It is time to stop the anti-Russia hysteria – Russophobia, birther conspiracy theories and opposition to Trump

Do you wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in a cold sweat? Does your television turn on and off for no apparent reason? Does your pet dog begin howling like a coyote at midnight? There is one overall explanation to account for all of these terrifying events – the Russians are responsible.

The Russians did it!

2018 is drawing to a close, but Russophobia has escalated, more paranoid and ridiculous than ever before. Your car won’t start? The Russians sabotaged it. You have an upset stomach? The Russians poisoned your meal. Your favourite football team lost the game? The Russians fixed the match.

While the tone of the above is facetious, there is nothing even remotely amusing about the current round of anti-Russia hysteria. The accusation of Russian interference has become the default explanation for any and every kind of problem in the US and Britain. This Russophobic mode of thinking disables our critical thinking faculties, blinds us to the myriad causes of social and economic problems in our own society, and serves the definite political purposes of the US and English ruling classes. The Russophobic mindset takes a paranoid, downward spiral, seeing malignant Russian/Soviet influence here, there and everywhere.

The portrayal of Russia as some sort of Machiavellian monster-superpower pervading every aspect of American life is preposterous, but it does fulfill political functions. Originating in the ruling circles of Washington and London, this anti-Russia paranoia has eerie similarities to the anti-Communist McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s and 60s.

Specifically, opposition to Trump, built up by the Democratic party and their supporters in the US military-intelligence community, is based on the absurd accusation that Trump is a Kremlin stooge, or at least owes his election victory in 2016 to Russian meddling.

This line of opposition ignores the very real reasons to oppose the racist Right – anti-immigration attacks, privatisation of public services, pushing down workers – and misdirects political opposition along “Trump is a foreign stooge” lines. Foreign powers are assigned responsibility for America’s problems, and the American capitalist system goes unexamined. We must fight back not only against Trump and his racist supporters, but against the economic system that produced him and made his ascent possible.

What is the purpose of this vocational demonisation of Russia, and in particular its president, Vladimir Putin? We can start examining this question by recalling the wise words of emeritus Professor Stephen Cohen, a scholar and expert commentator on Soviet and Russian history and politics – the Cold War ended in Moscow, but not in Washington.

With that concise and accurate observation, we can begin to understand that Cold War thinking still dominates policymakers in Washington and London as well. Russia under President Putin has reasserted itself, and this pushback has set off alarm bells in Washington’s ruling circles. Not only has President Putin avoided the attempts by the Western powers to isolate Russia, he stopped the Jamaicanisation of the Russian economy, restoring its fundamentals and asserting Russian capitalism on the international stage. This hardly makes Russia an enormous superpower, or a mythical resurrection of the Soviet Union, but a serious competitor to the other capitalist nations.

Birtherism and Russophobia

Birtherism – the racist conspiracy theories about former President Obama’s citizenship and birth – alleged that he was a secret Muslim, and a puppet of a foreign power. Denounced as disloyal and a traitor, the ludicrous assertion that Obama was controlled by a foreign state was used by Trump and the racist right to divert opposition to Obama’s policies. No mention was made of Obama’s escalation of drone strikes, letting Wall Street banks and financial institutions off the hook for their criminality, or continuing privatisation of public assets.

The anti-Russia hysteria is a xenophobic realignment of the birtherism paranoia. The “Trump is a Kremlin stooge” allegation may not be openly racist, but it is equally xenophobic as the birtherism attacks against Obama. Attacking and smearing opponents, particularly left-wing alternatives, to the Democratic party in the US as stooges of Communist/Soviet/Russian influence has a long and sordid history.

Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and other opposition candidates have faced scurrilous accusations of Russian influence. Interestingly, it was the Republican party, during its failed 1992 campaign for the presidency, that accused the eventual winner, Bill Clinton, of being ‘soft’ on Russia.

Russophobia is back in fashion in Washington, and in Canberra for that matter. There are a whole host of reasons to oppose Trump. Being an agent of a foreign power is not one of them. It is easy to blame outsiders for your own domestic problems. While Russia is no longer a Communist country, its allegedly perfidious activities are normally ascribed to underlying Communist-Marxist influence in the Kremlin. After all, Putin himself is an ex-KGB agent, is he not? Those pesky Commies still manage to come back.

Putin and George H W Bush

It is interesting to note that Putin’s background as a KGB operative is frequently cited to denote Russia’s supposedly authoritarian character since he took office in 1999-2000. However, the late George Bush’s background as head of the CIA made little if any impact on the American system of government.

Even though Bush, in the 1980s, was responsible for constructing a shadowy criminal-business network outside the scrutiny of the US congress in carrying out the Iran-Contra affair. Bush became a traitor to the very constitution he swore to uphold, circumventing it and its laws to continue supplying the murderous Nicaraguan contras.

All forms of dissent in the United States, from Black Lives Matter to Wikileaks, are routinely smeared in the corporate media as Russian stooges or agents influenced by the Kremlin. The sinister effectiveness of this tactic is quite astounding- dismissing your opponents as foreign agents actively discourages any discussion about the serious and legitimate reasons for political dissent. Rather than have a substantive discussion about the ongoing problems of racism, state surveillance, the crimes of US foreign policy and corporate corruption, these issues are swept under the carpet under a tide of false and malicious accusations of Russian influence.

Opposition to Trump and the Alternative Right becomes constrained; rather than discuss the criminal and predatory policies of the Trump administration, the politically dissenting groups have to answer deceitful questions about their alleged lack of patriotism and foreign influence.

Russia’s reorientation and resurgence

In the last few weeks, Russia has delivered to the Venezuelan government two long-range strategic bomber aircraft, capable of carrying short-range nuclear warheads. Moscow also pledged to establish joint defence training and military strategies with the Venezuelan authorities.

These measures, along with the Russian government’s decision to block the Kerch strait separating Russia from the Crimean peninsula and seize three Ukrainian naval warships, touched off a war of words between Moscow and Washington. But these moves also demonstrate the major reason Washington and London harbour bitter resentment towards Moscow and Putin in particular. Putin has been outmanoeuvring the US and Britain for decades.

Russia has recuperated from the disastrous consequences of the USSR’s dissolution in 1991. In what was the worst peacetime collapse of industry and social services, millions lost their lives through destitution, the rise of unemployment and crime, and the subsequent loss of medical services. The change from a centrally-planned socialist economy to a privatised, oligarchic ‘free market’ produced the mass pauperisation of the population, massive inequalities, child malnutrition and homelessness. Health and social policy experts have calculated that in the 1990s, millions died as a result of the reestablishment of capitalist economic relations and the destruction of social services.

