Anti-cosmopolitan campaign

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The anti-cosmopolitan campaign (Russian: Борьба с космополитизмом, Bor'ba s kosmopolitizmom) was an anti-Western campaign in the Soviet Union which began in late 1948[1] and has been widely described as a thinly disguised antisemitic purge.[1][2][3][4] A large number of Jews were persecuted as Zionists or rootless cosmopolitans.


Joseph Stalin

After World War II, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) grew increasingly influential to the post-Holocaust Soviet Jewry, and was accepted as its representative in the West. As its activities sometimes contradicted official Soviet policies (see The Black Book of Soviet Jewry as an example), it became a nuisance to Soviet authorities. The Central Auditing Commission of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union concluded that instead of focusing its attention on the "struggle against forces of international reaction", the JAC continued the line of the Bund—a dangerous designation, since former Bund members were to be "purged".

During a meeting with Soviet intelligentsia in 1946, Stalin voiced his concerns about recent developments in Soviet culture, which later would materialize in the "battle against cosmopolitanism" (see Zhdanov Doctrine).

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.[5]

In 1946 and 1947, the new campaign against cosmopolitanism affected Soviet scientists, such as the physicist Pyotr Kapitsa and the president of the Academy of Sciences of the Byelorussian SSR, Anton Romanovich Zhebrak, neither of whom were Jewish. They along with other scientists were denounced for contacts with their Western colleagues and support for "bourgeois science".[6]

In 1947, many literary critics were accused of "kneeling before the West" ("низкопоклонство перед западом", also "идолопоклонство перед западом", "idolatry of the West", "idolization of the West"), as well as anti-patriotism and cosmopolitanism. For example, the campaign targeted those who studied the works of Alexander Veselovsky, the founder of Russian comparative literature, which was described as a "bourgeois cosmopolitan direction in literary criticism".[7]

Soviet Union[edit]

In January 1948, the JAC's head, the popular actor and world-famous public figure Solomon Mikhoels, was killed; his murder was framed as a car accident where a truck ran over him as he was taking a walk on a narrow road.[8] This was followed by eventual arrests of JAC's members and its termination.

The USSR voted for the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and in May 1948, it recognized the establishment of the state of Israel there, subsequently supporting it with weapons (via Czechoslovakia, in defiance of the embargo) in the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. Many Soviet Jews felt inspired and sympathetic towards Israel and sent thousands of letters to the (still formally existing) JAC with offers to contribute to or even volunteer for Israel's defence.

In September 1948, the first Israeli ambassador to the USSR, Golda Meir, arrived in Moscow. Huge enthusiastic crowds (estimated 50,000) gathered along her path and in and around Moscow synagogue when she attended it for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. These events corresponded in time with a visible upsurge of Russian nationalism orchestrated by official propaganda, the increasingly hostile Cold War and the realization by the Soviet leadership that Israel had chosen the Western option. Domestically, Soviet Jews were being considered a security liability for their international connections, especially to the United States, and growing national awareness.

With the United States becoming the opponent of the Soviet Union by the end of 1948, the USSR switched sides in the Arab–Israeli conflict and began supporting the Arabs against Israel, first politically and later also militarily. For his part David Ben-Gurion declared support for the United States in the Korean War, despite opposition from left-wing Israeli parties. From 1950 on, Israeli–Soviet relations were an inextricable part of the Cold War—with ominous implications for Soviet Jews supporting Israel, or perceived as supporting it.

A new stage of the campaign opened on January 28, 1949, when an article entitled "About one anti-patriotic group of theatre 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.[9]

The campaign included a crusade in the state-controlled mass media to expose literary pseudonyms of Jewish writers by putting their real names in parentheses in order to reveal to the public that they were ethnic Jews.[10][11]

Thirteen Soviet Jewish poets and writers, five of them members of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, were executed in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow on August 12, 1952.[12]

Historian Benjamin Pinkus has written that the campaign was not initially antisemitic, and "that certain Jews took an active part in the anti-cosmopolitanism campaign”. However, Jews were disproportionately targeted in terms of the "frequency of denunciations", "intensity of attacks", and the severity of sanctions. He concludes " is no longer possible to doubt the anti-cosmopolitan campaign had acquired a totally Jewish character", and posits several reasons supporting "the view that the anti-cosmopolitan campaign became an out-and-out anti-Jewish campaign".[13]

Czechoslovak Minister of Information and Culture, Václav Kopecký, was known for his diatribes in which he criticized Jews for their alleged Zionism and cosmopolitanism.[14] In December 1951, Kopecký claimed that "the great part of people with a Jewish origin" subscribe to "cosmopolitan thinking". According to Kopecký, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was not taking the anti-cosmopolitan campaign seriously enough.[15]


As a result of the campaign, many Soviet Jews were fired from their jobs and Jews were unofficially banned from taking certain jobs. For example, in 1947, Jews constituted 18 per cent of Soviet scientific workers, but by 1970 this number declined to 7 per cent, which was still higher than about 3 to 4 per cent of the total Soviet population at that time they comprised.[16]

Anything Jewish became suppressed by the Soviet authorities. For example, the Yiddish verse sung by Mikhoels was cut out from the famous lullaby sung in turns by persons of different ethnicities in the Soviet classic 1936 movie Circus, restored during destalinization.[17]

