Useful Idiot

walter duranty

In political jargon, useful idiot is a pejorative term used to describe people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they do not understand, who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause. The term was originally used to describe Soviet sympathizers in Western countries. The implication is that although the people in question naively thought of themselves as an ally of the Soviet Union, they were actually held in contempt and were being used.

The use of the term in political discourse has since been extended to other propagandists, especially those who are seen to unwittingly support a malignant cause which they naively believe to be a force for good. The earliest known usage in Western media is in a 1948 article in the social-democratic Italian paper ‘L’Umanita’ – as cited in a ‘New York Times’ article on Italian politics of the same year. Despite often being attributed to Lenin, in 1987, Grant Harris, senior reference librarian at the Library of Congress, declared that ‘We have not been able to identify this phrase among [Lenin’s] published works.’

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