The orgy of criminal self-enrichment of the Yeltsin years stopped under President Putin. No, he is not going to restore the Soviet Union; no, he is not a new Stalin, neither is he a dictator. He is a Russian nationalist, a De Gaulle-style leader who stresses cooperation with Europe while maintaining Russia’s interests. While criticising unilateral actions by American imperialism, he is not anti-imperialist. Russia is not a superpower about to devour the globe; neither is it an economically disastrous place as it was in the 1990s.

Russia has vast natural resources, and this, combined with its resurgence, makes it an obstacle to the plans of the United States. Let us bear in mind that Russia today has an economy smaller than South Korea and Brazil. It has military bases in Syria, and along Armenia’s border with Turkey. The United States has at least 800 military bases around the world, plus its expanding and covert military presence in African countries.

It is not Kremlin propaganda to point out the obvious fact that NATO has expanded to incorporate former Eastern bloc nations. It is not Kremlin proper to observe that the 2014 Ukrainian putsch was led by neo-fascists and Nazi-rehabilitating racist criminals. It is not “Putin apologetics” to point out that the United States – and interestingly Israel – are militarily and diplomatically supporting the neo-Nazi government in Kiev to stoke tensions with Moscow.

Russia under Putin has got itself together, and waged diplomatic measures to increase ties with China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India and other nations. The Kremlin intervened decisively in Syria to protect its interests, and militarily defeat what it sees as religiously extremist militia groups fighting to topple the Ba’athist Syrian regime. Demonising Putin may make us feel self-righteous, but does nothing to assist us in understanding the legitimate grievances that Moscow raises regarding current conflicts.

Australia – let’s stop the anti-Russia paranoia

What has all this got to do with Australia?

In an article for Russia Beyond the Headlines, journalist Rakesh Krishnan Simha makes the powerful case that Australia, rather than blindly and mindlessly following the policy directives of Washington, should abandon its anti-Russia paranoia. As Simha writes:

Over the decades, they have blindly followed the U.S. and have been loyal foot soldiers in a string of American-inspired conflicts around the world – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. Plus, with old co-hegemon Britain’s defense forces shrinking because of budget cuts, Australia is keen to take over the role of America’s closest ally.

With the end of the Cold War, the Australian foreign policy establishment were euphoric – Russia was defeated (supposedly) and Yeltsin opened up the nation to the inroads of foreign capital. But the euphoria was short-lived. Putin’s ascent to power, and Russia’s resurgence as a force to be reckoned with, has made Canberra sullen, hostile and resentful. We must stop this ongoing hostility to Russia, simply making America’s enemies our opponents as well.

If we maintain this direct collision course with Russia, the consequences for the world will be catastrophic. Let us stop this insane psychology of ‘Russiagate’, and look at ourselves and our own problems. In their attempt to unseat Trump, factions of the American ruling class are using Russophobia as a weapon. Let us not go down that road, but oppose Trump by presenting an anti-capitalist alternative, and thus sweep away the diseased system that gave rise to such a diseased mind.

The anti-Semitic shooting at Pittsburgh was a long time in the making

The murder of worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pensylvannia, by the white supremacist Robert Bowers, was motivated by anti-Semitism. Bowers circulated his views on social media, referring to immigrants and ethnic minorities in derogatory and menacing terms. However, he saved particular scorn for the Jewish people, regarding them as a uniquely cunning, sinister, organised and direct threat to the status of white America. While carrying out his attack, he reportedly yelled ‘all Jews must die.’

Why did this particular brand of hatred – anti-Semitism – rear its ugly head at this point? It is worth examining the persistence of this long-standing hatred. This act of domestic terrorism at Pittsburgh is arguably the largest slaughter of Jews in recent American history. While this shooting bears a striking resemblance to the racist killing of African African worshippers at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston in 2015, the Pittsburgh killing was motivated by anti-Semitic undercurrents that have been ever-present in American political and cultural life.

Trump’s words have lethal consequences

Bowers targeted that particular synagogue because it has its roots in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), an organisation has helped refugees and migrants from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds settle in the United States. The anti-immigration rhetoric that pours out of the Trump administration has very real and serious consequences. Make no mistake – current US President Donald Trump has emboldened and legitimised anti-immigrant hatred and white supremacy through his words and actions.

Trump and his supporters have routinely denounced migrants and refugees as a threatening presence in the United States; speaking of migrants as an existential menace is a talking point of the white supremacist Alternative Right. The migrant caravan from Honduras, consisting of people fleeing US-made wars, poverty, environmental destruction and criminal violence, are portrayed by Trump as an emergent menace for which a military response is the only solution.

It is not surprising that responsibility for the Honduran caravan is attributed to the scheming and organisation power of the mysterious Jews by right-wing commentators. It is no exaggeration to say that the hysterical response to the migrant caravan – encouraged and led by the Trump administration – led to the Pittsburgh shooting. Bowers emerged from the fevered swamps of the racist and anti-Semitic Right to take action against persons that the president said were a direct and immediate threat.

Of course, it is the Jews who are held responsible – a conspiracy theory that denies any agency or intelligence to the Honduran refugees, but rather reduces them to naive dupes of the ever-conniving Jews. Amplified by right-wing commentators, the message of the Trump presidency was unmistakable – the Jews are ‘pulling the strings’. Trump and his supporters cannot dismiss political rhetoric as just mere exaggeration or playing to the crowd. Bigotry becomes normalised, and the hate that it spawns emerges from the fringes and makes its way into the political mainstream.

The longest hatred

It would be naive in the extreme to blame Trump exclusively for the eruption of anti-Semitic violence in America. Anti-Semitism has a long and dark history that predates Trump and the Republicans. It is an unusual hatred in that it found expression first as a religious anti-Semitism with the triumph of European Christendom and then as a racialised form of bigotry with the rise of pseudo-scientific theories about race from the late eighteenth century.

While it is common for racists to look down on people they see as inferior – note the habitual targeting of Hispanic migrants as lazy and subsisting on welfare – the Jewish people have been pilloried for their purported collective intelligence. This intelligence is not something that is ascribed to individuals, but as a collective entity to be wary of – the scheming, conniving, villainous Jew has made an appearance in many guises. Since the days of Shakespeare’s Shylock, the money-lending, greedy and sinister Jew has been held responsible for manipulating political events and economies, using the liberal cosmopolitanism of the Christian West to undertake treacherous, and sinister projects for financial gain.

Anti-Semitic oppression has a long pedigree – Jews were attacked for being ‘Christ-killers’, drinking the blood of Christian children, holding dual loyalty while living in Christian communities – among many other accusations. With the emergence of pseudo-scientific racial doctrines, the Jews were compartmentalised as a unique ‘race’ unwilling and unable to assimilate in the European West. When Jewish communities reached out to other ethnic and religious minorities in solidarity, such as the Tree of Life Synagogue, they were denounced by the Right as ‘bringing invaders’ into their country of residence.

