57 comments on “Magazine Format: 21st Century Manifesto

  1. Very nice idea to collate stuff from the blog in this format. Looks good, too. :)

    “A defence of Stalinist art policy, by Mark Jones”

    Sadly(?), this looks right up my alley. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Andrew Burgin on said:

    yes nice format and well put together. Could use more women writers or possibly one.

  3. prianikoff on said:

    The article on “Socialist Realism” is by the late Mark Jones. A text version of it is here:-

    http://www.marxmail.org/archives/July99/a_defense_of_stalinist_art_polic.htm

    Jones says of the picture ‘Woman Metro Builder with Penumatic Drill’, (1937) by Aleksandr Samokhvalov

    quote
    “(It) . shows a woman shock-worker briefly resting from excavating the tunnel for the Moscow Metro. In reality it is a Palladian scene; classical and statuesque, there is a stillness about her face, which is strongly illuminated from the front, and as she gazes into the bright light, we almost see the socialist Arcadia she is seeing, the disclosed/hidden, future/past utopia.
    One half-clenched hand, plump and dainty, unmarked by labour, rests upon a rock; she has tied her jacket round her waist and the effect is of a classicial, robed piece of statuary that seems to have emerged from the living rock; the face is youthful, plastic, inquisitive, robustly beautiful and determined: there is defiance in her eyes. Whatever this painting is of, it is not of a woman metro builder (but there were tens of thousands of women volunteers, often office workers, who did help dig the tunnels, even during lunch-breaks; it is them the painting celebrates, not as they are but as they should be.”
    endquote

    Which strikes me as rather pretentious bollocks
    Samokhavalov trained at the Imperial Art Academy in St Petersburg before the Revolution. His style is more or less post-Impressionist and any socialist message is skin-deep.
    In reality 1937 was a year of mass repression in the USSR. Once the repression was all over, Samokhvalov reverted to painting fairly conventional nudes:-

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/Samokhvalov-Alexander-Naked-model-buk110bw.jpg
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Samokhvalov-Alexander-On-the-beach-per25bw.jpg

  4. Another pretentious load of bollocks quote from the article on Socialist Realism… “More radically, it is because Socialist Realism really did point beyond the ‘framing’ of art within the commoditised object world of reified social relationships..”

    Socialist Realism was nothing more than a pictorial version of a line being spouted. Based on a lie telling people how wonderful living under Stalin’s Soviet Union was. Bad art and bad politics. There’s something moribund and old fashioned about this type of art unlike say during the early 1920s and the Soviet avant-garde with the more modern and creative artists like Tatlin, Rodchenko and Stepanova et al. Trotsky wasn’t a big fan of Constructivist movement but he believed in artist freedom unlike Stalin.

  5. prianikoff on said:

    Reading John Berger’s art reviews in “New Society” when I was a teenager strongly influenced my views on Art.
    There’s a review of his work here:-

    “An art critic of his time”
    by Corinna Lotz
    http://www.aworldtowin.net/reviews/JohnBerger.html

    (I should add that Corrina Lotz was Gerry Healy’s personal secretary for 4 years and wrote a very favourable biography of him.
    A lot of the more artsy ex-WRP’ers are associated with “A World to Win”)

  6. I thought A World to Win was the RIM (co-thinkers of Sendero Luminoso, the RCP (US) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

  7. HarpyMarx: Socialist Realism was nothing more than a pictorial version of a line being spouted. Based on a lie telling people how wonderful living under Stalin’s Soviet Union was.

    This view takes no account of the context in which socialist realism was located. The Soviet Union was engaged in a process of hyper industrialisation and development in less than favourable conditions – either internally as a consequence of the low level of cultural and material development – and externally in the form of capitalist encirclement.

    The iconography expressed in images such as the one at the top of the page was essential in informing a cohesive counter hegemonic narrative to the capitalist one as the inevitable conflagration with the West approached.

    All art is propaganda, either overt or subliminal. The dominant ideology screams at us every minute of every day, but so conditioned are we to its message it has achieved what every dominant ideology sets out to achieve – normalisation.

