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Socialist Realism

SOCIALIST REALISM

On April 23, 1932, the Party Central Committee of the USSR adopted socialist realism (SR) as the official artistic mandate for Soviet literature (de facto for art, music, film, and architecture as well), a practice that, theoretically, governed the production of any work of art until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. While most frequently associated with literature (especially since the adoption of SR occurred practically simultaneously with the dissolution of all literary groups and their subjugation into one Union of Writers), socialist realism provided the guidelines according to which any artist should craft his work.

Yet the very concept of socialist realism problematizes the process of definition. Over the course of its implementation socialist realism's practitioners and critics have referred to it as a method, doctrine, framework, or style. Precisely the inability to definitively label it points to its inherent contradictions. Indeed, the best label for socialist realism could well be critic Yevgeny Dobrenko's terman aesthetic system. This moniker implies that socialist realism dictated far more than the form of an artistic work; in addition, socialist realism strove to control how an artist worked and how an audience received and perceived any work of art. Just as events in the Soviet Union unfolded, so, too, did socialist realism adjust to the new demands of changing times. Consequently, socialist realism was realized as a totalizing system that would inculcate Soviet citizens into the new ideological system, the result of the Bolshevik revolution, and the emergence of Stalinism.

Andrei Zhdanov, then Leningrad Party boss and frequent spokesman for Party policy, delineated the program of SR at the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. Increasingly critics identify the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky as the true instigator behind the movement given his active role in establishing journals (such as Nashi Dostizheniya [Our Achievements]) and literary series (such as The History of Factories and Plants), as well as his editorship of volumes such as The History of the Construction of the Stalin White SeaBaltic Canal. Indeed many of Gorky's polemical and didactic articles of the time delineate how writers were called to document, applaud, and encourage the building of the new Soviet state, especially vis-à-vis the first two Five-Year Plans, even though Gorky himself produced no original works of literature during this final period of his career. In addition, as had been proposed most vociferously by RAPP (the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) in the 1920s, common workers should emerge as the chief arbiters of artistic production. It was believed that if properly trained, any worker could become a Soviet writer or artist, especially because, ideologically speaking, only workers had the appropriate class pedigree.

Not surprisingly, although attempts were made to reforge (a common metaphor of the early 1930s) workers into masterful artists, much of this activity was in vain. As readers in the early 1930s were quick to point out, badly written or executed SR art was neither appealing nor inspiring. Indeed, recently some critics have noted that the reading and viewing public of the early 1930s played a much larger role in determining what kind of art would be produced, thanks to their active response to any artistic production that did not meet with their aesthetic sensibilities or did not conform to their conception of a typical work of Soviet art. This did not imply, however, that subsequent works of socialist realist art had uniformly high quality and were superior works of art; most were not.

Hence, mounting pressure was applied to members of the various artistic establishments to embrace the new aesthetic model of socialist realism. In the literary arena some writers, most notably Mikhail Bulgakov, Osip Mandelshtam, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and Anna Akhmatova to name but a few, consistently resisted the pressure to produce Party-mandated art; consequently they found it essentially impossible to have their work published. Others such as Mikhail Zoshchenko, Viktor Shklovsky, and Valentin Katayev attempted to find a compromise position that enabled them to continue to be published while maintaining a modicum of personal artistic style and integrity. Yet others, among them Alexander Fadeyev, Alexei Tolstoy and Vera Inber, subscribed completely to the Party mandate by producing literary works that strove to comply as closely as possible with socialist realism. Here, too, the issue of artistic quality emerged as a concern.

