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Soviet Union

Socialist Realism

Similar principles of party control applied to the arts. During the early years of Bolshevik rule, the party leadership sought to enforce strict guidelines to ensure that literature conformed to Bolshevik policies and that dissent was stifled. With the implementation of the First Five-Year Plan in 1928, political controls over cultural activity increased. By 1932 the party and the government had decreed that all writing groups and associations were under the control of the Union of Writers. In the early 1930s, socialist realism became the official aesthetic doctrine prescribed for artists (see Mobilization of Society , ch. 2). According to this formula, artists, composers, architects, and sculptors had to define history in a realistic and truthful light based on its revolutionary evolution. Socialist realism demanded portrayal of society as if it had already been perfected according to MarxistLeninist ideology. Under Stalin's leadership, writers served as the "engineers of human souls" and produced novels, short stories, articles, editorials, critiques, and satires within a restrictive framework in which they strove to glorify Soviet society and socialism.

Throughout Stalin's rule, socialist realism confined the arts to expressing a narrowly controlled party line, but when Nikita S. Khrushchev came to power in 1955, some guidelines loosened. The short literary "thaw" in the late 1950s allowed artists more freedom and creativity. This literary thaw lasted only a few years, and with Khrushchev's ouster in 1964, artistic freedom suffered setbacks. Further controls prevented artists from expressing themselves outside the boundaries of socialist realism. Artists were imprisoned if they protested the party line.

Brezhnev's death in November 1982, however, initiated a very slow but gradual change in the Soviet mass media and the arts. Under the successive leadership of Iurii V. Andropov and Konstantin U. Chernenko, society experienced further loosening of party strictures on the media and the arts, albeit mostly during Andropov's rule. After Gorbachev assumed power in 1985, the system witnessed significant liberalization. Topics previously proscribed were discussed and analyzed by all the mass media, and the government allowed publication of previously banned materials. The regime, however, still maintained ultimate control over the ways of evaluating the state, criticizing the past, and transforming the system. Mass media and cultural events enhanced the image of a "new face" and "new thinking" in society. The persistence of an elaborate administrative censorship system, however, demonstrated that the leadership continued to hold sway over the information revealed publicly.

Data as of May 1989