History,  The Left,  The Right

John Sweeney on useful idiots

If you want to know why George Galloway was afraid to be interviewed by John Sweeney on the BBC World Service, take 45 minutes or so to listen to Sweeney’s remarkable two-part report on the Western “useful idiots” who have over the decades been apologists for the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pinochet, Saddam and other leaders of dictatorial and murderous regimes.

The thoughts of our friend Oliver Kamm are prominently featured.

Sweeney should have started with Lenin (to whom the phrase “useful idiots” is wrongly attributed) rather than Stalin, but never mind. Well done to him and to the World Service for broadcasting it.

Is it still possible to feel a bit sorry for the befuddled Tony Benn? He (and Bruce Anderson on the Right) have views as appalling in some ways as Galloway’s, but at least they weren’t scared to express them to Sweeney for broadcast.

Benn: “Mao’s role in preventing China from being permanently occupied by the Americans was, I think, a significant role, and I think China’s development strategy, of going to the countryside and building it up there, has played a significant role of building China up as a major power. So I think he would have to rank as a great figure in Chinese history.”

Sweeney: “Mao was a mass murderer. Surely in the balance, if he’s a great man, he’s also a great monster.”

Benn: “I have no doubt that there were aspects of Mao’s life and record that I would deeply deplore. But…”

Now consider George Orwell’s take on a pro-Stalinist professor from 1946:

He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

“While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

By all means listen to the whole thing.

(Hat tip: amie)