Robert Moss

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 586

Fellow-travelling is less a passing fashion than a particular cast of mind. The symptoms of those writers and intellectuals who, never having set foot inside a car factory in their own countries, sang the praises of Soviet tractor production and turned a blind eye to the horrors of the Stalinist purges are by no means confined to the period before 1956, when the suppression of the Hungarian revolt belatedly brought many of them to their senses. A complete compendium of fellow-travelling since the Bolshevik revolution would also have to take account of the apologias that a later, by no means undistinguished, generation of literati have contrived for communist regimes in China, Cuba, North Vietnam and, most recently, for the Marxist experiment in Chile.

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No doubt there is a distinction to be drawn between the fellow-travelling of the citified, rational and statistics-conscious Old Left … and the third-worldly, romantic, bring-the-revolution-home antics of the New Left. But it is a pity that Mr Caute confines his study [The Fellow-Travellers] to the period between the late 1920s and 1956, with a quick after-glance at Edgar Snow's visits to China and a few historical allusions to admirers of the French revolution.

It is also a pity that his fairly chunky book reads like a grab-bag of half-assimilated quotations and potted biographies, punctuated by schoolboyish jibes at the foibles of his victims and the schoolmasterly awarding of marks ("gamma minus for that") for pro-Soviet double-think. His strictures, of course, are often well deserved. He shows the gullibility and worse of the literary pilgrims on the road to Stalin's Moscow….

Mr Caute supplies endless examples of the perversion of language by the western intellectuals of the 1930s and 1940s who took flight from the world of the depression and the Nazis and, without becoming communists, looked for a spiritual home in Russia. Their logical contortions and Orwellian inversions … were just their way of not looking at the facts that showed their myth of Russia to be a sham. The New Left has at least been more honest in conceding that revolution means bloodshed and dictatorship; although the old sheepskin of euphemism, evasion and cooked statistics is still pulled out to cover up the real effects of forced collectivisation and police repression in Cuba or North Vietnam.

What is amazing, in retrospect, is that the illusions Mr Caute discusses were so prevalent in intellectual circles at the time. It is not enough to say that that was the result of the fascist tide of the entre-deux-guerres. A composite picture of the fellow-travelling temperament … emerges from Mr Caute's confused, scarcely structured notes.

The fellow-traveller tries to impose his own values on an alien situation…. He practises a kind of moral schizophrenia: antidemocratic and violent practices that he would not be prepared to condone in his own society are all right somewhere else. (p. 110)

Mr Caute's book, for all its defects of style and structure and its lack of any sort of conclusion to tie his thoughts together, is worth reading as the partial itinerary of an intellectual heresy. It is singularly caustic in its judgments, although the author tries to redress the balance with a few side-swipes at McCarthyism. Mr Caute is much younger than most of the men he describes, but perhaps the acid that leaks from his pen stems from his own disenchantment with some of their attitudes. (pp. 110-11)

Robert Moss, "When Dogs Do Praise Their Fleas," in The Spectator (© 1973 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 230, No. 7544, January 27, 1973, pp. 110-11.

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