By Mirkyton Ummashtarte
In running a socialist organisation, especially one that has an audience and collaborators outside of the regular “left wing activist” crowd, we often find ourselves in contact with conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists.
Some people even think socialists like us are conspiracy theorists—after all, aren’t we blaming nearly all of our problems on a tiny group of people who we say control the Government, most political parties, our workplaces, and our media? On the other hand, some believe that socialism is itself a part of a conspiracy, and that we are influencing culture and secretly control universities or political parties.
Conspiracy theories are usually based in the idea that some outside influence or ruling organisation controls everything around us, and this means that there is quite often a grain of truth somewhere in the mix. On the other hand, conspiracy theories can be a dangerous way of misdirecting anger away from those who deserve it and onto ethnic minorities or other scapegoats.
That’s why we’re attempting to write this in good faith rather than dismissing people we disagree with as cranks and crazies. Rather than appealing to rationality and common sense, we’re more interested in giving people the tools to separate fact from fiction. So what should you do if you’re confronted with a theory or worldview you think might be conspiratorial?
Is it falsifiable?
Falsifiability means that something can be proven wrong if the right evidence can be used against it.
Many conspiracy theories rely on being unfalsifiable, what this means is that no matter how much evidence disproves the theory, you’ll still find a few people who believe it. For example, climate change denial is unfalsifiable because it is based on the idea that all the world’s scientists are deliberately misleading the public. No matter how many reports about looming ecological catastrophe come out, climate change denialism will still linger on because those producing the reports can’t be trusted. The only way that climate change denialism can be disproven is when our planet becomes completely uninhabitable, by which time the debate is pretty irrelevant.
In contrast, a worldview like socialism is falsifiable in part because there are thousands of ways we could be proven wrong if we saw the correct evidence. If someone becomes a billionaire without exploiting the labour of another human being, that would be direct evidence against socialism. A capitalist state completely abolishing wealth inequality would be another example. There are many things that simply could not happen without socialism being untrue—they just haven’t happened yet!
However not all conclusions of socialism are falsifiable, especially the application of revolutionary solutions in our current context. We don’t presume to have created a completely flawless worldview, and only through practice can theory be put to the test.
Where does the money lead?
Another hallmark of conspiracy theories is that they propose scenarios that simply don’t make economic sense. What is the profit motive behind paying off thousands and thousands of people so that they don’t reveal the “truth” about society when it makes much more sense to hide in plain sight for free? Every scheme requires a believable investment and a believable motive, but many conspiracy theories would require elaborate networks and millions of paid employees, all kept in perfect secrecy.
On the other hand, conspiracy theories which turned out to be true, such as the Jeffrey Epstein case, had clear social and profit motives. A single prisoner held information that was damaging to several politicians and businessmen, and they simply exercised their class solidarity to kill him before he could stand trial. This is a good example of a real-life conspiracy, as it was done so clumsily that it was only a matter of time before it was exposed.
As socialists, the main conspiracy we espouse is one that makes perfect economic sense, and takes place in plain sight: that the rich have created systems to endlessly exploit the labour of the poor—something that even the most capitalist economist would admit after a few drinks. While many conspiracies rely on the idea that truth is completely separate from appearance, most socialist theories rely on taking the most readily apparent and ordinary parts of daily life, and revealing truth through putting them in a wider economic and social context.
Does it focus on Jewish people?
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of conspiracy theories is how they are able to misdirect the anger of working class people towards minorities. Many popular conspiracy theories tie in to one big overarching conspiracy theory, collectively termed “New World Order” (NWO) conspiracies.
NWO conspiracies typically revolve around a secret pact involving Freemasons, the Illuminati, and the Elders of Zion with occasional guest appearances by Nazis, Rhodes’ scholars, aliens, communists and satanists.
One aspect of NWO conspiracies that makes them so insidious and widespread is their tendency to bleed into one another thanks to internet forums, right-wing ultranationalist organisations, and other purveyors of “stigmatised knowledge.” This means that people who believe in NWO conspiracies often come to believe that racial groups, especially Jews, are a part of, or behind all of the other conspiracies.
This is because of a few factors: Jews were historically the most literate minority in Early Modern Europe, which often led to conditional entry into the management and middle classes. This, combined with Christian religious hostility, led to situations where Jews were blamed for nearly everything. By the time the 19th century arrived, whole fabricated documents (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) were being produced, claiming to expose a Jewish conspiracy to corrupt the world.
This means that many conspiracy theories involve a conscious or unconscious hostility towards Jews and other minorities. Jewish banking families like the Rothschilds are blown out of proportion, becoming arch-capitalist overlords rather than relatively small-scale bank owners. Jewish association with other “conspiratorial organisations” also had tragic consequences for other groups: along with the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazis, 200,000 Freemasons and 1,450 Jehovah’s Witnesses were also killed thanks to their alleged participation in Jewish conspiracies.
