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Social Credit, Ecosocialism of Fools, Derek Wall, Capitalism Nature Socialism
Capitalism Nature Socialism, September 2003
Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools
By Derek Wall
Social credit was attractive to those who recognized the value of intrinsically satisfying work as a basis for participation in the community.
In this new economy socially and ecologically destructive activities would be neither valued nor justifiable on grounds of economic necessity.
Following over half a century of neglect, these texts possess the potential to provide the basis for a new economics of cooperation.
[We] have a campaign which rallies the small business men and bothered intellectuals; which launches a violent attack on socialism; which attacks high finance and the banks; which insists on the legitimacy of profits and the necessity of private enterprise; which organizes a uniformed body of “Greenshirts,” strictly disciplined and lead. What is this but Fascism in the making?
Economic debate in the British green movement is increasingly dominated by concepts of “monetary reform” drawn from the social credit philosophy of Major Clifford Douglas, a Scottish engineer, who developed his ideas in the aftermath of World War One. For advocates, social credit provides the key to understanding how economic forces generate ecological destruction, social injustice and political centralization. Brian Leslie, whose parents were members of the Social Credit Greenshirts during the 1930s, chairs the Green Party Economics Working Group. The newsletter, Sustainable Economics, is almost entirely concerned with social credit and Party economics speaker Molly Scott Cato advocates monetary reform. Green critics of globalization, including some from outside the UK, such as Herman Daly, Richard Douthwaite and David Korten acknowledge the value of Douglas’s ideas. David Icke, an ex-UK Green Party national speaker, has been a militant supporter of social credit monetary reform. Social crediters also court the anarchist oriented direct action movement in the UK. Ecosocialists too are advocates of social credit. Frances Hutchinson, a former member of the Green Party left grouping, the Association of Socialist Greens, has revived the Douglas Social Credit Secreteriat. Social credit, for historical reasons, has never been big in the US but in the UK it is impossible to discuss green economics without coming across the topic.
Academics have taken an increasing interest in social credit, noting Douglas’s importance as an advocate of a national income scheme, seen by some as a “capitalist road to communism.” In earlier decades commentators as varied as Galbraith, Keynes and Mumford praised Douglas’s contribution to economic debate.
Politically, social credit has deep roots in the UK. During the 1930s, working class activists in the Coventry League of the Unemployed and the Kibbo Kift Kin, a bizarrely named socialist scouting body, came together to found the Social Credit Greenshirts. Social credit has also been politically significant in Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, the New Zealand Labor Party is said to have won a general election on a social credit program. The philosophy took root most strongly in the Canadian province of Alberta,# where the Social Credit Party won a stunning election victory in the 1935 provincial elections.
Wilfrid Price, a member of the Greenshirts in the 1930s, joined the Ecology Party (now the Green Party) in the early 1980s and powerfully spoke for social credit as a form of green politics. He introduced Frances Hutchinson to social credit. Hutchinson, arguable the most energetic advocate of Douglas’s legacy today, sees social credit as the most sophisticated product of Britain’s Guild Socialist movement, which originated within the ecosocialism of such luminaries as William Morris. To his followers, Douglas was a prophet of considerable power whose thought demands critical attention.
In contrast, this essay argues that far from being a link to an historical ecosocialism, Douglas’s philosophy functioned as a tragic episode in its disintegration. Social credit has ominous parallels and shares elements with traditions of anti-semitic populism. The danger that social credit, along with other right wing political economies, presents within the anti-globalization movement is examined. The case of social credit indicates why ecosocialism has the potential to degrade into ecofascism and how such degradation can be fought as part of a vitally important hegemonic battle within the anti-globalization movement.
2. Social Credit
Douglas argued financial forces had increasingly centralized political power, yet a leisure state was achievable because technology, even in 1918, had so massively increased potential production. Scarcity was artificially produced to maintain economic activity. Because purchasing power was too low to buy all of the goods produced by industry, it was necessary for the community to manufacture money to mop up excess supply. Thus, crisis could be avoided, banks would lose their monopoly of credit, and “economic democracy” would result.
