Interest in and belief in the Illuminati as secret world masters salting media reality with symbols of their occult authority is something I've noticed among a few Black co-workers and Black Facebook friends.
I normally don't post articles from RCP's Revolution newspaper because their strategy is reduced to such subjective and individualist philistinism today: "How about we get with BA?"
The idea that the communist vanguard of the labor movement will be regenerated by adopting the insights of one individual contradicts everything communists know about how our movement has been built and rebuilt over the last century. The Trotskyist movement was plagued with these promoters of general-secrataryism: the names Healy and Robertson and Pablo come to mind.
The "Illuminati" Is a Myth! Wake Up and Deal With the REAL Problem!
Why do we live in such a fucked-up world? Why are decisions so clearly out of the hands of the masses of people? And why do these decisions always run so sharply against the interests of these masses? Why do a few people control enormous amounts of wealth... while many more swim frantically to keep their heads above water... and the vast majority are ground down and chained to a life of misery, no matter what they do? And why are we lied to about all this?
People seek answers to these questions. Urgently. One of the biggest, most widespread answers out there pins all this on a shadowy group called the "Illuminati." This small but virtually all-powerful group, we are told, is bent on world domination. They have supposedly manipulated and rigged every war, every revolution, every economic or political crisis in accord with a master plan for world domination. There are 57 varieties of this explanation to be found on the Internet, differing in this or that detail and degree, but this is the basic framework you get from them all. (See sidebar for the actual history of the Illuminati.)
Sidebar: A Few Basic Facts
The Illuminati was a secret society in Bavaria, Germany, that arose in late 1776. Bavaria at that time was ruled by a monarch and Roman Catholicism was the official state religion. The Illuminati, by contrast, promoted values associated with the bourgeoisie during this period. The bourgeoisie was rising up against the feudal order—advocating republicanism rather than monarchy; rational thought and secularism rather than religion and a state church; and the beginnings, at least, of gender equality. The Illuminati were suppressed by the Bavarian government in 1785, and despite some efforts to re-form, never regained their footing.
This was happening toward the peak of a period of transition and upheaval in Western Europe. The old order of feudalism—a social order in which the accumulation of wealth and power was based on land ownership and the exploitation of peasants (who are usually bound to the land, unable to move away, either by law or custom)—was being challenged. The rulers of this order were typically kings and other nobles—people who inherited their position, as a landlord inherited his land and even "his peasants"— and who defended the interests of the landlords.
But for centuries, things had been changing underneath the surface. New ways of accumulating wealth, based on the further development of manufacture in the cities and on the exploitation of a new class (the proletariat) that had been driven off the land, had gained predominance. These new ways drew on international trade, and a world market came into being. All this, in turn, got a tremendous boost from the colonization of the Americas and the establishment of slavery within those colonies. Of course, this "boost" meant the genocide of the people living in North and South America and the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of people from Africa!
For a while, these new capitalist ways could gain ground within the old social order. But the needs of this rising capitalist class increasingly ran up against the interests of the feudal lords and the laws and institutions that enforced those interests. The old structure of kings, backed by a state-sponsored church, had become an obstacle to the full growth and consolidation of the power of this new capitalist class. This rising new class—with its new ways of exploiting people's labor and accumulating wealth—had new ideas on how things should be organized to foster this, and they came together in groups to discuss these and to plan how to get rid of the old feudal order. Revolutions were waged against the kings who defended feudal power—first in England in 1642 to 1651, and then over a century later in France.
The French Revolution spread its influence to many different countries in Europe, and the authorities in those countries began labeling those who were revolutionary-minded as Illuminati—trying to sow fear of revolution by implying that they were part of a secret, "foreign-inspired" group. Over time, this became increasingly bound up with anti-Jewish thinking. In 1918, at a time when the communist revolution had begun to win victories, a British woman named Nesta Webster wrapped together the nativism (prejudice against people not from one's country of birth), anti-Semitism, and anticommunism into one big, ugly package. Today, in some cases, some of the rougher edges of anti-Semitism have been sanded down, but the message is conveyed through code words.
