Over on Wikipedia, we find this cover from the March 1949 issue of Soviet satire mag Krokodil:


The person who uploaded it to Wikipedia captioned it "Antisemitic caricature of rootless cosmopolitan." On the talk page, someone asks:

How is this image "antisemitic"? Does anyone mind explaining this to me?

That's my question too. Sure I bet it is, but, can an expert explain it like I'm five?

It doesn't help that I can't read Russian and the image is so low-quality that I can't even transcribe or OCR it. I can make out the suitcase stickers that say "САРТР" ("Sartre") and "ЛИППМАН [sic]" ("Lippmann"), and the caption "Беспачпортныя Бродяга" which I gloss as Passportless vagabond. I can't make out the other stickers; nor the scraps of paper sticking out of the tramp's backpack; nor the presumably significant quotation below the caption which probably clarifies the whole thing; can someone transcribe and translate these for me?

I also suspect that there is significance in the mismatched patterns of our vagabond's jacket and pants; his weird little black-and-white embroidered bib; and the knife in his belt. (Both the knife and the walking-stick have been turned into pen-nibs by the cartoonist.) And possibly the hat and the overstuffed valise, for that matter. What would a Russian in 1949 have understood these symbols to mean?

  • It occurs to me that my question is implicitly premised on the belief that "a cartoon (knowingly) expressing support for an antisemitic policy" or even "a cartoon produced for antisemitic purposes" cannot necessarily be described as "an antisemitic cartoon" per se. If you consciously reject this premise (and maybe one should?), then the question might not even make sense. Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 16:18
  • 4
    Small note, the "bib" looks like the sweater from Sun Valley Serenade (1941) which was one of the few US movies that successfully made it through the Soviet censorship machine of that era and acquired a nearly cult status in the USSR.
    – undercat
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 20:09
  • 4
    Overall, his garb is likely a caricature of the typical stilyaga attire of the time.
    – undercat
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 20:29
  • The man looks oddly like Donald Fagen of Steely Dan :)
    – hobbs
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 7:28
  • 1
    @undercat I thought that sweater looked familiar! It's remarkably similar to the one at the end of the Doctor Who Christmas episode, "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe"
    – A C
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 3:47

6 Answers 6


Although the whole anti-"rootless cosmopolitan" campaign is now widely accepted as being antisemitic in nature, at the time it was framed as being directed against people who "lack patriotism and mindlessly worship the Western culture" - who, incidentally, were Jewish (at least, an overwhelming majority of them were). Thus, the picture depicts a literary critic, who loves Western authors and slanders russian literature. I have also been told that the man in picture has "exagerrated Jewish facial features", although I really don't see that myself =)

Now for the translation: The stickers on the suitcase read "Сом. У. Могэм" (obviously William Somerset Maugham), "Д. Гриффит" (probably David Wark Griffith), "Андре Жид" (Andre Gide, whose surname in russian is homonymic to the word "jew", by the way), "Сартр" (Jean-Paul Sartre), "Липпманн" (Walter Lippmann) and a partially obscured one which I read as "Андре Мальро" (Andre Malraux) - all are Western writers labeled "subversive" by USSR. The papers in his backpack read "клевета на российское искусство" ("slander on Russian art") and "клевета на советскую культуру" ("slander on Soviet culture"), the one in the pocket is just "клевета" ("slander" once again). The ink case is labeled "ЯД" ("poison"). The subtitle under "Passportless vagabond" is a quote by XIX century literary critic Vissarion Belinsky: "I confess that I find pathetic and unpleasant [such] calm skeptics, abstract people, passport-less tramps in humanity".

You can find a better picture (which I used to read all those captions) in this article.

  • 5
    It is accepted as antisemitic in the Western mainstream , not so much in Russia because indeed it didn't target whole Jewish ethnicity. There is still open debate in Russia about the role of Jews in first half of 20h century , and this debate would be considerably un-PC for the West.
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 8:11
  • 19
    "picture has "exagerrated Jewish facial features" " - it is not. It is typical face of western capitalist.
    – talex
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 8:56
  • 3
    @rs.29 I'm sure. Russia hasn't changed all that much after all.
    – user31561
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 12:43
  • 2
    Interesting. I'm totally unfamiliar with the scholarship on this era, but coming at it cold, this looks remarkably like Nationalist Populist rhetoric (eg: Nazis). My naive western view of Soviet politics has always been that they stuck to the internationalist end of the spectrum.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 16:58
  • 8
    Why am I the only reader to get an overwhelming impression that (a) this bloke is clearly not jewish, I see no such indications, and (b) this bloke is plainly intended as a caricature of Uncle Sam. From his broad brimmed hat, to his pipe, to his fence post, and his vast waistline, he surely has all the hallmarks of a Texan in a cowboy hat. Does nobody else see this? Jewish means being thin, if I know anything about the treatment of soviet jews. The subtext (of the image) here is rapacious capitalist. Anti-American satire was the hallmark of Soviet propoganda.
    – Ed999
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 8:47

1949 was a bad year to be a communist or nomenklatura.