    As for Trotksy, his paen to ‘artistic freedom’ reflected his erroneous analysis of the Soviet Union as nothing more than a platform from which the ‘world revolution’ would be exported. For him permanence and the Soviet Union were anathema.

    There is no such thing as artistic freedom.

  8. Vanya,

    Isn’t the RCP the “Chairman Bob Avakian” outfit? I always thought that was satire…

    That said, I did once know a little old lady through Stop the War who said she’d spent about four years as a photo-journalist with Shining Path, and she was so off her nut it was actually quite believable. So maybe the satire/reality divide needs rethinking.

  9. Manzil: Isn’t the RCP the “Chairman Bob Avakian” outfit?

    Yes, it is. I recall being around some of them when I lived in the States. Avakian was on the lam in Paris and they’d wait for his taped messages to arrive like true believers waiting for the latest instructions from Moses.

    It was extraordinary the way they spoke of him.

  10. HarpyMarx: would you ban bourgeois art?

    There were sections of the artistic intelligentsia in post revolutionary Russia who wanted to ban ‘bourgeois art’. And there were elements who wanted a purely ‘proletarian’ art. The battle between these dogmatic trends and the majority was fought out partly in the ideological sphere and partly in the state institutions of patronage.
    Lenin’s position, and that of the continuing majorities in the party, was that the best traditions of bourgeois art and culture should be made available to the mass of the people as part of a cultural revolution that entailed the greatest programme of education hitherto seen.
    Thus the phenomena, that appears strange only to the most undialectical of thinkers, of an artist such as Samokhavalov trained in the dominant pre-Revolutionary aesthetic finding subject matter in the entry of millions of women into productive social labour in a socialist economy.
    What I find interesting in this discussion is how the most crude of base/superstructure ideas (bad art = bad politics, bad politics= bad art) comes from what I take to be a Trotskyite position (unfair to Trotsky and unfair to many of artists and designers of that persuasion in my opinion) while among art historians – freed from the constraints of Cold War thinking – this material is evaluated on its merits.

  11. Nick, the problem I have with Socialist Realism is that it was based on coercion and therefore dishonest… Yes, there may be artistic merits and aesthetics but it’s still art based on a lie. Actually, these images are idealistic which is wrong, a recognition of reality will free you. Aesthetically and technically, Socialist Realism is moribund, old fashioned and idealised… drawing style varies such technically bad, some technically good, some technically distorted, some technically painterly. But the overall theme is idealised view of the worker, which is based on a lie. This mirrors the whole Stalinist project, it wasn’t a workers paradise under Stalin. You criticised it and it was off to a gulag or worse… The art of coercion!

    “Thus the phenomena, that appears strange only to the most undialectical of thinkers, of an artist such as Samokhavalov trained in the dominant pre-Revolutionary aesthetic finding subject matter in the entry of millions of women into productive social labour in a socialist economy.”

    Yes, indeed, there may have been artists who were genuinely interested in women entering productive social labour BUT it still doesn’t detract from the dishonesty of Stalinism.

    The artistic merits and the politics under Stalinism was bad art and bad politics. You can analyse it from either the artistic and/or political angles. Who talks about base/superstructure ideas? Marxists don’t use terms such as base and superstructure.

  12. HarpyMarx,

    John,

    Well, if a painting, sculpture etc projects an explicit message that doesn’t mean that it can’t be good art.

    I was lucky enough to see some pictures by the Soviet artist Deineka which were in an exhibition in Hamburg last year. A couple of examples:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/60161205@N02/8457582171/in/photostream

    http://noudanou2.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/deineka-alexander-alexandrovitch.html

    The paintings displayed conveyed, with a lot of humanism, the feelings of optimism of that time, and, very strongly, the sense that modernisation in socialist conditions was a liberation for people.

  13. HarpyMarx: Who talks about base/superstructure ideas? Marxists don’t use terms such as base and superstructure.

    Karl Marx makes direct reference to it in his Preface to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.’ (1859)

    ‘In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness.’

