BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
The deceivers and the deceived
, May 14, 2011
DUPES: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century
by Paul Kengor
(New York: Intercollegiate Studies Institute)
Hardcover: 607 pages
Reviewed by Mervyn F. Bendle
The Comintern was the “General Staff of the World Revolution”, gloated Leon Trotsky when the Bolsheviks established the Communist International in 1919, a key event in the enthralling tale told in this book (p.20). The aim was to subordinate the national communist parties of the entire world to the dictates of the Soviet Union.
This form of global “democratic centralism” was necessitated, according to V.I. Lenin, by the need to protect the Soviet Union as the premier communist state and the leader of the world revolution in its inevitable confrontation with the “imperialist powers”, which were its mortal enemy.
“We live,” Lenin declared in 1919, “in a system of states, and the existence of the Soviet Republic side by side with the imperialist states … is unthinkable. In the end either one or the other will conquer,” and the vanquished will be destroyed (p.18). This position never changed and was reiterated in 1993 by a leading Soviet expert on the West: “There could not be a peaceful coexistence between wicked warmongering imperialists and honourable and peace-loving communists caring for the well-being of all progressive humanity” (pp.358-9).
The inevitability of a murderous fight to the death between communism and capitalism, and the need to protect the Soviet Union as the centre of the world revolution, were the central premises of Soviet foreign policy, including its control of all the world’s communist parties and its manipulation of dupes, supporters and sympathisers in the West.
Here the Comintern played the central role. As its rules made clear, its “ultimate aim” was “to replace the world capitalist economy by a world system of communism”, and, consequently, “the Communist International has declared war on the entire bourgeois world”, not just in the economic and political spheres, but in the vital realm of culture (p.21).
Dupesis a book about those politicians, intellectuals and media personalities who were blind to these fundamental facts of global politics in the 20th century, and who allowed themselves to be manipulated to the detriment of their own countries.
Used in this sense, “dupes” is an alternative translation of the Russian term also rendered as “useful idiots”, and used by Lenin when he made it clear that the Comintern would be relying significantly upon its capacity to identify, subvert and manipulate vulnerable people occupying strategic locations in Western societies, particularly amongst the intelligentsia, cultural and media elites.
After establishing the basic argument, Dupes provides many case studies spanning the past 90 years. These focus especially on those intellectuals, writers, artists, actors, film-makers and celebrities who allowed themselves to be drawn into the orbit of the communist parties set up in the U.S. and other Western societies as “sections” of the Comintern, becoming strident champions of the Soviet Union and supporters of all the multifarious political positions it assumed as it sought to manipulate foreign public opinion to further its interests, however mendacious (as, for example, in the Spanish Civil War) or contradictory (as, for example, in World War II).
These people were readily subverted because of their vanity, ambition, guilt, naïveté and intellectual pretensions. They exhibited a calculated disdain for “bourgeois” life and sought to embrace the “purity” of a proletarian existence. They also tended to insist arrogantly that only they and the Party comprehended the direction of history and the principles of morality and “social justice”. Above all, they were characterised by a fierce and unrelenting “will-to-believe” an ideology that made them central to history, and led them enthusiastically to embrace the notion that advanced societies could be totally re-made from the top down by an omniscient elite, in which, of course, they themselves would play a major role.
While happy to make use of such people, Lenin dismissed their pretensions and ridiculed their naïveté, observing that they were in fact intellectually and politically “incapable of comprehending the present state of affairs and the actual balance of forces”, were best regarded as useful idiots or dupes, “and treated accordingly”, that is, cultivated, promoted, manoeuvred, manipulated, exploited, and then betrayed, derided and discarded as required (p.3).
Such useful idiots deserve no sympathy of course, only contempt. As Kengor observes, “the dupes, the fellow travellers, the traitors … knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the most destructive ideology in the history of humanity”, “a barbarous machine of genocidal class warfare”, which caused the deaths of at least 100 million people in some 70 years, at a rate of 4,000 victims a day (pp.12-3).
Nor have they been consigned to the scrap-heap of history, as many have survived and prospered. “The story does not stop with the Cold War. Unfortunately, dupes have surfaced in the War on Terror … providing fodder for Middle East enemies” (p.1). Moreover, many of these are the same people, and “their transition from ‘Cold War dupe’ to ‘War on Terror dupe’ appears to have been almost seamless”, with some re-emerging “as politicians, tenured professors, and even associates of the current president of the United States”, enjoying the opportunity to re-assert the radical nostrums of the Sixties, while once again loudly denouncing the West as imperialist, militaristic, racist and morally bankrupt (p.14).
Here the most obvious examples are Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, the self-confessed and proudly unrepentant leaders of the Sixties terrorist group, the Weathermen. University-educated, narcissistic, privileged and indulged, they were representative of the militant leadership of the New Left: “pro-Mao, pro-Castro, pro-Che, pro-Lenin, and some were even pro-Stalin. Very few were working-class kids. Most, in fact, had been pampered rich kids, red-diaper babies from well-off, highly educated families” (p.332).
