Friday, June 07, 2013

Fellow Travelers and Conducted Tours
Moral Cretinism Part X

I have in several previous postings mentioned the various examples of moral cretinism concerning Communism and Stalinism.1 Here I will briefly discuss the phenomena of Stalinist Fellow travelling in the 1930’s and 40’s through a very useful and informative text, The Fellow Travellers.2 The book supplies a gold mine of information about moral corruption and intellectual incompetence.

The book was originally published in 1973 and not surprisingly was not very well liked by Communists and their fellow travelling supporters. Of course they accused the author of being a shill for the “Capitalist Class”, among other bon mots that substituted hyperbole for analysis.3 That were pure smear. The author David Caute was a man of the Left and he wrote one of the better books about McCarthyism The Great Fear, which denounces the thing as in many respects an hysterical purge.4 Although the book is marred by occasional hyperbole and the downplaying of actual Soviet subversion it is still a very useful book about the time period.

Given that David Caute is hardly someone who can be described as “a tool of the Capitalist Class”, his book on the Fellow Travellers is all the more devastating. They come across in his book as an unpleasant collection of intellectuals who fell prey to delusions and then in far too many cases clung to that delusion for years or even decades. It is in in fact rather frightening.

In fact what makes the whole thing even more appalling is when the Fellow Travellers fell in love, and love is indeed the right word – irrational, brain cell killing love, with Russia. It was and I am not kidding right at the time that Russia under Stalin embarked on its most hideous atrocities.5

Fellow Travellers were the victims or should I say willing dupes of the conducted tour. The conducted tour was a fraudulent exercise in which the mark would be taken to a carefully orchestrated series of places where he / she would see and experience a carefully choreographed event and site. The whole thing was pretty phony and goes back to Potemkin’s fake villages. And since so many of the Fellow Travellers wanted and desired to be deceived they were.6

Thus the Fellow Traveller was sent to fake, factories, fake villages, fake prisons etc. He / she would then report about how wonderful and advanced the Soviets where and how all the negative stuff was just lies and propaganda and that what his / her firsthand experience showed was in fact the opposite.

Thus we get a reporter by the name of Owen Lattimore who had accompanied then Vice President Henry A. Wallace in the Summer of 1944 on a tour of Soviet Asia. During it they were taken to see the Kolyma labour camp. They were given the full Potemkin village treatment and proved utterly unable to perceive that they were: A), being deceived and B) this was a slave labour camp. The fact that many of camp guards played the “settlers” was also missed.

Owen Lattimore

In fact Kolyma was one of the very worst of Soviet forced labour camps. With a reputation for brutality and horror among the other inmates of the Gulag.7 That Lattimore the reporter missed all of this is remarkable. Further Lattimore wrote a truly embarrassing article for National Geographic. In which we learn what a happy, wonderful place Kolyma was and how warm and friendly the camp commander Nikishov was along with his nice wife Gridassova.8

In fact Nikishov is described as having:

…a trained and sensitive interest in art and music and also a deep sense of civic responsibility.9

Of course the war situation and the fact Russia was an ally played a role but still both Wallace and Lattimore were deceived. But whereas Wallace admitted he had been deceived within four years Lattimore never did.10

Henry A. Wallace

In fact later on Lattimore said:

So the only editorial pressure on the text of my article was for the addition of friendly human touches. Hence the appearance of the names of Mr. and Mrs. Nikishov. It is hard, sometimes, to remember those days when the Russians were saving us all.11

As said it appears that:

The American delegation went to the-ballet in Magadan, where prisoners danced for NKVD officials. The Kolyma NKVD boss at the time was Ivan Nikishov, whose Wife was head of Maglag the camps of district Magadan. Both were notorious for their cruelty and for their love of luxury - they had a lavish private hunting lodge and nature preserve.12

The above is a truly outstanding example of Fellow Travelling and true believer credulity. And in Caute’s book there are many, many more.

But in regards to conducted tours not everyone was deceived despite persistent and in some case quite massive efforts to deceive. The French writer Andre Gide for example was not deceived in fact his trip put an end to his bout of fellow travelling.

Andre Gide

Gide became a Fellow Traveller because of his disgust with French colonialism and society and by early 1932 he was identifying himself has temperamentally a Communist; although he remained far too much an individualist to become a member of the Communist party. Even during the few years that he was a Fellow Traveller he told a French Communist Party bureaucrat that intellectuals like him made very poor allies because:

…it is to the truth that I attach myself; if the Party deserts it, at the same moment I desert the Party.13

Sadly many of the Fellow Travellers, unlike Gide, preferred to believe Big Brother and accept the bullet in the brain than exercise their judgment. The will and desire to submit to the new all-knowing all wise state conquered reason and turned so many of them into embarrassing lap dogs to tyranny.