  14. HarpyMarx: Marxists don’t use terms such as base and superstructure.

    “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.
    At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.
    The changes in the economic foundation lead, sooner or later, to the transformation of the whole, immense, superstructure. In studying such transformations, it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic, or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.”
    Marx 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

  15. I agree with you Noah, but remember that painting you refer to, “Defence of Petrograd” was painted in 1928. It’s bleak, it doesn’t glorify war, these people look cold and miserable. It doesn’t idealise the Soviet Union. Yes, these people are ordinary people. The painting is influenced by social realism and the overall Soviet avant garde movement. Ten years later you would be expected to adhere to the “idealistic and heroic worker”…experimentalism was degenerate and pessimistic.

    On this issue on base/superstructure, Marx didn’t think about things through this. It wasn’t his system of thought. In the early chapters of Capital, Marx talks about a bale of linen in terms of a commodity. That’s where Marx sets out his method, looks at the raw materials, labour input, status of a thing in the market place… he looks at the dynamics of all these aspects. That’s what we are looking at and it’s perfectly dialectical that art was used as part of a lie machine by the Soviet bureaucracy during the 1930s.

    Btw: Nick, why do you use “Trotskyite” as opposed to “Trotskyist”… it’s insulting to use Trotskyite as it’s a witch hunting term!!!!

  16. Nick Wright: Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

    I remember years ago getting that as a topic to be mimed in a game of charades (an SWP social about 25 years ago), err, “it’s a book … 10 words … first word, two sylables, second sylable …” *points to face*

    HarpyMarx: Who talks about base/superstructure ideas? Marxists don’t use terms such as base and superstructure.

    Intesresting that harpy doesn’t recognise the reference, because that shows a certain bent of political education, from the old IMG.

    I would argue that the conccept f base and superstructure is the fundamental building block of marx’s theory of social change, and the periodic outbreak revolutions to resolve the contradiction between incremental, and even paradigm changes in the social forces of production; and the relative autonomy of civic, political and ideological institutions that derive from and are conservative of relations of production derived from earlier forces of production.

    With that removed, then you would end up with “Marxism” as idealism and voluntarism.

  17. Er, Andy…when you say, “interesting that harpy doesn’t recognise the reference, because that shows a certain bent of political education, from the old IMG”.

    I am a bit too young for the old IMG. My experience is with one of the splits/fusions what came out of the IMG/SL.

    Andy, you are following a formula without thinking it through and you are wrong. When you look at major revolutions including the Russian revolution, usually what has happened has been a war or the bill for the war has come through. The economy can’t bare the cost and then you have a crisis…which will lead to a revolution of some sort. Examples… English Civil War, French revolution, American revolution, Russian revolution.

  18. HarpyMarx: Nick, the problem I have with Socialist Realism is that it was based on coercion and therefore dishonest… Yes, there may be artistic merits and aesthetics but it’s still art based on a lie. Actually, these images are idealistic which is wrong, a recognition of reality will free you. Aesthetically and technically, Socialist Realism is moribund, old fashioned and idealised… drawing style varies such technically bad, some technically good, some technically distorted, some technically painterly. But the overall theme is idealised view of the worker, which is based on a lie.

    Dear Louise,
    This is an opinion expressed in an admirably partisan way. However, such an appraoch is not much use to art historians, especially those informed by marxism, who are obliged to understand the totality of the context in which art is produced.
    For example, how does on grasp the meaning of art in Reanaissance Italy without some reflection on the relationship between patronage and creativity in that society? After all, the realtionship between coercion and consent in the maintenance of Medici rule against Republican sentiment was not simple.
    In this respect it is worth going back to the 21centurymanifesto piece and looking at what Mark Jones actually says:
    “Socialist realism is art precisely because it was the strict opposite of ‘realist socialism’, ie, the unvarnished depiction of actual (blemished, faulty, dysfunctional, warped) Soviet reality, the socialism of the everyday world of overwork, shortage, ennui, of private feuding and conspiracy. Socialist realism was a confabulation of impossible opposites, an explosive equilibrium founded on the concrete-objectivity of the form of representation of allegedly normal, everyday events, scenes and contexts which are actually unreal, hyperreal, or simply fabulous. That is why when one contemplates them now, these paintings often have a mirage-like quality, a hallucinatory, iconic, narrative substance which can arouse intense feelings, which can wound the observer, and all this of course sharply contradicts the technical realism of the specific representation. It is as if all of them.’
    If one takes a step back from the present and looks at the art of another era we can begin to fashion the analytical tools that enable us to go some way to understanding our own times.

