The Origin of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The Secrets of an Anti-Semitic Manipulation

It is the most celebrated -- and the most tragic -- of the falsifications of the 20th century, at the basis of the anti-Semitic myth of the "worldwide Jewish conspiracy." The text of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion now yields up its final mystery: a Russian historian, Mikhail Lepekhine, has established the identity of its author, thanks to the Soviet archives. His work permits one to understand why it was necessary to wait so long to know this epilogue: the forger, Mathieu Golovinski -- who accomplished his task in Paris at the beginning of the century for the French representative of the Czar's political police -- became a well-known Bolshevik after the Russian Revolution of 1917. . . . The discovery of this sinister historical thumbing of the nose permits one to fill in the last lacunae in the history of an imposture that, after having ravaged Europe, still knows a flourishing life in many regions of the world.

An historian of Russian literature, Mikhail Lepekhine is one of the best experts in the "publicists" of the end of the 19th century, those people who were writers, journalists and political essayists, and who intervened in the form of lampoons, articles and books in the convulsions of Russian public life. Lepekhine's specialty is the pivotal years of the reign of Alexander III (1881-1894) and the beginning of the reign of Nicolas II (1894-1902), an agitated period that preceded the revolutionary turbulence. Former curator of the archives of the Institute of Russian Literature and historical researcher of printed matter at the library of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Mikhail Lepekhine studies the life and works of all those individuals, including those of the second and third order, most of them logged in the monumental Russian Biographical Dictionary (in 33 volumes), of which he is the editor in chief.

It was while working on one of these publicists, Mathieu Golovinski -- a son of an aristocrat, a lawyer disbarred for the embezzlement of funds, a scandal-mongering journalist and a plotter in the Russian political milieus of St. Petersburg and Paris -- that Lepekhine plunged into the history of the Protocols, which until then had not been a subject of preoccupation for him. Shifting through all the documents concerning Golovinski, he found in the 80-year-old French archives in Moscow the traces of his role in the fabrication of the famous fake. Mikhail Lepekhine quickly measured the importance of his discovery by drawing up a balance sheet of contemporary information about the Protocols, of which a French researcher, Pierre-Andre Taguieff, had recently published the most complete synthesis.[1] He came to find the missing link -- the identity of the forger -- by cross-checking two long histories: that of a small-time opportunist whose "work" was merely a brief moment in his agitated and troubled life, and that of an infamous fake of which Mathieu Golovinski was only a technical executor.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, sometimes subtitled Jewish Program for the Conquest of the World, is a text known in two similar versions, published in Russia, at first partially, in 1903, in the newspaper Znamia, and then, in a complete version, in 1905 and 1906. It was presented as the detailed review of twenty, secret Judeo-Masonic meetings during the course of which an "Elder of Zion" addressed himself to the leaders of the Jewish people to reveal to them a plan for the domination of humanity. Their objective: to become "masters of the world" following the destruction of the monarchies and Christian civilization. This Machiavellian plan foresaw the use of violence, ruses, war, revolution, industrial modernization and capitalism so as to put down the existing order, on the ruins of which Jewish power would install itself.

This "secret document" was quickly put into doubt by Count Alexandre du Chayla, a French aristocrat who had converted to orthodoxy and would later fight with the White Army against the Bolsheviks: in 1909, he had encountered the first publisher of the Protocols, Serge Nilus, the pope of Russian mysticism, who showed the Count the "original." Not at all convinced, the Count would later recount that he had the impression of encountering a fanatic for whom the question of the text's authenticity didn't matter. "We admit that the Protocols are fake," Nilus declared to him. "But is not God served by the discovery of the iniquity of what is being prepared? Can not God, considering our faith, transform dogs' bones into miraculous relics? Thus, he can put the betokening of truth into a lying mouth!"

