During the Russian Revolution, we saw glorious images of proletariat heroes. We saw shining workers and sophisticated art designed to evoke pride in Russia’s backbone: the laborers. The transition to a Communist society did not happen smoothly, or without purging the people who were considered class-traitors and bourgeoisie by the new regime. Looking at the artists and their works during this period of terror can give us insight into the experiences of those who lived these events.
Artists were no exception to these purges. Many artists saw their end during this period, so naturally fear amongst artists skyrocketed. Many people would try to secure their safety by denouncing other artists. This would be done in hopes of appearing loyal to the regime so they could hopefully, dodge execution (Source). The rewards for creating works that aide the Soviet message were plentiful. An example of this can be seen in the case of Aleksandar Gerasimov. Because of his 1938 work, Stalin and Voroshilov in the Kremlin, he was well liked amongst Soviet leaders. Gerasimov was even able to become wealthy from his other works like, “The Industry of Socialism”, which were rewarded monetarily (Source). By appealing to the intended imagery of the Soviets Gerasimov was able to attain a level of status in return.
Other artists like Demyan Bedny also used the Soviet’s desire to maintain their public image for their safety and sustainability as artists. While Bedny experienced the majority of his popularity in the Revolutionary Era, he continued to create poems that lend justification to the purges (Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 301). Throughout his poem, We Dealt The Enemy a Cruel Counterblow, Bedny uses grotesque imagery to describe the people being purged, serving as a contrast to his positive description of a good Soviet. He uses language like, “Shame to the mothers that gave birth to these dogs of unprecedented foulness”, to dehumanize the people who have fallen to the Purge. In contrast, he uses language like, “Heading with Stalin toward our radiant destiny”, to envoke feelings of purity and saintliness amongst proud Soviets (Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 302).
Demyan Bedny, “We Dealt The Enemy a Cruel Counterblow”. In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, edited by James von Geldern and Richard Stites, 301-302.