Douglas’s analysis of chronic economic under-consumption is based on his A+B theorem. He found while working for a Royal Air Force Factory at Farnborough that the income yielded by production was insufficient to buy the output created at the plant. The income generated in the form of A payments included salaries and dividends paid by the plant; B payments were made up of additional elements such as bank charges. The cost of the goods produced included A + B, yet purchasing power was leaking away in the form of B payments, leading to an acute drop in economic activity.
Douglas saw money as socially constructed and of symbolic value only.
Despite its lack of “reality,” money, rather than being a neutral fluid that allowed economic development to take place, could distort production, distribution and consumption. Banks created credit, increasing the money supply and partially allowing the leakage of B payments to be overcome, so as to maintain economic activity. Yet, credit created by bankers has to be paid back, enslaving both producers and consumers with debt; 97 percent of the money supply in the UK at present is made up of debt money that must be paid back with interest.
Douglas boldly argued that cultural inheritance is a forgotten and all-important factor of production.# Wealth is generated by ideas, which give rise to technological innovation. Rather than being the unique product of particular inventive individuals such cultural capital was produced by the community, which should be rewarded for its collective intellectual labor. Douglas argued that society could pay individuals a dividend as a result of such cultural capital. Taxation could be avoided because the community could directly generate money and an age of plenty would ensue.
Douglas was an economic utopian:
“The strength of the appeal, which Major Douglas makes to his followers is that his theories promise something for nothing. Consumers are to receive credits; dividends are to be issued to all; taxation will become unnecessary and no one will be called upon to pay the cost.”
Douglas can be seen as a minor under-consumptionist advocate of proto-Keynesian economics with little to say to radical greens. Keynes famously described him as “a private” rather than a general in an army of economic radicals challenging the bankrupt orthodoxy of liberal thought.
Indeed, his emphasis on technological advance as a source of Promethean human development would seem to be antagonistic. Yet, social crediters argue that environmental problems can only be seriously analyzed and dealt with using “monetary reform.” Green social crediters contend that ecologically destructive economic growth is explained by the creation of debt-money that forces us to produce and consume more and more. Douglas noted in the 1930s that,
“Industry has run riot over the countryside. A population, which has been educated in the fixed idea that the chief, if not the only, objective of life is well named “business,” whose politicians and preachers exhort their audiences to fresh efforts for the capture of markets and the provision of still more business, cannot be blamed if, as opportunity occurs, it still further sacrifices the amenities of the countryside to the building of more blast-furnaces and chemical works.”
In 2001 Alain Pilot, a prominent social crediter from Quebec, echoed such sentiments arguing:
“The basic cause of the pollution of the environment, of the waste of resources of the globe, is the chronic shortage of purchasing power, which is inherent in the present financial system.”
The great car economy has been seen as one particular consequence of the debt system. Douglas powerfully criticized the notion that human wants were unlimited and growth must therefore continue infinitely. He saw wants as constructed by forces of finance to maintain accumulation. He also believed that “the genuine consumptive capacity of the individual is limited, [therefore] we must recognize that the world, whether consciously or not, is working towards the Leisure State.” In Douglas’s alternative future, business:
“would of necessity cease to be the major interest of life and would, as has happened to so many biological activities, be relegated to a position of minor importance, to be replaced, no doubt, by some form of activity of which we are not yet fully cognizant.”
Supporters within the UK Green Party have argued that social credit produced by the community rather than banks could be used to fund expensive policies without massive tax rises. Alternative energy systems, home insulation, recycling schemes, land reclamation and measures to end poverty could be funded by debt-free money produced by the community.
In turn, the national dividend is a form of basic income scheme, which would decommodify labor, encouraging individuals to work share and allowing unpaid creative and necessary social labor to be undertaken. Jobs that were unnecessary and ecologically destructive could be swept away, thus removing the opportunity cost of environ-mental destruction as the price of job preservation. The building blocks of conventional economics, infinite wants, scarce resources, and opportunity cost would be removed by the Douglas revolution. Scarcity is a particular target of Douglas’s ire:
“The world is obsessed, or possessed, by a scarcity complex. While at the date of writing Great Britain is preparing for another war, she still has a million unemployed, farms going out of cultivation and agricultural products being destroyed because they cannot be sold, publicists still inform us on the one hand that the situation is due to over-production, and on the other hand that sacrifices must be made by everyone, that we must all work harder, consume less, and produce more.”