Yet the outline above should not suggest that the divisions among artists were black and white categories that did not allow for subversions of the socialist realist canon or deviations from the "Party line" within an artist's oeuvre. Consequently, it is not uncommon to find musical comedies in the 1930s, which, while celebrating the heightened class consciousness and loyalty of Soviet citizens, also featured musical production numbers, slapstick comedy, and lighthearted romance (e.g., Volga, Volga, The Jolly Fellows, Circus ). In addition, in literature the early "canonical" works of socialist realism, which were posited as models for future works, predated the adoption of the socialist realist aesthetic. These include Gorky's novel Mat (Mother, 1906), Fyodor Gladkov's post-Civil war story Tsement (Cement, 1925), Dmitry Furmanov's Civil War epic Chapayev (1923), and Alexander Fadeyev's Bolshevik drama Razgrom (The Rout, 1927) all of which presented the struggle for socialism from authors who understood how to present Soviet reality in its revolutionary development. As these examples illustrate, in literature the socialist realist genre of choice was the novel. Similarly, in music the symphony reigned supreme, while in tactile art, sculpture, and architecture massive, grandiloquent, and neoclassical exemplars managed to concretize the physical manifestations of socialist realism.

Indeed, in one respect socialist realism's lineage harkened back to the nineteenth century since its foundation rested on the aesthetic principles of realism and its purported ability to truthfully depict life as it was happening. Moreover, the populist movements of the second half of the nineteenth century, which greatly appealed to Bolshevik ideologists, including Vladimir Lenin, provided the prototypes not only for the appropriate psychological makeup of a character. In addition, these populist models served to situate socialist realist aesthetics in a revolutionary context that applauded the development of socialism.

In addition, some critics have traced socialist realism's genealogy through early twentieth-century Russian symbolism, a development that thereby enabled the Russian artistic and political avantgarde movements to share the notion of a perfect future life. The artistic avant-garde drew on the work of the Russian symbolist philosopher Vladimir Soloviev as the basis of its doctrine, while the political avant-garde followed Marxist ideology on its path to create a new Soviet society. Both avantgarde projects shared many of the same ideas, metaphors, and terminology in describing the "new world" they hoped to create. For example, while Soloviev espoused the idea that art was an instrument for creating the future, Marxists maintained that art was an instrument for transforming life, a process that, by its very nature, would create new men and women. Indeed, the Left Front Futurist theorist Nikolai Chuzhak links Solovievian symbolist principles with Marxist ideology, thereby creating a Marxist aesthetic that blended the theurgic impulse of Solovievian thinking with Marxist dialectics. Chuzhak labels this end product "ultrarealism," a construct that "would express the dialectical collision between 'what is' and 'what will be'" (Gutkin, 1999, p. 46). According to this interpretation, the artistic and political avant-garde movements already had sown the seeds of socialist realism long before its actual adoption.

Similarly, the critic Boris Groys has argued, among other notions, that socialist realism was more avant-garde than the avant-garde itself. Whereas the avant-garde provided numerous theoretical models, mandates, and pronouncements for how the future world should be, they were neither willing nor able to completely replace or even destroy the traditions that preceded and produced them. In fact this futuristic vision could never fully be realized, precisely because the avant-garde sought to construct it on the existing cultural structure. Conversely, socialist realism was, according to Groys, able to achieve that which the avant-garde never couldto reject traditional cultural structures and in their place to construct a new system of artistic production that reflected the new society that was supposedly being created in the Soviet Union.

Critics such as Herman Ermolaev and C. Vaughan James have argued that the basis for socialist realism rests firmly on Communist Party ideology and its desire to control cultural production to serve its ideological and propagandistic needs. Finally, the writer and literary critic Andrei Sinyavsky has proposed that the aesthetic system after which socialist realism was modeled harkened back not to nineteenth-century realism, but rather to the neoclassicism of the late eighteenth century. As Sinyavsky notes, the necessity to produce state-mandated art; the directive to applaud the glory, power, and vision of the State, especially vis-à-vis its own citizens and other cultures; the proclivity to build, write, paint, or compose works of art that were massive in structure, grandiose in their praise, and fraught with visions of how life should be, not as it actually wasthese elements paralleled the demands put to socialist realism.

