Scholarly article on topic 'From Ideological Literary Criticism to the Educational Status of Literature in the 1950s'

From Ideological Literary Criticism to the Educational Status of Literature in the 1950s Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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{"Educational status" / "literary criticism" / "curricular documents;"}

Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Nicolae Ioana, Simona Marin

Abstract Since it is an important element of the literary text's existence as aesthetic unit, the language of the literary work provides a significant number of arguments for establishing the latter's degree of artistry. Maiorescu's principle of placing aesthetics before ethics, which characterizes Romanian education before 1948, stops working after this date, when literature, both in terms of its creation and of its critical interpretation, is brought under political control and placed in the propagandistic service of the single party. Our paper aims to analyze this change in perspective and the contextual causes that generated it.

Academic research paper on topic "From Ideological Literary Criticism to the Educational Status of Literature in the 1950s"


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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 137 (2014) 112 - 117


From ideological literary criticism to the educational status of

literature in the 1950s

Nicolae Ioana, Simona Marin*

"Dunarea de Jos" University of Galati, Garii Street, 63-65, 800003, Galafi, Romania


Since it is an important element of the literary text's existence as aesthetic unit, the language of the literary work provides a significant number of arguments for establishing the latter's degree of artistry. Maiorescu's principle of placing aesthetics before ethics, which characterizes Romanian education before 1948, stops working after this date, when literature, both in terms of its creation and of its critical interpretation, is brought under political control and placed in the propagandistic service of the single party. Our paper aims to analyze this change in perspective and the contextual causes that generated it. © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection andpeer-review under responsibility of the Sports, Education, Culture-Interdisciplinary Approaches in Scientific Research Conference.

Keywords/Educational status, literary criticism, curricular documents;


The attention paid, in the first communist decade, by the curricular documents and the school textbooks to the matters concerning the language of the literary work is of a varied degree of emphasis, its content changing quickly according to the political and ideological modifications occurring in the age.

The determinations acting on this important aspect of the artistic text come from areas seemingly distant from the field of literature's educational existence. However, we believe that, as surprising as it may sound today, identifying and relating them is absolutely necessary to the understanding of the phenomenon under discussion.

* Corresponding author: Nicolae Ioana. Tel.: +4-0336-130-164 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Sports, Education, Culture-Interdisciplinary Approaches in Scientific

Research Conference.


Literary criticism

Firstly, it is rather evident, especially after 1948, that literature enters, for at least a decade, under political control, and the role reserved for it is almost exclusively that of propaganda instrument mainly directed at the "large masses of the population." We believe that the alphabetization campaign, which is correct and beneficial at its core, is also motivated, from this perspective, by such a reason: to secure or to facilitate the wide access to texts that, especially under the more attractive and emotionally stirring form of literature, could transmit more efficiently the desired ideological message. Or, so that it could be received without difficulty, the language employed in those texts needed to be free of the great decoding challenges which are necessarily entailed by great artistry.

This explains, on the one hand, the promotion and elevation to the status of literary work of texts that are, often, on the minimum acceptable level to justify such a classification. Whether due to the absence of any shade of talent, or because they have it, but they censor their true artistic vocation so as to take advantage of the opportunities of the moment, most of the writers at the time go beyond themselves to satisfy these imperative, after all, demands, to create for the people, for their understanding, in the living and simple language of the popular masses.

On the other hand, even the involuntary slips into more "pretentious" or more specifically expressive areas of language constitute, in the view of the political power and of its cultural commissioners, serious departures from ideology, open to the most severe punitive measures.

The accusation of "cosmopolitism" - paired by that of allegiance to the "decadent" theories on art, indebted to the bourgeois ideology of the West and springing from a hostile attitude towards the interests of the people - is promptly formulated any time the political leaders of culture notice such "unprincipled" and "antiparty" manifestations. There are numerous examples in the press of the day, since the latter was under strict and vigilant political control, of such punitive reactions, but some are particularly significant due to their impact and their discouraging effect. Among them, there is an article by Ovid S. Crohmâlniceanu (1949), where the critic admonishes the lack of talent characterising some short-story writers whose work dealt, without exception, with aspects of the class struggle in Romanian villages and factories. In effect, the critic does nothing else than to point out the lack, sometimes blatant, of artistry characterizing these texts.

Read today, with no knowledge of the political context, the lines of this demonstration seem elementary statements, which would need no particular defence or careful theoretical argumentation.

