Socialist Realism

Jakup Mato,
Rinush Idrizi,
Vangjush Ziko,
Anastas Kapurani.

The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century was the period when capitalism, as Lenin demonstrated, entered ‘the last and highest phase of its development’, the stage of ‘moribund capitalism’, the stage of imperialism. In the various capitalist countries of Europe the further concentration of capital took place. As a result, the proletariat also became concentrated and grew ever larger, its struggle became more organized, more conscious, more on a mass scale. The antagonistic contradictions between capital and labour, between the exploiting and the exploited classes, became ever sharper and deeper. The proletariat came finally on to the arena of history as the most powerful class, the vanguard class, of society, the class which would deprive the bourgeoisie not only of its economic rights, but also of its political rights.

At this time Marxism, the philosophical thought of the working class, elaborated by Marx and Engels, was spreading rapidly. It overran Europe, America, Asia, and penetrated Russia. In the working class movement of several countries it became the guiding banner. The struggle of the working class, illuminated by Marxist science, by the theory of class struggle, demonstrated that the antagonistic contradictions within the capitalist system could only accentuate and could only be resolved in revolution. Russia, which at the beginning of the 20th century found itself in the stage of capitalist industrialization, also felt the strength of the working class movement. At this time Russia was one of the most backward countries of Europe, contradictions were acute, where exploitation of the new capitalist type intertwined with the most savage forms of feudal exploitation. In such conditions, the struggle of the working class found in Russia the favourable terrain to develop and to deliver powerful revolutionary blows. Thus, the new economic and political conditions which were created, together with the spread of Marxism, brought about within a short time (between 1905 and 1917) three revolutions in Russia. Their aim was the overthrow of the reactionary exploiting classes: the feudal aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. The centre of the world revolutionary movement had now passed to Russia. In the first and second decades of the 20th century, Russia was the country where the struggle for the destruction of the feudal-bourgeois system of exploitation gained important successes. This revolutionary movement was not spontaneous; at its core stood the working class, led by the Bolshevik Party founded and directed by Lenin. The epoch of imperialism determined clearly who would be the gravedigger of the old oppression and exploitation; it brought into the open the historic role of the working class, its great destructive and constructive role. This new class, now equipped with a new political way of thinking, and this powerful revolutionary movement, could not but exert an influence also in the field of literature. In various countries of the world works began to appear which attempted to reflect the life and historic role of the working class. But at the same time the degeneration of the capitalist system found expression in literature through a series of decadent currents.

The best writers and artists tried not to fall prey to these currents, while there were also talented writers and artists in whose creativity the influence of these decadent currents appeared, but who, under the influence of the revolutionary movement of the working class and of Marxist-Leninist ideas, threw themselves unreservedly in their creations into the reflection of the life of the working class, of its revolutionary movement. The well-known American writer Jack London attempted to portray in art the strength of the working class in his work ‘The Iron Heel’. But, while reflecting in a realist manner the ‘iron heel’ of capital upon the working class, Jack London did not manage to present correctly the social revolution of the future; he drew this revolution in anarcho-individualist colours, because he could not break away from the influence of the bourgeois philosophy of the time, which oversimplified human life into a biological struggle for existence and raised a hymn to individualism, to the ‘superman’ detached from society. Later, the French writers Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse, Bertolt Brecht in Germany, etc., made the great events of the time and the working class the subject of their works. Among those who particularly embraced, and orientated themselves upon, the fundamental principles of socialist realism was Brecht. But despite these successes, the majority of them did not manage to analyse in depth the strength and vitality of the working class. Nevertheless, these authors advanced the reflection of the antagonistic contradictions between the working class and capitalism further than their predecessors, the other writers of critical realism.

In Russia the writer who succeeded in reflecting truthfully the historic role of the working class, of the Marxist-Leninist party, in their struggle for liberation from the class yoke, was Maxim Gorky. He, unlike his predecessors and contemporaries, managed to analyse the antagonistic class contradictions, basing himself upon Marxist-Leninist theory, and showed the road of victory for the revolution by means of the struggle of the working class in alliance with the peasantry, led by the Marxist-Leninist party. In his novel ‘The Mother’, which appeared in 1906, he laid the foundations of the new proletarian literature, the literature of socialist realism. The formation of Gorky as proletarian writer, as founder of the literature of socialist realism was linked with — apart from the above factors, the struggle of the proletariat and the spread of Marxism—the earlier literary heritage and contemporary literary experience. But in the first place, as the favourable literary terrain on which the creativity of Gorky was nourished, was the Russian literature of critical realism: the works of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Nekrasov and many other writers.

