Fellow Travelers

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Intellectuals sympathetic to the Bolshevik cause and later to the Soviet Union as a socialist state.

The term fellow traveler (poputchiki ) was used by Vladimir Lenin and other Bolsheviks to describe those who agreed with the principles of socialism but did not accept the entire Bolshevik program. Lenin attacked these "petty-bourgeois fellow travelers" for their weak understanding of theory and tactics, and for leading workers away from revolution. Leon Trotsky, in 1918, described the Left Socialist Revolutionaries in similar terms because of their vacillation on the October Revolution.

The pejorative sense of the term gave way in 1924, when Trotsky argued that fellow travelers in literature could be useful for the young Soviet state. He used the term to describe non-party writers who could serve the cause of revolution even though they were not proletarians. In Literature and Revolution, Trotsky argued that non-party intellectuals were no longer a serious threat and could be guided toward a proletarian view of the world. This was followed by a Central Committee resolution in 1925 refusing to prefer one faction or theory of literature over any other.

The groups and individuals defined as fellow travelers during the 1920s constituted a flourishing artistic and literary culture that produced the best Soviet literature of the decade. The most famous group was the Serapion Brotherhood, whose membership included Konstantin Fedin, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and Vsevolod V. Ivanov. These authors believed that literature should be free from outside control, but were generally sympathetic to the goals of the revolution. Others, perhaps less favorably inclined toward the Bolsheviks but nonetheless counted as fellow travelers, were Boris Pilnyak, Isaac Babel, and Mikhail Bulgakov.

By the late 1920s, fellow travelers were coming under increasing pressure from groups claiming to represent the proletariat, such as the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP). In 1932, all independent organizations for writers and artists disappeared and the Writers' Union was created. Fellow travelers were required to either join the union and follow its rules or stop publishing.

By the end of 1920s, the term "fellow traveler" had been taken up in other countries as a designation for people sympathetic to the Soviet Union and especially for intellectuals who publicly expressed support for Stalin. Romain Rolland and George Bernard Shaw, for instance, praised the Soviet Union and saw it as a real alternative to western political systems. In the postWorld War II era, "fellow traveler" became a term of derision, applied by conservatives to people who were communists in all but party affiliation. Albert Einstein, for example, was called a "dupe and a fellow traveler" by Time magazine in 1949 for his outspoken belief in socialism.

See also: cultural revolution; russian association of proletarian writers; serapion brothers; union of soviet writers


Canute, David. (1988). The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Maguire, Robert. (1987). Red Virgin Soil: Soviet Literature in the 1920s. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Karl E. Loewenstein