visited together; the writer Saul Bellow sat in the hospital waiting room as Trotsky died; and the artist Diego Rivera—Frida’s husband and the guarantor of the old man’s asylum in Mexico—first appeared on Trotsky’s radar when he inserted Lenin’s face into a mural he painted at Radio City Music Hall. Ramon Mercader, the Spanish-born NKVD agent who infiltrated Trotsky’s inner circle and killed him, apparently worked as a chef at the Ritz in Barcelona.
Robert Capa’s “Mexican” Suitcase. photo © Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Gerda Taro, Air Raid Victim in the Morgue, Valencia, 1937.
- Images above from a post on Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour (Chim) at Venetian Red: highly recommended.
- Review of Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years. ( “Yet another blow struck against Stalinist despotism and for the recovery of an authentic socialist tradition from the ‘midnight in the century’ of totalitarianism. This project is part of what Vasily Grossman called the ‘radiant dossier’ that would emerge from the debris of NKVD archives that one day would be opened.” )
- E. San Juan Jr on Bertolt Brecht on the Spanish Civil War and the Philippine Revolution.
- Sklyansky on Robert Service’s new biography of Trotsky.
- Mayakovsky’s Suicide, by Leon Trotsky, at Rustbelt Radical.
- Intense light on a forgotten war: Ian Gibson’s introduction to David Baird’s Between Two Fires, on the Andalusian anti-Franco partisans.
- Of cars, footballers, fascists and rockers: a wonderful post on Barcelona. Film fragments from 1900 to now, including the July ’36 revolution, la Rumba Catalana and Manu Chao.
- Remember the Christmas of 1946: bizarre Stalinist marginalia.
- James Connolly as hero, at Rustbelt Radical. Great Irish folk music YouTubes at the end.
- Rosie Bell on the anatomy of a song.
- Yet again: Ron Radosh on Pete Seeger, continued.
- Subversive Historian: Grapes of Wrath, Argentina’s May Day massacre 1909, Ludlow Massacre, the Limerick Soviet, Zapata’s assassination, Kronstadt.
- Some Readings on Workers Councils, Militancy, and Generalized Self-Management (Pannekoek, Cajo Brendel, Benjamin Peret, Marcelo Vieta, etc)
- Stroppyblog: 1931 again?
- Ellen Wilkinson: a great MP.
- And, for all the old hacks, Kevin Higgins sums up the mood.
- The woman who captured Robert Capa’s heart (independent.co.uk)
- Dalí, Richter and Houdini in Chains! (nytimes.com)
- The Trotsky Conundrum (3quarksdaily.com)
- Frida: raises an eyebrow | Reel History (guardian.co.uk)
- Album: Lila Downs, Y la Misteriosa en Paris – Live (World Village) (independent.co.uk)