Alexander Dolitsky: Soviet Socialist realism is coming to America

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By ALEXANDER DOLITSKY

My good friend in Kiev (former Soviet Union), Slava Pilman, was a promising and struggling artist of visual art. In the early 1970s, he admired Western modern art of the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, including Impressionism (Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh), Cubism (Pablo Picasso), Surrealism (Salvador Dali), Fauvism (Henri Matisse), Expressionism (Edvard Munch) and several other styles of modern art; but he had no passion and tolerance for the Socialist Realism style.

From about the 1930s to the late 1980s, Socialist Realism was the official cultural doctrine of the Soviet Union. This style mandated an idealized representation of life and cultural traditions under socialism in literature and the visual arts. The doctrine was first proclaimed by the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, which approved the standardized method for Soviet cultural production in all media.

Soon after the October Socialist Revolution in Russia in 1917, Vladimir Lenin laid down his thoughts on what purpose visual art must serve working masses. He believed that it was important that visual art was no longer a domain of the upper classes and the bourgeoisie. He stated that, “… art belongs to the people. It must leave its deepest roots in the very thick of the working masses.”

Writers and artists were required to follow the party line on style, especially under Joseph Stalin’s political rule (1922-1953). Moscow University and Moscow Metro are clear symbols of Stalinist’s architecture style. Then, socialist realism was seen as the means of educating people, so any deviance was often punishable by the NKVD/KGB (Soviet Secret Police) with varying harsh outcomes.

During the Nikita Khrushchev era (1957-1964), literature and visual art were still stagnant. Khrushchev declared: “As long as I am President of the Council of Ministers, we are going to support genuine art. We aren’t going to give a kopeck [cent] for pictures painted by jackasses. History can be our judge. For the time being history has put us at the head of this state, and we have to answer for everything that goes on in it.”

Leonid Brezhnev’s stagnant political era (1964-1982) in the Soviet Union continued to be sanctioned by only one artistic style—Socialist Realism. Paintings and sculptures emphasized idealized figures heroically enduring hardships and overcoming unjust opposition on a relentless crusade for progress and prosperity toward “delusional” communism.

So, Slava Pilman, as well as many other intellectuals in the Soviet Union, was trapped in the illusive socialist reality. I kept advising Slava to compromise and adjust his artistic style to the existing socialist environment, “Slava, paint cows, peasants and workers, otherwise you will starve to death.” Slava’s usual response was, “I am a free artist, and I will paint what I see and think, not what they want me to see and think.” “Slava, you are free from a job,” I reminded him, “… and you are going to die in the Gulag (Soviet labor camp) as a free man.”

I left the Soviet Union on March 16, 1977 under the status of a political refugee; and I lost track of my friend Slava Pilman. One day, however, Slava’s predicament re-appeared in my memories when in 1986 the Soviet delegation visited Juneau. Then, I was teaching archaeology, history and Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast; I was frequently called to translate/assist for various delegations from the Soviet Union, visiting Alaska.

That delegation consisted of six high-ranking Soviet officials; it was sponsored by the Rotary International. My close friend, the late Bill Ruddy and his wife Kathy Kolhorst hosted and guided this group. Vladimir Nadein, a letters editor of the Izvestiya (News) newspaper was one of the guests in this group. Then, Izvestiya was the second largest newspaper after Pravda (Truth) in the Soviet Union, with a circulation of several million copies, which context was tightly controlled by the Communist Party “watch dogs and gate keepers.”

One day, Nadein asked me, “Sasha (Alexander), is there any way we can visit the State Archives? I am curious if we can locate any existing first-hand documents related to the Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Program during WWII.” Per his request, I took him to the State Library and in about 10 minutes the librarian brought us several original documents of the ALSIB program. “Remarkable,” Nadein proclaimed. “It would take months just to get permission to request the information in our State archives.” He examined the documents with a great interest and took some notes.

In fact, the editors of the major newspapers in the former Soviet Union, for the most part, were political appointees, with the connection to the State Secret Police. Their job was to suppress freedom of speech and advocate socialist propaganda.

