Socialist Realism

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What it is…

A doctrine that originated in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, and subsequently taken up by other communist nations, which put forth a set of rigid guidelines for artists to stick to. These rules were furnished in order to further the spirit of socialism among the Soviet people and to cull out any anti-revolutionary activity. Socialist Realism retained a hold on Soviet cinema till the death of Stalin in 1953.

Who its pioneers were...

Soviet leaders had recognised the power of cinema to reach and influence a large audience very early on. Lenin even called it the most important art form. Consequently, cinema was used as a vehicle to advertise and promote the party line. To speak of pioneers in such a context becomes tricky because Socialist Realism tended to suppress individual authorship — formal and textual — in favour of pre-determined answers.

Why it is important...

Although it had its takers in certain parts of the world during its time, to a large extent, Socialist Realism, in its original form, has now ceased to exist except in certain authoritarian states. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the widespread disillusionment with its ideology, art works that present an Utopian vision of communism are seen with a skeptical eye.

Where to find it...

Chapaev (1934), perhaps the most famous of Socialist Realist films (though much less propagandistic), tells the tale of commander Vasily Chapayev, who rises from a simple bumpkin to a legendary Russian war hero during the course of the film. Incurably nationalistic, the film is shot and edited with little sense of adventure, unlike its contemporaries.

How it is characteris ed


Unlike Neorealism, Socialist Realism provided authors and filmmakers a small group of themes and arcs to work with. The industrial worker was glorified for his productivity; the individual had to willingly and happily subordinate himself to the collective; aristocrats and Capitalists had to be portrayed in a bad light; women had to be shown as key elements of the revolution; and, eventually, all narrative problems needed to be resolved by socialist means.


Socialist Realism was notorious for suppressing technical innovation in favour of simplicity and didacticism. Any style that produced ambiguity of meaning was rejected. For this reason, the then-famous montage techniques had to make way for simpler, more established, way of illustration so that the intended, propagandist message did not go above the heads of audience. The musical score and cinematography, likewise, were designed to be uplifting.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 3:07:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/socialist-realism/article2906898.ece

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