Conspiricism in General and the Pandemic in Particular (TC, 2021)
Théorie Communiste, January 2021
“They hide everything from us, we are told nothing
The more we learn, the more we know nothing
We aren’t really informed about anything
Did Adam have a belly-button?
We are hiding everything, we are told nothing […]
The John Doe case and the Jane Doe case
Whose murderer cannot be found
They hide everything from us, we are told nothing
We are hide-and-seek and hide-the-thimble
Blindfolded and John Doe
They are the kings of information”
– Jacques Dutronc, 1967
“Imagine that we’ve been lied to for centuries and centuries / That certain high-ranking communities know the recipes / The secrets of life, not that which we are allowed to see.”
– Keny Arkana
Some preliminary considerations
In the capitalist mode of production, the population isn’t a fact of “nature.” Its production, reproduction, management and constitutive categories are the products of class and gender relations which structure its form and development. This population only exists socially and reproduces itself as a function of capital. There is no untouched or pure substrate serving as the prefiguration of anything. There is no happiness or suffering, no good health or illness, no way of living or dying that can be understood as other than as expression of these class and gender relations. It must be added, given the subject, that this constantly renewed expression of class and gender relations – because it is a historical product – exists in the everyday life of thought and action of all classes, even if unbeknownst to its participants (but “of their own free will”), even if it burrows deeper the further one climbs the social hierarchy.
This reproduction is not an ideal and cold mechanics of the relations of production, setting in motion its own ideal materials. The relations of class and gender as relations of production are not immediately given. They exist in a complexity that can be conceptually understood as a dynamic deployment of the categories of exploitation (relation of surplus to necessary labor) on all the facets of existence, which the capitalist mode of production sets in motion, by its total character. Thus of course, the population is produced and exists in the relations of production as such, but by this very fact, in the everyday existence constituted by the (re)production of the relationship of exploitation as a whole – as a condition for the existence of these strict production relations (through ideologies, thoughts, affectivity, sociability, leisure, health, relation to housing, food, symptoms, institutional enrolment, gender identifications on social security cards, etc.).
Making these apparently disparate or heterogeneous elements stick together is not the business of a Macron or even a powerful lobby, nor is it the result of chance or devoid of intentions, ambitions and decisions. Structures that always dominate individuals or groups of individuals and their actions, thoughts, ideologies, etc. are themselves the expression of these class and gender relations which they produce and reproduce, while themselves being reproduced by them.
Let us start from a simple, even simplistic idea
No state, no bourgeoisie will fuck up its already hardly bright economy in order to reinforce the “control” and “enslavement” of the population or to favor laboratories and other Big Tech. At most it can be an opportunity, but one to be handled with extreme care by the dominant class in order to avoid adverse effects on work, production in general, the reproduction of labor-power, circulation, consumption and, in a global manner, the everyday social life which feeds the mode of production.
A slightly more elaborate level, relating to the mechanics of conspiracist discourse
- Never accuse the institution, power, or the general target of “conspiracy.” Never use the term.
- Position yourself as an enlightened vanguard.
- Rely on science and reason (proliferation of footnotes, obscure academic references, hyperlinks, graphs, maps, etc.).
- Always ask the question: “who benefits from the crime?” Designate for every event a leader, an organization (if possible a cabal) and a single cause. Thus it could be said that since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 partly derives from the conditions of WWI, the Serbian nationalist who assassinated the Archduke of Austria in Sarajevo was an agent of Lenin.
- Accumulate “troubling details” by connecting them.
- Refuse chance, seeing only necessary correlations (“Do you know that…?”; “It is not a coincidence that…”).
- Rely on history and find all kinds of similar events as disparate, but “resembling” each other.
- Consider that the enemy (occult organizations, secret services, Goldman Sachs, etc.) never makes mistakes. Everything that happens is deliberate and cannot have been avoided.
- Consider the opposite, that the enemy makes beginner’s mistakes (here we return to “troubling details”).
- Refuse the contradiction by automatically disqualifying it insofar as it can only come from sources with interests linked to the orchestrating ruler or rulers.