Social credit is an obvious solution to the global debt crisis and provides a way of tempering globalization. Globalization is conceptualized as a product of demands for increased free trade as nations struggle to export surplus goods that are unsold because of the chronic loss of purchasing power. Organic agriculture has been conceptualized as another positive by-product of a debt-free world.
Green demands for grassroots democracy can be promoted by decentralizing credit creation to local communities. Social justice will be built by de-monopolizing credit creation so as to create prosperity for all. Social credit can be seen as providing three key framing tasks noted by social movement theorists describing successful mobilization. Thus it identifies a source of political ills, poses a solution and prescribes a course of action.
Douglas has even be described as practicing a practical green lifestyle,
“When he lived in an old water mill in Hampshire he used the water wheel to turn a dynamo which lit and warmed the house as well as providing power for lathes and other tools. Later, when he moved to Scotland, many of his friends and followers remember helping to build his small hydro-electric power house, sited on the local burn, which ran through his land. Since decentralization of economic power was of the essence of his teaching, it should be put on record that he practiced what he preached.”
3. Social Discredit
While Douglas argued the economic system is profoundly dysfunctional, his analysis is flawed. Taken at face value, his description of the A+B theorem is unsustainable. B payments are paid to individuals and firms in exactly that same way as A payments, so they are potentially available to buy goods.
Either A or B payments can be saved or spent. During the 1930s, critics of social credit often foolishly invoked Say’s law to attack A+B. Say argued that the circular flow of income meant that all factor payments provided income that would generate equilibrium balancing consumption. Galbraith, Keynes, Marx and a constellation of economists have challenged the notion that income must equal consumption. Yet if incomes are saved and such saving does not lead to an equivalent balancing increase in investment, this does nothing to justify Douglas’s approach to “under consumption.” If we save more either category of payment can fall; there is no essential qualitative difference between A and B payments. If consumer spending or investment falls because of a loss of business confidence, recession may result, but this has little or nothing to do with A+B.
Critics and advocates of A+B have spilt much ink refining Douglas’s scheme so that it makes greater sense. Typically five or six alternative scenarios are entertained and worked over, generating much tedious detail. After much intellectual labor it is possible to interpret A+B as a system that suggests that in a growing economy there will be a gap between rising productive capacity and income. Damning Douglas with faint praise, Metha, who is hailed by social crediters, argues that he dimly “foreshadows the Harrod–Domer idea that for equilibrium, investment, in absolute terms, will have to increase at an increasing rate.” Douglas’s analysis suggests under consumption is chronic, while classical economists found it difficult to explain depression, Metha notes his “theory implies that industry never faces boom conditions.” Rather than making goods cheaper, investment in capital increases their price so purchasing power is not great enough to absorb them. Douglas simply provides at best a garbled and grossly simplified version of Marxist and/or Keynesian approaches to growth and crisis. In turn, any notion of exploitation or injustice driven by forces other than finance is absent from Douglas’s work:
Douglas’s account of banking does seem a little stronger than the A+B theorem. Hiskett and Franklin, in an otherwise strongly critical account of social credit, note,
“The attempt which is sometimes made, by orthodox defenders of the banking system, to show that banks do no more than lend the money which is deposited with them, is based on a specious argument which tries to prove too much.“
“The indisputable fact is that, by action of the banks, £1,000 of new cash, deposited with the banking system, is built up into a total of £10,000 deposits by the addition of £9,000 of credit money.”
Money is clearly socially created and is no longer linked to anything of intrinsic value. It can be seen as a source of damaging debt, and could in the short term, be created by the community. Douglas’s fallacies should not be used to close down all discussion of the role of debt within capitalism.
Yet, money cannot be created at the stroke of a pen as a utopian lever.
Money, even if it is made in a debt-free form will fuel either growth or inflation. If the community “prints” more money and spare productive capacity is present, more goods will be produced, creating more potentially destructive economic growth. If banks simply produced unlimited amounts of money at the stroke of a pen, their legitimacy would fall and their deposits would cease to be seen as “good.” Socially constructed money is still likely to follow Gresham’s law that accepted credit will be driven out by that with less legitimacy. To make money work appropriate rituals have to be performed. In turn, bankers cannot be seen as the source of all evils, as wicked magicians who commit the evil of usury to gain dominance over creation. Douglas’s beliefs have more to do with medieval theology than any imagined new economics. His calls for the de-commodification of money, the ultimate commodity, act only to erect an obvious oxymoron.
