Whenever I hear of morons like Sean Penn or Danny Glover canoodling with Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez, I'm reminded of the phrase "useful idiot" which was (apparently incorrectly) attributed to Lenin in describing western sympathizers who could be gullibly manipulated to support the dictator's cause. I won't go into Sean Penn here, because his regular stupidity and humorlessness is well documented, but this is sort of related to last night's film, "Reds", the 1981 epic starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. The film itself was rather well done, if over-long (it clocked in at over 3 hours), and featured Jack Nicholson playing the same character he always plays--wry, sinister, sarcastic bastard you hate to love. In this case his role was the playwright Eugene O'Neill. (BTW--shouldn't "playwright" be spelled "playwrite"? I mean I haven't wrighten any plays myself, but seems pretty obvious.)
"Reds" was about American journalist Jack Reed, who was an active supporter of the Bolsheviks and as a result had a first hand account of the October Revolution and early Russian Civil War. Reed would have been one of the best examples of a "useful idiot", as even once the reality of firing squads and crushing of dissent under Lenin became apparent, he still supported the Bolshies and defended them in his writings. This is rather unforgivable--I can cut some slack to the average Russian, chafing under tsarist rule and not knowing any sort of freedom in the first place, but an American from a wealthy background (as Reed was) should know better. Ultimately, Reed--who was suffering kidney problems--died in the Soviet Union, to become the only American ever buried at the Kremlin.
For the film coming out in 1981--when the Cold War was still going, with hardliner Leo Brezhnev in the Kremlin--it showed a timely view into the early days of the Evil Empire, back when idealistic communists and anarchists were full of ebullience and before their spirits were crushed by reality. (BTW--what's the deal with pro-communist anarchists? That would seem a contradiction in terms!) Now, in 2010 it seems far less relevant. Any "communist" countries still around have essentially adopted a corporatist (or even "fascist") structure, paying only lip service to the original revolutions that got the current gangs in power. China and Vietnam are economic rivals in the marketplace, rather than true command economies. Cuba is soon enough going to be the next resortocracy, once we open up trade and travel there. North Korea is just a weird cult-state more concerned with how to cook rocks than spreading any communist revolution anywhere. Too bad Lenin isn't alive to choke on it.
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