- Construct the world as an “expressive totality” (the totality is present in all of its elements and parts). But unfortunately, not everyone is Leibniz and so we must settle for a few unreasonable correlations.
- The expressive totality is expressed in a “chaos theory” (the fluttering wings of an Australian butterfly and a hurricane in Jamaica), but without entropy since everything is resolved in the realization of a single, well-conceived goal.
We conclude here: the system is closed, unfalsifiable and teleological.
Let’s get down to the facts
More specifically, in the context of the current pandemic, the anger animated by conspiracism includes several phases:
- Anger against certain health measures taken by governments and seen as a destruction of freedom. These measures are: the wearing of masks – especially for children, the closure of “non-essential” businesses with the weak criticism of an essential/non-essential division, travel restrictions, police surveillance through registrations, the established governmental enforcement of Stop Covid and other versions, the sidelining of researchers that question government strategies against the epidemic, the setting up of a Defense Council and a state of emergency to avoid the Assembly, curfews, the prospect of compulsory vaccinations in the name of freedom while criticizing the refusal to allow medical authorities to systematically deliver hydroxychloroquine and other antibiotic treatments sometimes used, particularly in the United States.
- This anger creates connections within a whole range of diverse and varied sources of information, intellectuals and researchers whose common perspective is to give a dissonant but vengeful point of view towards mainstream intellectuals.
- The explanation of a deliberate will of the government to enslave people through so-called measures that destroy freedom and to make them servile through fear coalesces all the disparate elements. Fear is generally becoming the most mocked and humiliating emotion for those unafraid of Covid.
- The conclusion is that the government and lobbyists form an over-powerful clique that succeeds in leading fear-stricken populations into a boat with a virus that hardly exists, in manipulating the figures, in bringing the economy to a halt with the simple aim of enslaving populations ready to fatten up the pharmaceutical industry.
- This attachment to and promotion of these individual liberties,
- this reflex to assert the legitimacy of a point of view by referring to a world of intellectuals more or less in place but always concealed with titles one as prestigious as the next,
- this emphasis on the enslavement of all, the fear which holds them, and from which this enlightened avant-garde manages to escape to valiantly carry forward free and unmasked speech against all dangers,
- and finally, this vision of the population as mere paté for the consumption of some kind of industrial, media and pharmaceutical lobby.
All these elements violently indicate the extent to which this thought can only come from a category of the population whose existence depends entirely on its capacity to produce and reproduce a part of capitalist ideology by taking it at face value; that is to say, a version that conforms to and doesn’t contradict its own existence, which refers to the place occupied in the relations of production.
The experience of this category according to its social inscription is:
- A non-contradictory relationship with the individual liberty enjoyed. Their inscription in the community of capital as a capitalist society is such that their existence as isolated individuals is not contradictory with their dependence on this community. This is because such dependence is not a violent constraint but exists spontaneously, as a stakeholder in total solidarity with its institutions. It is the isolated individual of liberty and choice we have here, not the isolated individual whose freedom to choose takes an immediate turn for the worse in its wandering and unaffiliated precariousness.
- A normative vision of society as having to promote the free development of the individual, through the freedom of education, freedom of health, freedom of food and artistic freedom with, at worst, minimal state intervention whose terrain allows them to reproduce themselves as isolated individuals in accordance with capitalist ideology. Indeed it is the capitalist ideal the reproduction of workers is a private responsibility. Yet for both the proletariat and the upper classes, this private responsibility is certainly impossible, although for the latter it allows, at the level of lived experience, the illusion of free will. It is thanks to this assurance and this homogeneity of reproduction without remainder that conspiracist discourse can denounce state intervention as a totalitarian and deceitful system.
This free development of the individual in society faces class belonging as an internalized constraint, the unfree basis of which is the contractual buying and selling of free labor-power. Thus the blackmail of withdrawing one’s children from school, or of opposing health policies, exists only for people whose social affiliation is not only guaranteed in practice but also in full adherence to the ideology of the capitalist social contract and in its function for cementing the reproduction of capitalist social relations. Some can afford to threaten to withdraw their children from school when others know that the republican school puts people out, offering less and less protection due to a lack of means, a lack of control over “school mapping” and/or through the transition from integration policies to those fighting against “radicalization” and “separatism.”