I have never expected that today’s progressive American media, including our own Juneau Empire, would resemble far-left Soviet style practices—poorly edited publications, unchecked primary sources, and, periodically, publication of poorly written, misleading, and fabricated articles. No surprise that newspapers in Alaska (e.g., Juneau Empire since arrival of a current editor in June/July of 2023) are losing their readership.

As one of the commentators of my article “Plagiarism vs. Fabrication” published in Must Read Alaska on April 6 observed: “Every day, I wonder and despair about the condition of the media. I’ve always said, ‘why isn’t lying against the law?’ It is so common, not only in the media, but in our government, which has failed us miserably.” Sad!

Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He received an M.A. in history from Kiev Pedagogical Institute, Ukraine, in 1976; an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology from Brown University in 1983; and was enroled in the Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College from 1983 to 1985, where he was also a lecturer in the Russian Center. In the U.S.S.R., he was a social studies teacher for three years, and an archaeologist for five years for the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he settled in the United States. Dolitsky visited Alaska for the first time in 1981, while conducting field research for graduate school at Brown. He lived first in Sitka in 1985 and then settled in Juneau in 1986. From 1985 to 1987, he was a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and social scientist. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast from 1985 to 1999; Social Studies Instructor at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education from 1988 to 2006; and has been the Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (see www.aksrc.homestead.com) from 1990 to present. He has conducted about 30 field studies in various areas of the former Soviet Union (including Siberia), Central Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the United States (including Alaska). Dolitsky has been a lecturer on the World Discoverer, Spirit of Oceanus, andClipper Odyssey vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. He was the Project Manager for the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, which was erected in Fairbanks in 2006. He has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography. His more recent publications include Fairy Tales and Myths of the Bering Strait Chukchi, Ancient Tales of Kamchatka; Tales and Legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia; Old Russia in Modern America: Russian Old Believers in Alaska; Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During WWII; Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East; Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska; Pipeline to Russia; The Alaska-Siberia Air Route in WWII; and Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers; Ancient Tales of Chukotka, and Ancient Tales of Kamchatka.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Alexander, you are preaching to the choir here.

    The radical leftist extremists to whom this article is ostensibly aimed will NEVER let this, and any other, evidence of their wrongs and their insanity sway them from their repressive and authoritarian course. If they will not learn from their own mistakes and crimes — and they never do — why would you expect them to learn from anyone else’s mistakes and crimes?

    • To Jefferson: I know. But ADN and Juneau Empire will not publish my articles anymore, or your comments. So, what do you suggest, stop writing? We are fortunate to have an alternative (i.e., Must Read Alaska and Alaska Watchman). As my good friend just communicated to me in private correspondence: “Freedom of speech belongs to he/she who owns the press for years. But now, many of us “own” the press. We have broken the back of the mainstream media.”

      • Alexander, I hope that you did not take my comment as any sort of reprimand or criticism of you or of your efforts — far from it! No, by all means keep writing!
        I was merely expressing my frustration and dismay with the closed-minded, misguided and historically ignorant zealotry, and outright insanity, of so many in the USA, and in western world in general, these days.

      • Why is that Alex, is it perhaps because you are fabricating the truth still? I know, stifling the conservative mind, etc. Most likely ADN and The Juneau Empire fact check your opinions and find lies. I ask again Alex, what’s your opinion of the murderous thug Putin?

        • I have published 5-6 articles in ADN and nearly 40 articles in the Juneau Empire since 1985. The editors of the newspapers and blogs make a decision/difference between who is IN and who is OUT and what is IN and what is OUT. Anyone can fact check my writing, including you. And if you find some inconsistencies, then let me know. As for Vladimir Putin, do your own research.

