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"COSMOPOLITANS ," derogatory term applied in 1949 to Jewish intellectuals in the Soviet Union, at the peak of Russian chauvinism and its struggle against Western influence in Soviet culture and science. The change to a Soviet policy directed against the Jewish people and the State of Israel had in fact begun several months earlier (November 1948) with the arrest of Yiddish writers, the closing of the periodical Einikeyt and the Emes press, and the increasing attacks on Zionism. The campaign against the "cosmopolitans," however, marked the first public attack on Soviet Jews as Jews, and is thus considered as initiating what Soviet Jews call "the Black Years," which lasted until Stalin's death in March 1953.

The campaign against "cosmopolitans" who have no homeland was initiated in articles in the central organs of the Communist Party, in Pravda (January 28, 1949) and Kultura i Zhizn (January 30, 1949). Thereafter, over a period of two months, other Soviet newspapers and periodicals, led by Literaturnaya Gazeta (February 12, 16, 19, 20, and March 9, 1949) published severe attacks against "cosmopolitans" with Jewish names, in the fields of art and literature (Altman, Gurevitch, Levin, Danin, and others), out of all proportion to their real importance in their respective fields. The writers of anti-"cosmopolitans" articles then began to reveal the real names of Jews using pen names, such as Yakovlev (Holzmann), Melnikov (Melman), and Zhdanov (Lifshitz), in an attempt to show that Jews were concealing their identity behind Russian names. The "cosmopolitans" were accused of hatred of the Russian people ("Altman hates anything Russian, anything Soviet") and of insulting the Russian man; of representing the Russians and Ukrainians as turning their backs on the Jews when the Germans were leading them to their death (cf. Golovanivski in his poem "Abraham"); of supporting Zionism; of insulting the memory of great Russian writers by saying that they were influenced by such "cosmopolitans" or chauvinist-reactionary writers as Heine or Bialik (cf. Isbakh in his book "Years of Life"). The wave of attacks subsided in April–May 1949, probably as a result of violent reactions in the West. Anti-Jewish policy did not cease, however, and began to take even more extreme forms in succeeding years. The term "cosmopolitans" was also applied to Jewish intellectuals in other Communist countries at later nonconformist periods.


Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, 23 (1953), 111–4; Filosofskaya Entsiklopediya, 4 (1964), 74–76; S.M. Schwarz, Jews in the Soviet Union (1951), 208–10, 355–60; H.E. Salisbury, Moscow Journal: The End of Stalin (1961), 12, 15, 22–23, 29, 45.

[Benjamin Pinkus]

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