About Useful Stooges

The term “useful idiot,” which is generally attributed to Lenin, was used during the Soviet era to describe Western authors, journalists, activists, and others who lent support to the Kremlin, either because they were getting paid, in some way or other, for their perfidy, or because they sincerely thought they were standing up for something admirable – even though, in fact, they were being exploited and manipulated by tyrants who held them in utter contempt.

duranty
Walter Duranty, stooge extraordinaire

The quintessential “useful idiot” of the Stalinist era was probably Walter Duranty, the New York Times‘s longtime correspondent in Moscow, who did more than any of his contemporaries to spread Soviet propaganda under the guise of news – and to discredit colleagues who dared to tell the truth about the brutality of Stalin’s regime. Duranty defended the Gulag (in which millions died), the forced collectivization of peasants (ditto), and the 1938 show trials (used by Stalin to wipe out potential opponents). He also vigorously denied the reality of the Holmodor, the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, which was deliberately engineered by Stalin and which also resulted in millions of deaths.

Today, a quarter century after the USSR ended up on the ash-heap of history, there are still autocratic leaders around the globe who enrich themselves by raiding the public treasury even as most of their subjects wallow in poverty, and who stay in power by suppressing freedom of speech and assembly and by imprisoning, torturing, and murdering their critics; and there are, alas, still plenty of persons in positions of respect and influence who, for a variety of reprehensible reasons, are eager to defend them.

We’ve given this site the name “Useful Stooges” instead of “Useful Idiots” because some of the unsavory characters discussed here are not, strictly speaking, idiots: as was the case with Duranty and many other foreign lapdogs of Lenin and Stalin, a number of the pawns of tyrants in our own time are highly shrewd but morally bankrupt people who, quite simply, either admire despotism or have figured out ways, sometimes quite ingenious, to profit from their cynical support for it. Although not technically fools, then, they are definitely stooges, in the sense of “persons used by criminals in perpetrating their crimes.”

On this site, the criminals we’re most concerned with are heads of state, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, who practice corruption and oppression on a colossal scale – and the stooges are those, either domestically or internationally, who serve them, praise them, and provide them with positive PR even though they know better, or should.

 

 

12 thoughts on “About Useful Stooges

  1. Thank you very much for your great work! You are returning my ckracked believe in Western journalism that loooks as the combination of morons and dodgy rogues.I`ll be your faithful reader.

  2. I just read your critique of RealPolitik and have to take issue. Throughout the Cold War America would not tolerate Soviet allies on its borders. We almost went to nuclear war over it in fact. And that’s the thing. Unlike Chamberlain’s appeasement politics of 1939 (and not just poor old Neville it should be noted), today we do have to tread carefully. Russia may only be a “gas station” but it’s a gas station with nuclear missiles. That’s reality. Russia has never approached the US in global reach and involvement. However, it has always been famously paranoid about meddling in its “near-at home” – countries like the Ukraine and Georgia. That’s reality too. So we can play brinkmanship and stir things up in Kiev and admit Montenegro to NATO – if that’s what the democratically elected governments of candidate countries want then that’s the noble and idealistic thing to do. On the other hand, as we saw with Crimea and lately in Syria, Putin may not be a Krushchev and blink at the crucial moment. It’s harsh : leaving Georgia etc in Russia’s ambit but at risk is not simply the freedoms of a single nation but the survival of our race. I care passionately about our freedoms and democracy and one of the ways of preserving them is to avoid nuclear war. In our era Realpolitik is not appeasement, it is a necessary evil.

  3. Hello! Delighted to find your blog. Would you be interested in being republished on Euromaidanpress.com?

  4. “The term ‘useful idiot,’ which is generally attributed to Lenin”. Do you think Lenin actually used that term or not? If yes, when and where did he use it? If not, why link it with his name?

  5. I’m having trouble finding the name/s of the people who run this blog. I expected to find such info here, on the ‘about’ page, but no joy. As the very premise of this website is to criticise people by name, shouldn’t the names of the authors also be shown for the sake of transparency and so we, as readers, know for sure we’re not dealing with the kinds of vested interests you so condemn?

