Socialist realism

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Socialist realism (short and socialist realism called) was an ideologically -founded style of art of the 20th century with the attempt of strong realism and lack of abstraction and aestheticism . Socialist realism placed topics from working life and the technology of everyday socialist life in the foreground, such as optimistic forward-looking workers from a collective farm on a tractor. The Modern facing artists perceived the socialist realism as "cheap mass art" and walked out of fear of political persecution in the so-called inner emigration .

This style originated in the Soviet Union and "spread" throughout the " Eastern Bloc ". It is based on the resolution passed on April 23, 1932 as item 21 of the agenda of the meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU to “liquidate the Association of Proletarian Writers (VOAPP, RAPP )”, to unite all writers “who are in favor of the policy of Soviet power and endeavor to participate in the socialist construction ”in a unified association as well as for the corresponding“ redesign in the other art genres ... (association of musicians, composers, artists, architects, etc. organizations) ”. From this point onwards, it was authoritative as a guideline for the production of literature , visual arts and music in the entire socialist system and became an official doctrine in the cultural sector for states within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. Writers, artists and scientists have often contributed in full faith to the construction of "real socialism" and enjoyed considerable material privileges in return. Socialist realism has played an important role in the GDR since the state was founded in 1949. As an official doctrine , it dominated Soviet art until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It had the greatest impact in the period immediately after the Second World War ; only after Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, the requirements were relaxed somewhat.

Areas of application

Socialist realism in literature

Painting in the style of socialist realism: The first tractor by Vladimir Krichatski


The 1920s , i.e. the period after the October Revolution , were characterized by diversity and avant-garde art and literature in the Soviet Union . Free from tsarist censorship and enthusiastically welcoming the new zeitgeist, countless groups (“групповщина”, pronounced: “gruppovshchina”) and associations such as LEF , LCK, Proletkult , which promoted and in some cases aggressively promoted workers' literature, formed.

Avant-garde currents in culture as a whole had outlived each other at the beginning of the 1930s , however, and were also superseded internationally by tendencies towards classicism and ruralism (such as " blood and soil literature " in fascist countries ).

Shortly after the revolution of 1917, Kazimir Malevich , founder of constructivism and suprematism , was a formative force in a culture of reconstruction that was supposed to keep pace with social changes. He turned the Vitebsk art school into a suprematist center and held important positions in Soviet art bodies until the mid-1920s. With the support of the People's Commissar Anatoly Wassiljewitsch Lunatscharski , the “new” art was able to develop without direct state interference. In this early phase, however, Suprematism was also used as a stylistic device for political propaganda.

The "State Institute for Artistic Culture" (GINChUk), of which Malevich was director, was closed in 1926.

An association for writers

In its decree of April 23, 1932 on the restructuring of literary-artistic organizations , the Central Committee of the CPSU decided to dissolve all groups and organizations and to found a (provisional) all-union writers' association (WSP). In particular, the groups of the radical proletarian workers' poetry ("Proletkult") RAPP, which had been formed since 1918 and had contributed to the dissolution of other groups, were affected.

Two years later the first all-union congress of Soviet writers was prepared in August 1934, at which the new doctrine was openly discussed and the Soviet Writers' Union was founded. In its statutes, socialist realism was laid down as a "binding artistic method". Literally it said:

“Socialist realism, as the main method of Soviet artistic literature and literary criticism, demands from the artist a truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation must be coordinated with the tasks of ideological reshaping and education of the working people in the spirit of socialism. "

A total of 591 writers representing 52 nations took part. The central figure of the congress was Maxim Gorky , the first chairman of the Soviet Writers' Union. Some of them hoped for even greater freedom and diversity in topics and forms in the discussion about the new methods; However, the inaugural address of Andrei Zhdanov as a representative of the Central Committee of the CPSU clearly indicated the upcoming ideological codification of the artistic method. Campaigns, which in the following years propagated terms such as partisanship, folk loyalty, mass appropriateness and comprehensibility, gradually narrowed the literary forms. Humor , irony and satire , grotesquely absurd forms and experimental literature became - at least officially - impossible.

to form

Kupzow : ANT-20 "Maxim Gorki"

Socialist realism formally tried to unite romanticism and realism , which from the Russian perspective represented the two main literary epochs of the 19th century. Here, the type of representation as a method should be taken from realism, while the positive spirit and emotions should be taken from romanticism, and a new, revolutionary romanticism emerges. It was also pointed out that the roots of socialist realism were to be found less in romanticism than in classicism.

