Socialist Realism and The Danger Of Thinking


Tamara and I went to see the Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition at the Royal Academy. We learned that Lenin viewed culture as a stepping stone to the Communist State. When that was achieved, art would have no function and it would be removed ‘snip, snip’ as he described it.

Stalin allowed only Socialist Realism in art. That is art that could be understood by the most uneducated of workers.

The narrator described how Stalin disliked Avante Garde art because its message was unclear.

And suddenly I understood it. Art that has a message that is unclear requires that the viewer makes an attempt to understand it. The viewer has to think – and that is what Stalin did not want. Because of course, once people think, they are wild cards – unfathomable and unreachable.

And of course I understood why the Nazis banned what they described as decadent art – for the same reason. Previously I had thought it was because its themes were racy or against the stereotype of the Germanic ideal. But the reason was more basic; that people might think. And thinking carries all kinds of dangers.

Poster For Sale

We saw a poster from the exhibition for sale. The image at the top of this post is a snippet from the poster. The full image shows that giant carrying a red banner, marching inexorably towards Revolution while the masses march and run to defeat the Bourgoisie, the Church, the old State.

We were both attracted to the graphic of the image but we both also thought that the violent scene was one we didn’t want to live with. We came together at one point to talk about buying the poster and it struck me how wonderful it was that we had both independently concluded that we didn’t want to buy it.

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