    I’m sure you’re not that hypocritical to ignore this paradox so I’m sure this is an oversight from me and I expect you can easily direct me to more comprehensive information about your website’s authors.

    If not, what are you ashamed of?

    1. I also came here looking for name(s) of this blog’s administration, Ben. The name(s)’s absence and this blog’s content in general remind me of propornot.com.

  6. I was looking back for references to Duranty in some of my writings, had a decent piece on War of the Worlds referencing him in the context of the Algonquin Round Table and that whole crew of Popular Front ‘stooges’. Sorry this is long but you might like it:

    The Information War of the Worlds

    The book “War of the Worlds” was published in late 1897 by H.G. Wells, a British author and political commentator. In the final months of World War I, H.G. Wells was was in charge of all British propaganda directed at Germany. Following the second World War (WWII), Sir William Stephenson, who headed up the British Security Coordination (BSC) which was a predecessor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and was a real life model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond said of Wells: “H. G. Wells became a good friend and adviser. The public knew him as a historian and prophet in fiction. Few knew about his passionate belief that in the science-fiction wars to come, our first line of defense would be information, rapidly conveyed.”

    Wells was also a passionate socialist, though he was not a Marxist. In addition to having been later revered by Sir William Stephenson, he also seems to have been influenced by Communist operatives such as Willi Munzenberg since the early 1930’s. Wells was much closer to Russia though than that. His long term lover and secretary, Moura Budberg, had known him since at least 1920 and potentially earlier. At times, Budberg had offered her services to both British and Tsarist intelligence and had been long suspected as a Soviet spy by the British. In 1920, she introduced H.G. Wells to Lenin and in 1934, to Stalin. (In fact, when she was interrogated by British Intelligence in the 1950s, the socialite Budberg was responsible for implicating Anthony Blunt as a member of the Cambridge Five, and she reported on Guy Burgess as well.)

    In 1933, with Hitler’s war machine menacing Europe, Wells had written the anti-fascist story “The Shape of Things to Come” which included notable predictions for the start of WW2. In 1934-35, Moura Budberg facilitated a meeting between Wells and the film producer Sir Alexander Korda, who wanted to adapt an H.G. Wells property into a movie. Some sources suggest that Korda wanted to make a film of “War of the Worlds” but this is not clear. However, he did purchase the rights to “The Shape of Things to Come” which he adapted as the 1936 film “Things to Come”. Today it is seen as an antifascist propaganda movie. (Later, Budberg would go on to be Korda’s secretary and even select many of his scripts for him.)

    In 1934-35, War of the Worlds had already been attempted to be made into a movie twice (first by Cecil B Demille and secondly in 1930 by Sergei Eisenstein who abandoned the project to make his unfinished Que Viva Mexico propaganda film). In addition to no longer owning the film rights to War of the Worlds when he met Korda, H.G. Wells had reportedly grown frustrated with attempts to adapt his books into film and wanted to have creative control of “Things to Come” which Korda provided — and which ultimately also proved frustrating for the film’s director (Wm. Cameron Menzies) and disastrous for the scope/cost of the film.

    Korda had been making anti-fascist propaganda of his own since 1933 (“The Private Life of Henry VIII”) and made WWII’s first English language propaganda movie in the film “The Lion Has Wings” (1939). Why this is key and important is that Korda’s film company had been financed by British Intelligence, and he had been working for the “Z Organization” since at least the mid 1930’s which was headed by the “utter shit” Claude Dansey (aka Colonel Z, who would even go to work for Korda around 1944). At times, Korda had been sent to Hollywood specifically for propaganda purposes, and was likely knighted in 1942 for actions related to this duty. Other members of the Z Organization included figures like playwright Sir Noel Coward, who like Korda, would go to work for the BSC and be knighted for their prewar service. By the 1940’s Korda’s BSC colleague H. Montgomery Hyde described his studio as a “clearinghouse for British intelligence”.

