Socialist Realism Essay
Updated: Jan 28th, 2020
Written by Nikolai Ostravasky, How the Steel was tampered is a captivating socialist realist piece that reflects the picture and position of the literary world in the former Soviet Union and other socialist states around the world. The socialist philosophy around the world was based on a philosophy that was meant to glorify the position of the masses that were referred to as the working and the ruling classes, which were made up mostly of the military.
Socialism was based on brainwashing of the masses by feeding their minds on information that the state wanted them to know. In this way, the state would control everything that happened around its people. In essence, socialism controlled the freedoms of people in the nations it was practiced as the mode of governance. The purpose of socialist realism was to advance the goals of socialism and communism by controlling what was being disseminated to the masses at all levels.
This strategy too was applied to the literary world to the extent that all literary works produced had to conform to the guidelines set up by the socialist order. The book by Ostravasky confirms the same. Therefore, as the paper reveals, the book has demonstrated a great deal of relationship with Chinese fictional works such as Talks at the Yenan Forum and On the Revolution of Peking Opera based on the evident effect it has had on the two mentioned Chinese works.
How the Steel was tampered vs. Talks at the Yenan Forum
The article Talks at the Yenan Forum presents a round-table held in May 2nd 1942 to review the way literature works were being produced and if they were conforming to socialist realism.
As the reader would find out from the paper on the proceedings at the Yenan forum, there is a talk of liberating the Chinese people using all fronts. One front is the gun while the other front is the use of the pen meaning that the forum was emphasizing the use of literature to perpetuate the socialist agenda as well as to control the content of literature being produced.
The second page of the forum document talks of “the need to fit literature and art in the whole revolution machine” (Tse-tung Para. 2). When compared to the book How the Steel was tampered, one finds that the author of the book has followed a certain line of thought that is found to be highlighting the achievements of the socialist government. Although the talks of the forum were held in China, China and the Soviet Union were both socialist republics that were guided by the same tenets.
The socialist philosophy called for loyalty to the revolution asking people to give their lives to the service of the revolution. This issue can be found in the first part of Ostravasky’s work that describes his time as a young Bolshevik and the dedication he had to the revolution that, even through ill health, he never left his position lest he was invalidated from the movement.
This effort shows how socialist realism had taken root in the nations that had socialism as their political system. Ostravasky’s loyalty highlights the extreme effects of indoctrination and the expectations that all people felt they had to meet as a duty. Therefore Ostravasky went ahead to write his book extolling the achievements of Bolsheviks besides demonizing all the other groups that were associated with the bojeours.
Comparing the reasons that made Ostravasky take a pen and paper and the agenda of the Yenan talks, they both have the same agenda. The only difference was the timing. It can be assumed that Ostravasky’s book was the guide or inspiration to the socialist republics to use literature as well to advance their agenda. The Yenan forum discusses how to use the pen as a weapon for advancement of the socialist agenda (Tse-tung Para. 8).
The Yenan forum just as the book encourages writers who are writing for the socialist party to protect the interests of the party and in so doing to praise the revolutionaries both in the active as well past revolutionaries. The forum has been quoted as encouraging socialist writers to be critical of those who leave the service.
The paper cites Japan as the imperialist enemy that should be fought along all fronts especially when it calls for praising and extolling those serving in the army. It also calls for the criticism of those not serving in the army against their enemies (Tse-tung 9).
Ostravasky fights people with imperialist ideas as well as those harboring bourgeois thoughts when he depicts them in the negative in his book. He views the food merchants in the train as self-seekers who are out to exploit the hardworking masses. This similarity can also be found in the Yenan forum where some members who are believed to harbor bourgeois ideas are discussed. The forum encourages that they should be educated to make them firm members of the cause that is the socialist movement.
The socialist realists employed the use of education in indoctrinating their people on how to live a socialist life. The book by Ostravasky paints a picture of a young man dedicated to the cause of his nation who has appointed himself the custodian of the people’s wealth as produced by the people. This kind of literature that the Yenan forum is based on is encouraging for development.
The Yenan forum discusses the development of content for writers so that their writing conforms to the expectations and wishes of the socialist government. The forum presents the literary productions of writers that it finds lacking in what can be described as socialist agenda. It finds that the writers are not conversant with their audience. In this case, the audience is the army, the masses, and the working class. The forum therefore works towards describing who the audience is and or what kind of content should be fed to the audience.