The mechanised mass murder of the Holocaust, brought to the world’s attention the horrors that anti-Semitic bigotry can produce. For a time after World War Two, the menace of anti-Semitism seemed, if not completely vanquished, at least significantly diminished. Jews emigrated to the United States, which emerged from the world war as a strong, vibrant economy. Jewish people moved into the newly expanding middle-class suburbs and assimilated into the capitalist society which appeared to welcome them.

It is their role as the alleged puppeteers, the ones ‘pulling the strings’ by using their financial power that is the accusation that has resurfaced in numerous forms. In this context, it is useful to examine the work of a Belgian socialist, Abram Leon. Murdered by the Nazis in the concentration camps in 1944, Leon wrote a classic study called ‘The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation.’ Leon examined how the Jews became traders and financiers, first in the era of feudal lords and nobles, and subsequently in the capitalist economies of Europe. While Christian Europe was deeply anti-Semitic, the Jews could find only one area where they could at least make a living – in money-lending.

It would be incorrect to dismiss European Jews as exclusive money-lenders, for they did find themselves taking up jobs as artisans, stevedores and other manual labouring occupations. However, it was their role as the financier which the ruling classes latched onto – making a convenient scapegoat, the ills of capitalist society could be blamed on the tax collector, and the usurious money-lender.

In times of economic crisis, it was convenient to direct public anger against the money-lending, huckstering Jew – the Shylock of old, and the alleged puppeteer of events in the collective imagination of today’s conspiracy theories. Based on the erroneous belief that the ‘Jews have too much power’, the Jews now stand accused of masterminding Black Lives Matter, the civil rights movement, feminism, immigration (particularly from Muslim-majority nations), LGBTQIA rights, political correctness – all the usual talking-points of the ultra-right racists.

This concept of the Jews as a secret cabal with power over the majority fits quite well with the far-right; the latter are longstanding supporters of the state of Israel. The best friends that Israel has in Europe are the ultra-rightist anti-Semitic parties and political figures. Philo-semitism – elevating the Jews into a racial category of exceptional intelligence – is a common theme of anti-Semites.

Far-right parties have expressed their support for the construction of an ethno-supremacist state of Israel, because it mirrors their own desire for an ethnically homogenous white-settler state in their countries of residence. With a new demon against which to fixate – Islam – Israel and its anti-semitic supporters have made common cause.

Anti-Semitism is not just an afterthought or peripheral to the white supremacist mindset. The philosophical core of white nationalism is the claim that the Jewish people constitute the striking antithesis and eternal enemy to the white Christian nation. In times of economic crisis, as capitalism goes into terminal decline, old scapegoats are revived from hibernation. The Atlantic consensus of austerity and so-called ‘free markets’ is breaking down, and into the breach steps the Alternative Right. Let us stop victimising the Jewish people yet again by opposing the resuscitation of an old, discredited and lethal bigotry.

No, George Soros is not a globalist puppet master

George Soros is a lot of things: a currency speculator, a financier who made billions by taking advantage of adverse conditions in Britain and Europe, a hedge fund manager whose only activity is buying and selling money, and an objectionable figure.

He is a hypocrite, promoting the “Open Society” as a value-free, purely democratic non-ideological societal vision. In fact, the underlying motivation of the supposed ‘Open Society’ is a deep commitment to neoliberal capitalist ideology. However, is he the puppet master, the Jewish entrepreneur at the hub of a vast globalist conspiracy, bankrolling fake revolutions and bringing down national economies? No, he is not.

In the last article, we examined the role of anti-Semitism in shaping and motivating George Soros conspiracy theories. Naming Soros as the ultimate puppet master recycles long-standing prejudices about Jews being the malevolent masterminds of social dissent, funding protests and social unrest to upset the white, Christian status quo.

But repackaging anti-Semitism is not enough. Anti-Semitism, while crucial to the world view of the ultra-nationalist right, is not sufficient to provide an alternative to the growing anti-capitalist mass movements.

We need to go further in our analysis, and examine how the far-right – the main purveyors of such conspiratorial thinking – serve to obscure the underlying causes of immiseration today, and helps to misdirect outrage onto the victims of neoliberal capitalism. The notion of globalism – which predates the election of Trump – has deep roots in the American political culture. This is the label which the Alternative Right, and its mainstream supporters, use to attack all its favoured targets, including George Soros.

Globalism

The term globalism, as used by the ultra-right, has seeped into popular discourse since the early 1990s. With globalisation becoming a hot-topic with the growing reach and operation of transnational corporations, issues surrounding unchecked corporate influence, national sovereignty and human rights rose to the fore. The Left made an economic and political critique of the capitalist system; the white supremacist Right substituted globalisation with the word globalism, to redirect the debate to ground that is conducive to the ideology of the anti-immigrant ultra-right.

Liam Stack, writing in the New York Times, explains that globalism has its origins as an anti-Semitic slur term with the beginning of the Cold War. It referred to a secret, powerful cabal of super-rich individuals who manipulate social forces to undermine American national sovereignty. The term, rather than elaborating a strong anti-capitalist analysis, perceives the world as run by secretive groups of conspiratorial elites (usually Jewish) to overturn white, Christian nations such as the United States.

This far-right conspiratorial world view has evolved, especially since the early 1990s, to incorporate all the elements to which the Alternative Right is opposed. As Liam Stack explains:

Globalism is often used as a synonym for globalization, the system of global economic interconnection that has been critiqued for decades by liberal groups like labor unions, environmental organizations and opponents of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But for the far right, the term encapsulates a conspiratorial worldview based on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, according to Mark Pitcavage, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League.

This conspiratorial world view has developed into a generalised anxiety about what the ultra-right regards as the New World Order (NWO). The latter is a fictional objective of the allegedly globalist elites, who intend to create one world government through international bodies such as the United Nations. The racist John Birch Society began the conspiratorial theorising of the NWO, alleging that the UN was a tool of the Communists and Jews. Similar tropes are trotted out about various international bodies, included the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg group.

What has this got to do with Soros?

As the typical example of an all-powerful Jewish financier, Soros fits the bill for our times – an updated version of Shylock, Soros represents the ultimate liberal globalist, and thus becomes the perfect bogeyman for the ultra-right. No longer is the economic debate about poverty, inequalities, structural racism or neoliberal capitalism. The conversation is transformed into a denunciation of mass immigration and elite influence – supposed tools of the globalist conspiracy to undermine American (and white Western) national sovereignty.

