For your weekend listening pleasure, the BBC has published a two-part documentary podcast on ‘useful idiots’ – a phrase coined by Lenin about Westerners who endorsed the Soviet Union and its Communist ideologies, usually in the press.
The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and American journalist Walter Duranty were some of those people who also visited the Soviet Union. They mingled with political leaders, were escorted into the countryside by Joseph Stalin’s secret police, and returned home to speak and write of ‘a land of hope’ with ‘evils retreating before the spread of communism’.
However as stories mounted of mass murder and starvation in parts of Russia and the Ukraine, reporters such as Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge investigated and reported on ‘the creation of one enormous Belsen’. Duranty responded with an article in the New York Times headed ‘Story of the famine is bunk’, and got an exclusive interview with Stalin.
Soon after, Jones died and Muggeridge’s career nose-dived. Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer.
How can intellectual curiosity transform into active promotion of a dangerous lie? Why so many ‘useful idiots’?