WI: Socialist Realism not made official art style of USSR

I was reading up on the history of Soviet art, and a pretty obvious question came to me: what would it be like if the USSR never adopted the "Socialist Realist" art style as official, and therefore never suppressed alternative art styles? If you don't know, after the Russian revolution a variety of art styles flourished, including avant-garde ones. However, the art style which held the most favor with soviet officials was "socialist realism", which focused on everyday life, communism, and the working-class more generally. At first, the avant-garde and alternative styles were allowed to co-exist along with S. Realism, but in 1932 Stalin made SR the official art style of the soviet union, and suppressed all other art styles. There was a brief resurgence of avant-garde art in the 50s, but the idea of a state-mandated art style wasn't abandoned until 1986 and glasnost. But what if this was nipped in the bud? What if, for whatever reason, SR never became the official art style and alternatives continued to flourish? How would it affect soviet culture and international image? Hitler would no doubt see it as confirmation of the idea that Communism was promoting degenerate art, but what would western artists think? And what would you need to bring about such a change in the first place? Perhaps Stalin must be prevented from rising to power?
 
I was reading up on the history of Soviet art, and a pretty obvious question came to me: what would it be like if the USSR never adopted the "Socialist Realist" art style as official, and therefore never suppressed alternative art styles? If you don't know, after the Russian revolution a variety of art styles flourished, including avant-garde ones. However, the art style which held the most favor with soviet officials was "socialist realism", which focused on everyday life, communism, and the working-class more generally. At first, the avant-garde and alternative styles were allowed to co-exist along with S. Realism, but in 1932 Stalin made SR the official art style of the soviet union, and suppressed all other art styles. There was a brief resurgence of avant-garde art in the 50s, but the idea of a state-mandated art style wasn't abandoned until 1986 and glasnost. But what if this was nipped in the bud? What if, for whatever reason, SR never became the official art style and alternatives continued to flourish? How would it affect soviet culture and international image? Hitler would no doubt see it as confirmation of the idea that Communism was promoting degenerate art, but what would western artists think? And what would you need to bring about such a change in the first place? Perhaps Stalin must be prevented from rising to power?
This is an excellent question.

It was not just Stalin who objected to avantgarde ("formalist") art. Even before the Revolutions, Russia was one of the leaders of avantgarde in painting specifically (Cubo-Futurism, Cosmism, Neo-Primitivism, Rayonism, Constructivism...), and while quite a few artists had emigrated throughout the 1920s, others fused these avantgarde traditions with the political messages of the day into Proletkult, and then of course there were new media to conquer, always a favourite playing ground for avantgarde artists: film and radio - and new projects were shaped in architecture... We probably ought not forget music and literature, but with both, the cut of the Revolution was more severe.

Now, back to my point: It was not just Stalin who objected to all this and found it a meaningless plaything of the decadent bourgeoisie. It was self-evident that Bolshevik society would place all arts under much closer political control than they had in Western societies, and when the chaotic and tumultuous years of revolution and civil war were over and a socialist society was stabilising, this political control was predictably tightening, too. Lots of new party functionaries who had proven themselves in the not-very-intelectual and not-very-subtle struggles of the 1920s were faced with controlling art schools, museums, theatres etc. all over the place, and not few of them thought like Stalin: Why are we confiscating grain from peasants just to feed guys who paint their whole canvas black (when we can produce large black surfaces much cheaper industrially, if we wanted that)?
Art politics in the Soviet Union after the turbulent beginning was almost inevitably going to become more "white-bread". It wouldn't have to be "Socialist Realism", although with eloquent philosophers like Lukács celebrating it, there was quite a bit going for it. But maintaining the whole avantgarde variety is difficult.