    Or as Marx says “ this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.”

    In his seminal book Anthony Blunt makes a compelling case for a materialist approach to the study of art.
    “It is intended for the student of Italian painting who may feel that it is not enough to study the concrete works of art left by the painters of that period, but that a fuller comprehension can be gained of these works, and of the different movements in the arts, if we also know what the artists were consciously aiming at. Such knowledge can serve two main purposes: it can often give us a clue to the meaning of tendencies in a form of art which might otherwise be puzzling; and it can be used as a check on the theories which it is only too easy for us to read into the works of art which we have to interpret. If we see a feature in a painting, and then find that it is also set up as an ideal by the theoretical writers of the time, then we are doubly, and even more than doubly, sure that the feature really exists in the painting and is not the creation of our imagination.”

    Anthony Blunt Preface to the first edition of Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600

  19. HarpyMarx: When you look at major revolutions including the Russian revolution, usually what has happened has been a war or the bill for the war has come through. The economy can’t bare the cost and then you have a crisis…which will lead to a revolution of some sort. Examples… English Civil War, French revolution, American revolution, Russian revolution.

    Well that analysis may be many things, but it isn’t marxism.

    The examples you give are of societies where there was a pre-existing social crisis, due to a political and social infrastructure which no longer matched the change base of economy and its concomitant changes to the forces of production.

    Now of course, that did not mean a revolution was inevitable (or even necessary).

    Even the anomoly in your list, the revolution in the Britsh American colonies, where the growth of an indigenous creole economy clashed with political infrastructures that inhibited the growth of the economy.

  20. HarpyMarx: Btw: Nick, why do you use “Trotskyite” as opposed to “Trotskyist”… it’s insulting to use Trotskyite as it’s a witch hunting term!!!!

    Some of my Trotyskite/Trotskyist friends affectionally call me a Stalinist.
    When they say this I don’t think they mean to accuse me of covering up the sins of my leaders, arbitrarily expelling people from my political organisation or forbidding discussion.
    So I don’t take offence.
    But if they were to accuse me of a crude understanding of Marx’s theory of base and superstructure I would get really annoyed.

  21. “But if they were to accuse me of a crude understanding of Marx’s theory of base and superstructure I would get really annoyed.”

    Dear Nick, you do have a crude understanding of Marx’s theory of base and superstructure. There.. I said it.

  22. Just to be heretical for a moment… did Marx even have a “theory of base and superstructure”? Or did he use the analogy once… in passing?

  23. Nadia Chern on said:

    Twice in passing, in the 1859 Preface and in the introduction to Capital, though many argue that it is implicit to much of his method. I agree as it is also clearly the frame of the work of Engels though it became very messy when he tried to analyze science.

  24. Thanks Nadia, hadn’t realised he’d made the reference twice, I’ll try to look it up.

    I still don’t think that amounts to Marx thinking it was central to his thought though but to be clear – if people find it a powerful concept then fill your boots, I’m simply a little nervous of attributing to Marx ideas that owe more to those who came after him than to the man himself.

  25. jim jepps,

    No it was fundamental to his conception of Historical Materialism. It appears in various forms in three of his most important works – viz The German Ideology, 18th Brumaire, and his Preface to A Critique of A Contribution to Political Economy.

  26. I don’t think it does John. But like I say, I’ve got no problem with people finding it a useful concept – it’s fairly reasonable as far as it goes – but The German Ideology and the 18th Brumaire go well beyond what can be quite a simplistic and mechanistic little analogy.

    I think if Marx thought it was a fundamental or central concept he’d have had no problem saying so. We’re not talking about some sort of Nostradamus writing in coded poetry, Marx was pretty good at making himself clear.

  27. jim jepps: but The German Ideology and the 18th Brumaire go well beyond what can be quite a simplistic and mechanistic little analogy.

    It is not a mechanistic analogy at all. It informs the relationship between a specific mode of production in society and the political, legal, and ideological nature of the state it gives rise to.

    Of course, there are co-factors – cultural, historical, etc. – that also have a bearing on the specific nature of a state’s development, but the relationship between a specific mode of production and the nature of the state it underpins holds.

    jim jepps: Marx was pretty good at making himself clear.

    I agree, which is why the base and superstructure metaphor appears in three of his most important works.

  28. jim jepps: did Marx even have a “theory of base and superstructure”?

    So we have on one side of the argument Jim Jepps and Mark Anthony France.
    And on the other side of the argument Stalin and Chris Harman.

  29. Karl Stewart on said:

    HarpyMarx: why do you use “Trotskyite” as opposed to “Trotskyist”… it’s insulting to use Trotskyite as it’s a witch hunting term!!!!

    In my opinion, both terms are unsatisfactory, as they both imply that there is a coherent and logical body of theory, or ieology here.

    I prefer to describe those who are unable to adavnce any political argument without referring to or quoting this individual as “followers of the Trotsky personality cult” or the shorter “Trotsky-cultist”.

  30. Jara Handala on said:

    jim jepps,

    Hi, haven’t spoken before. I just wanted to thank you for bringing together on your site as much of the SWP crisis material as you can lay your hands on.

    I found from you at least half-a-dozen worthwhile pieces I would otherwise have surely missed.

    So thank you!

  31. prianikoff on said:

    #8 “A World to Win” -
    http://www.aworldtowin.net/
    was definitely formed by ex-WRP’ers.

    Other people write for it though, including Roger Huddle, a designer who worked at Socialist Worker.
    Along with Red Saunders, he co-founded Rock Against Racism.
    RAR’s policy was to always have black and white artists alongside each other at their events, most of which were reggae and punk bands.
    This had a big cultural influence on a whole generation of young people.
    But in no way was it influenced by the turgid tradition of official Socialist Realism.

    Huddle’s review of a Rodchenko exhibition is here:-
    http://www.aworldtowin.net/reviews/Rodchenko.html

    He makes the point that Rodchenko and the avant garde artists around ‘Lef’ fought against Socialist Realism.
    As a result, he was increasingly denied commissions and marginalised.

    #10 “The iconography expressed in images such as the one at the top of the page was essential in informing a cohesive counter hegemonic narrative to the capitalist one as the inevitable conflagration with the West approached.”

    “Socialist-realist” tit-man if you ask me

  32. prianikoff on said:

    Btw, the painting described in Jones’ article is not the one illustrated, but this one:-
    http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4037/4576019466_bc7b97eee4_z.jpg

    Look at the date it was painted again – 1937.
    In the historical context a “cohesive counter-hegemonic narrative” produced by the Stalinists was inevitably a dishonest one.
    Even Jones points out that Samokhvalov’s imagery is utopian, not realist.
    A de-politicised utopianism in the service of rapid industrialisation.

    The reality had to be glossed over and turned into an arcadian dream.
    1937 was a year of intensifying Stalinist terror in the USSR and Spain.
    The NKVD was smashing the POUM, kidnapping and murdering its leader Nin.
    Conditions at the Kolyma and Vorkuta camps deteriorated rapidly.
    Having the designation ‘KRTD’ became a death sentence.

  33. prianikoff: A de-politicised utopianism in the service of rapid industrialisation.

    Both pictures are highly political. By de-politicised, do you mean that the paintings don’t express a political line that you agree with?