This vision of populations as dumbfounded masses of consumers captive to lobbyists articulates the extent to which those who convey it are at the same time ideologically dominant, productively useless, and thus idiotic to the point of being blind to the fact that it is productive labor that is at the foundation of the world they emptily celebrate through their denunciations.
One has to have a certain relationship to existence to claim that fear is an impediment, as if it were a choice. Everything about the constraints of class belonging must be ignored to see it as merely a question of ideological manipulation. Finally, to think that fear prevents one from thinking, one must be able to live a padded existence where indignation tries to pass itself off as social struggle.
The external raison d’être of conspiracist ideology
Society is broken down into a sum of discrete, separate and independent elements: work, education, health, employment, consumption, leisure, intimacy, family, loving relationships, etc., as they are presently. It must then be considered that these elements and functions as they are currently would not organize themselves as they should because of the activity, practices, intentions, manipulation, advertising and malevolent interests of number of certain individuals forming a caste of banks, big owners, the media, pharmaceutical laboratories, and governments, not as a state, but as an organized gang. In a word: the elites. The order emanating spontaneously from these elements is a corrupted version of the necessary order.
Conspiracism operates on a fairly banal conception of the state, the foundation of legal and democratic ideology but which is our everyday reality. On the one hand, there is the power of the state; on the other, the apparatus of the state, or the “state machinery” as Marx called it. The problem lies in the fact that in the state apparatus, which materializes its organs, their division, their organization, and their hierarchy, the state power of only one class is at the same time the organization of the dominant class (as state power held by the momentarily hegemonic fraction of the dominant class on behalf of the whole of this class) and the organization of the whole society under the domination of this class. But if, on the one hand, the state of the capitalist mode of production completely realizes the fusion of these two functions, it, on the other hand, becomes the “natural” necessity of all social reproduction. While it is their very division and their fundamental separation (real and ideological) from the relations of production which necessarily make the organs of a state apparatus a class apparatus (cf. Marx, The Civil War in France), all the organs of the state apparatus (army, police, administration, courts, parliament, bureaucracy, education, welfare, information, parties, trade unions, etc.) now appear only as instruments subject to the will of those who control them. Born from this double function of the state apparatus (not two functions but a single double function) – as a dictatorship of a class and the reproduction of the whole society – are both their fusion and the neutrality of the organs. For the conspiracist, responding to the spontaneous thinking, these organs, in their very existence and form, are both neutral of a class dictatorship and not. Consequently, if these organs don’t function “as they should”, as a “public service” or as a “common good”, it is because they are pre-empted, hijacked and perverted by a clique or caste. The conspiracist is the ideal citizen.
Based on this “naturalized” conception of the state, conspiracy is not the “psychopathology of a few led astray”, but the “necessary symptom of political dispossession” and the “forfeiture of public debate.” It is the response to the “monopolization of legitimate speech” by “representatives” assisted by “experts” – any criticism becomes an aberration immediately disqualified as “conspiracy”. It is true that conspiracism has become the new index of the imbecile. This is because it is the new cliché of journalistic stupidity and of many philosophers and sociologists who still attach themselves to a President of the Republic that maintains the Gilets Jaunes to be the result of a Moscow maneuver (Le Point, February 2019). Lordon, who regularly returns to the subject in Le Monde diplomatique, sums it up: “But even more than dispossession, conspiracy, who for the elites is the symptom of an irremediable minority, could be the paradoxical sign that the people, in fact, have acquired a majority since they have had enough deferential listening to the authorities and are beginning to imagine the world without them.” (Diplo, June 2015).
Conspiracism would here not be a system of responses with its own social determinations but a simple and negatively justified reaction. Yet this is not enough. The nature of a positive “reaction” must be understood as a system of adequate responses to that which provokes it.
