The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Old anti-semitism in new bottles


In Agatha Christie’s classic crime novel the ABC Murders, the detective Hercule Poirot comes up with the following formulation: “When do you notice a pin least? When it is in a pin cushion. When do you notice a murder least? When it is one of a series of related murders.” I would like to extend Poirot’s thinking to “When do you notice an extremely pernicious and dangerous conspiracy theory least? When it is set in a two hour film amongst many other conspiracy theories.”

zeitgeistOver the last year or so a number of people have told me that I should watch the film Zeitgeist: The Movie. All of these people have been lefties or liberals, and each tells me that the film supplies a good exposé of power in the modern world. These people have been from a wide range of backgrounds and ages, some of them environmentalists, some of them unionists, some of them socialists, some British, some American. The film has achieved massive viewing figures globally, with over 3,000,000 people having watched it on Youtube, and many more on DVD or Google Video. And of all of these people who have recommended the film to me, none has noticed its reliance on the old myth of the “world Jewish conspiracy”.

In this article I hope to expose the film’s relationship to older anti-Semitic texts and myths, and look more closely at how these theories are made to look left-wing or liberal. I wish to explain why this film has become so attractive to people who otherwise are engaged in good struggles against capitalism, against war, and to save the environment. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the film and a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, along with its use of other anti-Semitic tropes that have existed throughout modernity.

Zeitgeist: The Movie is split into three parts: The first focuses on the relationship between astrological symbology and the story of Jesus; the second on “the truth about 9/11″; and the third is about international finance. In all honesty the first part is neither here nor there. The argument is that Christianity is not original in its particular form of mythology, and instead is a reconfiguration of older myths focusing on sun gods. Whether or not we take this argument to be true has very little impact on how we understand modern society. The second section of the film expounds a theory that 9/11 was an inside job, committed by the American state. Many people do believe this, and much of the information is inaccessible, but the argument that I would like to make is that these two conspiracy theories are in many ways inconsequential to the overall meaning of the film. Rather they are used as a smoke screen to justify the dissemination of anti-Semitic material in the final section of the film.

What is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
protocols_english The Protocols is a book first published by around the turn of the last century in Russia. It is a fraudulent and fictional document made to read as if written by Jews intent on ruling the world. It suggests that the Jewish people plan on world domination through a process of controlling governments, controlling the media, controlling banks, and swindling the populace at large. The claim is that Jews wish to enslave the world by creating a “one world government.” Of course the text is deeply anti-Semitic, and has been shown numerous times to be a forgery, but has been used consistently throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to justify atrocities committed against Jews. Furthermore it remains popular in parts of the world, and amongst certain right-wing and fascist organisations.

The relationship between two texts
It is easy enough to say that there is a large cross-over of content between Zeitgeist and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by plucking a few choice quotes. For example, where Zeitgeist says, “International bankers now have a streamlined machine to expand their personal ambitions”, The Protocols says “the wheels of the machine of all the states are moved by the force of the engine, which is in our [the Jews’] hands, and the engine of the machinery of our states is Gold .” But I would suggest that this sort of critique does not go far enough, rather I would like to show that the entire argument of the third section of the film has been lifted from The Protocols. It is the same argument, often in slightly altered language, and as such is just as anti-Semitic. I will focus on five particular aspects: The one world government; the use of war; manipulation of the populace; the focus on gold and money; and the idea of an all-powerful secret cabal.

The One World Government
One of the great fears of the conspiracy theorists is a one world government. This point is made explicitly towards the end of Zeitgeist in a discussion of a North American Union, an Asian Union, the European Union, and an African Union. And finally, they say “when the time is right they will merge together forming the final stages of a plan these men have been working on for over 60 years: a one world government… One bank, one army, one centre of power.” This argument is particularly related to he opening of Protocol 3 in which we read, “Today I may tell you that our [the Jews’] goal is now only a few steps off. There remains but a small space to cross of the long path we have trodden before the cycle of the Symbolic Snake, by which we symbolise our people, will be completed. When this ring closes, all the States of Europe will be locked into its coil as in a powerful vice.” The Protocols go on in Protocol 5, “by all these means we shall so wear down the goyim (non-Jews) that they will be compelled to offer us international power of a nature that will enable us to absorb all the State forces of the world and to form a Super-Government.”

The use of war
There is a section in the film in which it is claimed that the justifications for America going into a number of world wars were orchestrated by “men behind the government.” We are told that the sinking of the Lusitania was planned, that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident never happened, that Pearl Harbour was known about well in advance, and of course that 9/11 was an inside job. We are told that both sides of conflicts have been funded by the same “international bankers.” This section of the film is lifted directly from Protocol 7, which reads, “Throughout all of Europe, and by means of relations in Europe, in other continents also, we must create ferments, discords, and hostility. Therein we gain a double advantage. In the first place we keep in check all countries, for they well know that we have the power whenever we like to create disorders and to restore order… We must be in a position to respond to every act of opposition by war with the neighbours of that country which dares to oppose us: but if these neighbours should also venture to stand collectively against us, then we must offer resistance by universal war.”

I am not going to say here that wars haven’t been entered into cynically, because of course they have, and I am also not saying that many wars should not be opposed, because again in many cases they should. The point though, is that the structure of this particular argument about war is based on the idea of Jews running the world, and should thus be thrown out.

Manipulating the populace
There are two branches to classic Jewish conspiracy theory thought about how the people are made stupid and swindled. The first, and in fact the one that has been most significant in the history of Jewish conspiracy theories, is the idea of Jews being in charge of the media. The second, which has become less widely used but still exists in Zeitgeist: The Movie is the idea of Jewish control of the education system to make it ineffective. The issue of Jewish control of the media is covered in Protocol 12 in which it is written, “Not a single announcement will reach the public without our control. Even now this is being attained by us inasmuch as all news items are received by a few agencies in whose offices they are focused from all parts of the world. These agencies will then be already entirely ours (the Jews’) and will give publicity only to what we dictate to them.” And in Protocol 13, “We further distract them [the non-Jews] with amusements, games, pastimes, passions, people’s palaces… Soon we shall begin through the press to propose competitions in art, in sport of all kinds. These interests will finally distract their minds from questions in which we should find ourselves compelled to oppose them.” In Zeitgeist identical issues are covered throughout but in particular there is discussion of a “culture entirely saturated by mass media entertainments.” We are told that the same people behind the planned takeover of society are “behind the mainstream media.”

In both Zeitgeist and The Protocols we see some discussion of the education system. In Zeitgeist we are told about the “downward slide of the US education system” and that “They [the government] do not want your children to be educated.” Completely unsurprisingly the same argument is made in Protocol 16: “When we are in power we shall remove every kind of disturbing subject from the course of education and shall make out of the youth obedient children of authority.” The narrator of Zeitgeist says, “the last thing the men behind the curtain want is a conscious, informed public”, echoing the sentiment from Protocol 5 that “there is nothing more dangerous to us (the Jews) than personal initiative.”

The focus on gold or money: the federal reserve, and Jewish usury
Both The Protocols (particularly Protocols 21 and 22) and Zeitgeist focus heavily on issues regarding money or gold. Both offer the theory that the problems of society are caused by money and systems of money being controlled by a small group of people of questionable morals. What is important here is the focus is on money rather than on capital or production. Instead of offering critical perspectives on the structures within society that cause oppression and poverty, the general view is society as it stands is benevolent and this benevolence is subverted by problems in the sphere of circulation.

Over the centuries, going back as far as the expulsion of the Jews from Britain in 1290, the charge of usury has been levelled against the Jews for anti-Semitic purposes. Zeitgeist says of the federal income tax, “roughly 25% of the average worker’s income is taken via this tax, and guess where that money goes? It goes to pay the interest on the currency being produced by the Federal Reserve Bank. The money you make working for almost three months out of the years goes almost literally into the pockets of the international bankers.” Again, for the sake of trying not to appear as racist as they really are, the word Jew is replaced with “international bankers.” This is once again a restatement of an anti-Semitic myth. Just as in all of these examples, the arguments here are lifted from older anti-Semitic theories. They are not offering an explanation of world or national political economic systems, rather they exist solely to foster an attitude of hatred to a certain pre-defined section of society.

A secretive cabal?
Ultimately, the argument that is being made throughout Zeitgeist is that the world is being controlled by a small secret society of individuals, and in the context of the history of conspiracy theories, they are talking about the Jews. When we are told by the film about meetings of these “international bankers” that are “secretive and concealed from public view”, discussions about “an accelerated agenda by the ruthless elite”, or “people behind the government” they are breathing new life into an old racist myth that we must try to do away with.

