The Four Stages of Ideological Subversion

Yuri Bezmenov and the Four Stages of Ideological Subversion

In 1984, filmmaker G. Edward Griffin interviewed former Soviet journalist and KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov in a video that would be titled Soviet Subversion of the Free World Press. Bezmenov laid down the four stages of ideological subversion — how the KGB planned to gradually subvert the political system of the United States. The Cold War was still very much on, the Chernobyl disaster was still a couple of years away, and the world didn’t know yet that the Soviet Union would collapse seven years later. But even almost forty years after the interview, his message continues to intrigue everyone interested in the mechanisms of power.

Previously, we discussed the dimensions of political power — how authority is established, from making people fear authority to using propaganda and ideology to subtly make people fall in line. Let’s apply that understanding to what Bezmenov defined in the interview with each stage of what he called ideological subversion — active measures taken over the long term to wage psychological warfare against an opposing political system.

What Bezmenov tried to say was that when people are demoralized, not even the truth delivered with the most clarity and conciseness can convince them otherwise. This is what authority counts on to maintain their hold over people through the power of agenda and ideology. Those on the outside tend to only look down on the collective intelligence of the masses without truly seeing the cause — demoralization leading to normalization.

In a democratic system, power is maintained by controlling the very ideology of the people. If you ever hope to bring change to the system and upend the status quo, you have to subvert the ideology of the people, from what they believe in to what they value. Perhaps they believe in being led by someone they believe is the very symbol of strength or they just value being on a winning team above all else. Unfortunately, that’s the state of affairs we’re in as of this writing.

Whether they’re stupid or just misguided, nothing will change if their minds can’t be changed. Either that or perhaps the system itself can be changed by force, but that would make us no different from other nations that face even greater challenges in changing their own systems.

Who is Yuri Bezmenov?

Having worked for the Novosti Press Agency and the KGB, Yuri Bezmenov had plenty of reasons to spill the beans on what he thought his home country was doing. While working as a journalist and informant, he grew disillusioned by the suppression of intellectuals by the KGB. He also fell in love with India and its culture when he was assigned to a station there.

But it wasn’t just a simple case of ‘going native’. Bezmenov coveted western freedom not simply because the grass was greener, but because he understood what the Soviet system eventually did to people like him. If you ever watched the sci-fi dystopia film Equilibrium, you’d know about Sean Bean’s character and why he got killed — he felt something and knew it well when he wasn’t supposed to feel anything at all.

Bezmenov defected to Canada in 1970, having made his escape when he was supposed to watch an American film with colleagues in Delhi. He slipped away, put on hippie clothes, and traveled to Athens, Greece. With the help of the CIA, he would be given asylum in Canada by the administration of Pierre Trudeau, father of current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

He authored a book titled Love Letter to America under the pen name of Tomas D. Schuman. He studied political science in the University of Toronto, continued to work as a journalist, and then moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, which led to his now-famous interview. He would see the fall of the Soviet Union from afar, then suffer a fatal heart attack less than two years later at the age of 53. Perhaps all the prior stress he experienced made dying young inevitable.

It’s said that while he did have threats to his life from the KGB, they didn’t prioritize his elimination since he was just a pencil pusher. Perhaps that’s why the interview tends to be not that well-remembered, being a fodder for online pieces like this at best. But his legacy courtesy of this interview was a warning to everyone who thinks that hearts and minds can be changed with just the marketing of information. It’s going to take more than that.

“The main emphasis of the KGB is not in the area of intelligence at all. Only about 15% of time, money, and manpower is spent on espionage and such. The other 85% is a slow process which we call either ideological subversion or active measures… or psychological warfare.”

Ideological Subversion, According to Yuri Bezmenov

The Committee for State Security (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti), better known as the KGB, was created by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to oversee internal security, secret policing, and intelligence operations in both domestic and foreign jurisdictions. Over the decades, the KGB would become infamous through their clandestine activities, accumulating knowledge and experience in subterfuge and subversion along the way as they went head to head against intelligence agencies from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

While this blog post isn’t entirely about what we now know as tradecraft — skills, techniques, and strategies used primarily for espionage by the intelligence community — it still gets touched upon since that’s what Bezmenov had to deal with in order to escape, live his life, and relay his message to the rest of the world. While we can’t really say that he had any significant impact on the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, he did add to the understanding of their methods and objectives. They aimed to destabilize the west by subverting capitalist ideology.

Just because the communist system took a dive during the early 90s, that doesn’t mean the capitalist system was proven to be flawless. In fact, that’s the reason why we have to talk about ideological subversion more than ever.

“What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of (sic) the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.”


The first stage is demoralization, which can take 15 to 20 years to achieve. That’s the minimum number of years to re-educate a generation of young people who grow up exposed to the ideology of the country. This is the power of ideology at work, and that generation will eventually replace previous ones over time, first in the workforce, then by having their own families.

For instance, the example Bezmenov used was the hippies in the 1960s taking positions of power in the 1980s, both in government and business. That compounds even more as Steve Jobs was a full-blown hippie who would found and grow Apple, which became the most valuable company in the world (currently second). Bill and Hillary Clinton were also hippies in their youth, or at least adjacent to it, and they would rule American politics in the 90s and 2000s.

Bezmenov argues that ’demoralized’ people are unable to comprehend that they’ve been ‘contaminated’ by tainted ideas.

He claimed that the hippie generation had already been ‘contaminated’ by Marxist-Leninist values. Obviously, he was anti-left, so that may sound reprehensible for those with more socialist sensibilities. Nowadays, if you would ever describe a younger generation as ‘contaminated’, they likely drink up hyper-masculine and anarcho-capitalist ideals.

They listen to Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, believe soy products can make them feminine, and imagine themselves as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.

But if they end up being right, then the demoralization is against the male population who are being indoctrinated about the immorality of masculinity and the need for wokeness.

Bezmenov used the example of 1960s hippies coming to positions of power in the 1980s in the government and businesses of America. Bezmenov claimed this generation was already “contaminated” by Marxist-Leninist values. Of course, this claim that many baby boomers are somehow espousing KGB-tainted ideas is hard to believe but Bezmenov’s larger point addressed why people who have been gradually “demoralized” are unable to understand that this has happened to them.

Referring to such people, Bezmenov said:

“They are programmed to think and react to certain stimuli in a certain pattern. You can not change their mind even if you expose them to authentic information. Even if you prove that white is white and black is black, you still can not change the basic perception and the logic of behavior.”

Demoralization is a process that is ‘irreversible’. Bezmenov actually thought (back in 1984) that the process of demoralizing America was already completed. It would take another generation and another couple of decades to get the people to think differently and return to their patriotic American values, claimed the agent.

In what is perhaps a most striking passage in the interview, here’s how Bezmenov described the state of a “demoralized” person:

“As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his balls then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralization.”

It’s hard not to see the state of many contemporary Americans. We have become a society of polarized tribes, with some people flat out rejecting facts in favor of narratives and opinions.

Former KGB sleeper agent Jack Barsky was featured in this CNN feature on ideological subversion, which is quite ironic since you can say he’s actually talking about CNN itself in this video. They do hit the nail on the head with showing social media as the main tool for demoralization in this day and age.


Once demoralization is completed, the second stage of ideological brainwashing is destabilization, which occurs in a 2 to 5 year period. According to Bezmenov, what matters during this time is targeting a nation’s essential structural elements — economy, foreign relations, and defense systems. The subverter — in this case, the Soviet Union — looks to destabilize each of these areas in the United States by considerably weakening them.

This is what most people think of when they think of an enemy state doing something against their own nation. Pardon me as I cite a really nerdy example that could potentially be a destabilization attempt.