Preventing Stalin's rise from power is probably still your answer, but not because Stalin was decreeing narrow-minded art policies.
If you prevent Stalin's rise from power and have, say, Trotsky and his revolution-exporting line prevail, then the propagandist efforts of Proletkult might have a future, as it does in @Zulfurium's TL "A Day in July", and quite generally, "permanent revolution", if it really "succeeds" in postponing the settlement and stabilisation of Soviet politics, postpones the petty-bourgeois-isation of art politics, too, of course.

Now I hope this was a sufficiently Marxist answer :) : Art, as part of the Überbau, changes when the material relations at the base change. More than just this or that leader's aesthetic tastes, their real power politics would influence the course of Soviet art.
 
This is an excellent question.

It was not just Stalin who objected to avantgarde ("formalist") art. Even before the Revolutions, Russia was one of the leaders of avantgarde in painting specifically (Cubo-Futurism, Cosmism, Neo-Primitivism, Rayonism, Constructivism...), and while quite a few artists had emigrated throughout the 1920s, others fused these avantgarde traditions with the political messages of the day into Proletkult, and then of course there were new media to conquer, always a favourite playing ground for avantgarde artists: film and radio - and new projects were shaped in architecture... We probably ought not forget music and literature, but with both, the cut of the Revolution was more severe.

Now, back to my point: It was not just Stalin who objected to all this and found it a meaningless plaything of the decadent bourgeoisie. It was self-evident that Bolshevik society would place all arts under much closer political control than they had in Western societies, and when the chaotic and tumultuous years of revolution and civil war were over and a socialist society was stabilising, this political control was predictably tightening, too. Lots of new party functionaries who had proven themselves in the not-very-intelectual and not-very-subtle struggles of the 1920s were faced with controlling art schools, museums, theatres etc. all over the place, and not few of them thought like Stalin: Why are we confiscating grain from peasants just to feed guys who paint their whole canvas black (when we can produce large black surfaces much cheaper industrially, if we wanted that)?
Art politics in the Soviet Union after the turbulent beginning was almost inevitably going to become more "white-bread". It wouldn't have to be "Socialist Realism", although with eloquent philosophers like Lukács celebrating it, there was quite a bit going for it. But maintaining the whole avantgarde variety is difficult.

Preventing Stalin's rise from power is probably still your answer, but not because Stalin was decreeing narrow-minded art policies.
If you prevent Stalin's rise from power and have, say, Trotsky and his revolution-exporting line prevail, then the propagandist efforts of Proletkult might have a future, as it does in @Zulfurium's TL "A Day in July", and quite generally, "permanent revolution", if it really "succeeds" in postponing the settlement and stabilisation of Soviet politics, postpones the petty-bourgeois-isation of art politics, too, of course.

Now I hope this was a sufficiently Marxist answer :) : Art, as part of the Überbau, changes when the material relations at the base change. More than just this or that leader's aesthetic tastes, their real power politics would influence the course of Soviet art.

Preventing Stalin isn't quite enough, you also need to prevent Lenin from weighing in on the matter somehow. Lenin was extremely critical of the Proletkult movement in general, and as such ended up placing significant pressure on the limiting of artistic expression which is what spelled the end of the Proletkult movement and its artistic freedoms. That it was Socialist Realism which ended up being the state sponsored movement is very much on Stalin, but the loss of artistic dynamism is on Lenin.

In ADiJ I still have the elements of Socialist Realism tumbling about, since it builds on a number of pre-existing elements present in Russia's artistic movements, but it is only part of a larger cultural spectrum as various forms of avantgardism see sponsoring as well. Perhaps most significantly, I think that without the artistic limitations of OTL, Soviet culture would end up being a true force on an international level.

Ultimately the heart of the problem is leaving a bunch of Bolshevik philistines in charge of cultural matters - particularly when you have far more artistically inclined leftists such as Anatoly Lunacharsky and the Vpered Group running about.
 
