Socialist Realism the art of laudatory glorification of communist ideals

Socialist Realism. A group of artists under the direction of Vasily Efanov. Noble people of the Land of Soviets, 1939
A group of artists under the direction of Vasily Efanov. Noble people of the Land of Soviets, 1939

Socialist realism, or socialist realism, is a style in art characterized by a laudatory portrayal of communist values ​​in works. It is also the only art method officially recognized by the authorities to represent the life of people in the USSR from the late 1920s to the early 1990s.

Socialist realism, contrary to its name, has much less in common with traditional realism than with classicism and romanticism. He also has an idealized image of the life of a prosperous and happy society of people building a bright future under the leadership of the Communist Party.

Socialist Realism. Alexander Deineka. Stakhanovites, 1937. Perm State Art Gallery, Perm
Alexander Deineka. Stakhanovites, 1937. Perm State Art Gallery, Perm

Distinctive features of socialist realism

The main distinguishing features of socialist realism are considered to be:

  1. Accessibility to the general public. The works of socialist realism should be extremely simple in understanding for any person, regardless of their level of education or age.
  2. Ideological orientation. Creativity should glorify the heroism of the feat of the Soviet people in the struggle to build communism.
  3. The straightforwardness of artistic images. The use of complex metaphors, abstractions and symbols is not allowed.
Socialist Realism. Alexander Samokhvalov. Soviet physical education. 1936
Alexander Samokhvalov. Soviet physical education. 1936

The artistic method of socialist realism was constantly under the tight tutelage and control of the state. Any works that did not meet the established criteria were prohibited, and their authors were sharply criticized and persecuted by the authorities.


The history of the development of socialist realism dates back to pre-revolutionary times, and the prominent Soviet figure Anatoly Lunacharsky can rightfully be called its founder. The future first People’s Commissar of Education of the RSFSR in 1906 coined the term “proletarian realism” to denote works of art created in the spirit of the revolutionary class struggle to overthrow the tsarist government. In his views, he relied on Lenin’s ideas about the inextricable link between proletarian art and the party ideology of the Bolsheviks.

Alexander Samokhvalov. Kirov, 1935
Alexander Samokhvalov. Kirov, 1935

After the 1917 revolution in Russia, a period of radical breakdown of the traditional foundations of society began in all spheres, including art. The academic canons for the creation of works of painting, sculpture, graphics and literature were declared obsolete, a fertile time has come for the development of all kinds of trends in avant-garde art:

  • futurism;
  • constructivism;
  • suprematism;
  • functionalism;
  • expressionism;
  • unism.

But by the end of the 1920s, the strengthened Soviet power seriously decided to restore order in art. She needed a powerful tool of ideological influence on the masses in the conditions of building communism, which socialist realism became. From that moment on, socialist realism became the only artistic method of creativity in the USSR for many years. The main hero of the works of writers, painters, sculptors and filmmakers was declared a simple Soviet worker a member of an ideal socialist society, and any criticism of the existing system was strictly prohibited.

Alexander Deineka. Relay, 1947
Alexander Deineka. Relay, 1947

After World War II, socialist realism became an integral part of the ideological system of the countries of Eastern Europe, in which communist regimes were established.

This style of art was also adopted by the leaders of many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which chose the socialist path of development after independence.

Socialist realism has successfully survived the reign of Stalin and Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko. Only with the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, this artistic method began to rapidly lose its leading position in the ideological sphere. And with the collapse of the USSR, the ideas of socialist realism have completely lost their popularity. The artists of the former Soviet Union finally got the opportunity to independently choose the appropriate style for the implementation of their creative ideas.

Lenin's speech at a rally in May 1917, 1929
Lenin’s speech at a rally in May 1917, 1929

The most famous socialist realist artists

Among the outstanding representatives of this style, there are many talented masters of art. Most of them sincerely believed in communist ideals and worked at the behest of their own hearts. Among the most famous socialist realist artists, the following stand out:

  1. Alexander Gerasimov (1881-1963) the first President of the USSR Academy of Arts and Stalin’s favorite artist. His portraits of the all-powerful leader were unconditionally recognized as the standards of the genre by all Soviet critics of that era.
  2. Isaac Brodsky (1883-1939) the most famous painter who painted pictures of Lenin, the author of many official portraits of the top leadership of the Soviet Union.
  3. Vera Mukhina (1889-1953) the author of the cult sculpture “Worker and Collective Farm Woman”, installed at the entrance to the Exhibition of Economic Achievements in Moscow. The 24-meter monument at the exhibition in Paris made a splash and was recognized by French journalists as the greatest sculptural work of the twentieth century.
  4. Alexander Deineka (1899-1969) the author of the majestic patriotic painting “Defense of Sevastopol”, praising the feat of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War. In addition to painting, he was engaged in the art of mosaics, illustration of books and design of performances.


Vera Mukhina. Worker and collective farmer, 1937
Vera Mukhina. Worker and collective farmer, 1937

Socialist realism, despite the conflicting assessments of art critics, is recognized as part of the cultural heritage in most countries of the former USSR. This artistic method has long lost its relevance, although in North Korea it is still considered the only official style of art.