The Soviet James Patterson

The James Patterson I’m going to tell you about isn’t the famous mystery writer. Instead, he’s the son of an American Communist who visited the USSR in 1934, loved it, and decided to stay. The American Communist was allowed to marry a Soviet woman because she was from a family of a major counterintelligence officer, so it was considered OK for her to… erm, get infiltrated, so to speak, by a black American defector.

James was one of the kids of the Soviet woman and the black American Communist. As a baby, he starred in a Soviet blockbuster movie about a black kid persecuted by international fascist racists. In the movie, the black baby is lovingly welcomed in the USSR. In the closing scene, representatives of all Soviet ethnicities pass him around in a circus arena and sing lullabies in their national languages.

The funny part was that one of the Soviet ethnicities featured in the movie was Jewish. Back in 1934 it was still OK to show Jews onscreen. The famous Jewish artist Shmuel Mikhoels holds the black baby in the movie and sings to him in Yiddish. Obviously, after World War II, it became unacceptable to acknowledge the existence of Jews, let alone mention Yiddish. Mikhoels was murdered by the regime. He was excised from the movie. As a result, the poor black baby ends up kind of flying across the space in the circus arena where the Jewish artist originally stood.

After the USSR collapsed, James Patterson and his Soviet mom emigrated back to the US.


2 thoughts on “The Soviet James Patterson

  1. As I understand it, the general position of the Soviet Union (at least post-Stalin) to Jews was that Jews did not count as an ethnic group but were merely a religion and a capitalist economic class as well as agents of Zionism. Officially, anti-Semitism did not exist in the Soviet Union, which meant that Jews could not complain about it. In the 1970s, there was a debate among Soviet Jews regarding trying to leave the Soviet Union. The case was made that if Jews argued that they had no desire to leave for the Zionist entity, perhaps the Soviet Union would agree to allow Jewish practice as part of a recognized ethnic group. This would benefit far more Jews than the few who might be willing to leave if given the opportunity. On the flip side, there was the argument that the Soviet Union could be convinced to allow Jews to leave for Israel if this was framed as an ethnic issue and not part of any criticism of Soviet policy. Obviously, in retrospect, these arguments come across as rather silly. I am sure that I am missing a lot of the nuances here.


    1. Before WWII there were quite a lot of Jewish libraries, theaters, cultural organizations, etc in the USSR. Pretty much every medium to large sized city in the European part of the USSR had a Jewish theater. There were Jewish writers and poets who created in Yiddish and sometimes even ventured into Hebrew.

      After 1945, all these organizations were closed pretty much overnight. The leaders and artists were murdered. Mikhoels was too famous to be arrested, so he was assassinated in the street. This led to the execution of pretty much the entire Jewish Anti-fascist committee. We are all very lucky Stalin kicked the bucket because it was all going in a very bad direction.

      After all this, the narrative you describe was created.


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