Lenin didn't really care for the avant-garde any more than Stalin did. "For a man who had the philistine notion that a novel should have a plot, poetry should rhyme, and paintings and statues look like what they are supposed to represent, the situation in Soviet art was a sore trial. Occasionally his patience would run out: he would grab Lunacharsky and ask him what was this peculiar slab of marble. On being told that it was a statue of Kropotkin, Lenin would explode: he knew the old Anarchist personally and could vouch for the fact that he had a head and two eyes." https://books.google.com/books?id=dN5V8WX5WP0C&pg=PA538 But Lenin felt that he had more important things to do with his time than to suppress art he didn't care for (unless of course it was "counterrevolutionary").

Now Stalin if he wanted could by the mid-1930s certainly make avant-garde art not merely permissible but mandatory. For example, Mayakovsky's reputation had been somewhat uncertain after his 1931 suicide, but when Stalin said in 1936 that "Mayakovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch" and that "Indifference to his memory and to his work is a crime", everyone got the message. (Pasternak was later to write that "Mayakovsky began to be introduced forcibly, like potatoes under Catherine the Great. This was his second death; he had no hand in it.") So if Stalin had chosen to write that Malevich was and remained the best and most talented painter of the Soviet epoch, etc., Suprematism might be blossoming everywhere from Leningrad to Vladivostok. But of course in OTL Stalin much preferred Repin...

My guess is that Stalin or no Stalin, the avant-garde was going to be eclipsed. The idea that "you have to have an art and literature the workers and peasants can understand" and that was suitably edifying was one that was bound to have a powerful appeal to Bolshevik leaders.
 
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I was reading up on the history of Soviet art, and a pretty obvious question came to me: what would it be like if the USSR never adopted the "Socialist Realist" art style as official, and therefore never suppressed alternative art styles? If you don't know, after the Russian revolution a variety of art styles flourished, including avant-garde ones. However, the art style which held the most favor with soviet officials was "socialist realism", which focused on everyday life, communism, and the working-class more generally. At first, the avant-garde and alternative styles were allowed to co-exist along with S. Realism, but in 1932 Stalin made SR the official art style of the soviet union, and suppressed all other art styles. There was a brief resurgence of avant-garde art in the 50s, but the idea of a state-mandated art style wasn't abandoned until 1986 and glasnost. But what if this was nipped in the bud? What if, for whatever reason, SR never became the official art style and alternatives continued to flourish? How would it affect soviet culture and international image? Hitler would no doubt see it as confirmation of the idea that Communism was promoting degenerate art, but what would western artists think? And what would you need to bring about such a change in the first place? Perhaps Stalin must be prevented from rising to power?
So early Soviet Russia had experimental art and a huge futurist scene. So maybe if Futurism persisted ?
 
Preventing Stalin isn't quite enough, you also need to prevent Lenin from weighing in on the matter somehow. Lenin was extremely critical of the Proletkult movement in general, and as such ended up placing significant pressure on the limiting of artistic expression which is what spelled the end of the Proletkult movement and its artistic freedoms. That it was Socialist Realism which ended up being the state sponsored movement is very much on Stalin, but the loss of artistic dynamism is on Lenin.

In ADiJ I still have the elements of Socialist Realism tumbling about, since it builds on a number of pre-existing elements present in Russia's artistic movements, but it is only part of a larger cultural spectrum as various forms of avantgardism see sponsoring as well. Perhaps most significantly, I think that without the artistic limitations of OTL, Soviet culture would end up being a true force on an international level.

Ultimately the heart of the problem is leaving a bunch of Bolshevik philistines in charge of cultural matters - particularly when you have far more artistically inclined leftists such as Anatoly Lunacharsky and the Vpered Group running about.
Lenin didn't really care for the avant-garde any more than Stalin did. "For a man who had the philistine notion that a novel should have a plot, poetry should rhyme, and paintings and statues look like what they are supposed to represent, the situation in Soviet art was a sore trial. Occasionally his patience would run out: he would grab Lunacharsky and ask him what was this peculiar slab of marble. On being told that it was a statue of Kropotkin, Lenin would explode: he knew the old Anarchist personally and could vouch for the fact that he had a head and two eyes." https://books.google.com/books?id=dN5V8WX5WP0C&pg=PA538 But Lenin felt that he had more important things to do with his time than to suppress art he didn't care for (unless of course it was "counterrevolutionary").

