Doris Lessing – A useful (and youthful) idiot

doris__lessingDoris Lessing has admitted that for a short time when she was young she was used as one of Russian Communisms useful idiots. Talking to the journalist John Sweeney (BBC World Service 4 August, 2010) the 91-year-old Nobel Prize winner told how she had been part of a British delegation to the Soviet Union in 1952.

At the end of the visit, delegates met the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. She told Sweeney how an old man (she did not name him) had the courage to say in front of the Russian killer – Im going to tell you that everything you heard on this trip is nonsense. The truth is quite different.

He was completely out of line. For him to have said that was brave, to put it mildly. For me it was shattering. I was to have gone away and said – Oh, its very nice (what she saw in Russia) its all so sweetI cant understand myself thinking like that but I did, you see, Lessing told Sweeney.

Asked if she considered that at that time in her life she was one of the people Vladimir Lenin would have called a useful idiot, she replied: Yes, I would. Thats what my role was. I was taken around and shown things as a useful idiot. I cant understand why I was so gullible.

On the programme, Professor Donald Rayfield, author of Stalin and his Hangmen said: The phrase (useful idiots) seems to have been around for about 70 years. Its someone who doesnt think theyre an idiot, who thinks theyre highly intelligent but is so easily persuaded by flattery from people in power that theyre prepared to sacrifice their principles and allow themselves to be duped, or even just to lie, for the sake of advantage.

In the 1968 edition of her book Going Home, Doris Lessing explained how she went to southern Rhodesia in 1956 to see what was going on in what was the key country of the Central African Federation (CAF), southern Rhodesia, whose prime minister was the New Zealand- born former Christian missionary Garfield Todd.

Stalin had just been denounced by Nikita Krushschev at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Communists everywhere were shocked to learn the truth about a man theyd worshipped like a pagan god.

The Central African Federation was created by the British Government in 1953. Its purpose was twofold first, to stop the spread of Afrikaner nationalism from the south: secondly, to curtail the spread of Communism from the north. The watchword of CAF was partnership between the majority blacks and minority whites.

Lessing wrote I spent my days during that extraordinary trip being escorted around manifestations of partnership by Garfield Todds publicity men and shadowed by the CID and my nights talking to groups of people whose hearts had been broken and who wanted to believe that I was a corrupted person for believing one word of what Khruschev said. It was all very painful.

She explained that the financing of the trip had been difficult. I was very hard up. I did not have the money for the fare which was 250. With my departure date a month off, on an impulse, I got onto a bus in Fleet Street, walked into TASS (the official Russian news agency) and proposed to a charming but surprised young man behind a desk that TASS should pay for my air fare home. I said I wanted my fare paid, in return for which I would write articles for any newspaper in the Soviet Union he cared to name.

After she returned to her new home in Britain, Lessing wrote a series of articles denouncing white rule in southern Rhodesia and posted them off to Moscow.

She wrote: Now comes the really unforgivable navet. It never occurred to me, since the conditions I was describing were so black a case against imperialism they could not be worse, that there was any need for them to gild their lily. But when I got a letter from a friend in Moscow saying why had I written this and that? But I hadnt written this and that. It appeared that my articles had been edited, cut and bits put in.

Professor Rayfield told the BBC that when he read about useful idiots he was reminded of a saying by George Orwell There are some things so stupid that only an intellectual can believe them.

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