Socialist realism is a style of idealized realistic art that was developed in the Soviet Union and was the official style in that country between 1932 and 1988, as well as in other socialist countries after World War II. Socialist realism is characterized by the glorified depiction of communist values, such as the emancipation of the proletariat. Despite its name, the figures in the style are very often highly idealized, especially in sculpture, where it often leans heavily on the conventions of classical sculpture. Although related, it should not be confused with social realism, a type of art that realistically depicts subjects of social concern, or other forms of “realism” in the visual arts.
Term used to describe the idealization of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the arts, apparently first used in the Soviet journal Literaturnaya Gazeta on 25 May 1932 After the cultural pluralism of the 1920s in the Soviet Union, and in line with the objectives of the Five-year plans, art was subordinated to the needs and dictates of the Communist Party In 1932, following four years of ideological struggle and polemic among different artistic groups, the Central Committee of the party disbanded all existing artistic organizations and set up in their place party-led unions for individual art forms In the summer of 1934, at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers, Socialist Realism was proclaimed the approved method for Soviet artists in all media Andrey Zhdanov, who gave the keynote address at the Congress, was Stalin’s mouthpiece on cultural policy until his death in 1948 In the words of his leader, the artist was to be ‘an engineer of the human soul’ The aim of the new creative method was ‘to depict reality in its revolutionary development’; no further guidelines concerning style or subject-matter were laid down.
Socialist realism was the predominant form of approved art in the Soviet Union from its development in the early 1920s to its eventual fall from official status beginning in the late 1960s until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. While other countries have employed a prescribed canon of art, socialist realism in the Soviet Union persisted longer and was more restrictive than elsewhere in Europe.
The definition from the point of view of the official ideology
For the first time, the official definition of socialist realism is given in the Charter of the Union of Writers of the USSR, adopted at the First Congress of the Joint Venture:
Socialist realism, being the main method of Soviet fiction and literary criticism, demands from the artist a truthful, historically concrete image of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic depiction of reality should be combined with the task of ideological reworking and education in the spirit of socialism.
This definition became the starting point for all further interpretations up to the 1980s.
“ Socialist realism is a profoundly vital, scientific, and most advanced artistic method, developed as a result of the successes of socialist construction and the education of Soviet people in the spirit of communism. The principles of socialist realism… were a further development of Lenin’s theory of the partisanship of literature. ”(The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1947)
Lenin expressed the following idea that art should stand on the side of the proletariat:
“Art belongs to the people. It must have its deepest roots in the thick of the broad masses. It should be clear to these masses and loved by them. It should unite the feeling, thought and will of these masses, raise them ” .
Principles of social realism
Nationality. This meant both the clarity of literature for the common people, and the use of folk speech and proverbs.
Ideology. Show the peaceful life of the people, the search for ways to a new, better life, heroic deeds in order to achieve a happy life for all people.
Concreteness. In the image of reality show the process of historical development, which in turn must correspond to the materialistic understanding of history (in the process of changing the conditions of their existence, people change their consciousness and attitude to the surrounding reality).
According to the definition from the Soviet textbook, the method implied the use of the heritage of world realistic art, but not as a simple imitation of great models, but with a creative approach. “The method of socialist realism predetermines the deep connection of works of art with contemporary reality, the active participation of art in socialist construction. Socialist realism tasks require each artist a true understanding of the meaning of the events occurring in the country, the ability to assess social phenomena in their development, in a complex dialectical interaction “.
The method included the unity of realism and Soviet romance, combining the heroic and romantic with the “realistic statement of the true truth of the surrounding reality.” It was argued that in this way the humanism of “critical realism” was complemented by “socialist humanism.”
The state gave orders, sent it on creative business trips, organized exhibitions — thus stimulating the development of the level of art it needed. The idea of “social order” is part of social realism.
Socialist realism was developed by many thousands of artists, across a diverse society, over several decades. Early examples of realism in Russian art include the work of the Peredvizhnikis and Ilya Yefimovich Repin. While these works do not have the same political connotation, they exhibit the techniques exercised by their successors. After the Bolsheviks took control of Russia on October 25, 1917, there was a marked shift in artistic styles. There had been a short period of artistic exploration in the time between the fall of the Tsar and the rise of the Bolsheviks.
Shortly after the Bolsheviks took control, Anatoly Lunacharsky was appointed as head of Narkompros, the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment. This put Lunacharsky in the position of deciding the direction of art in the newly created Soviet state. Although Lunacharsky did not dictate a single aesthetic model for Soviet artists to follow, he developed a system of aesthetics based on the human body that would later help to influence socialist realism. He believed that “the sight of a healthy body, intelligent face or friendly smile was essentially life-enhancing.” He concluded that art had a direct effect on the human organism and under the right circumstances that effect could be positive. By depicting “the perfect person” (New Soviet man), Lunacharsky believed art could educate citizens on how to be the perfect Soviets.
Debate within Soviet art
There were two main groups debating the fate of Soviet art: futurists and traditionalists. Russian Futurists, many of whom had been creating abstract or leftist art before the Bolsheviks, believed communism required a complete rupture from the past and, therefore, so did Soviet art. Traditionalists believed in the importance of realistic representations of everyday life. Under Lenin’s rule and the New Economic Policy, there was a certain amount of private commercial enterprise, allowing both the futurists and the traditionalists to produce their art for individuals with capital. By 1928, the Soviet government had enough strength and authority to end private enterprises, thus ending support for fringe groups such as the futurists. At this point, although the term “socialist realism” was not being used, its defining characteristics became the norm.
The first time the term “socialist realism” was officially used was in 1932. The term was settled upon in meetings that included politicians of the highest level, including Stalin himself. Maxim Gorky, a proponent of literary socialist realism, published a famous article titled “Socialist Realism” in 1933 and by 1934 the term’s etymology was traced back to Stalin. During the Congress of 1934, four guidelines were laid out for socialist realism. The work must be:
Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
Typical: scenes of everyday life of the people.
Realistic: in the representational sense.
Partisan: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.
The purpose of socialist realism was to limit popular culture to a specific, highly regulated faction of emotional expression that promoted Soviet ideals. The party was of the utmost importance and was always to be favorably featured. The key concepts that developed assured loyalty to the party, “partiinost'” (party-mindedness), “ideinost” (idea- or ideological-content), “klassovost” (class content), “pravdivost” (truthfulness).
There was a prevailing sense of optimism, socialist realism’s function was to show the ideal Soviet society. Not only was the present gloried, but the future was also supposed to be depicted in an agreeable fashion. Because the present and the future were constantly idealized, socialist realism had a sense of forced optimism. Tragedy and negativity were not permitted, unless they were shown in a different time or place. This sentiment created what would later be dubbed “revolutionary romanticism.”
Revolutionary romanticism elevated the common worker, whether factory or agricultural, by presenting his life, work, and recreation as admirable. Its purpose was to show how much the standard of living had improved thanks to the revolution. Art was used as educational information. By illustrating the party’s success, artists were showing their viewers that sovietism was the best political system. Art was also used to show how Soviet citizens should be acting. The ultimate aim was to create what Lenin called “an entirely new type of human being”: The New Soviet Man. Art (especially posters and murals) was a way to instill party values on a massive scale. Stalin described the socialist realist artists as “engineers of souls.”
