Political Economy of Socialist Realism


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Evgeny Dobrenko

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For decades Stalinist literature, film, and art was almost exclusively deemed political propaganda imposed from on high, devoid of any aesthetic significance. In this book, Evgeny Dobrenko suggests an entirely new view: socialism did not produce Socialist Realism to “prettify reality”; rather, Socialist Realism itself produced socialism by elevating socialism to reality status, giving it material form. Without art, socialism could not have materialized.


Bringing together the Soviet historical experience and Stalin-era art—novels, films, poems, songs, painting, photography, architecture, and advertising—Dobrenko examines Stalinism’s representational strategies and demonstrates how real socialism was begotten of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism, he concludes, was Stalinism’s most  effective sociopolitical institution. 


Evgeny Dobrenko is professor in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield. He is author, editor, or co-editor of fifteen books, including Soviet Culture and Power: A History in Documents, 1917-1953, co-edited with Katerina Clark and published by Yale University Press. He lives in Sheffield, UK.

"Dobrenko is a master interpreter of Socialist Realism. He explores the functionality of the Leninist-Stalinist cultural project with verve and imagination. Those who study Soviet art, literature, film, photography, history, and much else will be hard put to find a better guide. The book is a pleasure to read."—Jeffrey Brooks, author of Thank You, Comrade Stalin! Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War

"Unsurpassed in its grasp of Stalinism and Stalinist culture, Dobrenko's new book makes the convincing theoretical move of turning the categories of Stalinist thought against Stalinist cultural production. Rigorous in interpretation and research, challenging and persuasive."—William Mills Todd III, Harvard University

“This book by an internationally celebrated scholar of Soviet culture offers a uniquely rich and convincing account of how Socialist Realism was the pre-determining force in Stalinist discourse, shaping biological sciences and ‘scientific Communism’ as well as glossy magazines, official histories, narrative films, public exhibitions, and advertising. The eccentricities and paradoxes of a country where, as Dobrenko puts it, there was ‘a single need. The need to provide the spectacle of socialism,’ are everywhere on view. This fascinating study will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in Russian culture from the 1930s onwards.”—Catriona Kelly, University of Oxford


“Evgeny Dobrenko has written the most sweeping, theoretically-informed book to-date on Socialist Realism and its centrality to the Stalinist project. He presents a chilling analysis of Socialist Realism as a discourse of repression. From photojournalism, to cinema, to biology, to advertising and Stalin’s speeches, Dobrenko shows how Socialist Realism produced socialism by aestheticizing and ‘de-realizing’ life. I have never seen a more convincing indictment of art’s centrality in Soviet terror. ”—Eric Naiman, University of California, Berkeley

"An intellectual contribution of the first order that should provoke debate and descussion across disciplinary lines. It is greatly to be hoped that not only historians and scholars of literature, cutlural studies, and the arts but economists and political scientists as well will take up the challenge posed by this monumentally conceived, superbly researched, and stimulating book."—Catharine Theimar Nepomnyashchy, Slavic Review

"[There] is still much to learn about Soviet history, particularly Stalinist cultural history, and the lessons we learn from that era will continue to be of use for a very long time. Dobrenko, the author of several outstanding books on the Soviet period, makes that point in this well-argued and broad-ranging investigation of Socialist Realism . . . . Dobrenko's willingness to . . . engage the works of Socialist Realism on their own terms has resulted in an excellent scholarly study that will yield riches for years to come."—Mary A. Nicholas, Slavic and East European Journal
ISBN: 9780300122800
Publication Date: October 16, 2007
408 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4

Sales Restrictions: World excluding Russia
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