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Socialist Literature

Theory and Practice


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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2 The Yenan Talks



The Yenan Talks


In his first speech to the forum on literature and art held in Yenan in 1942, Mao defined the occasion as a meeting to exchange ideas on the relationship between work in the literary and artistic fields and revolutionary work in general. He said that in order for the Chinese people to liberate their country and change their society, they had to have a cultural army as well as an army with guns. He regarded the cultural army as absolutely indispensible’1 for uniting the ranks of the people and for defeating the enemy.

The origins of such a cultural army went back to the May Fourth Movement of 1919 which was a patriotic movement mainly of intellectuals that had rapidly developed into a nation-wide movement embracing all the revolutionary urban classes of China and a vigorous cultural movement whose main current was the propagation of Marxism.2 This greatly helped the Chinese revolution by generally reducing the domain of China’s feudal and comprador bourgeois culture and weakening their influence. Ever since the May Fourth Movement, Mao said, a cultural front had been opened up in which literature and art played an important and successful part.

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