Comparing the forum’s discussion with Ostravasky’s work, a conclusion that can be drawn is that the forum tended to follow on what Ostravasky had done before them and that the forum was intended to come up with a standard that other writers can follow and emulate Ostravasky’s work.
Ostravasky and the forum have a common purpose in indoctrinating the socialist movement’s tenets in the readers of literary work. The only difference is that Ostravasky had already come up with that work while the forum was intended on creating other workers like those of Ostravasky.
How the Steel was tampered vs. On the Revolution of Peking Opera
On the Revolution of Peking Opera is one of the largest Operas in China, which is known to show some of the best performances thus attracting the high and mighty of society. In China, the communist party is the single political party governing the whole country. Members of the party’s politburo are actually the leaders of the country because they are the decision makers for the whole country. Opera performances are usually based on different themes that the production is meant to portray to a certain audience.
Therefore, a part of the Opera Peking audience was the upper class of society, which was composed of the military and working class. The Peking Opera usually produced foreign themed plays or ones based on ancient Chinese society. As the socialist government was in place, it had failed to produce plays that seemed relevant to the current political philosophy. The paper by Chiang Ching evaluates the productions at the theatre and comments on whether they met the expectations of the Socialist government.
Excerpts from the paper by Ching ask why the opera should not or is not producing socialist themed plays and yet the country is a socialist state. Comparing the paper by Ching and the book by Ostravasky, there are great similarities in what Ching is asking for and what Ostravasky produced. The book by Ostravasky was produced back in the 1930s while the paper by Ching was written in the 1960s. Therefore, the paper by Ching can be said to be guided by the book by Ostravasky.
One common theme that comes out of both works is the theme of socialist realism that is being perpetuated by both writers. “It is inconceivable that, in our socialist country led by the Communist Party, the dominant position on the stage is not occupied by the workers, peasants, and soldiers” (Ching 1).
The socialist government of China expects the position that the socialist point should be advanced by all sectors of society. Therefore, as Ching expects that the opera should produce themes that praise and highlight the achievements of the socialist government and not just life before the socialist government. Therefore, the socialist government on its part has taken literature as a tool for advancing its socialist agenda.
By so doing, it has come up with a way that will guide producers on the kind of content to produce. The book by Ostravasky demonstrates one of the ways socialist governments have used literature to advance their agenda. The book paints the socialist life in a very positive way. It is a kind of recommendation on how to live as a socialist as well as in a socialist environment.
The main character Pavel is painted as a person who has given his whole self to serve the nation in different positions not as a choice but as an obligation that a citizen should have for their country (Ostravasky 256). The two works have common ground that brings them together. Both authors show their disdain for bourgeois when Pavel as a government worker in the train views the food merchants in the negative because of their capitalist nature.
The paper by Ching paints a picture of millions of peasant workers and a hand full of capitalist-minded citizens when he says, “Whereas there is only a handful of landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, Rightists, and bourgeois elements….Shall we serve this handful, or the 600 million” (4).
This kind of question incites the mind to think hard in terms of what is best for the nation. It is a way the author has used to encapsulate the need for fashioning the productions of the theatre to conform to the socialist agenda. The paper by Ching insists on the production of contemporary socialist themes meaning that the socialist-themed productions should be within fifteen or so years as a way of showing the recent achievements of the socialist government.
The two authors have one common background: they originate from countries with socialist forms of governments, which are Russia and China. They tend to be extreme in their socialism practices. Therefore, the use of literature and literary performances to advance the socialist agenda in this case is part of socialist realism (Castillo 41).
The language used in both works talks about the revolution, masses, workers, military, and comrades. Both writers use this language of revolutionaries in expressing their revolutionary perspectives. The paper by Ching aims to present the achievements of the revolution. He recommends that, other than contemporary themed socialist plays, the opera should also produce plays based on the lives of the citizens before the revolution happened as a way of showing people the difference that the revolution has brought in their lives.
A common factor here is the control of theatre productions by the government so that all themes that come out of the theatre should be pro socialist. Therefore, the socialist governments are bended on controlling literary productions as a way of managing the kind of information and knowledge that is disseminated to people. It is a way of limiting liberal minds that come with literature.
How the Book affected Chinese Literature
Social realism as described in the previous paragraphs was meant to perpetuate the socialist philosophy in the countries where socialism was the main type of governance. Most socialist states in the world have so far collapsed. They have embraced capitalism as a way of governance. Social realism was achieved in many ways in the pursuit of indoctrinating the citizens of socialist states.
