Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview
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Cultural Aspects of the USSR


THE REVOLUTION not only laid waste the economic structure of Russia, but caused immeasurable destruction to the cultural life of the nation. With the question of reconstruction of the country there inevitably came up the problem of cultural restoration. Economic restoration was Problem No. I but no nation is able to advance economically without an effort to raise its cultural level. Here as well as in the realm of economic welfare the new government had to start from the very foundations; moreover, it had to start with an entirely new concept of cultural values which would harmonize with the new political philosophy. Even the Communist leaders realized that the arts would advance in proportion to the material growth of society. 'Culture feeds on the sap of economics', observed Trotsky, 'and a material surplus is necessary, so that culture may grow, develop and become subtle. . . . Art needs comfort, even abundance'.1

But it was easier to declare the necessity of a revival of the arts and literature than to define what kind of arts and literature the party in power was expecting. The new concept of values was bound to demand a different form, a new pattern which was too hazy even among Marxist exponents. Attempts at a definition of proletarian art only demonstrated the complete absence of unanimity; there was much confusion as to what actually constituted the new art so profusely spoken of, nor were the expectations of the artist or writer as to what he should produce more lucid. This confusion by itself, to mention no other factors, brought the enervating confusion of the 'barren years'. The creative genius remained at a loss as to what actually the awakened and activated masses expected of him, if anything at all; nor was he certain as to what 'the Party line' would approve or disapprove, and this changed with the political seasons. One thing was clear, the Revolution had created a situation in which the individual could not be left to himself, but was compelled to integrate his creative work with the goals of the stormy era. The artist or writer had to reflect the times in which he lived or else he would be callously thrown by the wayside regardless of the value of his creations. The new art, it was anticipated, would express infinite faith in the goals set by the Revolution; it must convey convincingly the enthusiasm and optimism of the Party in power.

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, pp. 9-10.


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