Home culture war Left San Francisco No City for Old Commies
Home culture war Left San Francisco No City for Old Commies

No City for Old Commies

A Russian Communist painter spent decades defacing San Francisco with ugly social realist art. The son of a Russian Orthodox priest who had left his faith and found a new one, Victor Mikhail Arnautoff depicted a world of stolid ugliness, of shapeless men and women crowding a foreshortened world.

Arnautoff did not like America. And he was a bad painter. His people are soulless representations of an objectified working class. No one smiles in these murals. They occasionally frown and grimace. Their world, like the people in it, has no dimension or depth. Even the revolution will not save them. Only transform them from one type of routine into another in a hopeless world without beauty or meaning.

To social realists like Arnautoff, people were a type of machinery. Society was a factory. Human bodies were just lumpy misshapen industrial architecture. Life was work and work was a struggle.

But the WPA era was a golden age for leftist muralists whose ugly social realist art still scars buildings and lobbies across the country. The Federal Art Project littered Marxist dogma across countless government buildings, often encoded into murals of Washington, Lincoln, and other great Americans.

Arnautoff had assisted Diego Rivera, but his own murals were, until now, far more obscure. And the mural whose fame outlived the Communist, who died in Leningrad in the 70s, had been painted on the walls of an American high school. Generations of high school students had passed it without caring.

Until now.

When Victor Arnautoff took on the job of depicting George Washington’s life for the walls of George Washington High School in San Francisco, he mixed his usual bad style with anti-American dogma. The Communist Party member depicts Washington as a slave owner and a murderer of American Indians. His America was an imperialist nation built on the oppression of minorities and exploitation of workers.

Few noticed. Time passed.

Arnautoff moved to the Soviet Union in the 60s after being investigated by the House Unamerican Activities Committee. He continued to produce ugly but unknown murals in the USSR.

And then modern identity politics leftists, to whom Arnautoff was just another dead white man, noticed the George Washington High School murals and decided that they were racist and must be destroyed.

After a vote by a San Francisco school board, $600,000 will be spent destroying the anti-American mural.

The irony of a Communist artist’s anti-American art falling victim to contemporary anti-American activists shows that even long after Stalin’s death, the purge of Soviet artists still continues. The battle over the mural has pitted old lefties, who understood what Arnautoff was trying to accomplish, with a new generation of identity politics crybullies who monetize their brand by crying about their trauma.

Old lefties have begun pursuing a ballot measure to save the mural.

At an ILWU meeting, celebrating Arnautoff ‘s participation in the labor movement, a small group of young lefties took the meeting hostage to protest the mural, while elderly lefties shouted, “Shame” at them. The sight of scraggly bearded reds in open collar shirts practically weeping as a new generation of cultural revolutionists refused to listen to their explanations of the mural was tragically hilarious.

The revolution was not only devouring its own children, but even its own grandparents.

Here was a HUAC martyr being unthinkingly dismissed as a white racist because he had depicted Washington as a slaveowner and Indian killer, without understanding that was his whole point. San Francisco’s ILWU, an organization with deep Marxist roots, was fighting #PaintItDown, a group of middle-class women in the education industry, chanting about decolonization and cultural trauma.

The ILWUers depicted the #PaintItDown protesters as “rightists,” and Willie Brown, the former San Francisco mayor, compared them to Trump supporters, but both are radical lefties. The mutual incomprehension and hostility just show a culture clash between two ideological generations.

The ILWU speaks in the hoary language of class warfare. It venerates a radical history going back over a century. To #PaintItDown, the history of a white labor movement is irrelevant. What matters are the voices of minorities. And some of its loudest white women claim Indian descent, making them indigenous. While everyone else in the country, including the elderly Marxists, are “settlers.”

To the elderly radicals reciting the tales of ancient strikes and protests, the angry lefty soccer moms are bourgeois rightists, and to the anti-mural protesters, the ILWU’s lefties are a bunch of white settlers.

And the future does not belong to elderly Marxists, but to hashtag social justice activists.

The Nation, whose history goes back to the days of the Arnautoff mural and beyond, betrayed its comrades, and took the side of the middle-class teachers, therapists and social justice soccer moms.