Some of the ways included making socialism teachings part of the school curriculum, allowing only socialist themed songs to play on the state radio, which would be the only radio stations or television stations available and having newspapers publish socialist news only. China is one country that up to date has held on to its socialist philosophy. Its rigidity in refusing to change has affected almost all parts of its systems. One of the most affected is literature.
Reading Ching’s work, one finds that, due to the government policy of perpetuating socialist realism, the Chinese literature has been forced to conform to certain conditions in terms of the themes it can produce or sell to the masses. Chinese literature has been forced to be pro socialism therefore meaning that all the themes that are to be found in the literature have to conform to certain government standards for such literature to be published and sold in China.
Most of the Chinese literature works therefore have been found to be full of praise for the revolution and the achievements it has brought to the nation. The literature is also pro government because any form of criticism towards the government is not tolerable thus limiting the creativity of writers and other producers in that they have been forced to have a tunnel vision in the production of their work with themes already set.
The setting of themes by the government or the limiting of the themes to be chosen from by the government has made Chinese literature too predictable because the main themes that will tend to come out of the work would be politics, social life, and lots of praise for the socialist government. This praise comes with criticism for the perceived enemies who are bashed in the work by the writers.
Chinese literature has suffered from socialist realism because, in the quest of the government controlling any form of information being disseminated, the literary world has been muffled completely. The only form of liberal Chinese literature comes from exiled Chinese living abroad who have had to move out of China to have free space to express them. As Yang posits, Chinese literature comes out as full of revolutionary stories and the achievements made by the revolution (4).
They can be described in essence as full of legends in the form of revolution heroes who gave their full efforts for the sake of the nation. The other bit of the Chinese literature that comes out because of social realism is the one about Chinese legends in ancient China because such types of literature pose no harm to the socialist government. They have thus been encouraged as a way of deviating the reader’s attention towards other sensitive subjects.
Chinese literature has therefore suffered massive censorship from the government. It has been limited for a long time in terms of the themes to be produced, which people can access. On the other hand, Chinese literature produced by the Chinese against the wishes of their government has been found to be too critical towards the government system. The themes around such works have been anti socialism and the ills that such systems have brought to its own people.
Liberal Chinese literature beyond socialist realism has seen most Chinese writers act as a watchdog to the ills that the government has committed or to the policies of the government that hurt the people. Castillo indicates that most Chinese literary works outside social realism dwell on such issues as corruption within the ranks of the socialist party as well as on such policies like the one-child-policy (45).
Most writers have dwelt on the steps the government takes to enforce the one-child-policy on its people. This strategy still gives the Chinese literature a tunnel view in that one can easily predict what to find within works by writers because most Chinese writings other than poetry fall on either sides of the divide, which is either criticism of the system or pro system.
Socialist realism has seen the Chinese society produce a whole load of writers and literary performers trained specifically to work for the socialist cause and who have a duty in using literature to advance the socialist cause in an artistic way simply. The Chinese government intends to exercise total control on any form of information its people are meant to receive.
Socialist realism has seen the socialist states come up with a cadre of pro socialist literary producers who have become experts in their field of advancing socialist literary works and arts (Castillo 36). This case has affected the independence of mind that such producers would have. Being limited to just specific fields has greatly affected the quality of the works to be produced.
On the other hand, it has led to the coming up of critical writers opposed to the system who can be described as gifted writers based on the way they have brought out their work and the way they have executed their themes. Therefore, socialist realism can be seen on both the positive and the negative.
Castillo, Greg. “Soviet Orientalism: Socialist Realism and Built Tradition.” TDSR 8.11(1997): 33-47. Print.
Ching, Chiang. On the Revolution of Peking Opera. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1968. Print.
Ostravasky, Nikolai. How the Steel was Tampered. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1952. Print.
Tse-tung, Mao. Talks at the Yenan Forum, 1942. Web. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_08.htm
Yang, Zhou. The Path of Socialist Literature and Art in China. Report Delivered to the third Congress of Chinese Literary and Art Workers. Peking: Peking Foreign Languages Press, 1960. Print.
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Updated: Jan 28th, 2020 Introduction Written by Nikolai Ostravasky, How the Steel was tampered is a captivating socialist realist piece that reflects the picture and position of the literary world […]