Rootless cosmopolitan

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Rootless cosmopolitan (Russian: безродный космополит, romanizedbezrodnyi kosmopolit) was a pejorative Soviet epithet which referred mostly to Jewish intellectuals as an accusation of their lack of full allegiance to the Soviet Union, especially during the anti-cosmopolitan campaign of 1948–1953.[1]

The anti-cosmopolitan campaign began in 1946 when Joseph Stalin attacked writers who were ethnic Jews in a speech in Moscow[2] and culminated in the “exposure” of the non-existent Doctors' Plot in 1953.[3]


The expression was coined in the 19th century by Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinsky to describe writers who lacked Russian national character.[4] The idea also comes from German Romantic criticism of Bodenlosigkeit ("absence of roots", "ground").[citation needed]

Use under Stalin[edit]

According to the journalist Masha Gessen, a concise definition of rootless cosmopolitan appeared in an issue of Voprosy istorii (The Issues of History) in 1949: "The rootless cosmopolitan [...] falsifies and misrepresents the worldwide historical role of the Russian people in the construction of socialist society and the victory over the enemies of humanity, over German fascism in the Great Patriotic War." Gessen states that the term used for "Russian" is an exclusive term that means ethnic Russians only and so she concludes that "any historian who neglected to sing the praises of the heroic ethnic Russians [...] was a likely traitor".[5] According to Cathy S. Gelbin:

From 1946 onwards, then, when Andrei Zhdanov became director of Soviet cultural policy, Soviet rhetoric increasingly highlighted the goal of a pure Soviet culture freed from Western degeneration. This became apparent, for example, in a piece in the Soviet weekly Literaturnya gazeta in 1947, which denounced the claimed expressions of rootless cosmopolitanism as inimical to Soviet culture. From 1949 onwards, then, a new series of openly antisemitic purges and executions began across the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, when Jews were charged explicitly with harbouring an international Zionist cosmopolitanist conspiracy.[6]

According to Margarita Levantovskaya:

The campaign against cosmopolitanism of the 1940s and 1950s [...] defined rootless cosmopolitans as citizens who lacked patriotism and disseminated foreign influence within the USSR, including theater critics, Yiddish-speaking poets and doctors. They were accused of disseminating Western European philosophies of aesthetics, pro-American attitudes, Zionism, or inappropriate levels of concern for Jewry and its destruction during World War II. The phrase "rootless cosmopolitan" was synonymous with "persons without identity" and "passportless wanderers" when applied to Jews, thus emphasizing their status as strangers and outsiders.[7]