Many people in Aotearoa espouse rhetoric similar to NWO conspiracism without realising what a tragic history such thinking has led to. We need to educate people about the full implications of this brand of conspiracy theories, and completely divorce it from the socialist movement.
What about Marxism?
Marxism inevitably gets lumped in with many of the conspiracies outlined above. This is natural, since aren’t we conspiring to overthrow governments and institute our own world order (a new mode of production)? But underneath this relatively innocuous association is something more sinister. Marxism gets painted as a Jewish conspiracy, since we get our name from the proudly Jewish Karl Marx. This was something exploited by Marx’s contemporaries, and something that undercuts much of the criticism of socialism to this day.
This is a particularly dangerous association, not only because it creates unsafe situations for our Jewish comrades, but also because it prevents us from redirecting the misguided anger of conspiratorialism towards those who are actually pulling the strings: the bourgeoisie, of all cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. After all, why should anyone listen to us if we’re shills for the NWO, or Jewish capitalists like George Soros? This brings us back to one of the concepts we raised earlier—it makes conspiracy thinking unfalsifiable, because the only people willing to talk about the real conspiracies can be dismissed as part of the problem!
Does it mistake “Shock Doctrine” for “False Flags?”
Many conspiracies rely on the idea that the ruling class or other groups deliberately stage or perpetrate massive catastrophes in order to further their goals. A good example of these “False Flag” conspiracies is the 9/11 Truther movement which claims that the US Federal Government deliberately blew up the World Trade Centre and made it look as if it was the result of airliner impacts. They believe this, in part, because the US Government massively benefited from the attacks, and was able to use it for propaganda to consolidate its own domestic power and enable overseas imperialism.
However such claims could also be explained by a much more real and mundane tactic of the ruling class: the “Shock Doctrine.” This is the idea that Governments will opportunistically take advantage of shocking events and people’s fear to push through legislation, or exercise repressive measures and emergency powers. A recent and notable example of this took place in New Zealand. The Christchurch Mosque attacks were used by police as justification for expanding the police’s access to automatic weapons. The police had been lobbying for greater access to firearms for years, and these policies would likely have been adopted regardless of events. However, by using tragic acts of terrorism for their own gain, the police were able to convince even left-wing civil society that this policy is justified. Through the Shock Doctrine, terrible events often lead to Governments achieving their policy objectives, and this appears to some outside observers as if they planned the whole thing.
In truth, the real crime is the unending ability for capitalist states to use civilian deaths and tragedy as political capital in pushing their agendas.
Does it present an unwinnable situation?
One thing all of these conspiracy theories have in common is that they create situations in which we are so hopelessly outmatched and outmanoeuvred by infinitely powerful organisations that there’s no point except to give up, and maybe occasionally update a blog about it all. In a way, it’s comforting to know that someone has a plan, even if it’s an evil one, because our only options are to sit back and watch it unfurl rather than exercise our own agency to make plans of our own.
Socialism differs from many other conspiracies because we know there is no single plan, no blueprint by which the bourgeoisie controls us. They are a mass of competing interests, but they will also work together in cases where their interests align, such as when ensuring collective profits through wars and crises, or when removing threats to their collective interests, such as taxation and working class solidarity.
Socialism holds that there is no individual with the ability to shape reality except working class people working together to develop our own plans. Those who rule over us aren’t shady organisations with no public face, but rather a class of individuals with names and addresses, as well as visible social and economic systems they have set up to advance their interests.
So does OA believe in conspiracies?
In short, yes absolutely! Every time the bourgeoisie works together on a project, they are exercising their class solidarity, in other words, conspiring with each other. They do this all the time, from a group of lobbyists helping one another pressure governments, to a gun manufacturer providing a discount to a police force. Real life conspiracies are…well, kind of boring compared to the ones that capture people’s imaginations. Even the shadiest aspects of the capitalist world, such as corporate espionage, CIA coups and propaganda campaigns, tend not to put a lot of effort into covering their tracks, instead relying on our apathy and the subservience of news media to let the story die.
What we don’t engage in is conspiratorialism, the idea that we can theorise about conspiracies based on loose connections, anecdotal evidence, and confirmation biases.
Real conspiracies are simple, visible, and pretty uninteresting to most people. We simply don’t need to explain things via the most complex, hidden, and obscure structures known to humankind.
Mirkyton Ummashtarte is a musician, artist, and programme writer for Organise Aotearoa. They were born in Australia and are of Lebanese and Welsh descent. You can check out their other written works here.