Marxists are criticized for advocating economic reductionism, and the project of journals such as CNS has been to provide more nuanced approaches that articulate economic, ecological, and social forces. Social credit is not merely economically reductionist, but apparently reduces economic processes to a single cause. Far from exploring the second contradiction of capitalism many monetary reformers revert to an economic prehistory by erecting a monocausal account of political economy. Debt creation and speculation may accelerate ecologically destructive accumulation but the monetary forces articulate with a host of other processes. both economic and cultural. Instead of seeking to embed economic forces within the social, Douglas advocates a fiscal technical fix.
The more closely you study Douglas’s writings, the more apparent it becomes that his ideas are based on anti-semitic conspiracy theory, with the economics fitted in almost as an afterthought. As early as 1922 he concluded,
“the International Financial groups who precipitate these struggles [world wars] do not really care how frequent they are — the cost of them is simply passed on to the public in prices, and the real authors of them not merely go completely untouched by the repeated tragedies, but from villas on the Riviera or elsewhere “glut” their love of power by contemplating the writhings of the world they have enslaved.”
In Social Credit he observed,
“In a remarkable document which received some publicity some years ago, under the title of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” a Machiavellian scheme for the enslavement of the world was outlined. The authenticity of this document is a matter of little importance; what is interesting about it, is the fidelity with which the methods by which such enslavement might be brought about can be seen reflected in the facts of everyday experience.”
It was explained in that treatise that the financial system was the agency most suitable for such a purpose; the inculcation of a false democracy was recommended; vindictive penalties for infringements of laws were advised; the Great War and the methods by which it might be brought about were predicted at least twenty years before the event; the imposition of grinding taxation, more especially directed against Real Estate owners, was specifically explained as essential to the furtherance of the scheme.
Douglas’s racism became more bizarre over time, and by the 1940s he was arguing that Hitler was funded by Jewish conspirators, that the Holocaust was a hoax and that a new world order was being created to advance the plot. His closest supporters were purged from the Social Credit Party (SC) in Alberta in part because of their anti-semitism. In 1983, Alberta was rocked by the Keegstra affair, when a schoolteacher was sacked from his job for informing pupils that the Holocaust was a hoax and that a Zionist plot was driving global power politics. James Keegstra, a vice-president of the Social Credit Party in Alberta, used propaganda produced by Ron Gostick.
Gostick, in turn, was a former school student of SC Premier Aberhart and the son of Edith Gostick, SC MLA from 1935 to 1940 for Calgary. He created the Union of Electors as anti-semitic rival to the official SC in 1946 and “eventually became one of Canada’s most notorious anti-Semites, leader of the Canadian League of Rights….established in 1968,” which publishes Canadian Intelligence Service and On Target. Louis Even, leader of Quebec Social Credit until the late 1950s, created “two extreme right-wing groups, Les Pelerins de Saint-Michel and Les Berets Blanc.” Members of the Australian League of Rights, a sister organization to the Canadian group, have backed Pauline Hanson’s racist One Nation Party that has helped fuel the current persecution of asylum seekers in the country. The League, founded by Eric Butler to promote social credit ideas, published The International Jew: The Truth about the Protocols of Zion in 1946.
Douglas assumed that bankers seized the B payments and refused to spend them. The A+B theorem means little without a bankers’ plot, which deliberately engineers crisis by removing purchasing power from the system.
The bankers are aliens!
Major Douglas really appears to hold the view that, although the banking system is administered by individual members of the community, it is in effect run as though it were being administered on behalf of the inhabitants of another planet. He believes that debt is continually being incurred to those imaginary proprietors — who claim the ownership of all creation of new money — a debt which accumulates, and is never fully discharged, but which involves that purchasing-power is drained away from the community whenever loans are repaid and money is retired.
Anti-semitism, rather than being contingent, is necessary to Douglas’s economics. Bob Hesketh, after making an extensive study of Douglas’s writings, observed,
“My research has convinced me that Douglas’s conspiracy-based understanding of the world, rather than his monetary and political theories hold the secret for comprehending his ideas […] He created social credit specifically to undo the power of the conspiracy as revealed in the Protocols. His monetary and political theories were tactics for defeating Finance.