In late March 2024, the xz Utils Backdoor was uncovered seemingly by accident. It was a potentially devastating vulnerability in an open source data compression utility that’s available in just about every installation of Linux and other Unix-based operating systems. If it weren’t discovered early on, it could have resulted in the popping open of just about every computer throughout the world that has xz Utils installed in it.

While the perpetrator could be an individual, it’s also being speculated that the threat actor known as Jia Tan may actually be a group, perhaps even under the directive of a nation state. They contacted the sole maintainer of xz Utils and volunteered to help contribute to the project, which the maintainer gladly accepted. When you’re the only guy working on a widely used utility for years, you could use every bit of help you can get.

Over the next few years, Jia Tan legitimately helped with maintaining xz Utils. There was even an online interaction wherein the xz maintainer’s ability to consistently work on the software was called into question by a ‘Jigar Kumar’, only for Jia Tan to swoop in and defend their honor. Jigar Kumar turned out to be a sock puppet account — like a shill in three-card monte — and the conversation was uncovered during the aftermath as a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine to create more trust in the threat actor.

Jia Tan built up trust, then finally struck by adding the backdoor into an update for the software.

The vulnerability was discovered by Andres Freund, a Microsoft engineer, who noticed that his SSH logins were taking half a second longer than usual. He looked into it and discovered errors being generated in a memory monitoring utility, which used up extra CPU cycles. The cause of that anomaly was then uncovered in xz Utils. Upon realizing the scale of the vulnerability and its potential consequences, he sounded the alarm.

It’s somewhat ironic that an employee of Microsoft — which is usually seen as an enemy of the open source software movement — is the one who would save the world from such a hazard.

It remains to be seen if it’s just an individual looking to make the cyber heist of the century or an enemy nation state’s cyberwarfare operation. The aim of such a destabilization attempt could be to create a state of crisis, which is the next stage of ideological subversion.


The third stage — crisis — takes up to 6 weeks to manifest, which then gives way to the final stage. There have been plenty over recent years, like in Ukraine and Israel. However, those crises are outright acts of war, so they’re a lot more overt. Meanwhile, there have been other examples like the Arab Spring, as well as various revolutions during the 2000s like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, among many others throughout the world.

While it’s not only revolutions that can be counted here, they’re the most obvious. It’s somewhat ironic that while the KGB counts this as part of their ideological subversion, that’s exactly what happened to the Soviet Union during its collapse. Once the Berlin Wall was long gone and the Soviet Union was no more, left behind was a whole Germany made to reconcile with its past and a fractured Russia and CIS made to deal with its uncertain future.

The warning given by Bezmenov was that if the people bringing about the subversion were not gotten rid of soon enough, the crisis will indeed manifest.

“If people will (sic) fail to grasp the impending danger of that development, nothing ever can help (the) United States.

You may kiss goodbye to your freedom.”

If we’re to draw this out from the current ‘subversion’ of America, then crisis could either refer to recent events like Black Lives Matter, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the January 6 US Capitol Hill attack, and so on. I can’t really say they’re full-on crises, but they can seem somewhat related to what’s being seen as Russia looking to ideologically subvert America.

If you believe the liberal American media, the person bringing about the subversion right now is likely Donald Trump. Otherwise, it’s someone like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping from the alternative world order of BRICS. Whichever camp you believe in, do know that crisis will always be a possibility when things come to blows between these sides.


The final stage is normalization, which is the ultimate goal of ideological subversion — changing the hearts and minds of the people from the outside. The preferred outcome for the subverter is that no one truly notices that there was any subversion at play. In the case of the Soviet Union, their goal is to make the people of the west question the capitalistic system and their powers that be, enough to spark revolutionary action.

What ended up happening was the same thing happening to the people of the Eastern Bloc instead. Their people yearned for western culture and prosperity. However, that’s not to say that the same isn’t being done to America, especially in recent years with all the talk about how Russia manipulated the 2016 US elections.