Although he ably constructs his demonstration, placing it in the essential ideological frame of the moment, in the context of a police-type ideological vigilance, the gesture does not go unnoticed and the forces rapidly engaged in writing an indicting reply are impressive. The case is discussed in a meeting of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers' Party, where the "deviations" of Ovid S. Crohmâlniceanu are severely criticized and are met with most disquieting warnings. On this note, the party's newspaper, Scânteia ("Sa luptam"/"Let's fight", 1949), formulates, shortly after, a true indictment, playing the tune of indignation at the critic's suggestion that only 5% of the young writers "should remain in the field of literature.": "Oricât de revoltâtoare s-ar pârea aceastâ propunere plinâ de dispreî ciocoiesc pentru noile condeie care pâtrund în literatura noastrâ, ea apare în adevârata ei luminâ abia atunci când analizâm mai de aproape care sunt lucrârile criticate cine sunt cei pe care autorul îi socote^te nedemni de a scrie. EXEMPLELE NEGATIVE DATE ÎN ARTICOL SUNT LUATE APROAPE EXCLUSIV DIN LUCRÂRILE CARE SE OCUPÂ DE LUPTA CLASEI MUNCITOARE ÇI A TÂRÂNIMII MUNCITOARE pentru construirea socialismului. Articolul este scris eu un vâdit accent de ironie, el fiind în întregimea sa o persiflare a temei noi în literatura noastrâ. Çi asta se cheamâ dupâ tov. O. Crohmâlniceanu «luptâ pentru calitate»! Ce altceva se ascunde sub aceastâ etichetâ ipocritâ decât un profond dispreî nu numai pentru literatura nouâ, nu numai pentru tema nouâ, dar pentru însâçi viata lupta poporului muncitor - pentru ceea ce frâmântâ masele, pentru socialism, pentru fericirea patriei? Este lesne de recunoscut în aceastâjudecatâ buruiana otrâvitâ a cosmopolitismului, arma ideologiei impérialiste, vechea poziîie de desconsiderare a maselor, de neîncredere în forîa lor creatoare, sâpatâ în conçtiinta intelectualilor no^tri de burghezia trâdâtoare de patrie. Câci cosmopolitismul nu înseamnâ numai citarea din scriitorii criticii apusului decadent, COSMOPOLITISMUL SE MANIFESTÂ PRIN LIPSA DE DRAGOSTE PENTRU REALIZÂRILE PATRIEI, PENTRU SOCIALISM, PRIN DISPREJ PENTRU CLASA MUNCITOARE. Iar argumentai «calitâîii» este a fost întotdeauna argumentul cosmopolitilor fârâ patrie, masca sub care ace^ti «esteîi» au încercat sâ loveascâ în ceea ce abia se naçte, pentru a apâra ceea ce §i-a trait traiul moare. [...] o astfel de criticâ este o formâ de luptâ du^manâ împotriva noii literaturi, o formâ de pâtrundere a ideologiei du^mane care NU LOVEÇTE NUMAI ÎN OPERA LITERARÂ DAR TINDE SÂ MINEZE DRAGOSTEA FAJÂ DE PATRIA

SOCIALISTA IN DEVENIRE. A lovi in temele literaturii noi, in acele lucrari al caror scop edea mobiliza masele, de a insufla un nou avant in lupta pentru socialism, inseamna nu numai a dispretui literatura noua, DAR A DISPREJUI fNSE§I MASELE, iNSA§I CONSTRUIREA SOCIALISMULUI." [As revolting as this proposal, filled with vulgarian contempt for the new pens writing their way into Romanian literature, might seem, it reveals its true face only when we look more closely at the selection of works to be criticized and of authors deigned unworthy of writing. THE NEGATIVE EXAMPLES GIVEN IN THE ARTICLE COME ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FROM THE WORKS DEALING WITH THE STRUGGLE OF THE WORKING CLASS AND PEASANTRY to build socialism. The article is written in an obvious ironic vein, the whole of it being a mockery of the new theme in our literature. And this, according to comrade O. Crohmalniceanu, is 'fighting for quality'! What else lies hidden under this hypocritical label than a profound contempt, not only for the new literature, not only for the new theme, but also for the life and struggle of the working people - for what troubles the masses, for socialism, for the happiness of the country? It is easy to detect in this evaluation, the poisonous weed of cosmopolitism, the weapon of imperialistic ideology, the old stand of disregarding the masses, of doubting their creative force, branded in the consciousness of our intellectuals by the traitorous bourgeoisie. For cosmopolitism means not only quoting from the writers and critics of the decadent West, COSMOPOLITISM MANIFESTS ITSELF IN THE LACK OF LOVE FOR THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE COUNTRY, FOR SOCIALISM, IN THE CONTEMPT FOR THE WORKING CLASS. And the argument of "quality" is and always was the argument of the cosmopolites without a country, a mask under which these "aesthetes" have tried to strike at what is newly emerging, so as to defend what lived its days and is dying. [...] such criticism is a form of enemy attack against the new literature, a type of breach from the enemy ideology which NOT ONLY STRIKES AT THE LITERARY WORK, BUT AIMS TO UNDERMINE THE LOVE FOR THE SOCIALIST COUNTRY IN THE MAKING. To strike at the themes of the new literature, at those works whose purpose is to mobilize the masses, to breath new life into the fight for socialism, is not only to despise the new literature, BUT ALSO TO DESPISE THE MASSES THEMSELVES, THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM.]