In both cases, old forms were reused to convey new, socio-politically compliant content, often in a trivial way. Avant-garde poets, who had developed new linguistic forms and ways of expressing poetry , or naturalistic currents no longer fit into this concept. Only Mayakovsky , who had been attacked by the proletarian working-class poets in the 1920s, was named a “Soviet classic” by Bukharin and Stalin himself in 1935.

Genera and motifs

Typical motifs of the literature of this epoch are the heroes of the building of Soviet society. There is a “worker and work cult”. The exemplary achievement that had to be achieved by the people through the industrialization of a country that was predominantly agricultural until then, required heroes of a new, Soviet type. Pilots, flight pioneers and ship crews were the people involved. Later, in order to strengthen the readiness to defend against the fascist foreign countries, a close connection between writers and the Red Army was established. The literary organization of the Red Army (LOKAF) was founded as early as 1930, to which Maxim Gorky also belonged. In other areas, too, literary professionals were assigned very specific social tasks.

A fusion of classic heroic epics (such as Eugene Onegin ) and the bourgeois novel (such as war and peace ) led to the genre of the novel - epic (Роман-Эпопея, also: Roman-Epopö ) typical of socialist realism . Significant historical epochs were linked with the individual fates of their heroes and presented in an epic manner. Alexei Tolstoy with its Epic The ordeal (Хождение по мукам) or Sholokhov The silent Don (Тихий Дон) contributed to this genus.

Another important genre of socialist realism, the novel, was divided into three sub-branches:

  • Until the late 1930s, the production novel was the most important sub-genre. Topics were agricultural kolkhozes , collectivization and “ deculakization ”, industrial development, extraction of mineral resources, sabotage and class struggle, etc. Well-known authors of this genre were Michail Scholokhov, Fyodor Panfjorow and Leonid Leonow ; later also Vsevolod Kochetov .
  • The genre of the educational novel arose from the Stalinist maxim that writers had to contribute to the education of the people, as well as the fundamental change in values ​​of the entire educational system under Stalin . Thematically the development of the human being to a “socialist personality”, patriotism and loyalty to the party was dealt with. Successful educational novels were, for example, Nikolai Ostrowski's How Steel Was Hardened and Anton Makarenko's Pedagogical Poem .
  • Without giving up the view of historical materialism ( Marx ), the historical novel represented a new view of history in the 1930s. Instead of focusing on the historical class struggle as in the twenties, important events from the “national past” were dealt with, although a reference to the Soviet present was always made, either as warning negative examples or by indirect parallels to the current system of rule were constructed. Notable examples of this genre are the works of Alexei Tolstoy, Alexej Novikow-Priboj, and Sergei Sergejew-Tschenski .

Promotion and purges

The cultural change was accompanied by rigorous censorship as well as persecution and " cleansing " of non-system-conform writers ("pests" - "вредители", " enemies of the people " - "враги народа"), whereby the extent of the persecution was unparalleled. Based on archival finds in the Lubyanka , it is estimated that a total of around 2,000 writers were arrested, 1,500 of whom either died in the camp or were executed. It was typical of dictatorial rule that Stalin arbitrarily spared individual people in all repression and seemed to take them under his protection. The focus of the persecutions on cultural workers (see also the formalism dispute in the GDR) demonstrates the immense importance that was attached to this group of people. On the other hand, there was a comprehensive system of economic promotion of the system-compliant literature creators: housing and dachas , stays in a sanatorium and a pension and health insurance were part of it. The Hungarian composer György Ligeti described the situation as follows:

“This is how a 'closed room' culture emerged in Budapest, in which the majority of artists opted for 'inner emigration'. "Socialist realism" was officially imposed, ie cheap mass art with prescribed political propaganda. Modern art and literature were banned across the board, the rich collection of French and Hungarian impressionists in the Budapest Art Museum, for example, was simply hung up. […] Unpleasant books disappeared from libraries and bookshops ( Don Quixote and Winnie the Pooh were also crushed). […] Written, composed and painted was done in secret and in the scarce spare time: Working for the drawer was considered an honor. "

