Essentials Of Unification Thought - The Head-Wing Thought

IX. A Critique of Socialist Realism

A. Socialist Realism

Among the Communist revolutionary activities, one which played an important role was artistic activity, whose style of creation is called socialist realism. What, then, is socialist realism?

Lenin said that art should stand on the side of the proletariat, as follows:

Art belongs to the people. The deepest wellspring of art must be found among the wide-ranging class of laborers.... Art should be based on their feelings, thoughts, and demands, and should grow along with them. 17

[Literature] must become party literature.... Down with nonpartisan writers! Down with literary supermen! Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat, "a cog and a screw" of one single great Social-Democratic mechanism set in motion by the entire politically-conscious vanguard of the entire working class. 18

Also, the founder of socialist realism in literature, Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), stated the following about socialist realism:

For us writers, it is necessary in our life and in our creative work to stand on the high viewpoint-and only on that viewpoint that can see clearly all of the filthy crimes of capitalism, all of its mean and bloody intentions, and all of the greatness of the heroic activities of the proletariat. 19

In the contemporary age, writers assume the mission to play two roles at the same time, that of a midwife [to socialism] and a grave digger [to capitalism]. 20

The main goal of socialist realism lies in inspiring a socialistic, revolutionary world view, or world sense. 21

To put this another way, writing poetry and novels, painting, and so forth, should all be carried out for the purpose of exposing the crimes of capitalism and praising socialism, and works should be created to inspire readers and viewers to stand up for revolution, with a burning righteous mind.

Socialist realism was formulated by Soviet artists under the guidance of Stalin in 1932, and came to be applied to all artistic fields, such as literature, drama, cinema, painting, sculpture, music, and architecture. It advocated the following:

(1) To describe reality accurately with historic correctness in its revolutionary development.
(2) To match one's artistic expression with the themes of ideological reform and the education of the workers in the socialist spirit.

What is the theoretical ground that gave rise to such socialist realism? It is found in the Marxist theory of "basis and superstructure." Marx stated in the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

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 social consciousness [including art]. 22

Stalin further elaborated the theory of "basis and superstructure as follows:

Having come into being, it [the superstructure] becomes an exceedingly active force, actively assisting its base to take shape and consolidate itself.... The superstructure is created by the base precisely in order to serve it, to actively help it to take shape and consolidate itself. 23

The superstructure is the product of one epoch, the epoch in which the given economic base exists and operates. The superstructure is therefore short-lived; it is eliminated and disappears with the elimination and disappearance of the given base. 24

To synthesize and summarize, the above means that "Communist art must actively cooperate in eliminating the capitalist system and its superstructure, while in Communist society [socialist society], it must actively serve to maintain and strengthen its economic System, while educating the working people." Based upon this theory, socialist realism was established.

B. Critique of Socialist Realism

As indicated by Lenin's words, "Literature must belong to the Party," by Stalin's words, "Writers are the engineers of the human spirit," and by Gorky's words, 'Writers are the midwife to socialism, and the gravedigger to capitalism," artists and writers were required to obey the Party's directives absolutely, and their individuality and freedom were totally disregarded. As a result, in the Soviet Union, artists and writers have been living under surveillance and oppression since the Revolution. Especially in the late 1930s, when Stalin promoted socialist realism, a great number of artists and writers were arrested and purged as heretics. 25 Even after the death of Stalin, socialist realism continued to reign as the accepted theory of art, and consequently many artists and writers became dissidents.

Criticizing socialist realism, art critic Herbert Read said, "Socialist realism is nothing but an attempt to stuff intellectual or dogmatic objectives into art." 26 Ilya G. Ehrenburg (1891-1967), a Soviet journalist and novelist who was awarded Stalin Prizes for two of his novels but later became critical of Stalin, said, "What is described in a book depicting weaving women in a spinning mill is not a human being but a machine, and not human feelings but merely the process of production." 27 Thus, lie criticized the image of the human being depicted in socialist realism.