Shunned by the working class, these revolutionary wannabes adopted a Maoist form of Marxist-Leninist theory of global politics that elevated the Third World masses to the elite status of revolutionary subject and condemned Western societies (including the workers) as racist and imperialist exploiters and oppressors. With this ideological rationale, they then carried out a campaign of murderous terrorist bombings against various domestic targets with the aim of provoking a global revolution followed by the extermination of some 20 million “capitalist lackeys” in America alone.
This campaign involved scores of bombings, shootings and robberies, and continued for over five years until some of the more inept terrorists accidentally blew themselves up, at which point the group began to disintegrate and the leadership went into hiding, waiting until a plea-bargain was negotiated by their wealthy and influential families that allowed them to resume their academic and professional careers.
Ayers in particular has done very well, avoiding prison, running a number of well-funded foundations, becoming a professor of education, and a sought-after public speaker. He also served as Barack Obama’s political sponsor and ideological mentor, as well as evidently ghost-writing Obama’s “autobiography” Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, a book that has been translated into 25 languages and earned Obama millions of dollars, while also greatly strengthening his bid for the presidency.
The Weathermen terrorists and other dupes in the Sixties were driven by a carefully cultivated moral outrage at America’s alleged conduct of the Vietnam War, as it was represented in the media and innumerable publications, many of which were produced, sponsored or influenced by the Soviet Union and its allies.
As a senior associate of the KGB has explained: “During the Vietnam War we spread vitriolic stories around the world, pretending that America’s presidents sent Genghis Khan-style barbarian soldiers to Vietnam who raped at random, taped electrical wires to human genitals, cut off limbs, blew up bodies and razed entire villages”, etc (p.350).
Although its narrative was largely fiction, the Soviet disinformation campaign was relentless and extraordinarily successful. As the agent observed, “Millions of Americans ended up being convinced their own president, not communism, was the enemy.” Exploiting the credulity and mendacity of various dupes in politics and the media, and amongst academics and students at the universities, “the KGB gave birth to the anti-war movement in America” (p.350).
An excellent example of how such a campaign can exploit the gullibility and ambition of strategically located dupes is provided by the testimony of Lieutenant (later Senator) John Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. Claiming to represent a subsequently discredited Vietnam veterans organisation, Kerry alleged they had uncovered a systematic campaign of terror, conducted by American military personnel in Vietnam “with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command”. His description included the full range of atrocities detailed in the KGB disinformation package, right down to a reference to American military depredations “reminiscent of Genghis Khan” (p.352).
Kerry went on the launch a successful political career, but veterans who served with him were outraged and mortified, and were so determined to clear their names that they conducted a campaign that lasted for decades and culminated in 2004 in a book, Unfit for Command, which appeared during the presidential campaign and portrayed Kerry, the Democratic candidate, as “a liar and a fraud, unfit to be the commander in chief of the United States of America” (p.353). It destroyed any chance of Kerry winning the presidency.
As the Cold War morphed into the War on Terror there was considerable continuity, not only in the behaviour of dupes and useful idiots, but also in the ease with which they shifted their sympathies from communist totalitarianism to Islamist totalitarianism.
The core elements of the KGB propaganda package gained a new lease of life, demonising the West, with politicians, academics and media personalities, and denouncing American troops in Iraq as “cold-blooded killers”, “barbarians and Nazis”, who were “terrorising kids and children”, and “air-raiding villages and killing civilians”, as the then Senator Obama put it (pp.428-9).
Meanwhile, in an act of (apparently) unintended symbolism, Bill Ayers chose September 11, 2001, to have an interview appear in the New York Times promoting his autobiography. In the interview he recalled how “everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon”; conceded he could readily re-embrace terrorism; and admitted that he found “a certain eloquence to bombs”, with their “poetry and pattern … the wild displays of noise and colour, the flares”. He said he especially liked “the Big Ones, the loud concussions” (pp.420-1).
Literally, as these words appeared on the streets of New York, the planes hijacked by al-Qaeda were crashing into the World Trade Center overhead, while another was ploughing into the Pentagon, achieving in the name of Islamist terror the cataclysmic destruction that Ayers, Dohrn and the other highly privileged dupes of the Sixties had fantasised about when they sought to lead the masses of the world in a war of extermination against the West.
It seems that little changes in the mental world inhabited by totalitarians, terrorists and dupes.
Dr Mervyn F. Bendle is senior lecturer in history and communications at James Cook University, Queensland. His many articles on terrorism and Islamism include “How to be a ‘useful idiot’: Saudi funding in Australia — Part II”, National Observer, No. 77, Winter 2008.