Cultural Bolshevism

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Cultural Bolshevism, (German:Kulturbolschewismus),[1] was a term widely used during the Third Reich by critics to denounce modernism in the arts, particularly when seeking to discredit more nihilistic forms of expression. As many modernists embraced Marxism while rejecting traditional values, cultural Bolshevism and the similarly pejorative term "cultural Marxism" took on political overtones. This became an issue during the 1920s in Weimar Germany. German artists such as Max Ernst and Max Beckmann, were denounced by the Nazis as "cultural Bolsheviks".

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The October Revolution in Russia brought to the forefront a wide array of independent artists. These established the Proletkult organization that sought to create a new approach to art outside of capitalist assumptions. Artists in western Europe as well drew inspiration from revolutionary ideals, to the extent that Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck confidently declared in 1920 that Dada was a "German Bolshevist affair."

The association of new art with Bolshevism circulated in right-wing discourse in the following years; it was, for example, the subject of a chapter in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Amid Hitler's rise to power the Nazis denounced a number of contemporary styles as "cultural Bolshevism," notably abstract art and Bauhaus architecture. After seeing a colleague beaten by Nazi supporters for comments sympathetic to modern art, typographer Paul Renner published an essay against Nazi aesthetics titled "Kulturbolschewismus?" Around the same time, Carl von Ossietzky mocked the flexibility of the term in Nazi writings:

Cultural Bolshevism is when conductor Klemperer takes tempi different from his colleague Furtwängler; when a painter sweeps a color into his sunset not seen in Lower Pomerania; when one favors birth control; when one builds a house with a flat roof; when a Caesarean birth is shown on the screen; when one admires the performance of Charlie Chaplin and the mathematical wizardry of Albert Einstein. This is called cultural Bolshevism and a personal favor rendered to Mr. Stalin.

Once in control of the government, the Nazis moved to suppress modern art styles and to promote art with national and racial themes. Various Weimar-era art personalities, including Huelsenbeck, Renner and the Bauhaus designers, were marginalized.

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