- György Ligeti : accompanying text to György Ligeti Works , Sony Classical 2010

Alternative literatures

In the climate of repression, censorship and narrow artistic dogmata, works that deviated from the official line could only emerge and exist in secret. Despite the "purges" in the 1930s, poets such as Anna Akhmatova , Ossip Mandelstam , Andrei Platonow , Mikhail Bulgakov and other enduring works created, as a whole, a wide-ranging countercurrent to the literary products of socialist realism.


Walter Womacka : When communists dream - GDR stamp pad

In Soviet-controlled eastern Germany, the SBZ , a movement closely linked to the Communist Party of Germany emerged immediately after the Second World War to build a socialist cultural alliance, which later became the GDR's Kulturbund . The warnings of Soviet politicians against an “adoration of bourgeois literature and art which are in a state of putrefaction and decay”, which are “harmful” and must not find a place in “books and magazines”, were issued by politicians like the later GDR State Council Chairman Walter Ulbricht directly to the members of the Kulturbund. At the beginning of September 1948 Ulbricht criticized an art dominated by “formalism” (see: formalism controversy ) with which one could not reach the workers. He demanded "really popular, realistic art" from artists organized in the SED. Artists who did not follow it should not fall under the party's internal purge, "but as a party we have a very specific point of view, that of realism, and this point of view must [...] be enforced in every way."

The SMAD officer for culture Alexander Dymschitz during a speech in 1947

The Soviet military administration SMAD had its own cultural department, the head of which, the Russian literary scholar Alexander Lwowitsch Dymschitz , carried the guidelines for the new art into the Soviet Zone. Individualism, subjectivism, emotions and fantasies are expressions of bourgeois decadence and should therefore be rejected. His article, which appeared on November 19, 1948, in the newspaper “ T Tages Rundschau ” is considered the trigger for a turnaround in the art of East Germany in the sense of a doctrine called “socialist realism” a little later. Two weeks later, the SED's “Party Training, Culture and Education” department instructed the state parties to organize discussions on the Dymschitz article. In January 1949, the SED suggested extending the Dymschitz theses to other parts of art than painting. In numerous events, including those of the Kulturbund, prescribed fundamental discussions began with, as Magdalena Heider explains in her book about the Kulturbund, also many critical voices. Participants in a discussion event organized by the “Arbeitskreis Bildende Kunst im Kulturbund” in Hildburghausen, Thuringia, believed that the division of art into right and wrong, good and bad, was wrong. “The branding as degenerate or decadent” is reminiscent of the Nazi era.

Socialist realism in music

Development from 1932 until Stalin's death

Before socialist realism was adopted as the guideline for all arts in 1932 (see above), two different currents dominated the musical life of the Soviet Union, which were in sharp contrast to each other. The Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM) promoted the Prolet Course in Music. Its members were predominantly amateurs, just as the ideology of the association rejected music as art as bourgeois and only accepted works that had explicitly propagandistic content. Contemporary currents were rejected as western and decadent. The ideological position of the association resulted in the fact that only simple songs in praise of the revolution and the proletariat should be composed, but not works in conventional forms.

The opposite pole to the RAPM was the Association for Contemporary Music (ASM) founded in 1924 , which was fiercely opposed by the latter. Members of this organization were almost all well-known composers in the Soviet Union - especially those who were active as suppliers of the popular music in the Soviet Union, the Estrada . The musical positions of its members were therefore extremely heterogeneous - Maximilian Steinberg, for example, was still deeply rooted in the music of the Romantic era, while Nikolai Mjaskowski modernized his musical language during these years, while Alexander Mossolow represented the total avant-garde. The guideline, however, was unequivocally to orientate oneself to modern western tendencies (e.g. the twelve-tone technique ). In this association, too, there was a kind of proletarian cult. Some members (like Mossolow) wanted to "industrialize" art; H. in musical works, for example, represent the rhythm of machines. Also compositions were written in praise of the new state. Overall, the association followed a sharp demarcation from tradition. But when the rather conservative Mjaskowski left the ASM in 1931, many composers followed him, and the ASM gradually dissolved. Nevertheless, many composers continued to pursue the goal of modernizing music.