There is an insistence throughout conspiracy theories that someone or some group of people are personally responsible for all of the ills of the world, and this is very much related to anti-Semitism throughout modernity. For hundreds of years, Jews have been the officially sanctioned scapegoat of capitalism. Where systems of production have impoverished people, the Jews have been blamed; where people have felt taxes are unfair, the Jews have been blamed; where people have felt alienated by the structures of society, they have been told that they are in fact alienated because they are not part of secret meetings of Jews. Ultimately these theories lead us away from a critique of capitalism. Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek makes exactly this point with reference to Wagner’s anti-Semitism when he writes “He needs a Jew: so that, first, modernity – this abstract impersonal process – is given a human face, is identified with a concrete, palpable feature; then, in a second move, by rejecting the Jew which gives full body to all that is disintegrated in modernity, we can retain its advantages. In short, anti-Semitism does not stand for anti-modernism as such, but an attempt at combining modernity with social corporatism which is characteristic of conservative revolutionaries.”

Who was Senator Louis McFadden?
mcfadden Louis McFadden, who is quoted at length in Zeitgeist, was a senator in the US in the first part of the twentieth century. He also happened to be a serious anti-Semite, and came out with lines such as, “in the United States today, the Gentiles have the slips of paper while the Jews have the lawful money.” He is quoted twice in the film saying the following: “A world banking system was being set up here… a superstate controlled by international bankers acting together to enslave the world for their own pleasure…” and “It was a carefully contrived occurrence. International bankers sought to bring about a condition of despair so they might emerge rulers of us all.” Within the context of McFadden’s world view, he is using “international bankers” as an epithet for Jews. What is notable is that the makers of Zeitgeist seem keen to omit this context, to suggest that McFadden is simply offering a critique of capitalism. The fact is that within conspiracy theories the labelling of Jews as “international bankers” and “international finance capital” is a common trope. These quotes would have been understood at the time, and is still understood by many now, to be anti-Semitic gestures.

The Case of Jeremiah Duggan, and the truth about Lyndon LaRouche
Another rather shady character who appears in Zeitgeist is American political activist Lyndon LaRouche. I felt I should include the following story as anecdotal evidence of quite how dangerous these people can be:

JeremiahDugganJeremiah Duggan was a British Student at the Sorbonne who died in 2003 in extremely suspicious circumstances. In the months leading up to his death, Duggan had become involved in what he believed to be an anti-war organisation. In fact he had become entangled with a set of political organisations headed up by American political activist Lyndon LaRouche. In March that year, Duggan attended a conference of these organisations at the Schiller Institute (a site owned by LaRouche’s movement) in Wiesbaden, Germany. During the course of meetings Duggan revealed himself to be Jewish, and yet in such meetings of LaRouche’s movement, Jews are blamed for starting the war, reanimating the old conspiracy myths about the Jews encouraging wars as they aid social control. He said in his keynote address to the conference, “This plot to launch a new world war has been intellectually influenced by people who, like Hitler, admire Nietzsche, but “being Jewish, they couldn’t qualify for Nazi Party leadership, even though their fascism was absolutely pure! As extreme as Hitler! They sent them to the United States.[…] Who’s behind it? . . . The independent central-banking-system crowd, the slime-mold. The financier interests.”

At around 5am, after Duggan had revealed his Jewish identity at the conference, he phoned his mother. He said, “Mum, I’m in … big trouble … You know this Nouvelle Solidarité? ..” He said, “I can’t do this” … I want out.” And at that point the phone was cut. And then it rang back again almost immediately. … And then the first thing that he said that time was, “Mum, I’m frightened.” She realized he was in such danger that she said to him, “I love you.” And then he said, “I want to see you now.” She said, “well, where are you, Jerry?” And he said, “Wiesbaden.” And she said, “How do you spell it?” And he said, “W I E S.” And then the phone was cut.

The next day, Jeremiah was found dead, with members of LaRouche’s movement claiming that he had committed suicide. Inquests are still ongoing to determine what happened that night. In the last few weeks a second inquiry into his death has been announced.

LaRouche has been known as a Jewish conspiracy theorist for more than 30 years now. His organisation is cultish and dangerous (one of the reasons I choose to write this anonymously), and the content of much of what he says can be traced back to the sort of allegations put forward by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. What, then, is a man like this doing in a film that purports to be a lefty-liberal critique of society?