These "Illuminati theorists" focus a great deal on manipulation of the banking system. They do not really talk about any problems with the capitalist system apart from that. Almost all of them are either openly or just-below-the-surface anti-Semitic—that is, they focus people's hatred against what they portray as a cabal of Jewish financial families. They do not talk about the capitalist class as a whole. They string together a lot of facts, pseudo-facts, and lies that they claim to be grounded in deep research—while in reality, these are marshaled to serve a thoroughly unscientific and, indeed, anti-scientific theory. Many connect this to the biblical Book of Revelations, with its lurid visions of apocalypse and mumbo-jumbo talk of Antichrists, to say that this is Satan's plan; and there are other equally mystical and anti-rational theories advanced in other variants of the theory.
There is only one word to describe these theories: wrong. Actually, there's another word, too: poisonous. Totally poisonous. These Illuminati theorists point to the wrong problem and the wrong solution. To them, the problem is not capitalism; it is a small group of people who are supposedly controlling and perverting capitalism. To them, the solution is not revolution; it is returning to the "purity" of capitalism (a "purity" which never existed and never can exist and wouldn't be any good even if it could!). In actual fact, these theories have served as the foundations for reactionary, fascist, and racist movements for over a century.
These theories are not "a little bit right." Yes, they take advantage of people's correct sense that the answers to the questions we started this article with are hidden. But that's just the point—they "take advantage." They exploit the sense that people have of being lied to and use that to train people in reactionary, backward thinking and mislead them into acting against their own interests. They are no more neutral or harmless than a quack doctor who gives you arsenic for a highly contagious, fatal disease.
Why Do Things Happen?
According to the Illuminati theorists, there is no real logic to history other than these quasi-Satanic forces trying to get domination. Everything you can name—the U.S. Civil War, the Russian Revolution—happened because the Illuminati manipulated it.
Do powerful forces attempt to control events? Yes, they do. But these forces, in this day and age, are political representatives of a class—the capitalist-imperialist class. And they do not have total control. First off, the power of these capitalist-imperialists does not come from Satan—who doesn't exist in the first place! Nor does it come from "secret knowledge," numerology, aliens, etc. No, these capitalist-imperialists derive their power from something much more everyday. They own the vast material forces that create wealth in this society—the factories and mines, the agriculture, the means of transportation and communication, the banks and other instruments of finance, and so on. This ownership enables the capitalists to amass wealth through exploiting the labor of those who possess no means of creating wealth—the proletariat—which today numbers billions of people around the world. Exploitation means that the capitalists take what these billions create each day through their labor and pay them in return enough to survive (and sometimes barely that). This exploitation is where they get their profit.
And this capitalist class is the embodiment of the capitalist SYSTEM. As Bob Avakian breaks down in the Revolution Talk,1 a system is like a game with certain rules. So think of capitalism as a game with three rules:
1.profit comes from exploiting people's labor—therefore you must exploit to the maximum;2.if you are a capitalist and you don't grow bigger, then your competitor will and drive you under—therefore, you must expand or die; and3.profit over everything—therefore you must plunder the earth and all its inhabitants and subordinate everything to the pursuit of profit.On the basis of the wealth that they have amassed from exploitation, the capitalist class shapes and controls the official use of force in society (armies, police, prisons, courts) and decision-making (mainly through the executive branch of government, like the presidency). They wield this machinery—the state—to defend and enforce their interests. But because different capitalists have conflicting interests (see rule 2, above), they fight each other for control and advantage—even as they collaborate to keep down the masses.
In today's world, where capitalism has developed into a global system of imperialism, this takes place on an international scale. They are like gangsters in a turf war, though the scale of their viciousness and destruction far exceeds what any gangster even dreams of. All this—this system—leads to horrific, widespread, and totally unnecessary suffering for billions of people. But all this is driven forward by the rules at the heart of the system that demand that the capitalists, in order to survive, exploit the vast majority of people ever more extremely as part of their cutthroat competition with other capitalists.