Clearly the development and historical precedents in Russian cultural history for socialist realism are richer and more complicated than originally thought. In fact, even the proposed elements that had to be included in an artistic production to make it truly socialist realist were reconfigured and reemphasized as this aesthetic system continued through successive eras in the development of the Soviet Union.

Initially a number of characteristics were required of a work of socialist realism. First, it had to depict Soviet life not as it was, but as it should be. Hence, any work of socialist realist art would exemplify for its reader or viewer a behavior, event, or image that captured an "ideal" rather than reality. As stated in Literaturnaya gazeta (September 3, 1934), "Socialist realism, being the basic method of Soviet literature and literary criticism, demands from the artist the truthful, historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development. At the same time, truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic depiction of reality must be combined with the task of ideologically remolding and educating the working people in the spirit of socialism." While this statement specifically refers to literature, the parameters it sets forth were applicable to any artistic production.

In essence, any work of socialist realism should depict the bright future that Soviet public rhetoric continually promised its citizens, provided that they followed the socialist realist model. The epitome of this model was the "new Soviet man/woman" who through his or her Party-mindedness, intensive labor, class identity, and singlemindedness achieved great feats that resulted in a happy ending and that glorified the Soviet Union, thereby demonstrating the correctness of its ideology. In literature these new Soviet men and women were created by Soviet writers, the "engineers of human souls," as Josef Stalin called them. Hence, almost from its inception Socialist realism was redolent with industrial metaphors and images. Writers, indeed all artists, were engineers charged with "reforging" or reconstructing characters, images, words, and deeds into manifestations of Party policy and Soviet power.

Originally a work of socialist realism should contain four key elements. The first was ideinost the work must be anchored in and resonate with Soviet ideology, i.e. Marxism-Leninism. Second, the work must convey klassovost class-consciousness. The socialist realist heroes and heroines must personify their class heritage. Preferably they were to be members of the working class or, more rarely, enlightened peasants or intellectuals, who embraced the new ideology and demonstrated through their lives and work their allegiance to their class, and, ultimately, to the Soviet Union. Third, a socialist realist work must contain partynost Party-mindedness. This meant that the firm, guiding hand of the Communist Party of the USSR constantly exerted its presence in a work of socialist realism, either in the character of an ideal Party member in a work of literature, or through the visual or aural presentation of a theme or motif that exuded strength, decisiveness, and grandiosity. Finally, works of socialist realism should have narodnost the content of a work of art should represent the interests and viewpoint of the people (narod ) rendered in an intelligible, approachable manner.

Throughout the 1930s the aforementioned guidelines were strictly applied to artistic production. Whereas in the early 1930s collective heroism and collective labor (consonant with the goals of the first two five-year plans) were glorified and promoted, in the latter half of the 1930s up to the advent of World War II, individual heroes, from Stalin to polar explorers, from collective farm workers to Stakhanovites, were extolled. As the war years unfolded, the official enforcement of socialist realist imperatives lessened but definitely did not disappear. The slight flexibility, afforded writers in particular, to depict the brutality of battle during World War II (but not any mistakes of Stalin or his military commanders) was counterbalanced by the heroic music, art work, and films that understandably lauded the honest heroism displayed by common Soviet citizens in the face of the war.

Nonetheless, when the war concluded, a redoubling of efforts to enforce strict principles of socialist realism emerged. Primary responsibility for this enforcement fell, once again, to Andrei Zhdanov, then chair of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Zhdanov's most virulent wrath fell on poet Anna Akhmatova and writer Mikhail Zoshchenko, whose work Zhdanov aggressively attacked in the press. Consequently, the canonical elements of socialist realism reemerged and prevailed until the so-called Thaw in the late 1950s.

