By Kyle Joseph
If one gathered every crop from the field of reactionary ideas, boiled them in a cauldron laced with tinfoil, and seasoned the brew with populist fervor, the resulting dish would still be more palatable than the sludge Alex Jones serves thousands of followers on a daily basis. His brand of libertarian fearmongering defies any trace of coherence, with its targets shifting from vaccines to vampires at the drop of a hat. At the center of his rants lies a conspiracist ideology, one which claims shadowy agents of the “New World Order” represent the gravest threat to humanity, rather than the structural contradictions of capitalism.
What makes Jones worthy of analysis has little to do with Jones himself, but with the breadth of his fan base: infowars.com regularly generates massive internet traffic, and its talking points can be spotted among activists both online and in person. Fluorides and chemtrails may not be infecting society, but Jones’ toxic theories certainly have.
For a Marxist, the prevalence of such backwards notions poses several important questions. Namely: how should a dialectical materialist refute them? From what class basis do they arise? And what implications do they hold for organizing and educating? To begin, let’s delve into the finer points of Jones’ philosophy, and highlight the distinction between it and mainstream conservatism.
NEITHER LEFT NOR RIGHT? THE INFINITE FOLLY OF THE “THIRD POSITION.”
At first blush, Jones’ rhetoric sometimes appears vaguely socialistic. He loves to rail against “big business oligarchs,” for one, and shares with communists a disdain for imperialist aggression, the war on drugs, etc. But listen to one of his diatribes for long enough, and it’ll veer in numerous far-right directions, such as free market worship, apocalyptic Christianity, anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny. What’s going on here?
Ask Jones, and he’ll tell you he’s transcended the so-called left-right paradigm. Attempts at forging a political “third position,” independent of the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, have been around for ages, and readers familiar with the tenets of fascism will notice their similarity with the infowars narrative.
Of course, all “third positions” will inevitably fall apart, as ideologies which fail to advocate proletarian dictatorship will actively or implicitly support the rule of the capitalists. The antagonism between these classes forms the material core of most social strife, so any presumption of “standing outside” their struggle constitutes a desperate illusion at best, or a cruel deception at worst. For instance, while rank-and-file members of the Nazi party might have bought into its “class neutral” worldview, the monopolists who brought Hitler to power surely knew better.
In place of Marxian analysis, third positionists will assert a new framework for political study, e.g. the Nazi fetish of race and nationhood. Jones focuses his anger on nefarious cabals supposedly manipulating the planet, ranging from the Illuminati to reptilian overlords. Whereas a communist might view, say, the war in Iraq as a consequence of the capitalist drive for labor markets, a conspiracist would ignore the class component, and direct the blame towards the immoral intentions of hidden cliques.
The problem with conspiracism goes beyond its often unfalsifiable nature. Under capitalism, conspiracies do indeed occur, with the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the US government’s assassination of MLK standing out as notable, verified examples. But if one assigns them primacy in a social critique, while downplaying the role played by objective class structures, outrageous conclusions will follow, as more and more conspiracies must be contrived to explain more and more issues.
Eventually, one will arrive in the realm of aliens and lizard people, as capitalism continues to carve up the real world unabated.
The strength of Marxism lies in its break with idealist and one-sided interpretations of phenomena. Class struggle, rather than the whims of a few mighty individuals, produces history. All departures from this fundamental observation, Jones’ theories most definitely included, ultimately reduce to nonsense.
Consequently, the infowars phenomena must itself be rooted in class dynamics. Like many forms of mass-based reaction, the popularity of conspiracism emerges from three key forces: the contradictions of the petty bourgeoisie, the tensions among various strata of workers, and the lack of a solid vanguard to unite the progressive classes under the banner of scientific socialism.
RELATIVE PRIVILEGES AND ABSOLUTE CONFUSION: HOW CLASS ANTAGONISMS YIELD INCONSISTENT PHILOSOPHIES
When discussing infowars, liberals often dismiss its success as the result of mere foolishness. This flies in the face of dialectical materialism, which identifies concrete conditions as the source of those ideas holding sway in society. But what circumstances would give rise to conspiratorial blather?
For an answer, let’s begin with the class boasting the most incoherent set of interests: the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. the small capitalists. Wedged between the proletariat and the large bourgeoisie, small capitalists form a vacillating stratum, with a stake in the camps of both the toilers and money-hoarders.
Thus, the petty bourgeois mode of existence generates a spontaneous loathing for major corporations, alongside the craving to gain advantages over wage laborers. Such a dissonant scenario lends itself to muddled ideologies, as the historic prominence of third positionism among the middle classes demonstrates.
But considerable segments of the working class also subscribe to Jones’ platform. This speaks to the heterogeneous nature of the proletariat: though its members share a common relation to production, numerous contradictions still operate, such as patriarchy, white supremacy, and job competition.
Lenin wrote that day-to-day working conditions only spawn a short-term, “trade unionist” perspective, with organizing required to raise class consciousness to long-term, revolutionary levels. Otherwise, right-wing populism can proliferate, as toilers turn against one another for larger slices of the pie, rather than uniting to seize the entire bakery.
That final point cannot be stressed enough. While infowars’ popularity reflects tangible antagonisms, the ultimate interest of the lower classes belongs exclusively to Marxism. But how can such fragmented actors combine into a consolidated bulwark?
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Among strands of left-deviationist “Marxism,” the notion that the oppressed can shatter capitalism without organizing predominates. Arguments to the contrary have been slandered as elitist, authoritarian, and even bourgeois, although these insults far outnumber any practical rebuttals.
As evidenced by the spread of infowars, reactionary ideology can mobilize large forces under an anti-communist umbrella, some of which belong to groups that would objectively benefit from socialism. This highlights the urgent need for proper Leninist tactics within US politics. In other words, the Marxist elements need to be strengthened, the vacillating elements need to be won over, and the dangerous elements need to be isolated. If this approach fails, the basis exists for third positionism’s growth, and the 20th century abounds with horror stories of that variety.
Would a spontaneous, messianic revolution be preferable? In an ideal world, of course. But Marxism seeks to transform the world as it is, not as we’d wish it to be. And the situation before us features far-right extremists, alongside a disorganized class. We need to unite. We need to struggle. We need to build a party of the new type.
Either that, or we’re left with the parties of imperialism, versus Alex Jones’ militant, petty bourgeois eclecticism.
And whoever wins that battle, we lose.
Source: Systemic Capital