“In Social Credit, Douglas links the plot by finance to absorb money in retained profits to violent threats and the plots of a racial elite.
“Apart from any more subtle explanation, even great banks hesitate to distribute their true profits for fear of attracting too much attention.
“Corner sites are potential key positions. It may be stressing the theory a little too far, to use it as an explanation of the fact that a recently built bank in Cleveland, U.S.A., has machine-guns mounted at each corner of it. A polite intimation that his overdraft must be reduced, is a more effective argument to the average man than a threat by a machine-gun. But the idea is no doubt dissimilar.
“An organization can only grow powerful at the expense of those involved in it, just as a tree can only grow at the expense of its soil. Corner sites, granite and marble buildings, only two of the more tangible signs of growth in the banking organization, represent undistributed profits.
“Undistributed profits are simply cancelled credits; they are “savings” by an institution. They are credits transformed from a visible form represented by deposits, into a potential form such as […] the security for loans or mortgages. Every credit cancelled in this way, whatever forms the cancellation may take, simply represents so much purchasing-power destroyed.”
As a result,
“It still further restricts the money and purchasing-power at the disposal of individuals and concentrates this money power in financial institutions. If the process is allowed to proceed without interruption, and it remains true that the possession of money is the only claim to the necessaries of life, then it is not difficult to see that within a short space of time, that condition of universal slavery to which the writer of “The Protocols of Zion” looked forward with such exultation will be an accomplished fact.”
In an essay entitled “British Politics” he argued that,
“a serious depression stretched from the time of the Crusades to the beginning of the Renaissance and is explainable, I think, far better by the fact that the English nobles were all mortgaged to the Jews as a result of the Crusades, than in any other way.”
He called for intense struggle against the bankers,If there is a spark of virility left in this country, the day the next war breaks our the local representatives of Finance will face a firing party in the Long Gallery of the Tower.
Anti-semitism based on economic grievances directly led to the Holocaust and was literally murderous. Douglas’s anti-semitism should not be dismissed or excused. It is frightening to find social crediters who are moved by the fact that M4 of the money supply is growing, but show only the mildest concern over their prophet’s murderous hatred.
4. From Ecosocialism to Ecofascism
Douglas, for his advocates, is the prophet, anticipating Galbraith, Gorz and a host of green thinkers. Price, describing activists within the Social Credit Greenshirts during the 1930s, observed,
The various aspects of ecology had their specialists in the Party. Edgar Saxon […] was a prominent food reformer and a champion of compost growing. […] Ashley Lewis, produced a pamphlet and lectured on how Britain could feed herself by a proper return to the soil of organic waste. He later gave up a well paid job in London to work as an agricultural worker at about a quarter of his former salary. John Hargrave, the Kibbo Kift Kin leader, advocated the formation, as a leisure activity, of a voluntary forestry corps of young men and women to look after our forests and wild life. Eric de Mare, an architect, wrote “Britain Rebuilt” showing how people could be properly housed without ribbon development and spoiling the countryside. […]
Thus, one attraction for advocates of Douglas is his supposed role as an early pioneer of green ideology. Hutchinson, who observes, “the anti-globalization and environmental movement did not start with Rachel Carson, still less with Seattle,” believes that Douglas, despite his racism, can be used to show that concepts such as ecological economics and anti-globalization have deep roots.
Yet, we need not rely on Douglas’s dubious legacy in seeking historical examples of radical green thought. The supposed rediscovery of social credit is not an act of remembering, but a way of forgetting Emma Goldman, William Morris, Edward Carpenter, Mary Shelley, Marx (of course!) and many more.
Even a superficial examination of key elements of green politics suggests that there is a deep and diverse history to be discovered. Typically, in 1906 writing in her journal Mother Earth, Goldman attacked a productivist, ecologically destructive capitalism:
“Whoever severs himself (sic) from Mother Earth and her flowing sources of life goes into exile. A vast part of civilization has ceased to feel the deep relation with our mother. […] Economic necessity causes such hateful pressure. Economic necessity? Why not economic stupidity? This seems a more appropriate name for it.”
