Doris Lessing: The Death of a Useful Idiot
Doris Lessing died last weekend. She was an Anglosphere writer who peaked decades ago—did she even have a peak worth discussing?—but was lavished with praise throughout her career. She was from Rhodesia, but attacked Rhodesia and celebrated the failed socialist state of Zimbabwe. Lessing was a useful idiot, a Cathedral priestess, elevated for pushing the proper narrative and themes.
One thing about Lessing is crucial to understanding her career: at the beginning of the Cold War, she joined the Communist Party. Lessing’s angry screed at the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe is revealing for multiple reasons: not just for Mugabe, but for her own career. Lessing cannot say the truth behind Zimbabwe’s decline; while she was angry at the politically correct crowd that dodged criticizing Mugabe, she was too close to not only predict the decline, but even see the reasons for it after it had happened. Mugabe was just “mad”, she said: nothing more to it than that.
She won a Nobel prize for literature in 2007 and published many works, none of which I had heard of until her death. She was a wonderful Cathedral apparatchik, writing novels like The Good Terrorist in 1985 about 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. What creativity! Sounds autobiographical. I missed the great The Grass is Singing about a Rhodesian female farmer, a racist, hard working woman that marries a nicer white. The hardass 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 Communist expat 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 progressives continued. She was praised, awarded many prizes, and always published. The tastemakers praised her because she pushed the line they wanted: she was ‘non-conformist’ in the most conformist way. Feminism of the unrestrained female sexuality strain, radical communism, abortion, anti-Rhodesian/apartheid themes, and romanticization of 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 predictably progressive ways. Her fiction, focusing on women’s issues, was a convenient vehicle to slip in other communist talking points. As it was in Hollywood, so it was in Rhodesia: fiction is as important a tool as journalism.
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 had supported the international initiative to give Mugabe 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 the younger generations, who had started reading Marx. 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 such a 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.