Scapegoating is always so helpful in politics, is it not? It’s so cost-effective, and saves so much trouble. Rather than admit to your audience that there are no easy solutions to the problems facing your people, and that things are a lot more complicated than was previously thought, all you need to do is affect some fake moral outrage and point the finger at [insert identifiable target here]. The practice has been used as long as politics has existed, of course, by all kinds of rulers. The alarming thing about scapegoating in today’s political environment is that there has arguably never been a more perfect breeding ground for such poisonous ideas. Think about it: we live in a world where there are more and more media of communications, mostly online, and where a plethora of news sources (some reliable, some not so much) are competing for attention, and where increasing numbers of us are turning away from the “MSM”. Officially the initials stand for Mainstream Media, but to all intents and purposes (judging by the way in which they are used) they mean facts and evidence that don’t support my beliefs and values. As a result, certain rulers can lie compulsively about virtually anything, and get away it.
Perhaps the most insidious form of scapegoating is one that involves identifiable individuals: Are you worried about the state of your lot? It’s because of him, that devious, conniving type over there, who’s always involved whenever there’s a crisis or a hideous mess somewhere. The filthy, vicious puppeteer and manipulator. Fear not: just stick with us and our movement, don’t ask too many questions, and we’ll put him in his place.
For his part, if the Hungarian-American billionaire businessman George Soros (who turns 90 today) is at all worried about being the target of innumerable conspiracy theories, most of them emanating from the Mad Right, he isn’t showing it much:
I am proud of the enemies I have… My work and the work of my foundations consists of promoting and reinforcing open societies, so this tells me that we are doing something right… The downside is that we have just a little too many enemies right now.
There may well, of course, be some wet-behind-the-ears political scientists who will scratch their heads in bewilderment, wondering what it is about this left-leaning, socially conscientious, Democratic Party-supporting Jewish businessman and Holocaust survivor that so enrages the world’s looniest political commentators. If you were to believe the nuttiest conspiracy theories about Soros, you would honestly take it as read that he was actually a member of the Nazi family, that he owns Antifa, and that he orchestrated the Black Lives Matter protests, the Central American refugee caravan migration, and the Catalan independence movement. He has been accused of paying people to be anarchists, of plotting to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants, and of spreading COVID-19. He has even been blamed for an attempt on his own life in October 2018.
It seldom seems to occur to the people promoting this kind of nonsense that if Soros had been such a powerful Blofeld-like mastermind behind such a range of events, then he wouldn’t have much time for anything else – like make money, of which he would in any case quickly run out, if his global reach really were so vast as the conspiracy theorists claim. Moreover, as the Canadian newspaper The Province recently put it…
[T]here is a difference between “George Soros pays for and orchestrates protests” and “George Soros’s philanthropic foundation supports groups that employ people who are part of protests.” There are, surely, people around the world who show up at protests and who work for organizations that receive grants from Open Society, but they are not being paid to protest. To say they are attributes too much agency to Soros, playing on an anti-Semitic trope of Jewish people pulling society’s strings, and strips demonstrators who are taking to the streets with legitimate grievances – like corruption and police brutality – of theirs.
George Soros is surely the Emmanuel Goldstein of our times. In George Orwell’s iconic final novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party have total control over the superstate of Oceania, with an all-embracing totalitarian regime that puts most of the thinking population under complete surveillance, and successfully censors all news and books, particularly history books, and keeps the population permanently hungry with strict rationing. Despite the government’s all-powerful nature, it nonetheless is at pains to stress to the people that the Jewish intellectual Goldstein, supposedly the head of an underground resistance movement called the Brotherhood, is forever plotting to overthrow the state and undermine the people’s way of life. All Outer Party members are daily expected to attend the Two Minutes Hate, in which they are encouraged to scream abuse at the Enemy or Enemies of the State of the day:
The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even – so it was occasionally rumoured – in some hiding-place in Oceania itself…
Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party… He was abusing Big Brother, he was denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed…
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s generally believed that Orwell was modeling Goldstein on Leon Trotsky, the intellectual and favourite of Lenin who was ultimately outmanoeuvred and later exiled by Stalin in 1927. Over the next thirteen years Trotsky would be the target of a sustained, vicious propaganda campaign, in which everything that went wrong in the Soviet Union’s supposed “workers’ paradise” was blamed on him. One fan of Stalin decided to act on the propaganda himself by driving an ice-pick into Trotsky’s head in his Mexican exile.
Naturally, many of Soros’s critics are at pains to deny that they are in any way anti-semitic, and point to things like how he makes money supposedly to undermine entire national economies. Witness, for example, his making over $1bn in shorting the pound during the European Exchange Rate Mechanism crash on Black Wednesday in September 1992. Well, yes. He was a currency speculator. It’s the kind of thing currency speculators do (take, for example, the run on sterling that ultimately forced Britain off the Gold Standard in 1931). It was certainly the kind of thing other currency speculators have done to other economies around the world down the generations, although curiously few of those business figures have ever been named and vilified for any of their extra-curricular work.
But what exactly has Soros been doing with his billions? He is the chairman of a grant-making civic organization called the Open Society Foundations (established 1993), which provides funding for various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world. In the Foundations’ own words, they are ‘working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights.’ The group’s activities include work to help refugees, educational projects, and supporting pro-democracy movements in various parts of the world. OSF’s work has roused the ire not just of Viktor Orban, the increasingly dictatorial prime minister of Soros’s native Hungary, but also of the governments of Russia, China, Pakistan and Turkey. With critics like that, Soros and his organization surely must be doing something right. Soros was a keen supporter of democratic reform in the Eastern European revolutions of 1989-91. Indeed, Orban, for all his hysterical rhetoric about Soros in Hungary’s 2018 elections, tends not to mention how he has in the past accepted money from the same businessman.
Perhaps the main reason why Soros is so despised by a number of figures on the right in the Western world and beyond is because he – well – he doesn’t behave like you would expect a successful billionaire businessman to behave. Rather than greedily hanging on to his money in a sun-kissed Californian mansion accessible only by helicopter, he believes in spending his wealth on progressive causes. LBC presenter James O’Brien, commenting on the attempt on Soros’s life nearly two years ago, reckoned that Soros was being targeted principally for upsetting the applecart in terms of the billionaire image archetype:
Politically, the argument always has to be ‘if you want a healthy economy you have to give more tax cuts to billionaires and you have to stop making them pay for poor people, and you have to give them more freedom and de-regulate workplaces’, and then they inject huge amounts of money into shady organizations that masquerade as think-tanks. People during Brexit were alleged as deliberately trying to manipulate the results in order to make a killing on a shorted pound – whereas Soros has done everything wide out in the open, and he has done it much, much better than them (worth about £8 billion), and he spends his money on trying to help people less fortunate than he is, and he’s a turbo-charged Democrat. That’s why they hate him, and the Jewishness, of course, then just becomes a very, very useful tool with which to attack him.
In Orwell’s novel the reader has to decide for him- or herself whether the ultimate scapegoat Emmanuel Goldstein actually truly exists – indeed, Winston Smith’s torturer O’Brien seems to hint that Goldstein and the Brotherhood are just useful fabrications to focus popular anger away from the government. Classic scapegoating, of course. Trotsky, though, was real. George Soros is real, and the threats to his life are also real. The least he deserves on his 90th birthday is to be able to live his life and continue his work in peace and safety, and for the poisonous bile circulating about him on the Web to be exposed for what it is – a cynical diversion away from the real causes of our world’s problems today, being used by rulers with insidious scapegoat-flavoured agendas of their own.
Based in Birmingham, Dan is a writer and actor