The Protocols were in fact "launched" to the wider public on 8 May 1920 by The Times of London, in which an editorial entitled "The Jewish Peril: a disturbing pamphlet. Demand an inquest." evoked this "singular, short book," to which the newspaper seem to accord credit. The Times made good a little later, in August 1921, by announcing "The End of the Protocols" and publishing proof of the falsification. The Istanbul correspondent of the British daily had been conducted by a White Russian who had taken refuge in Turkey and, obviously well informed, had revealed to him that the text of the Protocols was the transfer [le decalque] of a French pamphlet against Napoleon III. A rapid verification proved the falsification: the Protocols actually took up the text of the Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, published in Brussels in 1864 by Maurice Joly, an anti-Bonapartist lawyer who intended to show that the Emperor and his coterie were plotting to seize all power within French society. Using this forgotten text,[2] which won Maurice Joly two years in prison, the forger of the Protocols replaced "France" with "the world" and "Napoleon III" with "the Jews." The crude swindle was exploded by a simple line by line comparison of the two texts. The fake was revealed, but the mystery of its origin remained. One simply knew that the original text was drafted in French and one supposed that the fake had been fabricated at the beginning of the century, in Paris, in the milieus of the Russian political police.

It was in the archives of the Frenchman Henri Bint, an agent of the Russian services in Paris for 37 years, that Mikhail Lepekhine verified that Mathieu Golovinski was the mysterious author of the fake. Henri Bint -- receiving in Paris in 1917 a man named Serge Svatikov, an envoy from the new Russian government (led by Kerenski) who was tasked with dismantling the Czarist secret services and "debriefing," and sometimes sending back their agents -- explained to him that Mathieu Golovinski was the author of the Protocols and that he himself [Bint] had been tasked with remunerating the fabricator. The Czar's last ambassador, Basile Maklakov, being left with the archives of the embassy, which he gave to the American Hoover Foundation in 1925, Serge Svatikov bought Henri Bint's personal archives. Later breaking with the new Bolshevik leaders, Svatiko deposited the Bint archives in Prague, in the private collection of the "Foreign Russian Archives." In 1946, the Soviets seized this collection, which was added to the State archives of the Russian Federation in Moscow.

The secret of Golovinski was thus kept until the collapse of Communism and the general opening up of the archives in 1992. The anti-Semitic falsifier having become a "fellow traveler" of the Bolsheviks in 1917, the Soviets had no desire to reveal this little ruse of History, which today still seems embarrassing, since Mikhail Lepekhine's discovery -- revealed this past August by Victor Loupan in Le Figaro -- has not aroused any interest in the mainstream French press.

Thanks to his detailed knowledge of the itinerary of the author of the Protocols, Mikhail Lepekhine can today -- at the end of five years of research -- completely retrace the circumstances and objectives of the fabrication of this fake. Born on 6 March 1965 in Ivachevka, in the Simbirsk region, Mathieu Golovinski came from an aristocratic family descended from a Crusader, Count Henri de Mons. A well-bred but turbulent family: "The great uncle of Mathieu Golovinski was condemned to twenty years in exile in Siberia for his participation in the anti-monarchist conspiracy of the Decembrists, and his father, Basil, a friend of Dostoyevsky, was condemned to death and reprieved at the same as the writer, after a simulation of an execution," Mikhail Lepekhine recounts. Freed after being engaged for several years as a soldier in the war of the Caucuses, Basile died depressed in 1875, leaving little Mathieu Golovinski in the hands of his mother and a French governess who in fact an excellent speaker of French. A casual but skillful student of law (without great scruples), Mathieu Golovinski seems gifted in intrigue. The young opportunist manages to enter into contact with the Count Vorontsov-Dahkov, close to the Czar and minister to the court: convinced of the menace of a conspiracy, the Count founded -- in the aftermath of the assassination of Alexander II -- the Holy Fraternity, a secret organization that responded to terror with terror and manipulation. The Holy Fraternity was actually one of the first "fakers" of fake documents, notably fabricating fake revolutionary newspapers.