The proclamation of socialist realism contradicted both currents in principle, as this meant, on the one hand, a clear rejection of avant-garde tendencies, which gradually developed into a kind of taboo, and, on the other hand, a rejection of dilettantism as a postulate for all composers. De facto, the new aesthetic strengthened the composers, whose musical views were largely rooted in the 19th century and who previously seemed to have faded into the background, since a return to old traditions was openly demanded (see below). In contrast, the ideological orientation of the music was adapted to the "new times". Therefore, the new guideline was greeted euphorically by more conservative composers ( Reinhold Glière , Michail Ippolitow-Iwanow , Sergej Wassilenko ). Other composers such as Myaskovsky or Anatoly Alexandrov changed their style significantly to accommodate the new directive.

Around 1932, the genre of the song symphony came to its heyday. The lied symphony is a symphony with singing (often solos and choir), the themes of which are deliberately designed as song-like and catchy. The formal criteria of the symphony are nevertheless retained to a certain extent. The best known and often best respected representative of this genre is Symphony No. 4, Op. 41, entitled Poem on a Komsomol fighter by Lew Knipper . The theme of the finale of this symphony became a popular mass song in the Soviet Union (see below).

At first, however, the new aesthetic was by no means generally accepted; Dmitri Shostakovich, for example, continued to write very bold and modern works such as his 4th Symphony and his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk . In 1936, however, there was a decisive event: after Stalin Shostakovich o. G. Had heard of opera, an article called “Chaos Instead of Music” appeared in Pravda on January 28th, in which opera was sharply attacked. Both the subject and the music were presented as out of the question, and even a kind of threat was included (“This game can end badly”). In the times of the great "purges" this article did not fail to have its effect; moreover, more modern composers such as Mossolow were temporarily arrested in the following years. As a result, all composers from the mid-1930s, without exception, oriented themselves towards socialist realism.

When the Second World War began, it was a matter of course for many composers to write works that were dedicated to the subject of the “fight for freedom”. In addition to various marches and battle songs for the Soviet army, there were also quite a few large-format works - it began with Myaskovsky's 22nd Symphony, followed by the famous 7th Symphony by Shostakovich (the Leningrad Symphony ), the 2nd Symphony by Khachaturian and other works. Also Sergei Prokofiev took up this theme on, for example, in some piano sonatas, but also sixth in until 1947 resulting symphony. The war theme and the associated portrayal of “evil” allowed the composers to use more brutal (and at the same time more progressive) stylistic devices than was “allowed” before the war. In addition, music did not attract so much public attention at the time, although cultural life in the Soviet Union remained surprisingly lively even during the war. This led to a (admittedly limited) modernization of Soviet music.

However, this tendency should not have a long life: in 1948 the well-known resolution was passed. The direct trigger was the visit of Stalin and some high-ranking politicians of the opera The great friendship of the Georgian composer Vano Muradeli . Although this opera was actually oriented towards propaganda, some details of the plot met with violent opposition from the political giants. The music was also sharply criticized for alleged modernisms; It is unclear to what extent this judgment is correct, since at the moment (2004) neither a recording nor a neutral opinion appear to be available. In any case, this visit to the opera led to a meeting of the Moscow Composers' Union in January 1948, at which the party functionary Andrei Zhdanov in particular sharply attacked developments in Soviet music. As a result of this three-day session, the party resolution on the opera “The Great Friendship” was published on February 10th .

In this resolution the catchphrase of formalism was introduced , which in its meaning can be equated with "modern". It was officially declared that the formalism is characterized by the fact that the musical form, the construction of a piece of music, is placed above parameters such as the melody and leads to "decadent" phenomena such as atonality . Shostakovich , Prokofiev , Chatschaturian , Vissarion Schebalin , Gavriil Popov and Mjaskowski were directly criticized in this resolution . These composers were urged to make public "confessions of guilt", which they, with the exception of Mjaskowski, also did. In April there was another meeting of the composers' association, in which the "formalism" was repeatedly condemned and Tikhon Khrennikov was elected as the new general secretary (which he remained until 1992). The result of the resolution was a total turn by composers towards socialist realism; a huge number of propagandistic mass songs, cantatas, oratorios and symphonies emerged. The criticized composers were not officially rehabilitated until 1958, but in fact Mjaskowski's works were again an essential part of musical life from 1949 onwards. This sole rule of socialist realism lasted until Stalin's death.

