The framework for this article is the dynamic of what Kris Manjapra has called in his article “Communist Internationalism and Transcolonial Recognition,” in the collection Cosmopolitan Thought Zones, “the socialist global ecumene,” or more specifically of the “transcolonial ecumene” formed within it. Manjapra means by this term an “ecumene” in the modern sense of a far-flung or world wide community of people committed to a single cause and engaged in discussions, lobbying, and writing aimed at working toward a common program, at generating a common discourse. In Manjapra’s somewhat idealized account, this ecumene involves not relations between powerful centers and their dependencies but rather lateral connections of the world wide like-minded. In generating this discourse, literature, so much more valued in earlier decades, but especially in the 1930s, played a major role.1
Here I am applying Manjapra’s model to the case of a putative, or would-be, Moscow-oriented ecumene of leftists, which was most active in the 1930s. Some intellectuals were members by dint of some communist affiliation, while others, though they might toy with Marxist ideas, were not interested in affiliation but participated in networks or publishing ventures that were committed to some core common values. There was, then, a lot of lateral connection among its members, but Moscow, and more specifically the Comintern, played an important role in fostering and mustering what they hoped would become an ecumene of those committed to socialism, [End Page 63] antifascism or the struggle against imperialism, and generally to a nexus of all three. My article aims to complicate both the vertical and the horizontal models for the functioning of the ecumene by suggesting that to some extent it functioned in both directions and not always in unilinear fashion. It also shows that the ecumene did not operate in an intellectual silo but overlapped and interacted with other, contiguous “thought zones.”
In looking at this dynamic, my focus is on writers, because they more than any other category were most engaged in developing a common discourse. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, in the Soviet Union (and by no means uniquely) during the 1930s a close symbiotic relationship between literature and culture was at the heart of official culture, and the government accorded literature and writers a particularly privileged place in its society.2 A similar attitude inflected its activities abroad. A great deal was invested in fostering an international community of writers who might look to Moscow as their metropole: a series of international conferences of writers was organized (Moscow 1927, Khar´kov 1930, and, effectively, Paris 1935 and Valencia—Madrid—Barcelona—Paris, July 1937); writers’ organizations affiliated with central bodies established at these congresses were set up in many countries; and the Soviet Union began to publish a journal, eventually titled Internatsional´naia literatura, which after the Khar´kov conference appeared in semi-parallel versions in English, French, German, and for a time Chinese and Spanish.3 Much of this international activity in literature was fostered by the Comintern, though after the Paris Congress of 1935 it was on the Soviet end run by the Foreign Commission of the Writers’ Union, if by much the same cast of characters. Such bodies and publications facilitated the development of multinational networks of writers who continued to associate for decades, while other Comintern institutions, such as the international section of the Communist University for the Toilers of the East (KUTV) also fostered such networks among their alumni who were writers.
One should not just dismiss the ecumene as yet another example of an insidious Soviet imperialism with the foreign participants as unwitting pawns. In the 1930s when the Soviet Union was a patron of anticolonialist movements and one of the few governments actively standing up to fascism, it attracted to its various noncommunist but Moscow-oriented literary organizations large numbers of leftists who were, given this orientation, also [End Page 64] confronted by the possibility of buying in, to some degree at least, to the new Soviet literary “method” of Socialist Realism, purveyed at the time as an alternative to Modernism; they were swept up in a wave of the 1930s that was meant...