Conspiracism appears then as a contestation of the dominant order, almost like a class struggle. But this is not the case. Just as anti-Semitism was the socialism of fools, conspiracism is the class struggle of experts who are not situated anywhere in particular, not in society, nor along a politico-ideological spectrum.
The “conspiracist response” wants exactly the same world, the same state, but rid of the “caste”: it “imagines the world without it.” It is only a question of preserving all of the elements of this society by extracting them from the practices of these “malicious” and “manipulative” individuals who pervert and corrupt them; real wages, real education, real healthcare, real democracy, real information, real agriculture, real consumption, real economy, a real state.
Conspiracism criticizes everything, desiring that what exists should become “true”. But by conceiving its object as a “dark side” and demonic hijacking, this criticism turns it into a simple accident of the same world. In doing so, it affirms only that it wants the world to continue as it is. The whole of what exists could be so beautiful were it not manipulated and misappropriated. The dominant class, its reproduction, its practices, the pursuit of its interests, ideological production – all are no longer the natural product of all the social relations that the conspiracist wants to preserve. Instead we find the intrigues of a gang of thugs trying to take us for fools. The conspiracist is clever, an expert in everything. It is remarkable to note (there have been a few studies on the subject) that conspiracism affects first and foremost a middle class holding degrees, one that boasts about its “critical spirit” and wears it everywhere on its sleeve. For those who on a daily basis experience all the humiliation and misery of capitalist social relations, the “conspiracy” to enslave our freedom makes little sense. Having to love this world, we don’t want it to lie to us.
To what generality does conspiracism relate
The above is a brief analysis of conspiracist discourse as a critical system coming from one side of the dominant categories of the population, considering itself neglected, on state management and more broadly on the surrounding world. Once that is accomplished, it must be recognized that many themes and characteristics of conspiracist discourse are mobilized in more or less scattered ways well beyond these dominant categories. The question is therefore also that of knowing what status this unsystematized criticism acquires when it is carried forward by a significant fringe of the proletarian classes. Where does this desire to “rescue” the capitalist state come from, and is it of the same order as described above? But this question, in order to be correctly posed, must also include these themes taken in isolation as having a different meaning from that which the system of conspiracism gives them, and which ultimately makes the conspiracist the ideal citizen, as the defender of the democratic state and the free laborer.
We will not provide an answer but only a few clues, some of which are already scattered throughout these notes.
There are bricks in conspiracism that are reminiscent of radical democratism: the community of citizens in the state as a concrete and participatory form of their community of isolated individuals. But the situation has changed since the 1990s and early 2000s.
In the capitalism resulting from the restructuring of the 1970s/1980s, the reproduction of labor-power was the object of a double disconnection. On the one hand, there is a disconnection between the valorization of capital and the reproduction of labor-power, and on the other, a disconnection between consumption and wages as income. The rupture of a necessary relation between capital valorization and the reproduction of labor-power breaks apart areas of reproduction that are coherent in their national or even regional delimitation. It is a question of separating, on the one hand, the reproduction and circulation of capital and, on the other, the reproduction and circulation of labor-power.
As the identity of a crisis of over-accumulation and under-consumption, the crisis of 2008 was a crisis of the wage relation which became a crisis of the wage society by setting in motion all the strata and classes of society that live on wages. Everywhere, with the wage society, it was a question of politics and distribution. As the price of labor (fetish form), the wage understandably appeals to the injustice of distribution. The injustice of distribution has an author who has “failed in their mission”: the state. The issue at stake here is the legitimacy of the state vis-à-vis its society. The proletariat participates in all of this, in its own structuring as the class that takes it on board.
