Lives Remembered: Doris Lessing 1919-2013

Doris Lessing, who died in London last November at the age of 94, needs no introduction to readers of The Zimbabwean.

Doris Lessing was honest enough to admit she’d behaved like one of Lenin’s useful idiots.
Doris Lessing was honest enough to admit she’d behaved like one of Lenin’s useful idiots.

Author of The Grass is Singing, Children of Violence, The Golden Notebook, The Good Terrorist and scores of other books and essays, Lessing she was respected for her writing skills, her courage and honesty.

In a short piece published in the Lives Remembered Column of The Times (December 26, 2013) journalist Trevor Grundy said that she was honest enough to admit that she’d behaved like one of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’ after taking Russian gold to write a book and articles about what’s now Zimbabwe in the mid-1950s. It was a book that influenced British politicians and Common wealth leaders.

Grundy wrote: Doris Lessing was critical of herself, much more so that many of the people who wrote about her.

She was a communist sympathiser from 1941 until she finished writing ‘Going Home’ in 1957. That book was an attack on whites in southern Rhodesia where she grew up and the Central African Federation (CAF) designed by the British and supported in Salisbury by the New Zealand-born missionary turned politician, Sir Garfield Todd.

At the end of the 1977 edition of that book which was published in 1977 by Panther Books (the first edition was published by Michael Joseph in 1957) Lessing spoke about her “unforgivable naiveté” for taking money from TASS (the official news agency of the USSR) for writing a series of articles which were edited in Moscow.

She wrote: ‘But then I got a letter from a friend in Moscow saying why I had written this and that. But I hadn’t written this and that. It appeared that the articles had been edited, cut and bits put in.

This is why it is not advisable to write for the Russian press until it modernizes itself, until the rights of an individual journalist, an individual point of view, can be guaranteed.’

Lessing’s life was rich with irony.

The man who led her to Communism was the St Petersburg-born Gottfried Lessing whose grandfather was Jewish thus qualifying him as a Jew under the Nuremburg Race Laws. He was forced to leave Hitler’s Germany where he worked as a lawyer and seek refuge in white-ruled Southern Rhodesia.

He married Doris (Wisdom) in 1943. Gottfiried rose high in the ranks of the East German Communist Party and went on to serve as ambassador of the GDR in Uganda. He and his third wife were killed by drunken Tanzanian soldiers during President Nyerere ’s successful war against Idi Amin in 1979.

Talking to the journalist John Sweeney in 2010 Lessing described herself as one of Lenin’s “useful idiots” when it came to politics and her earlier support for communism.

Asked if she had been misled by Moscow, she referred to a sponsored trip she made there (in 1952) saying: “I was taken around and shown things as a useful idiot. I can’t understand why I was so gullible.”

Post published in: Arts

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