El arte en el socialismo real / Héctor Silva Michelena

Art Under Actual Socialism

I continue my previous note. It ends up that the Union of Soviet Writers (USW), after having participated in the annulment of the Proletarian Writers' Association and the Left Front, eventually became not a professional organization but rather an omnipotent political organism, governed by functionaries who received instructions from the Party and Stalin. For 20 years the USW was a type of "literary pentagon." It directed its specific affairs as if they were of a military type. Stalin's death in 1953 changed very little because everything continued to be Stalinist until communism's final collapse in 1989. In the previous note we said that the Kremlin formulated its own literary doctrine: Socialist Realism, according to which art must be a reflection of reality and consequently must be realistic, and that the only acceptable realism in the Soviet Union was the one penetrated by the spirit of communism.

The official dogma was canonized in the following terms: "Socialist Realism, the basic method of Soviet literature and criticism, requires from the artist a truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truth and the historical integrity of the artistic representation should be combined with the task of ideologically transforming and educating the man who works within the spirit of socialism." (Cf. Marc Slonim, Soviet Russian Literature, 1974.) During the 20 years of Stalin's government, whose shadow was prolonged until the end of the system, the formula "Realism in form and socialism in content" was the official slogan. To require that an author be "truthful" is not only naive but also stupid. What is the form of "truth" in a work of art? When the formula for Socialist Realism presented by Zhdanov, the Party's spokesman, was approved at the USW convention in 1934 the delegates barely glimpsed the consequences of their vote.

The communist theorists simply ignored the fact that art is above all else the organization of the material in a determined form, but they spoke of direct realism as if it was simple and feasible. They intentionally avoided the debate about art and they oriented themselves by the doctrine: poets, novelists and artists had to help build communism in the same manner as engineers or workers. The "new morality" demanded they not only rewrite history, but also remake factories, houses, cities and customs.

They thought a leader should say nothing more than Yes or No, without ever showing any hesitation. Feeling and Romanticism are bland intellectual sins; that is why one must shout "Down with Schiller!" as a battle cry. These are the "positive heroes" of The Young Guard (1945) by Fadeyev, which was praised upon publication; but denounced in 1947 for "deviation" and its author was forced to revise it, with sorrow.

At the recent World Youth Festival in Caracas Chávez lamented the disappearance of the Soviet Union, particularly the one "previous to the 1960s." But it so happens that this is the lapse of Stalinist terror, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites is the work of the loathing of its own masses, in search of lost freedom.

{ Héctor Silva Michelena, TalCual, 29 August 2005 }

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