From the same article, we also extract the statements that reflect the official ideological stand on the aesthetic component of the literary text: "Dar ce se intelege prin calitate in opera literara? Este calitatea o chestiune de forma? Pentru formali^tii burghezi, desigur, este o chestiune de forma. Este o chestiune de potriveala de cuvinte. Ca sub aceasta potriveala mai mult sau mai putin me^te^ugita de cuvinte se ascund idei du^manoase clasei muncitoare, umanitatii progresului, sau nu, asta nu mai are important^. Sa fie... «frumos» gata. Dar oare acesta este frumosul? In forme consta frumosul?" [But what is understood by quality in the literary work? Is quality a matter of form? For the bourgeois formalists, it is, naturally, a matter of form. It is a matter of word arrangement. Never mind whether under this arrangement lie hidden ideas hostile to the working class, humanity and progress. Let it be 'beautiful'... and nothing else. But is this truly what beauty means? Does beauty reside in form?] The same article implies that not even the proper awareness of the Romanian language is necessary, if the message is appropriate from a political point of view: "Despre ce scriu aceste condeie tinere? Despre Patria noastra, despre munca creatoare, despre socialism, despre viata, despre fericire. Multi scriu inca stangaci, altii cu gre^eli de gramatica, altii naiv. Dar in fiecare din aceste scrieri clocote^te entuziasmul pentru viata noua. Ele reprezinta mladitele literare ale vietii noi." [What is it that these young pens write about? About our country, about the work of creation, about socialism, about life, about happiness. A lot of them are still clumsy in their writing, others naive, others make grammar mistakes. But in each of these writings bubbles the enthusiasm for the new life. They represent the literary sprouts of the new life.]

It is easily understood that, from the Stalinist-Zhdanovist perspective on literature, the plea for artistry is only a "screen of aesthetic exigency," (Novicov, 1949) hiding hostile attitudes towards the new literature and, in an automatic entailment at the time, against the people, the party and the cause of building socialism.

Since aesthetic criticism is abolished and the fundamental texts of its representatives - from Titu Maiorescu to the third generation after him - are taken off circulation and classified as reactionary, it is self understood that what is required from literature at this time, in terms of creation, as well as of interpretation/reception, is to exclusively exercise its propagandistic function. Literary language, artistic construction and, in general, the coordinates for expressing literary talent become indifferent or punishable in case they deviate from the rule of accessibility.

Between 1949 and 1950 this exigency is imperative and it is reflected not only by official documents and "theoretical" articles that peddle it in all cultural magazines, but also by the functions and missions officially undertaken by the cultural institutions of the age. In the establishment meeting of the Writers' Union, on 25 March

1949, the "assigned tasks" in the Salute of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers' Party addressed to the R.P.R. Writers' Conference and signed by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej ("Uniunea Scriitorilor din RPR va trebui sä fie un centra al luptei impotriva servilismului cosmopolit, in fata culturii capitaliste intrate in putrefactie, impotriva imitatiei slugarnice a diferitelor curente ale literaturii burgheze, care au drept scop izolarea scriitorilor de realitate säparea präpastiei intre creator popor." [The R.P.R. Writers' Union will have to be a centre for the fight against cosmopolite servility to the putrescent capitalist culture, against the slavish imitation of the various trends of bourgeois literature, which aim to isolate writers from reality and dig an abyss between creator and the people.], Scanteia, 26 March 1949) are immediately materialized in a programme text entitled The Writers' Association on a new path and in The New Statute of the R.P.R. Writers' Association.