Common images used in socialist realism were flowers, sunlight, the body, youth, flight, industry, and new technology. These poetic images were used to show the utopianism of communism and the Soviet state. Art became more than an aesthetic pleasure; instead it served a very specific function. Soviet ideals placed functionality and work above all else; therefore, for art to be admired, it must serve a purpose. Georgi Plekhanov, a Marxist theoretician, states that art is useful if it serves society: “There can be no doubt that art acquired a social significance only in so far as it depicts, evokes, or conveys actions, emotions and events that are of significance to society.”
The artist could not, however, portray life just as they saw it because anything that reflected poorly on Communism had to be omitted. People who could not be shown as either wholly good or wholly evil could not be used as characters. This was reflective of the Soviet idea that morality is simple: things are either right or wrong. This view on morality called for idealism over realism. Art was filled with health and happiness: paintings showed busy industrial and agricultural scenes; sculptures depicted workers, sentries, and schoolchildren.
Creativity was not an important part of socialist realism. The styles used in creating art during this period were those that would produce the most realistic results. Painters would depict happy, muscular peasants and workers in factories and collective farms. During the Stalin period, they produced numerous heroic portraits of Stalin to serve his cult of personality—all in the most realistic fashion possible. The most important thing for a socialist realist artist was not artistic integrity but adherence to party doctrine.
Socialist Realism in Literature
The 1920s, ie the period after the October Revolution, were marked by a diversity and avant-garde in the art and literature of the Soviet Union. Free from tsarist censorship, enthusiastically welcoming the new zeitgeist, countless groups (“групповщина”, pronounced “gruppovshchina”) and associations such as LEF, LCK, Proletkult, which promoted workers’ literature and partly aggressively advanced.
However, avant-garde trends in culture as a whole had survived at the beginning of the 1930s and were also superseded internationally by tendencies towards classicism and ruralism (such as ” blood and soil literature ” in fascist countries).
Shortly after the revolution of 1917, Kazimir Malevich, founder of Constructivism and Suprematism, was a formative force of a culture of rebuilding that was to keep up with social changes. He formed the art school of Vitebsk into a Suprematist center and held important functions in Soviet art committees until the mid-1920s. Supported by the People’s Commissar Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky, the “new” art could develop without the direct interference of the state. In this early phase, Suprematism was also used as a stylistic device for political propaganda.
The “State Institute of Artistic Culture” (GINChUk), whose director was Malevich, was closed in 1926.
An Association for the Writers
In its decree of April 23, 1932 on the transformation of literary-artistic organizations, the Central Committee of the CPSU decided the dissolution of all groups and organizations and the founding of a (provisional) All Union Writers Association (WSP). In particular, the groups of the radical proletarian worker poetry (“proletcult”) RAPP, which had formed since 1918 and in turn contributed to the dissolution of other groups, were affected.
Two years later, the first All-Union Congress of Soviet writers was prepared in August 1934, at which the new doctrine was openly discussed and the Soviet Writers’ Union was founded. In its statutes, socialist realism was codified as a “binding artistic method”. Literally it was said there:
“Socialist realism as the main method of Soviet artistic literature and literary criticism, demands of the artist truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Truth-loyal and historical concreteness of the artistic representation must be coordinated with the tasks of the ideological transformation and education of the working people in the spirit of socialism. ”
A total of 591 writers participated representing 52 nations. The central figure of the congress was Maxim Gorky, the first chairman of the Soviet Writers’ Association. Some of them hoped in the discussion of the new methods even greater freedom and diversity in topics and forms; However, the inaugural speech by Andrei Zhdanov as representative of the Central Committee of the CPSU clearly pointed to the upcoming ideological codification of the artistic method. Campaigns that in the following years propagated terms such as partisanship, popular affiliation, mass custom and intelligibility, gradually narrowed the literary forms. Humor, irony andSatire, grotesquely absurd forms and experimental literature were – at least officially – impossible.
Socialist realism was a formal attempt to unite romanticism and realism, which from a Russian perspective represented the two major literary epochs of the 19th century. Here the kind of representation as method should be taken from the realism, the positive spirit and the emotions against the romanticism, and so a new, revolutionary romance arise. It was also pointed out that the roots of socialist realism are found less in Romanticism than in Classicism.
In both cases, old forms were reused to convey new, socially acceptable content, often in a trivial way. Poets of the avant-garde, who had developed new linguistic forms and expressive possibilities of poetry, or naturalistic currents no longer fit into this concept. Only Mayakovsky, who had been attacked by the proletarian workers’ poets in the 1920s, was honored by Bukharin and Stalin himself in 1935 as a “Soviet classic.”
Genera and Motives
Typical motifs of the literature of this epoch are the heroes of the construction of the Soviet society. There is a “worker and work cult”. The exemplary achievement that had to be made by the industrialization of a hitherto predominantly agricultural country by the people needed heroes of a new, Soviet type. Pilots, aviation pioneers and ship’s crews were acting persons. Later, in order to strengthen the defense preparedness against the fascist foreign countries, a close connection of writers with the Red Army was built. As early as 1930, the literature organization of the Red Army (LOKAF) was founded, which also Maxim Gorkibelonged. In other areas too, literary creators have been assigned very specific social tasks.
A fusion of classical epics (such as Eugene Onegin) and civil novel (such as war and peace) led to the typical socialist realism genre of the novel – epic (Роман-Эпопея, also: Roman-Epopö). Here, important historical epochs were linked to the individual fates of their heroes and displayed in epic breadth. Alexei Tolstoy with its Epic The ordeal (Хождение по мукам) or Sholokhov The silent Don (Тихий Дон) contributed to this genus.
Another important genre of socialist realism, the novel, was divided into three sub-branches:
Until the late 1930s, the production novel was the most important subgenus. Topics were agricultural kolkhoz, collectivization and ” dekulakization “, industrial construction, extraction of natural resources, sabotage and class struggle, etc. Known authors of this genre were Mikhail Sholokhov, Fyodor Panfjorow and Leonid Leonov; later also Vsevolod Kochetov.
The Stalinist maxim that writers had to contribute to the education of the people, as well as the fundamental change of values of the entire educational system under Stalin sprang from the genre of the educational novel. Thematically, the development of man to “socialist personality”, patriotism and loyalty to the party was treated. Successful educational novels were about Nikolai Ostrowski’s How the steel was hardened and Anton Makarenko’s Educational Poem.
Without abandoning the perspective of historical materialism (Marx), the historical novel in the thirties represented a new perspective on history. Instead of focusing on the historical class struggle as in the twenties, important events from the “national past” have now been worked out, although always referring to the Soviet present, either as warning negative examples or indirectly parallels to the current system of rule were constructed. Notable examples of this idiom are the works of Alexei Tolstoy, Alexey Novikov-Priboj and Sergei Sergey-Tschenski.
