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.

This article originally published on NoMorePencils under the same title.


  1. Joan E. Miller says:

    To remove art, or make it somehow illegal, is to completely dehumanize human beings. Humans have been drawing and painting for thousands of years – petroglyphs, cave paintings, etc. It’s ludicrous to think that a political force could prevent humans from being human. The same with laughter, singing, dancing. These are all innately human. Obviously, when a tyrant is trying to control everything, removing these human urges is on the priority list.


    1. Yes, absolutely. It was only very recently that I saw how essential it is to being human. I mean, that knowledge bit extra deep on me. And in some people it seems not to bite at all – hence environmental destruction, cruelty to animals and people and so on.


      1. And little uglinesses too. Big box architecture in the name of cheap produce. Huge parking lots with no trees. “Instant” everything. So much of human living is art, really … even preparing a meal and serving it around a table where the family comes together for conversation. In your response to my comment, David, you talk of “massaging into inanity”, and that’s so exactly right – because instant is easy, and so is cheap, which is soothing and comfortable, which can be a massage.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m often frustrated by how hard it can be to get people to stop and think about an idea that’s foreign or even new to them. (I’m sure I get stuck in the same way, but the times I’m aware of it are when other people are the ones not doing the thinking.) It seems to me that pretty much everything in modern life is geared toward limiting thinking – philosophy captured in memes, soundbite-based journalism, the insistent pressure to identify with this or that tribe.


    1. Answering Joan’s comment I was thinking just what you said. We are in danger of being massaged into inanity.


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