The enemy is no longer the capitalist billionaire, but the immigrants, the refugees, ethnic minorities, feminists, Muslims, atheists, the LGBTQ community – in short, the favoured targets of the Alternative Right. Globalism has, in many ways and forms, continued and extended the old Right’s Cold War-era thinking, and adapted it to our times. Globalism, rather than Communism, is the new demon against which to rally American civilisation (and there is always Islam). Discussions regarding the injustices of capitalism become transformed into anti-immigrant and xenophobic outbursts – working class people become mini-Enoch Powells.

Alex Jones, the shouting conspiracy theorist, regularly screamed his opposition to the fictitious New World Order creeping totalitarianism – his main target being immigration, which is regularly denounced as a tool of the globalist elite. Attacking any kind of protest movement as funded by George Soros, anti-capitalist opposition is delegitimised and written off. If the Walmart protesters, the anti-Kavanaugh protests, Black Lives Matter and anti-corporate groups can all be dismissed as paid puppets of the globalist Soros, then the only alternative oppositional outlet is that of the white supremacist Right.

Soros – hedge funds and philanthropic capitalism

George Soros is one of the wealthiest people in the world, having made his fortune through managing hedge funds. They are a type of pooled investment structure, designed to derive maximum returns for its main investors. Soros is also a currency speculator – the buying and selling of foreign currencies in order to profit from the ever-fluctuating prices of those currencies. Soros Fund Management is one of the most profitable entities in the business.

This economic activity is quite typical of the present day – the financialisation of capitalism; the economic workings of finance capital, as opposed to industrial capital. The domination of finance capital in the operation of the capitalist system produces figures like George Soros – hedge fund managers who make billions without actually producing anything. The shift in gravity from traditional industrial capital – factories, assets, manufacturing and so on – over to finance capital, has led to a fundamental shift in the current stage of the capitalist system.

Of course finance capital, and its domination of the system, is international in scope. Transnational corporations, operated purely for profit and increasingly owned by large banks and hedge funds, increase their scope and size across the globe. Soros, ever willing to exploit an opportunity, made his money by rising through the world of financial speculation.

No, Soros is not the ‘man who broke the Bank of England’, but he did take advantage of the tensions between the UK and Europe in the early 1990s to short-sell the British pound and make billions in the process. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir accused Soros of being responsible for the 1997 Asian economic crisis, a claim for which he later apologised.

Soros engages in corporate philanthropy, providing money to organisations such as the Democratic Party in the US, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others long-derided by the Right as bastions of left-wing ideology. His fellow billionaires also engage in philanthro-capitalism. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson – all participate in an economic system that enriches them at the expense of others, and then provide a portion of their wealth to grant-making organisations to salve their consciences.

Most of their money remains hidden away in tax havens. Ironically, with all the talk of globalisation and weakening of states, the billionaires have used the laws passed by nation-states and national governments to provide a veneer of legality to their dubious activity.

Soros promotes his Open Society Foundation, as an instrument to further the values upon which his career and wealth depend.  Ideologically and politically committed to ‘free-markets’, Soros worries that if liberal capitalism is collapsing, then the activity of financial speculation will cease with it.

Finance capital has impoverished the lives of millions of people, devastated environments, and demolished the living standards of working class people. This is not the result of the evil workings of a cabal of Jews, or immigration, or refugees, or Muslims, or single mothers on welfare. Finance capital and its attendant social misery is the direct outcome of the billionaire class, and the decisions they make. It is time to identify the cause of immiseration, so we can consciously fight the system that depletes all of us.

George Soros conspiracy theories – anti-Semitic paranoid fantasies move into the mainstream

US President Donald Trump promoted a conspiracy theory when responding to the protests against Supreme Court nominee (now confirmed) Brett Kavanaugh. The latter’s nomination to a judgeship has been strenuously opposed by women’s groups, because Kavanaugh faces claims of perpetrating sexual assaults. Trump, in dismissing the protesters, claimed that they have been paid by Hungarian-Jewish billionaire and philanthropist, George Soros.

It is interesting to note that Trump chose to deploy a George Soros conspiracy theory when defending his preferred nomination to the Supreme Court. Such conspiracy theorising, with Soros at the centre of a multifaceted sinister plot to manipulate global events, has been doing the rounds among the feverish swamps of the white supremacist Right for decades.

Trump was not the first Republican politician to use the “Soros paid them” trope to malign his critics. The conservative camp attacked the protesters who attended the March for Science, the feminist women in pink demonstrators – among others – as paid dupes of Soros-owned organisations.

Writing in the Al Jazeera article entitled “Who is George Soros?”, Patrick Strickland writes:

Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep, explained that “Soros conspiracies have always been a marker for the radical right as opposition to mainstream conservatism”.

Strickland says that:

Today, the 87-year-old billionaire, philanthropist and founder of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) NGO, is the favourite obsession of right-wing and far-right politicians, conspiracy theorists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis across Europe and North America.

From Charlottesville to Budapest, Soros has loomed in the rhetoric of leaders and controversial figures, replete with accusations placing the philanthropist behind everything from Black Lives Matter to migration.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right wing anti-immigrant politician, blamed Soros for the influx of Syrian refugees in recent years, and accused Soros of orchestrating mass Muslim migration into Europe to dilute its Christian character. Orban has run anti-Semitic campaigns in Hungary, and has targeted Soros as the central villain in attempting to undermine Budapest’s authoritarian government.

In his election campaigning, Orban has spoken of immigration – particularly from Islamic nations – as an existential threat. Soros, Orban believes, is responsible for increasing such immigration in an effort to subjugate Hungary to the globalist New World Order. Orban has cleverly deployed Islamophobia and anti-Semitic themes in one hit. He compared his government’s struggle against the alleged Soros (Jewish) conspiracy as a defence of Hungarian sovereignty, similar in intent to the nationalistic struggles against the former Ottoman Turkish empire, the Hapsburgs, and the USSR.

Extreme right wing figures throughout Eastern Europe have advocated the Soros-puppet master conspiracy theory. Shaun Walker of the Guardian newspaper highlights that Soros has become a lightning rod for the conspiratorial-obsessed far right:

Not just in Hungary. In Romania, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic party, Liviu Dragnea, said Soros and his organisations have “fed evil” in the country; while a Polish MP from the ruling conservative government has referred to Soros as “the most dangerous man in the world”. The US right has also joined in: in a semi-coherent rant, radio host and Donald Trump supporter Alex Jones claimed Soros heads a “Jewish mafia”.

How did George Soros become a lightning rod for conspiratorial theorising, and why is the white supremacist Right – known today as the Alternative Right – targeting him?

