"socialist realism"

The (former) Stalin Monument in Prague
Public DomainThe (former) Stalin Monument in Prague
Socialist Realism was a realistic style of art that developed in the Soviet Union under communism and spread to satellite states of that regime. It was the officially approved form of art in the Soviet Union for 60 years.

Socialist realism was supposed to glorify the workers’ struggle toward a socialist paradise. It aimed to depict the proletarian worker as he truly was, with his tools. In part, it was a reaction against the aristocratic art of the tsars. The Soviet Congress of 1934 set down four rules for socialist realism. It had to be:

Proletarian; that is, relevant to the workers and comprehensible to them,

Typical; depicting everyday scenes in the life of the people,

Realistic; meaning, representational and not abstract or conceptual, and finally

Partisan; in keeping with the goals of the Communist Party

In practice, the work tended to be boring, repetitive, uninspired, heavily censored, and propagandistic. The only real buyer was the government, and artists became, in effect, state employees. As the narrator of Unbearable Lightness says, “the school manufactured portraits of Communist statesmen.”

Pictured here is the Stalin Monument that was unveiled in Prague in 1955 after five and a half years of labor by Otakar Švec and was the largest group statue in Europe at the time, measuring 15.5 meters in height and 22 meters in length. The sculptor, under extreme pressure from the government and secret police and the target of hate mail from fellow Czechs, committed suicide three weeks before the unveiling. His wife had already killed herself.

The monument was destroyed by the Soviets with 800 kilograms of dynamite as a blow against Stalin's "cult of personality" in October 1962 (the month of the Cuban Missile Crisis) -- roughly a year after Tomas would have met Tereza.