Eesti Elu
Remember Soviet censorship? Interesting obsessions from the petty to the bizarre.
Arvamus 01 Dec 2011  Eesti Elu
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How would one describe Soviet censorship? As a firm hold from the party leadership? As just a proof reading procedure or an idiotic control mechanism? As the protection of military and other state secrets to protect the interests of workers? Was it a political or cultural force that could strip away the enthusiasm and motivation of the creative individual? It was probably a combination of all of the above.

Soviet censorship parameters that are the easiest to describe and understand were declared official Soviet State policy in 1932 and was known as Socialist Realism. It was the mode of creative production and the only official style of many forms of art, architecture, poetry etc. In brief it insisted that artistic endeavour must follow the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, pure and simple. This was prevalent mainly during the period from the Second World War to the death of Stalin but it also provided some terms of reference for the eras that followed. It’s obvious that coerced creative conformity has long been relaxed in Russia, but the current insistence on historic correctness has its roots in the old Russian/Soviet tradition of control and manipulation of creative and intellectual pursuits.

In poetry, film or literature one should pursue realism: Avoid anything that smacks of abstract, modern art. Dismissed as decadent, bourgeois and formalist was anything that wasn’t representational.

Develop themes that are obviously partisan: Naturalism was taboo, for it depicted things solely because they existed. Advocate for communism, by having the hero oppressed by capitalists, agitating to eliminate capitalism or extolling the brilliance of the Communist Revolution.

Depict typical situations: Show what could happen on the factory floor, on a casualty-ridden battlefield replete with socialist heroes, amidst the high-achievers in the vast wheat fields of the collective farm. Themes like these were to be chosen for they gave legitimacy to the ‘authentic’ Soviet life.

Glorify the proletariat: Main characters must be working class or their immediate heritage be of that strata. Unacceptable were protagonists whose forefathers had been the nobility, landed gentry or capitalists.

Specifically in the fine arts this meant that one must always adhere to a technical representation of reality where the achievements of Communism are featured with happy workers using cheap materials if possible, or Lenin or Stalin using better ones. (A Western art critic described this style as ‘Girl Meets Tractor’ in referring to the ongoing depiction of farmers given new agricultural equipment.)

One should highlight monumental buildings, structures that prove the strength and power of the state. Esthetically the art should include columns and symmetry, with decorations showing strength and wealth. One would still have the freedom to also use folk motifs but should be mindful not to offend the party. Music must be easily understood, motivating people to work.

The officially set guidelines of the period were easily understandable. Unless one directly attacked the Soviet system or ideology, one wasn’t charged, prosecuted and jailed. But if one wavered from the proscribed style one was a class traitor. Creating something different was an extremely risky venture for in essence the Party was your employer, it was responsible for promoting your work. The resultant social stigma of ignoring the creative dictates of the party meant committing artistic suicide.
(To be con’t.)
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