In 1934, Soviet culture (and specifically literature) took a major turn with the adoption of socialist realism as the official state method. The movement was surprisingly conservative in part; it represented a return to the old Russian realist tradition (think Leskov and Tolstoy), “infused with the ideology and optimism of socialism” (Seventeen Moments). It represented a form of culture that would be accessible to the masses, have high ideological and artistic content, and be realistic in nature.
While Stalin explained the movement simply as “socialist in content, nationalist in form”, Zhdanov, the “party chief of ideology and culture,” (Seventeen Moments), outlined the tenets of socialist realism a bit further. In his speech to the Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934, he explains Soviet literature as being “the richest in ideas, the most advanced and the most revolutionary.” He goes on to say that the new form of literature is based “on the life of the working class and peasantry and their fight for socialism” (Marxist Internet Archive). This one statement articulates clearly both how it could be accessible to the masses – the working class and peasantry – and how it promotes the party’s ideology – the fight for socialism.
Literary examples include novels like Krymov’s Tanker Derbent, which told the story of a motley crew of sailors who were brought together for the collective by their captain, an ordinary communist. The 1934 film Chapaev is yet another example of socialist realism. It tells the story of a real life Soviet hero, a Red Army Civil War commander who realizes what it means to fight for the Bolshevik cause. One of the real Chapaev’s soldiers who watched the film stated, “What is important to us about this film? It is the excitement I felt while watching it, the enthusiasm that is infectious, the political change that it produces” (“The Whole Country is Watching Chapaev“). Socialist realism was supposed to do just that: encourage political change while still being something the common citizen is actually excited to watch/read/listen to.
Stalin once called Soviet writers “engineers of the human soul.” As Zhdanov described it, this means to fight actively for the culture, the language, and the quality of production. And by doing so, essentially these “engineers” – these defenders of socialist realism – would be fighting actively for the socialist cause as well.Chapaev Film Poster
Chapaev Film Poster image retrieved from: http://www.vinmag.com/online/index.php?app=gbu0&ns=catshow&ref=russian-posters&sid=0ia46no5wopx38b5777h6mq0ac450c0k
Stalin and Zhdanov image retrieved from: http://www.52insk.com/2011/reduta-2/
“The Whole Country is Watching Chapaev.” Pravda, 1934. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
von Geldern, James. “Socialist Realism.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Zhdanov, Andreii. “Soviet Literature – The Richest in Ideas, the Most Advanced Literature.” Marxists Internet Archive.