After the Second World War, the directives of socialist realism were gradually introduced into musical life in the new socialist states of the Eastern Bloc. This turned out to be problematic insofar as most of the composers in these countries had previously taken completely different paths; after all, the musical development in 1932, when this aesthetic was introduced in the Soviet Union, was nowhere near as advanced as it was around 1950 in the countries outside the Soviet Union. The composers who had stayed in their home countries saw themselves under massive pressure to implement the new guidelines, because “formalistic” composers were exposed and had to reckon with various disadvantages. In the GDR, for example, Paul Dessau's opera The Condemnation of Lucullus was publicly criticized in 1951 . By the time of Stalin's death, socialist realism was largely established in all socialist countries.


Musical works that are committed to socialist realism generally have the following characteristics: The tonal language is remarkably conservative and is basically pretty close to the music of the Romantic era . It remains within the boundaries of a modally colored tonality , is based on catchy melodies and is also committed to tradition in its shaping. Trends in music of the 20th century such as twelve-tone technique , serialism , atonality and the like. strictly rejects the ideology of socialist realism as "formalistic aberrations".

A distinctive feature of socialist realism is the strong inclusion of national folklore in the music. Even if original folk song themes are not used, the melody and harmony are strongly nationally influenced. Composers who refused were denigrated as "bourgeois internationalists". According to the prevailing view, the national component, on the other hand, proves that it is popular and ensures that the music is “democratic”, i. H. is generally understandable. In general, every musical work should be addressed to all people; the motto L'art pour l'art was reformulated into L'art pour l'homme .

These demands for general comprehensibility, conservative tonal language and the inclusion of national folklore are reflected, for example, in the following article from a music dictionary for children from the GDR:

“One of the main tasks of realistic music is to appeal to as many people as possible. [...] In order to make himself understandable [,] the composer starts from tradition. He studied the art of the great masters before him and built on their work. This connection can consist in taking up the form of the symphony and developing it further or using national intonations as a basis. "

- Keyword music - music lexicon for young people, VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1977, p. 157 and 158

Despite the above-mentioned similarities with the music of Romanticism, there is a serious difference to this epoch: While the Romantics developed a preference for the dark, the unknown and often reveal a certain Weltschmerz, the music of socialist realism is optimistic in its basic mood. Negative moods are only used to be overcome; Many works are based on the concept of an "optimistic tragedy", i. H. the struggle to overcome negative phenomena (often represented in the development from minor to major ). For this reason, many compositions have a heroic, actively combative gesture and often show a tendency towards great pathos.

What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that this basic mood is a much more reliable characteristic of socialist realism in music than the music itself. The “ Mansfeld Oratorio ” by Ernst Hermann Meyer , a prime example of socialist realism, corresponds to the principle of “Per aspera ad astra “full; it is about the history of a mine from the Middle Ages to the establishment of socialism on German soil. Musically, however, the aesthetics of socialist realism cannot be fixed at any point in the work. In fact, it is a musical aesthetic hodgepodge, in which echoes of different forms and styles of different epochs can be found; Meyer himself speaks of “style parodies” in this context. It is therefore questionable whether socialist realism in the field of music only existed as a doctrine or actually as an aesthetic in its own right.

Particular emphasis was placed (of course) on conveying socialist content. This is how operas , cantatas and songs were based on propagandistic texts, but instrumental works were also often underlaid with an ideological program. Music critics interpreted new compositions (even those without an explicit program) as fundamentally social expressions. Political and social messages were foisted on older compositions. In his book “Parteiliche Musikkritik as a co-creator of a new music”, Antonyn Sychra explains that Schubert's song cycle “ Winterreise ” only superficially deals with the personal pain of an unhappy man in love; rather, it was important for Schubert to express the general social misery in the years after the Congress of Vienna .

