Photograph by Tina Modotti


The sketches of workers were made by Diego Rivera for the DIA
When Rivera received his first mural commissions in the United States, many people objected because he was a well-known communist. Both Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, were part of a large community of artists who sympathized with the workers, and respected the accomplishments of the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, Trotsky and other revolutionary leaders often stayed with Rivera and Kahlo when visiting Mexico. Despite his work in support of communism, Rivera had a complex relationship with the Mexican Communist Party and was often snubbed by more "radical" members. Because he received so many commissions (far more than well-known radical Mexican muralist Alfonso Siquieros), many radicals argued that Rivera supported capitalism, at the expense of workers. The truth seemed to be somewhere in the middle. Rivera desperately wanted to be a part of the communist party and did in fact firmly believe in supporting the rights of workers. However he was not as willing as other leftists (including his wife, Kahlo) to dismiss people based on their class. Another complication to his relationship with communism, was his admiration for technology. Karl Marx stated "Machine technology is instrumental in creating alienated labor." Although a growing number of leftists believed that technology could be beneficial to workers, the majority of liberals were skeptical of the potential for technology to improve the lives of workers.

Despite the debate over machines, Rivera's liberal political beliefs were common. In fact, workers movements flourished all over the world and many intellectuals hoped that this political activism, spurred on by financial troubles, would transform modern societies and finally increase the power of the workers. Contrary to what many intellectuals anticipated, in many countries, repressive regimes developed during this period because of the fears resulting from failing economies.

In the United States, businesses fought back by launching massive advertising campaigns to transform their public images. The public was torn between images of the idealized past pushed by the left and widespread media campaigns in support of technology and science as the salvation.

Despite efforts by businessmen, during the twenties, labor organizations grew and mobilized to protect workers rights. However during the Depression, labor unions, and other organizations associated with leftist political movements, lost power because of the scarcity of work and the growing fear of authoritarian systems of government (i.e. facism and communism).

Intellectuals still sympathesized with the new working class hero but the vision for a large scale socialist movement was never realized in the United States. Instead, artists moved to countries where they could observe "primitive" cultures that did not face the challenges of modernity. Mexico was one of the countries that Americans studied to understand the impact of technology and "progress" on culture.

The photographs on this page were taken by Tina Modotti. Modotti and her husband, fellow photographer Edward Weston, were part of the community of American artists who were strongly influenced by Mexico. The image on the top is a modified version of a Modotti photograph.                Tina Modotti