American historian Walter Laqueur noted: "When, in the 1950s under Stalin, the Jews of the Soviet Union came under severe attack and scores were executed, it was under the banner of anti-Zionism rather than anti-Semitism, which had been given a bad name by Adolf Hitler."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Norwood, Stephen H. (2013). Antisemitism and the American Far Left. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 162–3. ISBN 978-1-107-03601-7.
  2. ^ Thus Blumenthal (2012: 93) cites “the thinly veiled antisemitic trope of the cosmopolitan” — in Blumenthal, Helaine Debra (2012). Fourteen Convicted, Three Million Condemned: The Slansky Affair and the Reconstitution of Jewish Identities After the Holocaust (PhD thesis). University of California, Berkeley..
  3. ^ Labendz, Jacob Ari (2014). Re-negotiating Czechoslovakia. The State and the Jews in Communist Central Europe: The Czech Lands, 1945-1989. Phd thesis, Washington University (read online) — p.55 (and passim).
  4. ^ Azadovskii & Egorov (2002).
  5. ^ "Stalin On Art and Culture". Northstar Compass. 11 (10). June 2003. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  6. ^ Bibikov, V. (November 1988). "Lysenko Foe Anton Zhebrak Rehabilitated". Science & Technology – USSR: Science & Technology Policy (Report). Foreign Broadcast Information Service. pp. 70–71.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Dobrenko, Evgeny; Tihanov, Galin (2011). A History of Russian Literary Theory and Criticism: The Soviet Age and Beyond. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 171–173. ISBN 978-0-8229-4411-9.
  8. ^ Kostyrchenko, Gennady (October 2003). "«Delo Mikhoelsa»: Novyy Vzglyad" «дело Михоэлса»: Новый Взгляд [Mikhoels Case: A New Look]. Lechaim (in Russian).
  9. ^ Pinkus, Benjamin (1984). The Soviet Government and the Jews 1948–1967: A Documented Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 183–184. ISBN 978-0-521-24713-9 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Ro’i, Yaacov (2010). "Anticosmopolitan Campaign". YIVO Encyclopedia. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  11. ^ Ree, Erik van (2004). The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin: A Study in Twentieth Century Revolutionary Patriotism. New York: Routledge. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-7007-1749-1 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Congress, World Jewish. "World Jewish Congress". World Jewish Congress. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  13. ^ Pinkus, Benjamin (1990). The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority. Cambridge University Press. pp. 152–157.
  14. ^ Frankl, Michal (2008). "Slánský Trial". YIVO Encyclopedia. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  15. ^ Wein, Martin (2015). A History of Czechs and Jews: A Slavic Jerusalem. Routledge. pp. 97, 156, 158. ISBN 978-1-317-60821-9 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Johnson, Paul (1987). The History of the Jews. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  17. ^ "Festival' yevreyskoy temy: o chem na Arbuzz J-Fest rasskazyvali Kolbovskiy, YUzefovich, Fedorchenko i Ulitskaya" Фестиваль еврейской темы: о чем на Arbuzz J-Fest рассказывали Колбовский, Юзефович, Федорченко и Улицкая [Jewish theme festival: what Kolbovsky, Yuzefovich, Fedorchenko and Ulitskaya talked about at Arbuzz J-Fest]. Zima Magazine (in Russian).
  18. ^ Laqueur, Walter (2006). Dying for Jerusalem: the past, present and future of the Holiest City. Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 55. ISBN 1-4022-0632-1.
  19. ^ a b c Rosenfeld (Розенфельд), Boris Abramowitsch (Борис Абрамович) [in German] (2003). "Ob Isaake Moiseyeviche Yaglome" Об Исааке Моисеевиче Ягломе [About Isaac Moiseevich Yaglom]. Мат. просвещение (Mat. enlightenment) (in Russian): 25–28. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved January 12, 2022 – via […] во время антисемитской кампании, известной как «борьба с космополитизмом», был уволен вместе с И.М. Гельфандом и И. С. Градштейном […] [during the antisemitic campaign known as the "fight against cosmopolitanism", he was fired along with I. M. Gelfand and I. S. Gradstein.]
  20. ^ Wolfram, Stephen (October 8, 2005). "The History and Future of Special Functions". Wolfram Technology Conference, Festschrift for Oleg Marichev, in honor of his 60th birthday (speech, blog post). Champaign, IL, USA: Stephen Wolfram, LLC. The story behind Gradshteyn-Ryzhik. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved April 6, 2016. […] Israil Solomonovitch Gradshteyn was born in 1899 in Odessa, and became a professor of mathematics at Moscow State University. But in 1948, he was fired as part of the Soviet attack on Jewish academics. To make money, he wanted to write a book. And so he decided to build on Ryzhik's tables. Apparently he never met Ryzhik. But he created a new edition, and by the third edition, the book was known as Gradshteyn-Ryzhik. […] Gradshteyn died of natural causes in Moscow in 1958. Though somehow there developed an urban legend that one of the authors of Gradshteyn-Ryzhik had been shot as a piece of anti-Semitism on the grounds that an error in their tables had caused an airplane crash. […]

Further reading[edit]