Apart from the Rajk trials of national development line communists in the new soviet-style societies, there was the Leningrad affair and Zhdanovshchina (1946~1957).

The most general context was a fear of left social democracy or reformism within Stalinist parties under Soviet hegemony. Yugoslavia was busy demonstrating that a Soviet-style party could exist outside of intimate relations with the Soviet party. At the same time the workers parties of Central Europe were left social democrats forcibly fused with Stalinist communists who controlled leadership positions. This required a purifying purge of stalinists who may have slid left (towards the actual working class controlling things) and thus the demonstrative Rajk purges. Correspondingly the Leningrad party centre had to be disciplined for their popularity (again, note the fear of the working class).

Rootless cosmopolitanism is an appeal to nationalism and parochial anti-intellectualism as a way to hegemonise workers that may have seen some advantage to controlling a captive intelligentsia. “Rootless” is a hopeful insult, a desire that the Leningrad working class won’t back such a fraction.

While there are anti-Semitic elements here, there’s a general attack on intellectuals, urban intellectuals, urban intellectuals committed to an international revolution.

The specific nature of the anti-Semitic elements of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign is tied up with the Soviet “imaginary” of the Jew. Jewish Soviet citizens were a nation without a republic. Even Birobidzhan was a tokenistic joke. Soviet Jews were literally “rootless” as they lacked the physical nation and member republic that other Soviet nationalities had. This also speaks to longer images of Judaism, such as the people without a nation and the wandering Jew. The Soviet citizen who was Jewish was imagined as “rootless.”

The rootlessness of the imaginary Jew also made them cosmopolitan. They were viewed as overly urbanised, internationalised, liable to flit away overseas to America or Israel. They were viewed as overrepresented in intellectual fields and in these areas viewed as part of an “international” culture rather than a Russian culture. (Of course they can’t be Russian intellectuals, they are nationally viewed as Jews, not Russians.) Soviet Jews were viewed as cosmopolitan.

While rootless cosmopolitanism applied to more than merely the imaginary Soviet Jew, it was viewed as encapsulating what it was to be a Soviet Jew. Never mind those industrial and agricultural workers who really existed: the Soviet state operated on an ideological level, not a praxic level. And the ideology was that “rootless cosmopolitanism” adequately and completely characterised what it was to be a Soviet Jew.

The attack on rootless cosmopolitanism is more than antisemitism. It was a general attack on the possibility of a different kind of Soviet party, a soviet party that may reference the working class or international movement as central.

  • 2
    Lots of good info and/or search terms here. This answer could be improved IMO by adding links to sources and definitions (nomenklatura, László Rajk, Zhdanovism). Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 15:45
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    You write, "While there are anti-Semitic elements here, there’s [also] a general attack..." I believe you, but the question is asking to identify and explain like I'm five, what are those anti-Semitic elements? I mean, if Wikipedia's going to use this an an example of an anti-Semitic cartoon, then we should be able to explain the symbolism or subtext of the cartoon directly, and not just say "well, it comes from an anti-Semitic milieu, so it's naturally a bit anti-Semitic in general." Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 15:48
  • 1
    @Quuxplusone Soviet propaganda was never explicitly anti-Semitic. They were not that stupid - as others have noted, that would come directly at odds with internationalism and equality which were undeniably considered as core Soviet values, on paper. You can find evidence of Soviet anti-Semitism, but it will be circumstantial or coming from personal accounts. After Stalin has consolidated power until the end of the Soviet Union, the unspoken rule was that Jews were never allowed to be near anything considered important, with very few exceptions.
    – artem
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 23:28
  • @Quuxplusone I have expanded on Soviet anti Semitic coding as of 1949 Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 2:00
  • I suppose you are right; it is by far more anti-intellectual than anti-semitic. But... I suspect that, at least in Europe and countries whose histories are direct extensions of European history, there is no anti-intellectualism that isn't connected, at some level, to anti-semitism. Rather, it seems that each thing can function as a dog whistle for the other... Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 23:30