So what is the root of the problem? Not a tiny band of superhumanly evil beings. Not a small group of Jewish financiers. But a system in which a class of capitalists 1) controls the means of production and exploits the labor of many, 2) on that basis wields tremendous military force to dominate people, and 3) also uses that power to control and shape the media, education systems, etc. to influence and dominate the ways that people think. So long as this is the system, we will face the problems—exploitation of the billions, plunder of the environment, oppressive institutions, and ways that keep that exploitation going—that we face today.
Superhuman Masterminds—Or an Enemy That Is Powerful, but Riddled with Contradiction?
In the Illuminati version of the world, you have masterminds in near-total control of events. In the real world, the one in which we actually live, no one group of capitalists has total control; they fight with each other, and they also fight with the masses, trying to keep them suppressed and, when those masses rebel, trying to put them back into chains. Horrific, destructive wars go on as the concentration of all this. And sometimes, against tremendous odds, the masses break through the madness and make revolution.
No single capitalist or group of capitalists can predict the course of events; they cannot even predict whether this or that business will succeed. They try to, but they face a world of antagonistic forces and unintended consequences. The capitalist-imperialists fight for one reason: to defend, extend and expand their ability to accumulate capital in a world full of uncertainty and chaos. And they MUST fight—they are driven to do so by the "rules of the game."
This gives rise to huge crises in society, where things seem to unravel. These crises can mean great and even deeper horrors... but they can also contain the openings, if there is leadership and a revolutionary people, to make huge, positive changes—to make revolution.
What Is Really Behind the Lies and Hidden Agendas?
Do these powerful forces—these capitalists—try to hide their real motives and their real interests? Yes... because their interests are against those of the masses of people. Let's take war. The imperialists will never say that their wars are in the interests of defending and extending an empire which they control. Remember the U.S. war against Iraq? Hundreds of thousands died as a result of that war, and millions of people were violently uprooted. That war was labeled "Operation Iraqi Freedom," not "Operation Extend and Deepen U.S. Imperial Domination of the Middle East in Order to Edge Out Rivals and Keep the Masses Suppressed." The capitalist-imperialists will always invent pretexts or excuses for going to war, sometimes with absolutely no basis in reality—and this is true of Iraq, Vietnam, and almost every war you can name—because if they came out with the real reasons, it would incur much more opposition from the masses of people.
People sense this—but here come the Illuminati theorists and their ilk to say that the real motives of these wars were to further enrich "Jewish financial interests," or to cement control of the so-called "Bilderberg group," or to bring in one-world government under the United Nations.2 No! The real reasons for the wars mentioned above were 1) to impose U.S. domination over rival imperialists (or to risk being edged out or even subordinated by those imperialists)... OR 2) to crush liberation struggles of the people in the nations which they have been oppressing, as was the case in Vietnam, or 3) some combination of the first two. But if the imperialists just came out and said that, people would be far less likely to go along with these wars. And if the Illuminati theorists just said that, it would imply that there is something wrong with the system of capitalism and not just the behavior of this or that capitalist or group of capitalists. So think about it—why do the Illuminati theorists invent all kinds of explanations which lead you away from looking at the forces within the system's functioning? And remember—the "normal" functioning of the capitalist system must mean the untold suffering of billions, and this has been true since its earliest days.
Are we taught the real motive forces of history? No, we are not. We are taught in school that "Abraham Lincoln fought the U.S. Civil War to free the slaves and to realize the true promise of America." We sense there is more to it than that. So here come the Illuminati theorists once more to say that the Civil War happened as a result of the Rothschilds—again, a family of Jewish bankers in Europe—egging both sides on against each other so that they could take over the U.S. financial system. Oooh, sounds heavy... sounds deep.