The term is still widely considered to be an antisemitic trope.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Figes, Orlando (2007). The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia. New York City: Metropolitan Books. p. 494. ISBN 978-0-8050-7461-1.
  2. ^ Jeff Greenfield (3 August 2017). "The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet: Surprise, surprise—the insult has its roots in Soviet anti-Semitism". Politico.
  3. ^ Azadovskii K, Egorov B (2002). "From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism". Journal of Cold War Studies. 4 (1): 66–80. doi:10.1162/152039702753344834. S2CID 57565840.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Orlando Figes The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, 2007, ISBN 0805074619, page 494.
  5. ^ Gessen, Masha (2005). Two Babushkas. Bloomsbury. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-7475-7080-6.
  6. ^ Cathy S. Gelbin, "Rootless cosmopolitans: German-Jewish writers confront the Stalinist and National Socialist atrocities." European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire 23.5-6 (2016): 863-879 at p. 865.
  7. ^ Margarita Levantovskaya, "Rootless Cosmopolitans:: Literature of the Soviet-Jewish Diaspora" (PhD. Diss. UC San Diego, 2013) online. p. 1.
  8. ^ Andrew Gwynne MP (16 April 2014). "Anti-Semitism". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Parliament of the United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 255.
  9. ^ Steinberg, Rachel (9 April 2019). "Fire Brigades Union tells official to dial back social media use after controversial tweet". The Jewish Chronicle. Many were quick to criticise Mr Embery’s use of “rootless, cosmopolitan”, including Jewish MP Alex Sobel who tweeted: “Literally an anti-semitic trope used by Stalin the culmination of which saw many good bundists imprisoned by East European Communist regimes (including my grandfather)…stop othering Jews”.
  10. ^ Shankar, Anulya (3 August 2017). "'Cosmopolitan' is a dog whistle word once used in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia". The World. “Cosmopolitan” isn’t a word that’s frequently heard in American politics (“elite” is much more common), but it wouldn’t be out of place in Adolf Hitler's Germany or Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. It was an “anti-Semitic fighting term,” Volker Ullrich writes in his biography, Hitler: Ascent, “used against the Jews by Nazis and Bolsheviks alike.” Ullrich writes that the Jewish diaspora in Europe was “considered not only cosmopolitan, but also rootless, and in the late 1940s the term became a code word for Jews who insisted on their Jewish identity.”
  11. ^ Glasman, Maurice (22 May 2019). "No direction home: the tragedy of the Jewish left". The New Statesman. I knew that the phrase “rootless cosmopolitan” was minted by Stalin and his executioners in the show trials to exterminate Jews, particularly Trotskyists, for whom this became the standard expression. I cannot hear it without the dread fear of the knock on the door by the Cheka in the early hours.
  12. ^ Bieber, Florian (30 November 2019). "How Europe's Nationalists Became Internationalists". Foreign Policy. the supposed rootless cosmopolitan elites—represented emblematically by the Hungarian-born billionaire and philanthropist George Soros
  13. ^ Ylesias, Matthew (19 May 2008). "Don't Vote for the Half-Breed". The Atlantic. Jon Chait notes the similarity to some traditional tropes of anti-semitism, "a device that's historically been used to deny the possibility that rootless, cosmopolitan Jews can be full members of a society."
  14. ^ Shalev, Chemi (21 August 2019). "Trump's Vile 'Disloyalty' Smear Reflects Fury Over Broken Promise of Jewish Reward for Backing Israel". Haaretz. All of Trump’s suspect statements in the past about Jewish expertise in counting cash or their penchant for buying presidential candidates with money, along with his ongoing aid and succor to white supremacist movements laced with anti-Semitism, pale in comparison to his floating of an age-old smear about the ingrained treachery of rootless “cosmopolitan” Jewish minorities.
  15. ^ Johnson, Alan (20 February 2019). "Labour is now institutionally anti-Semitic - it has one last chance to save itself". The Telegraph. While anti-Semitism always involves a core demonology about ‘the Jews’ as a malign group, the precise form supposedly taken by this Jewish malignity, and the language in which ‘the Jew’ is condemned, changes radically with the times and the needs of the anti-Semites: God-Killer, Rootless Cosmopolitan, Rothschild-Capitalist and Untermenschen have all served as code words marking out the Jew for destruction.
  16. ^ Sugarman, Daniel (9 February 2019). "We must call out anti-semitism when it's on our own side—not just when it's politically expedient". Prospect magazine. It is also exactly the same charge which is being used by far-right ideologues in Eastern Europe—particularly in Soros’s native Hungary—and is now found in scores of anti-Semitic memes plastered all over racist Facebook groups and Reddit threads. For them, Soros is Rothschild 2.0, a “rootless cosmopolitan” who tries to poison hearts and minds.
  17. ^ Hancock, Jason (19 July 2019). "Hawley critique of 'cosmopolitan elite' earns rebuke from Missouri Jewish leaders". The Kansas City Star. Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in St. Louis, said Hawley may not have intended to offend anyone with his speech. But terms like “cosmopolitan” and “globalist” have a sinister history as anti-Semitic dog whistles, and she said Hawley should apologize.
  18. ^ Sales, Ben (19 July 2019). "Senator's speech on 'cosmopolitan elites': Anti-Semitic dog whistle or poli-sci speak?". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But critics of the speech found parallels to the use of the term “rootless cosmopolitan,” an anti-Semitic smear popularized by Joseph Stalin in the mid-20th century. Nazis also used “cosmopolitan” as an anti-Semitic term.
  19. ^ Wilmer, Clive (20 August 1996). "Poetic pursuits". Prospect Magazine. Moreover, as Julius points out but then seems to forget, Eliot is no nicer to his Christian, the poem’s persona, whose impermanence and sterility make him an alter ego to the rootless cosmopolitan of anti-Semitic euphemism.
  20. ^ Greenfield, Jeff (3 August 2017). "The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet". Politico.
  21. ^ Julius, Anthony (1995). T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form. p. 49. ISBN 9780500282809. 'Rootless cosmopolitan' has a specific anti-Semitic resonance
  22. ^ Harrison, Bernard (2006). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion. p. 42. ISBN 0742552276. Floating around in the passage are a couple of suggestions that echo both ancient and modern themes of anti-Semitic propaganda: the first,that Zabludowicz senior exemplifies the charge of "rootless cosmopolitanism" traditionally leveled against Jews by anti-Semites
  23. ^ Brook, Vincent (2006). You Should See Yourself: Jewish Identity in Postmodern American Culture. p. 166. ISBN 0813538440. This outlook can be viewed positively as a condition that enhances Jews' and adaptability and empathy for others, or it can have a negative connotation, as in the recurring trope of the rootless cosmopolitan

Further reading[edit]