A phenomenon that occurs almost exclusively in socialist countries is the so-called “ mass song ”. This is a melodic and harmonically emphasized simple song on a revolutionary text that clearly sided with socialism, which could easily be sung by a large number of people. The International , for example, was a model for the mass song . According to the official view, the mass song was a completely new genre typical of the musical culture under socialism.

Composers and their works

In the Soviet Union, from around 1936 to the early 1960s, practically every composer was committed to the aesthetics of socialist realism. Exceptions such as Nikolai Roslawez or Galina Ustvolskaya were very rare; In addition, there was a de facto performance ban for works by these composers. The most famous composers also followed this doctrine. Dmitri Shostakovich was rather skeptical of it, but due to the harsh criticism of 1936 and 1948, he was forced to respond to the official demands in works such as the 5th Symphony and even more in his oratorio Das Lied von den Wäldern, Op. 81 to defuse his tonal language.

Although Sergei Prokofiev came under fire in 1948, he was still able to adapt to the aesthetics much more easily, since he himself considered it his concern to offer the listener "understandable" music. Of course, his music was still considered too modern, so that Prokofiev had to make concessions. His efforts for comprehensibility are particularly evident in works such as the 5th and 7th symphonies or his oratorio Auf Friedenswacht op.124.

It was different with Aram Khachaturian , whose own aesthetic position largely coincided with the demands of socialist realism (especially with regard to the national character of music). Ballets like Gayaneh or Spartacus , his concerts, symphonies and vocal works like the Ode to Stalin combine Armenian coloring with a propagandistic orientation. Nevertheless, Chatschaturian was also criticized in 1948. This also happened to his teacher Nikolai Myaskovsky , who immediately after the proclamation of the principles in 1932 composed a symphony on the collectivization of agriculture ( No. 12 in G minor, Op. 35 ). In the following years, Mjaskowski tried to simplify and lighten his very complex, melancholy style and found music that is largely based on that of the 19th century. Nonetheless, he retained some of the characteristics of his previous work. Of all the composers who were criticized in 1948, he is the one for whom this seems the most incomprehensible. He was quickly rehabilitated without composing major works that are expressly on the party line.

In addition to these four great composers, there are a number of other composers who composed music in the style of socialist realism. Particularly noteworthy are Dmitri Kabalewski , who also wrote music for younger people, Tichon Chrennikow , who played a central role as the General Secretary of the Composers' Union , and Georgi Swiridow , who mainly composed vocal music. In addition, a number of old composers adopted the principles of socialist realism, such as Mikhail Ippolitow-Ivanov , Reinhold Glière and Sergej Wassilenko . Socialist realism also played an important role in a number of national schools. Examples are Fikret Amirow from Azerbaijan , Otar Taktakishvili from Georgia and Mykola Kolessa from Ukraine . For composers born after 1925, the importance of socialist realism declined noticeably.

Ottmar Gerster and Leo Spies were probably the most important representatives of socialist realism in the GDR . Gerster had already written a number of works for the labor movement during the Weimar Republic and had a neatly crafted, folk style of composition. His 2nd symphony, called the Thuringian Symphony , the cantata Eisenkombinat Ost from 1951 and the festival overture in 1948 received particular attention . Spies, whose works are characterized by catchy melodies and imaginative use of traditional harmony, was particularly valued for his chamber music, songs and cantatas. Even Ernst Hermann Meyer can be seen as representative of socialist realism. Although only a part of his works can be assigned to this conception of art without any problems, he appeared in his book Musik im Zeitgeschehen as its staunch defender. His Mansfeld oratorio , which depicts the life of miners through the ages, caused a sensation . During the GDR era, Hanns Eisler composed only a few large works, which, however, caused quite a stir (such as his Neue Deutschen Volkslieder ); his earlier compositions have little in common with socialist realism. Paul Dessau took only cursory notice of this aesthetic and cannot be described as one of its protagonists either.

