Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Socialist realism

core definition

Socialist realism is a form of art that prioritises socialist themes and acts to promote a socialist ideal.

explanatory context

Socialist Realism was the official style of art in the Soviet Union from the 1930s and was intended to promote socialism and to provide a picture of communist future.


Socialist realism is distinct from social realism.

analytical review

Spartacus Educational (undated) stated:

The theory of Socialist Realism was adopted by the Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. Approved by Joseph Stalin, Nickolai Bukharin, Maxim Gorky and Andrey Zhdanov, Socialist Realism demanded that all art must depict some aspect of man's struggle toward socialist progress for a better life. It stressed the need for the creative artist to serve the proletariat by being realistic, optimistic and heroic. The doctrine considered all forms of experimentalism as degenerate and pessimistic.

The Guggenheim Museum (2005) referring to its exhibition of socialist realist art (5 October 2005–22 January 2006) states:

Socialist Realism was the official style of Soviet art from the mid-1930s until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It emerged as the result of the state’s efforts to intensify and codify its control over the arts and was charged with transforming the nation’s inhabitants into Soviet citizens—in the words of one of its leading spokesmen, Andrei Zhdanov, effecting the “ideological remolding and education of working people in the spirit of socialism.” Toward this end, Socialist Realist artworks were tasked with the portrayal of the radiant Communist future rather than the actual, often grim conditions of Soviet life.

Particularly in the West, Socialist Realism has often been dismissed as Communist kitsch, mere political propaganda monolithic in form and lacking in artistic merit. While this criticism is undoubtedly warranted in many cases, Reflections, an exhibition of twenty-five paintings from the collection of The Museum of Russian Art, in Minneapolis, indicates that this is clearly not true of all Socialist Realist artworks. As seen in Reflections, Socialist Realism encompassed an impressive range of themes, genres, techniques, and practices. It also changed over time in response to historical events and circumstances like World War II, the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, and the Khrushchev Thaw of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which witnessed a relative relaxation of censorship of the arts.

Numerous artists worked not only for the state in an official capacity, but also unofficially, and they created works for themselves in addition to their family and friends. No less accomplished than the art they produced for government commissions, the body of private works made after World War II reflects the plurality of formal styles—including impressionism and expressionism—as well as the depiction of both politically neutral and personal subject matter. Reflections both attests to the fact that artists in the Soviet Union inventively negotiated the boundaries of Socialist Realism and challenges the notion that all Soviet painting reflected a rigid, codified approach. Indeed, the art displayed in this exhibition underscores the point that many artists produced works of subtle beauty that managed to question Socialist Realism’s utopian message while also expressing a unique creative vision.

Princeton univerity (undated) reprints an excerpt fom Wikipedia:

Socialist realism is a style of realistic art which developed under Socialism in the Soviet Union and became a dominant style in other communist countries. Socialist realism is a teleologically-oriented style having as its purpose the furtherance of the goals of socialism and communism. Although related, it should not be confused with Social realism, a type of art that realistically depicts subjects of social concern. Unlike Social realism, Socialist realism often glorifies the roles of the poor.


Tate Gallery (undated) on socialist realism:

A form of modern realism imposed in Russia by Stalin following his rise to power after the death of Lenin in 1924, characterised in painting by rigorously optimistic pictures of Soviet life painted in a realist style.

The doctrine was formally proclaimed by Maxim Gorky at the Soviet Writers Congress of 1934, although not precisely defined. In practice, in painting it meant using realist styles to create highly optimistic depictions of Soviet life. Any pessimistic or critical element was banned, and this is the crucial difference from social realism. It was quite simply propaganda art, and has an ironic resemblance to the Fascist realism imposed by Hitler in Germany (see Entartete Kunst – degenerate art).

Outside the Soviet Union, socialist artists produced much freer interpretations of the genre...


associated issues


related areas

See also





social realism



Guggenheim Museum, 2005, 'Reflections: Socialist Realism and Russian Art', available at, accessed 1May 2013, page not available 28 December 2016.

Princeton Univerity, undated, 'Socialist realism' available at, accessed 1May 2013, still available 28 December 2016, 'not found' 10 June 2019.

Spartacus Educational, undated, 'Socialist Realism', available at, accessed 29 April 2013, page not available 28 December 2016.

Tate Gallery, nd, 'Socialist realism', available at, accessed 10 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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