SR was a Soviet doctrine on the creation of art, which was implemented in 1932 by the CPSU in the run-up to the first All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. It was proclaimed for music after the Second World War at the All-Union Congress of Composers and Musicologists in 1948 and it was subsequently disseminated within the Soviet sphere of influence. Despite the use of the word “realism”, there is no conceptual or factual connection to the critical realism of Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) or Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), since SR was explicitly neither a poetic nor an aesthetic, but a method.
The doctrine comprised a bundle of principles/rules which artworks in the Soviet Union (SU) had to adhere to in the service of building a new society and forming the socialist 'new man'. The principles of SR included, partisanship, optimism, nationalism, orientation towards the people and the classics, combined with hostility towards modernity and rejection of the West. Accordingly, the preferred genres of SR music were programme music, cantatas, oratorios and mass songs written to be performed collectively. The doctrine was an invention of the Soviet cultural administration, but it drew upon catchwords already well-established in literary studies, popular education, music ethnology, church music, the lay music movement, the National Schools in Russia and the Classical Avant-garde. Superimposed on these concepts was a negative attitude towards Western, so-called modernist art. Those who, in the eyes of the rulers, violated the rules of SR were accused of formalism, were considered enemies of the people and could be arbitrarily sanctioned with the loss of offices and privileges, banishment, imprisonment, detention in camps and the loss of their lives. In the young Soviet Union, the doctrine of the SR ended the post-revolutionary atmosphere of experimentation and artistic departure that had prevailed under Lenin's first People's Commissioner for Education, Anatoly W. Lunacharsky (1875-1933).
The transfer of the doctrine to states within the Soviet sphere of influence after the Second World War proceeded differently. In Hungary, the implementation of the doctrine was less drastic, probably because of the fact that the parameters “nation”, “tradition” and “people” could also be derived from Béla Bartók's musical thinking. As Tibor Tallián put it, the GDR proved to be the 'saddest barrack' in the Soviet camp also in questions of cultural policy and, in anticipating obedience, was prepared to re-enact the music-political productions of its big brother. Attempt to retroactively develop a musical theory for the Soviet doctrine came to nothing in the GDR and the rest of the Eastern bloc, while Marxist aesthetics and cultural studies were able to establish themselves. Nominally, however, the doctrine remained, albeit completely eroded, an official course until the collapse of the Soviet Union.