Now Stalin if he wanted could by the mid-1930s certainly make avant-garde art not merely permissible but mandatory. For example, Mayakovsky's reputation had been somewhat uncertain after his 1931 suicide, but when Stalin said in 1936 that "Mayakovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch" and that "Indifference to his memory and to his work is a crime", everyone got the message. (Pasternak was later to write that "Mayakovsky began to be introduced forcibly, like potatoes under Catherine the Great. This was his second death; he had no hand in it.") So if Stalin had chosen to write that Malevich was and remained the best and most talented painter of the Soviet epoch, etc., Suprematism might be blossoming everywhere from Leningrad to Vladivostok. But of course in OTL Stalin much preferred Repin...

My guess is that Stalin or no Stalin, the avant-garde was going to be eclipsed. The idea that "you have to have an art and literature the workers and peasants can understand" and that was suitably edifying was one that was bound to have a powerful appeal to Bolshevik leaders.
My idea wasn't for Socialist Realism to not exist. It was for it not to become the official art style, and to stop the suppression of avante-garde art. I agree, the soviet leaders will tend to be approving of SR for propagandistic and practical reasons. However, there can still be a thriving alternative art scene. Indeed, keeping Stalin from power would be good for avante-garde. Maybe a more intellectual-type in power would help? Is there any possible soviet leader at the time who would actually promote avante-garde art? That would be interesting.
 
My idea wasn't for Socialist Realism to not exist. It was for it not to become the official art style, and to stop the suppression of avante-garde art. I agree, the soviet leaders will tend to be approving of SR for propagandistic and practical reasons. However, there can still be a thriving alternative art scene. Indeed, keeping Stalin from power would be good for avante-garde. Maybe a more intellectual-type in power would help? Is there any possible soviet leader at the time who would actually promote avante-garde art? That would be interesting.

My solution was having more of a group at the head of state, rather than any particular figure winning out. The main goal should be strengthening the more bourgeoisie/intellectual elements of the Bolsheviks and reducing the influence of those with worker-backgrounds. I think Trotsky could play a decent role in that regard, he seems to have been more inclined towards using what resources were available to him and going forward with what strengthens his position and beliefs, even if that includes accepting more out-there interpretations. Getting the Vpered Group involved should be a good aid, and personally I think that having Yakov Sverdlov survive introduces a figure who would probably be more open to being more permissive on the subject. He fits quite well into the more intellectual camp in general. Then again, I have been using Sverdlov as a key figure in my TL, so might also just be me locking in on him given how much research I have done on him.
 
My solution was having more of a group at the head of state, rather than any particular figure winning out. The main goal should be strengthening the more bourgeoisie/intellectual elements of the Bolsheviks and reducing the influence of those with worker-backgrounds. I think Trotsky could play a decent role in that regard, he seems to have been more inclined towards using what resources were available to him and going forward with what strengthens his position and beliefs, even if that includes accepting more out-there interpretations. Getting the Vpered Group involved should be a good aid, and personally I think that having Yakov Sverdlov survive introduces a figure who would probably be more open to being more permissive on the subject. He fits quite well into the more intellectual camp in general. Then again, I have been using Sverdlov as a key figure in my TL, so might also just be me locking in on him given how much research I have done on him.
A lot of the soviet leaders of the 1920s were very difficult to predict. See: Zinoviev. So it's hard to say who would promote what. Hmmm... can't think of any very prominent leader at the time who perfectly fits the "intellectual" profile. Perhaps someone like Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, who led the League of Militant Atheists? He was a historian if I remember correctly.
 
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