San Francisco school board President Stevon Cook compared supporters of the mural to “defenders of the confederate flag or those who fought to keep up the prominent statue of Robert E. Lee.” Suddenly, a Communist artist was Moses Jacob Ezekiel and the ILWUers were the Daughters of the Confederacy.

Cook probably hates America no less than Arnautoff did. At his first board meeting, he jettisoned the Pledge of Allegiance for a Maya Angelou quote. To the mural’s defenders, history matters. To its opponents, the past is irrelevant. Not just the past embodied by George Washington, but also the one embodied by Victor Mikhail Arnautoff and the aging Stalinists watching faded filmstrips of the USSR.

Lefties never seem to grasp that destroying everything about America means their own destruction. They thought that the revolution would mean destroying the White House, the Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of America, the Constitution, bourgeois values, marriage, and golf courses, but would leave their world of radical bookstores, cafes, history books, concerts, murals, and positions intact.

Now in San Francisco, the revolution has come for them.

"I just wonder how some of our local residents who claim to be progressive, yet still advocate to keep the mural, are feeling when they see the likes of the National Review and Tucker Carlson come to their defense," Cook wrote.

He has a point.

The true progressive has no past. Like a figure in a social realist mural, he is trapped in a dimensionless present which he cannot escape except by dreaming of an impossible utopian future. Even the Marxist with the scraggliest beard has a conservative streak. There is some part of the past he would preserve.

When Marxists fight to preserve the past, they are conserving something. They are being conservative.

Socialism demands the elimination of property, and yet there is always some trinket that the collectivist clings to, that he hides away, because it makes him human. The right side of history mandates the destruction of the past, but the men and women who fought for utopia cling to the past because it gives them meaning. We are only as human as we distinguish ourselves from the collectivist leftist herd.

Leftist ideology demands that its members give up their humanity. But humanity always finds a way. The inhuman demands of leftist ideology eventually come up against the demands of our humanity.

Toward the end of his life, Victor Arnautoff returned to the Soviet Union where he drew pictures of Vladimir Lenin and Felix Dzerzhinsky, the monstrous founder of the Communist secret police. He continued producing school murals depicting an idealized Communist utopia. Many did not survive the fall of the Soviet Union a decade after his death. Even in the USSR, his style had become antiquated.

Arnautoff claimed that art was only as legitimate as its “social” purpose. But leftist social politics is always changing. Beauty and truth endure. There was neither beauty nor truth in Arnautoff’s work.

It was always doomed.

The story of Arnautoff’s mural is not that of George Washington. It is the story of a destructive political movement that destroys itself. The Left likes to claim the future. But, like Arnautoff, it has no future.

When you have no past, you have no future.

George Washington’s work lives on. Victor Mikhail Arnautoff’s work is already gone.

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.

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  1. I had no idea of the full history of the painting. My grade school had one as well but I don't remember it well. I was told it was by one of the German POWs and later saw the same stylized looking people in propaganda posters from the Soviet Union.

  2. Anonymous7/8/19

    San Francisco’s Coit Tower’s murals gave me a
    queasy feeling. In 1970, I had little art,
    history or political perspective to help
    explain why. The murals showed hoards of
    people farming, working mechanistically,
    walking robotically. Not really people;
    more like “units”.

    The “Public Works of Art Project” pulled in
    dozens of Rivera/Arnautoff clones. Shows
    what happened when FDR hung out the help
    wanted sign. Soviet poster art.

    The iconoclastic irony is rich; now high
    ranking intersectional ortho-idealists
    will host the next Kristallnacht.


  3. Sempronius Densus8/8/19

    Once again Daniel, you have hit the nail on the proverbial head. I can see two hideous communist black spiders marked with a hammer and sickle rather than a red hour glass, ready to devour the other who each side perceives as not being a true Communist!

    What irony. If only we could move both groups to a location outside the US then let them have at each other, consuming all until their is only one communist left who would then be no threat to anyone.

  4. Highly ironic.

    There a lot of old-school communist murals in the SF Bay Area. I have been thinking about them, wondering which, if any, will be next.

  5. Anonymous8/8/19

    The Struggle Sessions of the 1960s Chinese Cultural Revolution are now the entire political culture of the Western World! Social Vengeance Warriors refashion Revanchism as personal revenge!

