An overrated artist
Frida Kahlo and her husband did indeed put up Trotsky and his wife when they fled to Mexico (The passion and the politics of Frida Kahlo, Socialist Worker, 11 June).
But after his death she and Diego Rivera turned on him, accused him of stealing and even — bizarrely and falsely — claimed to have killed him themselves.
Frida became a committed Stalinist, writing fantasies about Stalin and herself. She also included a picture of Hitler among her great men of the world, calling him “the lost child”.
Personally, I found the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Tate Modern repulsive, although undeniably powerful. The political works were sterile, over-symbolic and ugly.
The best art mixes pain and hope together. I could gaze on Van Gogh’s paintings, for example, for hours and be moved and fulfilled all at once.
But I turned away from Frida Kahlo’s in minutes, feeling that they were pouring the horror of her experiences into me.
Cathy Smith, via e-mail
Frida Kahlo’s artistic merit is negligible. She contributes little to the practice or history of painting, other than self absorption, and has no better technical qualities than thousands of teenagers preparing for their GCSEs this month.
The key to Kahlo’s marketability is a bogus theory that reduces questions of artistic merit to individual pathology. This fits current liberal lifestyle fads for “queer”, “women’s” or “disabled person’s” art. Great art transcends the pathology of its creators and their times. It’s poor art such as Kahlo’s that is a literal slave to them.
Nick Grant, West London
Squatting is essential even today
I was interested to read your article Fighting to keep a roof over our heads (Socialist Worker, 18 June).
I am a 24 year old university graduate who arrived in London three years ago to begin a career in the art and design world. I spent the first year doing numerous unpaid placements in order to gain experience leading to a job.
Meanwhile I worked nights in a bar and a nightclub to pay my rent — £111 per week for a box room in a shared house, while I was earning about £130 per week.
By the end of the year, I was financially crippled by mounting debts and facing the decision to leave London. I ended up moving into a squat with a group of others in the same situation.
Almost all of them were arts graduates unable to find work upon graduation, but wanting to make a go of it in the place where the industry is.
We occupied a building in Kentish Town, north London, which had been long empty and had originally been used as a hall of residence for medical students.
While I was living there, I worked two days a week at a design agency, which has since turned full time. I couldn’t have taken this job while renting as it wouldn’t have originally been enough to pay the bills.
I have since moved into a rented flat with some friends, two of whom I squatted with. I heard our old place was repossessed on Monday of last week, which saddened me. Apparently it is going to be knocked down and turned into luxury flats.
Squatting is essential for many people in London who simply cannot find another way to meet the ludicrous rent prices.
The government ought to do more to help squatters — and it should free up the thousands of wasted empty properties here.
Sarah, North London
A left ‘no’ is possible
Howard Medwell (Letters, Socialist Worker, 4 June) writes that in France “a left wing no campaign may be possible, but in Britain we’d be swamped under a mass of flag waving patriotic blather.”
But the real lesson to be learned from the no campaign in France is that a broad and determined movement can change people’s perceptions of the issues.
When Socialist and Green Party members here in France narrowly voted to campaign for the EU constitution, it was assumed that the main opposition would come from nationalists and fascists like Jean-Marie Le Pen.
European unity has always had a good press in a country with vivid memories of both world wars, and many young people see breaking down national barriers as a worthwhile cause.
It was the hard work done by anti-neoliberal campaigners, and the decision by Communists, left Socialists and parts of the far left that swung the argument.
A crucial role was played here by left wing tendencies within the Socialist Party, rather than by the opportunist and ambitious ex-prime minister Laurent Fabius.
The no supporters took the campaign to people with hundreds of local meetings and leaflets containing detailed arguments. Left wing yes supporters could only reply with vague arguments about “the European ideal”, or by trying to panic anti-racists by whipping up a fear of a “victory for Le Pen”.
In this type of movement, we can also learn how to relate to supporters of other left wing parties. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of sectarianism.
One of the bigger revolutionary groups, Lutte Ouvrière, called for a no vote, but refused to have anything to do with the campaign.
Despite a magnificent result, the French left needs to remember that you win people over by patient argument and a willingness to learn from others.
There were weaknesses and contradictions within the no camp which will have to be debated. Creating a new political force to take advantage of the anti-capitalist mood will not be simple. But we have taken a huge step forward.
Colin Falconer, Saint-Denis, France
Solidarity with Egypt from South Koreans
On 9 June a diverse group of anti-war and human rights activists gathered in front of the Egytian embassy in Seoul, South Korea to demonstrate against Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
People chanted “Down with Mubarak”, “Kifaya!” and “Victory to the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy”.
