Letter to the Editors: How Do We Deal with Conspiracy Theories?

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Dear Tribune of the People Editorial Board,

I have often struggled with other working-class people around conspiracy theories. In the wake of the large public health crisis going on in the US, I have often heard of conspiracy theories like the idea that “COVID-19 was made in a Chinese lab,” or that “the government is putting chips in COVID-19 vaccines in order to monitor us,” or that “COVID-19 is a lie, and it is really just the flu.”  The list goes on. There are certainly kernels of truths in that the government does have a vested interest in surveilling the masses in order to reduce and eliminate class struggle. There is certainly a truth that US imperialism has historically and is actively using diseases and drugs as biological weapons in the third world and in the US to enact genocide against the people. But often these conspiracy theories are limited in analysis. How do I struggle against these ideas in a way that doesn’t shame and berate the masses like revisionists do, but also does not uncritically accept false and pseudoscientific ideas?


Greetings,

Over the past several years, conspiracy theories have flourished, in no small part due to their prevalence online, especially on social media. While these conspiracy theories don’t affect our class alone, their effect can be detrimental in the short term to unity and class consciousness.

In these cases, it is always important to divide one into two—to separate the positive from the negative and the truth from lies. As you pointed out in your letter, some members of the working class are particularly susceptible to these incorrect ideas, but they also include kernels of truth. Among these are the fact that those in power are actively working against the interests of the people, the working class specifically, as well as the fact that the monopoly media is owned by and in service to the ruling class. These things are absolutely true, but the problem arises when faulty reasoning, whether intentional or not, points away from the root cause.

There are workers and other friends of the people who are enticed into the realm of conspiracy theories, but who are still willing to struggle for their daily demands—whether it’s for better wages and better work conditions, to improve their housing conditions, against the violence of the police, etc. This is where our efforts should be focused, not seeking to struggle over their incorrect ideas right out of the gate. Only by winning trust through fighting alongside the people will you find anyone willing to hear you out when you explain that they have an incorrect understanding of the source of oppression and misery in the world—that it is not from shadowy supernatural forces, but in the very real exploitation and oppression of capitalist society inherent to its economic and social relations.

Mao emphasizes that 90% of the people are good, and established the mass line which teaches us how to unite the people in the interest of revolution, especially when their ideas are influenced by bourgeois ideology. The mass line teaches that we can divide the people into three groups: the advanced, the intermediate, and the backward. The advanced may suffer from some backward ideas, but they generally understand that it is the capitalists of the ruling class that cause their problems and these same imperialists who dominate the globe and create misery and poverty for the majority of the world’s people. The intermediate have mixed views—for example they may dislike the police but believe that the right politician can reform them, or they may even be influenced by these conspiracy theories. The backward make up the rest of the people—they display reactionary tendencies, however some can eventually be won over while the others are fully committed to reaction. The mass line is a powerful tool because it takes the struggles and the ideas of the advanced, consolidates them, and turns them into revolutionaries—in turn, they can win over the intermediate and those backward people who can be reached while isolating the deeply committed reactionaries.

Conspiracy theories are insidious because they take people’s natural inclinations and responses to the misery that capitalist society creates and misdirects them away from their true source. They traffic in the genuine concerns of the masses and use everything other than capitalism and imperialism as a scapegoat for their ills, thereby obscuring the very real machinations of the ruling class and the role of exploitation and the accumulation of capital, and the basic laws of capitalism, in these problems.

Aside from tricking the people into blaming anything and everything besides the people and forces responsible for their problems, conspiracy theories also act as a useful cover for the ruling class. By pointing to ludicrous theories about microchips, planned pandemics, aliens, secret satanic cabals, etc., they are more easily able to discredit legitimate distrust of the monopoly media and political dissidence. Dispelling these myths has the intended effect of bolstering support for and trust in the US state as honest officials without any nefarious interests.

One of the major weaknesses of these conspiracy theories is that they are not based in any sort of objective scientific fact or even a consistent philosophy. They are inherently eclectic and rely on a myriad of logical fallacies and psychological biases and ignorance to give the appearance of truth and garner support.

Many of the health-related conspiracy theories, whether they be around the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations, or genetically modified organisms in the form of food, rely heavily on pseudoscience. These are largely promoted by snake oil salesmen who often have ‘alternative’ health products to hawk or are selling a certain type of ‘lifestyle’ generally. There are also those who point to these things as forms of government mind control or the physical weakening of the people generally.

The latter camp of conspiracy theorists tends to be extremely eclectic and are likely to accept a wide range of conflicting ideas as a way of casting the largest net possible and building a support base for themselves as social media personalities, their online blogs, radio shows, etc. These people are constantly looking for the newest trend and can rapidly cycle from JFK assassination theories to chemtrails, and false flag mass shootings to the QAnon phenomenon, and, most recently, COVID-19. The most notable personality of this type is Alex Jones of InfoWars, and at the end of the day it is all about building a personal brand to eventually profit from.

To be clear, psychological operations are carried out by the state, their intelligence agencies, and the military—there are very real conspiracies in organized crime, corporations, and, yes, the US government, but due to their secrecy, they are difficult to uncover. However, an analysis of the fundamental laws of capitalism and imperialism can open a window into the actions of the ruling class and gives us a basis for understanding their motivations, because while some aspects are hidden, many others are in plain sight—we can clearly see how the ruling class exploits workers’ labor, how the imperialists dominate the oppressed nations in order to reap superprofits, how the large corporate interests own the politicians, and the role of military and police in repressing the people and keeping the current system intact.

Only by applying Marxism, uniting with the working class, and taking up class struggle can we truly hope to overcome the fog of ideas that the ruling class peddles to try to derail us from organizing our forces for revolution. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism gives us the tools we need to navigate this struggle. It is scientific and it is a doctrine for the liberation of the proletariat. Maoism’s three component parts of the philosophy of dialectical materialism, political economy, and scientific socialism together form an analysis of the laws that govern society and the natural world based on objective reality, not conjecture or confirming our preconceived notions and beliefs.

This is exactly why we need to put forward a real Marxist analysis of the world and the news to speak to the working class to counter the ways they are tempted by conspiracy theories—rejecting the monopoly media, which only serves to reinforce this system, and calling for revolutionary change. This is why it is necessary to have a revolutionary newspaper, one that is an alternative to ruling-class news, and that is why it is so important to put this news directly in the hands of the working class through agitation, distribution in the streets and at workplaces, and at the mass uprisings against the reactionary imperialist state.

But presenting ideas alone is not enough—we must apply these ideas in the furnace of class struggle, which is the only means to burn away the illusions that are thrust on to the people, and gain their trust when they see that those who feed them the lies are hiding behind their screens and microphones, while the Marxists are on the streets, shoulder-to-shoulder, fighting with the people.

  • Tribune of the People Editorial Board

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