George Soros – the updated version of the anti-Semitic Rothschild conspiracy

The demonisation of Soros has its roots in the historic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have been recycled and promoted by the white conservative Right over the centuries. The template of a rich Jewish figure heading up a vast tentacular conspiracy, manipulating current events for direct profit is an old and long-standing tactic of the Right, particularly in times of economic and political crisis.

Spencer Ackerman, writing in the Daily Beast, states that the idea of an all-powerful Jewish financier manipulating political and economic events for financial profit has its origins in the atavistic European hatred  – anti-Semitism. Soros is just the latest incarnation of this particular template of hate. In the nineteenth century, the role of Jewish manipulator was taken – in the anti-Semitic imagination – by Nathan Rothschild.

The latter, allegedly present at the Battle of Waterloo (he never was), rushed back to England, and deliberately lied to the London Stock Market that Wellington had been defeated. The stock market crashed, and Rothschild took advantage of the ensuing chaos to turn a profit. This fiction was put forward in an anti-Semitic pamphlet years after the events, and Nathan Rothschild had passed away. But the slur stuck, and it has been circulating for many years.

The nefarious Rothschild banking conspiracy has been debunked numerous times. All the elements of what has been a long-standing pattern of anti-Semitic theorising – a wealthy Jewish financier, using insider knowledge to manufacture a crisis, and leveraging that crisis to make a profit. Since the rise of European Christendom, the Jewish presence was regarded as alien – the eternal outsider taking advantage of cosmopolitan toleration in order to make money.

Anti-Semitic hatred evolved to respond to the changing political and economic circumstances of capitalism – the financial power of the everlasting Shylock could be used not only to explain the crises of capitalism, but also the rise of socialist and communist doctrines. The Russian Revolution of 1917 has attracted its fair share of conspiratorial fanatics – the Tsarist regime, undergoing a crisis, looked to its traditional scapegoat to blame, the Jews. As the Bolsheviks succeeded in Russia, the propaganda of anti-Semitic fanatics evolved to adapt their hate to the new circumstances, connecting Bolshevism to the universal bogeyman, international Jewry.

No less a figure than Winston Churchill, a scion of the English ruling class, believed that the Russian Revolution was the result of the sinister machinations of Jewish manipulation. He helped to provide credibility to the notion of an international cabal of Jewish financiers masterminding a vast conspiracy – only this time, it was not to strengthen capitalism, but to overthrow it. The Jewish financial conspiracy has metastasized from one of domineering capitalism to one of a Judeo-Bolshevik mutation.

Not every person who circulates George Soros conspiracy memes is a hateful bigot. In this day and age of social media, it is easy to share content that we do not necessarily fully understand. But make no mistake, the language, imagery and pattern of targeting George Soros are steeped in the bile of anti-Semitism. Portraying a powerful Jewish individual as a malign puppet master who manipulates the naive, and unsuspecting population for their own profit gives credence to the ancient prejudice.

Philanthropy and liberal capitalism

George Soros is well known for his philanthropy, and his Open Society organisation has promoted a version of liberal capitalism, primarily in the former Eastern bloc. Soros is not the only billionaire philanthropist – Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Elon Musk – billionaires promote their self-image by engaging in philanthropic endeavours around the world. They buy political influence, push their agendas in the corporate media, buy multi-million dollar advertising to spread their messages, and influence public political debates.

None of the aforementioned billionaires is targeted with such viciousness from the Alternative Right. It is Soros in particular who attracts the ire of the conspiratorial far right because of his Jewishness, and promotion of allegedly ‘left-wing’ causes. Soros has written books and articles advocating a ‘liberal capitalism’ of free markets and easier immigration within Europe. His criticisms of unrestrained capitalism, and his stance against what he sees as authoritarian regimes, has made him a particular hate figure of the ultra-right.

The current article has gone on for long enough, so it is time to conclude. However, the exploration of this subject is far from over.

In the next part, we will examine the role of Soros, the Open Society organisation, corporate philanthropy and how that relates to the financialisation of capitalism. The operation of hedge-fund capitalism, and the role of billionaires, can be examined without any reference to malign Jewish conspiratorial influence. Stay tuned.

 

Islamophobia is a form of racism – let’s stop playing semantic games

We have all heard or seen the following claim before, especially when wading through the cesspit of the Internet – “Islam is not a race, so how can I be racist?”  This meme is usually deployed by those trying to answer, and deflect, accusations of racism. It is worth examining this claim in further detail, because it provides us with a window into the state of cultural and political debate in our own society.

First, let us be clear – Islam is a religion, not a race. But Islamophobia is a form of racism mixed with cultural intolerance. Demonising an entire religious community on the basis of a stereotypical and allegedly shared racial identity is racism.

The title of the current article comes from an article by Miqdaad Versi, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Versi correctly observes that claiming ‘Islam is not a race’ is a semantic game, to provide an escape clause for a person espousing racist viewpoints.

We all recognise the dictionary definition of the term Semitism. That refers to a linguistic and cultural groups, including Arabs and Jews. However, we also have a clear definition of the term anti-Semitism – bigotry and hatred against Jews. The anti-Semite does not care for semantic definitions – we can recognise the anti-Jewish racism directed against an ethno-religious group.

Sociologist Dr Craig Considine calls Islamophobia a form of racism based on cultural intolerance. His work, examining the racialisation of the Islamic identity, provides a necessary antidote to the purely dictionary distinction between race and religion. Religion has been used and abused as a basis to construct a fictional racialised identity, as has happened with the Jewish community in the past.

Orientalism rejuvenated

Islam is not a race, but Muslim people have been racialised. Orientalism is the historical source of the modern-day incarnation of Islamophobic prejudice. Islamophobia is the updated version of the old Orientalist bigotry; we are the ‘civilised’ West, and our mission is to control and uplift the Muslim outsider.

Khaled Beydoun, law professor and author of the book American Islamophobia, has noted how the United States has defined Islam, along with being black, as the perpetual outsider, incapable of assimilating and inherently opposed to ‘Americaness’. While Muslims have been present in American society since the earliest days of European settlement – there were West African Muslim slaves in the south of the US – Muslims were banned and excluded from the political and cultural life of the Americas since the 16th century.

Long before September 11 and the so-called ‘war on terror’, the American ruling establishment adopted a racialised exclusion of Muslims from the life of the emerging nation. Beydoun states that today’s Islamophobia has its roots in the perspective of Orientalism. The latter, discussed at length by the Palestinian Professor, the late Edward Said, is the cultural and historical lens through which the imperialist powers defined and perceived the Muslim Middle East.

