The state and cultural change during the Lenin administration

Proletkult and Avant garde

Following the October revolution many forms of art flourished with the notion of a truly revolutionary art having inspire painters, sculptors film makers and artists of all kinds to create new art forms

- There were disagreements among leading members of the communist party of what revolutionary art should actually meaning but there was a consensus among them on the importance of art to the future of the revolution

- Lenin was extremely interested in the potential and purposes of art and he was particularly interested by cinema, which he believed was the future of the evolution

- Bukharin, who played a leading role in soviet politics throughout the mid 1920’s, was a champion of artistic expression and for these reasons there was a vibrant and experimental art scene from 1917 to 1920

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Proletarian art?

- communist believed that the October revolution had ended capitalism and therefore had created a new kind of society where workers would increasingly be their own masters

- however, communists disagreed on what the new revolutionary culture should be like

- Anatoly Lunacharsky, the new people’s commissar of enlightenment, argued that following the revolution proletarian culture should flourish

- Lenin however believed that the proletariat should learn from the best of bourgeois culture. Which stems from Lenin’s belief that the proletariat were incapable of understand art forms such as classical music and therefore were uncultured on the finer aspects of art

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Lunacharsky and Proletkult

- Lunacharsky argued that just as capitalism had been dominated by bourgeois culture, the new revolutionary society should have dominated by proletarian culture: art made by the people which mirrored their concerns and experiences

- Lunacharsky, believed that a truly revolutionary society should foster artistic talent among the working people, an artistic expression was an important part of a fulfilling life

- Proletarian culture, he argued, would naturally focus on collective experience and involve a wide range of people whereas bourgeois culture was individualistic and dominated by artist value

By 1920 there were around 84000 members of Proletkult over 300 studios and they published Gorn (furnace) a monthly magazine that showcased the work of proletarian artists

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Lenin and revolutionary culture:

- Lenin was critical of Lunacharsky philosophy and Proletkult due to exclusive it was, merely catering to just the working class

- Lenin argued that the best culture was universal and was nether bourgeois nor proletarian but reflected the human spirit

- Therefore, he defended bourgeois culture and argued that working people should learn from the best bourgeois artists who had created a universal culture

- Lenin also had misgivings about Proletkult. He believed that in searching for a new culture, Proletkult was encouraging artists to embrace futurism, a style he believed was the worst kind of art

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The dissolution of Proletkult:

The dissolution of Proletkult:

- Proletkult flourished from 1917 to 1920, which was a remarkable achievement in the context of the civil war

- However, Lenin was suspicious of the organisation and he believed that Proletkult was dominated by socialists associated with opposition movements such as anarchism

- Lenin believed that working people needed a basis education rather than opportunities for artistic expression and therefore he believed that the continued independence of Proletkult was a danger to the revolution

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- Lenin and Trotsky believed the art could be used to inspire people to support the new government

- In 1920, this led to the establishment of the department of Agitation Propaganda (agitprop), a department within the communist party

- In the same year, the commissar of enlightenment established a similar department: Glavpolitprosvet. Together, these departments organised propaganda that was designed to support the government

- The agitprop departments that were formed in 1920 built on propaganda work that had been going on since the revolution

- Agitprop was often produced by avant-garde artists working for the government and in this sense the style of early agitprop was experimental, much more experimental than Lenin was happy with, and much more experimental than anything produced after 1929

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Painting and sculpture:

Painting and sculpture:

- Russian artists associated with avant-garde collaborated with the government to make posters, sculptures and paintings to encourage support for the new regime

- El Lissitzky, graphic designer and photographer, created the poster “beat the whites and the red wedge” in 1918, one of the most famous experimental posters of the civil war. The poster uses geometric shapes to represent the Red Army and the White Army

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Revolutionary Photography:Revolutionary cinema:

- Alexander Rodechenko was the famous avant-garde photography to collaborate with the Soviet Government in its early years

- Rodechenko used techniques such as photomontage to make posters celebrating the revolution

- He was one of the founders of constructivism, a Russian artistic movement which sought to produce art with a clear purpose

- Indeed, during the period of the NEP Rodechenko used his talents to create advertising posters for companies

- Lenin believed that cinema was the most important art form of the twentieth century. He also argued that it should be used to inspire support for the new government

- During the civil war cinematic equipment such as cameras, films and projectors, were extremely scarce.

- Nonetheless, in the 1920’s, soviet cinema flourished and experimental film makers such as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein

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Art under the NEP:

- During the period of NEP, there was a relatively large degree of creative freedom. However, as the 1920’s went on the communist party was able to assert a degree of artistic control

- From 1918 to 1920, Lenin and senior communists were pre-occupied with winning the civil war, and therefore there was relatively lose control of artists

- Consequently, during this period Proletkult and avant-garde artists flourished

- However, as the civil war came to an end, Lenin began to enforce tighter control of artistic expression

- The first victim was Proletkult. By the end of the 1920’, the communist party was firmly in control of art

- According to most senior members, workers and peasants simply could not understand Avant-garde art. Therefore, as the 1920’s progressed, the avant-garde became less influential

- Artists were forced to change their style and artistic institutions were attacked and in some cases closed

- Kazimir Malevich, for example, sent his most radical paintings to Germany in 1927 and adopted a more conventional style at the end of his lif

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