    Self-loathing bourgeois online housewives are high of the smell of their own self-righteous social media flatulence. They use their new found 21st century Manson-girl disciplette 'Girl Power" -- Facebook Power -- to scarlet letter shame, shun and shut down anyone whose public denunciation gives these pink haired Carrie Nations the intoxicating online in-group status they inject like heroin to fill their empty meaningless inner voids. The triumph of feminist revanchism -- we'll show those men who's boss now by rubbing their noses in the ruins of our society. But you wrecked everything. Yeah well we showed them!

    When you want to force people to say you are holding up 5 fingers when you are really holding up 4, then Totalitarianism is your tool of choice. (Look up "Me to We", a massive indoctrination program of children began about 20 years ago.)

    Today's Orwellian 5 fingers include the Troika of (social and mainstream media) Control:

    1) Transgenderism (the penis is female! the vagina is male! say it or face prison!)

    2) Islam (vicimized paragons of peace! the hijab is feminist!)

    3) Intersectionality (all dead whites destroyed everything in the world so all living whites must pay and die off as reparations for every non-white alive -- and all left-wing white women who pretend to be North American Indians)

    Kudos to Daniel for a great analysis. Comment: I stopped reading the internet for 6 months (again) to regain my sanity (again -- I am in my 60s) after my 22 year old (white) niece (first year far left university indoctrination student) did a struggle session on her 90-year-old (white) grandmothers to edumacate via screaming at them that my newly "woke" niece planned to have babies with only "Brown" men so she can eradicate racist whiteness forever (not one racist word was ever expressed by either liberal grandmother). I was not there but heard the details from my mother (one of the grandmothers involved!

    I returned selectively to the internet and headed staight for Daniel Greenfield's Sultan Knish. Thank you, Daniel, for being a light in the dark. It only takes the light of one star to navigate the night.

    What is needed now is not any more explaining of what is happening -- we all know to death what is happening (Soros, the UN, Saudi oil money, Justin Trudeau, blah blah blah) but SOLUTIONS for how to stop it. And not by "electing" a different political party since they are all poisoned now -- but how to stop the Totalitarian indoctrination of the minds of the young. How to end the toxicity of social media moral shaming and control and its perpetuation by media, politics, education. The How and not the What or Why -- this is the only issue now.

  6. "Lefties never seem to grasp that destroying everything about America means their own destruction."
    Self loathers lust for death. This is what they want, whether they're aware of it or not.

    "Arnautoff claimed that art was only as legitimate as its “social” purpose."
    This is contrived art, art as propaganda. If art doesn't depict reality mythically or, if you will, symbolically, so that the observer can gain something of an understanding of actual reality, it is meaningless at best, destructive at worst, and not art, but a cartoon.

  7. Thank you to everyone for some excellent comments, charlie, anonymous, takeda, bookdoc, AA

  8. Anonymous8/8/19

    Thank you, Mr. Greenfield for yet another in a long series of erudite and extremely well-written perspectives.

    Irony indeed.

    I would like to point out 2 things:

    1. The Left has a history of destroying itself. Just look at the former U.S.S.R. with the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, the Great Purges, etc., among other historical examples that you can find in China, etc.

    2. The Left in the West adhere to transgenderism, but do not realize this will start an internecine war among straight-up homosexuals (the Gay community) and feminists.

    The Left hate religion, especially Judaism and Catholicism/Christianity, yet love islam. But they fail to see that if islam gained a foothold on American life, that the Left and LIBERALS would be the first go get stoned. Shariah law would go after homosexuals and so-called "progressives", with their hedonistic lifestyles, first. In this hypothetical situation, I would suspect that Conservatives would fare better under quasi--shariah laws.

    The Left sees everything through intersectional-colored (i.e., racist) colored glasses, but fail to realize this will lead to the Balkanization of our country.

    Basically, the Left destroys everything it touches. Just look at history.

    King Western Man

  9. The left exists to destroy. They destroy history and leave nothing in it's place except the next philosophical flavor of the day, and the reason why is they have no stable moral foundation other than the need to grasp power, with no vison as to what to do with it except keep destroying.


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