Promotion and purges
The cultural upheaval was accompanied by rigorous censorship, as well as the persecution and ” cleansing ” of non-conformist literati (“pests” – “вредители”, ” people’s enemies ” – “враги народа”), with the scale of the persecution unparalleled. Based on archive finds of the Lubyanka it is estimated that a total of about 2,000 writers were arrested, of whom 1,500 either died in the camp or were executed. Typical of a dictatorial rule was that Stalin arbitrarily spared individual persons in all repressions and seemed to almost take them under his protection. The focus of the persecutions on cultural workers (see also Formalismusstreitin the GDR) demonstrates the immense importance attached to this group of people. On the other hand, there was a comprehensive system of economic promotion of the system-compliant literary creators: housing and dachshunds, sanatorium stays and a pension and health insurance were among them. The Hungarian composer György Ligeti described the situation as follows:
“Thus a culture of the ‘closed room’ was created in Budapest, in which the majority of the artists opted for ‘internal emigration’. Officially, ‘socialist realism’ was imposed, ie a cheap mass art with prescribed political propaganda. Modern art and literature were banned at all costs, for example, the rich collection of French and Hungarian Impressionists in the Budapest Art Museum was simply hung up. Unpleasant books disappeared from libraries and bookstores (including Don Quixote and Winnie the Pooh were pulped). Written, composed, painted in secret and in the barely available free time: Working for the drawer was considered an honor. ”
– György Ligeti: Accompanying text to György Ligeti Works, Sony Classical 2010
In the climate of repression, censorship and narrow artistic dogmata deviant works could only emerge and exist in secret from the official line. In spite of the “purges” of the thirties, poets such as Anna Akhmatova, Ossip Mandelstam, Andrei Platonov, Mikhail Bulgakov and other lasting works created, in their entirety, a widespread countercurrent to the literary products of socialist realism.
In the Soviet-controlled eastern Germany, the SBZ, immediately after the Second World War, a movement close to the Communist Party of Germany was formed to build a socialist cultural alliance, which later became the Cultural League of the GDR. The warnings Soviet politician facing a “Anhimmelung bourgeois literature and art, in a state of decay and decomposition” befänden that are “harmful” and “no place books and magazines” in probably, gave politicians like the later GDR State Council Chairman Walter Ulbrichtdirectly to the members of the Kulturbundes. In early September 1948, Ulbricht criticized an art dominated by “formalism” (see: Formalism Controversy), with which one could not reach the working class. He called for “real folk realistic art” from artists organized in the SED. Although artists who do not follow it should not fall under an internal party purge, “but as a party we have a very specific point of view, that of realism, and this point of view must be enforced in every way.”
The Soviet military administration SMAD had its own cultural department, whose leader, the Russian literary scholar Alexander Lwowitsch Dymschitz, had the guidelines for the new art in the SBZ. Individualism, subjectivism, emotions and fantasies are an expression of bourgeois decadence and thus to be rejected. Being on November 19, 1948 in the newspaper Daily RundschauPublished article is regarded as the trigger for a turnaround in the art of East Germany in the sense of a little later called “socialist realism” doctrine. Two weeks later, the SED party education, culture and education department instructed the state parties to organize discussions on the Dymschitz article. In January 1949, the SED suggested that the Dymschitz theses be extended to other parts of the arts than painting. In numerous events, including the Kulturbund, prescribed basic discussions began, as Magdalena Heider explains in her book on the Kulturbund, also many critical voices. So participants held a discussion event of the “Working Group Fine Arts in the Cultural League” in Hildburghausen, Thuringiathe division of art into right and wrong, good and bad, for wrong. “The brand as degenerate or decadent” remind of the Nazi era.
Socialist Realism in Music
Development from 1932 until the death of Stalin
Before socialist realism was adopted as the guideline of all the arts in 1932 (see above), two different currents prevailed in the musical life of the Soviet Union, in sharp contrast to each other. The Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM) propagated the Proletkurs in music. Its members were predominantly dilettantes, as well as the ideology of the association rejected the music as art as bourgeois and accepted only works that had explicit propagandistic content. Contemporary currents were rejected as western and decadent. The ideological position of the association was that only simple songs should be composed to praise the revolution and the proletariat, but not works in conventional forms.
The counterpart to the RAPM was formed by the Association for Contemporary Music (ASM), founded in 1924, which was fiercely opposed by the latter. Members of this organization were as good as all well-known composers of the Soviet Union – especially those who served as suppliers of the entertainment music cultivated in the Soviet Union, the Estrada. Therefore, the musical positions of their members were extremely heterogeneous – Maximilian Steinberg, for example, was still deeply rooted in the music of Romanticism, Nikolai Mjaskowski, however, modernized his musical language in these years, while Alexander Mossolowrepresented the total avant-garde. As a guideline, however, was unambiguously oriented to the modern Western tendencies (such as the twelve-tone technique). Part of this association was also a kind of proletcult. Some members (like Mossolov) wanted to “industrialize” art, d. H. in musical works, for example, represent the rhythm of machines. Also, compositions were written in praise of the new state. Overall, the association pursued a sharp demarcation from tradition. But when in 1931 the rather conservative Mjaskowski left the ASM, many composers followed him, and the ASM gradually dissolved. Nevertheless, many composers continued to pursue the goal of modernizing music.
The proclamation of socialist realism in principle contradicted both currents, as on the one hand a clear rejection of avant-garde tendencies, which gradually developed into a kind of taboo, on the other hand, a rejection of amateurism as a postulate for all composers. In fact, the new aesthetics strengthened the composers, whose musical ideas were largely rooted in the nineteenth century, and which previously seemed to have faded completely into the background, since a return to old traditions was openly demanded (see below). On the other hand, the ideological orientation of the music of the “new era” has been adapted. Therefore, the new directive was also adopted by more conservative composers (Reinhold Glière, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov,Sergei Vasilenko) euphorically welcomed. Other composers, such as Mjaskowski or Anatoly Alexandrov, changed their style significantly to accommodate the new directive.
Around 1932 the genre of the Liedsinfonie came to its heyday. The Liedsinfonie is a symphony with vocals (often solos and chorus) whose themes are deliberately song-like and catchy. Nevertheless, the formal criteria of the symphony are retained to some extent. The best-known and often regarded as the best representative of this genus is the Symphony No. 4 op. 41 entitled Poem on a Komsomolzen fighter by Lew Knipper. The theme of the finale of this symphony became a popular mass song in the Soviet Union (see below).
At first, however, the new aesthetics was far from being generally accepted; For example, Dmitri Shostakovich continued to write very daring and modern works such as his Fourth Symphony and his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In 1936, however, there was a decisive event: after Stalin received Shostakovich’s o. G. Opera had appeared on January 28 in Pravdaan article called “Chaos instead of music,” in which the opera was sharply attacked. Both the subject and the music were presented as out of the question, and even a kind of threat was contained (“This game can end badly”). In the times of the great “purges” this article did not miss its effect; In addition, in the following years more modern composers such as Mossolow were temporarily arrested. The result was that all composers from the mid-1930s, without exception, oriented to socialist realism.