In the crisis of the wage society, struggles around distribution point to the state as responsible for injustice. This state is the de-nationalized state, traversed by and as an agent of globalization. In contrast to “de-nationalization”, Keynesian policies were part of a “nationalized integration”: combination of the national economy, national consumption, training and education of a national workforce and a mastery of money and credit. In the “Fordist period”, the state had also become “the key to well-being”, and it was this citizenship that was pushed aside in the restructuring of the 1970s and 1980s. If citizenship is an abstraction, it refers to very concrete content: full employment, nuclear family, order-proximity-security, heterosexuality, work, nation. It is around these themes that class conflicts and the de-legitimation of all official discourse are ideologically reconstructed in the crisis of the wage society. Citizenship then becomes the ideology under which class struggle is conducted. There is a clear link between the success of conspiracy theories and many other expressions, for example the Gilets Jaunes. In addition to similarities of form in the discourses, we find a questioning of the incompetence of the state, the criticism of globalization, the de-nationalized state.
At first glance, this de-legitimation and citizen ideology (for the conspiracist is the archetype of the good citizen) is critical, but only to the extent that it is a language of demands in the mirror held up to it by the logic of distribution and the necessity of the state. Practices that operate under this ideology are effective because they provide individuals with a plausible image and a credible explanation of who they are and what they experience; they are constitutive of the reality of their everyday lives. The ideological reconstruction of class conflict becomes the people against the elite who monopolize legitimate speech (which has always been the case), but a speech that no longer makes any sense. The conflict turns into a cultural conflict fought in the name of values: trickery and lies against authenticity and truth (that which is hidden from us, as ironically Dutronc used to sing and Arkana stupidly still does).
What is played out in conspiracism, in a totally perverse manner as “conflict”, is the relationship of the state – of all its ideological apparatuses, of the ruling class as a whole – to its society. In the crisis of states and all their apparatuses vis-à-vis their society, the social discredit, into which this relationship has fallen, confers a generality to denunciations of a conspircist type. In a totally perverse manner, the very functioning of conspiracism presupposes a desire to keep this society as it is (insofar as the dominant class only amounts to a parasitic elite maintaining itself through lies and not as the very necessity of this society and all of its relations).
It is not a “conspiracy”, even if the action is concerted and concealed, for major Wall Street firms to go to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to acquire a change in a law or benefit of any kind. That the general economic representatives of the American (and world) capitalist class address the general representatives of legality of the same class is not a “conspiracy”. It is the state. Or we imagine that the state is or should be “something else.” In place of capitalist social relations (which we want to preserve), there is here only a small number of cynical men who base their domination and exploitation of the “people” on a distorted representation of the world they have imagined so as to enslave minds. Conspiracism needs this simplistic conception of ideology, the mode of production and the state in order to be what it is: the apologia and preservation of current living conditions. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as an everyday practice, ideology becomes something else: the practice of subjects who, as such, are able to imagine themselves as deceived (which goes without saying for a subject); the mode of production becomes something other than the search for “maximum dough”; the state, through its apparatuses, something other than a “clique”.
Conspiracism is a comprehensive approach to society. To answer the question of the generality of some its characteristics, the aforementioned developments provide some indications, clues and elements of understanding that seek only to pose the question “correctly,” without yet managing to formalize an answer.
Let us conclude (for the moment)
The maneuvers, the intrigues, the bent shots of three-cushion billiards – all exist but do not explain anything. They themselves need to be explained as interrelated historical events. Historically, conspiracism doesn’t like longue durée. Davos is a decisive area for globalization; but it was globalization that made Davos and not the other way around. If, contrary to what Marx and Engels tell us in the first pages of The German Ideology, the “world” is not an “open book,” its comprehension requires the production of concepts, and not because it conceals a corporation, a caste of orchestrating rulers and an Illuminati.
Tarona – R.S.
 As an anecdote to these considerations on population, during the 2020 All Saints’ Day holiday, two significant events – the second lockdown and murder of Samuel Paty – brought into play two types of fundamental agents of parenthood in this reproduction of the categories of the population: 1.) those indignant against the will to enslave and dehumanize their offspring through the wearing of masks at school from the age of 6, threatening to pull their children out of school; 2.) others whose priority was to desperately defend the conformity of their offspring with the republican school through an urgent need to make their children – say from an immigrant background – understand the ban on speaking, reacting and referring to the murder of the teacher at the beginning of the school year, at the risk of expulsion and institutional and financial penalties for the families concerned.
 In this, it differs from the feudal state or “Ancien régime.”