With the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, Russia established the world's first Marxist regime. First with Lenin, then under Stalin's steel fist, Communist ideology reshaped the whole country. Its influence can be seen in the most important elements of culture such as art, aesthetics and architecture.
"Alexander Rodchenko,a leader in "Socialist Realism.".
Immediately after the revolution, the idea of "proletarian art" came to the fore. In a magazine called Iskusstvo Kommuny ("Commune Art"), Communist artists announced their intention to produce works of art to serve proletarian culture. They expressed similar ideas in the organization called Proletkult("Proletarian Culture").
A 1927 painting by Russian artist Aleksandr Deyneka entitled "The Defense of Petrograd.".
They began to discuss the meaning of "proletarian art." From the beginning of the 1920s, well-known Russian artists like Vladimir Yevgrafovich Tatlin and Aleksandr Mikhailovich Rodchenko defended the idea that an artist must be a technician who gives practical solutions to problems of the proletariat. Lenin supported this idea and suppressed many areas of art regarded as useless from the point of view of the proletariat. For example, Tatlin and Rodchenko determined that an artistic representation would be of no use to a worker in his day-to-day life and decided that painting was an invalid form of art!
In 1921, this new understanding of art, called "constructivism," became the Soviet Union's official art policy. Tatlin, in the forefront of this way of thinking, thought it was necessary to do something "useful" like designing houses and furniture, instead of painting useless pictures. To contribute to the life of the proletariat, he designed clothing for them to wear during their long working hours, to provide them with the greatest warmth and flexibility with the least weight and expenditure of raw materials. He also designed a kind of stove, which would give the greatest heat with the least amount of fuel.
All artists did not become "engineers" like Tatlin, but they did accept the idea of "proletarian art" and used their talents to serve Communist ideology. Almost all Soviet artists of the time produced posters, signs and slogans for use in workers' clubs and small gatherings called "soviets." All shared common images: vigorous, well-muscled Soviet villagers and workers with a hammer or a sickle in hand, angry proletarian figures standing up and breaking their chains into pieces, armed soldiers marching beneath red banners under Lenin's leadership. . .
Under Communism, art lost all esthetic meaning and turned into a mechanical means of propaganda.These drawings purport to depict the model persona crude, strong, dull worker or peasant who thinks of nothing beyond obeying the system.
In this new understanding of art, the concept of "aesthetics" was absent, even regarded as a dangerous bourgeois attachment. The esthetic ideal was far removed from all pictures, statues, posters, interior decoration and architectural design. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that an "anti-estheticism" ruled Communist art, which became characterized by a plethora of rough, dull and crude features.
In Stalin's time, this understanding of art became the even more conservative official policy known as "Socialist Realism," described as the view that art is dedicated to the 'realistic' representation of the principles of the Soviet revolution (that is Communist ideology) in the daily life of the proletariat. According to Socialist Realism, novels should depict Communist militants as decisive, courageous and self-sacrificing, describe their supposedly exemplary struggles, and show how happy villagers and workers are, thanks to the revolution.
Artists of Socialist Realism had no compunction about depicting the direct opposite of the truth—that the revolution did not bring the people happiness, but hunger, oppression and death. Actually, Socialist Realism is not realism, but an expression of romantic fantasy. According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, "Socialist Realism looks back to Romanticism in that it encourages a certain heightening and idealizing of heroes and events to mold the consciousness of the masses."
Soviet propaganda posters from the 1920's: "The Ten Commandments of the Proletariat" and "The Lie of International Imperialism.".
Socialist Realism, defined in 1932 during the bloodiest days of Stalin's regime, remained the Soviet Union's official state art policy until the 1980s. Throughout this entire period, Communism's cheerless, cold and stagnant atmosphere dominated Soviet art. In order to gain international recognition, the Soviet regime encouraged artists and stressed the importance of the production of new works of art. But because of Socialist Realism's dogmatic approach, these works remained pressed in their narrow, cheerless and ugly moulds. From 1949 onwards, Socialist Realism passed to China where a Communist regime had taken power. The same dull, crude understanding of art prevailed there too.
In the period before the revolution, however, Russian society had produced some excellent works of art and magnificent architecture. The world-famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg contained an outstanding collection of art, albeit largely by European artists. But Communism froze Russian art in 1917 and even reversed its development.
The cheerlessness of Communist art results from the materialist philosophy that determines the Communist world view. Materialist philosophy, superficial thinking that regards a human being as only an assortment of matter, tries to reduce everything to the material. Applying materialist philosophy to art has been a fiasco, as in every other area where it's been applied.
Communist leaders are always depicted with a cold, rigid and pitiless expression. These portraits of Lenin, drawn by Soviet artists, express Communism's dark spirit.
Real art is a God-given esthetic pleasure through which humans can express their love of beauty and other feelings and emotions. In order to produce works of fine art, the human spirit must be able to express, in the freest way possible, the innate tendencies created within it.
The Communist dictatorship founded in the Soviet Union—later copied by regimes in China, the Eastern Bloc, Indochina and Cuba—completely removed this free and comfortable environment. They killed art by subjecting their peoples to constant oppression.
By alienating them from religion, moreover, Communism delivered art yet another blow. Foremost of those feelings that inspire art is the spiritual pleasure and fervor derived from religion. All of history's greatest artists, sculptors and architects created works based on religious themes and drew strength and inspiration from their spiritual beliefs. They did not regard a human as a species of animal that would perish with death, but as a being that God endowed with spirit. They loved to extol humanity in their works and show reflections of God's artistry in creation. In societies with no religion, people inevitably lose this fervor and sense of pleasure and become encompassed by a spiritual purposelessness. This has been experienced in every Communist regime. As a result of irreligion and the ideas that a human being is a species of animal, human life has no value and an individual ceases to exist when his body dies, such societies have become dominated by pessimism, melancholy, cheerlessness and meaninglessness.
Mao's Red China (which we'll examine later) displayed further striking examples of Communist conservatism and narrow-mindedness. Everyone had to wear the same kind of clothing and during the Cultural Revolution, it was forbidden to keep domestic animals.