The FELLOW TRAVELERS

A Fellow Traveler is described as persons who are politically sympathetic to, but not members of, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), who shared the political perspectives of Communism

American usages

Pre-World War II U.S.

In the U.S., the European term fellow-traveller was adapted to describe persons politically sympathetic to, but not members of, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), who shared the political perspectives of Communism. In the 1920s and 1930s, the political, social, and economic problems in the U.S. and throughout the world, caused partly by the Great Depression, motivated idealistic young people, artists, and intellectuals to become sympathetic to the Communist cause, in hope they could overthrow capitalism. To that end, black Americans joined the CPUSA (1919) because some of their politically liberalstances (e.g. legal racial equality) corresponded to the political struggles of black people for civil rights and social justice, in the time when Jim Crow laws established and maintained racial segregation throughout the United States. Moreover, the American League for Peace and Democracy (ALPD) was the principal socio-political group who actively worked by anti-fascism rather than by pacifism; as such, the ALPD was the most important organization within the Popular Front, a pro-Soviet coalition of anti-fascist political organizations.

As in Europe, in the 1920s and 1930s, the intellectuals of the U.S. either sympathized with or joined the U.S. Communist Party, to oppose the economic excesses of capitalism and fascism, which they perceived as its political form. In 1936, the newspaper columnist Max Lerner included the term fellow traveler in the article “Mr. Roosevelt and His Fellow Travelers” (The Nation). 

Post-World War II U.S.

In the late 1930s, most fellow-travelers broke with the Communist party-line of Moscow when Stalin and Adolf Hitler signed the German–Soviet Non-aggression Pact (August 1939), which allowed the Occupation of Poland (1939–45) for partitioning between the U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany. In the U.S., the American Communist Party abided Stalin’s official party-line, and denounced the Allies, rather than the Germans, as war mongers. In June 1941, when the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa, to annihilate the U.S.S.R., again, the American Communist Party abided Stalin’s party-line, and became war hawks for American intervention to the European war in aid of Russia, and becoming an ally of the Soviet Union. [citation needed]

In the U.S., the European term fellow-traveller was adapted to describe persons politically sympathetic to, but not members of, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), who shared the political perspectives of Communism. In the 1920s and 1930s, the political, social, and economic problems in the U.S. and throughout the world, caused partly by the Great Depression, motivated idealistic young people, artists, and intellectuals to become sympathetic to the Communist cause, in hope they could overthrow capitalism. To that end, black Americans joined the CPUSA (1919) because some of their politically liberal stances (e.g. legal racial equality) corresponded to the political struggles of black people for civil rights and social justice, in the time when Jim Crow laws established and maintained racial segregation throughout the United States. Moreover, the American League for Peace and Democracy (ALPD) was the principal socio-political group who actively worked by anti-fascism rather than by pacifism; as such, the ALPD was the most important organization within the Popular Front, a pro-Soviet coalition of anti-fascist political organizations.

As in Europe, in the 1920s and 1930s, the intellectuals of the U.S. either sympathized with or joined the U.S. Communist Party, to oppose the economic excesses of capitalism and fascism, which they perceived as its political form. In 1936, the newspaper columnist Max Lerner included the term fellow traveler in the article “Mr. Roosevelt and His Fellow Travelers” (The Nation).

In 1938, Joseph Brown Matthews Sr. featured the term in the title of his political biography Odyssey of a Fellow Traveler (1938); later, J. B. Matthews was the chief investigator for the anti-Communist activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Robert E. Stripling also credited Matthews: “J.B. Matthews, a former Communist fellow traveler (and, incidentally, the originator of that apt tag)…”

Among the writers and intellectuals known as fellow travelers were Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Dreiser novelists whose works of fiction occasionally were critical of capitalism and its excesses, whilst John Dos Passos, a known left-winger, moved to the right-wingand became a staunch anti-Communist.