When the Second World War began, it was a matter of course for many composers to write works dedicated to the theme “Fight for Freedom”. In addition to various marches and battle songs for the Soviet Army, not a few large-format works were created – Mjaskowski’s Symphony No. 22 followed, followed by the famous Symphony No. 7 of Shostakovich (the Leningrad Symphony), the 2nd Symphony of Khachaturian and other works. Also Sergei Prokofievtook up this theme, for example in some piano sonatas, but also in the 6th Symphony, which was composed only in 1947. The theme of the war and the accompanying portrayal of the “evil” allowed the composer to use more brutal (and at the same time more progressive) stylistic devices than was “allowed” before the war. In addition, at the time public attention was not so much a part of music, even though cultural life in the Soviet Union remained surprisingly vital during the war. Thus it came to a (admittedly limited) modernization of Soviet music.
This tendency, however, should not be granted a long life: in 1948 there was the well-known resolution. Direct trigger was the visit of Stalin and some high-ranking politicians of the opera The Great Friendship of the Georgian composer Wano Muradeli, Although this opera was actually propagandist-oriented, some details of the plot were met with fierce opposition from the political figures. The music was also sharply criticized for supposed modernisms; However, to what extent this judgment is correct is unclear, since at present (2004) neither a photograph nor a neutral opinion seem to be available. In any case, this opera visit led to a meeting of the Moscow Composers’ Union being convened in January 1948, in which especially Party official Andrei Zhdanov sharply attacked the developments in Soviet music. As a result of this three-day session, on February 10, the party resolution On the Opera “The Great Friendship” was published.
In this resolution, the slogan of formalism was put into the world, which is equivalent in meaning with “modern”. It was officially stated that formalism is characterized by the fact that the musical form, the construction of a piece of music, is placed above parameters such as the melody and leads to “decadent” phenomena such as atonality. Directly criticized in this resolution were Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Vissarion Shebalin, Gavriil Popovas well as Myaskovsky. These composers were urged on public “concessions”, which they did with the exception of Mjaskowskis. In April, a new session of the Composers Union was held, repeatedly condemning “formalism” and electing Tichon Chrennikow as the new Secretary-General (which he remained until 1992). The consequence of the resolution was a total turn of the composers towards socialist realism; a multitude of propagandistic mass songs, cantatas, oratorios and symphonies were written. Officially, the critically acclaimed composers were not rehabilitated until 1958, but de facto Myskovsky’s works were an essential part of musical life from 1949 onwards. This sole rule of socialist realism lasted until Stalin’s Death on.
After the Second World War, the directives of socialist realism were gradually introduced into the new socialist states of the Eastern bloc in musical life. This proved to be problematic in that most of the composers in those countries had previously taken different paths; After all, the musical development in 1932, when this aesthetic was introduced in the Soviet Union, was still far from being as advanced as it was around 1950 in countries outside the Soviet Union. Thus, the composers, who had remained in their home countries, were under massive pressure to implement the new guidelines, because “formalistic” composers were exposed and had to reckon with many disadvantages. In the GDR in 1951, for example, Paul Dessau operaThe condemnation of Lucullus publicly sharply criticized. To Stalin’s death, socialist realism was widely enforced in all socialist countries.
Musical works that are committed to socialist realism generally have the following characteristics: The musical language is remarkably conservative and, in fact, rather close to the music of Romanticism. It remains within the limits of a modally colored tonality, is based on catchy melodies and is also committed to shaping the tradition. Tendencies of 20th century music such as twelve-tone technique, serialism, atonality or the like rejects the ideology of Socialist Realism as “formalistic aberrations” strictly.
A special feature of socialist realism is the strong involvement of national folklore in music. If original folk-song themes are not used, then melody and harmony are strongly national. Composers who rejected this were vilified as “bourgeois internationalists”. In the popular view, the national component, on the other hand, proves popular affiliation and ensures that the music is “democratic”, ie. H. is generally understandable. In general, every musical work should appeal to all people; the motto L’art pour l’art has been redrafted in L’art pour l’homme.
These demands for general understanding, conservative musical language and the inclusion of national folklore are reflected, for example, in the following article from a music lexicon for children from the GDR:
“One of the main tasks of realistic music is to reach as many people as possible. To make himself understood the composer starts from tradition. He studies the art of the great masters before him and builds on his work. This attachment may consist of taking up and developing the form of the symphony or using national intonations. ”
– Keyword music – music lexicon for the youth, VEB German publishing house for music, Leipzig 1977, P. 157 and 158
Despite the above-mentioned similarities with the music of the Romantic period, there is a grave difference to this epoch: While the romantics developed a preference for the dark, the uncertain and often reveal a certain world pain, the music of socialist realism is optimistic in its basic mood. Negative moods are used only to be overcome; The basis of many works is the concept of an “optimistic tragedy”, d. H. the struggle for the overcoming of negative phenomena (often shown in the development from minor to major). For this reason, many compositions have a heroic, active fighting spirit and often have a penchant for great pathos.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that this basic mood is a much more reliable indicator of socialist realism in music than music itself. Thus, the ” Mansfeld oratorio ” by Ernst Hermann Meyer, a prime example of socialist realism, full of the principle of “Per aspera ad astra”; it is the history of a mining work from the Middle Ages to the establishment of socialism on German soil. Musically, however, the aesthetics of socialist realism can not be established at any point in the work. In fact, it is a music-aesthetic smorgasbord in which echoes of different forms and styles of different epochs can be found; Meyer himself speaks in this context of “style parodies”. Whether socialist realism in the field of music has existed only as a doctrine or indeed as an independent aesthetic is therefore questionable.
Of particular importance was (of course) the mediation of socialist content. Thus, operas, cantatas and songs were created on propagandistic texts, but also instrumental works were often backed by an ideological program. The music criticism interpreted new compositions (even those without an explicit program) basically as social expressions. Older compositions were postponed political-social messages. This is how Antonyn Sychra explains in his book “Partial Music Criticism as Co-Creator of a New Music”, Schubert’s song cycle ” Winterreise”Only superficially relates to the personal pain of an unfortunate man in love; Rather, Schubert was anxious to express the general social misery in the years following the Congress of Vienna.
An almost exclusively occurred phenomenon in socialist countries is the so-called ” mass song “. This is a melodic and harmonically stressed simple song on a revolutionary, clearly for socialism party grabbing text that could be sung easily by a large number of people. An example of the mass song was, for example, The International. The official view was that the mass song was an entirely new genre typical of musical culture in socialism.
Composers and their works
From about 1936 to the early 1960s, virtually every composer in the Soviet Union was committed to the aesthetics of socialist realism. Exceptions like Nikolai Roslavets or Galina Ustvolskaya were very rare; In addition, works by these composers were de facto banned from performing. Even the most famous composers based on this doctrine. Although Dmitri Shostakovich was rather skeptical about her, but nevertheless was forced by the harsh criticism of 1936 and 1948 to enter into works such as the 5th Symphony and even more to his oratorio The Song of the Woods op. 81 on the official demands and to defuse his tone language.
