‘Revolutionary Realism’: Old Wine in New Bottles or New Wine in Old Bottles?



In the early 1930s under the auspices of the Soviet Cultural Minister, Lunacharsky, a collection of selected passages from the writings of Marx and Engels relating to literature and art was published.1 These passages are believed by Marxists to contain the basic principles of a Marxist poetics. Although sceptics have often pointed out that these fragmentary remarks can hardly be the basis of any theory,2 there is no denying that they do contain certain common themes. These themes are also consistent with others developed in the socio-political and philosophical writings by the same authors. Among them are the theses that literature is a component of the superstructure, and, as such, is affected in varying degrees by the economic base; that literature reflects, truthfully or distortedly, the objective world; that human aesthetic experience is historically conditioned; that the division of labour and class antagonism are inimical to the development of literature and of human aesthetic nature; that the human aesthetic nature can be fully rediscovered only in a non-alienated existence in a classless society. This is of course not to say that Marx and Engels are either consistent or definitive in their pronouncements concerning these themes. Each and every one of them has therefore become the subject of heated debates among Marxist thinkers of this century.


Socialist Realism Cultural Revolution Chinese Literature Typical Character Socialist Society 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    A. Lunacharsky, M. Liftshitz and F. P. Schiller (eds), Ob Iskusstvje (Moscow, 1933).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Quoted in H. Swayze, Political Control of Literature in the USSR, 1946_1959 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1962) p.113.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    As a matter of fact, it was the Russian writer Gorki who first proposed uniting realism and romanticism in socialist realism. See M. Gorki, Literature and Life (London, New York, Melbourne, Sydney: Hutchinson International Authors, 1946) p.31.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Shanghai Writing Group for Revolutionary Mass Criticism, To Trumpet Bourgeois Literature and Art Is to Restore Capitalism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1971) pp. 11–12, also footnote 7, pp.41–2.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Among the numerous articles on this, see, for example, Zhou Yang, ‘Inherit the Past and Usher in the Future’ in H. Goldblatt (ed.), Chinese Literature for the 1980s (Armonk, New York and London: M. G. Sharpe Inc., 1982) pp.21–2, 27.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    Zhu Sijing, ‘Summary of Discussion on Truthfulness of Literature and Art’, Wenyi luncong, vol.11, 1980, p.63.Google Scholar
  7. 31.
    L. Baxandale and S. Marawski (eds), Marx and Engels on Literature and Art (St. Louis/Milwaukee: Telos Press, 1973) p.114.Google Scholar
  8. 32.
    For example, G. Malenkov, ‘Report to the 19th Party Congress of the USSR’ (5 October 1952) in L. Gurliow, Current Soviet Policies (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1953) p.115.Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    Sha Yexin, Jiaru wo shi zhende, translated in P. Link (ed.), Stubborn Weeds, Popular and Controversial Chinese Literature after the Cultural Revolution (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983) pp. 198–250.Google Scholar
  10. 41.
    H. Ermolaev, Soviet Literary Theories, 1917–1934, The Genesis of Socialist Realism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963) pp.147–73.Google Scholar
  11. 42.
    Zheng Yijie and Xia Hong, ‘A Critical Examination of Realism’, Wenyi luncong, vol. 11, 1980, pp.40–62. Zhu Di, ‘History As a Mirror’, ibid., pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
  12. 45.
    In his earlier writings, Hu Feng actually favoured a very dogmatic interpretation of socialist realism by some Soviet theorists, particularly by Kirpotin. See Hu Feng, Studies in a Cloudy Period (Haiyan chubanshe, n.p.n., 1940) pp.19–53.Google Scholar
  13. 48.
    Hui Fan, ‘Socialist Realism in the 1970’s’, Wenxue pinglun congkan, vol. 4, 1979, pp.346–60.Google Scholar
  14. 49.
    R. Garaudy, D’un Realisme Sans Rivages, Picasso Saint-John Perse Kafka (Paris: Plon, 1963).Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    Di Qicong, ‘On the Principle of Writing the Truth in Realism’, Wenyi luncong, vol.12, 1981, pp.46–7.Google Scholar
  16. 63.
    Chen Kun, ‘Some Thoughts on “Dickens Is Dead”’, Waiguo wenxue yanjiu jikan, vol. 1, 1979, pp.28–46.Google Scholar

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© Michael B. Yahuda 1987

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