Likewise, the editor of The New Republic magazine, Malcolm Cowley had been a fellow traveler during the 1930s, but broke from the Communist Party, because of the ideological contradictions inherent to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 23 August 1939). The novelist and critic Waldo Frank was a fellow traveler during the mid-1930s, and was the chairman of the League of American Writers, in 1935, but was ousted as such, in 1937, when he called for an enquiry to the reasons for Joseph Stalin’s purges (1936–38) of Russian society

From 1934 to 1939, the historian Richard Hofstadter briefly was a member of the Young Communist League USA. Despite disillusionment because of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia and the ideological rigidity of the Communist party-line, Hofstadter remained a fellow traveler until the 1940s. In Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World (2003), Eric Foner said that Hofstatdter continued thinking of himself as a political radical, because his opposition to capitalism was the reason he had joined the CPUSA.

Moreover, in the elegiac article “The Revolt of the Intellectuals” (Time 6 Jan. 1941), the ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers satirically used the term fellow traveler:

As the Red Express hooted off into the shades of a closing decade, ex-fellow travelers rubbed their bruises, wondered how they had ever come to get aboard. … With the exception of Granville Hicks, probably none of these people was a Communist. They were fellow travelers who wanted to help fight fascism.

McCarthyism

In 1945, the anti-Communist congressional House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) became a permanent committee of the U.S. Congress; and, in 1953, after Senator Joseph McCarthy became chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, they attempted to determine the extent of Soviet influence in the U.S. government, and in the social, cultural, and political institutions of American society.

The seven-year period during (1950–56) of moral panic and political witch hunts was the McCarthy Era, characterized by right-wing political orthodoxy. Some targets of investigation were created by way of anonymous and unfounded accusations of treason and subversion, during which time the term fellow traveler was applied as a political pejorative against many American citizens who did not outright condemn Communism. Modern critics of HUAC claim that any citizen who did not fit or abide the HUAC’s ideologically narrow definition of “American” was so labeled which, they claimed, contradicted, flouted, and voided the political rights provided for every citizen in the U.S. Constitution.

In the course of his political career, the Republican Sen. McCarthy claimed at various times that there were many American citizens (secretly and publicly) sympathetic to Communism and the Soviet Union who worked in the State Department and in the U.S. Army, in positions of trust incompatible with such beliefs. In response to such ideological threats to the national security of the U.S., some American citizens with Communist pasts were suspected of being “un-American” and thus secretly and anonymously registered to a blacklist (particularly in the arts) by their peers, and so denied employment and the opportunity to earn a living, despite many such acknowledged ex-communists moving on from the fellow traveler stage of their political lives, such as the Hollywood blacklist.

Types of fellow traveller

In Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It (1958), FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, defined five types of “fellow traveler”, as politically subversivepersons who he believed meant to promote the Communist deposition of the U.S. government:

  1. The card-carrying Communist, who is a member of the American Communist party
  2. The underground Communist, who hides his or her membership in the Communist party
  3. The Communist sympathizer, who is a potential communist, because he or she holds Communist political views
  4. The fellow traveler, who is someone who is sympathetic to Communism, but is neither an influential advocate of Communism, nor a potential Communist
  5. The dupe, is a man or a woman who obviously is not a Communist, or a potential Communist, but whose politics enable Communist subversion, e.g. a prominent religious leader who advocates pacifism or civil rights for minority groups (racial, religious, etc.), and who opposes Red-baiting[by whom?] as an illegal abridgement of the citizens’ civil and political rights.
Contemporary usages

The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (1999), defines the term fellow-travelleras a post-revolutionary political term derived from the Russian word poputchik, with which the Bolsheviks described political sympathizers who hesitated to publicly support the Bolshevik Party and Communism in Russia, after the Revolution of 1917

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) defines the term fellow-traveller as “a non-Communist who sympathizes with the aims and general policies of the Communist Party”; and, by transference, as a “person who sympathizes with, but is not a member of another party or movement”.

Safire’s Political Dictionary (1978), defines the term fellow traveller as a man or a woman “who accepted most Communist doctrine, but was not a member of the Communist party”; and, in contemporary usage, defines the term fellow traveller as a person “who agrees with a philosophy or group, but does not publicly work for it.”

See also

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