So in the mid 1930’s Gide visited Russia on of those fraudulent conducted tours where he was treated like a king. He was not fooled and was less than impressed. He also managed to break out of the guided tour from time to time much to the annoyance of his hosts.

What got to Gide during his conducted tour was how conformist Russia under Stalin was. Since Gide was anything but a conformist this annoyed him to no end. He found that the Soviet press was telling the Russians what to think and that if he talked to one Russian he was talking to them all. The heavy breath of something like a dominant High School clique seemed to control everything in Russia.

Gide also noted that wages were low, toilet paper dear and Bureaucrats monopolized the best shops and housing. Then there was the poor quality of goods in the shops and the unpleasantly conformist way all the professional writers regarded their craft.

Gide found that Soviet Democracy was non-existent and whole thing a hollow shell of empty political posturing. Russia was governed by a tiny oligarchy; with Stalin has its virtually deified leader.14

In a telling indication of Stalin worship Gide had been told to replace the word “you” in a telegram to Stalin with the phrase “you leader of the workers”. Royalty must be addressed by their correct titles. (snark)15

Gide concluded that in Russia the opposition was systematically suppressed and terror was omnipresent. Those who sucked up to the regime prospered, those of real independence and courage were destroyed.16

When Gide got back from Russia he was very forthright in his opinions and even wrote a book about it.17

Not surprisingly Gide was subject to acres and acres of abuse by Communists and Fellow Travellers when he got back. The accusations were of course about him being a lackey of the Fascists and a tool of the Capitalist class and assorted other drivel.

Rather interestingly George Bernard Shaw who became perhaps the ultimate Fellow Traveller and remained so didn't join in the abuse. Shaw’s weakness for dictatorial regimes, along with eugenics, is frankly embarrassing, but then Shaw was always impatient with the rules and protocols of western democracy and liked the supposed “fact” that dictatorships got things done. And like far too many of the Fellow Travellers he became one when the Soviet Union changed direction under Stalin and became far more brutal and dictatorial.18

George Bernard Shaw

Shaw had been given a conducted tour in 1931, during the period of the insanity of the Collectivization campaign and the beginnings of the famine that was to kill millions. He was quite completely taken in. But then it seemed so rational, scientific and stuff was getting done! (Snark)19

However still being the intellectual gadfly Shaw praised Gide’s book and still went on Fellow Travelling afterwords.20

If Gide given a conducted tour could pierce the web of deception and fakery that was created in an attempt to gull him than anyone of intelligence could do so. The fact that so many who were taken on these conducted tours did not indicates that there was a large dose of deliberate self-deception involved and hence moral cretinism.

Thus we get the truly amazing moral cretinism of the Webb’s. Sidney and Beatrice Webb were brother and sister and heavily involved with the group of British Socialists called Fabians who believed, very strongly, in planning to get rid of social ills. They also were to put it mildly impatient with the slowness of democracy.

Beatrice and Sidney Webb

They wrote in 1935 Soviet Communism: A New Civilization?,21 (The question mark disappeared in later editions.) They also wrote a lot of other Fellow Travelling literature and further embarrassed themselves by justifying the purges. In fact in regards to Stalin’s Russia they thoroughly embarrassed themselves. It is ironic that the above book is not worthless and does indeed contain a lot of useful information but in the end it is a thoroughly embarrassing apologia for Stalinism thoroughly emptied of analytical value by its continually taking the Soviet Union’s government at their word.

In 1932 they were given the full on conducted tour of the Soviet Union and they were thoroughly gulled. Because they wanted to be gulled. Thus they celebrated the abolition of the death penalty in Russia! This when death sentences by the thousands were being carried out each year, a fact easily ascertained and only a few years before the Great Terror would raise the totals to several hundred thousand per year for a couple of years!22

Thus as one commentator has noted the Webb’s functioned as useful idiots for the Stalin regime

As is well known, in the 1930s they, together with the third of the Fabian triad, Bernard Shaw, became convinced Stalinists, firmly persuaded that in Russia Stalin, having buried the Russian Revolution as a mistake, was building the Fabian social order in all its purity. This point of view they, put forward at length in their work Soviet Communism, which demonstrated by industrious search through the Propaganda Ministry's handouts that the beneficent nature of the Stalinist state was proved by Stalin's own documents.23