Just one problem: this is totally wrong... and dangerously misleading. The Civil War, in fact, arose out of deep contradictions at the very heart and foundation of the capitalist system as it developed in the U.S., namely the enslavement of millions of Africans. The northern capitalists and southern slaveholders waged an extremely bitter and bloody struggle. Why? Because as the northern capitalists grew in strength over the first decades of this country, they increasingly ran up against constraints imposed on their expansion by the southern slave system. They needed to control the whole economy and nation in order to fully consolidate capitalism. The southern slaveholders needed to dig in and not just consolidate slavery but expand its reach and power. All this is shown in some depth in our current series on the U.S. Constitution,3 as well as in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy4 by Bob Avakian and "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need."5 Those two antagonistic claims could finally only be settled by war.
Now, did a lot of capitalists—including banker-capitalists—make huge fortunes, and extend their individual power and influence off the Civil War? Of course! But to claim that was the cause of the Civil War is like saying that umbrella salesmen are the cause of the rain because they make extra money during downpours.
But there's actually more that this Illuminati theory hides. The northern capitalists, who eventually triumphed, quickly decided NOT to grant the newly free slaves the rights that they had fought for. Instead, they decided that it was more in their class interests to bring back the former slaveholders as "junior partners" and to put the African-American people into a new set of chains as sharecroppers tied to plantations (and convict-laborers—slavery in a new name—to build roads and industry in the South). This fit in with their interests—to politically "stabilize the home base" and extract super-profits from sharecropping agriculture, while they conquered the remaining Native American peoples in the West and prepared to contend as a world power.
This oppression of African-Americans, though going through many changes, has been the red thread running through the whole history of the U.S. and the colonies before it. It continues to be at the heart of U.S. society today. And the further development of this contradiction at the heart of America could still lead to, or certainly be a big part of, a major crisis in U.S. society, on the order of the Civil War, or the 1960s... or even beyond those earth-shaking days of change.
That fact has tremendous implications. It shows the depth of the oppression of the African-American people in this society. It shows the critical importance of the struggle against this oppression in a revolution to actually get free of this capitalist-imperialist madness. It shows how the capitalist-imperialist class in the U.S. has continually been driven to restore and rebuild institutions of white supremacy, even as these institutions go through changes. Understanding the true causes of the Civil War lets people see how there are times when these contradictions can come to a head in such a way so as to plunge all of society into crisis... and open up opportunities for huge and even truly revolutionary change.
But Illuminati theory covers up that understanding. It opposes that understanding. It leads people away from that understanding. According to it, the problem is not the deep-seated white supremacy built into the very heart of this system, which periodically leads to crisis and conflict and, yes, opportunity for radical and even revolutionary change; it is some comic book demon who "just happens" to have a Jewish name. Why do you suppose the Illuminati theorists want people to believe that the whole thing could have been settled were it not for the Jews (or in more "polite versions" some nameless financial capitalists)—instead of showing people the real reasons that go to the roots of the matter, with all the implications for the present and future that we just laid out?
Imperialism and Illuminati Theory... and Why Illuminati Theory HATES Revolution
Some people get taken in because these theorists talk about "big financial groups" and "hidden agendas." But where do those big financial groups come from and what drives their agendas? Their agendas are nothing but the expansion and extension of their particular bloc of capital or, on the international plane, their home nation. And why did these blocs of finance capital arise? This was actually explained by Lenin, in his analysis of imperialism.
Now this leads to another question: who is Lenin? V.I. Lenin was the person who carried on and carried further Marx's great insights into the workings of capitalism and the need for revolution. On the basis of these further advances in theory, Lenin led the first great revolution against capitalism in 1917. Lenin led this revolution against tremendous opposition and tremendous odds.
You wanna talk about conspiracies? Okay, how about this one: 14 capitalist powers all banded together to send their armies to crush this revolution. But the masses of people, in a terrible war that cost millions of lives, defeated this counter-revolution and went on to build socialism for four decades. This was a tremendous victory, unparalleled in human history up to that point. There was nothing pre-determined or neat about it.
