Aside from the several anti-war paintings that he created, Picasso remained personally neutral during World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, refusing to join the armed forces for any side or country. He had also remained aloof from the Catalan independence movement during his youth despite expressing general support and being friendly with activists within it. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Picasso was already in his late fifties. He was even older at the onset of World War II, and could not be expected to take up arms in those conflicts. As a Spanish citizen living in France, Picasso was under no compulsion to fight against the invading Germans in either World War. (However, in 1940 he did apply for French citizenship, but it was refused on the grounds of his “extremist ideas evolving towards communism”. This information was not revealed until 2003.) In the Spanish Civil War, service for Spaniards living abroad was optional and would have involved a voluntary return to their country to join either side. While Picasso expressed anger and condemnation of Francisco Franco and fascists through his art, he did not take up arms against them. The Spanish Civil War provided the impetus for Picasso’s first overtly political work, The Dream and Lie of Franco which was produced “specifically for propagandistic and fundraising purposes.” This surreal fusion of words and images was intended to be sold as a series of postcards to raise funds for the Spanish Republican cause.
In 1944 Picasso joined the French Communist Party, attended an international peace conference in Poland, and in 1950 received the Stalin Peace Prize from the Soviet government, But party criticism of a portrait of Stalin as insufficiently realistic cooled Picasso’s interest in Soviet politics, though he remained a loyal member of the Communist Party until his death. In a 1945 interview with Jerome Seckler, Picasso stated: “I am a Communist and my painting is Communist painting. … But if I were a shoemaker, Royalist or Communist or anything else, I would not necessarily hammer my shoes in a special way to show my politics.” His Communist militancy, common among continental intellectuals and artists at the time (although it was officially banned in Francoist Spain), has long been the subject of some controversy; a notable source or demonstration thereof was a quote commonly attributed to Salvador Dalí (with whom Picasso had a rather strained relationship):
- Picasso es pintor, yo también; […] Picasso es español, yo también; Picasso es comunista, yo tampoco.
- (Picasso is a painter, so am I; […] Picasso is a Spaniard, so am I; Picasso is a communist, neither am I.)
In the late 1940s his old friend the surrealist poet and Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist André Breton was more blunt; refusing to shake hands with Picasso, he told him: “I don’t approve of your joining the Communist Party nor with the stand you have taken concerning the purges of the intellectuals after the Liberation”.
In 1962, he received the Lenin Peace Prize. Biographer and art critic John Berger felt his talents as an artist were “wasted” by the communists.
According to Jean Cocteau‘s diaries, Picasso once said to him in reference to the communists: “I have joined a family, and like all families, it’s full of shit”.
He was against the intervention of the United Nations and the United States in the Korean War and he depicted it in Massacre in Korea. The art critic Kirsten Hoving Keen says that it is “inspired by reports of American atrocities” and considers it one of Picasso’s communist works.