Home » General » Socialist Realism as a Creative Method in Art [opinion]

SOCIALIST realism is a literary style that was developed and nurtured in the Soviet Union and spread to other socialist countries. Its main thrust is to idealise the socialist existence with all its facets and idiosyncrasies and ensure that the goals of socialism are not only extolled but preserved.Socialist realism must be distinguished from social realism in that while the former simply focuses on the glorification of the passive and the working class, the latter’s concern is on the probing of issues of social concern with the view of remedying the injustices for fair and just society.

The typical characteristics of socialist realism are that its target audience is the proletariat and it must be relevant and understandable to them, it also typifies everyday life must be realistic in its representational sense and is partisan in nature and support the aims of the party in power.

Socialist realism asserts that successful art depicts and glorifies the proletariat’s struggles towards socialist progress. It demands the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical correctness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of the workers in the spirit of socialism.”

The main aocate of socialist realism was Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) who is still regarded as the father of Russian socialist realism through his novel Mother. The forerunner to Gorky’s socialist realism was the classical Russian art, which had realistic and social educational traditions and powerful ideas of patriotism and freedom.

The novel by Gorky is about the pre-revolution proletariat of Russia and focus on the role of women in the struggle for the working class on the eve of the revolution in 1905. It is a socialist realistic novel in that it is based in two actual events — the May Day demonstrations of workers in Sormovo in 1902 and the subsequent trail of its members.

Pelagea Nilovna is the mother of Pavel Mikhailovich, the novel’s hero. Nilovna suffers for 20 years at the hands of an oppressive system and a husband who was bad tempered and a misogynist whose passing away didn’t sadden anyone.

Other adherents of socialist realism include Fyodor Gladkov with his book Cement (1925), Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel was Tempered (1929), Mikhail Sholokhov’s The Don Flows Home to Sean (1940) and others like Prerezhniki with his book The Itinerants or Wonderers, Jacques-Louis David and Iliya Yefimorich Repin.

Gladkov’s Cement is regarded as the first of its kind to depict the struggles of post-revolutionary reconstruction in the Soviet Union. While Gorky focused on the pre-revolutionary period, Gladkov focuses on the psychological effects of early communism.

As a creative form of art, socialist realism regards an individual as one with the people and involved in making history and his artistic creation must as of necessity relate to the aspirations of the people.

Socialist realism was in some way a response against the adoption of so-called “decadent” styles that have been in existence before the Bolshevik revolution of 1905 that were deemed by some members of the Communist party as alien to the working class and therefore could not be used for propaganda purposes.

However, other leaders like Vladimir Lenin rejected this view saying art needed “to call to heritage” and must not be discarded for being old even though it’s beautiful.

As a doctrine and a dominant art form, socialist realism was not as widely adopted until Joseph Stalin assumed power in 1928. In 1934, socialist realism was embraced as state policy during the first Congress of Soviet Union Writers where Stalin’s representative Andrei Zhdanov clearly stated that it would be desirable for socialist realism to become the “official state of soviet culture”.

In other words, Stalin’s perspective sought to impose aesthetic and ideological uniformity on art virtually making it realistic in style but propagandistic in intent.

Socialist realism’s spectacular achievements were in the field of architecture, which was considered a key element in the creation of the social order, intended on spreading the communist doctrine by influencing citizens’ consciousness as well as outlook to life.

While it’s other strength lie in simplicity, socialist realism’s shortcomings are that it limits the creativity of the artist as form and content becomes stunted as other forms of literature like eroticism, religious, abstract, surrealism and expressionism are left out.

Even other aspects like stream of consciousness and free-form association were not allowed under Stalinist regime.

The line between the artist and the politician is blurred and the art form lacks suspense and originality. Socialist realism is bland and has a limited range of art forms.

Source : The Herald

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