        • The “Putyn” is a murderous thug litmus test question posed by individuals who are clueless of Russia, its’ history, culture, religion and politics is both amusing and concerning. Amusing as its obvious you are ignorant and clueless of modern Russia, let alone its’ past. Concerning, as this ignorance leads to prejudice, justifying the utter destruction of Ukraine, justifying the state sponsorship of terror, as happened in Moscow recently and the genocide of Russian speaking Ukrainians in the Donbass of the minions of the Zelinskii fascist dictatorship using our weapons and targeting intelligence to shell and missile strike civilians since 2014. The current Ukrainian technique is to shell a school or hospital, wait 30 minutes for the medics and rescue personnel to arrive, then shell again to kill the survivors and rescue teams. This with our weapon systems and munitions supplied to them, and our “contractors” setting targets and manning the more complex systems. The fact is we have far more political prisoners than Russia holds. “The Putyn” has been very patient and measured in response to American and its Euro lackeys provocations and acts of violence and war. The nationalist factions in Russia would be far more aggressive if Putyn were removed in response to American state sponsored acts of terror through our proxies. Russians prefer an educated, articulate and competent chief executive. Compare that to our mumbling, senile, phony old crook placed in the office, who is unable to complete a coherent sentence, that our congress and our public pretend is a “chief executive”. Murderous thug certainly applies to Biden, Obama, Clinton and both Bushes. Tens of millions of people have died due to their rubber stamping of the insane foreign policy planned and executed by the special interests that installed them into place holders of our presidential office. As Americans we need to solve our problems and identify and remove from positions of power those that are destroying our country. Deflecting focus from our fatal to our nation and society issues by ignorant statements about a foreign leader that maybe 1 in 1,000,000 Americans know anything about is asinine.

          • To Brian Simpson: It was a trick question (Putin) and I am glad you answered it well. Yesterday, I talked to my old friend from Kiev. I am not going to reveal the details, but it is quite obvious that Ukraine is finished, and we (the West) set them up for failure from the beginning. Sad.

            • Wow, you are a Kremlin mouthpiece Alex, not often we see them so clearly. Really proves the point that your loyalties to this nation should be questioned.

            • You don’t need to reveal details. Russian and Ukranian language telegram channels posted by real common people on the ground are filled with the details. I suggest your ignorant detractors learn to read Russian and Ukranian (very simple Indo European languages to learn, unless they were public school or American college educated/knee capped into dark ages ignorance) and educate themselves what locals are saying instead of flapping ignorant jaws of what they are fed by our Soviet style media. The infrastructure damage is massive, whichever oblasts the Russians incorporate will be rebuilt. And it’s resources managed well. The western provinces maybe will be absorbed into Poland, Hungary and Romania or left as a wasteland and become impoverished terrorist incubators like Yemen. Russia does not need the headache of dealing with Banderite fascists of the Lvov region. America will walk away as that is what we do. Removing the mines and cluster munitions will take decades as they did in Angola. Many children will die or be maimed for life (Thankyou Raytheon, Sullivan and Murkowski). Fortunately the depleted uranium munitions the British and Americans sent for their antiquated Centurion and Abraham’s tanks were destroyed by a Kinzhal missile strike taking out the stockpile. Elevated radiation levels were detected and dissipated, maybe Poland is effected, but that is what they get for EU and US vassalage. If these shells were actually used the eastern Ukranian farmlands would be toxic for centuries (so much for the “green agenda” shoved down our throats by the university faculty dimwit “environmentalists”). The Ukranian societal male/female ratio imbalance due to the genocide level of male casualties and amputees will last for generations. This happened in Paraguay during the Tripatriate war. The psychopath “Republican” Lindsay Graham stated the Ukraine war is a good investment. For who? Certainly not the American taxpayer or the Ukranian women and society. When I hear the term murderous dictator of a leader who asked to join NATO and was rebuffed it is ironic. When the US Dollar is reduced to Weimar Republic toilet paper status, where it is headed with the cleavage of BRICS, these grant and government funding dependent stooges will understand what an actual economy is based on. The West is destroying a two thousand year legacy and Russia is dissasociating itself from the policy initiated by Peter the Great in his policy of attempting to integrate Russia with us.

          • Nice Kremlin Propaganda Brian. Point proven, another useful idiot raises their hand. You would have adored Hitler had this been the 1930s

        • Here’s an idea, stay with me if you can. It’s doubtful, but try.

          The Empire and ADN have clearly established political agendas. Alexander offers up facts-yes facts-which are contrary to their agendas. Ergo, said facts are discarded due to being inconvenient.

