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I just looked up "formalism" in Norman Lebrecht's "The Companion to 20th Century Music" (I know he has a dodgy reputation with some but I always find him an entertaining read).
formalism Meaningless term that Stalin coined to define music he did not like. It became an article of Soviet cold-war cultural policy.
To be fair, the term actually did have a definition: music that depends only on external "formal" criteria for its value and plays with these to the exclusion of what is heard by the broad listening public.

It's just that, like the word "atonal", in practice this definition was applied to any music the definer didn't like, rather than actually being literal.
 
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