But not if you listen to the Illuminati-types. According to them, Lenin—who led this incredible and heroic achievement of the masses—was nothing but a tool of... you guessed it... the Jewish financiers, once again... who were supposedly using him to implant total domination by the Illuminati.
Sorry, Illuminati theorists, you're wrong again—Lenin was a great revolutionary, a great champion for humanity, someone who gave us insight into how the modern world works and what it takes to fundamentally change it, for real. Lenin should be cherished and learned from by everyone who really wants to understand the world and change the world for the better. (And to those of you taken in by this other, lying shit, including those of you in the world of hip-hop who don't want to go along with the system: maybe you should ask yourselves what class interests are served by getting people who are searching for change to hate or at least have a totally false understanding of Lenin... and wake up to the fact that you are being played for something really vile and that your influence is being used to mislead others.6 )
To return to the point we started with—what is imperialism—before Lenin led the revolution, he developed a theory that explained several big changes in how capitalism functioned. First, the small, individual capitalists of prior times, through the process of relentless competition that is built into capitalism and "makes it run," so to speak, had been mainly wiped out. Big monopolies—one or a few capitalists, or blocs of capital, controlling huge industries—arose in their place. Second, banking and industrial capital had merged into "finance capital." The capitals of what had been different and smaller capitalists were now pooled into huge blocs which shifted capital in and out of different industries, different regions, etc. Third, capital itself began to be exported to the oppressed regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The capitalist states of Europe, North America and Japan began to militarily occupy these countries and fight with each other over "spheres of influence," to defend the interests of the capitalist-imperialists of their respective countries. This in turn led to wars on a scale never before seen: wars between the imperialists as well as wars of liberation and revolution waged by the oppressed masses. All this meant that capitalism had emerged into a new stage: imperialism.
In addition to the effects briefly outlined above, imperialism also means that the huge blocs of finance capital exert power over the smaller capitalists. Imperialist capital controls credit, they make large decisions about economic priorities and practices that affect these smaller capitalists, etc. These smaller capitalists feed off the imperialist system for their very existence but are also extremely vulnerable to getting wiped out, and resent all this. At the same time, their class interests and position can set them in opposition to the people on the bottom of society—the proletariat, who in many cases they exploit. They can feel "caught in the middle."7
Illuminati theory reflects the position of this class of small capitalists. And this theory can also take root among others "in the middle"—including small business people who employ a few people, professionals and managers, self-employed, etc. This is NOT to say that every person in this class position thinks this way—many do not and many can be and have been won to be allies and partisans of the revolution. But this theory crystallizes and represents the fantasies and aspirations that spontaneously arise out of the social conditions of this class. As a class it can not envision and lead the way to a world without exploitation; it can only dream of a "more level playing field" in which to carry out that exploitation.
There Are No "Good Old Days"—Either We Make a Whole New World or Humanity Remains Stuck in a World of Horrors
The Illuminati theorists want to bring back the "good old days" of early capitalism. Now, you remember the "good old days," don't you? The days of slavery... the days of the extermination of the Indians...the days when women had no rights whatsoever... the days of... well, you get the picture. The "good old days of America" were no fucking good in the first place! Yet these are what these people want to bring back! This is why so many of these theoreticians are fixated on the founding of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, which was put into place in order to facilitate the abilities of finance capital. These Illuminati theorists are not against capitalism. They're against the ways that other capitalists—in this case, certain financial interests—hamper them and hold them back, or at least seem to hamper them.
But even if these theories ultimately reflect the position and aspirations of the petty-capitalist class, their influence goes broader into society. And in recent years these kinds of explanations have gained a hearing among the oppressed. Why is this so? For a long time now, a lot of people have been discouraged about the prospects of revolution in the U.S. The defeat of the first socialist revolutions—with counter-revolutions taking place in the Soviet Union in the mid-'50s, and then in China in 1976—has enabled the ruling class to wildly distort and suppress history, to slander revolution, and to proclaim themselves to be all-powerful. The defeat of the heroic struggles of the 1960s within the U.S. has also had a huge effect. In particular, there is the fact that African-Americans were lied to, and lied about. They, along with Latinos, have been targeted by a "war on drugs" that has served as a pretext to institute a new form of Jim Crow, mass incarceration—while all around the official line was that "racism is over, if you can't make it now it's because of your own bad choices." People often feel hopeless—and helpless—in the face of all this.