Named a functionary in St Ptersburg, Mathieu Golovinski worked in the 1890s for Constantine Pobiedonostsev, attorney general of the Holy Synod and one of the inspirers of Alexander III. A Christian militant, the orthodox dignitary set up an evangelical program among the pagan people of the Volga, the Tchauvaches, in the company of Mathieu Golovinski's uncle and Ilya Oulianov, the father of Lenin. "Constantine Pobiedonostsev was obsessed by the invasion of the state apparatus by the Jews, whom he thought to be 'more intelligent and more gifted' than the Russians," Mikhail Lepekhine explains. Through his intermediary, Mikhail Golovinski worked for the Press Department, the office tasked with influencing the newspapers by providing their directors with articles that were ready to be published, even by obliging them to pay some of his agents who -- half-informers and half -journalists -- censored the press from within and surveilled its "line." The head of the Press Department, Michel Soloviev, a fanatical anti-Semite, made Golovinski his "second editor." "Golovinski was a very facile writer. He was gifted and for five years he kept this difficult job with ease, a gifted dilettante and pleasure-lover," says Mikhail Lepekhine, who has read a number of his texts from that period.

This pleasant sinecure brutally escaped from Mathieu Golovinski: Soloviev died and Pobiedonostsev no longer had the same control over the new Czar, Nicolas II, who appeared to desire to instaurate a different style. The men in the shadows changed and Golovinski was publicly called an "informer" by Maxim Gorki. He went into exile in Paris, a town that he had long frequented and found the same type of "work" with a former member of the Holy Fraternity, Pierre Ratchovski, who led the services of the Russian political police in France. "Golovinski was particularly tasked with influencing French journalists in their treatment of the Czar's politics. Thus he happened to write articles that appeared in the large Parisian dailies under the signature of French journalists!" Mikhail Lepekhine reports. Always active, he completed his activities by publishing in 1906 (through Editions Garnier) a Russian-English dictionary plagiarized from a Russian edition; undertook medical studies for three years; and lived an easygoing life in Paris thanks to a pension that his mother continued to send him; all the while dissimulating this hyperactivity under the tranquil appearances of suburb-dweller residing in Bourg-la-Reine until 1910.

Counter-revolutionary propaganda intended for the French political elites was one of the principal activities of Ratchovski, who created a Franco-Russian League in Paris: the relations between the two countries then constituting a fundamental stake and the former member of the Holy Fraternity kept the obsessions of the orthodox ultra-reactionary clan, which wanted to convince the Czar that a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy was hiding behind the liberal and reformist current. At the time, Nicolas II -- less susceptible to this theme than his predecessors -- was preoccupied by the Western critiques that related to the Russian policies of discrimination against the Jews. Thus, Ratchovski had the idea for a maneuver intended to convince the Czar of the cogency of anti-Semitic preventive measures. Under the influence of Ivan Goremykine, a disgraced former Minister of the Interior, he especially wanted the Czar to free himself from Count Serguei Witte, leader of the modernizers within the government. Thus, it would be a question of producing decisive "proof" that the industrial and financial modernization of Russia was the expression of a Jewish plan for the domination of the world.

From whence came Ratchovski's command to Golovinski to create a fake -- one among many made by this gifted polygraph -- intended at the beginning for a single reader: the Car. Indeed, Ratchovski seemed to have imagined a skillful maneuver: knowing that the mystic Serge Nilus might become the Czar's new confessor, he thought he would pass the fake anti-Semitic manuscript to Nicolas II through this trusted intermediary. According to Mikhail Lepekhine, it was thus in Paris -- at the end of 1900 or in 1901 -- that Golovinski drafted the Protocols by making use of Maurice Joly's pamphlet against Napoleon III. But the stratagem fizzled out: Serge Nilus was not named confessor. He nevertheless kept the text, which he published in 1905 as an appendix to one of his works, The Great in the Samml. The Anti-Christ was an imminent political possibility, which was presented to the Czar and Czarina. This book explained that, ever since the French Revolution, an apocalyptic process had been at work; it threatened to end in the coming of the Anti-Christ.