    Which seems to be what your critique of Soviet art amounts to.

  34. No it doesn’t Noah, Socialist Realism wasn’t about free expression or creativity but following a lie. It stressed the need for the creative artist to show the worker in this rather stilted and “heroic” form. It was a lie as the Soviet Union under Stalin was no workers’ paradise and the art reflected that lie.The doctrine according to Socialist Realism considered all forms of experimentalism as degenerate and pessimistic. So the picture you referred to before Defence of Petrograd would not have been painted in the 30s as it’s influenced by social realism and the Soviet Avant Garde movement… Any painter who wanted to survive the Gulag would not have painted anything like that come mid 1930s.

  35. Pingback: Socialist Surrealism — Anna Raccoon

  36. prianikoff on said:

    #44 “…do you mean that the paintings don’t express a political line that you agree with?”

    No. I mean that the treatment of the subject matter is dishonest, which isn’t necessarily true of all “Soviet Art”

    Norman Rockwell did a picture of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ in 1943.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/02/RosieTheRiveter.jpg

    While it was aimed at recruiting women to the American war-effort, the subject matter is very similar.
    Except that Samokhvalov’s painting is actually more conservative in style and completely idealises the subject.
    It’s not about a real person, but about creating a mythical one.

  37. HarpyMarx: Socialist Realism wasn’t about free expression or creativity but following a lie. It stressed the need for the creative artist to show the worker in this rather stilted and “heroic” form. It was a lie as the Soviet Union under Stalin was no workers’ paradise and the art reflected that lie.The doctrine according to Socialist Realism considered all forms of experimentalism as degenerate and pessimistic

    Let us try to construct a school of cultural criticism from the avowedly Trotskite/oist contributors to this debate.
    First, make a political judgement on the period and society under review.
    Second, assign to the cultural production of that society and period a value that reflects the judgement reached earlier.
    Disreagrd the work itself as questions of content, form and technique are entirely secondary to thepriority assigned to politics.

    I find the more rigorously Marxist and critical approach to the Russian avante garde summed up here more adequate.
    “When the futurists propose to throw overboard the old literature of individualism, not only because it has become antiquated in form, but because it contradicts the collectivist nature of the proletariat, they reveal a very inadequate understanding of the dialectic nature of the contradiction between individualism and collectivism

  38. HarpyMarx: No it doesn’t Noah

    You are of course free to respond to a point I put to Priankoff, but I didn’t see you and her / him coming from exactly the same direction on this issue.

    HarpyMarx: Socialist Realism wasn’t about free expression or creativity but following a lie

    Well firstly, free expression and creativity are not equivalents. Socialist realist art was not about free expression, but there was a lot of creativity in it.

    Nor is it helpful to counterpoise them to following a lie (or a truth, for that matter).

    Western Cold War abstract modernism was full of ‘free expression’, some of it was also quite creative, and it was following a lie.

    HarpyMarx: the need for the creative artist to show the worker in this rather stilted and “heroic” form.

    Do you really think the picture at the top of this thread, and the one linked by Priankoff, are stilted?

    HarpyMarx: It was a lie as the Soviet Union under Stalin was no workers’ paradise

    This is a non sequitur. That the USSR was not a workers’ paradise does not make it a lie to portray workers as heroic.

  39. prianikoff,

    Come off it. The Samokhvalov paintings don’t claim to be documentary or portraiture.

    As for Rockwell’s ‘Rosie the Riveter’. Are you suggesting that ‘she’ was a real person?

  40. prianikoff on said:

    Noah@51 No they’re not documentary, more like “Socialist Mythology”.
    Rockwell’s Rosie is a bit of a cariacature, but has more real character.

    I’m not the first person to have noticed the striking similarity between Rockwell’s painting and official Soviet ‘Socialist Realism’. Both styles were a populist reaction against the artistic avant-guard.

