Introduction        Technology        Mexico     

During the 1920s and early 1930s, the left in the U.S. benefited from the international attention given to Russia and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. In fact, liberals all over the world celebrated what they considered to be a victory for workers in global politics. Despite this new advantage and a role in national politics, the left in the U.S. did not grow as quickly as many intellectuals predicted that it would, especially considering the mistrust of government after the Depression and the failed veterans march in Washington. Within the leftist community, intellectuals debated how they could reach more Americans. Writers, like Edmund Wilson called for artists who would "confront daily life".

Rivera's arrival in the U.S. was considered an opportunity to bring the left's debate regarding technology and the future of American culture to the public walls. The left's use of technology to support liberal ideas was an international phenomenon, unique to the interwar years. Many marxists celebrated the efficiency and collectivity of the assembly line. Machines were viewed as an equalizer, allowing weaker citizens to produce as much as stronger citizens. When the leftist publication, New Masses, conducted a poll regarding technology in 1927, they asked artists for their opinions of American culture and their attitudes toward the machine. Most of the respondents advised other writers to accept the machine, and believed that they would become better artists because of the machine.

In Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics, and San Francisco's Public Murals , author and art historian, Anthony Lee, argues that "Rivera's arrival in the city [San Francisco] marked the beginnings of a debate about the complex relationship between murals, the left, and the public." Rivera was obviously not the first artist in the United States to paint workers. According to Richard Guy Wilson, author of The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941, "for the left wing in the 1930s, the anonymous, muscular, proletariat workers came to the fore, especially in painting and sculpture." However his politics, fame, and Mexicanness made his role within the debate unique.

 During this period many Americans became interested in American culture, and what, if any, alternatives existed. This interest was fueled by the fear that true American culture had been overshadowed by consumption and technology. In the 1930s, when considering creating a picture book about what he disliked about America, FSA photographer Walker Evans stated:


Illustrated by Diego Rivera, published in 1931, Stuart Chase's popular book, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas, includes his analysis of Robert Redfield's Tepoztlan and Robert and Helen Lynd's Middletown, "for a serious study in comparative civilizations". The popularity of Chase's book, as well as the large number of books on cultural studies published during this period, supports Susman's argument that the nation was in the midst of a "cultural crisis".

Following are quotes and images from Chase's book:

"What do these people want? Only to be left alone? What has a roving American, watching a soaring zopilote, to learn from them; aye, what has America itself to learn from them, and what has it to give to them? And why, in the face of the timeless pyramid, should we arrogate to ourselves the name "America" at all?" (7)

"Middletown is essentially practical, Tepoztlan essentially mystical in mental processes. Yet in coming to terms with one's environment, Tepoztlan has exhibited, I think, the superior common sense. Middletown has its due quota of neurotic and mentally unbalanced individuals. In Tepoztlan a Freudian complex is unthinkable."(17)

"In the United States today, the bankruptcy of the farmer is on every tongue. How shall he be saved? Many of the most conservative statesmen and bankers, as well as informed economists, are agreed that co-operative societies furnish the only solution. Very good. But American farmers by and large find it exceedingly difficult to co-operate. They have been steeped in the tradition of every man for himself."(119)

"I cannot conceive Mexico without the fiesta and the spirit it engenders. Once I was caught in a gold mine by a sudden flood of water, long pent up... After many weeks of hard and dangerous work the water had been tapped and led harmlessly away. The victory demanded immediate celebration. Could you dupplicate the scene-- and the spirit-- in West Virginia or Cornwall?" (199)

"In my time I have criticized play in the machine age with some severity. I have said that it was over-commercialized, mechanized, standardized; that it tended to compound the strains and stresses set up by monotonous factory work; that there was too much sitting, watching, listening, rather than first-hand participation. I have cited the movies, the radio, the stadium complex, the funny papers, the motor car. How does the major form of recreation among machineless men differ in spirit; is it, when all is said and done, any more rewarding? Do Oaxaca and Tepoztlan really have more fun than Middletown? I think they do. They take their fun as they take their food, part and parcel of their organic life. They are not driven to play by boredom... The fiesta is the spirit of play released on a vast and authentic scale. The body receives very little exercise in the form of sport... But we must remember that Indians are almost never fat. As the full significance of this observation dawns, we realize that we are dealing with a population that never has time to sit down long enough to take on weight." (205)