Zeitgeist and the Left
What is in many ways most unsettling about this film is the fact that it purports to be left-wing or liberal. As the film ends we see images of three men faded in and out: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther-King, and John Lennon. Throughout the film we have quotations from left wing comedian Bill Hicks and a section is given to New Labour politician Michael Meacher. It is asserted once again that the aim of this film is the affirmation of the unity of humanity, of doing away with difference, whether it be class, race, or sex. We are made to think that the film is offering a radical left critique of power. Instead it is indulging in the sort of theories that are more at home with right-wing libertarians. I do not know entirely why the Zeitgeist group are particularly targeting the left. It is perhaps a divisive measure, but also possibly just an arena where they feel they can convert people to their way of thinking. What is clear, though, is that the suggestion that the ideas expressed are left-wing or liberal, and the deployment of quotations from well known lefties and liberals, is utterly cynical.

The positivist problem
There is one reason in particular that these conspiracies may seem compatible with left wing modes of thought, and that is to do with the philosophical problem of positivism. Stated in its simplest form, this is that ideas about transforming a society cannot be straightforwardly expressed in the language or accepted modes of thought of the society that they wish to transform. And this issue is common to all transformative theories of society. Probably the most influential branch of this type of thinking stemmed from Hegel to Marx, and then into Marxists of the 20th and 21st century. The solution for them is to talk in terms of a dialectic, that is, by comparing the consciousness of a society to the material reality. The significant conclusion of this type of thought is that one’s consciousness of society, up to a certain point is always false.

The conspiracy theorists take on this question in another way. They say that if our consciousness of society is always false, it is made to be false by a small number of powerful who make it false. They believe that we are consistently duped by an all-knowing cabal who control every aspect of our lives. And the solutions differ too. For the Marxists and socialists the problem is that society produces a consciousness that doesn’t allow us to fully understand our immiseration in work, in unemployment, or in powerlessness, and the solution is the radical transformation of society to a fairer, less exploitative world. For the conspiracy theorists the answer is the elimination of this so-called small powerful elite. They do not believe that society needs any more transformation than this.

This is difficult philosophical ground to tread. We run a huge risk if we are to criticise the conspiracy theorists for not being positivists, not working within accepted modes of thought. Instead, what we must say is that their particular critical mode of thought does not propose a correct solution for solving society’s problems, and furthermore is reliant not on unity but on division. We must show that inequality in society is structural rather than being based on the wishes of a small group of Jews.

What is to be done?
Zeitgeist: The Movie is ever growing in popularity, and furthermore they are building a movement. More and more people are being influenced by what the film has to say, without realising quite where it is coming from. It is important that as widely as possible we can expose the anti-Semitic subtext to this film. We must expose the film as being cynically positioned to influence liberals and lefties. In targeting the ideas presented by Zeitgeist it is not enough to just quibble over details, rather we must be trying to understand the politics that this film overall is trying to portray. We need to read through the many layers of conspiracy theories here, and understand that there is one in particular that they want us to believe, and that this one is, of course, the most dangerous and pernicious.

It is important to understand that the type of critique of society offered by the Zeitgeist movement cannot be separated from the Jewish conspiracy theory. One cannot take classic anti-Semitic texts, replace the word “Jew” with “international bankers”, or “international finance capital” and then believe that your theory is no longer anti-Semitic. Of course there are very good arguments that capitalism and indeed imperialism are extremely dangerous. There are very good arguments from a left or liberal perspective to say that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should never have been fought. And it is here that we must recognise that ends do not justify means. We cannot afford to support any cause that is simply anti-capitalist, or any cause that is simply anti-war, otherwise we run the risk of getting into bed with fascists. Rather, our positions on capitalism and of war must arise from thoroughgoing critique, rather than a rehashing and rebranding of old anti-Semitic narratives.

In order to spread this message as widely as possible I encourage you to republish this piece on your own websites, to send it to friends and comrades, to show it to anyone who tells you about “this fabulous new film you just have to watch.” One of the easiest ways is, if you are on twitter, to just click the tweet button at thee top of this post. If possible, do track back to The Third Estate so they can monitor how widely this material is being disseminated. In coming weeks I will be recreating this article as a voice-over video, much in the style of Zeitgeist: The Movie in order that we can spread these views to even more people who may be influenced by this abhorrent film.


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