There is considerable evidence for the existence of a historic ecosocialist tradition in Britain, which Peter Gould has described as the Early Green Politics, when radicals such as Edward Carpenter, William Morris and Peter Kropotkin linked socialist and anarchist themes with environmental concern in the period between 1880 and 1900. Ecological thought was important in the British socialist movement in this period and the boundaries between socialism, ecology and anarchism were porous. The earliest Marxist group in Britain, the Social Democratic Federation, which included both William Morris and Engels, was sympathetic to ecosocialist perspectives. In turn, British ecosocialism can be seen as a node within a global network which linked radicals in the US, Russia and Western Europe.
Between 1905 and the 1930s, this network weakened and fractured with many advocates eventually moving towards either Stalinism or fascism. The Social Credit Greenshirts are a powerful example of this process. They evolved out of a socialist scouting movement, inspired by the writings of Ernest Seton Thompson into the Kibbo Kift Kin. Hargraves, the leader of the Kin, was introduced to social credit by Rolf Gardiner and transformed the movement into the Social Credit Greenshirts. Gardiner went on to become one of Britain’s most important far right ecological activists; he corresponded with Hitler’s agriculture minister Darre and enjoyed close links with European Nazis who advocated a blood and soil philosophy.
Douglas wrote some of his earliest work in the guild socialist journal The New Age. Arthur Penty coined the term guild socialism in his book The Restoration of the Gild (sic) System, yet became an advocate of fascism by the 1930s. Equally, the alternative political economy of Chesterbelloc (or distribution) moved from guild socialism to fascism. Hilaire Belloc became convinced, like Douglas, that the “future was in the hands of Jewish bankers and financiers” and became a supporter of Mussolini.
Of course, not all of these elements embraced the far right to the same extent. Equally, some figures maintained an ecological politics of the left; for example, G.D.H. Cole continued to propagate a guild socialist message in the mainstream labor movement.# In turn the Labour governments of 1945 to 1951 realized a little of the ecosocialist vision when they introduced Britain’s first national parks. Nonetheless, Douglas’s legacy is one of defeat for radicals, part of a story of dispersal, disillusionment and movement towards the right. The growth of Fabianism and Stalinism within the British Labor milieu marginalized ecosocialist concerns. Such marginalization encouraged movement to the right. In turn anti-capitalist political economies such as those of Douglas that rely on conspiracy as an explanation of ecological and other ills open the door to fascist potentials. Douglas is not a figure that ecosocialists should celebrate, but one that we should learn from.
Douglas and distributism were quite consciously used by activists in Britain’s neo-nazi National Front to construct a “third positionist” politics, which rejected capitalism and communism and blamed Jewish financiers for environmental damage. The National Front’s founder and first chairman, A.K. Chesterton, was also a former socialist who in the 1930s had embraced fascism in the form of Oswald Mosley’s British Union. Chesterton, cousin of G.K. Chesterton, drew upon social credit to construct the ideology of the Front. The National Front created a surrogate environmental group Greenwave and attempted to recruit activists on the left. The two third positionist groups that have succeed the National Front, the Third Way and the International Third Position, both continue to promote social credit.
The Third Way has even re-published an academic article from Burkitt and Hutchinson.
5. Anti-Semitism and Populism
Rather than being an original and important economic theorist, as his supporters imply, Douglas parallels a wider tradition of anti-semitic populism which has been particularly important in the US and Canada.
Populism is confusing because in its call to hear the voice of the people, it combines features from left and right. Social justice is mixed with scapegoating, religious fundamentalism and nationalism with calls for direct democracy. Like socialism or fascism its manifestations can be heterodox.
Populism need not be anti-semitic, but a major strain of populism argues that an elite of bankers has conspired to enslave “ordinary folks” using the tool of “usury.” Indeed, an important feature of US populism that stretches back to the Populist Parties of the 19th century is an obsessive joint concern with money and conspiracy. In 1873, the de-monetization of silver was condemned as a crime perpetrated by a “cabal” of English, Jewish and Wall Street bankers. In turn the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 fuelled populist paranoia. In the 1920s, Henry Ford criticized Jewish bankers and called for workers and manufacturers to make a common cause against finance. In 1935, Father Dennis Fahey published The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, which reinforced the ideas that an international Jewish financial conspiracy was working to dominate the world.