This cartoon is a part of the campaign in the Soviet media which started on January 28, 1949 with publication in Pravda (central newspaper of the Communist party) which was called "On an anti-party group of theater critics". The slogans of the campaign were "struggle with rootless cosmopositism" and "against cringing before the West". One part of it was "revealing of pen-names". The anti-semitic tone of this campaign was thinly veiled, but the campaign was broader in scope: the general direction was anti-Western. It happened when Soviet union finally broke with its allies and the Cold war started. An openly anti-semitic campaign started later, in 1952 in connection with the "doctors plot".

Reference: https://psyfactor.org/lib/fateev4.htm (in Russian).

  • 1
    One part of it was "revealing of pen-names." This immediately made me think of modern memes involving revelation of "Jewish name" (e.g. "Jon Leibowitz"). See also triple parentheses. But you don't explicitly make that link (that the names revealed are going to be Jewish), and actually I don't know if "dropping the -stein when you get to Hollywood" was a thing in 1949 Russia. I could also see a link to pen-names? Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 16:01
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    @Quuxplusone: My main question was whether you want RUSSIAN references.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 16:11
  • 2
    I don't read Russian, but I always want references! You know (from the question itself) that I can use Google Translate and that I'm not afraid to ask if I still can't understand it. :) i.imgur.com/vncZ8J3.gif Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 16:42
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    @Quuxplusone: Good luck with Google translate:-)
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 18:47
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    By thinly veiled you seem to mean that in Soviet society the only class which was rootless were the jews, thus an attack on those who are rootless would easily be understood to be an attack on jews. The large pen in the cartoon seems to be the source of your remark about revealling of pen-names; yet it could as easily be seen merely as a symbol of a writer, i.e. an intellectual. Also, I find a jarring note in the man's obviously well-fed status: how does that feed into a theme of anti-semitism? How do you, an enemy of the state, grow fat?
    – Ed999
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 9:21

I also suspect that there is significance in the mismatched patterns of our vagabond's jacket and pants; ... And possibly the hat and the overstuffed valise, for that matter. What would a Russian in 1949 have understood these symbols to mean?

Details of wardrobe and facial features are not the most important clues here. Look at this photo from 1934:

André Malraux, Isaac Babel and unknown man purportedly in NKVD uniform

The man in center is André Malraux, the one whose name is in red on white sticker on the valise in the cartoon.

This page confirms that he visited Soviet Union in 1934 where this photo was taken.

The man on the right is Isaac Babel, Jewish Soviet writer who later in 1940 was arrested, accused of terrorism and spying, convicted, sentenced to death and executed. The conviction was overturned in 1954.

While interrogating and torturing him, NKVD (Soviet internal security service) tried to obtain testimony against his friends, Jewish Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg, film director Sergei Eisenstein, and actor Solomon Mikhoels.

Photos of Ilya Ehrenburg from 1940s:

Ilya Ehrenburg Image source

enter image description here Image source

Then war with Nazis intervened.

Mikhoels was a chairman, and Ehrengurg a prominent member of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, organized in 1941 with Soviet authorities approval. Committee members were allowed to visit western countries - Soviet Union allies - to raise funds for the Soviet war effort.

After war, some committee members continued their political activity.

Soviet system did not tolerate political activism excercised by people the system had no trust in. The committee was allowed to operate during the war only because Nazis were a bigger threat.

In 1948 Michoels was killed.

In January 1949 several committee members (but not Ehrenburg) were arrested and accused of espionage and treason. At the same time, propaganda campaign has started.

In 1952 the accused were tried by military tribunal, convicted, sentenced to death and executed.

Back to the question:

What would a Russian in 1949 have understood these symbols to mean?

This cartoon appeared in March 1949, after the arrests were made. It would be hard to get precise answer, unless someone who lived at that time in Soviet Union and still has a good memory will come up here and give an answer.

But we can understand these symbols as intimidation campaign, targeted at those who were still walking free, although without a passport (people who were allowed to travel abroad in official capacity were routinely required to surrender their passports upon return), reminding them to remain loyal.


The "subtext" of the Cartoon is not the same as the subtitle. As its satire, it's not so much directed at anything but the reader. I say it is not really "antisemitic" unless you want it to be.