Although Sergei Prokofiev also came under fire in 1948, he nevertheless found it much easier to adapt to aesthetics, since he considered it his own concern to offer “understandable” music to the listener. Of course, his music was considered too modern, so that Prokofiev had to make concessions. His efforts for intelligibility in works such as the 5th and 7th symphonies or his oratorio Auf Friedenswacht op. 124 are especially clear.
The situation was different with Aram Khachaturian, whose own aesthetic position was largely in line with the demands of socialist realism (especially in relation to the national character of music). Ballets such as Gayaneh or Spartacus, his concertos, symphonies and vocal works such as the Ode on Stalin combine Armenian color with propaganda orientation. Nevertheless, Chatschaturian 1948 was criticized. This also happened to his teacher Nikolai Mjaskowski, who immediately after the proclamation of the principles in 1932 composed a symphony on the collectivization of agriculture (No. 12 in G minor op. 35)). In the following years Mjaskowski strove to simplify and elucidate his very complex, melancholic style and found music based largely on the 19th century. Nevertheless, he preserved some of the hallmarks of his previous work. Of all the composers criticized in 1948, he is the one who seems most incomprehensible. He was also quickly rehabilitated, without composing larger works that are expressly on Party line.
In addition to these four great composers, there are a number of other composers who composed music in the style of socialist realism. Dmitri Kabalewski, who also wrote music for younger people, Tichon Chrennikow, who played a key role as Secretary General of the Composers’ Union, and Georgi Sviridov, who mainly composed vocal music, deserve special mention. In addition, a number of ancient composers adopted the principles of socialist realism, such as Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Reinhold Glière and Sergei Vasilenko, In addition, socialist realism played a major role in a number of national schools. Examples are Fikret Amirow from Azerbaijan, Otar Taktakischwili from Georgia and Mykola Kolessa from the Ukraine. For composers born after 1925, the importance of socialist realism declined noticeably.
In the GDR, Ottmar Gerster and Leo Spies were probably the most important representatives of socialist realism. Already at the time of the Weimar Republic, Gerster had written a series of works for the workers’ movement and had a clean, folksy compositional style. Special attention was given to his Symphony No. 2, called the Thuringian Symphony, the cantata Eisenkombinat Ost from 1951 and the Festouvertüre in 1948. Spies, whose works are characterized by catchy melodies and imaginative use of traditional harmony, was prized above all for his chamber music, songs and cantatas. Also Ernst Hermann Meyercan be considered a representative of socialist realism. Although only a part of his works can easily be attributed to this conception of art, he appeared in their book Music in Contemporary History as their determined defender. His Mansfeld oratorio, which portrays the lives of miners through the ages, caused a sensation. Hanns Eisler composed only a few large works in GDR times, which, however, caused quite a stir (such as his Neue Deutsche Volkslieder); his earlier compositions have little in common with socialist realism. Paul Dessau took only a fleeting note of this aesthetic and can not be described as one of its protagonists.
In most of the Eastern Bloc countries, hardly any composer deals with socialist realism in the longer term. In Czechoslovakia, the Slovak Alexander Moyzes, in his middle period of production, was guided by this aesthetic, which is particularly evident in his Symphonies Nos. 5 to 7 and several orchestral suites. Already before the Second World War, Ervín Schulhoff had turned away from Dadaism from about 1932 and included some hallmarks of socialist realism in his works, especially in his setting of the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and his dedicated to the Red Army Symphony No. 6, the Freedom Symphony, In Hungary, Zoltán Kodály came very close to aesthetics, as he worked in all his work folk music and thus his works were quite compatible with the socialist realism. Aleksandar Josifov is one of the outstanding representatives of socialist realism in Bulgaria and an exception in that he was one of the few younger composers to join this aesthetic. In Romania, especially Gheorghe Dumitrescu received great attention. By contrast, socialist realism played almost no role in Poland.
Socialist Realism in Architecture
In the architecture of the Soviet Union, socialist realism, which in architecture is termed Stalinist architecture, socialist classicism, or Stalinist confectionery style, replaced constructivism. The turn of architecture to classicism in the 1930s was not exclusively Soviet, but quite an international phenomenon. However, the totalitarian system of Stalinism – and the same is true of National Socialism – ensured that classicism prevailed throughout Soviet architecture and found its expression in monumental building projects. Examples are the so-called “Seven sisters “in Moscow and the plan of building a palace of the Soviets in the middle. In St Petersburg, the House of Soviets on Moscow Square is an example of socialist realism in architecture.
After the end of the Second World War, the Soviet style of construction also spread to the other countries of the socialist camp. Examples include the East Berlin Stalin Allee or the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.
Developments after Stalin’s death
Unlike the other art genres, the period of socialist realism in architecture ended with the death of Stalin (officially since 1955). This was followed by a return to the simplicity of modern architecture. One exception is the so-called House of the People (now the Parliament Palace), which was built in Bucharest in the second half of the 1980s.
The Szoborpark (also Memento Park) in the southwest of the Hungarian capital Budapest was opened in 1993. It includes a collection of monuments from the era of real socialism designed by Ákos Eleőd.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Socialist Realism as: a Marxist aesthetic theory calling for the didactic use of literature, art, and music to develop social consciousness in an evolving socialist state. Socialist Realism compelled, often by force or coercion, artists of all forms to create positive or uplifting reflections of socialist utopian life by utilizing any visual media such as: posters, movies, newspapers, theater and radio beginning during the Communist Revolution of 1917, escalating during the reign of Josef Stalin (1924-1953) until the early 1980’s.
Vladimir Lenin, head of the Russian government 1917-1924, laid the foundation for this new wave of art, suggesting that art is for the people and the people should love and understand it, while uniting the masses. Artists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner attempted to define the lines of art under Lenin by writing “The Realist Manifesto” in 1920 suggesting that artists should be given free rein to create as their muse desired. Lenin, however, had a different purpose for art; wanting it functional, and Stalin built on that belief that art should be propaganda.
Maxim Gorky, founder of the Socialist Realist movement, proclaimed in 1934 at the Soviet Writer’s congress that any works of art that portrayed a negative or anti-governmental view of Russia were illegal. This turned individual artists and their masterpieces into state controlled propaganda.
After the death of Stalin in 1953, his was succeed by Nikita Khrushchev who harbored less draconian state controls and openly condemned Stalin’s artistic demands in 1957 with his “Secret Speech”, and thus began a reversal in policy known as “Khrushchev’s Thaw.” He believed that artists should not be constrained and should be allowed to live by their creative talents. In 1964, Khrushchev was removed and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev who reintroduced Stalin’s ideas and reversed the artistic decisions made by Khrushchev.
However, by the early 1980’s, the Socialist Realist movement had begun to fade. Artist to date remark that the Russian Social Realist movement as the most oppressive and shunned period of Soviet Art.
Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR)
The Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR) was established in 1922 and was one of the most influential artist groups in the USSR. The AKhRR worked to truthfully document contemporary life in Russia by utilizing “heroic realism”. The term “heroic realism” was beginning of the socialist realism archetype. AKhRR was sponsored by influential government officials such as Leon Trotsky and carried favor with the Red Army.