Islam, according to the Orientalist view, is inherently violent, regressive, incapable of change and fixated on sabotaging the West. African blackness became the racial antithesis of American whiteness; the Islamic world was transformed from a religion into a racialised enemy – the eternal Arab/Muslim outsider. In this regard, we should note that from the late 1700s until 1952, the Naturalisation Act stipulated whiteness as an essential criterion of American citizenship.

Using the pathetic excuse of “Islam is not a race” is the standard preface to a racially-charged tirade demonising the Islamic community. It is perfectly true that Islam is not a race, but a faith-based religious group, whose followers share a set of beliefs and philosophy. But the Muslim identity has been racialised, and the ubiquitous “Middle Eastern appearance” is a loose, flexible descriptor that stigmatises a wide cross section of  Muslim and non-Muslim non-Anglo communities.

Let us avoid trotting out the simplistic and deceitful semantic exercise of “Islam is not a race” to evade any allegations of bigotry. In a decidedly similar way to anti-Semitism, the Islamic community has been categorised as a racialised identity, imbued with social characteristics that allegedly makes the religion’s practitioners unassimilable and unresponsive to the societies they inhabit.

While the adherents of Islam come from a diverse range of ethnic and racial backgrounds, it is the conflation of Arab-Muslim and the narrow racial framework of ‘brown’ persons that has dominated definitions of Islam. The multiracial and ethnically diverse reality of the American – and Australian – Muslim community is lost amidst this racially-exclusive categorisation of the Muslim as the perpetual outsider and potentially treasonous element in Western society.

Religious discrimination occurs when a particular group is targeted because of their religious beliefs. Racialisation occurs when that is identified and stigmatised based on what the racist wants to see – and then behaves according to that viewpoint. Cultural intolerance evolves into a form of racist practice.

The Islamophobic brand of hate is unconcerned with dictionary distinctions between religion and race. In the United States, hate crimes against Muslim persons has increased, especially since the initiation of the ‘war on terror’. The saddest part of this increase is that non-Muslims have been victimised. Sikhs, a group that practices a religion entirely different from Islam – have been the targets of Islamophobic hate crimes. Bigoted rhetoric from political candidates have real and dramatic consequences for ethnic and religious minorities. Racist attacks are motivated, not by an opposition to a religion, but by what the racist views as the racialised ‘Other’.

Travelling while being of Middle Eastern appearance

At this point, I have a confession to make. I am guilty of a crime. I have been committing this crime for decades, and will continue to do so into the future. What is my crime? Traveling while being of Middle Eastern appearance. It does not matter that I am not Muslim, or that Christianity can be a portal into whiteness. Traveling while possessing a Middle Eastern appearance is a serious offence in Australia.

Randa Abdel-Fattah, writer and lawyer, and academic at Macquarie University in Sydney, wrote about this precise subject. Being Australian and Muslim (or perceived as a brown person) are often viewed as mutually exclusive. This dichotomy is not confined to Australia – in the United States, being a ‘patriotic’ American and being Muslim are viewed as diametric opposites. Muslims – and by racialised extension, people from the Middle East – are the new enemy on the streets. Never matter that, for instance, Muslim Americans have served in the US military for decades. They have fought in all of America’s wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is not so much a clash of civilisations, but a clash of racialisations. Islamophobia is not a distaste for particular Muslim beliefs, rituals or cultural practices. It is a a pervasive, mainstream racism that targets the Muslim community, and reduces them to racially distinctive, Orientalist stereotypes.

Yes, we are all aware of the human rights abuses and repression in Saudi Arabia. Yes, we know about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Yes, we know about the repressive regimes in the Middle East, the harsh punishments carried out in the name of Sharia, the problems of patriarchy. If you want to help Muslim women, just listen to them here.

It must be made clear that Islamophobia does not include criticism of religion, disagreements or arguments about the role of religion in public life. It is equally important to note that the term secularism does not provide an escape valve for the regurgitation of racially-charged tirades against the Muslim communities. It is dishonest to pretend that anti-Muslim racism does not exist because ‘we focus on cultural or religious practices’. While the Islamic faith consists of many colours, Islamophobia has one unmistakable racial colouration.

There is a well-known quote which originated from the early days of the socialist movement in Germany – ‘Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.’ This was a response to anti-Semitic smears doing the rounds among the workers movement. Using this quote as a template, we can update it by stating the following – Islamophobia is the secularism of fools.

Do I regard Muslim people as super-fantastic worthy of special privileges in the society? No, I do not. Am I unaware of the atrocities committed by fundamentalist groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State? I am very aware of these groups and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Do I intend to write screeching denunciations of the burqa or the hijab? No, I do not – because that is none of my business. Muslim women are standing up for themselves, and do not need idiot-men like me to speak on their behalf.

I strongly agree with Rabia Siddique, when she writes that we must stop the normalisation of relentless Islamophobia in Australia. The first step on the way to confronting Islamophobia is to stop playing semantic games in order to fool ourselves into thinking that the problem of racism does not exist.

The US/UK complicity in the ongoing criminal war in Yemen

The ongoing war on Yemen (since March 2015), led by the forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been waged with the active support of the United States and the United Kingdom. The aerial and ground assault on Yemen has resulted in a human-induced catastrophe, causing famine, malnutrition and horrendous loss of life, especially among Yemeni children.

Over the month of August, Saudi air strikes have killed Yemeni schoolchildren, and all the consequent trauma that these attacks engendered will take years for the survivors and their families to overcome.

Professor Moustafa Bayoumi, from Brooklyn College, City University of New York, rightly points out that it is US bombs that are killing Yemeni children, and the corporate media maintains a deafening silence on the issue. US defence contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, have built and sold the bombs and weapons used by the Saudi-UAE forces to kill Yemenis.

This war has gone largely under-reported, and so is shrouded in a number of myths. Let us address these misconceptions, and in this way, untangle the complexities of the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen. The New York Times, in an article in June this year, examined the humanitarian catastrophe that is enveloping the people of Yemen. This photo-essay is very moving and heart-rending, and contains a helpful map of Yemen delineating the territories controlled by the various parties.

However, this NY Times digital essay recycles a number of convenient misconceptions that whitewash the active complicity of the United States (and Britain) in this conflict. These myths are regurgitated by the corporate media when they (rarely) discuss the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen. What are these myths?

Firstly, that the Houthis are a Yemeni version of Hezbollah……..not the case. Secondly, that the primary reason for this conflict is the Shia-Sunni split in Islam, making the Yemeni war another stage in a prolonged religious dispute. Thirdly, the conflict in Yemen can be understood as a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Let’s untangle these falsehoods, and relate the relevant historical and political background.

