Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review 276
PN Review Substack

This article is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

Socialism and Realism Peter Hazeldine

Of the many literary movements launched during the twentieth century, few have been more derided than socialist realism. Vulgar and simplistic, dull, unimaginative, a credo for toadies and lickspittles, an attempt to justify tyranny - as though art had never before been used for such a purpose: the standard judgement is familiar enough, but one-sided. Socialist realism lacked precision as an aesthetic and its innocence invited misuse, but for all its obvious deficiencies it did at least address itself to important problems. In intention it was a pious doctrine that sought to rescue art from the more solipsistic features of modernism and to restore writers to their traditional role as spokesmen and -women for a nation's consciousness by employing populist narrative techniques. It did not, as is sometimes alleged, seek to diminish the status of art by making it into an instrument of political reform. What better evidence could there be that art was not to be thought of as a luxury than by asking it to play a part in the development of history? Nor was it a crude reaction against modernism; on the contrary, its self-conscious response to the past placed it firmly in the modernist tradition.

Socialist realism was an attempt at an epic style, and epics are not only about the heroic actions of exceptional individuals; they are also about the group to which the hero belongs and of which he is the exemplar. Epics are public utterances, at their most self-assured when ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image