Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Useful Idiot Doris Lessing Died

Doris Lessing died last weekend. She was an anglosphere communist writer that had peaked decades ago, but was lavished praise throughout her career. Did she really have a peak worth discussing? She was from Rhodesia, had attacked Rhodesia and celebrated Zimbabwe and it's dashed hopes. Zimbabwe is a known decline that a lot of Americans might understand if explained slowly and thoroughly thanks to Detroit, but this is not about Zimbabwe. Lessing is an example of the progressive soldiers elevated for pushing the proper narrative and themes. Lessing is an interesting cathedral priestess.

It is important that Lessing is a communist because without it, no one would know her. Lessing's angry screed at Zimbabwe's Mugabe is revealing for multiple reasons not just for Mugabe but for Lessing's career. Lessing cannot say the truth behind Zimbabwe's decline because while she is angry at the politically correct crowd that dodged criticizing Mugabe, she herself is a communist. She won a Nobel prize for literature in 2007 and published many works, which until today I had never read or heard discussed. She was a wonderful cathedral apparatchik, writing novels like The Good Terrorist in 1985 about a woman who is a squatter, eventually involved with organized violence and IRA members. They had the best of intentions, but went a bit overboard in execution. Being twice divorced and abandoning two of her kids gave her time to write plenty. She even wrote books on cats! There is The Golden Notebook that chronicles a woman who lived in Rhodesia, was a Communist and had love affairs. Sounds autobiographical, wow what creativity. I missed the great The Grass is Singing about a Rhodesian female farmer who is a racist, hard working woman that marries a nicer white. The hard ass is also a racist while the generally nice guy is good to the natives. The book portrays farmer culture as evil racists, blacks as good, and Rhodesia as backwards. To break it down, an educated, Rhodesian expat that was a communist had a book published internationally that portrayed the farmers of Rhodesia as horrible people living in a horrible society. Propaganda like that must have made selling economic sanctions against Rhodesia to the British and American people easier.

In a 2010 BBC radio show, she was considered one of Stalin's useful idiots. Stalin may have died, but her usefulness to other communists continued. She was praised and awarded many prizes and always published. The tastemakers praised her because she pushed the line they wanted published. She was non-conformist is the most progressively conformist way. Feminism of the unrestrained female sexuality strain, radical communism, abortion, anti-Rhodesian/apartheid themes, romanticizing leftist terrorism all were woven through her works. Her children's books involved the violence of the white run African nations. She was an atheist yet into Eastern Sufi mystics (proto-SWPL?). She rejected everything of the traditional Western culture in wonderfully progressive ways. Her fiction, focusing on women's issues, was a convenient vehicle to slip in other communist talking points. The fictional media space was just as critical as journalism in forcing the Western population to focus on breaking Rhodesia and South Africa. Why else would Bill Murray's Scrooged have a South African poster in the background of the scene at his secretary's house? It's there in the kitchen.

Lessing was a novelist, but for decades, a tool for the progressives. The New York Review of Books found it useful for her to criticize Mugabe and the PC crowd because she was a native Rhodesian, yet she had not lived there for decades. She had actively engaged in propaganda to bring Mugabe's rule to fruition. The entire PC crowd refraining from attacking Mugabe were the same people who manipulated the international situation to give him power. The recently departed Doris Lessing was angry how politically correct fools covered for Mugabe in 2003. Ten years later, Zimbabwe is a more vicious hellhole, destroying the former jewel of Africa. Why was it a jewel? White run Rhodesia did well for blacks physically but politically it was a horrible police state. Why and was it really a police state? Rhodesian white authorities worked well with traditional tribal leaders, just not teh Marxist trained young blacks. Did Mugabe's black nationalist terror crews have anything to do with it? If the quality of life, despite black nationalist terrorism, was superior to other sub-Saharan African nations, was Rhodesian rule actually a better choice than anywhere else on the continent? Lessing also mentions how great the infrastructure was for the nation, and Mugabe let it go to hell. What made the infrastructure great pre-independence? Why did it all go bad after independence and the end of sanctions in 1980? Mystery. She is sucha  rebel. Unconventional in conventionally progressive ways.

Lessing's criticism of the PC crowd and Mugabe is allowed within the liberal framework and with only the proper villains mentioned. Problems are not pushed to their origins. The causes might be too hard to bear or too problematic for leisure class, New York Review of Books readers' sensibilities. As throughout her career, her criticism was unconventional in a conventionally communist sort of way. It did serve a purpose though because it was in 2003. It's not just the message but the messenger. Here was a true communist believer from the afflicted land, crying for her "home". The land grabs were accelerating in '03, and this article was the start of the media's open criticism of Mugabe's regime. Mugabe's democratic rule had become despotic tyranny with rigged elections. He must go. Lessing had found a final purpose. As she had been used against the Rhodesians, she could be used against Mugabe's dictatorship. She went out with the highest of praise for a cathedral soldier, receiving a glowing, warm New York Times obituary for decades of wonderful service to the cause.

1 comment:

JMSmith said...

I do not disagree with your general assessment of Lessing, but would like to suggest that The Good Terrorist may have betrayed a (doubtless transitory) tremor in her faith in the whole leftist project. At the very least, the book can be read as a satire of low level leftist activism in Britain, circa 1980. I'm sure Lessing would have been horrified to hear this, but when I read the book in the mid-1980s, it confirmed and crystalized my until-then vague suspicion that the student radicals by whom I was surrounded were fools and tools afflicted by raging narcism.

The story, as I recall it, is of an young, upper-middle-class woman who just wants to help people--the "good terrorist" of the title--and who winds up living with a gang of lefty losers in a squat somewhere in London. As you say, they end up setting off a bomb that kills some people, and in the end the leaders are taken in hand by KGB handlers. It is quite possible that the lesson Lessing intended was that the Left needs to rid itself of Stalinists and hare-brained anarchists, but the lesson I took from the book was that Leftism is nothing but destruction undertaken with a pretense, or delusion, of good intentions.

The bombing is, of course, the climax of destruction; but it was a much less shocking episode in the book that flipped the switch for me, some thirty years ago. The young woman's parents have divorced and her mother's only significant asset is their large, very bourgeois, suburban house, which she is desperate to sell. For reasons I've forgotten, the young woman and her comrades from the squat steal all the drapes from the house and this causes the sale to fall through. The subsequent dialogue between mother and daughter, with the mother talking like a sane person with normal human problems, like paying bills, and the daughter talking like a self-righteous twerp with a mouthful of radical jargon, was the switch-flipping moment for me. The young woman sounded just like the self-righteous students by whom I surrounded (many of them British leftists), and I knew I was squarely on the side of the mother.

The power of that experience drove me to try other books by Lessing, but these were invariably horrible in just the way you describe. One compelled me to wash my hands after I'd thrown it in the trash. I'll admit that all of this may be purely idiosyncratic, and that I was simply primed by circumstances to see a meaning that wasn't there. But when I was a young man waking up from vaguely leftist slumbers in the mid 1980s, The Good Terrorist acted on me like a cup of strong coffee.