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Bronshteyn, Yashe

(1897–1937), Yiddish literary critic. Born in Belsk, Belorussia, Yashe Bronshteyn lived in Warsaw from 1914 to 1918 and went to Russia in 1919 to fight as a Red Army soldier. In 1921 he lived in Orel and worked for the local Russian newspaper Orlovskaia pravda. In the early 1920s he studied in Kiev, where he headed a commune of young Jewish workers and wrote some unremarkable poems.

In 1925 Bronshteyn joined the Communist Party, graduated from the Second Moscow University (in 1930 he also graduated from the Communist Academy), and was dispatched to Minsk as a representative of the Yiddish section of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. Other members of the Yiddish section were Avrom Vevyorke, Arn Kushnirov, and Yoysef Rabin. Bronshteyn played a key role in creating a stronghold for Yiddish proletarian literature in Minsk with the new journal Shtern as its forum. He was a fellow at the Institute of Literature and Arts of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences between 1930 and 1937, and a professor at Minsk University from 1932.

Bronshteyn considered Yiddish literature to be a weapon of mass Communist propaganda and was little interested in continuing prerevolutionary cultural traditions, although he was ready to recognize the influence of American Yiddish sweatshop poets on proletarian literature. He excelled in critical bloodthirstiness, rising eventually to the high position of secretary of the Belorussian Writers Union (1932–1937), and attacking both Yiddish and Belorussian nonproletarian writers such as Der Nister and Lukhash Kaliuha. As a pan-Belorussian critic, he wrote in such Moscow periodicals as Pravda and Literaturnaia gazeta. His article “The Literature of the White Russian Socialist Soviet Republic” was published in English in Literature of the Peoples of the USSR (nos. 7–8 [1934]: 63–66).

Bronshteyn and his fellow Minsk critics, most notably Khatskl Dunets, attempted to end the “petty-bourgeois” dominance in Soviet Yiddish literature by the group of Yiddish literati who had matured in Kiev during the 1910s and had consolidated between 1924 and 1933 around the journal Di royte velt. One target of such attacks was Moyshe Litvakov, editor of the Moscow Yiddish daily Der emes. The tone of the Minsk group’s polemics became so bitter that in May 1930 Bronshteyn and his colleagues were censured by the All-Union Association of Proletarian Writers.

In 1934, Bronshteyn addressed the First Congress of Soviet Writers as a general theoretician of socialist realism. He had previously pioneered a discussion on this topic in the Yiddish press. Now he identified a new phenomenon in Soviet literary life, calling it “creative self-criticism,” or “autocritique” by writers whose works used to be crowded with reactionary characters. Following the method of creative self-criticism, these writers were now creating new works, using merciless criticism to shake themselves from what they regarded as their old errors.

Dovid Bergelson’s novel Baym Dnyeper (At the Dnieper; 1932) was, according to Bronshteyn, a striking example of such self-purification in Yiddish literature. Another example was Moyshe Kulbak’s long poem Disner Tsharld Harold (Childe Harold of the Desna; 1933), depicting two different Berlin worlds: of the struggling proletarians, and of the inhabitants of decaying bourgeois neighborhoods. Bronshteyn praised Kulbak’s break with the past, demonstrated in this poem, “which was directed against the emptiness and futility of Jewish bohemianism of the petty-bourgeois decadents who collected their ‘spiritual treasures’ in the backyards of European culture” (Bronshteyn, op cit. [1934], p. 65).

Bronshteyn was given the chair of Yiddish literature and language at Minsk University in 1936, but the following year, during the Stalinist purges, his critics attacked him as a disguised “nationalist.” In a black farcical finale, he and Dunets were executed for their alleged membership in a counterrevolutionary organization led by Litvakov.

Bronshteyn’s most significant articles are collected in the books Atake (Attack; 1931), Problemen fun leninishn etap in literatur-kentenish (Questions of the Leninist Period in Literary Criticism; 1932), Farfestikte pozitsyes (Strengthened Positions; 1934—it contains inter alia his 1930 historical and literary study on Avraham Uri Kovner), and Sheferishe problemen fun der yidisher poezye (Creative Problems of Yiddish Poetry; 1936).

Suggested Reading

Mikhail Krutikov and Viacheslav Selemenev, “Yasha Bronshteyn and His Struggle for Control over Soviet Yiddish Literature,” Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe 1 (2003): 175–190; A. V. Mal’dzis, ed., Belaruskiia pis’menniki, vol. 6, pp. 302–304 (Minsk, 1995); Ber Orshanski, Di yidishe literatur in Vaysrusland nokh der revolutsye (Minsk, 1931).