Fighting for Peace, a typical socialist realist painting by Perahim

Socialist realism
or proletkultism (in Romanian: proletcultism) was the style oficially imposed by the Communist regime between 1948 and the early 1960's. It remained encouraged for the rest of the regime (especially after the July thesis of 1971), but under Ceaușescu it was no longer exclusive. It replaced the genuine literary canon for several decades, with devastating effects. After 1989, socialist realism is mentioned in textbooks as a "black period" in which writers were rewarded for violating the principles of literature and aesthetic and obeying the rules of the Communist, turning books into yet another mean of propaganda and ideological manipulation. The 1960's generation is the one credited for returning Romanian literature to its authentic purposes (though merely because the regime allowed it).


     See main article: 1948 index.

Tudorarghezi unasutaunapoeme

Una sută una poeme (101 Poems, 1947) by Tudor Arghezi

After 1947, thousands of books published recently or in the previous decades that were not more or less complying with socialist realism - including not only literature, but also non-literary books, such as the Bibles and the holy books of other religions. After Tudor Arghezi had already been criticised in 1945 by Miron Radu Paraschivescu, the volume Una sută una poeme (which, by the time it was printed, had already a poem removed by the recently (re)born censorship) was released in september 1947 at the now-official state publishing house (E.S.P.L.A.), only to be followed by a quick ban and a fierce article by Sorin Toma entitled Poezia putrefacţiei sau putrefacţia poeziei, in which Arghezi was demolished for writing poetry "for the bourgeoisie". In fact, Arghezi was one of the first who criticised the new regime (even in the aforementioned volume) and who explicitly mentioned in a text published in february 1947 that "freedom of writing" had gone from Romania.[1]

In order to continue publishing books, many writers have perverted their ethic principles, while others, that were already more or less left-wing (see below Militant avant-garde), took advantage of the shift imposed by Communists. In exchange for writing propaganda poems or prose, writers could earn huge amounts of money even for single texts, as well as many other priviledges (jobs in publishing houses, books were printed and sold in (now incredibly) large amounts of copies, borrowable money from the Writers' Union, free trips around the country (see article Neptun) and overseas). They were also included in (mass-printed as well) national anthologies and in textbooks as figures of the new canon. Probably the only positive aspect is that veteran writers were later able to promote younger, even uncompromising writers and help them with problems during the publishing house queues and censorship. Known cases of such veterans include Geo Bogza, Zaharia Stancu, Miron Radu Paraschivescu (known for promoting the oneirists), Marin Preda (who is credited with preventing Ceaușescu in 1971 from making socialist realism once again compulsory[2]), Alexandru Ivasiuc and others.

Precursors and the militant avant-gardeEdit

Proto forms of proletcultist existed as early as the last decades of the 19th century, when there were a few socialist circles in Romania (the new ideology was, however, far from being popular and, even until the WWII, the local Communist party was extremely small and was deemed insignificant on the political scene). D.Th. Neculuță is credited as the main precursor of Romanian proletkultism. His only volume, Spre țărmul dreptății (Towards the Shore of Liberty, 1907), was reprinted by the Communist regime and held a central place in the new canon (in which Eminescu, Arghezi, Bacovia and many others were banned right after 1948 or marginal).

     See main article: Militant avant-garde.

In the 1920's, for a large period of time, the avantgardists were still influenced partly by Marinetti's futurism. However, when Marinetti arrived in 1930 in Romania and was warmly received by Contimporanul, the former enthusiasts that were now in the unu circle were annoyed by his "fascist" political orientation. In the late 1920's, it is known that Sașa Pană, Ilarie Voronca and the rest became more and more interested in the French surrealist group. (Ironically, Voronca published several years before a manifesto in which he rejected surrealism as "feminine" and promoted instead an "integralism" that only included elements of "manly" movements - futurism, dada and constructivism[3].) The Aragon and Eluard affair (in which the two former surrealist poets turned to proletkultism, causing controversies among the Freudian-Marxist group led by Breton and the rest of the Surrealist groups around the world) determined Sașa Pană and especially Stephan Roll to consider a more politically-engaged poetry. As a consequence, the last numbers of unu contained several acutely leftist texts (by Stephan Roll, Ion Vitner, Mihail Dan and others), while several other members were kicked from the group: Ilarie Voronca (formerly the most influential member of the group, now considered by Stephan Roll a "traitor"), Virgil Gheorghiu and Virgil Carianopol.