          Honest journalism puts it out there and lets the reader decide.

          Propaganda doesn’t air competing opinions, facts, or even inconvenient rumors.

          Your Putin, Putin, Putin! straw man is amusing, but vapid and pointless to the issue at hand. But it is telling. Only the hard left is Putin obsessed.

  2. “Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence” (by: Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

      • One of the greatest, most effective ops the old U.S.S.R. took against America was the infiltration of the environmental movement.

        It opened the door for everything that happened since.

  3. I was in Dutch Harbor during glasnost and perestroika. Some of my best memories are of Russian seafood workers coming ashore to visit.

  4. As a culture collapses everyone lies to each other… constantly. It happened in Nazi Germany and all communist nations. Orwell described it in his novels. Today we see it everywhere in our republic as it declines. The primary motive for widespread lying is fear…. of retribution, losing social standing, being persecuted (cancelled) for failing to toe the party line. Everyone knows the panic over climate change is overblown; the border crisis is a travesty; our education system is a failure; health care/pharma is an economic disaster; racism is a contrived crisis to create division, transgenderism is nonsense, on and on and on. Nevertheless, everyone continues to tolerate dysfunctional trends by lying to each other about them… they fear the repercussions of uttering truth.

  5. Alexander writes: “…especially under Joseph Stalin’s political rule (1922-1953).” Let me fix this for you:
    “….especially under the tyrant and murderous dictator Joseph Stalin (who murdered millions more than vile dictator Hitler.”

  6. Just remember, America kept Uncle Joe in power. If you were fighting Germans you were friends with Stalin. Communism won WW2.
    “We butchered the wrong pig” Gen Patton

  7. I dunno… I see a lot more book banning, idea banning, and authoritarianism from Republicans right now and less individual liberty. Now ten years ago, I didn’t see that, it’s a relatively recent phenomena.

    It is ironic that you cite the Juneau Empire and ADN as having poor primary sources and editing…on this website. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of journalistic integrity at the JE or ADN, which you astutely point out.

  8. The title, which I suspect goes into the category of a general observation, or a generalized observation, appears to me as a word curse. I rebuke that notion, cast it out, bound, into the lake of fire. We are not having it.

    Mr. Dolitsky, the rest of your contribution that follows the title I appreciate and thank you for sharing. We are on the same side here.

  9. First person experiences of history are usually very interesting to read, as details are recounted that are unavailable to those that follow with secondhand accounts.

    Someday, I will try to figure out the phenomenon I call ‘first generation effect’ that has been casually observed in those I love. It seems to encompass broad sweeping generalizations, a sense of justification for response to the conditions which required the momentous change of conversion of allegiance which going forward is used to color interpretation of events occurring on a grand scale of the future.

    Observation of a particular artistic style of Moscow Metro, and outward appearance of Soviet-era apartment blocs, certain styles of American artists of the 30s, Berlin museum display of decorative arts in the earlier part of the 20th century, and even the colorful Maoist cultural revolution with shades of olive green and scarlet in hues of dying king salmon.

    Studying art history or any history for that matter, is not my day job, nor is sociology … awaiting retirement to examine whether it’s simply anecdotal for a specific period in time or a similarity among those of that degree of becoming American.

  10. It’s already come. It’s in our school systems and started there over 30 years ago or longer when we could no longer do the Pledge of Allegiance in schools brought on by the ACLU court challenges. Or when the Ten Commandments had to be taken out of public institutions.
    Now that all has reversed, the ACLU is no longer around to protect the present adverse actions happening in the USA. I think that institution was also take over.

  11. Who knew that an article about politics and art styles could set off such a maelstrom? Thank you for yet another interesting and thought provoking article, Professor Dolitsky.

    I’m in agreement with commenter, Brian Simpson. I also believe Putin has shown remarkable restraint in light of the many attacks against him. My own patriotism has been seriously blunted as political shenanigans are daily exposed.

    I’m reminded of a great line by cartoonist, Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo; “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That line was a parady of a comment by Commandant Oliver Perry during the war of 1812.

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