The most important US populist of the 20th century and the closest equivalent to Douglas was Father Charles Coughlin, the radio priest of the Depression era. Coughlin was a radical who rallied millions of ordinary Americans to his crusade to rid the US of poverty caused he argued by corrupt politicians, over corporations and arrogant bankers. He started firmly on the left as an advocate of Roosevelt’s New Deal but frustrated by his inability to influence events moved to Fascism during the 1930s.
Coughlin was yet another under- consumptionist who believed that currency reform could be used to boost the economy. Between 1933 and 1934, he produced proposals to increase the money supply and to base money on “real wealth” instead of precious metals. He argued that the US government should sack the private bankers who ran the Federal Reserve. Coughlin, contrasting productive capitalism with parasitic finance, argued:
On the one side tenaciously clinging to the past were the speculative bankers, the credit inflationists, the gamblers with other peoples’ money.
Opposing them were the battalions of the exploited — the deceived investors, the small depositors, the anxious industrialists, the hard pressed merchants, the laborer and the farmer.
Coughlin is a key figure for third positionists and his 1934 slogan that declared that both capitalism and communism “are rotten!” continues to inspire modern neo-Nazis. By 1938 his newspaper Social Justice was defending the Kristelnacht pogrom and re-publishing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
From the 1950s, Willis Carto, inspired by the ideas of the American Nazi Francis Parker Yockey, used his journal the Spotlight to argue that Jewish financiers were part of a conspiracy with the Bilderburg group and the Trilateral Commission to dominate the world. A.K. Chesterton’s title, The New Unhappy Lords, suggests the conspiracy has been used to destroy the British Empire, drawing upon Coughlin, Carto, and Fahey and as we have already noted, Douglas.
The British League of Rights established Bloomfield Books, which has promoted Douglas’s books along with Holocaust revisionist titles, the Protocols, a massive range of populist conspiracy texts and even Mein Kampf. The League of Rights also encourages supporters to subscribe to Spotlight. The Bromsgrove Group, an alliance of varied monetary reformers, contains the Christian Ecology Group, Green Party Economics Working Group, as well as right wingers such as Don Martin from the League of Rights and Alistair McConnachie. James Gibb Stuart acts as convener. His book The Lemming Folk is a conspiracist’s bible, which promotes once again the populist message that the “money power” links capitalism and communism with its plan for world domination. The book, which has been promoted by the far right British National Party, also praises apartheid,
“it means separate development — not racism, or repression, or institutionalized violence, or the eternal social and economic subjugation of one race by another. It was adopted in South Africa some thirty years ago because a white minority saw it then as the only means by which they could preserve their culture and their identity.”
During the 1970s Stuart supported Rhodesia’s white government who he saw as a target for the conspiracy because of their financial independence. His associate Alistair McConnachie, suspended from the UK Independence Party, an anti-European Union group, after writing to the Scotsman newspaper to question the Holocaust, edits Prosperity, a social credit/monetary reform newsletter widely promoted in the green movement. McConnachie, who was a member of the Douglas Secretariat during the 1990s, and remains active in monetary reform circles, is reported to have stated, “I don’t accept that gas chambers were used to execute Jews for the simple fact there is no direct physical evidence to show that such gas chambers existed.”
Through contact with far right monetary reformers former Green Party national speaker David Icke has been advancing populist conspiratorial ideas complete with accounts of Jewish bankers funding both the Bolshevik revolution and Hitler’s regime.
“Some research I have seen claims that of, 388 members of the Russian Revolutionary Government in 1918, only sixteen were Russians by birth. All but two of the rest were Jews from elsewhere, mostly from New York.”
In turn he suggests:
“if you control the financial system, undermining a country to prepare the ground for revolution is no problem. The 1929 Wall Street crash in the United States was similarly engineered. The Brotherhood bankers created inflation and encouraged the stock market to overstretch itself, so making a crash inevitable.”
The bizarre nature of Icke’s message makes it easy to dismiss, yet he has attracted large audiences on his global tours. Icke is an heir to Douglas and both show the dangers of anti-semitic conspiracy. The bankers’ conspiracy is a stable of far right politics on a worldwide scale and the term “usury” has been used to justify pogroms for centuries.
