From anger to paranoia: the case of Brian Reierson
Last year's financial meltdown has changed the economic and political climate of the West. The doctrine of neo-liberalism, with its emphasis on the inherent wisdom of market forces and the inadvisability of government intervention in the economy, has been shaken by the collapse of banks and companies which overextended themselves in the unregulated atmosphere of the nineties and early noughties. Governments which had previously preached the benefits of a hands-off attitude to the economy have been forced to wade into the mess left by the financial crisis. Banks and manufacturing giants have been nationalised on the orders of politicians accustomed to overseeing privatisation programmes.
The financial meltdown and the recession which has followed in its wake have reopened debates about the best way to organise and run an economy. For decades, the partisans of neo-liberalism had deemed such debates unnecessary; there was no alternative, they insisted, to the rule of market forces and the retreat of government from the economy. There are still those prepared to make such arguments - in New Zealand, for instance, Business Roundtable Director Roger Kerr is endeavouring quixtoically to blame the financial crisis on an excess of government regulation, rather than its absence - but they are no longer listened to so attentively.
Millions of workers have been thrown out of jobs during the recession that has followed last year's financial collapse. In the United States the official jobless rate has reached nearly 10%, and the number of real unemployed is estimated at an astonishing 18%. In New Zealand unemployment has reached its highest level since the late nineties.
As people search for an understanding of a system that has failed them, radical alternatives to the status quo are being debated with a new vigour. The virus of socialism, which was relatively dormant in most of the developed world for decades, seems to be reawakening in places. In Germany, for instance, sales of Marx's Capital have soared, as the Left Party does well in elections. In Japan, the home of the comic book, a manga version of Marx's magnum opus has been published, as the de-Stalinised Communist Party rides high in the polls.
But it is not only the ideas of the left which are gaining a new hearing today. Right-wing conspiracy theories, which scapegoat one or another minority group for the recession, are making a comeback amongst populations angry at rising unemployment. In Britain, the neo-Nazi National Party, which blames immigrants for ruining the economy, won two seats in elections for the European parliament held earlier this year.
Last year this blog noted the revival of an anti-semitic form of the Social Credit ideology amongst those who want to blame the financial crisis on the machinations of a sinister minority. In recent months, a man named Brian Reierson has made himself into a local spokesperson for this ideology.
Reierson knows first-hand about the failure of neo-liberalism. The sixty-four year-old drives a bus for a living, and has been active in the Auckland Tramways Union's ongoing campaign for a pay increase. Like other members of the union, Reierson was locked out of his worksite for days last month. He was one of the majority of drivers who voted to reject the inadequate pay offer from employers earlier this week at a massive meeting at Alexandra Park.
Reierson is entitled to be angry at a system which pays him pitiable amounts for doing an essential job. Unfortunately, though, his attempts to understand the system which has failed him have led him into the netherworld of right-wing conspiracy theory. In a series of statements sent to members of parliament and the media over the past few months, Reierson has argued that a tiny group of money-lenders are to blame for causing last year's financial meltdown. According to Reierson these money-lenders, who are led by the 'House of Rothschild', induced the United States government to set up the Federal Reserve Bank back in 1913. Ever since then, they have used that institution to control the world economy.
Reierson's nefarious bankers 'create money out of thin air', and then loan it to the rest of the world at exorbitant rates of interest. Supported by an elaborate cast of politicians, monarchs, and propagandists, including Queen Elizabeth and our own John Key, they direct the course of history, starting and ending wars and recessions at will. If their power was broken, then the world would be free, and prosperity would reign. Long-suffering readers of this blog will recognise the similarities between Reierson's views and those of the anti-semitic Social Creditors who tried to make Radio Live into a vehicle for their views last year.
Reierson's epistles to politicians and journalists have delighted New Zealand's parnoid far right. Clare Swinney, a professional conspiracy theorist who contributes often to Uncensored, the anti-semitic, Holocaust-denying website and magazine based in Auckland, hailed Reiserson as a visionary in a rambling article which she placed on the indymedia website yesterday. Swinney, who thinks that Jews control the movies and television we watch and that swine flu vaccines are a Marxist-Jewish-Illuminati plot to kill billions of people, linked Reierson's letters to a right-wing campaign in America to overturn Barack Obama's government, disestablish the Federal Reserve, and create a new, Judenfrei currency.
