The Protocols Stripped Bare by its Historians Even

"Pointing at the mulberry to revile the ash."[1]

Norman Cohn wrote that Nilus, the publisher of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, had "paved the way for the greatest massacre in world history."[2] Thus the elucidation of this book's procedures and goals, just like the identification of the authors of and the propagandists for this murderous fable, is not without interest, and sometimes possesses a burning topicality, because this "world-wide fake"[3] continues to be widely distributed in many parts of the world.

Pierre-Andre Taguieff has recently published an article entitled "Who fabricated the most celebrated of the anti-Jewish texts?"[4] In it, he expounds upon a "new hypothesis" about the origins of the Protocols that was recently advanced by the historian Cesare De Michelis and supported by his colleague Michael Hagemeister. According to them, it was at the cost of "certain improbabilities in the historical reconstruction" that Rollin and Cohn "happened to explain the origin of the fake in a political-police conspiracy at the heart of the imperial court and to orient the historiography of the Protocols towards the customs of properly conspiratorial [sic] thinking, privileging intrigues and the imputation of secret aims to the actors." The Czar's political police "had nothing to do with the fabrication of the fake." Instead, it is fitting to attribute the Protocols to "anti-Semitic and reactionary writers" who had "the purpose of discrediting the Zionist movement, which was beginning to take on importance." Fabrication by the police, which one believed to have been well established, is thus reduced by Taguieff to the rank of "hypothesis." The partisans of this "new hypothesis" have, moreover, responded to all possible objections. What about the French manuscript of the Protocols?[5] It has never been found. Thus, it never existed. What about the references in it to then-current political and economic events? A deception intended to lead the reader astray along a fake trail, the Parisian trail. What about the testimony of Princess Radziwill and the Count of Chayla? Disinformation, pure and simple. Only evil spirits will note that such suppositions are reminiscent of "the customs of properly conspiratorial thinking, privileging intrigues and the imputation of secret aims to the actors," which Taguieff believes he detects in Rollin and Cohn.

Taguieff's surprising article is intriguing as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does say. To appreciate the exact value of his remarks, one must address oneself to what he wrote about the origins of the fake [mystification] in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Fakes and Uses of a Fake.[6] In it, one can still read affirmations of a slightly different tone and, in any case, less circumspect: "It is important to mention that the question of the identity of the publisher of the Protocols has received a response that, based upon the discovery of new archives in Russia, appears to be unquestionable: the Russian historian Mikhail Lepekhin -- after having discovered and analyzed a body of documents assembled by an agent of the Okhrana in Paris, Henri Bint (a close collaborator with Ratchkovski) -- has established that the author of the fake was none other than Matthieu Golovinski, who had already been identified as such by then-contemporary testimonies." Errors in the dates by Henriette Hurblut and Catherine Radziwill, whom Hagemeister believes are a mythomaniac and a forger,[7] can be easily explained: "these two witnesses have grosso modo confused the date of the fake's fabrication with that of its publication by Serge A. Nilus." As for the goals of the fake, Taguieff quotes Bourtsev, who is decribed as "an expert on the Russian police and secret services": "The goal is clear: to attribute the worst possible crimes to the Jews, and to justify, in this fashion, pogroms against the Jews." Taguieff adds: "throughout this fake, a strategy of diversion is especially put to work; it consists in imputing all of Russia's problems to an ethnically defined band of conspirators."

How did the identity of the forger, just "established" yesterday by Lepekhin, suddenly become a simple "hypothesis"? Taguieff evades this interesting question. Furthermore, we observe that the Russian historian isn't mentioned a single time in the article he published in Marianne. He only speaks, in vague (embarrassed?) terms, of "recent Russian works" made by some researcher. Hagemeister -- a "recognized expert in the celebrated fake," according to Taguieff -- is more articulate on the subject of his Russian colleague: "As Lepekhin's sensational discovery of the Protocols' author showed, in this realm of 'faction,'[8] no one asks for evidence -- there is none. It can also make careers; the previously unknown Lepekhin became a 'leading Russian historian' overnight."[9] In short, Lepekhin -- the former curator of the archives at the Institute for Russian Literature, a researcher into the history of the printed matter at the library of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, and the publishing director of the Russian Biographical Dictionary in 33 volumes[10] -- is in reality merely the author (avid for publicity) of a scoop, if not a fake ("no one asks for proof: there isn't any"). Although it is formulated in disguised terms, this accusation has gone far. What then is really in the archives consulted by Lepekhin? Was he the only one to have access to them? And, if so, why?

