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Stefan Heymann, "Cosmopolitanism and Formalism" (December 1, 1949)

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The Attitude toward Soviet Art

In 1931, Stalin proclaimed: “Not a single ruling class has managed without its own intelligentsia.” And that is why the Soviet Union, from the very beginning, exerted extraordinary powers to create a new intelligentsia, after large segments of the bourgeois intelligentsia had joined the enemy camp. To be sure, in this process, the Soviet power was able to draw on a good, liberal tradition within the Russian intelligentsia. After the failure and cowardly surrender of the European bourgeoisie in 1848, the banner of the struggle for civil liberties passed to the progressive forces in the Russian intelligentsia. Herzen, Chernishevsky, Bogolubov, and others proclaimed, in closest solidarity with the oppressed people, the demands of human freedom. It is extraordinarily characteristic that their great works, in which the combative spirit of true democracy lives, remained nearly unknown in capitalistic Europe, while the great writers Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gorki exerted tremendous influence on the development of literature in all European countries.

By contrast, the great Russian painters of that period – as also of the subsequent decades – remained utterly without influence and known only in expert circles. This, too, is no coincidence. For the truly important painters of Russia were deeply bound to the life of the people; the struggle for liberty by the oppressed masses is vividly reflected in their works. Thus, they remained incomprehensible to the bourgeois artists in other countries.

This lack of comprehension also extended to Soviet painters and sculptors.

Most of our visual artists do not know about the development of the Russian intelligentsia; they know nothing of the true attachment to the people exhibited by the progressive circles of the Russian intelligentsia, whose tradition has awakened today to new life in Soviet art. That is why they lift their noses disparagingly at the supposed “naturalistic” or “obsolete” works of Soviet art. But unfortunately today only very few are able to understand that. Yet if the German working class can and must draw crucial lessons from the Soviet people’s extensive experience of struggle and then apply this to their own struggle, then this is also true of the visual artists. They must study the experiences of the Russian intelligentsia in the battle for the rights of the people; and, in particular, they must acquaint themselves with the problems of Soviet art and the numerous discussions about these questions in the Soviet Union. Without knowledge of this development, without knowledge of the fundamental controversies over artistic questions in the Soviet Union, and without the appropriate application of the same principles to questions relating to the visual arts here, it will be impossible to develop a truly realistic new art in Germany.

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