In most of the Eastern Bloc countries, hardly any composer dealt with socialist realism in the long term. In Czechoslovakia, the Slovak Alexander Moyzes oriented himself towards this aesthetic in his middle creative period, which is particularly expressed in his symphonies No. 5 to 7 and some orchestral suites. Even before the Second World War, Ervín Schulhoff had turned away from Dadaism from around 1932 and included some characteristics of socialist realism in his works, especially in his setting of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto and his 6th Symphony, the Freedom Symphony, dedicated to the Red Army . In Hungary, Zoltán Kodály came very close to aesthetics, as he used folk music in all of his oeuvre and his works were therefore entirely compatible with socialist realism. Aleksandar Josifov is one of the outstanding representatives of socialist realism in Bulgaria and an exception in that he was one of the few younger composers to follow this aesthetic. In Romania, Gheorghe Dumitrescu was particularly well received. In contrast, socialist realism played almost no role in Poland.

Socialist realism in architecture

Lomonosov University in Moscow, one of the " Seven Sisters "

In the architecture of the Soviet Union, socialist realism, which in architecture is more commonly referred to as Stalinist architecture , socialist classicism or Stalinist confectioner style , replaced constructivism . The turn of architecture to classicism in the 1930s was not an exclusively Soviet, but an international phenomenon. The totalitarian system of Stalinism - and the same applies here to National Socialism - ensured that classicism prevailed throughout the architecture of the Soviet Union and found its expression in monumental building projects. Examples of this are the so-called “ Seven Sisters ” in Moscow and the plan to build a palace of the Soviets in their midst. In Saint Petersburg , the House of Soviets on Moscow Square is an example of socialist realism in architecture.

After the end of the Second World War, the Soviet way of building spread to the other countries of the socialist camp . Examples of this are the East Berlin Stalinallee or the Kulturpalast in Warsaw .

Developments after Stalin's death

Parliament Palace

In contrast to the other art genres, the era of socialist realism in architecture ended with the death of Stalin (officially since 1955). A return to the simplicity of modern architecture followed. One exception is the so-called House of the People (now the Parliament Palace ) , which was built in Bucharest in the second half of the 1980s .


The Szoborpark (also Memento Park) in the southwest of the Hungarian capital Budapest was opened in 1993. It includes a collection of monuments from the era of real socialism designed by Ákos Eleőd .


Marxist criticism

Leon Trotsky subjected Soviet cultural production to a fundamental critique ( Art and Revolution , 1939). While the October Revolution had given cultural production an upswing, the bureaucracy was suppressing art with a totalitarian hand. Their sole purpose from now on would be to revere the leaders and produce myths.

“The style of official Soviet painting today is called 'socialist realism'. This name appears to have been given to her by some head of some arts section. This realism consists in aping the provincial daguerreotypes of the third quarter of the last century; the 'socialist' character evidently consists in portraying, with the means of a falsifying photograph, events that never took place. It is not possible to read Soviet verses and novels or to look at reproductions of Soviet sculptures without a feeling of physical disgust and horror: in these works functionaries armed with pens, brushes or chisels immortalize under the supervision of functionaries armed with Mauser pistols, ' great 'and' brilliant 'leaders who, in reality, don't have a glimmer of grandeur and ingenuity. The art of the Stalin era will go down in history as the most glaring expression of the deepest decline of the proletarian revolution. "

Trotsky emphasizes the freedom of art, so a truly revolutionary party would be neither able nor willing to control art. "Art and science not only seek no guidance, but inherently cannot tolerate anything." Art can only serve the revolution if it remains true to itself.

Contemporary reception

Often received as undemanding art tainted with kitsch elements , socialist realism experienced a renaissance in popular culture in the course of the aestheticization of trash ( see also: Ostalgie ).

Today it becomes clear that the literature of socialist realism was also a legal way of reviewing ideological taboo subjects and socio-political constraints. This position sometimes made serious sacrifices on literature and imposed a social responsibility on it that literature in western Europe no longer had, since such a responsibility fell into the competence of other institutions. The greater social sphere of influence of literature in Central and Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe was lost after 1990.