The Korean art critic Yohan Clio also criticized the image of the human being in socialist realism, as follows:

The farmers and workers whom they [the Soviet writers] described were wonderful heroes and heroines who did not show even the faintest sign of uneasiness. It was all the more so since a theory of no conflict was spread. That is, they don't seem to have any kind of anxiety whatsoever. They were the ones who had no life of their own.... Therefore, that writing could never express a person's internal world. 28

In April 1986, an accident occurred at the nuclear power plant of Chernobyl, in the Ukraine Republic of the USSR. Concerning the accident, Mikhail Gorbachev said that the nuclear accident had been a great disaster, but that there was a still greater problem to attend to, namely, bureaucratism. He said at a meeting of the Writers' union, "At the time of the Revolution, Gorky exposed and condemned the corruption and crimes of public officials. In the same way, Soviet public officials today have lapsed into bureaucraism, and there is a lot of vice. So, you writers should not hesitate to criticize them through your works." Then, a certain poet allegedly requested the Soviet government to stop its censorship of literary works. He did so because to date Soviet artists and writers have been deprived of freedom, in the name of socialist realism.

In Communist China, Mao Tse Tung granted freedom to intellectuals for a while, with his policy of "letting a hundred schools of thought contend," prior to The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. When that happened, most intellectuals criticized the socialist policies. Several years ago, Den Ziaoping has adopted pragmatism, and has started to allow freedom to intellectuals, bit by bit. As a result, a renowned theorist of communist China, Wang Ruo, revealed that in socialism there is human alienation just as in capitalism.

When we consider these facts, we realize that socialist realism, as art for the proletarian revolution and as art that is subservient to party policy, has proved to be totally false art.

C. The Indictment of Communism by Writers

Communist leaders compelled artists and writers to praise communism from the viewpoint of socialist realism, but the artists and writers who pursue true art have come, instead, to indict Communism for its falsehood.

Andre Gide (1869-1951), a French writer who had been fascinated by Communism, attended Gorky's funeral in 1936, and afterwards traveled in the Soviet Union for a month. He candidly expressed, in his book Baik From the USSR his disappointment with the Soviet society he saw on that occasion. He said in the introduction,

Three years ago I declared my admiration, my love, for the USSR An unprecedented experiment was being attempted there, which filled our hearts with hope and from which we expected an immense advance, an impetus capable of carrying forward in its stride the whole human race ... In our hearts and in our minds we resolutely linked the future of culture itself with the glorious destiny of the USSR 29

However, after coming in contact with the Soviet people during his one-month trip, he wrote the following impressions:

In the USSR everybody knows beforehand, once and for all, that on any and every subject there can be only one opinion.... So that every time you talk to one Russian you feel as if you were talking to them all. 30

Finally he fiercely denounced the Soviet Union:

What is desired and demanded is approval of all that is done in the USSR ... And I doubt whether in any other country in the world, even Hitler's Germany, thought to be less free, more bowed down, more fearful (terrorized), more vassalized. 31

The Soviet writer Boris L. Pasternak (1829-1960) secretly wrote Doctor Zhivagyo, in which lie expressed his disappointment with the Russian Revolution, and advocated the philosophy of love. That book was published, not in the Soviet Union but in foreign countries, and was received favorably. It was decided to award Pasternak the Nobel prize, but, as a result, at home he was expelled from the Writer's Union, and denounced as a reactionary anti-Socialist writer. Pasternak stated in that book, through Zhivago, who represented his own conscience, the following:

Marxism a science? ... Marxism is too uncertain of its ground to be a science. Sciences are more balanced, more objective. I don't know a movement more self-centered and further removed from the facts than Marxism. 32

He also denounced the attitude taken by the revolutionaries toward intellectuals, saying,

At first everything is splendid. "Come along. We welcome good, honest work, we welcome ideas, especially new ideas. What could please us better? Do your work, struggle, carry on." "Then you find in practice that what they mean by ideas is nothing but words-claptrap in praise of the revolution and the regime...." 33

D. Errors in the Communist Theory of Art from the Viewpoint of Unification Thought

The causes of the errors of socialist realism are as follows:

First, socialist realism does not regard art as the "activity of creating beauty and joy for the whole (creation) as well as for oneself (appreciation) while respecting the individuality of the artist," but has made art become a means of educating the people, while conforming to Party policy. Artists should manifest their individuality in their work to the utmost degree. By so doing, they please God and other people. Socialist realism, however, has deprived artists of individuality and has standardized works of art. Therefore, there is no way for true art to be born out of it.
Second, socialist realism denies God; therefore, it has lost the fundamental standard of artistic activity. It establishes, instead, arbitrary standards based on Party policy, forcing artists and writers to conform to them.
Third, since beauty and love are closely related as two sides of a coin, art and ethics must also be in the relationship of the two sides of a coin. Yet, since Communist society denies the ethics of love, it has transformed art into art without love, art as a tool to rule the people.
Fourth, art is not the superstructure. Nevertheless, socialist realism regards art as a superstructure and makes it fall into the status of a servant of the economic system (or the "base"). In reality, however, art is not determined by the economic system. Marx himself made the following confession in latter part of his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

The difficulty we are confronted with is not, however, that of understanding how Greek art and epic poetry are associated with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they still give us aesthetic pleasure and are in certain respects regarded as a standard and unattainable ideal. 34

According to the materialist conception of history, Greek culture (part of the superstructure) should have disappeared by now without leaving a trace, and contemporary people should feel no interest in it. But Marx felt a difficulty because of the fact that Greek art and epic poetry, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, not only give contemporary people joy, but have even become the models of art. This is nothing but Marx's own testimony to the error of his theory of "basis and superstructure."

Human beings have the fundamental desire to pursue the values of trueness, goodness, and beauty. Even though fallen, all people possess it in all periods, universally. Therefore, if the values of trueness, goodness, and beauty are expressed in a work of art, that work catches everyone's heart. The fact that Greek art has continued to be enjoyed by people even until today means that it contains eternal values of trueness, goodness, and beauty.

Finally, let us consider Gorky and Tolstoy, two writers who were totally different in style, though both of them condemned the corruption of Russian society before the Revolution in the same way and in almost the same period. Gorky conformed with Communism, which sought to overthrow capitalism violently, and asserted that the mission of the artist lies in inspiring revolutions. Thus, he wrote works that glorified the revolutionary movement. Mother by Gorky has been regarded as a literary masterpiece of socialist realism. It depicts the image of a mother, who was an uneducated working woman, being gradually awakened to the class nature of society from a desire to protect her only son, who had been thrown into prison on charges of revolutionary activities. Finally, she herself becomes an active participant in the revolutionary movement.

On the other hand, while condemning social evils, Tolstoy advocated that the way to resolve them lay in the recovery of true human nature through love. One of Tolstoy's masterpieces is Resurrection. An aristocratic young man, appearing in court as a member of a jury, knows that a young woman whom he had seduced in a mistake of his younger days had become degraded and is right then being judged. He becomes conscience-stricken, repents and makes up his mind to save her. Finally, she is rehabilitated, and the young man also starts a new life.

The way Gorky chose was the external way of social revolution, whereas the way Tolstoy chose was the internal way of spiritual revolution. Which was the correct way? The way of violent revolution that Gorky chose was the wrong way, as the realities of today's socialist society-including oppression of human nature and corruption of bureaucrats-indicates. On the other hand, the way Tolstoy chose was the true way, in that it was the way to recover human nature. It must be pointed out, however, that it still had its limits in saving society as a whole.

Here, Unification Thought pursues the way for both humankind and society to be reformed as the humankind and society originally intended. This becomes possible by correctly understanding God. In other words, by knowing correctly the attributes of God, who created humankind and the world, we can learn the ideal state of human beings and society as they were originally intended. All that must be done is to reform humankind and society in that direction. The new art advocated by Unification Thought is Unificationism, in which idealism and realism are unified, centering on God's Heart (love). Unificationism seeks to reform reality toward the original ideal of humankind and society.

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