Although, apparently, there is no direct connection between the precepts of the new literary criticism and the way in which literature is reflected in the educational system, the consequences of these dramatic abdications from the principle of artistic specificity are immediately registered by the educational field. Specialized publications take over, almost ad literam, the accusatory text from Scanteia. Only three days after the publication of the article "Sä luptäm pentru o criticä de artä principialä, pätrunsä de spirit de partid / Let's fight for a principled art criticism, impregnated by party spirit," Gazeta invä^ämäntului/ The Education Gazette publishes a text with a similar title, which also includes a reference to the essential role played by criticism in creating the interpretive discourse, the act of didactically concretizing literature: "Critica de artä principialä, ajutor al invätämäntului realist-^tiintific/ Principled art criticism, an aid of scientific-realist education". The scientific-realist status of literature in the educational system can only result from the same view, which entails nullifying the aesthetic principle and reducing the literary work to the simple role of channel for the Leninist-Stalinist ideology: "Principala släbiciune constatatä la critica noasträ este lipsa de principialitate partinicä, tendinta de a judeca o operä de artä dupä criterii formaliste [...] netinänd seama de continutul ei revolutionär. [...] Pentru a atrage, a educa masele, criticii no^tri ar trebui, de asemenea sä scrie recenzii limpezi cuprinzätoare, care sä informeze, intr-o limbä u§or de inteles, asupra continutului valorii unei cärti - nu sä se märgineascä la lucräri de eruditie pentru speciali^ti." [The main weakness of our criticism is the lack of party principles, the tendency to judge a literary work according to formalist principles [...] without taking into account its revolutionary content. [...] To attract, to educate the masses, our critics should also write clear and comprehensive reviews to inform, in a language easily understood, about the content and the value of a book - they shouldn't only limit themselves to writing erudite works for specialists.] Clearly, in the opinion of this article's author, "to attract, to educate the masses," it is not only the critical discourse that should be elaborated "in a language easily understood," but also the texts submitted for interpretation.


The linguistic theories advanced during this period also influence, to a similar degree, the perspective on the study of the literary work. It is interesting to notice that, in this field, in a matter of only two years, the official ideological option changes radically. Until 1950, Romanian linguistics follows the theories of Nikolai Iakovlevici Marr, considered the founder of Marxist linguistics and praised as such by the Moscow regime, as well as the linguistic circles of the satellite countries. In essence, his theory emphasizes the class character of language and its dependence on the social and political system, predicting that, in the future, with the final victory of communism, only one language will be spoken.

After 1950, Stalin intervenes in this field with a study entitled "Marxismul problemele lingvisticii/ Marxism and the problems of linguistics," contradicting Marr's theory and prompting fundamental shifts in perspective in the aesthetic world of linguistics. From this moment on, the ideas of the leader in Moscow become, for the Romanian linguists as well, "brilliant," and Marr's linguistic perspective debatable and unacceptable.

It should be mentioned that none of these theories is fundamentally mistaken; the gravity lies in the ideological excess characterizing both of them, as well as the fields on which they reflect.

Consequences on the educational status of literature

The curricular documents elaborated and made operational in this age prove the fact that, due to the ideological nature of literary criticism and linguistics, the perspective on the study of literature and its materialization in the

didactic act is gravely damaged, the understanding of the very purpose for the existence of the artistic act being affected.

The first document that provides a statute for the communist study of literature in Romanian schools is "Tezele provizorii de istoria literaturii romane/ Provisional theses on Romanian literary history" published by the Ministry of Public Education in several brochures in 1950. In the absence of textbooks, which will be printed in the sixth decade, they provide a real image of the demands on this subject in secondary school. Even a quick look at this document allows for several brief observations. We extract some of them in the wording of one of the time's literary ideologists, in a first analysis dedicated to the "Theses..." (Campus, 1950).

- "Spre deosebire de vechile istorii literare, care falsificau adevärul istoric pentru a servi interesele reactionare ale

burghezo-mo^ierimii, inväluindu-le in ceturi metafizico-idealiste, tezele de fatä restabilesc adevärul, folosind metoda marxist-leninistä" [In contrast with the old literary histories that falsified the historic truth, so as to serve the reactionary interests of the bourgeois landowner class, wrapping them in a metaphysical-idealistic fog, the current theses restore the truth using the Marxist-Leninist method.] (Campus, 1950).