Whatever it is, Hagemeister's dismissive remark can be easily explained by motivations of a more general order. One knows that, according to this German historian, Lepekhin, like so many others before him, got lost in the elaboration of a counter-myth (the police conspiracy) that is opposed to the myth itself (the Jewish conspiracy). Furthermore, New German Critique, which published Hagemeister, is obviously centered around the refusal of "conspiracy theories." And one guesses that, for Taguieff, the conspiratorial element constitutes the hidden flaw in the classical conception of the origins of the Protocols ("the customs of properly conspiratorial thinking"). It is fitting here to mention that the police conception of history and its denunciation appear to be related. They are merely the two sides of a single medal: an a priori totalizing -- even totalitarian -- conception of history. For some, there is always a conspiracy behind every event; for others there never is one. Those who not not automatically adhere to the police conception of history can only be disinformed or be the victims of a disinformer; those who denounce a conspiracy can only be the paranoid holders of the aforementioned police conception. Nevertheless, it is the paranoid aspect inherent in their respective systematizations that strikes us. He who doesn't believe is necessarily harmful or crazy.

Orthodox Marxism and psychoanalysm have already illustrated this pretense to irrefutability (and anyone subjected to the psittacism of militant activists or the solipsisms of the analyzed/analyst will understand this all too easily).[11]

Opposed to this theoretical fetishism, which is shared by the partisans of the police conception of history and a number of its adversaries, we adopt the attitude of the mathematician Edouard Kouznetsov: "He was visibly jubilant -- despite the presence of the KGB's prison guards, with their brutish assurance, their cast-iron certitudes and their police-mastiff dogmatism -- to have remembered that Godel had demonstrated that, even in an arithmetical formula, 'if a system is consistent, it isn't complete.' And the prisoner, far from his books and faculties, summarized in four lines -- with perfect elegance and clarity -- the complex demonstration that Godel had made in thirty dense pages in his Philosophy of Mathematics: 'Any conceptual set that is sufficiently extensive,' Kouznetsov wrote, 'necessarily includes questions to which one can only respond by enlarging this set, which by definition excludes the existence of an absolutely logical closed system'."[12]

One will say to us that all this distances us from the Protocols and that the utilization of Godel's theorem outside of its scientific context is only an analogy. But if it is indeed a question of an image, it is, we believe, an image that helps us to see clearly. Except that the "anti-conspiracy" hypothesis concerning the Protocols is a "conceptual system" that "necessarily excludes questions to which one can only respond by enlarging the set." To understand the Protocols, one must not a priori exclude the police explanation because it pertains to a "counter-myth," and one must enlarge the entirety of the history of this "global fake" to its historical future to understand the truth. In this case, the debate upon the origins of the Protocols, re-opened by diverse historians in order to tear into pieces what appears to them as "harmful conspiratorial customs," is merely a smokescreen that hides the essential. Whatever the identity of the original authors of the Protocols was, whatever their primary intentions were, this verifiable fact remains: the global and continuing distribution of the Protocols cannot be solely explained by the delirious fantasies of a few anti-Semitic sects.[13] As Rollin has demonstrated, the Protocols is the centerpiece of a governmental, industrial and mediatic[14] war machine. The role played by the established powers in the distribution of the Protocols seems to us to have been completely demonstrated. Michel Bounan has summarized the heart of the question in these terms: one must recall that the Protocols "weren't initially distributed by public rumors, but by the hands of the Bishop of Moscow and two policeman-publishers; that the German National Socialist Party that was inspired by it was not brought to power by crazy riots but by German industrialists who financed it; that Henri Rollin's work, which revealed the origin of the Protocols, was not destroyed by 'collective paranoia,' but seized and destroyed by a police state; that the Protocols was not propagated in the United States by a crazy rumor, but by the industrialist Henry Ford, who knew how to make other invalids work to his profit; and that, finally, the book was not a 'crude, miserable fake,' nor a 'collective neurosis in the middle of the 20th century,' but a rational police maneuver, the iron lance in a counter-revolutionary war."[15]

