Contrary to what you might have heard, there really was a world communist conspiracy.Its purpose was not just agitation but propaganda. To bring it about, V.I. Lenin recruited a special corps of propagandists for what was to become the Communist International.
For a fanatic like Lenin, it wasn’t enough merely to have a communist revolution in Russia. He wanted communism to take over the world, the fulfillment of Marx’s exhortation “Workers of the world, unite!” according to Stephane Courtois and Jean-Louis Panne, authors of “The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression,” published in 1999.
Lenin also feared that unless other countries went communist, his own revolution would be doomed to collapse under economic failure.
This drove him to try something new at the time: a special corps of “useful idiots.” (The term is actually not Lenin’s, but that of economist Ludwig von Mises.) These foot soldiers would push his revolution in every country — co-opting and subverting democratic processes, fomenting strikes, installing secret armies and, above all, propagandizing according to Moscow’s dictates.
From its inception, the corps “became a cover and a tool of the Russian Communist Party’s activities in the international arena,” wrote Russian historian Dmitri Volkogonov in his “Lenin: Life and Legacy” (1994).
Also known as the Comintern, Communist International was convened as the Third International in March 1918 with all the known communist parties of Europe and Asia.
The first meeting drew only 30 attendees, with only Germany prominently represented from abroad, and just 17 signing the manifesto.
But within a couple of years, the low participation reversed as the Bolsheviks’ ruthless success in Russia took hold, stirring the minds of leftists not only with its “prestige, experience and political power,” as Courtois and Panne noted, but also because of a seemingly bottomless pit of money, according to Volkogonov, shoveled out right from the start.
“Moscow was handing out money to all kinds of people, millions of gold rubles, dollars, pounds, marks, lire, crowns and so on, all raised by selling off the tsarist gold reserves, the valuables looted from the churches and confiscated from the bourgeoisie,” Volkogonov said.
The cash spent for this purpose exceeded the money Lenin directed to relieve famine, which by 1921 had killed 6 million Russians.
The communist parties of Italy, France, Germany, Korea, Hungary, Bulgaria and Persia were among the recipients of Lenin’s largesse. But one of the largest was the Communist Party U.S.A.
In Volkogonov’s “The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire” (1998), cash was shipped to U.S. parties through individuals named Kotlyarov (209,000 rubles), Khavkin (500,000 rubles), Anderson (1,011,000 rubles) and the journalist John Reed (1,008,000 rubles).
“Dozens of groups in other countries received similar cash injections over the years to start revolutionary movements and found parties, and the practice continued until 1991,” Volkogonov wrote.
The cash didn’t come without strings. As Lenin’s vision of the Comintern gelled in the summer of 1920, some 21 conditions for membership were laid down, to be met with unquestioning obedience by all socialists who wished to be associated with the organization.
Among these, noted Courtois and Panne, were Mafia-like vows of loyalty, a willingness to carry out propaganda to prepare for civil war and a promise to do anything legal or illegal on Moscow’s orders.
Above all, members had to follow the Kremlin’s dictates to the letter.
“The Communist Party will only be able to fulfill its role if it is organized in a totally centralized fashion, if its iron discipline is as rigorous as that of any army, and if its central organization has sweeping powers, is allowed to exert uncontested authority, and enjoys the unanimous confidence of its members,” Lenin said.
And so, in founding the Comintern, Lenin realized he had an echo chamber in the West to rationalize any of the Kremlin’s actions. Hence, the moniker “useful idiots.”
At that same congress in 1920, Lenin told his new corps of foreign communists they should not be “doctrinaire but flexible” and should not “spurn the opportunities that the capitalist world affords through its rotten freedoms.”
“Thus,” according to historian Adam Ulam in “The Bolsheviks” (1965), “communists ought not to reject the chance to use parliaments, and to work through trade unions; if an occasion warrants, they should join in a bloc or even enter the opportunistic socialist parties.”
A good communist, Ulam said, “struggled through legal and illegal means, and so the American or Swedish communist, though he lives in a society so different from the Russia of 1895, is told his party must have an illegal as well as legal apparatus.”
It didn’t take long for such a conspiratorial organization to start gathering dossiers on its own members to keep out infiltrators. These dossiers proved useful to the secret police of Lenin and later Joseph Stalin, especially the overseas predecessor to the KGB known as the GPU.
As dossiers were collected, and purges did away with suspected traitors to the revolution — via international roving secret police hit teams straight out of James Bond movies — the Comintern became dominated by secret police agencies such as GPU and later the NKVD and KGB, Volkogonov noted.
Conspiracies are good only as long as very few know of them. With the secret police dominating the organizations and most of the West catching on to their plans for world revolution, Stalin dissolved the Comintern in 1940.
But it amounted to only a name change: Secret police continued to funnel cash, agitation and propaganda to foreign communist parties at least through 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed.