One of the tasks of the new Bolshevik government was not just curbing and crushing the culture and attitudes of old, but molding them into something new; a new national culture bred by Bolshevism. While we know that this project was abandoned by Stalin, along with the destruction of the capitalist state-machinery and creating socialist state-machinery, and later became something quite different, the initial outcome of socialist realism was a clear way in Lenin’s vision of how using state power could mold this new national culture and attitude.
In this post, we’ll be looking to a specific piece of art by Konstantin Yuon, famous Soviet painter, especially within the field of socialist realism. Socialist realism is a specific genre of painting that depicted the key events of the revolutionary scenario in Russia. In the events in which The Bolsheviks Seize Power, Lenin and the Bolsheviks needed to consolidate the military power of the Petrograd Soviet (A soviet is a workers council that utilizes military mobilization methods to enforce the will of the workers- something we understand as the militarization of labor, which capitalism has often created, and what we would understand as a dialectical part of the process leading up to socialism in many previous revolutionary scenarios).
Konstantin painted this famous speech Lenin gave to the Petrograd Soviet on his first visit on October 25th, 1917, the same day as the Bolshevik insurrection on the White Palace and seize power of the provisional government, thus consolidating all state power to them. We can presume that this speech from the painting was the announcement that such had happened. Lenin is seen as the conductor of this event in which fellow Bolsheviks follow behind, such as Trotsky, and Stalin (who later betrayed the Bolsheviks). Konstantin played the role in conveying to the proletariat what Lenin wanted them to see themselves as, which was the heroic leaders of revolution.
Yuon also famously painted the people’s gathering at Lenin’s funeral, a depiction that showed his popularity and support from the Russians for the socialist struggle that he and the Bolsheviks engaged in. However, just as Lenin wrote heroically about the role that the working class would play in liberating themselves, they would see this painting and understand that it is the congregation of many heroes, for Lenin was just one hero that helped others realize that they were ones too. This painting itself is symbolic of the imparting of skill and ability from the dead to the living that carry on this heroism in this painting that Yuon made.
Socialist realism was supposed to help guide new culture in Russia, and curb that of the old. Yuon does an exceptional job as always in these paintings in providing a piece for the proletariat to enjoy, especially as the majority of his painting were socialist realist ones towards the end of his life.