May, Kahlo and the memeification of Marxism

Following Theresa May’s calamitous speech at the Conservative Party conference, there’s been a great deal of handwringing over the accessory adorning the prime minister’s wrist: a Frida Kahlo bracelet. 

So-called ‘left Twitter’ has reacted with confusion and anger at the PM’s apparent tribute to Kahlo, a self-proclaimed ‘unconditional ally of the communist revolutionary movement’ who famously petitioned the Mexican government to grant asylum to Leon Trotsky, who later became her lover.

The papers have also tried to make sense of May’s supposedly Bolshevik bracelet. The Telegraph offered some entirely unconvincing reasons as to ‘Why it matters that Theresa May wore a Frida Kahlo bracelet during her conference speech’. The Guardian asked, ‘Was Theresa May’s Frida Kahlo bracelet a political statement?’. And the Express went into full-on Red Scare mode, pondering if the bracelet was ‘sending a secret communist message’, not realising that May’s speech was more Miliband than Marx.

The truth is that just like May’s much-discussed kitten heels, which once so excited Britain’s ailing commentariat, the Kahlo bracelet merely serves to add a bit of colour to an otherwise bland politician. 

But at least May is aware that wearing a bracelet with a communist on it does not make her a communist. This is more than can be said of the crowd who are currently calling her out for ‘abusing’ Kahlo’s image, taking it in vain, and committing an offence against communism. These are the same types on the Corbynista left who display their ‘radicalism’ by sporting hammer and sickle tote bags. They respond with glee to being labelled Marxists by the right, but are so lacking in radicalism that they are genuinely impressed by Emily Thornberry. 

It’s true that communist symbolism has become commodified – its icons today have no connection to any radical political project, and May’s Frida Kahlo bracelet is evidence of this. But this is mainly the work of a so-called left that likes to pose as radical when it is anything but. The online left may joke about ‘seizing the memes of production’, but it seems unaware that Marxism today really is little more than a meme.

Fraser Myers is a producer at WORLDbytes.

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