Books from Colecția Orizont (Horizon Collection): St. Roll, Manifestation; Sașa Pană, For Liberty; S. Callimachi, Octomber 1917; Al. Jar, The Poem of the Great Awakening

After unu revue was discontinued, Geo Bogza and his disciples from the Alge circle released the leftist revue Viața imediată (Immediate Life). Almost in the same time and a few years after, during a period in which the social tension increased, several new leftist revues appear: Ostașii luminii, Cuvântul liber, Reporter, Tânăra generație, Era nouă, Fapta and others to which the (former) avantgardists contribute regularly. Only Meridian had a slightly more aesthetic character. Between 1944 and 1947, Sașa Pană published the magazine Orizont and had renamed the unu publishing house to Orizont. This is one of (if not the) most significant revue to prepare the arrival of socialist realism.

Later, in Antologia literaturii române de avangardă (1969), Sașa Pană did use the opportunity to include even Ion Vitner (who, in the meantime, had become a prestigious critic). The specialists of the avant-garde, however, were far more preoccupied, as a reaction to socialist realism in general, of the "aesthetic" side of the avant-garde. Even after 1989 there were few attempts to connect this awkward, nearly taboo phase.

Nicolae Manolescu analyzed in his A Critical History of Romanian Literature (2008) the avant-garde and considered it the first movement to bring politics in the center of literary discussions. He especially focused on the blatant theoretical marxism of the Romanian Surrealist group that, according to the critic, was largely ignored in order to make a myth out of the importance of the surrealists. It has been suggested though that this chapter and the rather "cold" impressions noted by the critic on the most important avantgardists may have been written in order to maximize, in contrast, the achievements of the neo-avantgarde. The extreme tension between Manolescu and Marin Mincu may gave a hint as well.

The wave of "masterpieces" and "stylistic" canonEdit

Dandesliu lazardelarusca

The first edition (1949) of Lazăr dela Rusca by Dan Deșliu

One of the first "masterpieces" of the first wave of official proletkultism was the 1946 volume Un om așteaptă răsăritul (A Man Waits the Sunrise) by Mihai Beniuc, a title that obviously symbolizes the arrival of Communism. Other famous titles include the volume Lazăr dela Rusca and the poem Minerii din Maramureș (Maramureș Miners), both by Dan Deșliu, the anthology Cântul vieții (Song of Life) by A. Toma, An viu - nouă sute și șaptesprezece (Alive Year - 1917) by Nina Cassian, the poem Balada tovarășului căzut împărțind Scînteia în ilegalitate (Ballad of the Comrad Fallen While Giving Away Illegal Copies of Scînteia) by Victor Tulbure, Scutul păcii (Shield of Peace) and Surâsul Hiroshimei (Smile of Hiroshima) by Eugen Jebeleanu, Partidului (To The Party) by George Lesnea etc. Even more promoted were the novels (and other prose books) of this period: Desculț by Zaharia Stancu (one of the most translated books of Romanian literature, as the Communists made sure it is translate in most (if not all) countries of the Soviets and the third world), Mitrea Cocor and Lumina vine de la răsărit by Mihail Sadoveanu, Meridiane sovetice and Începutul epopeii by Geo Bogza, Bărăgan by V. Em. Galan, Negura by Eusebiu Camilar etc. Playwrights of the period include Mihail Davidoglu (Minerii), Aurel Baranga (the comedies Opinia publică and Iarbă rea), Maria Banuș, Lucia Demetrius, Paul Everac etc. Almost all works translated in this period are from Russian literature.

As it can be deduced from the titles, the themes are very few: the (romanticized) life of heroic illegalists and, later, workers (often miners, industry workers or farmers), the wonders of the new "democracy", the historical events that brought "freedom" to the masses, the fight against the old bourgeoisie order (chiaburii) and against "evil" capitalism. Not allowed at first, lyrical themes such as love were around 1955 allowed again, but under certain conditions (for instance, the two lovers that are characters must be proletarians who, obviously, work and make love for the good of society). The style is even more contrived and abundant in clichees, as the writers were hardly allowed to use traces of modernist style (maybe with the exception of pastiches after Mayakovsky, one of the Russian poets that were most often edited) and poets were forced to adapt the style of folklore poetry. However, the limitations of its model and the lot of neologisms such as "tractor" gave birth soon enough to a poor, kitschy style that excels in unintentional humor. The storylines and play characters are just as ridiculous. In some cases, the books were written "on state demand" and sometimes they were announced by their authors prior to its publication date. The most zealous ones, such as Mihai Beniuc, wrote texts about every single event in the "Communist calendar", being up-to-date with every new "achievement" of the Communist Party...