One can easily believe that such an explication of the Protocols will be completely unacceptable to the historians who believe that the anti-Semitism of the fake is a manifestation of anti-Zionism and that explications that refer to "counter-revolutionary war" are symptoms of "conspiracism" (these historians have abandoned the history of class struggle and social revolution in the trash can of history). These historians are also the sons of their times. Guy Debord observed shortly after the consensual celebrations of the Bicentennial of the French Revolution: "The history of any passed era is obviously tied to the knowledge, experience and discoveries of the present. There is also a continual dialectic between one and the other of these terms, which often favors their reconsideration and enrichment. But, nevertheless, at certain moments of regression and brutalization, one can quite easily organize the forgetting of the past, its reductive re-writing, so as to obtain the cumulative augmentation -- not of discoveries of the real facts -- but, on the contrary, of ridiculous legends that are useful to the dominant interests, deliberate ignorance, etc. Our society has made progress in decadence; and it re-reads all of its past with the eyes and techniques of its most recent progress."[16]. In this regard, there is no doubt that the history of the Protocols, as it is re-read by a fringe of current historiography, owes much to the conception of anti-Zionism as a simple variation of anti-Semitism[17] and to the denunciation of several contemporary conspiracies as [simple] manifestations of paranoia.

[1] "An old Chinese proverb, still in use, describing the 'indirect cultural' method of approaching burning questions. The Chinese call it the art of 'pointing at the mulberry to revile the ash' (one knows that the miniscule mulberry tree often clings and snuggles up to the shadow of the great ash)." Claude Roy, Sur la Chine, "Mort du poete Mao," Idees/Gallimard, 1979.

[2] Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Serif, 1967; published in French as Histoire d’un mythe. La 'Conspiration' juive et les Protocoles des sages de Sion, Gallimard, 1967.

[3] This is the title of a chapter in Henri Rollin's book, L'Apocalypse de notre temps (Editions Allia).

[4] "Qui a fabrique le plus celebre des textes antijuifs?" Marianne, 19 December 2009 - 1 January 2010.

[5] According to several historians of the period, such as the historian Lepekhin, Golovinski drafted the Protocols in Paris on behalf of Ratchkovski, the head of the Okhrana.

[6] New edition, Berg and Fayard, 2004.

[7] Michael Hagemeister, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Between History and Fiction," New German Critique, vol. 35, # 1, Summer 2008.

[8] A neologistic combination of fact and fiction.

[9] Translator's note: rather than translating the French here, we have simply quoted from the original text, which was originally published in English. See New German Critique.

[10] Eric Conan, "Les secrets d’une manipulation antisemite," L’Express, 16 Novembre 1999. [Translator's note: Conan's text has been translated into English here.]

[11] It is indispensable to recall here that Marx himself was the first adversary of this dogmatism. "In 1877, he hastened to disavow the so-called Russian 'Marxists' who had transfigured his method into a 'philosophical-historical theory' and a 'universal passkey' " (Kostas Papaioannou, L'Ideologie froide, Pauvert, 1977). As for Freud, he rejected in advance the so-called "Freudians," armed with their "universal passkey," when he observed with respect to Breuer's research into hysteria: "No doubt you, too, and for good reason, have the impression that Breuer's research can only provide an incomplete theory and an insufficient explanation of the observed facts. But perfect theories do not fall from the sky, and with very good reason you are wary of men who, right from the start of their observations, present to you a theory without any lacunae and completely finished. Such a theory can only be a product of speculation and not the fruit of a study of reality without preconceptions." (Freud, Five Lessons on Psychoanalysis, Payot, 1981.)

[12] Claude Roy, Permis de sejour (1977-1982), Gallimard, 1984.

[13] In the same way, a terrorist group, initially formed by authentic militants, can, after being infiltrated, become an organization that is controlled and used profitably by the police -- as shown by the history of the Red Brigades.

[14] Translator's note: there is no adequate expression in English for the French word mediatique, which not only means "the media," but "the spectacular," as well.

[15] Michel Bounan, L’Etat retors, Allia, 1997. [Translator's note: for a translation of the entire text, click The Crafty State.]

[16] Letter to Pascal Dumontier, 24 Octobre 1989 (Guy Debord, Correspondance, volume VII, Fayard, 2008). [Translator's note: for a translation of the entire text, click here.]

[17] Even if anti-Zionism, especially in its Islamo-Leftist version, sometimes reveals a pure and simple anti-Semitism and thus, in this perspective, must be critiqued pitilessly.

(Written by Jules Bonnot de la Bande and posted on-line on 10 February 2010. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 14 February 2010. All footnotes by Jules Bonnot, except where noted.)

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