The Yemen war is political in origin, not religious

Firstly, let us dispense with the often-recycled myth that this war is a proxy one between Iran and Saudi Arabia – this is pure nonsense. Professor Sheila Carapico, an expert in political science at the University of Richmond, explains that misrepresenting the conflict in Yemen as a proxy war is not only a product of outdated Cold-War thinking, but also diverts responsibility for the criminal nature of the Saudi-UAE war onto multiple parties. The Saudi-Emirati assault on Yemen is an unprovoked act of aggression, and the New York Times published an editorial slamming the Saudi and Emirati forces for committing war crimes.

The Houthis, or more correctly, the Ansar Allah (Helpers of God) are a grassroots political-religious militia that has waged successive rebellions and uprisings against the corruption and injustice of the Yemeni government, formerly led by the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Between 2004 and 2010, the Houthis staged a series of armed risings against the government, maintaining that Saudi influence was increasing in the country.

In the 1990s, the Saudis began to make investments and inroads into the newly reunified nation of Yemen. (I realise that is a lot of background to take in, but please bear with me). The Houthis viewed this as an attempt by the Saudi regime to exert undue influence in the economic and political life of the country. Yemen reunited in 1990, under the President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who maintained his grip on power for 33 years – first as the President of the North Yemen and from 1990 the leader of the reunified nation.

The Houthis are Shia, but they are more correctly Zaydi Shia – which is a entirely different denomination to the main Shia religion practiced in Iran. President Saleh was himself a Zaydi Shia. The main body of Shia belong to the Twelver Shia denomination – and this branch rules in Iran.

The Zaydi Shia, are a distinctive sect with their own theological and religious beliefs. For a Zaydi Shia to convert to the main Twelver Shia in Iran would have the same impact as say a Russian Orthodox Christian converting to Catholicism. The weight of historical schism and the threat of family ostracism would bear heavily on such a move.

The Houthis have their own religious and political genealogy, distinctive from Iran, and the Hezbollah militia. While Iran has expressed support for the Houthis, their assistance has been limited and sporadic. This stands in stark contrast to the unstinting support for the Saudi-Emirati offensive supplied by the United States and Britain.

The Saudi-Emirati goal in Yemen

The Saudis and Emiratis, by invading Yemen, want to prop up their preferred political candidate, the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The former Vice President until 2012, Hadi was Saleh’s deputy until the latter was removed in the wake of the 2011 Yemeni protests.

Saudi Arabia, ever watchful of the political changes taking places in the nation to their south, organised a transition process which saw Saleh removed. The Houthis claimed that this change was simply cosmetic, and did nothing to resolve the longstanding issues of poverty, corruption and unemployment plaguing the country.

In the 2000s, former President Saleh tried to suppress the Houthi rebel militia with the backing of Saudi Arabia. The latter failed numerous times – and the Houthis acquired experience in battle. The Saudis, along with their Emirati counterparts, have a long history of influencing the developments in Yemen, and from the early 1990s invested in that country.

Interestingly, while the Saudis and the UAE have been cooperating militarily in their offensive in Yemen, both have been pursuing rival economic objectives. The Emiratis have also invested heavily in Yemen, in particular in Southern Yemen – that portion of the country controlled by the socialist-oriented Southern Transitional Council. South Yemen was until 1990 a Marxist republic until its reunification with the north. The Emiratis have made a strong move into southern Yemen, hoping to turn Yemen into an economic reservoir of their own.

The Emiratis have largely taken the lead on the ground in Yemen, and have employed foreign mercenaries as well to beef up their military commitment. Interestingly, the chief of the Emirati Presidential Guard, an elite fighting force, is an Australian, Mike Hindmarsh. The Emiratis have also grabbed the island of Socotra, an ecologically-rich Unesco-protected island off the coast of Yemen.

A subset of the war on terror – now allying with Al Qaeda

The Yemeni government of Ali Abdullah Saleh joined with the United States, from 2001, the global war on terror. Saleh allowed the United States to launch drone strikes against purported Al Qaeda targets in the country. The Houthis, an overtly nationalistic militia, strongly opposed the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and Yemen’s approval of that invasion. There are current reports that the Saudi-Emirati forces have been quietly arranging secret deals with Al Qaeda fighters, employing them to join the battle against the nationalist Houthi militia.

As Al Jazeera reported:

In one conflict, the US is working with its Arab allies – particularly the UAE – with the aim of eliminating al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

And in that fight, al-Qaeda fighters are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition and, by extension, the US.

“Elements of the US military are clearly aware that much of what the US is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.

Shifting and fluid alliances are nothing new in Yemen. Saleh, a wily politician whose career was marked by knowing when to change sides, tacitly supported the 2014-15 Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Saleh turned against his former Houthi allies in late 2017, stating his willingness cooperate with Saudi Arabia. That proved to be his last opportunistic betrayal – in December 2017, Saleh was assassinated by the Houthi movement.

The pipeline of arms

The Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen would not be possible without the uninterrupted pipeline of armaments, military, logistical and intelligence support from the United States and Britain. The insatiable drive for corporate profits is resulting in the deaths of Yemeni people, famine and malnutrition in that nation, and ongoing war crimes.

The United States and the UK are not bystanders, but rather active participants in this war.  The carnage in Yemen is not the result of ancient tribal feuds, or historic religious schisms, but the product of current political and economic priorities. It is time to change these priorities to relieve the suffering inflicted by a socioeconomic system that puts corporate profits ahead of people’s lives.

 

The ‘Irish were slaves’ myth is a toxic falsehood

Liam Hogan, Irish historian and writer who works at the Limerick City Library, has been working feverishly over the past six years to debunk a pernicious falsehood that has been circulating social media – that the Irish were white slaves. He was interviewed by Pacific Standard magazine about his work, and you may read his comments here. Let us  examine this harmful nonsense about how the ‘Irish-were-slaves too’, why it is a dangerous, and why we should exert efforts to combat it. In fact, let’s take the last part first.

If something is patent nonsense, then surely by just ignoring it, it will eventually disappear? Unfortunately, this is not possible in this case. Why? The Southern Poverty Law Centre provides the answer. In an article entitled ‘How the Myth of the “Irish slaves” became a Favorite Meme of Racists Online”, the author of the essay states that:

Propaganda is cheap to produce on the web. And a purposeful lie in an age of “viral content” not only can race around the world in a day but resurface time and time again with surprising resiliency.

The article continues:

Such is the case with the myth of “Irish slaves,” an ahistorical reimagining of real events weaponized by racists and conspiracy theorists before the Web and now reaching vast new audiences online.