In his works, and in a special way in the novel ‘The Mother’, Gorky reflected the first assaults of the Russian proletariat, the rising struggle led by Lenin and by the Party founded by him.

With the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the economico-political conditions changed completely. Now power passed into the hands of the working class and the peasantry. The literature of socialist realism now developed further. Many works reflected the Great October Revolution and its victories. The literature of socialist realism was transformed, after the October Revolution, into a world current, the influence of which now became inescapable.

After the death of Lenin, Stalin led the country along the road of the further construction of socialism. The development of industry, the elevation of cultural life, this whole important historic revolutionary period, were reflected also in literature. Mayakovsky, Furmanov, Ostrovsky, Fadeyev, developed socialist realism further. They portrayed in their works the struggle of the Soviet peoples for the triumph of the October Revolution and for the defence of its victories from external and internal enemies, the heroic work for industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture. The works ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’, ‘All Right!’ ‘Chapayev’, ‘How the Steel Was Tempered’, ‘The Rout’, ‘The Last of the Udegs’, etc., became the conductors of the ideas and policy of the Party.

Meanwhile, the leap forward taken after the October Revolution by the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples gave an impetus to the birth of the new literature in other countries. In Europe, America, Asia, revolutionary writers, closely linked with the struggle of the workers and peasants, absorbing the Marxist-Leninist world outlook, set out on the road of socialist realism. But, in a special way, the strength of socialist realism was felt after the Second World War; when in many countries of Europe and Asia the revolution was victorious and people’s power was established, the literature of socialist realism took a great leap forward. This literature was inspired by the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, by the great economico-political changes which occurred in the socialist countries. Now the influence of socialist realism and its authority grew markedly.

During this time, socialist realism in the Soviet Union was characterized by communist partisanship, by Marxist-Leninist ideology, by dialectical reflection of socialist reality. All this caused this literature to occupy an important place in world culture. But when the revisionist clique came to head the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, everything changed. Deviation from the principles of Marxism-Leninism brought about changes also in literature. Soviet literature changed direction. It drew away from the principles of revolutionary communist partisanship, from class analysis of the phenomena of life.

The first signs of revisionist ideas in Soviet art appeared soon after the Second World War. Their social base was that bourgeoisified, bureaucratized stratum which had turned its back on the ideas of socialism. The Central Committee of the CPSU, headed by Stalin, took a series of decisions. It sharply condemned the decadent creativity of the writers Zoshchenko and Akhmatova; similarly erroneous manifestations in music, in the repertory of the theatre, were denounced. But this struggle was not carried through to the end. After Stalin’s death, the road to revisionism opened up also in art. At the 20th Congress this was openly demonstrated. Under the pretext of struggling against the ‘cult of the individual’, the revisionists set Soviet art on the road of degeneration. They repudiated the Soviet art of Stalin’s time and all the successes of that time. They rehabilitated decadent Russian poets, whiteguard émigrés who had placed themselves at the service of imperialist intelligence services, enemies of the Soviet state and of Stalin. They opened the doors to the penetration of the most decadent bourgeois culture and art. Betraying the proletarian revolution and Marxism-Leninism, the modern revisionists abandoned the principles on which the literature of socialist realism was based. They repudiated party spirit in literature, the truthful reflection in revolutionary development of life itself; they repudiated its humanism. The modern revisionists expunged from literature healthy content, optimism, belief in socialism. They abandoned the valuable principles of socialist realism of the epoch of Lenin and Stalin. In their works Ehrenburg, Pasternak, Yevtushenko, Voznesensky, etc., blackened the glorious past of the epoch of Lenin and Stalin and raised on high the revisionist theories to make way for the penetration of bourgeois art. The revisionists work persistently today to turn literature on the anti-socialist and bourgeois path. In the countries where the revisionists rule, the theories of the independence of art from social life, of the ‘freedom of art’, are widely spread. The revisionist writers deny the educational and social character of art, and raise on high in their works bourgeois individualism and egoism, preach the abandonment of the class struggle, repudiate the contradictions which exist between capital and socialism. In their works they eulogize the idea of abstract humanism, praise the revisionist theory of ‘peaceful co-existence’, incite fear of war and spread the spirit of submission before imperialism. Indeed, the revisionist aestheticians have spread those old theories which Lenin denounced long ago in his article ‘Party Organisation and Party Literature’.

The literature of socialist realism is developing today in close relation with the struggle for the construction of socialist society and for the triumph of the world proletarian revolution; it is in irreconcilable struggle with the apoliticism and moral and social degeneration which revisionist literature seeks to spread.