"The redaction of the Protocols was only a moment in the career of Golovinski," Mikhail Lepekhine says. "I do not think that he knew the significance of his work. Thus, at the time of its elaboration, he spoke of it and read passages to a friend of his mother, Princess Catherine Radziwill. A refuge in the United States, she was the only one -- in the 1920s -- to indicate, in a Jewish journal, that Golovinski was the author of the Protocols. But she had no proof and her testimony, which included many errors, was not retained." At the time of a trial in Berne, in 1934, conducted at the request of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Switzerland, which wanted to establish the falsity of the Protocols, then being distributed by Swiss Nazis: "Golovinski's name was mentioned as much by Serge Svatikov as by the investigative journalist Vladimir Bourtsev, both witnesses cited by the plaintiffs," Pierre-Andre Taguieff adds.

Mathieu Golovinski pursued his life of intrigue in the service of the powerful people of the day who wanted to employ his talent. Returning to Russia, he worked for Ivan Tcheglovitov, Minister of Justice, then Alexander Protopopov, who became Minister of the Interior in 1916. In 1914, he also published a work of propaganda, The Black Book of German Atrocities, which was signed "Dr. Golovinski." Because he was passing himself off as a physician, without having obtained a diploma after his Parisian studies.

The fall of the Czar did not shake such a good swimmer of troubled water. In 1917, he was . . . a deputy of the Petrograd soviet: Dr Golovinski was celebrated by the revolutionaries as the first of the rare Russian physicians to have approved the Bolshevik coup d'Etat! The career of this "Red doctor" was bright: member of the People's Commissariat for Health and the Military Health College, he was an influential person in the new regime in its politics of health. He participated in the launching of the Pioneers (the members of an organization for the recruitment of young people), advisor to Trotsky for the setting up of a system for military education and, in 1918, the founder of the Institute of Physical Culture, the future training school of Soviet champions, of which he was the director. Become famous, he did not long profit from his new power and died in 1920, at the precise moment at which his Protocols began to know a great success, thanks to English, French and German translations.

The First World War, the Russian Revolution and the chaos in Germany seemed to confirm the prophecies of the anti-Semitic fake: the dramatic history in which Europe and Russia were plunged seemed to authenticate the text, of which a copy was found among the belongings of the Czarina after the massacre of the family of Nicolas II -- an indication, for some anti-Semitic White Russians, that the revolution was a "Judeo-Bolshevik" crime. The demonstration of the falsification published by the Times did not discredit the Protocols, which did not cease to be presented in Europe as the "proof" of the "international Jewish conspiracy" all through the 1930s. The fake was reprinted many times, and no longer by [explicitly] anti-Semitic organs. Thus, in France, a recognized publishing house named Grasset published it in 1921 and reprinted it many times until 1938. In the United States, the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford -- believing in their authenticity -- distributed it through his press.

Nazi propagandists exploited and distributed the Protocols. In 1923, Alfred Rosenberg devoted a study to the book and, in Mein Kampf (1925), Adolf Hitler wrote that "the Protocols of the Elders of Zion -- which the Jews officially deny with such violence -- has demonstrated in an incomparable fashion how the entire existence of this people rests upon a permanent lie," and added that "what many Jews can execute unconsciously" was clearly exposed in it. Upon their arrival in power in 1933, the Nazi leaders confided in their propaganda office the task of distributing the Protocols and defending the thesis of their authenticity.