It is not entirely surprising that this toxic myth of ‘Irish-were-slaves’ has attracted the support of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Holocaust deniers on the Internet. This claim of Irish-white-slavery has gained prominence since the emergence of anti-racist movements in the United States, such as Black Lives Matter. The purpose of this meme is not to unify, but to divide. This myth serves to derail current conversations about race, racism, ethnicity and slavery.

When African American organisations raise the issues of racism, police brutality, the legacy of slavery, current economic inequalities – there will be an army of online trolls who will divert the conversation into the blind-alley of ‘but the Irish were slaves too, and they got over it.’ You may see an example of such a claim here, in an article written by Liam Hogan. The statement is ‘when was the last time you heard an Irishman bitching about how the world owes them a living? You won’t……The Irish are not pussies looking for free shit.’

In 2015, at a neo-Confederate rally to support the continued flying of the slave-owning flag in Mississippi, one white supremacist demonstrator said that “There were a lot more white Irish slaves then there were blacks. And the Irish slaves were treated a lot worse than the black slaves.”

Indentured servitude versus perpetual racialised chattel slavery

Let us be clear on what we are talking about. This is not a matter of debating semantics. This is not a matter of quibbling over the meaning of words. Granted, academics can spend an excessive amount of time and energy debating the meanings of this or that word. However, we can examine the historical record and find the falsity of the ‘Irish were slaves too’ meme.

In daily conversation, we use the word ‘slavery’ to mean any kind of forced labour. There have been many types of slavery throughout history. Various empires – the Assyrians, Romans, Greeks – used slaves in their economies. The British, in their conquest of Ireland, were brutal, vicious and unrelenting. The Irish, mainly Catholics, were shipped off to Barbados, Montserrat and other British colonies as indentured servants.

Here is where the duplicity and deceitfulness of the ‘Irish were slaves’ myth becomes apparent. There are significant, qualitative and vast differences between indentured servitude and racialised hereditary slavery. The myth of the ‘Irish were slaves’ deliberately conflates the two different forms of forced labour. Indentured servitude involved a fixed contract, usually between four-to-seven years, and the servant was recognised as a legal person with rights. It was a harsh existence, brutal and exploitative to be sure – but it was a different form of forced labour than slavery.

The transatlantic slave trade was racialised; black Africans were kidnapped as property. They had no rights whatsoever – they were slaves in perpetuity. Their slavery was hereditary – their children were slaves, their grandchildren were slaves. Families could be sold off, and children separated from their parents. The African slaves were treated as livestock. The legal architecture of the British colonies, such as in the North Americas and the Caribbean, relegated the black African to that of a sub-human, soulless, beast of burden who could be worked to death.

Irish in Barbados and Montserrat

The deliberate conflation of indentured servitude and the transatlantic racialised slave trade does not have any foundation in the historical record. The British, when first settling the Leeward islands, such as Barbados and Montserrat, established a legal system for distinguishing the rights and responsibilities of indentured servants as opposed to African slaves. The indentured Irish included prisoners of war, the poor, vagrants, any Irish Catholic deemed undesirable – and they were transported to a harsh existence in the Caribbean, working in the sugar plantations. Many died during their term of service.

The transatlantic slave trade however, involved the transport of millions of black Africans, who were worked to death in the sugar and tobacco fields. The island of Montserrat became the one place in the British empire where the Irish were the majority of white settlers – and they participated in the slave trade. The Irish became slave owners and slave traders. They participated in the economic ascendancy of the white planter class in the Caribbean. It was not only in the Caribbean where the Irish were slave owners and slave traders.

In the slave-owning states of the United States, Irish planters had established themselves and gained their wealth through the slave trade. Since the beginnings of the transatlantic racialised slave traders, Irish entrepreneurs established themselves in Liverpool, Bristol and other cities to take advantage of this slave trade. Former Irish indentured servants, having survived their servitude, took up the slave trade and acquired their own wealth after their servitude contract expired.

Bonded servitude was a form of labour used by the British empire to get rid of persons that were deemed undesirable by the English ruling class. Irish political prisoners, among others, ended up transported to Barbados, Montserrat – and eventually the British penal colonies in Australia. None of this is to deny the brutal reality suffered by the Irish indentured servants. Our purpose is not to diminish the suffering of those transported to the colonies.

This system of indentured servitude was a world apart from the the transatlantic African slave trade. Indentured servants had recourse to the courts to challenge any mistreatment; the African slave had no standing because they were not considered a human being. Black African slaves could be worked to death, even killed, without any consequences to the slave owners. When Britain formally abolished the slave trade in 1834, former slave owners including Irish, were compensated for their ‘loss of property’ by the British government.

Harmful memes

Australia today has millions of citizens claiming to be of Irish background – and every March 17 – Saint Patrick’s Day – the shamrock and green colours are prominent in the many ‘Irish pubs’ in Australia. The Irish in Australia have a long and proud history. Wearing the shamrock, decked out with a green shirt and drinking green beer – these are harmless pursuits, and so we say good luck to you. If you wish to engage in the Paddy Whackery that accompanies Saint Patrick’s Day, then that is your pleasure.

These are harmless passtimes. However, the ‘Irish were slaves too’ myth is a toxic meme, recycled and regurgitated whenever there are conversations about racism and racial issues today. Not only does this poisonous nonsense deceitfully equate indentured servitude with racialised perpetual slavery, it is also serves to remove the guilt of white supremacy. If the racial component of African slavery is removed, then the crimes of white supremacy can be written out of the historical record.

When Kanye West, American rapper and serial egomaniac, stated earlier this year that slavery was just a lifestyle choice, he was – whether intentionally or not – removing the culpability of white supremacy and white racism. When the current Housing Secretary in the United States, Ben Carson, refers to slaves as just immigrants, he not only demonstrates his woeful ignorance of American history. He is removing the racial guilt attached to white supremacy. In this day and age of social media, millions read these comments and follow them.

Debunking this myth is not merely an academic exercise. To use an expression even Trump-supporters can understand – this is fake history, weaponised in a modern context against the struggle of African Americans. This false and deceitful equivalence of suffering only serves to validate the viewpoint of the racist Alt-Right; if the Irish were slaves too, and they got over it, why can’t the blacks? The ‘Irish were slaves too’ meme originates from a position of division, not from empathy or solidarity in suffering.

The emphasis of the ‘Irish were slaves’ myth is to divert attention from the crimes of white supremacy and promote a pseudo-historical narrative of ‘white victimhood’. The rise of ultra-rightist white nationalist anti-immigrant politics and rhetoric has provided a renewed platform for toxic memes such as the ‘Irish were slaves’. It is no coincidence that the ‘Irish were slaves’ meme has spread in those societies built on white settler-colonialism, such as the United States and Australia. Stories of ‘white victimhood’ only poison current discussions and moves towards combating racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia.