“the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own”
— W.S. Gilbert, The Lord High Executioner’s song from The Mikado
These days, we are constantly enjoined to reduce, re-use and recycle. The campaign must be working, most of us tend feel guilty every time a glass container or some cardboard goes in the trash instead of a blue box. Far be it from us to deny the spirit of the times. In a contribution to the spirit of recycling, there are some terms from the Cold War that ought to be brought back today for use in coping with the Islamicist threat. Considering what the stakes are, it is not only time to re-use the terms ‘fellow traveller’ and ‘useful idiot’, but to also remember what these are.
In the Cold War sense, ‘Fellow Traveller’ referred to that galaxy of Non-Marxist Leninist Communists, socialists, self-styled “progressives” and others who broadly agreed with the stated Communist cause and who worked to further it, but were not themselves members of the Communist Party.
The term ‘Useful Idiot’ was originally attributed to Lenin and supposedly used to describe John Reed, the myopic American cheerleader for the Revolution and others of his ilk. The term became a catch-all for those who sympathized with the USSR over their own home societies in the Western world – even after it became abundantly clear the Soviets were monsters.
Lenin harboured no sentimentality towards Useful Idiots either. Whenever the Soviet Union got control of another satellite country, the Communists’ political allies usually were disposed of as a training exercise for the security organs. Today’s Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots would meet the same fate in a land subjected to Jihadist principles.
The annoying point about Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots is their myopia and the bundle of contradictions which make their views illogical, incomprehensible and inconsistent, unless one shares their modes of thinking. These can be complex. Arthur Koestler mapped out much of the mental landscape of the Fellow Traveller and the Useful idiot back in the 1940s, particularly in some of his essays in The Yogi and the Commissar. Eric Hoffer made another singular contribution in the 1950s with his classic little investigation The True Believer (which is still in print, as it deserves to be). Or there are the works of C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters offers much insight into mental displacement activities; Paul Hollander – particularly in his 1992 book Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990; or the personal experiences of one-time sympathizers to the Far Left such as Malcolm Muggeridge, George Orwell, David Horowitz, and so many others.
With the shabby and sordid souls of the Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots laid bare so many times by so many dissecting intellects, how is it that the phenomenon continues to survive and thrive – to the detriment of our own survival? The problem is no longer one of history from the Cold War, because the Fellow Traveller and the Useful Idiot have recycled themselves, and are now cheerfully facilitating the work of the Jihad movement.
One classic case is the now-disbarred American radical lawyer Lynne Stewart. She was a conduit for messages from a jailed client (the blind Egyptian Omar Abdel-Rahman) to his followers in al-Gama’a Islamiyya. She remains unapologetic. What makes Stewart so typical of Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots today is not that she consciously sympathizes with Islamic terrorists – she’d probably be the first to tell you that she opposes the principles of the Jihad – but that their conduct is excusable because it is in opposition to our own society. Here is the starting point to understanding her and others like her.
Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots closely aligned themselves with the Soviets even after it was clear, sometimes even to them, that the USSR was dangerous, repressive and cruel. Why did this persist? Because, then as now, these cretins of credulity believe that the mountain they don’t know is less dangerous or evil than the molehill they think they know. The Jihadis attack us because it’s our fault – as our racism/consumerism/militarism (or insert some other sin here if you please) is inherently offensive. This is an old way of thinking. There were sundry Churchmen over the centuries that held that the depredations of the Huns, Magyars, Vikings, Mongols or Turks were a just punishment for society’s sins; chief among which was not closely following the teachings of the particular churchman in question.
Is this the same for Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots? Why, yes it is. John Reed was off in the socialists’ corner long before he made his pilgrimage to Lenin’s realm and the only reason why Lynne Stewart got a 28 month sentence instead of a lifetime term, was that the judge mistook her long track record of defending other ‘progressives’, malcontents and ne’er-do-wells as an asset rather than a liability.
One cannot dispute that these “Progressives” mean well… for they do; it’s just that they forget what the paving stones are on the express route to Hell. It’s just that their good intentions come with the almost invariable beliefs laid out thusly:
- That human beings and human society are perfectible, provided that the right instruction and guidance are provided to them.
- The barrier to this perfection in our own flawed society needs some manner of sweeping change or revolutionary reform, some epochal transforming event, to bring us closer to perfection.
- To achieve this change, the institutions and thinking that prevent this must be swept aside… slowly if needs must be, but preferably dramatically.
- An outside power can demonstrate that change is possible and be worth emulating (for this was how they saw and embraced the Soviets), but failing this anybody who threatens our society must be supported for this might achieve Step 3, above.
A noble belief? Not really, for something like this has motivated almost every revolutionary since 1789 and the grand generalities of the French Revolution. It is interesting to contrast the French demand for ‘Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!’ with the British and American belief in specific rights and obligations of the individual and the government – the British revolts against the Stuarts and the American Revolution made some specific changes, the French promised everything and delivered almost nothing.
Yet the Fellow Traveller and the Useful Idiots are aspiring revolutionaries, without the courageous qualities – or the following – that let them really storm barricades and mob palaces. They also live in societies where the great majority of ordinary people, lacking any real grievances, would probably cheer their being shot if they tried these things. So the indirect approach to revolution is necessary.
There is another thing to consider about Revolutionaries who followed on after the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The unspoken truth is that most of them are in it for themselves… They don’t seek wealth (though they do reward themselves when they can), but they do seek influence and power without having to exercise responsibility. Hoffer understood this, observing (in The True Believer) of the wannabe revolutionary:
Passionate hatred can give purpose and meaning to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicated themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.
And this is perhaps the real truth about Fellow Travellers and Useful Idiots. Their affiliation with the Soviets thirty years ago and their attraction to the Jihad now represent a desperate desire to somehow touch something that looks like a mass movement without actually joining it; to touch something that will change their lives and yet let them remain themselves. They are not honest enough with themselves to recognize this, or brave enough to do anything else.
There are the inhabitants of mental hospitals who have to be pitied, cared for, and watched closely to make sure they do no harm to themselves or to anyone else. Are there enough beds remaining for the Fellow Travellers and the Useful Idiots?