#4 Kitsch-Slapped: Socialist Realism


josef-stalin-culto-a-la-personalidad-del-lider

Having teased out some of the tensions in the revolutionary avant-garde’s manifestoes for the future of art and life, we’ll see these kernels of aesthetic compromise come to full bloom in the florid style of socialist realism that reigned supreme and singular over all the arts under Stalin and after.

Abby will be our fearless leader on Tuesday, when we have our first group encounter with the lacquered monoculture of communist Russia.

Tastes So Good—Saccharine Socialist Realism

       “Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood!” This is the defining chorus of the 1930s that denotes Socialist Realist aesthetic. Satisfied workers, determined protectors of the state, and Stalin kissing babies dominated the artistic scene, and Mayakovsky committed suicide. Despite the hard work of the revolutionary avant-garde to reject everything that had preceded the self-proclaimed post-apocalyptic state in favor of original creation and art that is entirely separate from classical artistic traditions, the Party re-legitimized (particular) artistic traditions of the past in a devastating political move.

            Socialist realism was the accepted form of art in the Soviet Union for nearly 60 years. Despite the title of the movement, the purpose of this artwork was not to depict the reality that was, but rather the reality that should be by socialist standards—an imagined (or promised) utopian reality that would surely come about in the future. This contrasts mightily with the meanings of «realism» that we have seen in previous texts for this class.

       Rather than reflecting life as it may appear (charcoal grey apartment buildings, long queues for food rations, empty shelves in stores), Socialist Realism reflected an ideal standard. With Stalin, «the real creator of reality» at the helm, the purpose of art was to shape the subconscious of the people «without revealing the mechanisms of the process» (44). In this way, Socialist Realism is not just about Victory Day parades and a furry-faced dictator surrounded by smilling children, but subliminal messaging and mind control.

            In preparation for tomorrow, let’s consider the tensions between Socialist Realism, other realisms, and reality!

Tastefully yours,

Abby

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7 thoughts on “#4 Kitsch-Slapped: Socialist Realism

  1. Based on our readings, socialist realism champions communism, socialism, and the common man. Up to this point though, the aesthetic movements we’ve studied have denounced the common person and “tasteless” things consumed by the masses. Socialist realism then seems to mark a shift from inaccessible, often poshly taste aimed at the elite, to a representation (even if for political or propaganda-like purposes) of the goals of socialism and the struggles and triumphs of the proletariat.

  2. I am really fascinated by how Socialist Realism creates images of the ideal state through the roles of gender and the roles of the worker. While there is the over-arching idea of equality and the role of the worker in the ideal socialist state, images of men, women, and children are still very gendered in their presentation. Why? How?

  3. Though the Soviet’s believed in the teleology that their rise was not only after Lenin’s conjecture of imperialism being the highest stage of capitalism (similar to the name of an essay by Lenin), but that they rose out of post-apocalyptic condition. Viewing their logic from my personal beliefs, I contend that the Soviet’s and their (aesthetic) ideology did not manifest from an ontological vacuum, and that pre-Soviet colonial prejudices and eurocentrism not only persisted, but informed Soviet ideology of anticipating and trying to achieve the (inter)national commune (as described at length in last week’s Tretyakov article). Though art from each republic and satellite incorporated representations of ethnicities that lived there (http://gaelart.blogspot.com/2010/09/social-realism-themes-industrial.html) [needing] to be “national in form, socialist in content”], I am curious if the Soviet’s would have been receptive to incorporating philosophies of communal organization from non-Western sources in their own (particularly structures of North American indigenous people and West Africans). If the Soviet’s viewed themselves beyond imperialism and open to all (as expressed in Abby’s film clip), and though they failed to demonstrate such within russocentric culture, would they be open to incorporating such forms? When the Soviet’s initially thought their revolution as permanent and international, wouldn’t incorporating organization styles from local cultures be beneficial to ease their expansion?

  4. Though the Soviet’s believed in the teleology that their rise was not only after Lenin’s conjecture of imperialism being the highest stage of capitalism (similar to the name of an essay by Lenin), but that they rose out of post-apocalyptic condition. Viewing their logic from my personal beliefs, I contend that the Soviet’s and their (aesthetic) ideology did not manifest from an ontological vacuum, and that pre-Soviet colonial prejudices and eurocentrism not only persisted, but informed Soviet ideology of anticipating and trying to achieve the (inter)national commune (as described at length in last week’s Tretyakov article). Though art from each republic and satellite incorporated representations of ethnicities that lived there (http://gaelart.blogspot.com/2010/09/social-realism-themes-industrial.html) [needing] to be “national in form, socialist in content”], I am curious if the Soviet’s would have been receptive to incorporating philosophies of communal organization from non-Western sources in their own (particularly structures of North American indigenous people and West Africans). If the Soviet’s viewed themselves beyond imperialism and open to all (as expressed in Abby’s film clip), and though they failed to demonstrate such within russocentric culture, would they be open to incorporating such forms? When the Soviet’s initially thought their revolution as permanent and international, wouldn’t incorporating organization styles from local cultures be beneficial to ease their expansion?

  5. Students of socialist realism after my own heart! Let’s definitely take up these questions when we get back to attacks on the avant-garde in the 60s and 70s right before break! To give a cursory gloss of Daniel’s topic, yes! The Soviet Union regarded non-Western nations as part of humankind’s progressive past, especially during the period of decolonization in the post-Stalin Khrushchev Thaw, when the USSR reinvigorated its policy of internationalism and turned in particular to India and various African countries as “friend nations,” IOW folks on the path to the communist utopia thrown temporarily off-course by Western imperialist forces and colonizing capitalist powers. The Soviets saw it as their ‘civilizing mission’–a term I employ in order to flag their participation in the very enlightened imperial epistemology of the West they simultaneously disavowed as their legitimating grounds–to assist these little brother countries in moving through historical stages to meet them en route to the radiant future. As a result, they most definitely looked to the folk culture of these other countries as socialist in content, and all the better for their being national in form. Such cultural diversity on display in what one Soviet historian has called “the affirmative action empire” could only solidify the inevitable internationalism of socialism and hasten the end of History! Of course, this was the top-down discourse, which had real and ambivalently beneficent effects in these non-Soviet/fellow-traveling nations; at the same time, there were more insidious and vernacular forms of racism and ethnocentrism that circulated beneath and alongside these loftier ideals. This is a research speciality of mine which I’m happy to think with the conversation about “eating the other” over which you, Dan, will be presiding in your post-break presentation! (You can come talk to me during office hours about this topic too; I find it endlessly fascinating.)

  6. Anastasia, unless we will interrogate this next Tuesday, could you briefly sketch out how socialist realism relates to kitsch, as referenced in title “Kitsch-Slapped: Socialist Realism”?

  7. Dan, good news! We will have many opportunities to interrogate this. Clement Greenberg’s essay on “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” foremost among these (coming up the Thursday after next). We’ll get a second retroactive round of such questioning when we get to post-socialist “sots art,” both before and during Yevgeniy Fiks’ visit right after spring break. (The slap, of course, refers to the founding manifesto of futurism we read last Thursday.) Like Stalin to the young Brodsky in the clip we watched today, all the answers will reveal themselves–just wait! They’re not for breakfast.

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