The Useful Idiots are Here

by Michael Curtis

He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you.  He really is an idiot. Groucho. Oh, how the ghost of you clings, these foolish things remind me of the clowns.

One of the most delightful scenes in film history is that in Casablanca when the corrupt police chief, finding a reason to close Rick’s café, says he is shocked to find that gambling is taking place, a moment before he is given his payment for allowing it. It is shocking to learn than in addition to the devotees, aficionados, addicts of worthless or repellant causes, there are some individuals in Western countries who find reasons to tweet messages that can be interpreted as supporting, or not disapproving, the behavior of the war criminal Vladimir Putin.

It is appropriate to characterize these individuals some of whom are political zealots, but others naïve and easily manipulated, supporting a cause or policy without fully understanding the true objectives of that cause or who are being cynically used, by a derogatory term, as “useful idiots.”

A haunting memory of political idiocy is the debate, King and Country debate, of the Oxford Union on February 9, 1933, ten days after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.  The Union voted 275-153 that it would under no circumstances fight for its King and Country. The vote was described by Winston Churchill, not in power at the time, as “abject, squalid, shameless, avowal.”  Presumably, when World War II started in 1939, many of those who voted against fighting were in British forces.  Yet the abject resolution, the political idiocy, was approved by some intellectuals such as the popular philosopher C.E.M. Joad, maintaining that any invasion of Britain could be defeated by a Gandhi-like campaign of non-violence.

The term “useful idiots” has usually been attributed to Vladimir Lenin but this does not seem to be true. It did appear in the 1940s, usually referring to gullible admirers of communism and of Joseph Stalin in the Western world,  who were critical of their own societies and political and social policies, and were prepared to ally with the communists, and  were friendly to communist causes.  These admirers believed Stalin’s rule, despite its violence and excesses,  expressed ideals as a basis for improving internal conditions in their own societies.

The term, and a concomitant term fellow travelers, was applied to those who did not typically become communists but who were  attracted by and praiseworthy  of  the Soviet Union .

This was particularly true of those Western journalists, intellectuals, left wing socialists who travelled to the USSR and sought to promote peace, but who in fact were approving of tyrannies, especially of Stalin. It remains a puzzle why so many intelligent and well-meaning people, concerned as they were to improve their own societies and though some were mollified by flattery they received from Stalin, allowed themselves to be duped about the reality of the Bolshevik regime. No need to send in the clowns, they are here.

A few examples can illustrate the point. George Bernard Shaw, great playwright and public intellectual, was accustomed to challenging accepted opinion with his unique views of public affairs, including how the English teach their children how to speak.  But a nadir was reached with his appraising Stalin, as well as Lenin, as a great leader, and  the Soviet Union as the great socialist Utopia. He found Stalin charming,  a “Georgian gentleman,” not malicious nor gullible and wrote enthusiastically of the soul of the Russian people.  After his visit to Moscow Shaw said he was leaving the land of hope to return to the West, the countries of despair.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, influential British socialists and Fabians, wrote  a long volume, Soviet Communism, a New Civilization in 1937. They found the USSR  is the most “inclusive and equalized democracy” in the world. They did not think the Communist Party was governed by the will of a single person or that Stalin was the sort of person to claim or desire to be such a person. He was a skillful manager facing stupendous problems.

H.G. Wells, the author of The Invisible Man, after a three hour interview with Stalin on July 23, 1934, confessed  he had never met a man  more candid,  fair, and honest, and it is to these  qualities, to nothing  occult and sinister  that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. No one was  afraid of him and  everyone   trusted him.  Wells earlier had met Lenin and found him an “amazing little man,  very refreshing.”

The past is a different country.  It was the political left who were tolerant of or supporters of the behavior of Stalin in the Soviet Union. Today, in the U.S. and Britain it is individuals, largely for reasons of  party politics, who from various perspectives, mostly right-wing,  have been, at best, equivocal about the behavior of  Putin.

Among them are right-wing supposed defenders of traditional or Christian values, and of the traditional state. Pat Buchanan suggested that Putin “might be  one of us,” in connection with the culture war for mankind’s future.   The French politician Marine Le Pen once thought Putin was  a defender of common values, the values of European civilization.  Italian Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega Nord, denounced  by Ukrainians as a friend of Putin,  heralded the Russian as  “one of the best statemen currently on earth.”

Within the U.S., Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene asserted that peace agreements concerning Ukraine had been routinely violated by both sides, and that an independent Ukraine only exists because the Obama administration helped to overthrow the  previous regime.  She was answered by Liz Cheney, saying only the Kremlin and their friendly useful idiots would call the brutal, unprovoked aggression against Ukraine one for which both sides were equally responsible. Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina called Zelensky a “thug” and the Ukrainian government incredibly evil. More moderately, Senator  Mitt Romney wished the U.S. had armed Ukraine more than it had  but asserted Putin was responsible for events in Ukraine.

The British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on March 125, 2022, announced that the government would attempt to stop “useful idiots” spreading   Russian propaganda about the Putin aggression in Ukraine.  An investigation had exposed pro-Putin propaganda at some British universities in addition to political comment.

Alex Salmon, former Scottish first minister, has been presenting a TV show produced by RT, Russian state-controlled broadcast station.  Though Salmon insisted the show was independently produced and had no pressure from the Kremlin, the show did not criticize Putin.  Some stories on the areas of Ukraine under Russian control showed citizens celebrating and waving Russian flags. The show has been suspended but Salmon will try to continue his chat show.

