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Rootless cosmopolitan (Russian language: безродный космополит, "bezrodnyi kosmopolit") was a term used during the anti-cosmopolitan campaign in the Soviet Union after WWII. Cosmopolitans were intellectuals who were accused of expressing pro-Western feelings and lack of patriotism. The term "rootless cosmopolitan" is considered to specifically refer to Jewish intellectuals. It first appeared during the campaign in a Pravda article condemning a group of theatrical critics, but was originally coined by the Russian nineteenth-century literary critic Vissarion Belinsky to describe writers who lacked national character.
In 1943 a new propaganda campaign of Russian patriotism began, with many well-known writers, composers and artists writing articles about patriotism in literature and the arts. At the same time the worship of foreign culture, which was defined as cosmopolitanism, was denounced. The famous Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg wrote:
We know that art is connected with the land, with its salt, with its smell, that outside of national culture there is no art. Cosmopolitanism - a world in which things lose their color and form, and words lose their significance. We love in our past all that we consider native, wonderful and fair.
By the end of WWII, a new ideological orientation was taking shape. Instead of Reds and Whites, the population of the Soviet Union would be divided into patriots and cosmopolitans, which at that time was a euphemism for nationalists and separatists in the Western part of the country, and those who advocated for the rights of the Soviet republics.
Stalin, in a meeting with Soviet intelligentsia in 1946, voiced his concerns about recent developments in Soviet culture, which later would materialize in the "battle against cosmopolitanism."
Recently, a dangerous tendency seems to be seen in some of the literary works emanating under the pernicious influence of the West and brought about by the subversive activities of the foreign intelligence. Frequently in the pages of Soviet literary journals works are found where Soviet people, builders of communism are shown in pathetic and ludicrous forms. The positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded. In the theater it seems that Soviet plays are pushed aside by plays from foreign bourgeois authors. The same thing is starting to happen in Soviet films.
In 1946 and 1947 the new campaign against cosmopolitanism affected Soviet scientists, such as the famous physicist Pyotr Kapitsa and the president of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences, Anton Zhebrak. They along with other scientists were denounced for contacts with their Western colleagues and support for "bourgeois science."
In 1947 many literary critics were accused of kneeling before the West, anti-patriotism and cosmopolitanism. For example, the campaign targeted those who studied the works of Aleksandr Veselovsky, the founder of Russian comparative literature, which was described as a "bourgeois cosmopolitan direction in literary criticism."
"About one anti-patriotic group of theater critics"
A new stage of the campaign opened on January 28, 1949, when an article entitled "About one anti-patriotic group of theater critics" appeared in the newspaper Pravda, an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party:
An anti-patriotic group has developed in theatrical criticism. It consists of followers of bourgeois aestheticism. They penetrate our press and operate most freely in the pages of the magazine, Teatr, and the newspaper, Sovetskoe iskusstvo. These critics have lost their sense of responsibility to the people. They represent a rootless cosmopolitanism which is deeply repulsive and inimical to Soviet man. They obstruct the development of Soviet literature; the feeling of national Soviet pride is alien to them.
Russian historian Yuri Zhukov traces the campaign back to mid-November 1948, when Georgy Malenkov, head of ideology in the Central Committee, received a letter from the Komsomol, which complained about the low attendance rates for Soviet theaters. Malenkov tasked the Department of Agitation and Propaganda (Agitprop) headed by Dmitry Shepilov to look into the matter and formulate suggestions for the Central Committee. Agitprop officials turned to a group of theatrical critics for help with reporting on the issue. At a conference of critics and playwrights at the end of November 1948, recent plays of Moscow's theaters were attacked by one of the critics, Aleksandr Borshchagovsky, who was too arrogant and confident in his criticism. This made the playwrights realize that Agitprop was after them and they acted quickly. They admitted that there were mistakes made by theaters, but placed the blame on the critics. The playwrights hinted at the nationality of most of the critics by pronouncing their names in a certain way, and accused them of aestheticism and formalism, which were considered attributes of cosmopolitanism. The critics were now themselves the accused. In December 1948 the Union of Soviet Writers requested Malenkov's approval for publishing in Pravda the resolution of their recent plenum, which contained strong criticism of the theatrical critics. Shepilov and the Agitprop officials sought to prevent this and criticized the writers' union for shifting the blame on the critics; they asked Malenkov to have their own article published. Malenkov had to choose what side to support, the Union of Soviet Writers and the Committee for Culture or Agitprop and the critics. In the end, he chose to support the writers' union and the cultural committee. After learning about the decision of his boss, Shepilov completely changed his position and sent a note to Malenkov condemning the critics.
The article about the critics was published in Pravda and triggered a campaign that soon turned into a witch hunt. It was often enough for someone to have a non-Russian name to be accused of cosmopolitanism, and the campaign developed an anti-Semitic character. It soon spread to most cultural unions and organizations, and also to scientific institutions.
The campaign included a crusade in the state-controlled mass media to expose literary pseudonyms, which were used by many Jews, by putting real names in parenthesis. However, Stalin is said to have spoken against this and the practice of revealing pseudonyms stopped.
Results of the campaign
Those condemned for cosmopolitanism were given warnings, lost their bureaucratic posts, and/or were dismissed from professional organizations like the writers' union. A more severe punishment was being fired from work or being expelled from the communist party, which left the person open for arrest.
The whole anti-cosmopolitan campaign started dwindling down in April 1949, as it became more and more absurd. Preference was given to patriotism in everything, for example, even "French" buns were renamed to "urban." The general population was not interested in the struggles among the intelligentsia.
The authors who felt victorious after the campaign against the cosmopolitan critics soon found themselves heavily criticized once again, as the flaws of their plays were pointed out in reviews.
- Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public
- Jewish Autonomous Oblast
- Soviet Anti-Zionism
- Slánský trial
- World citizen
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- http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cerh20/17/3 "Cosmopolitanism: The End of Jewishness?" Michael L. Miller and Scott Ury in European Review of History, 17:3, 2010, pp. 337–359.
- Michael L. Miller and Scott Ury, eds., Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and the Jews of East Central Europe. ISBN 978-1138018525