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Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine Features: Socialist Realism in the Soviet Ukrainian Literature

Marko Robert Stech (Toronto)

March 2013

The term socialist realism and its theoretical underpinnings were officially adopted by the First Congress of Writers of the USSR in August 1934, when the Soviet Writers’ Union was established. This so-called ‘creative method’ was imposed by the Stalinist regime during its campaign of terror following the dissolution of all independent literary organizations, as a result of which the Communist Party gained full control over arts and literature in the USSR.

As the only officially sanctioned ‘method’ in Soviet literature and art from the early 1930s, socialist realism demanded ‘depiction of reality in its revolutionary development’ that ‘must be tied to the ideological re-education and training of workers in the spirit of socialism.’ In practical terms, this meant that literature and art were to serve as glorifying illustrations of the Communist Party policies, and to portray what was hoped for in such a way that it seemed real. Deviations into truly realistic portrayals of Soviet reality and its deficiencies were attacked as ‘slavishness to facts’ or ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.’

Socialist realism was enforced in literature and the other arts by means of repressions. In the 1930s over 300 writers were executed or otherwise prevented from publishing. The remaining ones were forced to adhere to the officially sanctioned formulaic literary format. Socialist realism remained the only officially-sanctioned style in Ukraine until the late 1980s…

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SOCIALIST REALISM. In its first period (1934-41) socialist realism’s range in prose was restricted to depictions of industrialization and collectivization. Poetry was reduced to stilted odes to the Party and its leaders. During the Second World War literature was dominated by patriotic themes and publicistic style. Gradually the theme of glorification of the Russian ‘big brother’ crept in, and it was intensified after the war. The theme reached a climax in the ‘unification celebrations’ of 1954.

Socialist realism’s need to hide falsity of content gave rise to certain characteristics of style in all Soviet literature. It was responsible for the presence of compendiums of useless information and statistical data, the use of artificial verbal ornamentation, the overuse of epithets and similes (even in the works of superior writers, such as Oles Honchar and Pavlo Zahrebelny), a decline in the lexicon to the level of journalistic vocabulary, a reliance on artificial pathos that dipped into sentimentality (in the novels of Mykhailo Stelmakh), and a preponderance of didacticism and moralizing…

KORNIICHUK, OLEKSANDER, b 25 May 1905 in Khrystynivka, Kyiv gubernia, d 14 May 1972 in Kyiv. Dramatist and prominent Soviet Ukrainian political figure. In 1934 he became a member of the executive of the newly created Writers’ Union of Ukraine. A protege of Joseph Stalin, he was promoted to numerous positions: deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (from 1937) and the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR (from 1938); USSR deputy people’s commissar of foreign affairs (1943); president of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR (1947-55, 1959-72); member of the Central Committe of the Communist Party of Ukraine (from 1949) and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (from 1952), etc. Korniichuk’s first plays in the late 1920s attracted little attention. He garnered fame with his play about the Civil War, Zahybel’ eskadry (The Destruction of the Squadron, 1933). His subsequent plays were formulaic and written in the style of socialist realism in conformity with the Party’s political imperatives and propagandistic needs…

STELMAKH, MYKHAILO, b 24 May 1912 in Diakivtsi, Letychiv county, Podilia gubernia, d 27 September 1983 in Kyiv. Prose writer, poet, and dramatist. He graduated from the Vinnytsia Pedagogical Institute (1933) and taught in villages of the Kyiv district until 1939. After the war he was a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and vice-chairman of the Council of Nationalities. His poetry was first published in 1936. From the 1940s he wrote mainly prose which represents a typical example of socialist realism. It shows the characteristic conformism to shifting Party policy (eg, the novel Velyka ridnia[Great Family] glorifies Joseph Stalin throughout and was awarded the Stalin prize in 1951; later, criticized for succumbing to the Stalinist ‘personality cult,’ Stelmakh completely rewrote it under the new title Krov liuds’ka—ne vodytsia [Human Blood Is Not Water, 1957]). The characteristic socialist-realist glossing over of Soviet reality is present in Stelmakh’s work even of the post-Stalinist era…

MALYSHKO, ANDRII, b 15 November 1912 in Obukhiv, Kyiv county, d 17 February 1970 in Kyiv. Poet and publicist. Malyshko’s first published works appeared in 1930, and his first published collection of poetry was Bat’kivshchyna (The Fatherland, 1936). During the Second World War he was a correspondent of front-line newspapers and published several collections of patriotic poetry. His postwar material includes Za synim morem (Beyond the Blue Sea, 1950), Knyha brativ (The Book of Brothers, 1954), and numerous other collections. The references to internal and international politics and Communist Party directives throughout Malyshko’s voluminous canon made him the recipient of various Soviet awards. His works were held out as models of socialist realism and lauded for their populism and adherence to the Party line. In accordance with the prime directive of socialist realism of ‘creating for the people’ he employed a simplistic lexicon and poetic form and concentrated on the sentimental and patriotic. Many of his works have been put to music…

RYBAK, NATAN, b 3 January 1913 in Ivanivka, Yelysavethrad county, Kherson gubernia, d 11 September 1978 in Kyiv. Socialist-realist writer of Jewish origin. He began publishing in 1930 and produced 3 poetry collections in the 1930s and about 20 short story collections, most of them in the 1930s and 1940s. He is best known for his novels, some of which idealize Stalinist industrialization and the struggle with ‘counterrevolution’; Dnipro (1937-8) depicts the revolutionary period in Southern Ukraine; Pomylka Onore de Bal’zaka (The Mistake of Honoré de Balzac, 1940) portrays Honoré de Balzac’s stay in Ukraine, while Zbroia z namy (The Weapons Are with Us, 1943) is set in Ukraine during the Second World War. His Pereiaslavs’ka rada (The Pereiaslav Council, vol 1, 1948, for which Rybak was awarded a Stalin Prize in 1950; vol 2, 1953) is a major Soviet historical epic about the Cossack-Polish War, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654. His later novels focus on the Cold War and plots from the lives of Soviet scientists…

HONCHAR, OLES, b 3 April 1918 in Sukha, Kobeliaky county, Poltava gubernia, d 14 July 1995 in Kyiv. One of the most prominent Soviet Ukrainian writers of the postwar period; a full member of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR from 1978. A Second World War veteran and graduate of Dnipropetrovsk University, he began to publish his works in 1938. From 1959 to 1971 he headed the Writers’ Union of Ukraine. Honchar gained prominence with the novel-trilogy Praporonostsi (The Standard Bearers, 1947–8) about the Red Army in the Second World War. His other works include such novellas as Zemlia hude (The Earth Drones, 1947); such novels as Tavriia (1952), Liudyna i zbroia (Man and Arms, 1960), and Sobor (The Cathedral, 1968), which was officially censured and subsequently removed from circulation; as well as short-story collections and three collections of literary articles. His works, most of which closely adhere to the official Soviet style of socialist realism, have been republished many times and have been the subject of a large body of Soviet literary criticism…

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