Reierson does not necessarily hold all the obnoxious views of Swinney and Uncensored, but his most recent letter shows that he has certainly been imbibing the ideas of the international far right. He asks his readers to study a long you tube documentary called The Money Masters: How International Bankers Gained Control of America, which presents the Rothschilds as the secret rulers of the world during the twentieth century. The fact of the family's persecution and exile from Germany during the Nazi era is tactfully ignored by the movie's makers.
Reierson also recommends a book called The Creature from Jekyll Island, by a man named G Edward Griffin. Griffin worked for George Wallace, the southern governor who broke with the Democratic Party over the issue of equal rights for blacks and won considerable support in the south when he ran on a pro-segregation platform in the 1968 Presidential election. Griffin is a long-time member of the John Birch Society, an organisation that has published and distributed millions of copies of None Dare Call It Conspiracy, a book that uses 'evidence' from explicitly anti-semitic sources - the pro-Hitler articles of Henry Ford, for instance - to argue that an international cabal of bankers was responsible for key historical events like the Bolshevik revolution and Hitler's rise to power.
After complaints from several readers, including yours truly, indymedia's editors decided to pull Swinney's article about Reierson, on the grounds that it had nothing to do with the politics of the left and that it discriminated against a minority. Proponents of Reierson's views have reacted to this censorship by characterising the man's critics as defenders of the big banks, and of the 'New World Order' in general.
I don't regret calling for the removal of Swinney's article, because I think it is important for the left to draw a firm line between progressive criticisms of capitalism and the sort of paranoid nonsense that Brian Reierson and others are promoting.
I doubt that anyone who visits indymedia regularly doesn't believe there are profound problems with the global banking system and with capitalism. For anyone on the left, such views come with the territory. There is a rich tradition of analysis and criticism of capitalism and its institutions produced by both the reformist left - we can invoke names like Keynes, Galbraith, and, today, John Ralston Saul - and the radical left. This left-wing tradition owes nothing to the bigoted conspiracy theories of the far right.
In contrast to the left, which argues that the capitalist system has serious faults and needs to be either reformed or replaced, the right-wingers Brian Reierson cites believe that capitalism is a fine system which has been perverted by the conspiracy of a minority which controls the banking sector. Often this minority is equated with the Jews, or a section of the Jewish people; sometimes it is referred to as 'the Illuminati' or given some other bogeyname. If only the dirty minority that controls the banking sector were disposed of, the right-wing conspiracy theorists say, then all would be well.
One of Reierson's supporters claimed on indymedia that Karl Marx was a Social Creditor, because Marx was a critic of the banks. Marx, though, rejected the notion that the problem with capitalism is the misuse of the banking sector; on the contrary, he explains in great detail, in volume two of Capital, that the banking sector cannot be considered apart from the rest of the capitalist economy, and that the crises which capitalism periodically experiences are caused by the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system, not by the conscious actions of a minority within a capitalist society.
If it showed us anything, last year's financial meltdown surely showed us that it is not possible to 'create money out of thin air'. The crisis occurred when banks realised that they extended far too much money to businesses that would not be able to pay that money back. Companies that had been subsisting on debt began to fold, as the property they owned and the goods they produced could not be sold. This sort of crisis of overproduction was first noticed in 1857 by Marx, and it has occurred many times since. It is inherent in the nature of capitalism, though it can be made worse or ameliorated by certain variables, including the actions of governments. It is not the result of a conspiracy by a group of bankers sitting in a beige room.
Although Western governments have been forced to break tactically with neo-liberalism to save banks and large manufacturers like Ford, they are not breaking with underlying neo-liberal assumptions when they formulate long-term responses to the recession. With the exception of Australia, which has borrowed more money to try and spend its way out of the crisis in the Keynesian fashion traditionally favoured by the social democratic left, the governments of the West are trying to 'balance the books' by cutting state spending on health and education and laying off state employees. This approach will deepen rather than reverse the recession, because it will depress consumer spending and lead to more bankruptcies and layoffs. It is notable that Australia is the only Western nation whose economy has grown this year.
While the paranoid right scapegoats vulnerable minorities for the crisis and insists that wealth can be created 'out of thin air', the left has been arguing that the people who created the recession should pay for it, and not the workers threatened with lay-offs and cuts in state spending on vital services. Indymedia is correct to refuse the fantasies of Reierson and Swinney, and to focus on arguments and actions of the left.