In 1928, the AKhRR was renamed to Association of Artists of the Revolution (AKhR) in order to include the rest of the Soviet states. At this point the group had begun participating in state promoted mass forms of art like murals, jointly made paintings, advertisement production and textile design. The group was disbanded April 23, 1932 by the decree “On the Reorganization of Literary and Artistic Organizations” serving as the nucleus for the stalinist USSR Union of Artists.
Society of Easel Painters (OSt)
While the Society of Easel Painters (OSt) was also focused on the glorification of the revolution they, as per their name, worked individually as easel painters. The most common subjects of the OSt’s works fit with the developing socialist realism trope. Their paintings consisted of sport and battle, industry and modern technology.
The OSt broke up in 1931 due to some members’ demand to transition to collective print and poster work. Some prominent members include Aleksandr Deyneka (till 1928), Yuri Pimanov, Aleksandr Labas, Pyotr Vilyams, all of whom were students or ex-students of Moscow’s art school, Vkhutemas.
The Union of Soviet Writers (USW)
The Union of Soviet Writers was created to mandate the single soviet method of socialist realism for all writers, poets and journalist. Its duties comprising from awards to punishment was the ultimate silencing of the most gifted writers. In August 1934, the union held its first congress where the revolutionary writer Maxim Gorky said, “The Writers’ Union is not being created merely for the purpose of bodily uniting all artists of the pen, but so that professional unification may enable them to comprehend their corporate strength, to define with all possible clarity their varied tendencies, creative activity, guiding principles, and harmoniously to merge all aims in that unity which is guiding all the creative working energies of the country.”
One of the most famous authors during this time was Alexander Fadeyev(24, December 1901- 13, May 1956). Fadeyev was a close personal friend of Stalin and called Stalin “one of the greatest humanists the world has ever seen.”His most famous works include “The Rout” and “The Young Guard”.”The Young Guard” is a book written by Fadeyev, it was written about an anti-German group called the Young Guards, a group of young men that opposed the Germans. The book details the story of a few different members of the group. It was praised by the Soviet Union and the patriotism show by the group of men.
The impact of socialist realism art can still be seen and felt decades after it was no longer the only state supported style. Even before the end of the USSR in 1991, the government had been loosening its hold on censorship. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev began to condemn the previous regime’s practice of excessive restrictions. This freedom allowed artists to begin experimenting with new techniques, but the shift was not immediate. It was not until the ultimate fall of Soviet rule that artists were no longer restricted by the communist party. Many socialist realism tendencies prevailed until the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s.
In the 1990s, many Russian artists used socialist realism characteristics in an ironic fashion. This was a complete rupture from what existed only a couple of decades before. Once artists broke from the socialist realism mold there was a significant power shift. Artists began including subjects that could not exist according to Soviet ideals. Now that the power over appearances was taken away from the government, artists achieved a level of authority that had not existed since the early 20th century. In the decade immediately after the fall of the USSR, artists represented socialist realism and the Soviet legacy as a traumatic event. By the next decade, there was a unique sense of detachment.
Western cultures often do not look at socialist realism positively. Democratic countries view the art produced during this period of repression as a lie. Non-Marxist art historians tend to view communism as a form of totalitarianism that smothers artistic expression and therefore retards the progress of culture.
Notable works and artists
Maxim Gorky’s novel Mother is usually considered to have been the first socialist-realist novel. Gorky was also a major factor in the school’s rapid rise, and his pamphlet, On Socialist Realism, essentially lays out the needs of Soviet art. Other important works of literature include Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement (1925), Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered and Mikhail Sholokhov’s two volume epic, Quiet Flows the Don (1934) and The Don Flows Home to the Sea (1940). Yury Krymov’s novel Tanker “Derbent” (1938) portrays Soviet merchant seafarers being transformed by the Stakhanovite movement.
Martin Andersen Nexø developed socialist realism in his own way. His creative method featured a combination of publicistic passion, a critical view of capitalist society, and a steadfast striving to bring reality into accord with socialist ideals. The novel Pelle, the Conqueror is considered to be a classic of socialist realism. The novel Ditte, Daughter of Man had a working-class woman as its heroine. He battled against the enemies of socialism in the books Two Worlds, and Hands Off!.
The novels of Louis Aragon, such as The Real World, depict the working class as a rising force of the nation. He published two books of documentary prose, The Communist Man. In the collection of poems A Knife in the Heart Again, Aragon criticizes the penetration of American imperialism into Europe. The novel The Holy Week depicts the artist’s path toward the people against a broad social and historical background.
Hanns Eisler composed many workers’ songs, marches, and ballads on current political topics such as Song of Solidarity, Song of the United Front, and Song of the Comintern. He was a founder of a new style of revolutionary song for the masses. He also composed works in larger forms such as Requiem for Lenin. Eisler’s most important works include the cantatas German Symphony, Serenade of the Age and Song of Peace. Eisler combines features of revolutionary songs with varied expression. His symphonic music is known for its complex and subtle orchestration.
Closely associated with the rise of the labor movement was the development of the revolutionary song, which was performed at demonstrations and meetings. Among the most famous of the revolutionary songs are The Internationale and Whirlwinds of Danger. Notable songs from Russia include Boldly, Comrades, in Step, Workers’ Marseillaise, and Rage, Tyrants. Folk and revolutionary songs influenced the Soviet mass songs. The mass song was a leading genre in Soviet music, especially during the 1930s and the war. The mass song influenced other genres, including the art song, opera, and film music. The most popular mass songs include Dunaevsky’s Song of the Homeland, Blanter’s Katiusha, Novikov’s Hymn of Democratic Youth of the World, and Aleksandrov’s Sacred War.
In the early 1930s, Soviet filmmakers applied socialist realism in their work. Notable films include Chapaev, which shows the role of the people in the history-making process. The theme of revolutionary history was developed in films such as The Youth of Maxim, by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, Shchors by Dovzhenko, and We are from Kronstadt by E. Dzigan. The shaping of the new man under socialism was a theme of films such as A Start Life by N. Ekk, Ivan by Dovzhenko, Valerii Chkalov by M. Kalatozov and the film version of Tanker “Derbent” (1941). Some films depicted the part of peoples of the Soviet Union against foreign invaders: Alexander Nevsky by Eisenstein, Minin and Pozharsky by Pudvokin, and Bogdan Khmelnitsky by Savchenko. Soviet politicians were the subjects in films such as Yutkevich’s trilogy of movies about Lenin.
Socialist realism was also applied to Hindi films of the 1940s and 1950s. These include Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), which won the Grand Prize at the 1st Cannes Film Festival, and Bimal Roy’s Two Acres of Land (1953), which won the International Prize at the 7th Cannes Film Festival.
The painter Aleksandr Deineka provides a notable example for his expressionist and patriotic scenes of the Second World War, collective farms, and sports. Yuriy Pimenov, Boris Ioganson and Geli Korzev have also been described as “unappreciated masters of twentieth-century realism”. Another well-known practitioner was Fyodor Pavlovich Reshetnikov.
