It’s been a while since I posted the Public Professor columns from the Lethbridge Herald. They even stopped putting them online, too (Grrr).
Anyway, here is the latest by yours truly from last Saturday.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: the old lie.
One of the most insidious documents produced in the 20th century was the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a cornerstone in the anti-Semitic library. It purports to contain the speeches of a Jewish leader of a conspiracy controlling the world’s banks, industry, governments, and press. The book is a plagiarized forgery, but this has not stopped it enjoying a huge audience willing to believe its patent untruths.
In the brief book, the leader of a Jewish conspiracy recounts the twenty four “protocols” or facets of a global conspiracy that stretched back over centuries. He claims the conspiracy invented the features of the late 19th century European world that brought so much promise and misery. Free speech sowed dissent. Communism and capitalism were both part of the plot. The theory of evolution, alcoholism and pornography were tools to distract and disrupt. Political upheaval ensured that the Elders’ enemies were divided and conquered. Education and the press were controlled; memory and history selectively erased and manipulated.
The book reformulates earlier fears that the rapidly modernizing and changing world was actually run by a secret organization; sometimes imagined to be an alliance of occultists and Free Masons, although Jews were also sometimes implicated. In the 19th century, the role Jews played in these fantasies increased to the point where the Masons were seen to be but pawns in their hands.
In the mid 1800s, the French author Eugene Sue wrote a novel called The Mysteries of the People in which Jesuit monks plotted against the world. This story was adapted by Maurice Joly in 1864 in a political pamphlet called “Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu” that mocked the ambitions of French ruler Napoleon III. Neither writer mentions Jews. Protocols also bears the influence of a chapter in the anti-Semitic writer Hermann Goedsche’s novel, Biarritz.
With calls for drastic reform and social upheaval sweeping Czarist Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, Joly’s pamphlet was rewritten to deflect bitterness onto Russia’s Jews, who were already badly mistrusted and mistreated. Thus, Protocols was born. Instrumental in this was Sergei Nilus, who had connections at the Russian court. He produced his own version of the Protocols as a chapter in a book he published in 1905, and it was this version that spread around the world in a myriad of translations and editions. Its plagiarized origins were exposed in the early 1920s, but that hardly slowed its sales.
Among its avid readers was Adolph Hitler who praised it in his own book of 1925/26, Mein Kampf. Henry Ford serialized it in his anti-Semitic newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Also influenced by the book was Major C. H. Douglas, whose Social Credit financial policies were meant to counter the influence of a perceived international financial conspiracy. Through Social Credit, the notorious forgery has strong Canadian and Alberta connections.
In the 1940s, Social Credit MP for Wetaskiwin, Norman Jaques, tried reading the Protocols in the House of Commons. Lethbridge MP John Horne Blackmore (MP 1935-58) was considered by many as subscribing to belief in a Jewish world conspiracy, although he denied any feelings of anti-Semitism. The Quebec Social Credit Party newspaper actually printed the Protocols. Alberta’s Social Credit government in the 1930s and ‘40s were often accused of anti-Semitism. While Premiers Aberhart and Manning made no accusations against Jews, the provincial party’s newspaper often did not. When Manning finally suppressed the anti-Semitic voices in the Alberta party after WW II, he was accused by some of selling out the party’s principles to Zionism.
A good book about this infamous forgery is A Rumor about the Jews by Stephen Eric Bronner (St. Martin’s Press, 2000).
This site has a number of resources on the Protocols.