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Frida Kahlo's Socialism

Tags Media and CulturePolitical Theory

12/10/2002Clifford F. Thies

Is it mere coincidence that the movie "Frida" stars and is co-produced by Hayek (Salma, that is)?

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter of the early to mid 20th century, renowned for her self-portraits. She and her on again, off again husband, Diego Rivera, himself a great muralist, were famous for their avante-garde lives and for their romance with communism.

Yet, Hayek (Friedrich, that is) was one of the foremost critics of socialism during the mid to late 20th century. His most popular work in this regard being The Road to Serfdom, published just after WWII.  Hayek and his teacher, Ludwig von Mises, were perhaps the two greatest intellectual critics of socialism of their time.  They opposed socialism not merely because it doesn't "deliver the goods," but because it is inhuman.

The movie spans the life of Frida, from her schoolgirl days to her death.  It shows her to be impulsive, a bit rebellious, and intellectually drawn to radical ideas.  As a young person in Mexico back then, this inevitably meant being drawn to socialism, not simply as an economic system, but as an alternative to marriage, the church, and the entire social structure.

Nevertheless, Frida wanted the very things against which she rebelled:  a family, children, and a husband with whom she could share her life and talents.  Her life was a struggle of pain—both physical and emotional, with moments of pleasure.  Her art gives expression to her struggle.

How could anybody who loves his country be a socialist? How could anybody who craves intimacy be a socialist? How could any woman who yearns for the joy of motherhood be a socialist?

Socialism is "international."  It denies the history, traditions, and cultures of nations, and promotes rational detachment of individuals from the pasts that shaped them.  Yet, this is completely impossible, and any real-world manifestation of socialism has had to accommodate itself to the reality that people love their country.

Frida's "Mexican-ness" radiates from her art, and is wonderfully captured in the movie.  The Mexican-ness of her art is a big reason she is, nowadays, loved throughout the world.

The West, as distinct from socialism, enjoys all of the life-affirming histories, traditions and cultures of mankind, and is authentically multicultural. In contrast, the left's version of multiculturalism is merely that it is anti-Western.

As Mexico has opened itself up, culturally as well as economically, the West (and, in particular, the United States) has become increasing Mexican and Hispanic.  Indeed, the liberal, democratic capitalist system formerly associated with north-central Europe (and its off-shoots), is today increasingly associated also with the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.  In Germany, to illustrate, the liberal, democratic capitalistic system is more associated with Catholic Bavaria, than with the Protestant and secularized Landers to the north and east.

Socialism cares about "the masses," not individuals. People, not persons. Yet intimacy requires a certain exclusiveness in human relations. Most especially, intimacy involves marriage.

Socialists have always denigrated marriage, and have always devised alternative arrangements to "free" women from men (or, is it the other way around?).  In the movie, at the (first) marriage of Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera, one of their comrades attempts to explain why their marriage is to be celebrated. The politicalization even of marriage is so socialistic!

On the subject of intimacy, Diego Rivera is shown to be the true socialist.  For him, sexual intercourse is like a warm handshake.  He does not hesitate to use his charm on women, and is Clintonesque in being authentically shallow.  This hurts Frida Kahlo badly.  But Frida is herself a libertine.  The only difference is that, with Rivera, he is comfortable with his promiscuity, whereas with Frida, her promiscuity stems from her impulsiveness.

In the socialist view, children are not brought into the world as members of families, under the natural guardianship of their parents.  Rather, they are commodities, and are ultimately creatures of the state.  But Frida's inability to bear children hurts her very much.  Her body fails her (yet again). The scene in the movie where she agonizes over her child, in a jar, spontaneously aborted, is powerful.

How can anybody say that socialism promotes women's liberation when socialism diminishes motherhood? Abraham Lincoln is (falsely) reputed to have said you can not elevate the poor by tearing down the rich. It can likewise be said that you can not elevate women by tearing down motherhood.

Two parts of the movie deserve special comment. One involves Nelson Rockefeller (who would later be Governor of New York State and Vice President of the United States) ordering the destruction of Diego Rivera's mural at Rockefeller Center. For the left, this is an example of "censorship," since artists supposedly have a right to expression. But, the movie makes it clear that Garcia misrepresented the mural to Rockefeller, putting Marx, Lenin and Trotsky into the landscape when his sketches indicated there would be nameless workers.

The other involves Trotsky, the refugee from Stalin's Soviet Union, who was received by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico.  It is fashionable among the left to assert that Stalin undermined the communist revolution in Russia, and to see in Trotsky the possibility that communism could have taken a different path.  (Of course, during the 1930s, Stalin and his Soviet Union were viewed quite adoringly by many among the intellectual and artistic elites of the world.)

In particular, Stalin, it is said, was merely a gangster writ large.  Stalin was, indeed, a gangster writ large.  But, in this regard, he was no different from Lenin or Trotsky, each of whom had the "will to power" sufficient to engage in ruthless murder, genocide, and aggressive war.  Trotsky's admiration for Hitler's "will to power" and Hitler's "grand design," brought out at a dinner party in the movie, makes it clear that the difference between Trotsky and Stalin is that, in the struggle for power following Lenin's death, Stalin killed Trotsky (and everyone in Trotsky's family), as opposed to the other way around.

Of course, the left is always looking for "The Great Socialist Hope."  The real-world leader who will actually be true to the lofty goals of socialism, and thus usher-in the socialistic millennium.  That they all have, thus far, been disappointing is of no import.  As Hayek (Friedrich) points out, socialism is based on a mystic belief, the denial of science and of history.  It is "The Fatal Conceit" of the 20th Century.

Sure enough, during the last few years of her life, Frida is shown to have shifted her admiration to the next "Great Socialist Hope," Mao Zedung of China, whom we know to have been the murderer of 70 million people, and as despicable a person as Hermann Goering.

I thought the movie did a fine job of presenting elements of the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to the screen without much editorializing, thus allowing the members of the audience to draw their own inferences.  Does the pain expressed in Frida's art show that life is hopeless?  Is happiness even possible, or merely fleeting moments of pleasure?  

Should we overthrow property, family, religion and country, and seek a radical alternative, or is it through such social institutions that we can be sustained in our lives—productive, creative, and yes—human?


Contact Clifford F. Thies

Clifford F. Thies is the Eldon R. Lindsay Chair of Free Enterprise at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.

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