    In 1934-35 Orson Welles also made his first forays into Hollywood. He immediately made inroads with a clique headed by the cantankerous (leftist) Alexander Woollcott, who was the subject of the play “The Man who Came to Dinner”. Woollcott was also the figurehead of the notable “Algonquin Round Table” which was a literary society known for their pranks and practical jokes, and had operated in the 1920’s (dissolving somewhat officially by 1929). Members of this clique included popular front devotees like Dorothy Parker (who founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League with influence from Willi Munzenberg’s deputy Otto Katz), Donald Ogden Stewart (who married Katz’ known spy Ella Winter), and Walter Duranty (a known apologist for Stalin). It also included Noel Coward. Herman Mankiewicz — Orson Welles co-writer for Citizen Kane was a member. It also included Robert Sherwood as a founding member, who would be an influential speechwriter for Roosevelt and head up the Foreign Information Service.

    In 1935, a less known radio hoax than the one that would happen in 1938 occurred, but this one was targeted at Alexander Woollcott. Woollcott was the radio announcer and someone had sent him emotional letters from two dying sisters who he fruitlessly tracked down for some time. While a perpetrator for the hoax was never identified, the hoax on Woollcott fit closely in the tradition of the Algonquins, and Orson Welles almost certainly would have known of it, since Woollcott was his mentor who gave him his first film role around this time. (Also for precedence of the 1938 broadcast to come, in 1926, another radio panic had happened at the BBC — in 1937 Orson Welles had dabbled in intervening news bulletins on his “Shadow” radio program, and earlier in 1938, Algonquin-connected Archibald MacLeish had developed the fake news bulletin format in his show “Air Raid”.)

    In 1937, Orson Welles worked on the Joris Ivens film “The Spanish Earth” which had been written by (Algonquin-connected) Ernest Hemingway, and is today regarded as antifascist propaganda. The film focused on the Spanish Civil War and was a popular issue for the Popular Front in Hollywood. The support for antifascist forces in Spain was important for the Comintern, and Otto Katz was an influential figure in directing the Hollywood elite to the plight. Katz would have a direct role in recruiting Hemingway as a willing Soviet agent later by 1940, but can be seen to already have an influence on him by then, as well as influencing others connected to the Algonquins like Dorothy Parker. (Noel Coward even recruited Katz at one point to British intelligence). Here we can again see, that prior to 1938’s Halloween broadcast of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles was working with antifascist causes, and his biographer Peter Bogdanovich asserts these ideas were “very much on [Welles] mind” when he made the radio play.

    The bottom line is that all of the elements for War of the Worlds to be considered not a “spontaneous prank”, but rather as a piece of pre-war propaganda were all there, from the radio prank on Woollcott to MacLeish and Welles’ own prior radio work which pioneered the format — not to mention the 1926 BBC “Father Knox” panic, which I believe would have been known to some members of the Algonquin Round Table. In September 1938, the Foreign Agents Registration Act was passed which would have mandated that the foreign propagandists operating in Hollywood have disclosed themselves. Many of these figures were working with the tacit approval of the Roosevelt Administration who wanted to get America into the war on Britain’s side. At the same time, Nazis were promoting “America First” and other isolationist propaganda to keep America out of the war. The British and the Russians had a remit to get America into the war at any cost — regardless of ethics — as evidenced by the actions of the BSC transparently in the 1940’s. To boot, H.G. Wells was a proven national British propagandist with compromised lifestyle by Russia, a pattern which appears similar in Alexander Korda. Both of these men were making antifascist propaganda around this time, and both were very fond of Orson Welles. Orson Welles, going on to meet H.G.Wells in 1940 (while Wells was still in correspondence with Budberg), and then being tracked down by the Kordas so he could star as Harry Lime in 1940’s “The Third Man”, a film inspired by the Cambridge Five members Kim Philby and H.P. Smolka.

    Ironically, as you can tell, many of the British espionage assets in this story — Alexander Korda, William Stephenson, and Noel Coward were knighted for their services as propagandists. Conversely, both Willi Munzenberg and Otto Katz were executed by Stalin.

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