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New International, August 1949


George Fowler

Literary “Discussion” in Russia

In Which We Reprint an Article from Pravda [A]


From The New International, Vol. XV No. 6, August 1949, pp. 186–189.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


[Some Remarks]

The New International’s sister publication, Labor Action, as well as many other newspapers and magazines, have in the recent period been publicizing the current campaign in Russia against any and all international ties and influences, its most shocking form being the Stalinist version of anti-Semitism. The full flavor of the Russians’ diatribes, in their own press, can scarcely be appreciated, however, merely from selected passages.

It is for this reason that the article which follows, translated from the Russian cultural press, may be of interest.

The article, which provides additional information in regard to the campaign mentioned, was published in the Russian newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta of February 12, 1949. (Literaturnaya Gazeta is the official organ of the administration of the Union of Soviet Writers of the USSR.) In addition, that issue of the Literaturnaya Gazeta also contained four other articles on the same theme; the article printed below was no isolated phenomenon. (The other articles were: Love for the Motherland – Hate for the Cosmopolitans, Living Corpses, Raise Higher the Banner of Soviet Patriotism, and Against the Anti-Patriotic Critics.)

This article is especially interesting, however, because its author has made it most clear that the term “cosmopolitan” refers to Jewish writers and critics. Thus he states that the cosmopolitan-objectivist views of the authors of articles on a list of writers to be treated in a coming edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia are especially manifested by their treatment of Jewish literature.

In addition, they are accused of giving Jewish literature as much space as Uzbek, Cossack, and Georgian literature taken together. It must be pointed out that the Uzbeks, the Cossacks, and, to a lesser degree, the Georgians had no modern literature at all until very recently, so that their literature consists mostly of a number of epics, folk tales, etc., whereas there has been a very great volume of Jewish literature in the past two hundred years. The overtone of this remark by the author of the article is evidently that the coming edition of the encyclopedia should play down Jewish literature.

In addition, the cosmopolitan tendencies of the critics under fire are manifested, according to the Stalinist hack, by their lackey-like desire to ingratiate themselves with the cunning businessmen of America, Palestine and other countries. All of these criticisms, together with the way in which they are expressed, highlight the anti-Semitic overtones of the current campaign.

This article reveals a great deal about the cultural life of Stalinist Russia, in addition to its anti-Semitic features. First of all, it is assumed without question that the party is to initiate the only standards for literature, and that all other standards are automatically incorrect.

Indeed, the author of the article, E. Kovalchik, assumes that he has struck a telling blow against the “cosmopolitans” if he can show that they have run afoul of party standards, that the party has criticized them, that they lack a feeling of “partinost.” (This is a word for which no exact equivalent exists in English; it is one of the recent “socialist” accomplishments in the Russian vocabulary. It expresses the idea of responsibility toward the party, loyalty to the party, and the acceptance of the predominance of the party.) A final squelcher is the charge that their statements contradict the remarks of that noted literary figure (and probable sometime expert in genetics), V.M. Molotov.

In the second place, one should note the criticism of individualism in writing. The fact that F. Levin, a critic, praised the work of certain men because they showed such an individual style of writing, that the authorship of their writing could be recognized without looking at the signature – this praise provides grounds for his criticism. The idea seems to be that literature is not to serve as a means of individual self-expression.

Here Stalinism certainly shows itself to be a unique and original phenomenon in the history of modern times at least. Where else could an author be criticized for developing an original style of writing?

Finally, there is the language used, a language which has a special significance in Russia. We do not refer here only to such terms as “cosmopolitan,” “rootless,” etc., which have a specific anti-Semitic overtone, but rather to the more common language of Stalinist literary criticism.

Thus the authors whose work is being criticized are being “unmasked,” that is, their “pernicious tricks and snares” are being unmasked. The critic disagrees with them, and claims that they have run afoul of the party standard in literature. Consequently men whose writing is considered to be poor do not suffer from a lack of “sensitivity,” or from “poor character portrayal” or “poor imagery,” etc.; they are rather accused of being “diversionaries,” “disrupters,” “rotten,” “decadent,” “pernicious,” etc.