    “It does not take an experienced connoisseur to notice the uncanny similarity between the widely popular art of Norman Rockwell and certain artworks of Socialist realism.
    Similarly, some of the official art created in the Soviet Union during Rockwell’s most successful years could easily pass as emblematic of the Saturday Evening Post covers depicting that era.”

    http://www.artmargins.com/index.php/archive/242-socialist-evening-realistic-post

    Unless you knew it was by Rockwell, you could easily think ‘Russian Schoolroom’ (1967) was a Soviet painting.

    http://artsafe.typepad.fr/photos/uncategorized/2007/03/20/russian_schoolroom.jpg

    While “Mine America’s Coal” ( We’ll Make it Hot for the Axis) (1944) could easily have been produced in either the USA or USSR during the 2nd World War.

    http://www.museumsyndicate.com/images/1/8879.jpg

    A photo-essay directly comparing the two styles notes that the similarity is uncanny.

    http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/rockwellsocialist-realism-photo-essay.html

    At the height of Stalinism, the crassest representatives of Socialist Realism were churning out hagiography.
    e.g. Alexsandr Gerasimov’s “Stalin and Voroshilov at the Kremlin”
    http://www.soviethistory.org/images/Large/1939/stalin_voroshilov.jpg

    While this sort of thing looks increasingly kitsch, over the years, Rockwell’s reputation has grown. Whereas he was once seen as a mere illustrator, he’s now regarded as a serious artist.

    Many of his works also showed a critical social awareness.
    e.g:-
    “The Problem we all live with”
    http://uploads1.wikipaintings.org/images/norman-rockwell/the-problem-we-all-live-with-1935.jpg

    “Blood Brothers”
    (an inter-racial theme borrowed from “The Dead Matador” by Edouard Manet)
    http://collections.nrm.org/images/display/nract.1976.16.jpg

    “Murder in Mississipi”
    (an illustration for ‘Look’ magazine, about the 1964 murders of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi. Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman)
    http://uploads2.wikipaintings.org/images/norman-rockwell/southern-justice-murder-in-mississippi-1965.jpg

  41. prianikoff: At the height of Stalinism, the crassest representatives of Socialist Realism were churning out hagiography.
    e.g. Alexsandr Gerasimov’s “Stalin and Voroshilov at the Kremlin”
    http://www.soviethistory.org/images/Large/1939/stalin_voroshilov.jpg

    While this sort of thing looks increasingly kitsch, over the years, Rockwell’s reputation has grown. Whereas he was once seen as a mere illustrator, he’s now regarded as a serious artist.

    If by this it is meant that ‘Socialist Realist’ painting is now not highly prized then you are wrong. Actually the opposite is true. As Mark Jones points out in his piece reproduced in 21centurymanifesto magazine this stuff fetches astronomical prices in the art market.
    http://21centurymanifesto.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/21centurymanifesto-is-now-in-magazine-format/
    Even a modest still life by the Soviet ‘court’ painter Alexsandr Gerasimov’ went for more than half a million dollars last year. The history and political paintings fetch even more.
    Prianikoff has laboured mightily here – arguing that representational painting aimed at a largely untutored audience in mid century USSR will share some stylistic similarities with a representational painting aimed at a largely untutored audience in mid century USSR.
    Hard to dispute.
    However, if the issue here centres not on questions of style, technique and method but essentially on visual and ideological content and political and social context (as Harpy Marx seems to argue earlier) then the matter can be resolved simply by making up our minds which social system in which these works were produced is the one that we prefer.
    Whatever this is it is not art history.
    Let us turn the matter on its head.
    A substantial industry grew up in the post war period in the West promoting abstract expressionism. This had direct political purpose.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html
    It also functioned to marginalise the work of representational and realist painters in general and explicitly socialist painters in particular.
    Do we adopt the position that this stuff can be discounted because of the circumstances in which it was produced and became a commodity?
    Or do we approach it with the critical tools that the discipline has provided us with and treat it in the same way that we would look at Venetian painting, or Pre-Raphaelite painting, or contemporary installation art?
    The first has the advantage to those in this discussion whose brain is disengaged from a critical evaluation of the work itself in all its complexity and variety and for whom their eyes are redundant.
    The second will lead us to a more profound understanding both of the art and the society in which it was produced.

