Much of social realism simply tells the story of capitalist oppression of the masses. If it is reacting to something it is the capitalist modes of art such as the Romantic exaggerations of individual identity and court-style paintings of imperial leaders. The hungry people, begging the bourgoissie for food, are romanticized instead. There is no place for them in the ancien regimeof the capitalists. Death can come for them at any time, and they are thus revolutionaries. There is only one way to push forward, and that is to take revolutionary control of the polis, and let a dictatorship of the proletariat reign:
The images in this video are from my own observations in Chemnitz, Germany, which is one of the few places in the post-DDR region that maintains large, public social realist sculptures, including a gigantic head of Karl Marx with quotations from the Communist Manifesto behind it on the plattenbau. Some of the most disturbing images are from what was the Bolshevik Revolution in 1919, including depictions of men being gunned down, (and yet we have no clear idea what the reason behind it is.) 1919 was a fairly smooth revolution, although the Mensheviks and the White Russians (supported later by the allies) increasingly clashed with the regime as time wore on. So one begins to wonder whether the images of soldiers are communist revolutionary party members, or oppressive capitalist imperialists. Hints that they are actually the communist vanguard are revealed in the way that one soldier is pressing his boot into a man’s head. They appear to be protecting the sick or the poor. But there is a contradiction, since as art they are decidedly menacing figures, and obviously meant to strike a bit of terror in the onlooker.
One of the slogans in German reads, “The Party has a thousand eyes.” And this clue leaves no doubt that it was a form of terrorism. Public art as perpetual terror, reminders of the regime’s capability. Lenin believed that all Soviet art forms should “expose crimes of capitalism and praise socialism…created to inspire readers and viewers to stand up for the revolution”. He introduced an experimentation period to discover what the new nation’s art form would be, if it needed an art form at all. Headed by Stalin in 1932, the central committee of the communist party developed the Union of Soviet Writers. This organization endorsed the newly elected ideology of social realism. By 1934 all other independent art groups were abolished, making it near impossible for someone not involved in the Union of Soviet Writers to get work published. Any literary piece or painting that didn’t endorse the ideology of social realism was censored and/or banned.
An example of Communist ideology represented in Chemnitz are the larger-than-life-size Adam and Eve figures which stand proudly, as if to say human nature is not what the capitalists have believed. The Communist view of human nature is that people are by nature benevolent, or at least can be forced to be benevolent, and that we possess a certain social awareness previously unrecognized under capitalist regimes. Adam and Eve are unashamed by their nakedness, and are not depicted in Drurer’s style — that is, with leaves covering their genitalia.
One of the last images in the video is a bit of graffiti on giant head of Karl Marx which reads, “Make love not war.” The political subconscious of post-DDR Germany is largely something like this. The youth, skateboarding around the figure of Marx, are seemingly unaware of Marx’s bulky presence in the nearby park. They have a n aloofness from the past, and they are usually the only ones bold enough to hang around the big statue, as if to say it doesn’t really bother them, that big head of his. They have a much higher conviction that wars and violence are unwanted, unnecessary things. Fashion is something they have a command of, and so is popular culture. Yet social realities for them is still the same as ever: ex.g. that hungry people will starve unless society will feed them. And so there is a feeling of collective action, of collective responsibility for this sort of thing. And still, just as their fashion individuates them, they feel responsible for their own actions. While enjoying the freedom to choose their own lifestyles, they recognize the goals of the great social utopianisms, and work towards them in roundabout, semi-capitalist ways.