The Method of Socialist Realism

Socialist realism is the newest and most powerful artistic method, But it was not born out of nothing, without a basis of earlier literature. Socialist realism inherited and developed further the main principle of the realism of the 19th century, that of presenting true, faithful reflection of life. But this reflection was now made in different economic and political conditions, in new relations, in the midst of a new ideology, unknown to or unassimilated by the writers and artists of critical realism. But what do we understand by the term ‘artistic method’? It is the attitude of the writer towards reality, the fundamental principles by which a writer is led into reflecting this reality in literary works, which comprise his artistic method. Every artistic method has its own special features. The question then arises: What are the special features of socialist realism? In what ways does it resemble, and in what ways does it differ from, earlier methods of realism?

Socialist realism differs from all earlier literary currents, even from the most progressive such as revolutionary romanticism and critical realism, because, unlike these currents which reflect life either in a subjective or in an incomplete manner, it sets out from scientific, dialectical criteria in its reflection of life.

Socialist realism is based on the Marxist-Leninist world outlook, which gives writers and artists the possibility of understanding in depth and clarity the laws of the development of society, of penetrating to the core of events and of people’s characters, which arms them with a correct, scientific political and ideological outlook. As a result, it marks from the standpoint of quality a new, higher stage of realism.

Socialist realism inherits and develops further the main principle of 19th century realism: true, faithful reflection of life. Socialist realism transcends many of the boundaries of critical realism. Alongside criticism of everything old and reactionary which holds back the advance of society, socialist realism also puts forward a true and clear programme of activity for the radical transformation of society, for the liberation of the working masses from exploitation, for the construction of a new socialist society.

‘Socialist realism’, Enver Hoxha has said in speaking of our literature, ‘is the faithful reflection in all its aspects of the socialist life we are building, of the colossal material transformations which our country, our society, our people, are undertaking at revolutionary speed on the basis of Marxist-Leninist theory and on the basis of the measures and decisions elaborated by our Party’

What therefore, is the essence of socialist realism?

Socialist realism reflects life with truthfulness and in its revolutionary development.

The true reflection of life in its revolutionary development seeks not only to reveal the principal processes of life, but to express what is new and revolutionary, to show its birth in struggle with the old, with the reactionary, which resists it with the utmost fury and desperation. The best works of world socialist literature show the birth of new socialist elements in social life and in the consciousness of people, the bitter struggle between the new and the old.

Thus, for example, Gorky in the novel ‘The Mother’, alongside the continuous putrefaction of the old and the vain efforts of the oppressors and exploiters of the people (the factory director, the officials of the Tsarist police and courts, who represent feudal-bourgeois society) to block its path, reflects also the birth of the new in life, the formation of new people — the representatives of the proletariat, of the working masses, to whom the future belongs (Pavel, the mother, Andrei, Rybin, etc.), and of new relations (the creation of the Party led by Lenin, the strengthening of the class consciousness of the Russian proletariat, the creation of an alliance of struggle between the proletariat and the peasantry, etc.).

Socialist realism seeks to link true reflection of life with the tasks of educating the workers. Stalin has called Marxist-Leninist writers ‘engineers of the human soul’. This means that in their works these writers accomplish a most important task. They not only communicate much knowledge about social life, they also attack the remnants of the past in the consciousness of masses of the people and educate the workers to become warriors for construction of socialist and communist society.

The revisionists furiously assail the method of socialist realism. They allege that this method was created in an ‘artificial, bureaucratic’ manner; they strive to replace it by decadent, bourgeois literary currents. However the method of socialist realism is omnipotent, because it was born in a legitimate way, was forged on the terrain of the revolutionary struggle of the masses of the people led by Marxist-Leninist parties, was nourished on the most progressive ideals in the world, on shining communist ideals. It has demonstrated its strength and superiority in an indisputable manner, has become embodied in the literature of various countries, in literary works of great ideo-artistic value. Life has proved that socialist literature can develop, advance forcefully and play its great role in the communist education of the masses only on the sure road shown by the method of socialist realism. Like every literary method, the method of socialist realism too has its own distinct features.

Communist Partisanship:
the Fundamental Principle of the Literature of Socialist Realism

The fundamental principle of the literature of socialist realism is the principle of communist partisanship. The writer, as a member of society, cannot be neutral towards events he observes in the environment which surrounds him, towards the various problems of society, towards classes and the class struggle. ‘To live in society and to be free of society is an impossibility’, Lenin has said. Marxism-Leninism has established that in a class-divided society, the various political, social, moral, artistic, etc., viewpoints of all people (and so also of writers) have a class character; in them are reflected the interests, needs, demands of this or that class. So the literary creations of writers too bear a definite class stamp; in the artistic images of literary works are embodied the ideals, the demands of this class. The phenomena, problems and characters of the people they depict are shown and evaluated by the writer from the class position which he represents. The appraisal, in literary works, of events and human actions from the viewpoint of the interests of a certain social class, is called partisanship in literature. There is bourgeois partisanship and communist partisanship, depending upon the interests of which class the writer defends.