In Britain , some useful idiots border on the delusional.  One is the rapper  Lowkey, Kareem Dennis, who has described Israel as a “racist endeavor,” and declared that  the “Zionist regime”    is directly involved in the Ukrainian  conflict , the result of the Jewish heritage of Zelensky.  David Miller, a sociologist, holds that  Ukraine consists of an  “army of thugs,”    deployed across   the country to intimidate   anyone who seems to be pro-Russian.

Groucho was right.  Who are you going to believe, the propaganda of political idiots, or your own eyes?   One professor, Ray Bush retired from Leeds University, referred to American chemical warfare installations in Ukraine.  Another called the attack on the maternity hospital in Mariupol as “fake news.”  Tim Haywood, at University of Edinburgh, involved in research into global challenges facing the international order, tweeted a post from a Russian government official on March 11, 2022, saying as long as we  can hear two sides of the story, we can be aware of exaggerated fears on either side.  He explained himself by saying there is a danger of escalation of propaganda and disinformation on both sides.  However, he did not  disavow the Russian assertion that it was Ukrainian radicals who set up a firing site within the maternity hospital in Mariupol that was destroyed by the Russians.

A lecturer in international relations, Tara McCormack, at University of Leicester, tweeted there was ludicrous disinformation on all sides in relation to Ukraine.  She explained her position, truth is the first casualty of war, and are  we now not to have opinions on war and conflict approved by our government?

It is sad that some intellectuals and politicians are questioning the reality of events in Ukraine and are in effect useful idiots for Putin and his false narrative. To counter this is not to infringe on principles of free speech or democratic values, but to suggest that implicitly Western systems are being irrationally attacked, together with  the assertion that the West is responsible for  the problems of the world.

Aggression in Ukraine is not about imperialism or colonialism or racism or sexism, but about the actions of a man, Vladimir Putin, a war criminal who came to power as a result of a war in Chechnya that killed 50,000 people, who has approved poisonings of former associates, and responsible for shooting down MH17 plane killing 298, and has imprisoned Alexei Navalny.

The mystery is why political idiots are condoning Russian inhumanity.


4 Responses

  1. Nowadays the population of useful idiots and fools are green. There is not enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to cause a measurable change in temperature. (Moreover this is easy to demonstrate just using arithmetic.)

  2. This time around, there are prominent credulous fools on the political right as well as the left. Putin has them believing that he is an Eastern Orthodox culture warrior who combats Western decadence. He may have inadvertently done so by invading Ukraine.

  3. Ukraine is not even remotely about what they’re telling us about. Ukraine is about the fact that the Ukrainians have used their soil to place dual launch missile pads, missiles that would be aimed at the Soviet Union.

    There are in fact bio labs there funded by our tax dollars, cooking up who knows what pestilence to dump on the Russian people. Putin is acting defensively, he is not acting offensively. But you won’t read that in the mainstream media.

  4. Mr Curtis appears surprised that there are some “idiots condoning Russian inhumanity” in the West. I wonder why. The fellow travellers he describes who condoned the lies propagated by the Soviet Union for 70 years were often regarded as esteemed intellectuals in the West and received awards and accolades for their “work”. Most of them never recanted or apologised for the untruths they supported and spread, not to mention the lives they helped destroy.
    And we’re still surrounded by large numbers of such people. Consider what we have seen in the West these last few years: virtually the entire corporate media propagated the lie that Trump was a “Russian asset” enthusiastically; a deeply flawed “history” of the US (the 1619 project) by a hack journalist was applauded (and awarded); the nonsense that the Jan 6 capitol disturbances constituted an “armed insurrection” is still pushed ad nauseam; brazen mass internet censorship (including an entire social media app literally unplugged overnight) has been cheered on by much of our political class. And the lies, deceit, divisive coercion, hate-filled rhetoric, censorship and absurdities we have endured during the Covid “pandemic” have all been condoned and zealously supported by supposedly intelligent people.

    Of course one of the most effective way of propagating lies is omission. The “success” of Soviet propaganda was often down to the simple fact that major events were ignored. The Soviet people (and many in the West) were never told about the Katyn Wood massacre, the Holodomor etc. etc. To this day many Russians believe that such events are merely Western propaganda. Our own idiots in the West are no different. The emergence of incontrovertible facts that the “Russiagate” drama was a manufactured conspiracy, the Hunter Biden laptop is authentic, the presence of one Ray Epps and his team at the Jan 6 demonstrations and so on and so on have all been happily ignored by our mass media.

    Apparently some 70-80 % of people support Putin in this war. But close to 50% of the American public apparently still believe that Trump was/is controlled by Putin and that that violent, dangerous mob with all those grandmothers in tow was hellbent on capturing the TV and radio stations, military bases and the nuclear codes on Jan 6. After more than a year, no weapons have been found, no conspiracy has been uncovered and not a single “insurrectionist” in the “violent coup” has been charged with violence. Nor were there any bodies on the government side. Yet the belief persists! Idiots indeed.

    Of course Russian propaganda inside Russia today is horrendous. I know, I have Russian friends. People have no choice but to go along with the government line. The alternative, often as not, is to lose their livelihood. But then again, tens of thousands of people in Western democracies have lost their jobs over the past 18 months because they did not take a vaccine which we now know does not work. Many people I know succumbed to “the vaccine” as a simple matter of survival. In short propaganda, of whatever sort, works. So if a few errant souls in the West support Putin’s line it’s not a disaster. I think it is encouraging that it’s so few. Mr Curtis has a right to criticise them but it there is no “mystery” about it.
    He can put it down to good old fashioned human folly. Or, if he prefers, to people with an agenda.

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