Stalinism and the Graphic Arts

  • Stephen White
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


If Stalinism was a ‘total work of art’,1 it was also a system of rule that extended to every field of cultural endeavour. It was still possible, as late as 1930, for the philosopher Losev to refer to Marxism-Leninism as a ‘lamentable absurdity’.2 University philosophers could adopt a variety of views until at least the early 1920s, and in the natural sciences there were no ‘repressive measures’ until the end of the decade.3 The Soviet Constitution, until 1929, permitted religious as well as anti-religious propaganda, and the churches themselves enjoyed substantial independence from state control.4 The private sector, which lasted into the later 1920s, provided a home for individual, cooperative and other non-state publishers, and in any case printed matter circulated relatively freely across Soviet borders. As late as the mid-1920s, a quarter of all books were published under private rather than state auspices, and in some fields the proportion was much higher: a third of all philosophy and psychology books, for instance, were privately published in 1923, together with 43 per cent of poetry and literary criticism and more than half of all the books published on painting, the theatre and sport.5 A relative degree of pluralism of this kind was supported at the highest levels by Anatolii Lunacharskii, People’s Commissar of Enlightenment from 1917 onwards, a prolific playwright and essayist, and in his own words ‘an intellectual among Bolsheviks and a Bolshevik among intellectuals’.6


Socialist Realism Poster Work Central Committee Poster Literature Poster Artist 
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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1998

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  • Stephen White

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