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socialist realism.

The official artistic doctrine of the USSR from 1932 onwards. The 1920s saw an explosion of creative pluralism in the arts, but in 1932 Stalin and the upper ranks of the bureaucracy turned their attention to the centralization of cultural affairs. The Party Resolution On the Reconstruction of Literary and Artistic Organizations banned existing artistic factions and established a union for each of the arts. All artists were thus brought under Party control, their works subject to the approval of the appropriate Union committee, which was given responsibility for implementing the new aesthetic doctrines of socialist realism. It is useful to consider the term's origins as the Soviet successor to critical realism, the literary movement of the late tsarist period whose most celebrated representative was Tolstoy. Where critical realism had called attention to the plight of the oppressed masses under the old regime,socialist realism now celebrated the delivery of the masses from that oppression. Officially, there was nothing left to criticize: any hardships or suffering in the USSR were either a necessary part of the internal struggle towards modernization which would provide the preconditions of Communism, the highest stage of socialism, or were part of the external struggle against Fascism and its agents within the USSR.

The consequences for composers were less easily discernible, especially where instrumental music was concerned, but the musical aspect of socialist realism can be reconstructed from policy statements and from the writings of critics in good standing with the Party. Any kind of experimental idiom, whether vanguardist or proletarian, was out of bounds; instead, a body of classics was now extolled for each of the arts, and these were to serve as models. In the 1920s almost every composer of the past, apart from Beethoven and Musorgsky, had been rejected, but now the entire repertory was restored to its former prestige. Composers of operas and oratorios were expected to choose edifying revolutionary subject matter, and even instrumental music was supposed to follow similar implicit narratives, with initial struggle leading to a triumphant ending.

The new standing of the classics caused critics to demand symphonic or organic development in music of any length. The use of folksong was also strongly encouraged, and among the non-Russian nationalities indigenous musical cultures were taken as the foundation for socialistrealist music. The fate of Shostakovich's opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934) illustrates how the doctrine came into focus: at first it was welcomed by critics as a model opera but two years later was condemned as naturalistic (disturbing realism, without any optimistic heroism) and disappeared from the repertory. Ivan Dzerzhinsky's The Quiet Don (1936), however, was chosen as the new model: it was musically much more conservative and tuneful, replete with popular songs and with a straightforward heroic plot. The overuse of folksong or any romanticization of the peasantry invited the charge of bourgeois nationalism, and even extensive organic development had its dangers. The opposite tendency, a rejection of the elements ofsocialist realism, was condemned as FORMALISM. Socialist realism was sometimes wielded arbitrarily as a tool of discipline by the Party, or even as an expression of intra-Union rivalry.

The war years saw a relaxation in the policing of socialist realism, but from 1947 the arts were all brought back into line; the Composers' Union thus condemned and humiliated Prokofiev,Shostakovich, and Khachaturian in 1948. Khrushchev's de-Stalinization programme of the late 1950s resulted in a second relaxation of artistic policy, which weakened socialist realism: the definition became still vaguer and ever more inclusive, and those works that still fell outside its boundaries were generally able to find a public outlet, albeit without state funding. By the 1970s such composers as Schnittke and Denisov could fund themselves through foreign commissions. Composers could now choose between the financial security of the state or the artistic freedom of self-employment, and were able to switch between the two. As perestroika progressed in the late 1980s even lip-service to socialist realism was no longer required, and the doctrine receded into history when the USSR collapsed in 1991.

Jonathan Walker
R. Moisenko , Realist Music (London, 1949)

A. Olkhovsky , Music under the Soviets: The Agony of an Art (London, 1955)