Painting Against Empire: Béla Uitz and the Birth and Fate of Internationalist Socialist Realism
This article describes the significance of the Hungarian-Soviet artist Béla Uitz’s contribution to the definition of Socialist Realism through the development of a style of anti-imperialist painting based on national form that I call Internationalist Socialist Realism. Relying on previously unpublished archival documents, articles from the Soviet press, and analyses of artworks themselves, the manuscript shows specifically how Uitz developed his internationalist style through transnational encounters with leftist activists in Paris and avant-garde artists in Soviet Ukraine. It also shows how the artist used his position as a policy maker in the Soviet cultural administration to create a platform for the exploration of the role of national form in Soviet art known as the International Bureau of Revolutionary Artists (MBRKh) and how he used that platform to ensure that Internationalist Socialist Realism became a key component of the official style of visual representation in the early 1930s. The manuscript further demonstrates that while the Soviet state’s turn to Russocentrism and Slavocentrism in the late 1930s denuded Internationalist Socialist Realism of many of its radically collectivist, anti-imperial elements, the cultural apparatus accepted Uitz’s core idea that the tactile connection between the human body and the affective materiality of national forms could help catalyze political change and establish connections between different peoples. The manuscript shows that changes in representations of national form in Socialist Realism over time can reveal valuable new insight into the politics of Soviet culture, both during and beyond Stalinism.