Socialist realism art found acceptance in the Baltic nations, inspiring many artists. One such artist was Czeslaw Znamierowski (23 May 1890 – 9 August 1977), a Soviet Lithuanian painter, known for his large panoramic landscapes and love of nature. Znamierowski combined these two passions to create very notable paintings in the Soviet Union, earning the prestigious title of Honorable Artist of LSSR in 1965. Born in Latvia, which formed part of the Russian Empire at the time, Znamierowski was of Polish nationality and Lithuanian citizenship, a country where he lived for most of his life and died. He excelled in landscapes and social realism, and held many exhibitions. Znamierowski was also widely published in national newspapers, magazines and books. His more notable paintings include Before Rain (1930), Panorama of Vilnius City (1950), The Green Lake (1955), and In Klaipeda Fishing Port (1959).A large collection of his art is located in the Lithuanian Art Museum.
Thol, a novel by D. Selvaraj in Tamil is a standing example of Marxist Realism in India. It won a literary award (Sahithya Akademi) for the year 2012.
In conjunction with the Socialist Classical style of architecture, socialist realism was the officially approved type of art in the Soviet Union for more than fifty years. All material goods and means of production belonged to the community as a whole; this included means of producing art, which were also seen as powerful propaganda tools.
In the early years of the Soviet Union, Russian and Soviet artists embraced a wide variety of art forms under the auspices of Proletkult. Revolutionary politics and radical non-traditional art forms were seen as complementary. In art, Constructivism flourished. In poetry, the non-traditional and the avant-garde were often praised.
These styles of art were later rejected by members of the Communist Party who did not appreciate modern styles such as Impressionism and Cubism. Socialist realism was, to some extent, a reaction against the adoption of these “decadent” styles. It was thought by Lenin that the non-representative forms of art were not understood by the proletariat and could therefore not be used by the state for propaganda.
Alexander Bogdanov argued that the radical reformation of society to communist principles meant little if any bourgeois art would prove useful; some of his more radical followers advocated the destruction of libraries and museums. Lenin rejected this philosophy, deplored the rejection of the beautiful because it was old, and explicitly described art as needing to call on its heritage: “Proletarian culture must be the logical development of the store of knowledge mankind has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist, landowner, and bureaucratic society.”
Modern art styles appeared to refuse to draw upon this heritage, thus clashing with the long realist tradition in Russia and rendering the art scene complex. Even in Lenin’s time, a cultural bureaucracy began to restrain art to fit propaganda purposes. Leon Trotsky’s arguments that a “proletarian literature” was un-Marxist because the proletariat would lose its class characteristics in the transition to a classless society, however, did not prevail.
Socialist realism became state policy in 1934 when the First Congress of Soviet Writers met and Stalin’s representative Andrei Zhdanov gave a speech strongly endorsing it as “the official style of Soviet culture”. It was enforced ruthlessly in all spheres of artistic endeavour. Form and content were often limited, with erotic, religious, abstract, surrealist, and expressionist art being forbidden. Formal experiments, including internal dialogue, stream of consciousness, nonsense, free-form association, and cut-up were also disallowed. This was either because they were “decadent”, unintelligible to the proletariat, or counter-revolutionary.
In response to the 1934 Congress in Russia, the most important American writers of the left gathered in the First American Writers Congress of 26–27 April 1935 in Chicago at meetings that were supported by Stalin. Waldo David Frank was the first president of the League of American Writers, which was backed by the Communist Party USA. A number of novelists balked at the control, and the League broke up at the invasion of the Soviet Union by German forces.
The first exhibition organized by the Leningrad Union of Artists took place in 1935. Its participants – Mikhail Avilov, Isaak Brodsky, Piotr Buchkin, Nikolai Dormidontov, Rudolf Frentz, Kazimir Malevich, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, and Alexander Samokhvalov among them – became the founding fathers of the Leningrad school, while their works formed one of its richest layers and the basis of the largest museum collections of Soviet painting of the 1930s-1950s.
In 1932, the Leningrad Institute of Proletarian Visual Arts was transformed into the Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (since 1944 named Ilya Repin). The fifteen-year period of constant reformation of the country’s largest art institute came to an end. Thus, basic elements of the Leningrad school – namely, a higher art education establishment of a new type and a unified professional union of Leningrad artists, were created by the end of 1932.
In 1934 Isaak Brodsky, a disciple of Ilya Repin, was appointed director of the National Academy of Arts and the Leningrad Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Brodsky invited distinguished painters and pedagogues to teach at the Academy, namely Semion Abugov, Mikhail Bernshtein, Ivan Bilibin, Piotr Buchkin, Efim Cheptsov, Rudolf Frentz, Boris Ioganson, Dmitry Kardovsky, Alexander Karev, Dmitry Kiplik, Yevgeny Lansere, Alexander Lubimov, Matvey Manizer, Vasily Meshkov, Pavel Naumov, Alexander Osmerkin, Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Leonid Ovsyannikov, Nikolai Petrov, Sergei Priselkov, Nikolay Punin, Nikolai Radlov, Konstantin Rudakov, Pavel Shillingovsky, Vasily Shukhaev, Victor Sinaisky, Ivan Stepashkin, Konstantin Yuon, and others.
Art exhibitions of 1935–1940 serve as counterpoint to claims that the artistic life of the period was suppressed by the ideology and artists submitted entirely to what was then called “social order”. A great number of landscapes, portraits, and genre paintings exhibited at the time pursued purely technical purposes and were thus ostensibly free from any ideology. Genre painting was also approached in a similar way.
In the post-war period between the mid-fifties and sixties, the Leningrad school of painting was approaching its vertex. New generations of artists who had graduated from the Academy (Repin Institute of Arts) in the 1930s–50s were in their prime. They were quick to present their art, they strived for experiments, and were eager to appropriate a lot and to learn even more.
Their time and contemporaries, with all its images, ideas, and dispositions found it full expression in portraits by Vladimir Gorb, Boris Korneev, Engels Kozlov, Felix Lembersky, Oleg Lomakin, Samuil Nevelshtein, Victor Oreshnikov, Semion Rotnitsky, Lev Russov, and Leonid Steele; in landscapes by Nikolai Galakhov, Vasily Golubev, Dmitry Maevsky, Sergei Osipov, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Alexander Semionov, Arseny Semionov, and Nikolai Timkov; and in genre paintings by Andrey Milnikov, Yevsey Moiseenko, Mikhail Natarevich, Yuri Neprintsev, Nikolai Pozdneev, Mikhail Trufanov, Yuri Tulin, Nina Veselova, and others.
In 1957, the first all-Russian Congress of Soviet artists took place in Moscow. In 1960, the all-Russian Union of Artists was organized. Accordingly, these events influenced the art life in Moscow, Leningrad, and the provinces. The scope of experimentation was broadened; in particular, this concerned the form of painterly and plastic language. Images of youths and students, rapidly changing villages and cities, virgin lands brought under cultivation, grandiose construction plans being realized in Siberia and the Volga region, and great achievements of Soviet science and technology became the chief topics of the new painting. Heroes of the time – young scientists, workers, civil engineers, physicians, etc. – were made the most popular heroes of paintings.