Illuminati theory reflects part of this reality—the part about people being lied to, about hidden forces with hidden agendas determining the real shape of people's lives. At the same time, Illuminati theory also represents going along with and reinforcing this ideological offensive against the people. It is NOT in any way, shape or form a way out of it. It slanders and lies about revolution. It spreads contempt for the masses and their ability to change history, especially through revolution. It directs people's anger against other ethnic groups that have supposedly "made it," while at the same time accepting that "making it" under capitalism should be people's highest goal. It spreads lies about and antagonism against communism and science, while it promotes mysticism and religion. How is ANY of that any good? It is NOT—it is poison.
Illuminati theory can seem to reflect a part of reality, but it does so like the fun-house mirrors in a carnival, giving you a distorted view. It does so in the service of a very unreal, very false and extremely reactionary explanation. The ruling class is powerful, but it is not all-powerful; as Bob Avakian (BA) recently has pointed out, "they are powerful, but their system is riddled with contradictions."8 History is not the plaything of a handful of men with secret knowledge; most of all, it is the struggle between contending classes, representing different ways to organize the production of what humans need to live, and different social and political and cultural lives that correspond to those different ways. There never was a golden age to go back to. Humanity will either remain locked in the endless horrors of capitalism-imperialism or go forward to something far better... communism, a society in which people carry out their lives without exploitation or oppression or antagonistic social conflict, a society in which people can rise to their full heights.
So how about instead of trying to go back to "good old days" that never existed and that we should certainly never go back to... how about we go forward? How about we quit getting taken in, or letting others get taken in, by people who worship capitalism and whose ultimate agenda is fascist and white supremacist? How about we call out the bullshit fantasy theories and worse that get people to focus on something other than the REAL source of the problem: capitalism? How about we eliminate the REAL source of the problem, capitalism, and bring in the REAL solution: socialism, as a transition to communism? And how about we promote and build a movement for revolution to bring in that new society, whenever the conditions emerge?
And how about, as a big step toward doing all that, we get with and deeply check out someone who actually has gone deeply into the problem, with REAL science... someone who has put forward a visionary and viable solution... who's developed a strategy to get there... and who leads a party that is bound and determined to lead millions on that road?
How about we get with BA?
NOTES1. Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, revolutiontalk.net. [back]2. Many also say that the war was waged at the behest of Israel. While Israel certainly supported the war and in some ways benefited from it, they were not the motive force in it. For more on the relation between Israel and the world imperialist system, see the box on anti-Semitism. [back]3. "The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal): Two Constitutions, Two Different Systems, Two Different Futures for African-American People." "Part 1: A Slaveholders' Union," Revolution #270, May 27, 2012; Part 2: "Reconstruction, and the First Great Betrayal, 1867-1896," Revolution #271, June 10, 2012; and Part 3: "Battleground Over Segregated Education in the 1950s and 1960s," Revolution #272, June 17, 2012. [back]4. Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2008. Also available at revcom.us. [back]5. The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008. [back]6. To learn the true history of the 20th century's socialist revolutions, see thisiscommunism.org. [back]7. This used to get expressed when such theorists would say that "there is an international conspiracy of finance capital and communists working together to rule the world." Despite the fact that imperialism and the communist movement are actually deadly antagonists, from the narrow view of the representative of the small capitalist (who has contradictions with both of these classes, but for diametrically opposed reasons) they seem to be in alliance—against him. [back]8. "What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism," an interview with Bob Avakian, revcom.us. [back]9. Special Issue on Israel: "Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of ISRAEL," Revolution #213, October 10, 2010. [back]