- with the exception of the classic writers, the selection of authors and newly introduced texts is made almost

exclusively according to the criterion of "class struggle"; a great part of the minor authors from Contemporanul owe their presence in the syllabus to this criterion (C. Mille, Sofia Nädejde, St. Basarabeanu, Paul Bujor, Ion Päun-Pincio, Nicole Beldiceanu, Th. Neculutä, A. Torna etc.).

- with very few exceptions (the reference, in passing and mainly in the presentation of the old and pre-modern

period, to the contribution of a chronicle writer to the development of the Romanian language) and although there are very brief notes on "Composition and language" at the end of some of the authors' presentations, the references to the artistic language of the work are almost non-existent; the study focuses almost exclusively on the content of ideas, associated naturally or strainedly, with the expected message in the reception perspective of the age's ideology: the hatred against exploiters, the irreconcilable conflict between classes, the criticism addressed to bourgeois politics, the satire of the western models, of the artistic preciosity etc. The references, few as they are, to the language of the literary work mainly focus on this aspect and they emphasize, almost stereotypically, the influences of the living language, of the people on the writers. Even so, however, in the quoted analysis, Eugen Campus believes that the inclusion of the language matters among the elements contributing to the artistic value of the work is an "ideological confusion."

- the general and the stylistic assessments of the texts and authors selected for the secondary school classes originate

in the understanding of literature as an exclusively superstructural fact: "Dezvoltarea literaturii este nemijlocit legatä de dezvoltarea societätii omene^ti. [.] §i, cum istoria omenirii este istoria luptei de clasä, färä indoialä ca literatura (oralä sau scrisä) ne mfäti^eazä imaginea acestui lucru. [...] Dar in societatea impärtitä in clase antagonice nu poate fi vorba de existenta unei literaturi unitare; in cadrul aceleia^i culturi nationale apar douä culturi, douä literaturi: una care care reprezintä apärä interesele clasei reactionare, du^mane mersului mainte al societätii, cealaltä care reprezintä apärä interesele clasei revolutionäre, progresiste [...]." [The development of literature is directly connected to the development of human society. [...] And, since the history of mankind is the history of class struggle, undoubtedly literature (oral or written) reflects this fact. [...] However, in a society divided into antagonistic classes, there cannot be a unified literature; two cultures, two literatures appear within the same national culture: one representing and defending the interests of the reactionary class, hostile to the progress of society, the other representing and defending the interests of the revolutionary, progressive class.] (MIP, 1950). The aesthetic changes occurring in the work of some of the discussed authors are deemed positive or negative in terms of their optional transfer from one to the other of the two categories of interests.

In 1952, a syllabus of Romanian literature is published (MIP, 1952), the first one bearing this title specific to the educational field. A note from the editor mentions that the syllabus "a fost intocmitä de Institutul de Istorie Literarä Folclor al Academiei R.P.R. in colaborare cu Insitutul de §tiinte Pedagogice Uniunea Scriitorilor din R.P.R." [was drafted by the Institute of Literary History and Folklore of the R.P.R. Academy in collaboration with the Institute of Pedagogical Sciences and the R.P.R. Writers' Union.]

In terms of the theme under scrutiny, the question of the literary work's language registers a modification, at least from a quantitative point of view. After becoming bases of linguistic thought, Stalin's "brilliant" ideas allow a greater extension in the treatment of the literary text's expressive elements. Two pages and a half from the chapter

on "Indrumari metodice pentru lectiile de istoria literaturii/ Methodical guidelines for the lessons of literary history" are reserved for recommendations concerning the "Studierea limbii operei literare/ The study of the literary work." Two observations are necessary at this point as well. Firstly, the text includes no less than four rather ample quotations from "Marxismul problemele lingvisticii/ Marxism and the problems of linguistics" (I.V. Stalin). Secondly, the clarification of certain issues concerning language is meant only "sa ajute pe elevi la aprofundarea sensului ideologic al operei." [to help the pupils with a deeper understanding of the ideological meaning of the work.]

Moreover, for almost two decades longer, the existence of literature in the didactic field will reside under the primacy of the ideological principle over the aesthetic, the analysis of the expressive elements being limited to an inventory of "figures of speech" or, even worse, simply being an enumeration of such figures.

The traces of this methodology are deep and persistent, since, even today, at the end of some literary analyses, one can still read sentences such as this: "Scriitorul folose^te foarte frumoase epitete, comparatii, metafore, personificari etc." [The writer uses very beautiful epithets, similes, metaphors, personifications, etc.]


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