The special significance of this language is that it is the language in which accusations of political treason, the most serious crime in Stalinist Russia, are framed. The reader must keep in mind that this language appears not in Pravda or Izvestia but in what is supposed to be primarily a literary publication.

This is a manifestation of social relations in Russia and the ideology which has developed from them. The single party controls the state and makes its ideology supreme and monolithic. Since opponents of the regime know they will not be tolerated if, they speak openly, they must, of course, try to mask their opposition. It is this ideology, which he has absorbed so thoroughly, that enables E. Kovalchik to speak of his own activity as “unmasking” and to speak of the activity of those who have deviated ever so slightly from the norm, or who have not deviated but whom the party wishes to attack for its own reasons, as “diversionistic” and “disruptive.”

All of this is by no means new to those who have followed the degeneration of Stalinism. But only Kovalchik himself can convey the full impact of what “literary discussion” means under totalitarianism.

George Fowler


[A Reprint]

The articles in the party press on theatrical criticism are a new manifestation of the constant concern of the party for the future of Soviet art and literature.

The pernicious activity of the anti-patriotic group of theatrical critics has been given an exhaustive political evaluation. Now the many cynical tricks of these critics, their tactics and methods and the harm they have wrought in their attempts to distract dramatists and theatres from the party position on art, have become clear.

Anti-patriotic tendencies have appeared not only in theatrical but also in literary criticism.

L. Subotsky, the former secretary of the administration of the Union of Writers, was the original “leader” of the group of anti-patriotic literary critics. There he accused our foremost writers of “chauvinistic patriotism” [1], an accusation which appears to be the most harmful fabrication of the cosmopolitans, calculated to weaken the blow against cosmopolitanism. Literatumaya Gazeta has in its time unmasked a whole series of bourgeois-cosmopolitan publications of L. Subotsky. One of his “followers,” the critic B. Dairedzhiev in an article for the symposium In Memory of Belinsky, also tried to prove that there is a danger in contemporary Soviet literature of “chauvinistic patriotism.”

The editing of the symposium In Memory of Belinsky is a highly responsible task. But the editor of the symposium, the cosmopolitan critic F. Levin, in preparing it for publication, approved a whole series of cosmopolitan, esthetic articles.

An Example of Diversionary Work

F. Levin has for a long time been known for his rotten position in criticism. During the last period he has especially increased his disruptive activities. While working in the apparatus of the Union of Writers (Commission on Criticism), F. Levin taught the critics, playing the role of a “mentor.” Here is an example of his diversionary “work.” In December of 1947, speaking at a conference of critics who had come from the provinces, F. Levin presented as a model to those who had assembled – Yuzovsky and Gurvich. He was not sparing in his praise for these esthetes who have, said he, “a clearly expressed personality,” and “whose articles can be recognized without signature.” He extolled the “special elegance of phrase” of these critics, “the special sharp-wittedness with which their thoughts are expressed.” F. Levin showed himself to be the zealous defender of the nonsensical and lying legend that these impudent esthetes have a special right to be the only judges of our art. Levin treated party literary criticism as if it were only annotational and dull.

The critic, D. Danin, who stubbornly strives to silence and trample down everything new and progressive in our poetry, takes a formalistic esthetic position. In what is for him a programmatical article, “... Passion, struggle, action!” (Novy Mir, No. 10, 1948) esthete and cosmopolitan Danin comes forward as an apologist of “dramatism,” only in order to inculcate our poets with decadent tendencies toward what is detrimental and disruptive.

