Fellow traveler

Fellow traveler

Fellow traveler or fellow traveller is a term referring to a person who sympathizes with the beliefs of an organization or cooperates in its activities without maintaining formal membership in that particular group. In the early Soviet Union the approximate term was used without negative connotation to describe writers and artists sympathetic to the goals of the Russian Revolution who declined to join the Communist Party. The English-language phrase came into vogue in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s as a pejorative term for a sympathizer of Communism or particular Communist states, who was nonetheless not a "card-carrying member" of a Communist party.


Usage in Europe

Soviet Russia

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the term "fellow traveler" (Russian: попутчик, poputchik; literally: "one who travels the same path") was sometimes applied to Russian writers who accepted the revolution's ends but were not active participants. The term became famous because of Trotsky's 1924 book Literature and Revolution, in which he discussed "fellow-travelers" in Chapter 2: "The Literary 'Fellow-Travellers' of the Revolution." Trotsky wrote:

Between bourgeois art, which is wasting away either in repetitions or in silences, and the new art which is as yet unborn, there is being created a transitional art which is more or less organically connected with the Revolution, but which is not at the same time the art of the Revolution. Boris Pilnyak, Vsevolod Ivanov, Nicolai Tikhonov, the “Serapion Fraternity”, Yesenin and his group of Imagists and, to some extent, Kliuev — all of them were impossible without the Revolution, either as a group, or separately. ... They are not the artists of the proletarian Revolution, but her artist “fellow-travellers”, in the sense in which this word was used by the old Socialists. ... As regards a “fellow-traveller”, the question always comes up – how far will he go? This question cannot be answered in advance, not even approximately. The solution of it depends not so much on the personal qualities of this or that “fellow-traveller”, but mainly on the objective trend of things during the coming decade.[1]

During the relatively open era of the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union, some writers were able to write on subjects as they chose. During the following periods of repression, particularly after the ascendancy of Joseph Stalin, who conducted the widespread Great Purge, many intellectuals found their positions difficult. Writers, as well as millions of political activists, teachers, farmers and ordinary people, were arrested and sent to labor camps in Siberia, where many perished. Some writers emigrated when the authorities refused to allow publication of anti-regime works, while others ceased writing altogether, sometimes under coercion.[citation needed]

General European use

Throughout Europe, the term was used to describe those who, without being Communist Party members of their respective countries, had Communist sympathies. They may have attended communist meetings, written in communist journals, and fought alongside communists against Franco's fascist government in Spain (in the 1930s), and similar rightist governments in Greece (in the late 1940s).

Many French journalists, intellectuals and writers in the 1930s and 1940s were described (and sometimes referred to themselves) as fellow travelers, including André Gide, André Malraux, Romain Rolland, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. American writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn were also called fellow travelers.


The Greek military junta of 1967-1974 used the term Synodiporia (literally: The ones walking the street together or fellow travellers) as an umbrella term to denote leftist sympathisers and in general all domestic democratic opponents of the junta. Diethnis (i. e. international) Synodiporia was used by the Greek junta for the international supporters of the domestic leftist sympathisers and their allies.

Use in the Americas

United States

In the United States, the term was adapted from Europe to describe those who, while not Communist Party members, may hold views shared by Communists. Given the economic and social problems in the US and the world in the 1920s and 1930s, many younger people, artists and intellectuals, had sympathy for the Communist cause and hoped that it could lead to better societies. Some African Americans joined because the Communist Party held political positions sympathetic to their struggle for civil rights and social justice.

As in Europe, in the 1920s and 1930s numerous American intellectuals sympathized or joined the Communist Party in the United States as young activists. In part this also reflected people's search for answers to social problems during the drastic dislocations of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl years, when the inequities of American society seemed overwhelming. Columnist Max Lerner included the term in his 1936 article for The Nation called "Mr. Roosevelt and His Fellow Travelers." Future HUAC chief investigator J. B. Matthews would use the term in the title of his last book, Odyssey of a Fellow Traveler (1938). (In The Age of Roosevelt (1957), Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. would call Matthews in turn a "Social Gospel fellow traveler."[2]) In 1962, reviewing Daniel Aron's Writers on the Left, TIME states "among the famous fellows who traveled were Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and Theodore Dreiser."[3] Dos Passos was probably the most notorious of all: in 1940, he was already being cited as "Number One Literary Fellow Traveler."[4] Whittaker Chambers used the term in a satirical 1941 article for TIME: "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."[5]

Following World War II, membership in the US Communist Party experienced a dramatic decline. Information reached the West about the widespread purges and show trials conducted by Joseph Stalin. Together with information about millions of deaths during collectivization, many adherents rethought their commitments. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union exercised power over much of Central and Eastern Europe, through puppet governments and its Red Army. Revelations about Soviet use of espionage to expedite development of an atomic bomb in competition with the US led to widespread feelings of threat throughout the U.S., which some historians have described as the Second Red Scare.

