the shackles of socialist realism



The civil strife and chaos that had torn Russia limb from limb in the early 20th Century, although brutally devastating, did not hail the end of the stability and power that had characterized the massive country for so much of history. The continuing strength of what was now the Soviet Union lay in the newly formed support structure provided by Socialist Realism, a force that directed the awareness of, and the arts produced by, the Soviet people. The ideals of Socialist Realism deified Lenin and Marx, attributed the Bolshevik ranks with heroism undaunted by overwhelming opposition, and directed the proletariat towards a better future through reconstruction and industrialization of the state. Socialist Realism was essentially a Party tool that, combined with the Bolshevik ideals of collectivization and unity, would transform the people into a formidable, indestructible mass force.
Socialist Realism\'s central code of conduct was, in Stalin\'s words, to "above all portray life truthfully." Any form of art that depicted Bolshevik life was to do so in a realistic and accurate manner, "on its way to socialism"; "that will be socialist art, that will be Socialist Realism." (Lincoln 333) This was the paradigm that all Soviet art was to be modeled after; implemented in 1934, the formula of Socialist Realism would heavily influence artistic life in the Soviet Union until the 1960s.
The rise of Socialist Realism was rapid and dramatic. It dampened Europe\'s excitement over Russia\'s post-schism, secular art by redirecting art inward towards the Soviet people and forcing form and function upon it rather than abiding by the ideal of "art for art\'s sake." Once again, the ancient religious ideals of Orthodox Russia were shunned, and the Party replaced God at the forefront of Soviet life. The Party mimicked Socialist Realism as a model for the people, who were expected to take the example of their heroic yet humble forefathers and arise from the masses to submit themselves to the principles of Lenin, then confidently lead their comrades forward to a bright Bolshevik future where both nature and human opposition would bow to the power of the Soviets.
Although the Soviet Union was markedly secular, it adopted Orthodox Russia\'s replacement of the individual with the collective. Many artists collaborated on gigantic pieces that depicted the immense size and grandeur of their unified country. Overwhelming all other artistic principles, Socialist Realism became synonymous with the state. It modified the past and the future by making both conform to reality and to Lenin\'s timeless ideals. Most importantly, it portrayed the Soviet Union\'s future as being filled with an unequaled prosperity that would forever shame capitalism and its proponents.
However, much of the "reality" that Socialist Realism depicted existed solely in the minds of the Soviet people. Socialist Realism portrayed life only as the Bolsheviks wanted it seen, and in many ways created an idealistic world of fantasy that "overlooked massive failures" (Lincoln 335) such as the death and suffering that continued to prosper in labor camps throughout the country. Socialist Realism was Stalin\'s aesthetic cover-up of the horrid, truly real Soviet reality, and if an artist intentionally or accidentally ventured too far "behind the scenes" in his work, official confession and apology to the state did not always prevent him from being sent to one of many labor camps.
Socialist Realism was largely effective in indoctrinating simple-minded men and women with Bolshevik ideals. Nowhere else was this practice more effective than in Soviet literature, which was directed towards the unsophisticated, newly literate masses rather than the intellectual elite. Much of this literature focused on the Russian Civil War and the immortalized heroes that were crucial to socialism\'s victory. It was meant to instill the proletariat with a nationalistic pride that would direct its minds and hearts towards the interests of the state. Because of their overwhelming prominence, the influences of Socialist Realism were nearly impossible to escape.
One of the most paradigmatic, and also one of the first Soviet heroes was Vasilii Chapaev, a Red soldier killed in the Civil War and elevated to the status of legend through the efforts of Socialist Realism. The author Dmitrii Furmanov wrote a novel depicting Chapaev\'s exploits, which was made into a screenplay in 1934 and became one of the most effective products of Socialist Realism. The book,