In order to "escape" the perversion of socialist realism, some writers took advantage of the degree of freedom allowed in children's literature (see, for instance, Cartea cu Apolodor by Gellu Naum). Obviously though, there were many attempts to bring the socialist realism in children's literature as well.

See also: Singaporean school.

Second waveEdit

The style is slightly improved (but not by far and, obviously, still compromised by the mixture of politics and ethics) in the second wave, as the writers of that period took some advantage of the advent of neomodernism. A landmark date is considered 1971 (July thesis). From now on, entire collective volumes are dedicated to... Ceaușescu (also, in the 1980s, most books had on the first page after the book cover the same photograph of Ceaușescu), while individual volumes were usually required to have "luminous" poems in the beginning ("luminous" meaning Party-friendly). There were a few banned and melt books in this period too, but, generally, aesthetic writers could still publish volumes (unlike between 1948 and 1960-64, when socialist realism was compulsory). Ion Crânguleanu, Platon Pardău, Petre Ghelmez and Violeta Zamfirescu are among the "champions" of this period, when there was a stark contrast between those who were priviledged and those who were merely tolerated, but had less and less advantages. Individual debuts were less and less allowed and there were more and more collective debuts in the 1980s, while old and younger socialist realists continued to get published in ridiculously many volumes and anthologies. However, most critics still placed in the center of the canon the likes of Nichita Stănescu, Ana Blandiana or Marin Sorescu.

Obsedantul deceniuEdit

See main article: Obsedantul deceniu.

After the Communist leader changed in 1965, novels about the excesses of the "obsessive decade" (1948-1964) have started to appeared, most notably the second volume of Moromeții by Marin Preda. Literary critics criticising the former socialist realist canon were, for a long time, rather shy; after 1989, most of them negate it completely, though some had written positive reviews during Communism.

Some critics have tried to state that post-war literature was a "Sahara" and that true literature lied in the so-called "drawer literature" and the texts of exiled writers. Ironically, it turned out that the "drawer" is nearly empty (with a few notable exceptions such as Adio, Europa! by I.D. Sârbu) and that some of the writers in exile were less cutting-edge even than the writers who remained in Communist Romania... There was (and still is until today) a vaguely organized witch hunt which tried to find socialist realist poems of every poet considered important, ignoring the fact that the likes of Gellu Naum or Nichita Stănescu could not really get attention without any sort of compromises. This witch hunt ignored certain aspects, such as the biographical subtext of the authors (for instance, Gellu Naum could not take up any job other than translating and for that a typewriter was required, which in turn did not allow him to not publish at all) or the importance (after all) of the aesthetic criteria. It is almost agreed upon though that the quality of works after socialist realism of poets such as Nina Cassian, Dan Deșliu or Maria Banuș rarely manage to compensate the damage they had previously done.

Writers associated with first waveEdit

-- Note: From Marin Preda, Nicolae Labiș and Steaua poets to Nichita Stănescu and Ana Blandiana, most (if not all) published writers of the transitional period (from socialist realism to neomodernism) had at least a few texts "on the line" (there were cases such as that of Nichita Stănescu, whose first published poem, the unusually oneiric Ardea spitalul, was allowed to appear as the editors changed its title to 1907, just as the 1907 peasant uprising was celebrated[4]). Authentic cases of writers who manage to be published without such compromises begin to appear towards the second half of the 1960's: confirmed examples of "clean" writers include Virgil Mazilescu, Dumitru Țepeneag or Vasile Vlad. However, even when they were allowed to be published, critics were often discouraged from writing positive reviews, while awards and priviledges were usually secured for a handful of writers. After Vasile Vlad publishes his debut volume Pedepsele without having published any poem in magazines beforehand (extremely rare if not unique for that time), controversies surged as the student magazine Amfiteatru (slightly unconformist from its beginnings) decide to award him[5]. Sebastian Reichmann was the subject of attacks by Eugen Barbu not when his neo-surrealist volume Geraldine was published, but right after Ion Negoițescu wrote a rave review on the book.

Writers associated with second wave (Ceaușescu)Edit

Some also include here Adrian Păunescu for his controversial Cenaclul Flacăra and for his "patriotic" poems. Several of the original socialist realists, such as Mihai Beniuc, are still very active in this period.

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