As for Bernard Shaw he wrote a book that was published after his death under the name The Rationalization of Russia,24 It consisted of long notes he wrote down after a trip to Russia in the early 1930’s were he was thoroughly gulled. The book is appalling, full of justifications for terror and violence and condemning such things as freedom of the press, individual  liberties, constitutional guaranties etc. They all have to be smashed in order for capitalism to be overthrown. Shaw states that:

The question is not to kill or not to kill, but how to select the right people to kill.25

I will spare the reader anymore of Shaw’s mindless celebrations of Stalinist violence and alleged “rationality”. Although it is interesting to note that Shaw was fully aware that the Soviet Union under Stalin was a brutal tyranny, only he thinks that is just fine and dandy?!

One writer refers to “Shaw's septuagenarian drivel”, it is entirely appropriate in regards to this quite silly and awful book.26

Of course the bottom line was that that many of the Fellow Travellers were not Marxists, let alone revolutionaries. They were instead heirs to the authoritarian side of the Enlightenment that believed in top down solutions and rule by a rational philosophical elite. They were impatient with the alleged slowness of compromises of conventional bourgeois democracy and wanted rational, planned change now. They also thought what was going on in Russia was wonderful for Russia but inapplicable in the west. Thus they overlooked with much ease things in Russia which would have raised their hackles in the west.27

Thus Stalinism was good for Russia but not good for the West and they often had little liking or patience for Western Communist parties.

Perhaps at another time I will go more into this book and its caustic look at the Fellow Travellers.

1. See HereHereHereHere and Here.

2. Caute, David, The Fellow Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, Revised  Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN, 1988.

3. I remember reading a review to that effect in a Communist publication c. 1976. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific than that.

4. Caute, David, The Great Fear, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1978.

5. Caute, 1988, pp. 19-63.

6. IBID, pp. 64-139.

7. See Conquest, Robert, Kolyma, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

8. The article can be found in National Geographic, v. 86, (December 1944), pp. 641-676.

9. IBID. and Footnote 10, Conquest, p. 210.

10. Hochschild, Adam, Unquiet Ghosts, Mariner Books, New York, 2003, Here. See the account of Wallace and Lattimore’s visit in Conquest, pp. 204-214, which has the aspect of a quite unfunny black comedy.

11. Caute, 1988, p. 109.

12. Footnote 10.

13. Gide, Andre, quoted in Caute, 1988, p. 103.

14. Caute, 1988, pp. 103-106.

15. IBID, p. 104.

16. Footnote 13.

17. The book is Gide, Andre, Retour de I’URSS, Paris, 1936.

18. Caute, 1988, pp. 83-84.

19., IBID, pp. 96, 217.

20. IBID, p. 105.

21. Webb, Beatrice, & Webb, Sidney, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization?, Charles Scriber’s Sons, New York, 1936. (Two Volumes).

22. Caute, 1988, p. 106-107.

23. Draper, Hal, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat: From Marx to Lenin,  Monthly Review Press, New York, 1987. p. 153.

24, Shaw, Bernard, The Rationalization of Russia, Indiana University Press, 1964.

25. Shaw, Bernard, quoted in Draper, Hal, “Bang”, New Politics, Sept. 1966, pp. 94-95, at 94.

26. Draper, 1987, p. 154.

27. Caute, 1988, pp. 264-281.

Pierre Cloutier


  1. Anonymous1:47 pm

    The analogy with a High School clique reminds me of Sheila Fitzpatrick comparing the Stalinist USSR with a strict, authoritarian boarding school.

  2. Shelia Fitzpatrick is a interesting case. She was a Revisionist who sought to "normalize" the History and society of the Soviet Union. Although her research and writings before the Soviet Union collapsed are useful and interesting in many ways she was stunningly wrongheaded. Her down playing, then, of the purges, collectivization and the gulag and frankly the totalitarian nature of the Soviet regime, especially Stalinism are not impressive scholarly feats. It is of interest that since the fall of the Soviet Union the quality of her research and scholarship has improved and she has produced some truly impressive work on the mechanisms of repression and social control in Stalinist Russia.

    Getty, another revisionist, who wrote the seriously flawed The Origins of the Great Purges has also since the the fall of the Soviet regime produced some truly impressive work. His early book on the purges is however incredibly flawed, with assertions that the number of dead in the purges number "only" in the tens of thousands and all sorts of similar dumbness, and frankly is a joke.