Useful idiots…and Galloway

August 20, 2010 at 10:59 pm (fascism, Galloway, grovelling, intellectuals, Iran, Jim D, Respect, stalinism, terror)

Dan Katz, of Workers Liberty, caught a BBC World Service programme I missed:

The question that John Sweeney’s programme posed was interesting: why have so many seemingly intelligent people turned themselves into apologists for terrible, brutal, murderous regimes?

Harold Pinter defended Slobodan Milosevic. Noam Chomsky sided with Pol Pot’s Cambodian regime. Tony Benn doubted Solidarnosc’s trade union credentials. Jean-Paul Sartre refused to back an investigation into Russian slave labour camps. Vanessa Redgrave’s WRP took Libyan money. The SWP explained away the Taleban’s policy on women. George Galloway prostrated himself in front of Saddam.

There is a long list of “useful idiots” — prominent people who either directly, or effectively, place themselves at the disposal of monsters, and use their reputations as cover for brutality.

But even before Sweeney’s radio programme starts there is irony. The BBC’s blurb attributes the term “useful idiots” to Lenin. They say it is, “supposedly Lenin’s [phrase]”. In fact there is no evidence that Lenin ever said or used the term “useful idiots”.

The blurb says that the term “refers to Westerners duped into saying good things about bad regimes.” Which implies Lenin “duped people” into supporting a “regime” — the early Soviet Russian state — which he knew to be bad.

Hence the BBC’s listings writer has turned his or herself into a “useful idiot” of all those who want to make Lenin a Stalinist. In fact cultivating useful idiots was a project of the Stalinist states and their outposts in the West, the “Communist” parties, not Lenin. “Useful idiot” implies cynicism, contempt and manipulation, and has Stalinist roots.

Self-confessed former “useful idiot” Jonathan Mirsky described a visit to Mao’s China and being shown “Potemkin” schools during the Cultural Revolution. Apparently all schools were shut in China, except for these model schools, open to show gullible Westerners how good life was. He says he was told that there was no crime in China — and dutifully he and other (highly educated) journalists wrote it down and believed (or at least regurgitated) the lie. A guide from that tour later admitted that the state had wanted to “put rings in your noses, and you helped us.”

So the question is: why would intelligent people allow themselves to become propaganda tools of a state which allowed at least 30 million people to starve to death during the “Great Leap Forward”? Clearly part of the answer is that some “useful idiots” have wanted to believe the lies they are told. Which begs a further question: why would someone want to believe that the deranged Mao regime, for example, deserved their complicit silence or support from direct lies? Sweeney’s programme suggests that left-influenced intellectuals who see imperfections in their own societies find comfort in the belief that something better exists elsewhere.

Sweeney claims useful idiots are not just from the left. Ted Heath, Tory Prime Minister, enjoyed the flattery of the Chinese state enough to become their useful idiot in the 1970s. Listening, I am vaguely reminded of the obsequiousness, bag carrying and platform-providing that Socialist Action use to manipulate labour movement figures in the UK.

Sweeney is less convincing when he presents right-wing commentator Bruce Anderson as a useful idiot for Pinochet’s Chilean fascist regime. What Anderson says is genuinely shocking: that the overthrow of democracy and murder of “less than 4000” people (including some who “were innocent”) was a price worth paying to stop the spread of Communism. Nevertheless Anderson is neither naive nor in anyway conflicted — two things that might mark out a real “useful idiot” — he just is a nasty, rational right-winger.

Tony Benn provides a crystal-clear example of the verbal method of the bog-standard useful idiot when he praises Mao and his economic/social policy for developing China. Leaving aside the fact that this is laughable jibberish (for example, the Cultural Revolution destroyed the Chinese education system), Benn only offers mealy-mouthed criticism when pushed hard (Wasn’t Mao a mass murderer? It turns out Benn did not approve of everything Mao did).

In another category of useful idiot is George Galloway. Galloway is different because of the way self-interest and self-promotion is bound up with his toadying. Sweeney considers his relationship with Press TV, the English-language voice of the barbaric Iranian state (Galloway has a programme on Press TV). An Iranian journalist explained how he was tortured in jail and how Press TV collaborated with his interrogators inside the prison. A former Press TV worker stated that the station only presents the regime’s viewpoint.

Galloway refused to appear on the programme, as did Galloway’s comrade, Yvonne Ridley. In a written statement Ridley used an argument that is often heard on the British left: that the BBC’s Director General has turned himself into a useful idiot for the British state and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a defence of Press TV it is pretty stupid (because it admits Press TV is a voice of the Iranian state, simply alleging that the BBC is just as bad). As John Sweeney points out as he ends the programme, the BBC does not only give the government’s point of view, and does not collaborate with torturers. One-nil to Sweeney.

GALLOWAY GROVELS AGAIN:

Galloway asks:

Final question Mr President, every so often an issue comes along, which is seized upon by the enemies of Iran, and magnified, and it becomes a heavy problem. One such is the punishment, scheduled originally against a woman convicted of adultery. The so called stoning case. I see that president Lula from Brazil has asked Iran if he can take this woman into exile there, to solve this problem. Can Iran agree to this?

Ahmadinejad answers by saying little more that the courts are separate, he hopes to see the matter resolved soon, and on the point of whether President Lula of Brazil – who along with President Erdogen of Turkey recently – should offer asylum to Ashtiani, Ahmadinejad says he would prefer to export technology, not such people to Brazil.

The interview finishes there, no more is said, and Galloway in his closing comments back in the studio has the cheek to say “The president gave me the indication that this matter would be resolved” (transcription from ‘Though Cowards Flinch’).

Whether the creature Galloway can properly be called a “useful idiot” is open to question. I tend to think the word “collaborator” is nearer the mark. But, for sure, he ‘s never seen a jackboot that he didn’t want to kiss.

H/t: Will and Raincoat Optimist

16 Comments

  1. Will said,

    Galloway — oh fuck it. nothing else needs to be sed.

    an antisemite a cunt and fuckking scum.

  2. Rosie said,

    I heard the programmes and the first one, about the Stalin-lovers, was pretty simplistic stuff – Useful Idiots for Beginners- however, it may be news to some people and it’s worth repeating the basics.

    Katz has given a good account of the programmes. How is Ridley though a “Useful Idiot”? She’s such an idiot – every word that comes out of her gob is partisan rubbish – that she must be graduating into becoming a “Useless Idiot”.

  3. maxdunbar said,

    And speaking of useless idiots, today Andy Newman is on the trail of underground Maoists in China.

    ‘My own personal view is that productive political change in the People’s Republic of China can only come from reforms initiated through the Communist Party of China, but I present the following document because it is interesting.’

    http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=6455

  4. skidmarx said,

    Remarkably similar to another take on the same subject.

    The SWP explained away the Taleban’s policy on women.
    I listened to the programme and can’t recall this, but then AWL descriptions of the left are often laughably inaccurate (I would say filthy lies, but hey that’s your phrase).

    the BBC’s Director General has turned himself into a useful idiot for the British state and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Well you lot certainly have (though again, we could argue about the “useful” tag).

    And I think your TCF link should probably go straight to here.

  5. resistor said,

    Whereas Max, Jim and Rosie are just useless idiots.

  6. maxdunbar said,

    Resistor

    Rosie has kind of beat you to that joke.

    Thanks for trying though.

  7. Rosie said,

    I’m very hurt that Resistor doesn’t give my comments the attention they deserve.

  8. jim denham said,

    Skidders: unlike you, we do not lie:
    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=1564

    From ‘Socialist Worker’ editorial, 1st October 2001:

    Oppression of women
    SUDDENLY WESTERN liberals like Guardian writer Polly Toynbee are arguing that the war is to free women from oppression in Afghanistan. Life for women under the Taliban is appalling. It will not improve by dropping bombs on men, women and children.

    The Taliban’s treatment of women reflects both the underdevelopment of the villages the Taliban had come from and the trauma of the war years. Like every other guerrilla group, they were composed of men who had spent years in fighting units.

    Taliban leaders feared that their soldiers would behave as some previous Mujahadeen groups had on taking a city. The war years had seen repeated abuse and rape of women. They said that forcing women into seclusion was a means of protecting them. Of course, it meant appalling oppression.

    But the oppression is copied from the Western-backed regime in Saudi Arabia. It too is a viciously oppressive society towards women. Women are excluded from the vast majority of jobs, they are forced to study seperately from men in universities, and are not allowed to study abroad. They are not allowed to drive or to travel alone. They are only considered half as worthy as a man in the eyes of local courts.

    Their treatment of women does not stop Bush and Blair seeing the Saudis as an important part of their “coalition” today. Bush is not a champion of women’s rights. He is a right wing bigot backed to the hilt by anti-abortionists.

    When his father went to war against Iraq last time to “save Kuwait” there were no qualms about defending a regime that does not allow women to vote.

  9. skidmarx said,

    The SWP explained away the Taleban’s policy on women.
    Life for women under the Taliban is appalling.

    If you claim these statements are equivalent then you are either a filthy liar or very,very dumb.

  10. jim denham said,

    Skid-iot: “If you claim these statements are equivalent then you are either a filthy liar or very,very dumb”:

    No I’m *not* dumb. You must decide whether I’m something else: a conscious liar or (just perhaps) I am telling the truth as I see it. I also understand something that you evidently don’t: that a true statement, followed by the word “but” or “however” can turn into its opposite.

    I suggest you re-read that SW editorial; then

    1/ Think;

    2/ Think about politics;

    3/ Think about politics and context;

    4/ Think about politics, context and what certain words and phrases…

    (“The Taliban’s treatment of women reflects both the underdevelopment of the villages the Taliban had come from and the trauma of the war years. Like every other guerrilla group, they were composed of men who had spent years in fighting units.
    Taliban leaders feared that their soldiers would behave as some previous Mujahadeen groups had on taking a city. The war years had seen repeated abuse and rape of women. They said that forcing women into seclusion was a means of protecting them. Of course, it meant appalling oppression”)

    …are intended to convey.

    5/ Then have a think about the language of Stalinism and/or bourgeois spin-doctoring (you’re familiar with that, I presume);

    6/ Then have a think about the SWP, and everything that is rotten and dishonest on the so-called “left” of British politics;

    7/ Then have a re-read of the original “Useful Idiots” posting;

    8/ Then just…think.

    You might just, then, learn something.

  11. resistor said,

    Rosie wrote

    ‘I’m very hurt that Resistor doesn’t give my comments the attention they deserve.’

    I did.

  12. Clive said,

    Skidmarx

    I think the most charitable thin which can be said about that article from SW was that it, in trying to answer one of the most forceful arguments in favour of war (that it would have an immediate, material effect on the lives of Afghan women) it bent the stick too far.

    But it does more than that. It does say that the oppression of women is terrible, etc. But then it adds what, it seems to me, any normal person would read as qualifications.

    It robs the Taliban of any autonomous ideological or political substance – sees them on the one hand as merely imitators of (western-backed) Saudi Arabia, or as rather honourable souls just trying to save women from rape. Anyone who knows anything about the actual treatment of women by the Taliban would find this notion hard to stomach.

    I was against the war in Afghanistan, as later in Iraq. But the case against war could not be made by, in effect, downplaying the real horror of the Taliban.

  13. Rosie said,

    I’m very unsurprised that when I offered Resistor the easiest, most obvious fish in a barrel he still had to get out his gun.

  14. skidmarx said,

    Jim Denham – every time it comes out the same way – ” Of course, it meant appalling oppression”.

    5/ Twisting someone’s words to fit a meaning you want to ascribe to them? I think I’ve seen that somewhere.

    6/ Don’t see the connection.

    Clive – not so charitable, explanations rather than qualifications. I don’t see what is wrong about pointing out the ideological link with Saudi Arabia, unless it is important to claim that Afghan religious nutters are some unique evil to justify support for an imperialist occupation. And the behaviour of other forces in Afghanistan is an established fact, and the reported attitude of the Taliban fits a pattern in poor Muslim societies where the traditional bonds of the family are seen as a protection against the predations of globalisation. This is not to downplay the horror, but to try and understand it without throwing up our hands in despair and saying that anyone who will bomb the shit out of Afghanistan is the better option (an attitude that doesn’t weaken support for the Taliban, but strengthens it).

  15. Clive said,

    There’s nothing wrong with pointing out links, etc. But the Taliban were/are not simply about “a pattern in poor Muslim societies where the traditional bonds of the family are seen as a protection against the predations of globalisation”. Their treatment of women was/is not ‘protective’, but violently, horribly and often murderously abusive.

    It still seems to me that the actual, and intended, effect of the SW article is to say that the Taliban aren’t *that* bad and certainly Bush is worse.

    This seemed to me then and seems to me now an idiotic approach to opposing war.

  16. skidmarx said,

    Re your second paragraph: that’s because you’re not reading it as any normal person would , ignoring all the points where the Taliban are attacked and trying to contrive an alternative explanation from the remains. The intention is obviously to say that however bad the Taliban are, supporting an imperialist war won’t help Afghan women. That is the argument you and your friends should really be addressing, rather than making ludicrous assertions that the SWP, StWC etc. are pro-fascist because they are against the war.

    Incidentally the second paragraph of this post implies that the claim about the SWP was made during the programme. Is that correct?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: