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Socialist Literature

Theory and Practice

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Abdulla M. Al-Dabbagh

Socialist Literature studies the relationship between the development of socialist literary theory and the process of cultural transformation in modern society by tracing the outline of the theory in the works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao, and examining its reflection in actual works of literature. This analysis is set alongside a detailed examination of the literary part of the cultural superstructure in China and in the Soviet Union. Among the major literary and theoretical works discussed are The communist Manifesto, Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, Gorky’s Mother, and the poetry of Mayakovsky.
Key issues, like the position of the writer in society, the relationship of the old and the new in literature, and the much discussed relationship between the «creator» and the «audience,» are examined and explained in a different light by regarding them as more than purely theoretical issues or abstract cultural problems and, instead, considering them as social issues that can only be settled at the level of practice.
Abdulla Al-Dabbagh amplifies the area of research by discussing some of the major opposing positions to the theory outlined and, by examining at length the portrayal of proletarian heroism, one of its key concepts, in the literary works of the same epoch. The result of the close textual analysis of a large number of major works of poetry, drama, and fiction reveals the course of the artistic development to be complementary to that of the theoretical advance.
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1 Basic Principles

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ONE

Basic Principles

THE RADICAL BREAK

By basic principles I here mean not the basic principles of socialism which lie outside the scope of this work, but those only of the socialist theory of literature and the socialist theory of the cultural revolution. For that we have to begin from Marx. Central to Marxism is the concept that communism constitutes a radical break in human history and a radically new departure in the history of human thought. The following passage from The German Ideology reveals how Marx envisaged this total transformation in the domain of literature and art:

The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of division of labour. Even if in certain social conditions, everyone were an excellent painter, that would by no means exclude the possibility of each of them being also an original painter, so that here too the difference between “human” and “unique” labour amounts to sheer nonsense. In any case, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arise entirely from division of labour, and also the subordination of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, sculptor, etc. ; the very name amply expresses the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on division of labour. In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in...

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