  42. prianikoff on said:

    nickwright@53 “Do we adopt the position that this stuff can be discounted because of the circumstances in which it was produced and became a commodity?
    Or do we approach it with the critical tools that the discipline has provided us with and treat it in the same way that we would look at Venetian painting, or Pre-Raphaelite painting, or contemporary installation art?”

    Even Dadaist art became a commodity eventually.
    Marcel Duchamps’s signed urinal “Fountain” sold for for $1.7 million at Sotheby’s in 1999
    (or one of the 6 signed originals)
    Which just proves that capitalism still exists and people with money will always invest in Art.
    They’re doing the same thing with Socialist Realist kitsch nowadays.

    Resisting commodification was one of the reasons that painters like Diego Rivera produced Murals.
    It’s one of the reasons for “Banksy”.
    But even that doesn’t stop it.
    Works by Banksy have fetched over £250,000.

    My criticism of Socialst realism isn’t that it’s accessible to ordinary people.
    It isn’t that it’s representational.
    It’s the fact that the term is a misnomer.
    It’s stylistically conservative and that there was often a glaring contradiction between what it portrayed and the real social conditions it grew up in.

    Rather like commodities, Art is a social relation.
    A workers state should employ artists to create their work everywhere.
    It should be on advertising hoardings, on the tube, on murals.
    Rather than imposing an official style, it should be as unrestricted and free as possible.
    That way it becomes part of life.

  43. ian Beddowes on said:

    prianikoff,

    If the NKVD should be congragulated for anything in 1937, it is the crushing of the POUM. The POUM and the Anarchists, unable to make any headway against the fascists on the Aragon Front (as even Orwell admits) treacherously organized a ‘revolution’ in Barcelona while the Spanish Republican Army and the International Brigades were giving their life blood defending the Republic from the massed armies of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy fighting alongside the local fascists with the most modern equipment of the day.

  44. ian Beddowes: My criticism of Socialst realism isn’t that it’s accessible to ordinary people.
    It isn’t that it’s representational.
    It’s the fact that the term is a misnomer.
    It’s stylistically conservative and that there was often a glaring contradiction between what it portrayed and the real social conditions it grew up in.

    Sigh!
    Mark Jones’ point is that Socialist Realism is art precisely because it was not realistic.
    However, to accuse it of being ‘stylistically conservative’ is nonsense for two reasons. Firstly, it is quite diverse as a cursory examination of even the limited examples in 21centurymanifesto magazine shows and secondly because many trends within it represent a development of the pre revolutionary ideas..
    Hardly surprising considering many of the painters developed during the late 19th century and decades before the revolution.
    What strikes me as innovative is firstly the strongly regional and national characertistics of the work, particularly that from the non Russian republics and secondly the powerful representation of women in social and productive life.
    We really need to look at the work itself and avoid characterisations that reflect crude Cold War standpoints.

  45. prianikoff on said:

    @55 Seperate discussion, but total garbage.
    Stalin actually prevented Soviet ships with aircraft from docking in Barcelona, diverting them to Alicante – which was being blockaded by the Francoists. So much for modern equipment!
    The Barcelona uprising was not an act of “treachery”, but a reaction to the Stalinist coup against the Caballero government. Similar repression was also conducted against them in Madrid and Valencia.
    The Stalinists formed an alliance with the bourgeois government of Negrin to crush the left wing of the Spanish Republican movement.
    Almost every Stalinist involved in this operation; Orlov, Antonov-Ovseyenko, Koltsov either defected, or was later shot in the Soviet Union.
    Stalin organised fratricidal strife in the Republican ranks and made off with the Spanish gold reserve.
    Nin’s biggest mistake was accepting the post of Minister of Justice in Catalonia and entering the Popular Front.

    @56 It’s not all shit, just a lot of it.
    Revolutionary art would be much better.