It might seem that South Korea is far away from Egypt and that no one here would be interested in what is going on there. This is far from the truth.
When South Koreans hear about Egypt’s Kifaya movement and Mubarak’s desperate attempts to hang on to power, we immediately make a connection to our former military rulers.
We too have seen rulers pushing political “reforms” that are nothing more than shams to maintain control.
Our military rulers also resorted to brutal violence when challenged. A prime example is the Kwangju Massacre in 1980, where citizens of Kwangju city were shot to death by the army.
Rulers all over the world are learning from each other about how to control the people. This is why it is so important that people struggling for democracy build strong international solidarity and also learn from each other.
On behalf of the South Korean anti-war and human rights activists I hope for a great victory for the Egyptian working people fighting for democracy and real change.
CJ Park, All Together, South Korea
Crude attempt to smear G8 protest
The newspaper Scotland on Sunday ran a scare story recently claiming that there was a “blood crisis” on the horizon due to the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July.
The report stated that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service was calling for 20,000 extra pints of blood because of fears of violence at anti-G8 protests.
I contacted the Scottish transfusion service to ask if this was true. Their response was unequivocal. They are NOT expecting any kind “blood crisis” to coincide with the G8 summit and are NOT expecting a blood shortage as a result of violence at G8 protests.
The blood service believes a conversation between the Scotland on Sunday journalist and their spokesperson has been misrepresented.
What they actually said was that summer is always a challenging time for them, since donations can drop by up to 10 percent. That is because blood donors are more likely to be on holiday, or busy engaging in outdoor activities.
Their campaign for more blood donations has nothing to do with the G8 protests. The reporter from Scotland on Sunday appears to have been making it up as he went along.
Richard Seymour, West London
Repression in Ethiopia
I would like to bring to your readers’ attention the grotesque human rights violations in Ethiopia (Killings expose Ethiopian PM, Socialist Worker, 18 June) following the 15 June national election, where the oppostion was heading to victory.
The government, led by Meles Zenawi, rigged the vote counting process and declared it had won. This incited a nationwide protest by the electorate, which believes its votes have been stolen.
The government resorted to brute force to stop the peaceful demonstration of students and other citizens, killing more than 36 innocent people and wounding hundreds.
This incident has not been given sufficient media coverage in Britain. Ethiopians living here organised a demonstration outside Downing Street on Thursday of last week to protest about it.
If anyone would like further information on political repression in Ethiopia, please e-mail me at [email protected]
Hailemariam Legesse, via e-mail
A few months ago the Americans themselves accused Meles Zenawi’s regime of human rights violations in their annual report.
We Ethiopians do not understand why these governments still stick with this brutal undemocratic regime. Maybe they’re waiting for things to get worse, like in Rwanda or Darfur.
Yohannes Bayu, Jerusalem, Israel
A gleam of good sense
Terry Wrigley’s article on synthetic phonics (Learning by the Letter, Socialist Worker, 18 June) is the first gleam of common sense I’ve seen in this entire debate.
Children need to be able to learn to read autonomously — they shouldn’t be squeezed into one size if it patently doesn’t fit.
Presented with proper stories that mean something to them, children will enjoy reading. But the sort of garbage schools force feed them with is an insult to their intelligence and imagination.
Dyana Rodriguez, Hereford
Art in the park for protesters
As G8 protesters head to the campsite at Niddrie Craigmillar in Edinburgh, many will not realise that in the park is the largest concrete sculpture in Europe.
The sculpture, called Gulliver — the Gentle Giant that Shares and Cares, is a symbol of how Craigmillar has dealt with its own poverty and deprivation.
It was designed by Jimmy Boyle while in prison, built and organised by the Craigmillar Festival Society, and opened by Billy Connolly in 1976.
The sculpture and the concept behind it has become a recognised classic of how a local community can define its own vision.
How apt that the protesters are in a community that has provided some of the solutions we all seek to world poverty.
Andrew Crummy, Edinburgh
Warwick just isn’t worth it
On balance I do not think that the relatively limited marginal gains trumpeted as the Warwick agreement can go anywhere near offsetting attacks on working people by the New Labour government.
To name a few of them: working longer for less and paying more for pensions; PFI, PPP and “strategic partnerships”; foundation hospitals, independent treatment centres and city academies; top-up fees and tuition fees; war on Iraq; ID cards; Thatcherite anti-union laws still in place; privatising council housing; the 48 hour working week opt out; criminalising young people; welfare to workfare
No doubt there are many more of these attacks in the pipeline. Therefore the trade union and labour movement now needs to get organised to fight back.
Nigel Behan, Secretary of Unison Somerset County branch (personal capacity)