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.
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.