Of course, if you don’t believe in ‘western propaganda’, then you don’t believe this.

It bears mentioning that when he made this statement, he was warning about baby boomers and Democrats of the time. In another somewhat terrifying excerpt, here’s what Bezmenov had to say about what is really happening in the United States: It may think it is living in peace, but it has been actively at war with Russia, and for some time:

“Most of the American politicians, media, and educational system trains another generation of people who think they are living at the (sic) peacetime.

False. (The) United States is in a state of war: undeclared, total war against the basic principles and foundations of this system.”

Was Yuri Bezmenov for Real?

Now that we have gone through his message, the one question left is if Yuri Bezmenov himself was a reliable enough messenger. Jack Barsky doesn’t think so. It boils down to the conclusion of whether Bezmenov’s message was a description of what the KGB was doing or more of a prophecy of what will happen.

The reason why Jack Barsky thinks Bezmenov was a fraud is since he was merely a low-level  bureaucrat stationed in India. As a former KGB agent, he understood that one of the key strengths of Soviet bureaucracy was compartmentalization. Personnel would only know things within the scope of their responsibilities and rarely anything outside of them.

Therefore, he argues that Yuri Bezmenov wouldn’t have known enough of the inner workings of the KGB and the Soviet Union to really know any so-called secret. But since the west — America in particular — are hungry for any juicy morsel from the Eastern Bloc that they can get their hands on, Bezmenov is being talked about to this day.

Subverting the Power of Ideology

As discussed in the aforementioned blog post about the dimensions of political power, the power of ideology and the subconscious is the influence of the masses through indoctrination. Through education and mass media, the powers that be are able to shape and mold people into their chosen way of thinking from childhood onwards.

Subverting this from the outside used to be a lot harder, but now it has become easier and more accessible thanks to the Internet and social media. Before the proliferation of the Internet, ideological subversion had to be done through newspapers and broadcast media, which took a lot more resources, manpower, and institutional knowledge to pull off.

Nowadays, kids push keyboards and controllers out of the way to tap on screens.

You can feasibly do this by yourself now with a smartphone, data plan, and a piece of ‘fake news’ you know can catch people’s attention. Marketing power used to be limited to those who had money to burn and people to delegate. Nowadays, anyone can create a Facebook page or Instagram profile and post memes to gain followers and amass influence.

The story of Russia affecting the 2016 US elections is one for the history books. While the speed and power of social media had been talked about as a catalyst for social change, both the Arab Spring and the election of Donald Trump were events that few could imagine to be possible thanks to slabs of silicon and plastic that can fit in pockets.

This sounds like I’m repeating myself, but the point here is that what was in the hands of only a privileged few in the past is now within reach of anyone who can press ‘upload’.

Here’s a more recent and more localized example. The athletic director of a high school in Baltimore framing the principal with an AI deepfake recording of a racist tirade against black students. The only reason it got exposed as fake was because the email address of the so-called anonymous third party who sent the recording was tied to the athletic director’s mobile number.

The athletic director was under investigation for embezzling school funds. If it weren’t for bad OPSEC, the principal wouldn’t have been exonerated for something he did not do.

It’s like that scene in the anime City Hunter, where the protagonist is framed with a deepfake video of him holding a woman captive with a knife.

Anyone with a motive can participate in subversion. All it would take to make it ideological subversion is a motivated group of people with a common goal.


This topic tends to pop up in conversations involving current day Russia, the Cold War, Vladimir Putin, or even Donald Trump’s ascent to power. That last one is often cited as a prime example of this phenomenon, and it’s not hard to see how it’s relevant.

I’ll end this here for now. This draft had been sitting in my Google Docs for ages.

Perhaps I’ll come back to this blog post in the future if either I learn something new along the way or something harsh happens that forces me to be more educated. Whatever may come, whether it completely changes my mind about this topic or it gives me some profound insight, I’ll report back here. Here’s to hoping that we last long enough to learn.

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