The principle of communist partisanship demands that the writer should reflect life in his works from the standpoint of Marxist-Leninist ideology, of the revolutionary interests of the struggle carried on by the proletariat under the leadership of its Marxist-Leninist party.

This fundamental principle was elaborated by Lenin in 1905 in the article ‘Party Organization and Party Literature’. ‘Literature’, wrote Lenin in this article, ‘must become party literature. In contradistinction to bourgeois customs, to the profit-making, commercialized bourgeois press, to bourgeois literary careerism and individualism, ‘aristocratic anarchism’ and drive for profit, the socialist proletariat must put forward the principle of party literature, must develop this principle and put it into practice as fully and completely as possible’.

‘The continuous strengthening of proletarian partisanship’, Enver Hoxha stressed at the 7th Congress of the Party, ‘must always remain a basic task for the development of our culture and arts, for their advance on the road of socialism’.

In vain do the enemies of socialism, the bourgeois ideologists and modern revisionists, charge that the principle of partisanship in literature restricts the freedom of the writer in his creativity. In fact, party spirit is for the writers of every country a powerful weapon to understand and to reflect more deeply social life and the soul of man; it creates the conditions for the full flowering of their talents. Lenin has said: ‘There is no doubt that in this direction alone can full liberty of personal initiative of individual aptitudes, be secured, can free rein be given to thought and fantasy, to form and content’. And he adds: ‘Literary work must become a component part of the social-democratic(1) work of the Party, closely linked with other parts of its work’.

The bourgeois ideologists and modern revisionists, enemies of socialism and of the people, attack the principle of partisanship in general, as well as that of communist partisanship. They deny the class character of literature. Art and literature, for them, stand outside classes. They say that literature should have nothing to do with political ideas, since these, they allege, harm literature. Without any doubt, the repudiation by the bourgeois and revisionist aestheticians of class character, of partisanship, has its motives. With their theory they attempt to distance the writer from the struggle of the working class, to disorganize the working class and disarm it of its theoretical and ideo-aesthetic weapons. On occasion, some of the revisionist aestheticians have affirmed partisanship in literature. But in this case they have not had in mind communist partisanship. For them, literature must be made the enthusiastic spokesman of the revisionist theories, as occurs today in the Soviet Union and other revisionist countries. But the efforts of the revisionists to bring about the degeneration of art, to turn it into a weapon against the masses, are being disrupted by life itself, by the development of literature itself, which rejects the baseless dicta of the revisionists. The more profoundly the writer with communist partisanship understands his time, the more profoundly he interprets this time in art from the Marxist-Leninist viewpoint, the greater, the more powerful, the more real his work becomes. The more, therefore, the talented writer bases himself on the most progressive ideas of his time, on the ideals of the Communist Party, the more partisan he is in defence of the interests of the working masses, the more the inner content of his works is enriched, the higher their artistic value is raised.

Another important characteristic of the literature of socialist realism is its national form and socialist content. Every people has its language, its traditions, its cultural and psychic distinctions. ‘Every nation, whether great or small, has its qualitative distinctions, its specific features, which pertain only to it and which no other nation possesses’, Stalin has said; ‘these distinctions are the contribution which every nation puts into the general treasury of world culture and which adds to it, enriches it’. As a result, true literature, rooted deeply in a people, will bear in an inescapable manner the stamp of these distinctions in the mental and spiritual world of the people, will be born on the terrain of the best cultural traditions of the people, will express the demands, the struggle, the efforts, the dreams of the people. Such is the literature of socialist realism, which stands close to the efforts and aspirations of the people. By ‘national form,’ in literature we mean that this literature is created in the national language, that it reflects the best national traditions, the distinct psychic character of the nation, and is intelligible to the people.

The Subject Matter of the Literature of Socialist Realism

The principal source of the subject matter of works of socialist realism is made up of problems linked with life, the work, thoughts and actions of the people who are constructing socialism or who are struggling for their rights in the capitalist and revisionist countries.

The writers, in their works, show how the people, under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist party, prepare for and carry through the revolution, how they defend the socialist homeland and the gains of the revolution from internal and external enemies, how they struggle to turn the homeland into a powerful and advanced socialist state, how they support the world revolutionary movement.

In the literature of socialist realism, the depiction of the people is made not from the positions of critical realism, but from quite another angle of view. Critical realism puts at the centre of its works oppressed and exploited people, people for whom we must have pity, people who rebel only as individuals, people who are incapable of changing their life, of building a new society. The literature of socialist realism, on the other hand, portrays the people as a great, organized force, as the creative and moving force of history. This literature shows, therefore, that the broad masses are those who play the decisive role in historical events. Thus, current themes, the artistic treatment of the principal current problems of socialist construction, occupy the central place in the literature of socialist realism. Speaking of the development of art in our country, Enver Hoxha stressed at the 7th Congress: ‘A better reflection of some of the major themes in our artistic creativity, such as that of the hegemonic role of the working class in our society, the revolutionary transformation of our socialist countryside, the revolutionizing force of the communists, the treatment of cardinal themes and key moments in the history of our people and particularly of the National Liberation War and the socialist revolution, are an essential requirement to make our literature and art even more revolutionary!’. Certainly, the presentation of current life and of the magnificent work of the people has been and will be its principal tasks; but the depiction of the historical past also occupies an important place. In works which portray the past, the class struggle in society is revealed, the progressive forces and elements in the development of history are shown, the historical environment is disclosed. Works with historical themes in the literature of socialist realism bring the past into art from a healthy ideo-artistic standpoint, They play an important role in understanding history, in understanding that the great motive force of history is the people.

The literature of socialist realism has a rich, multifarious subject matter, which educates the new man in the ideas of socialism. And this new, broad subject matter with such a content demonstrates again that the literature of socialist realism is the loftiest from the ideo-artistic aspect, the literature which stands closest to the working masses.


The choice of characters in the works of socialist realist literature is determined by the inner content of this literature, by its principal aim, which is the affirmation and strengthening of the new socialist relations, the construction of socialism and communism, the struggle against imperialism and its servants, the modern revisionists, etc. Since the objective of this literature is to bring to life the new, the progressive, the positive, it is natural that its principal protagonist should be the positive hero, the fighter who destroys the old and creates the new, who defends the interests of the people, the hero inspired by the lofty spirit of partisanship and class struggle, who rejects bourgeois and revisionist ideology, who is ready to sacrifice even his life for the cause of socialism and communism.

In this connection, Enver Hoxha told the 5th Congress: ‘The Party requires that at the centre of creativity should be placed the heroes of our time — workers, peasants, soldiers, people’s intellectuals and revolutionary cadres, young people educated by the Party, those who with self-denial and heroism work and fight for the construction of socialism, for the defence and flowering of the socialist homeland’.

Our heroes of the Anti-Fascist National Liberation War and of socialist construction these are positive heroes and serve as examples to be imitated in life.

The literature of socialist realism has devoted attention also to the description and unmasking of people with negative features, enemies of the people (e.g., German fascists and their tools in ‘The Young Guard’, etc.), or people who have pronounced remnants of the old ideology (such as bureaucrats, misappropriators of common property, hypocrites, etc.).

The revisionist theoreticians and writers raise their voices against the positive hero; they do not want the principal heroes of literature to be the working masses — the worker, the peasant, the people’s intellectual, the communist; they create and disseminate works in which the protagonists, the ‘heroes’ who should be taken as models are people contaminated by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois morality, unstable people who regard life with fear, who cringe before difficulties and enemies, who have no belief in the strength of the people and the cause of socialism, individualist and mean-spirited people. The literary works with such ‘heroes’ portray life in a distorted manner and exert a harmful influence on the reader.

The principled, resolute struggle against poisonous revisionist outlooks is a necessary condition for the successful development of the literature of socialist realism. The revolutionary forces are developing this struggle successfully, unmasking with determination, the distorted revisionist theories and the literary works created on their basis. At the same time, the revolutionary forces are defending and developing in a creative manner healthy Marxist-Leninist principles for literature. Valuable and special help has been and is being given in this direction by the Party of Labour of Albania, which stands at the head of this struggle and has put forward its teachings in important documents and materials. In the materials of the Party and in the works of Enver Hoxha many important questions relating to literature and the arts have been clarified, such as: the meaning of tradition and innovation, contradiction and conflict, the place of the positive character in our literature of socialist realism, the place of the national and folk spirit in literature, and many other problems.

1. At that time the party founded and led by Lenin was called the ‘Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party’.

'Foreign Literature', Part Two, Ilford, 1987. Translated from the Albanian by William Bland.

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