In this period, life provided artists with plenty of thrilling topics, positive figures, and images. Legacy of many great artists and art movements became available for study and public discussion again. This greatly broadened artists’ understanding of the realist method and widened its possibilities. It was the repeated renewal of the very conception of realism that made this style dominate Russian art throughout its history. Realist tradition gave rise to many trends of contemporary painting, including painting from nature, “severe style” painting, and decorative art. However, during this period impressionism, postimpressionism, cubism, and expressionism also had their fervent adherents and interpreters.
The restrictions were relaxed somewhat after Stalin’s death in 1953, but the state still kept a tight rein on personal artistic expression. This caused many artists to choose to go into exile, for example the Odessa Group from the city of that name. Independent-minded artists that remained continued to feel the hostility of the state.
In 1974, for instance, a show of unofficial art in a field near Moscow was broken up and the artwork destroyed with a water cannon and bulldozers (see Bulldozer Exhibition). Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika facilitated an explosion of interest in alternative art styles in the late 1980s, but socialist realism remained in limited force as the official state art style until as late as 1991. It was not until after the fall of the Soviet Union that artists were finally freed from state censorship.
Other socialist states
After the Russian Revolution, socialist realism became an international literary movement. Socialist trends in literature were established in the 1920s in Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Writers who helped develop socialist realism in the West included Louis Aragon, Johannes Becher, and Pablo Neruda.
The doctrine of socialist realism in other People’s Republics, was legally enforced from 1949 to 1956. It involved all domains of visual and literary arts, though its most spectacular achievements were made in the field of architecture, considered a key weapon in the creation of a new social order, intended to help spread the communist doctrine by influencing citizens’ consciousness as well as their outlook on life. During this massive undertaking, a crucial role fell to architects perceived not as merely engineers creating streets and edifices, but rather as “engineers of the human soul” who, in addition to extending simple aesthetics into urban design, were to express grandiose ideas and arouse feelings of stability, persistence and political power.
In art, from the mid-1960s more relaxed and decorative styles became acceptable even in large public works in the Warsaw Pact bloc, the style mostly deriving from popular posters, illustrations and other works on paper, with discreet influence from their Western equivalents.
Today, arguably the only countries still focused on these aesthetic principles are North Korea, Laos, and to some extent Vietnam. The People’s Republic of China occasionally reverts to socialist realism for specific purposes, such as idealised propaganda posters to promote the Chinese space program. Socialist realism had little mainstream impact in the non-Communist world, where it was widely seen as a totalitarian means of imposing state control on artists.
The former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was an important exception among the communist countries, because after the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, it abandoned socialist realism along with other elements previously imported from the Soviet system and allowed greater artistic freedom. Miroslav Krleža, one of the leading Yugoslav intellectuals, gave a speech at the Third Congress of the Writers Alliance of Yugoslavia held in Ljubljana in 1952, which is considered a turning point in the Yugoslav denouncement of dogmatic socialist realism.
Leon Trotsky subjected Soviet cultural production to a fundamental critique (Art and Revolution, 1939). While the October Revolution has provided a boost to cultural production, the bureaucracy is suppressing art with a totalitarian hand. Their only purpose would be to worship the leaders and produce myths.
“The style of today’s official Soviet painting is called ‘socialist realism’. This name has apparently been given to her by some leader of some art section. This realism consists in aping the provincial daguerreotypes of the third quarter of the last century; The ‘socialist’ character is evidently to represent events by means of a distorting photograph that never took place. It is not possible, without a feeling of physical disgust and horror, to read Soviet verses and novels, or to look at reproductions of Soviet sculptures: in these works, functionaries armed with feathers, brushes or chisels under the supervision of functionaries armed with mousepouchers perpetuate, great and ingenious leaders, who in reality do not possess a spark of greatness and ingenuity. The art of the Stalin epoch will go down in history as the most blatant expression of the deepest decline of the proletarian revolution. ”
Trotsky emphasizes the freedom of art, so a truly revolutionary party would neither be able nor willing to control art. “Art and science not only seek no guidance, but can by their very nature tolerate nothing.” Art could only serve the revolution if it remained true to itself.
Often received as unpretentious and with kitsch elements tainted art, experienced the socialist realism in the wake of the aestheticization of the trash a renaissance in popular culture (see also: Ostalgie).
Today, it becomes clear that the literature of socialist realism was also a legal possibility of examining ideological taboo subjects and political-societal constraints. This position sometimes required serious sacrifices from literature, forcing it to assume a social responsibility that Western European literature no longer had, as such responsibility fell within the remit of other institutions. Compared to Western Europe, the larger social area of literature in Central and Eastern Europe was lost after 1990.
Criticism of socialist realism
For its critics, compared to the variety and eclecticism of twentieth-century Western art, socialist realism appears as a narrow, coarse, and predictable range of intellectual production. He was often criticized for representing an obstacle to true art, or for the political pressures to which artists were subjected. Czeslaw Milosz in the introduction on social realism, of Andrei Sinyavsky (1959) describes the production of social realism as lower, what he considers the inevitable result of a, according to him, limited vision of the reality allowed to artists by this current. In the same vein, critics speak of several cases of cultural exiles even after the end of the Stalinist period, such as the Odesa Group, a group of artists who left the country on political grounds.
The precepts of socialist realism and its rigid application for more than twenty years caused a great damage to the freedom of expression of the Soviet artists. Many artists and authors saw their works censored, ignored or rejected. Mikhail Bulgakov, for example, had to write his masterpiece The Master and Margarita in secret, despite previous successes as White Guard. Dmitri Shostakovich suffered the prohibition of several of his works, such as the Fourth Symphony and the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and had to resort to all kinds of maneuvers to get around censorship – official controls – and obtain his rehabilitation. In 1937he composed his Fifth Symphony in D minor opus 47, which subtitled a Soviet composer’s response to a fair critique.
The political doctrine underlying socialist realism led to the prohibition of works such as those of George Orwell, considered by the Soviet government as little more than anti-communist pamphlets, and made access to foreign art and literature in some cases difficult. Much of the so-called bourgeois art and all the experimental or formalist works were denounced as decadent, degenerate and pessimistic, and therefore essentially anti-communist. The work of James Joyce was condemned in a particularly drastic way.
The concrete result was that until the 1980s much of the Soviet public had difficult access to many works of Western art and literature, a fact highlighted by critics of the Soviet system. For its defenders, the constant agitation of the idea of censorship clashes with the tangible efforts made by the State to meet the cultural needs of the population, including the encouragement of reading and plays, customs considered today reminiscent of the Soviet period.
In any case, not all communists accepted the need for socialist realism. Its establishment as a State policy in the 1930s had more to do with the internal policies of the Communist Party than with the imperatives of classical Marxism.
The Hungarian Marxist essayist Georg Lukács criticized the rigidity of socialist realism and postulated his own critical realism as an alternative. Also, in 1938, a famous manifesto was published: “Manifesto for an independent revolutionary art”, signed by André Bretón and the old Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky, in which a radical critique of “Soviet” art is made. The Che Guevara also criticized in his day the rigidity of socialist realism.