"The First Tractor"
Socialist realism was often satirized as "girl meets tractor" stories.
A style of art prevalent in the Soviet Union
and Eastern Bloc roughly between The Soviet Twenties
and the death of Joseph Stalin
. It was the only official and acceptable style of poetry, architecture and essentially any other art (with the Culture Police
ready to send you to the gulag if you disagreed).
Declared official Soviet state policy in 1932, its principles stated that every work of art should be created according to the ideals of Marxism-Leninism. The basic tenets in literature, film or poetry were:
- Proletarian. The protagonists should be working class. This included farmers and soldiers, but usually we're talking about a factory drama.
- Typical. The work should be based around situations that could happen (for instance, in a factory).
- Partisan. The work must explicitly advocate for Communism. The hero should either be oppressed by capitalists, agitating to crush capitalism, or owe much to the Communist Revolution — ideally all three. Depicting something merely because it exists is merely naturalism — not good.
- Technically, the first two were called "critical realism" because they depicted life under capitalism. Actual socialist realism took place in a Utopian depiction of socialism and gave writers nightmares trying to put some conflict in.
- Realistic. In terms of representation — none of the abstract modern art hated by your grandpa — anything not strictly representational was "decadent", "bourgeois", "formalist", etc.
In fine arts:
- Monumental buildings, expressing the strength and power of the state. Great buildings, too big for the purpose. Columns and symmetry. Use decorations, to show strength and wealth.
- Sculptures of happy workers or peasants using cheap materials, or Lenin or Stalin using better ones. Keep it realistic and idealized.
- You do not have to technically represent reality, you should show the achievements of Communism. Paint and draw happy, content workers or farmers.
- The constant portrayal of farmers being given new farming equipment led to one Western art critic to describe the style as "Girl Meets Tractor."
- You are free to use folk motifs, but watch out not to offend the Party. We know where you live.
- Music should be easily understood, and encouraging people to work.
If you want to create something different... you can't. No, really. The Party gives you money. The Party is responsible for promotion of your works. The Party knows where you live.
If you create something in different style, you're a class traitor. They will not actually imprison you or charge you in court unless you actively tackle the Soviet system or ideology in your works, but they will never publish your work, and you will possibly get a social stigma.
More at Wikipedia
Here is a Russian joke story about Socialist Realism and Soviet censorship.
A young writer brings his first story to a publishing agency. The editor reads the first phrase: "The count was rattling cuffs on a parquet". "What?" he says. "A story about some anti-Soviet count? Where is the working class? Remake it!"
A day later, the writer comes again. The first line now reads: "The count was rattling cuffs on a parquet, and down the street Vakula the blacksmith was forging some whatchamacallit". "Better," said the editor. "But I don't see the role of Communism."
Another day later, the writer brings another version of the story: "The count was rattling cuffs on a parquet, and down the street Vakula the blacksmith was forging some whatchamacallit and singing L'Internationale". "Much better!" said the editor. "The last thing to be added here is the bright future!"
And finally the writer brings the finished story. Its first line reads: "The count was rattling cuffs on a parquet, and down the street Vakula the blacksmith was forging some whatchamacallit and singing L'Internationale. 'Screw it!' said Vakula. 'I'll finish it tomorrow!'".
Not to be confused with Social Realism, colloquially known as Kitchen Sink Drama
, which is a closely related style but a very distinct genre. Many social realist artists were also socialists (though not necessarily Marxists), but the style is not necessarily political and certainly isn't part of any official Propaganda Machine
when it is; if anything, it tends to be quite anti
To modern eyes, Socialist Realism sometimes seems to be bursting with Ho Yay
. For example, this statue outside Prague's main rail station
which depicts a (somewhat effeminate) Czechoslovak soldier joyously embracing a significantly larger Russian soldier.
- The Moscow Metro
- Plattenbau architecture
- The Wartburg 353
- V.D.N.Kh. (Exhibition of Achievements of the People's Economy), site of the most famous "Worker and Peasant" statue
- Common in North Korean architecture. Pyongyang is actually thousands of years old, but you wouldn't know it from all the 1950s Soviet-style architecture. The city was actually bombed into near oblivion during The Korean War, so the communist government rebuilt it largely from scratch. North Korea also does their propaganda posters in this style.