During the Cold War, many educators, reformers, and activists traveled to Russia to study Marxism up close. Officials of the KGB would take these crusaders and show them what they called the Workers’ Utopia, also known as Potemkin Villages – structures built merely to mislead others into thinking conditions were better than they really were.
Many returned from Russia inspired that Marxism was the preferred utopian vision for humanity. This was a vision of a world with no classes or property, where everyone was equal and capitalism would be abolished. Vladimir Lenin had a name for these idealistic crusaders who romanticized Marxist visions. He called them “useful idiots.”

During the Great Depression capitalism seemed heartless and cruel. People were being evicted. They were out of work and without hope. This era gave rise to populist left wing demagogues such as Huey Long, isolationists such as Charles Lindbergh, and right wing anti-semites like Father Coughlin. The thirties were also the highwater mark of the Eugenics movement and the Ku Klux Klan.
Whether from the right, left, or center, their strategies were the same—appeal to the most vulnerable, the poor downtrodden masses that want to believe in a savior or hero. These fiery rhetoricians usually garnered support by appealing to ethnicity or expressing utopian visions such as “a chicken in every pot.”
Are today’s orators and demagogues any different? Is the isolationist rhetoric delivered by Rand Paul or Ted Cruz any different from that of Charles Lindberg or Robert Taft? Are the orations of Barack Obama and Al Sharpton any more beneficial to those who hunger, work, and toil than speeches from the communists and trade unions of the thirties?
It is safe to say the masses have been nothing more than useful idiots for the charismatic orators who use class warfare not to promote the most vulnerable, but to enrich themselves through television shows, political office, or administrative positions at foundations and nonprofits while the poor still must agitate, protest, and rally for jobs and justice.
Populism has always had appeal among the masses, whether it’s class warfare, us versus them, or the man of the people, but who is benefiting? It seems like more people are losing their jobs, homes, and prestige while these guys advance their agenda.
One has to shake his head in disbelief seeing the Wal-Mart mom arguing against living wages or gun lovers defending assault weapons. The left is just as misguided, wearing hoodies for Trayvon Martin while our black children shoot each other. They are used as pawns for labor unions and civil rights leaders who protest for jobs that won’t necessarily go to them.
I believe the poor’s problems don’t stem from oppression, but from a failure to grasp economics. The poor are vulnerable because they are disorganized, disenfranchised and fight amongst themselves. This leaves them vulnerable to smooth-talking demagogues who pump the poor with idealistic visions of utopia while they stay uneducated, misinformed and broke.
Power is in numbers. Truth is, if the poor put their change together, they could collectively create their own economic base, have their own lobbies, and form enterprises that hire people in their own community instead of degrading themselves and begging Wal-Mart and McDonalds for a living wage.
When the masses quit relying on rhetoric and learn to depend on instinct and intuition, they will no longer be heartbroken by these fiery orators who give passionate speeches that lead to bankruptcy and unemployment.
Marcus Garvey once said, “Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.”
I truly believe there is no kinder words to say to someone than, “You can do it without my help.”
History has shown relying on others will leave you susceptible to a fire-breathing orator who doesn’t have your interest at heart and always leaves you mislead, uninformed and broke.