Saying that it's antisemitic or against cosmopolitans up in the clouds is unreflected. It is at least directed against criticism in general and the targets specifically by playing up to a stereotype. That does not mean that it represents a real opinion. To which degree does it meat the Zeitgeist? Well it doesn't play down the topic so it kind of appeals to both sides and where they actually stand is not really part of the message. Whereas beating on stereotypes is obligatory, not to further them, and not just because they are an cheap laugh, but ... well, it's like magic, they wouldn't tell their tricks and I don't want to say anything wrong either. The name "crocodile" in English can mean "A fallacious dilemma, mythically supposed to have been first used by a crocodile". I don't know about the russian, but I suspect this still holds, because it sounds like it would go back to ancient greek philosophy, so that the name is quite significant.

However, as a form of art, they surely tried to counter criticism against art (as the translation in another answer pointed out) by having a pretty picture on the cover.

  • 3
    This doesn't seem like an answer, or even particularly coherent. But today I learned of the crocodile dilemma, so, thanks for that. :) Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 22:52
  • I might have taken a different interpretation of "subtext" than was intended? I only wanted to make the pun that another answer's "direct attack" was unreflected.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 22:54
  • added a somewhat overbearing direct answer to your direct question.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 23:00
  • "As its satire, it's not so much directed at anything but the reader. " Erm, I think you're rather missing the point of satire there...
    – user31561
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 14:48
  • Latin satura /ˈsa.tu.ra/ From the phrase "lanx satura" (lit. dish full)--I thought saturated is not too far off, which is the point. It might be a pun. In one reading lanx is "trash". I wonder what Latin called the bed-pan (ie. load of bullshit, cp. stool for the way these euphemism may go), also compare lactes "intestines" (i.e. full bowles), laxes "lax" of another root, but close to luxus of the root for lanx. I'd also compare Satyrs to fools. Compare sarcasm "gnash teeth in anger; gnaw off flesh", as if dry bone was opposite to full plate.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 20:04

The term "rootless cosmopolitan" experienced something of a resurgence in popularity recently, so I think the uploader may have meant it in the modern sense. That being, a person who supports open borders, multiculturalism, does not value sovereignty or nationhood, and thinks people should feel no nationalism or patriotism and every country's people should be pretty much the same. Historically, Jews were among the few nations without a country, so they would supposedly move freely between different countries without feeling allegiance to any. Thus they have an affinity to such rootless cosmopolitan attitudes. That's the criticism, anyhow.

A person who moves to and fro as the fancy strikes him, can be seen negatively (bum, roving barbarian), neutrally (nomad) or positively (free spirit). Jews being historically considered a "wandering tribe", the artist of the image must have wanted to show them in a negative light. Hence imagery reminiscent of homeless riff-raff - the dagger across the belt (the Russian stereotype of a razboynik - an itinerant bandit), the scruffy appearance (he looks like a bomj - bum), the smug expression, all serve to make the figure appear a nasty, uncultured, comical nuisance. "The Jew is a wanderer! And let me remind you why it's bad to be a wanderer..."

However the image does not literally depict a bum, but uses it as a metaphor to criticize "rootless" people (who are not tied to one home). This is necessary because the typical "rootless cosmopolitan" is educated, well to do, well dressed and amicable - the outward opposite of a bum. Thus the authors wishes to remind us that appearances can be deceiving, and really the rootless cosmopolitan and the ordinary bum are the same when you think about it. Thus the scriptorial imagery: Just as the bum's antisocial deeds are enabled by his walking stick and dagger, the cosmopolitan is enabled by his (subversive) writing.

To drive the point home the man has stickers with names of various intellectuals who were considered the intellectual leaders (by the author) of cosmopolitan ideas. Many names are conspicuously Jewish, which I suspect to be no accident.

In sum the drawing makes the claim that most Jews are rootless cosmopolitans and vice versa, and criticizes both. Hence antisemitic in attacking Jews, as well as perpetuating many tropes of antisemitism.

Worth noting also is the low-brow Russian concept of an intellegent - intellectual. As used by petty criminals and uncultured, uneducated people this doesn't mean "interested in intellectual pursuits", but rather a weak man who dresses in a certain fashion. The fashion is roughly exotic brimmed hats, tweed and sweaters. Which is what this character would appear like at a glance. Compare to the American concept of a "nerd", with thick glasses, bowtie, pocket protector, white shit and nasal voice.

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