After the end of the Second World War, the Protocols -- banned in the majority of European countries -- began a second career, due to the creation of the State of Israel. A first Arabic edition appeared in Cairo in 1951.[3] Followed by many others, in all languages, including French, in the majority of the Muslim nations. Here, the Protocols served to denounce a "Zionist conspiracy." Pierre-Andre Taguieff explains: "According to this reuse, if the proud and valorous Arabs are vanquished by the cowardly and deceptive Jews, this is due to an international conspiracy of occult forces organized by the Zionists. The Protocols constitute a reduced model of the anti-Jewish vision of the world more proper to modernity, a vision that is centered upon the theme of planetary domination. Public references to the Protocols are, for example, made in the texts and speeches of the Algerian FIS and the Palestinian Hamas," adds Taguieff, who has put together the most important bibliography of recent editions of the unsinkable fake.

This bibliography does not cease to grow and is not limited to the Arab countries. The text has publicly reappeared in many ex-communist States -- it is freely sold in Moscow and has recently been printed in great quantities in India, Japan and Latin America. Far from being hidden in obscure places, as was previously the case in Europe, it is now, for example, sold in certain bookstores in Buenos Aires. In such countries, the survival of the text has not been affected by the end of the Second World War, just as the demonstration of the plagiarism that fashioned it did not hinder its utilization against against "Judeo-Bolshevism." The force of this "anti-Semitic Nostradamus" transcends all rational refutation. Pierre-Andre Taguieff sees in it the most efficacious expression of the "modern political myth" of the "Jewish dominator": "Through its structure -- the revelation of the secret of the Jews by a confidential text that is attributed to them -- the text of the Protocols satisfies a need for explanation, by giving a meaning to the indecipherable movement of History, the progress of which it simplifies by designating a unique enemy. It permits one to legitimate, by presenting them as preventive self-defense, all the actions taken against an enemy that is absolute, diabolical and mortal, and that dissimulates itself under multiple forms: democracy, liberalism, Communism, capitalism, republicanism, etc.[4] The success and longevity of the Protocols, originally fabricated for limited stakes in the Russian court, paradoxically derives from the text's lack of precision, which can easily be adapted to all the contexts of crisis, in which the meaning of the events is undecided, indeterminable. From whence comes its permanent reuses."

[1] Author's note: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, by Pierre-Andre Taguieff. Volume I: A Fake and its Uses in the World (408 pp.); Volume II Studies and Documents (816 pp.). Berg International, 1992.

[2] Translator's note: The question remains: how the Russians get a hold of a book that had been banned and destroyed back in the 1860s, and had not been reprinted since then? Obviously, someone had a copy. How did it get into the Russians' hands?

[3] Note by "The Practice of History and Negationist Corruption" (which posted this article online): The first Arabic editions of the Protocols date from the 1920s and their distribution "played a decisive role in the anti-Jewish impregnation of the political and cultural elites of the Arab countries"; Pierre-Andre Taguieff, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Volume I, p. 295. The year 1951 marks the first translation made by Islamic Arabs (the preceding Arabic translations were made by Christian Arabs). See Bernard Lewis, Semites and anti-Semites, Presses Pocket, 1991, p.258.

[4] Translator's note: this explanation, which we find both metaphysical and ahistorical, does not account for 1) the delay in producing such a document (it would have been far more useful if it was fabricated during the construction of canonical Christianity in the Fifth, Sixth or Seventh Centuries); and 2) the necessity of plagiarizing from preexisting sources, especially a book like Joly's Dialogue in Hell. We find Michel Bounan's explanation far more convincing: "In truth, anti-Semitism is to social critique what the Protocols is to Maurice Joly's book: not a crackpot theory, as the naive ones do not cease to repeat, but the police counterfeit of revolutionary agitation. This is the reason for its popular success: it speaks the most dangerous language of the country so as to divert the river. Anti-Semitic propaganda is diffused everywhere there emerges the awareness of the permanent conspiracy of the modern State for the maintenance of order, a conspiracy that not only includes the State apparatus itself and the economic forces of which it is the instrument, but fake [and] spectacular opposition, the entirety of the press and the media, the labor market and the organized debasement of all public life."

(Written by Eric Conan and published in L'Express on 16 November 1999. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! November 2007. Footnotes as noted.)

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