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A fellow traveller (UK English) or fellow traveler (US English) is a person who sympathizes with the beliefs of an organization or cooperates in its activities without maintaining formal membership in that particular group. The term was first used in the early Soviet Union to characterize 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 who was nonetheless not an official or "card-carrying member" of a Communist party. In other languages the comparable terms are compagnon de route, sympathisant or progressists in French; Weggenosse or (more generally) Sympathisant in German; and compagno di viaggio in Italian. Often they lent their names and prestige to Communist front organizations.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the term "fellow traveller" (Russian: попутчик, poputchik; literally: "one who travels the same path") was sometimes applied to Russian writers who accepted the revolution but were not active participants. The term became famous because of Trotsky's 1924 book Literature and Revolution, in which he discussed "fellow-travellers" 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.
Throughout Europe, the term was used as a translation of the German Mitläufer, one who was not charged with Nazi crimes but whose involvement with the Nazis was considered significant. It may also have been 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 travellers, 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 travellers.
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.
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 U.S. 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 overthrow capitalism. 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. 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). Other famous writers who traveled included Ernest Hemingway, and Theodore Dreiser. Dos Passos was probably the best known for his politics. He later moved to the right and became avidly anti-Communist. Whittaker Chambers, at this point a former Communist, used the term in a satirical 1941 article for TIME Magazine: "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."
Johnpoll identifies several additional major literary figures in the 1930s who were fellow travelers. Malcolm Cowley, an editor of The New Republic magazine "was a Communist fellow traveler during the 1930s. He also broke with the party over the Nazi-Soviet Pact." Waldo Frank, a novelist and critic, "was a Communist fellow traveler during the mid-1930s." He served as chairman of the Communist-controlled League of American Writers in 1935, but called for an impartial inquiry into the Stalin purges. He was ousted from the chairmanship in 1937.
Rossinow argues that "The American League for Peace and Democracy" (ALPD) was the foremost group working for peace in the 1930s on the basis of antifascism rather than pacifism. He says it was the most important organization within the antifascist, pro-Soviet Popular Front of the Great Depression.
From 1934 to 1939 young historian Richard Hofstadter was active in left-wing groups, including a leadership role in the Young Communist League. In 1938–39 he was a secret member of the Communist Party. Although disillusioned by Stalin's deal with Hitler in 1939, and disgusted with the party's anti-intellectualism, he remained a fellow traveler into the early 1940s say Baker. Eric Foner notes that for some years Hofstadter considered himself a radical. He said that opposition to capitalism was a main reason he had joined the Communist Party, and wrote a friend shortly after leaving the Party that "I hate capitalism and everything that goes with it."
Many fellow travellers broke with Moscow when in August 1939 Stalin and Hitler signed a pact that made them partners and divided Poland and Eastern Europe between them. The Communist party switched and denounced Britain and anti-German spokesmen as war mongers. When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, the Party overnight became war hawks calling for American entry. The U.S. and the USSR became allies 1941-45.
As the Cold War emerged about 1946-48, Communists were increasingly marginalized. They were forced out of leadership roles in the CIO unions. They did play a central role in the presidential campaign of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace in 1948. The membership in the U.S. Communist Party experienced a dramatic decline. Nikita Khrushchev revealed the horrors of Stalinism in a 1957 speech that led many members and fellow travelers to change course away from Communism. Information finally 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, crushing rebellions in East Germany (1953) and Hungary (1956).
With the House Committee on Un-American Activities becoming a permanent Congressional Committee in 1945, and in the penumbra of its subsequent investigations, a new round of Congressional hearings were held after Senator Joseph McCarthy became chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Government Operations Committee in the 1953 83rd Congress. The hearings attempted to detail the extent of Soviet influence in American government and society and its cultural institutions, and it was during this super-heated period that the term "fellow traveler" came into common use as a political pejorative. McCarthy 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. He believed any of them might promote the goal of a Communist overthrow of the United States government. The five types were:
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."