This period (19531963) witnessed another lessening of the paradigmatic strictures that defined socialist realism. During this period relatively greater flexibility marked artistic endeavors. In particular, literary works were permitted to explore previously untouchable topicsthe Soviet concentration camps, the difficulties of life in the countryside, the trauma of the post-war yearsin a more humanely artistic, less formulaic way. This did not mean that Party supervision of artistic production diminished completely, nor were all works of literature written at this time permitted to be published (e.g., Lidia Chukovskaya's Sofia Petrovna, Solzhenitsyn's First Circle ). Rather, a slight lessening of the controls enabled some artists to produce works that stretched the boundaries of socialist realism.

This short-lived easing of control over artistic production ended with a further tightening of the parameters that defined socialist realism. While these parameters never approached the strictness of the early years of Soviet power, they persisted nonetheless. Ironically during this ensuing periodcalled Stagnation (19641985)a number of interesting, original films, works of literature, art, and music appeared either through official channels or through the burgeoning artistic underground. This underground phenomenon permitted a host of officially censored or unacceptable works to be circulated among appreciative audiences through samizdat (self-publication) or tamizdat (publication abroad). Consequently, with each passing year, the hold that the socialist realist aesthetic exerted on Soviet culture gradually lessened until it dissolved into the period of glasnost in the mid-1980s. Nonetheless, the village and urban prose movements of the 1960s and 1970s demonstrated that socialist realism's elasticity was greater than one might have imagined. Indeed, the traditional view that the artistic value of any work of socialist realism was compromised by virtue of the fact that it was Party-mandated, has lost some of its urgency. While not all works of socialist realism deserve attention and appreciation, many do. When coupled with the nonsocialist realist works of this period, most notably Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita, we are left with a rich, variegated artistic legacy.

Moreover, the fundamental fact that socialist realism changed with the ideological and political demands of a particular time period argues for an inherent organicity that infused the system since its inception. Our understanding and, perhaps, even appreciation of socialist realism has grown thanks not only to the post-glasnost flood of archival texts and documents, but also thanks to the broader vision that hindsight provides.

See also: bulgakov, mikhail afanasievich; gorky, maxim; motion pictures; russian association of proletarian writers; samizdat; silver age; soloviev, vladimir sergeyevich; thaw, the; zhdanov, andrei alexandrovich

bibliography

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Clark, Katerina. (1985). The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Ermolaev, Herman. (1963). Soviet Literary Theories, 19171934: The Genesis of Socialist Realism. University of California Publications in Modern Philology, no. 69. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Cynthia A. Ruder

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socialist realism

socialist realism, Soviet artistic and literary doctrine. The role of literature and art in Soviet society was redefined in 1932 when the newly created Union of Soviet Writers proclaimed socialist realism as compulsory literary practice. As conceived by Stalin, Zhdanov, and Gorky, socialist realism prescribed a generally optimistic picture of socialist reality and of the development of the Communist revolution. Its purpose was education in the spirit of socialism. Its practice is marked by strict adherence to party doctrine and to conventional techniques of realism. Socialist realism has been widely condemned as stifling to artistic values. After the death of Stalin in 1953 some relaxation of strictures was evident, although socialist realism continued as the official doctrine. A similar approach to the creation of art and literature was also enforced for a time in the People's Republic of China.

See studies by A. Tertz (tr. 1961) and C. V. James (1973); M. Slonim, Soviet Russian Literature (rev. ed. 1967).

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socialist realism

socialist realism State policy on the arts, promoted by the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the 1980s. It asserted that all the arts should appeal to ordinary workers, and should be inspiring and optimistic in spirit. Art that did not fulfill these precepts was effectively banned, and most serious writers, artists and composers were forced underground or into exile.

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Socialist Realism

Socialist Realism. Offically approved styles of art, architecture, literature, etc., in the former Soviet Union and some other Communist countries. In architecture it usually involved a type of coarse stripped Classicism.

Bibliography

CoE (1995);
Jane Turner (1996)

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"Socialist Realism." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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socialist realism

socialist realism the theory of art, literature, and music officially sanctioned by the state in some Communist countries (especially in the Soviet Union under Stalin), by which artistic work was supposed to reflect and promote the ideals of a socialist society.

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