Some in the political establishment were quick to capitalize upon it.

Beginning in 1946, a new round of Congressional hearings were held in an attempt to detail the extent of Soviet influence in American government and society and its cultural institutions. It was during this super-heated period that the term "fellow traveler" came into common use as a political pejorative. US Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin claimed there were numerous public and secret sympathizers of the Soviet regime within the State Department and US Army. Many individuals in publishing, film, TV and theater were blacklisted on mere suspicion of Communist sympathies, even when any active affiliation was decades in the past.

In Masters of Deceit (1958), J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the FBI, defined a "fellow traveler" as one of five types of dangerous subversives.[6] He believed any of them might promote the goal of a Communist overthrow of the United States government. The five types were:

  1. The card-carrying Communist, one who openly admits membership in the Communist party
  2. The underground Communist, one who hides his Communist party membership
  3. The Communist sympathizer, a potential Communist because of holding Communist views
  4. The fellow traveler, someone not a potential Communist or influential advocate for Communist views but who agrees with some of those views
  5. The dupe, a person who is obviously not a Communist or a potential Communist but whose views serve to enable Communists. Examples are a prominent religious leader calling for pacifism or a prominent jurist opposing red-baiting tactics on civil liberty grounds.

In Safire's Political Dictionary (1978), William Safire defined "fellow traveler" as "one who accepted most Communist doctrine, but was not a member of the Communist party; in current use, one who agrees with a philosophy or group but does not publicly work for it."[7]

See also


  1. ^ Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, Chapter 2 Cnn.com.
  2. ^ Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. (1957). The Coming of the New Deal, 1933-1935 (The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. 2). Houghton Mifflin. p. 359. ISBN 1-4254-8258-9. 
  3. ^ "The Fellows Who Traveled". Time Magazine. February 2, 1962. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,829020-1,00.html. Retrieved May 17, 2010. 
  4. ^ Balch (editor), Marston (1940). Modern short biographies and autobiographies‎. Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 356. http://books.google.com/books?cd=33&id=DRG1AAAAIAAJ&dq=%22fellow+traveler%22+%22dos+passos%22&q=%22fellow+traveler%22#search_anchor. 
  5. ^ [|Chambers, Whittaker] (January 6, 1941). "The Revolt of the Intellectuals". Time Magazine (WhittakerChambers.org). http://www.whittakerchambers.org/timemagazine.html. Retrieved May 17, 2010. 
  6. ^ Hoover, J. Edgar (1958). Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1-4254-8258-9. 
  7. ^ Safire, William (1978, 1993, 2008). Safire's political dictionary. Random House. ISBN 0394502612. 

Further reading

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • fellow traveler — n. [transl. of Russ poputchik] a person who espouses the cause of a party, esp. a Communist Party, without being a member; sympathizer …   English World dictionary

  • fellow traveler — noun 1. a communist sympathizer (but not a member of the Communist Party) • Syn: ↑fellow traveller • Hypernyms: ↑sympathizer, ↑sympathiser, ↑well wisher 2. a traveler who accompanies you • Syn: ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • fellow traveler — fellow traveling /fel oh trav euh ling, trav ling/, adj. 1. a person who supports or sympathizes with a political party, esp. the Communist party, but is not an enrolled member. 2. anyone who, although not a member, supports or sympathizes with… …   Universalium

  • fellow\ traveler — noun A sympathizer with a political movement who does not officially belong to the political party in question. Many Germans after World War II were innocently accused of being fellow travelers of Nazism. During the McCarthy era, many Americans… …   Словарь американских идиом

  • fellow traveler — noun Etymology: translation of Russian poputchik Date: 1925 a person who sympathizes with and often furthers the ideals and program of an organized group (as the Communist party) without membership in the group or regular participation in its… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • fellow traveler — Synonyms and related words: Bolshevik, Bolshevist, Castroite, Communist, Communist sympathizer, Leninist, Maoist, Marxist, Marxist Leninist, Red, Stalinist, Titoist, Trojan horse, Trotskyist, Trotskyite, avowed Communist, bodyguard, bolshie,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • fellow traveler — fel′low trav′eler n. gov a person who supports or sympathizes with a group or party, esp. a Communist Party, but is not a member • Etymology: 1935–40; trans. of Russ popútchik fel′low trav′eling, adj …   From formal English to slang

  • fellow traveler —   Hoa hele …   English-Hawaiian dictionary

  • fellow — c.1200, from O.E. feolaga fellow, partner, from O.N. felagi, from fe money (see FEE (Cf. fee)) + verbal base denoting lay (see LAY (Cf. lay) (v.)). Sense is of one who puts down money with another in a joint venture. Used familiarly since mid 15c …   Etymology dictionary

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