Rootless cosmopolitan (Russian: безродный космополит, romanized: bezrodnyi 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 antisemitic campaign of 1948–1953. This campaign had its roots in Joseph Stalin's 1946 attack on writers who were connected with "bourgeois Western influences", culminating in the "exposure" of the non-existent Doctors' Plot in 1953.
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 they conclude that "any historian who neglected to sing the praises of the heroic ethnic Russians [...] was a likely traitor". 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.
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.
In 1946 Stalin met with Soviet intellectuals to discuss and analyze the trends developing in Soviet art, music, literature and theatre - after the Second World War. Here we give a shortened version of his replies to questions posed by the intellectuals. '[...] Frequently in the pages of Soviet literary journals works are found where Soviet people, builders of communism are shown in pathetic and ludicrous forms. The positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded. In the theater it seems that Soviet plays are pushed aside by plays from foreign bourgeois authors. The same thing is starting to happen in Soviet films.'
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".
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.
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