6. Towards an Anti-Capitalism of the Right?
With the possible exception of Tony Gosling# social credit advocates in the UK Green Party do not promote anti-semitism, yet green social crediters ignore the racism of Douglas and advance a philosophy that contains numerous links to the ultra right. Social credit has the potential to provide young militants with an alternative right wing anti-capitalism that provides network connections to virulent racists. Today’s anti-globalization movement is already being targeted by the far right. The British National Party magazine Spearhead in a review of one of David Icke’s books notes how anti-globalization can be fitted to a “nationalist,” i.e., neo-Nazi agenda.
Free trade, GATT, the European Union, United Nations, Club of Rome, Trilateral Commission and the sinister Bilderberg Group all come under the microscope, fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw in a global vision of a nightmare world of asset strippers, political spivs, thieves and liars of cataclysmic proportions. Readers on the idealist liberal-left will lose their rose tinted spectacles when ingesting the full horror to which world events are rapidly moving.
In Europe the radical Dutch group Fabel de illegal pulled out of the anti-globalization movement in protest at the International Forum on Globalization connections with the far right. In the US, Ralph Nader made links with Buchanan, who tapped into populist resentment with a politics based on exclusionist resistance to the New World Order. In Canada, Will Offley has shown how third positionist inspired journals including The Radical have “systematically courted sectors of the left, the greens and anarchist currents” with some success.
Naiveté on the part of anti-globalization activists puts the movement at risk. For example, Amory Starr, who claims to be a radical opponent of globalization, has called for alliances with the religious “nationalists,” observing “the militias subscribe to conspiracy theories that are not only not anti-semitic but differ little from left-wing analyses, emphasizing the Trilateral Commission, the New World Order and GATT.” She sees religious nationalism, including the militias, hard line Zionists and the Hindu fundamentalist BJP, as potential resources for those who seek to re-embed local economies so as to resist global corporations.
While Starr provides a particularly worrying example of how progressive politics can shift towards the right she is far from unique. Indeed, mainstream Green politics and even ecosocialism contain fascist potentials.
Conspiracies are seductive because they frame the complexities of capitalism in personal terms. Instead of examining abstract notions that show that accumulation is functional to capitalism, they generate a personal enemy with a human face who can be challenged. Personification need not lead to racism but it often does. Equally, there is a powerful strain of populism in green anti-capitalism that looks back with nostalgia to a falsely imagined era of the free market and small business. Greens often focus on corporations and argue that an ecological economy based on localized markets can replace “bad” multinational corporations with “good” community based businesses. Good people can tackle the bad economic structures and social forces may remain invisible. In turn, Marxism has all too often been vulgarized into an assault on a conspiratorial capitalist elite.
Kovel, who challenged Nader as Green Presidential candidate in 2000, has noted that such approaches always risks articulation with prejudice: Populism builds on resentment and anger against abusive Power […] The politics of resentment can easily turn into the politics of exclusion, scapegoating and demagoguery. That is why, along with the many virtuous people who have marched under the populist banner, have come more than a fair share of dubious characters who […] combine populist virtues with various malignant tendencies […] So long as [activists] remain populist, they cannot rise above the implications of its basic method, which is to personalize politics. The racism and scapegoating can be restrained, but the need to focus upon some personification of evil remains.
Most populists are not racists and criticism of finance is not necessarily anti-semitic; yet the uncritical celebration of Douglas’s ideas is dangerous. An honest admission of his anti-semitism and a clear rejection of racist elements in his thought by his advocates seems necessary. Without criticizing the dark side of Douglas there is a clear danger that racial conspiracy will be legitimized within supposedly radical discourse. Green movements with unpleasant right wing connotations have on rare occasions rehabilitated themselves. In the UK, Earth First! (EF) explicitly broke with conservative and Malthusian forms of deep ecology and have helped launch a vigorous anti-capitalist movement. EF!ers in the UK have been on the militant edge of the anti-racist movement, physically disrupting the construction of prisons being built to house asylum seekers and throwing pies at racist politicians. There is little evidence that social creditors are making similar efforts.
There is a clear danger atavistic right wing green political economies such as social credit will gain hegemony and displace alternatives. The components of right wing anti-capitalism are ready for political entrepreneurs to fashion and frame into more solid discursive wholes. Unless eco-Marxists, social ecologists, anti-racists and other radicals work to educate, agitate and organize, anti-capitalism could become the plaything of a ghoulish right that many of us may wrongly have felt had been buried long ago.
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