The cynical, impudent activity of B. Yakovlev (Holtzman) who tried to drag into the pages of the Novy Mir [Russian literary magazine – G.F.] a pernicious anti-patriotic article has deep indignation. B. Holtzman calumniates in it all the achievements of our literature. Masking himself with concern for the future of Soviet art, indeed using such phrases as “the duty of Soviet writers,” “Soviet literature ought to . . .,” this “critic” is anxious to show that we have no literature, in an attempt to refute the high evaluation of the condition of Soviet literature which was given by Comrade V.M. Molotov in his report on the 31st anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The liquidationist positions of Yakovlev (Holtzman) coincide with the positions of the long-ago unmasked partisans of “a literature of fact,” of the formalists and esthetes. Thus, for example, he accuses Soviet literature of “not saying anything about the tens and hundreds of thousands of Soviet workers.” In this itself, he ignores the powerful method of socialist realism, its capacity for deep generalization and wide typification. B. Holtzman utilizes widely the worn-out method of accusing Soviet literature of “a stencil-like quality” and a “rubber-stamp-like quality,” of the “absence of sharp conflicts,” in an attempt to discredit our literature.

Abominable Manifestation of Cosmopolitanism

Where there are no real ideological standards, where apologetic attitudes rule, there the most abominable and wildest manifestations of cosmopolitanism inevitably show themselves. The draft of the list of names (glossary) for the second edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, distributed for discussion sometime ago, can serve as an example.

Those who drew up this list in the division of Literature of the Peoples of the USSR have permitted lamentable mistakes, which can only call forth deep indignation. The names of the poets of the revolution of 1905 are missing from this list – Eugene Tarassov, Radin, Nechaev and other workers’ poets are absent. However, the emigrants and open enemies of the October Revolution – Merezhkovsky, Gippius, Balmont, Averchenko and full-blown counter-revolutionary B. Savinkov are widely represented. Because of a strange “objectivity” the authors of the list intend to propagandize for these dregs of literature and to present to the reader this whole selection of names of venal betrayers of the motherland, enemies of the Soviet people. The authors of the list have not neglected to mention among the names of critics and literary figures the name of the frivolous reactionary, Aichenwald. A strange attitude of apology has forced the authors of the list to commemorate all these enemies of the revolution from Merezhkovsky and Savinkov to Taffy, and to give them a place in the encyclopedia at the expense of the names of writers dear to the memory of the people.

The cosmopolitan, objectivist views of the authors of this list are especially shown by their treatment of Jewish literature, by the names they have included in this division. The authors have attached the completely “curious” footnote: “This list includes all Jewish literature.” Contemporary Jewish literature in the list occupies as much space as Uzbek, Cossack and Georgian literature taken together.

Criticizing Literature Forward

The authors of the list jeer at the principle of the party, at the feeling of Soviet patriotism. They take “all Jewish literature” without distinction as to country or governmental system, dragging out cosmopolitan bourgeois-nationalistic notions, playing into the hands of enemies of our motherland concerning the so-called existence of a “worldwide” Jewish literature. In their list Soviet writers stand side by side with the cunning contemporary businessmen of America, Palestine and other countries. It is impossible to call this “conception” anything else but a lackey-like crawling before inimical bourgeois-nationalist theories.

In order for our literature and criticism to develop successfully, it is necessary to unmask to the end all manifestations of bourgeois cosmopolitanism, of estheticism and of formalism.

Soviet literature in the best of its productions displays the life-creating force of Soviet patriotism, the labor feats of our people. A deeply principled and truly party criticism, stemming from the interests of the Soviet people, must help our literature in its forward movement.



1. “Chauvinistic patriotism” – The original Russian reads “kvasniy patriotizm,” which means literally patriotism of kvass. Kvass in czarist and old Russian times was the national drink of the Russian people. The term “kvasniy patriotizm” arose in the nineteenth century with reference to those chauvinists who expressed their Russian patriotism by a preference for Russian customs and ways down to the last detail, even to the drinking of kvass in preference to Western European drinks. It thus came io refer to the most backward and chauvinistic elements in Russian life, who refused to adopt any of the social, political and philosophical ideas of Western Europe because they were not in keeping with Russian traditions. The concept of “one hundred per cent American” is the closest equivalent we have in this country.


Note by ETOL

A. As is clear from the text, the article is actually from Literaturnaya Gazeta.

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