See also



  • Realism, more socialist . In: Culture-Political Dictionary . Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1970, pp. 591-598.
  • Erwin Pracht (Ed.): Socialist Realism. Positions. Problems. Perspectives. An introduction. Dietz, Berlin 1970.
  • On the theory of socialist realism. Published by the Institute for Social Sciences at the Central Committee of the SED under the direction of Hans Koch . Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1974.
  • Erwin Pracht: Image and Method. Digression on socialist realism. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Saale 1974.
  • Klaus Jarmatz (ed.): Criticism in the time. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle 1969 ( documentation on literary criticism in the GDR ).
  • Boris Groys : total work of art Stalin. The divided culture in the Soviet Union. Hanser, Munich a. a. 1988, ISBN 3-446-15321-7 .
  • Thomas Christ: Socialist Realism. Reflections on socialist realism in the Soviet era. Wiese Verlag, Basel 1999, ISBN 3-909164-68-4 .
  • Игорь Голомшток: Тоталитарное искусство. Галарт, Москва 1994, ISBN 5-269-00712-6 (English translation: Igor Golomstock: Totalitarian Art in the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy, and the People's Republic of China. Collins Harvill, London 1990, ISBN 0 -00-272806-0 ).

Literature as a topic

  • Collective of authors under the direction of Harri Jünger : Socialist Realism in Literature (= introduction to literary studies in individual presentations ). Bibliographical Institute, Leipzig 1979.
  • Alfrun Kliems , Ute Raßloff, Peter Zajac (eds.): Poetry of the 20th century in East-Central Europe. Volume 2: Socialist Realism. Frank & Timme, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-86596-021-9 (= literary studies , volume 5).
  • Reinhard Lauer : History of Russian Literature. From 1700 to the present. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-50267-5 .

Photography as a subject

  • Werner Kleinerüschkamp: Matthias Leupold . Flag roll call. Scenic photographs for the III. German art exhibition in Dresden 1953. Jonas-Verlag für Kunst und Literatur, Marburg 1992, ISBN 3-89445-128-9 (exhibition catalog, Dessau, Bauhaus Dessau, April 17, 1992 to May 24, 1992), (a visual criticism of the socialist Realism in the GDR).

Architecture as a theme

  • Andreas Schätzke: Between Bauhaus and Stalinallee . Architecture discussion in Eastern Germany 1945–1955. With a final consideration by Thomas Topfstedt, Vieweg, Braunschweig / Wiesbaden 1991, ISBN 3-528-08795-1 (= Bauwelt-Fundamente Volume 95).

Music as a theme

  • Friedrich Geiger: Music in two dictatorships. Persecution of composers under Hitler and Stalin. Bear Rider. Kassel 2004, ISBN 3-7618-1717-7 .
  • Marco Frei: Chaos instead of music . Dmitri Shostakovich, the Pravda Campaign from 1936 to 1938 and Socialist Realism. Pfau, Saarbrücken 2006, ISBN 3-89727-330-6 .
  • Thomas Metscher : Realism - on the musical aesthetics of Dmitri Shostakovich . Neue Impulse Verlag, Essen 2008.

Web links

Commons : Socialist Realism  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ György Ligeti in the text accompanying György Ligeti Works , Sony Classical 2010.
  2. ^ Resolution of the CK VKP (b) 'On the restructuring of literary-artistic organizations', April 23, 1932 . In: 100 (0) KEY DOCUMENTS ON RUSSIAN AND SOVIET HISTORY . Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  3. cf. Jutta Scherrer: The loss of self . In: Spiegel Spezial Geschichte (2007), p. 71.
  4. Reinhard Lauer: History of Russian Literature. From 1700 to the present. Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-50267-9 , p. 695 - “[...] on the one hand in ruralist currents, such as the blood and soil literature promoted by the National Socialists, which had a counterpart in many European countries, for others, when it came to the purposes of state representation, in a new classicism. "
  5. Roger Behrens: Crisis and Illusion . LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2003, ISBN 3-8258-6423-5 , p. 157 .
  6. Shdanow and Malenkow , quoted from: Magdalena Heider, Politics - Culture - Kulturbund. On the founding and early history of the Kulturbund for the Democratic Renewal of Germany 1945–1954 in the Soviet Zone / GDR , Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik Köln, 1993, p. 90 ff.
  7. ibid.
  8. Leon Trotsky: Art and Revolution, on the Internet: , as of April 10, 2017
  9. ^ Gojko Božović: Serbian Literature Today - World Literature from Serbia , in: East-West European Perspectives, 4/2008.