Anarchist Critique of TZM

Anarchist Critique of TZM

An anarchist critique of The Zeitgeist Movement.

Intro

I was once a young and newly converted Anarchist. I didn’t know much at this time. I didn’t read books on Anarchist theory (at least not usually). I had only made most of my way through the communist manifesto and if you asked me to sum up the basic arguments of that book, I probably would have scratched my head and said “I really don’t know to be honest”. While on the internet I stumbled across a series of documentaries made by a man named Peter J. Merola, or “Peter Joseph”.

This series of documentaries with the title “Zeitgeist” made a long lasting impression on me. As a young radical they told me what I wanted to hear, that the current order was fundamentally unjust and a completely new society was not only possible, but necessary. At that time my youthful naivete had kept me from having an allergy to preposterous conspiracy theories which were peddled by the movies. I also didn’t have the critical thinking skills, or knowledge to challenge the series’ lack of analysis of the social order as a whole and its subsequent myopic focus on ideology and culture. These movies formed the basis for TZM (The Zeitgeist Movement) to form as “an explicitly non-violent, global sustainability advocacy group currently working in over 1000 Regional Chapters across 70 countries”.

What Is TZM?

TZM has written a whole book which you can read for free on their website which defines them as a movement. It’s very long for an introductory piece, so I don’t expect you to read it just for the sake of this article. As such I will lay out the fundamental ideas of TZM here. TZM is most influenced by TVP, or “The Venus Project”, founded by inventor Jacques Fresco. Fresco is a former communist who founded the TVP as a movement based on a vision for the future where the world would be oriented toward the rational satisfaction of human needs and a scientific, sustainable relationship to the planet. The core ideas and the core failings of the ideas of TVP are shared by TZM, however TZM seems to have gained a lot more momentum especially since its apparent break with TVP. TZM also engages in the peddling of conspiracy theories from 911 truth to the idea that a cure for cancer actually exists and it’s just being covered up by big pharma.

Peter Joseph, TZM’s Jacques Fresco, is fairly easily convinced by conspiracy theories peddled in ad hoc YouTube documentaries and as such regularly incorporates them into the TZM project. It’s unclear to me whether the majority of the rank and file of TZM believe these things, never mind whether they do with the conviction that Joseph himself does. That said Joseph has consolidated something of a personality cult for himself and is the head bureaucrat, controlling the movements chapters from above. As such his conspiracy theories do have a significant influence on the TZM project as a whole. It is for these reasons that I will be focusing on TZM and leaving out TVP. The reader can safely assume that my problem with the over all vision and critique of society TZM articulates can also be tied to TVP minus my criticism of Peter Joseph’s conduct as TZM’s ad hoc leader and his lack of critical thinking when it comes to conspiracy theories.

Like Anarchists TZM articulates a critique of society which draws out the inherent limitations to the existing order and constructs an argument using said limitations for a better, future order. The future order imagined by TZM is not much different than that argued for by Anarchists. TZM argues for a society in balance with nature which scientifically plans the social sphere in the interests of all people on the planet. This society would be a human community without the exploitation of one person by another and without oppressive social formations. Each social system which forms such an order would be freely organized in accordance with the needs of the population and production would be consciously and collectively planned as to be sustainable and meet people’s needs. As such I won’t be criticizing TZM’s vision of a future society, but instead its analysis of the existing capitalist world system and the strategy for social change TZM draws from that analysis.

TZM sees capitalism, or what it’s advocates largely refer to as “the market system” as a set of cultural practices and norms which value greed and competition for scarce resources over cooperation, meeting human needs, and sustainability. To TZM capitalism is an immoral cultural system which destroys the earth and exploits the human race. This is what TZM calls “a distorted value system”. This is a phrase used ad nauseam by Joseph. As such TZM believes that getting rid of capitalism and replacing it with a society they would like to see (a “Resource Based Economy”, or “RBE” as detailed above) is a matter of changing the predominant culture by shifting people’s values to values which promote the meeting of human needs, oneness among the global population, and sustainability.

Critique of TZM

Conspiracies:

As detailed above Peter Joseph, the founder and leader of TZM, is something of a conspiracy buff. His first movie, “Zeitgeist: Spirit of The Age”, argued for 911 conspiracy theory and broadly stated that we don’t actually know what happened that day and the government covered up whatever actually happened. To substantiate this the film made the same facile arguments made regularly by truthers (supporters of 911 conspiracy theories). For example; unscientific claims such as “Jet fuel can not melt steel.” and unsubstantiated claims such as “The twin towers went down in demolition style.”, or “There was no wreckage from flight 93.” I’m not going to attempt to debunk 911 truth since this is not the purpose of the article, however I will look at these example claims made by 911 truthers and the film and deconstruct them to show that the film’s arguments for 911 truth are over all weak and unpersuasive.

Jet fuel can actually melt steel. It’s a known fact. If conspiracy buffs actually cared to do the relevant research rather than simply make bold assertions about things that “seem fishy” to them, then they would know this. It also doesn’t ultimately matter weather jet fuel can melt steel because the steel beams in the whole building would have been destroyed by the initial blast of the explosion caused by the plane’s impact. The explosion would have incinerated the beams on the affected floor and then the weight of those beams failing would cause the beams in the rest of the building to be crushed. We know this because this is what happened and what was found by actual expert investigation of the scene. There was wreckage found where flight 93 crashed. The film shows footage from another documentary called “Loose Change” which has been re-made several times as a result of the inability of 911 truth to actually withstand facts. The footage is seemingly of one of the forensics experts saying that they had found nothing at the site. This forensics expert has since stated that he was misquoted by Loose Change. He was actually saying that he was surprised by how little was left, not that nothing was found at all. Loose Change also conveniently ignored his statements about the limbs and airplane parts found at the scene. As for the claim that the buildings fell in demolition style, this is just wildly wrong. It’s like saying the sky is actually black if you look at it the right way. Just watch a video of a building demolition and you will see that demolitions look nothing like the collapse of the towers, or building 7.

The second film in the three part series, “Zeitgeist: Addendum”, charged that the US, Canadian, and Mexican governments were going to implant chips into people to track them (at an unknown date and which passport chips are a beta for) and were eventually going to merge into one government with all of Europe to develop one currency which the local populations would all have to use called the “amero”. No evidence is given for any of these claims aside from talking heads of the conspiracy movement saying so and the testimony of one person, a conspiracy movement talking head named Aaron Russo, who says he had a chat with Nicholas Rockefeller where Nick tolled Russo this on the phone. All I can say is that whoever believes this kind of thing needs to re-evaluate their critical thinking skills. I might also add that Russo also said that women’s lib was a conspiracy to indoctrinate kids into hating the nuclear family and viewing state officials as their family, and to tax half the population. Rockefeller apparently told him this too. I also might add that Nick Rockefeller is an irrelevent lawyer that has no actual political sway, or power. Again, I am not here to debunk, in detail, every single conspiracy theory offered up by Joseph and his movies. What I am trying to do is list off examples of such theories and quickly go over how preposterous they are so that you can get a sense of the influence that conspiracy theories have on TZM and how problematic that actually is.

Conspiracy theories are not something one can implore to change, or analyze society. Conspiracy theories are what some might call “a fool’s Marxism”. That is they completely abstract from the real ways in which our society functions and invents and outside actor to blame the world’s problems on. The fact is that there is no need for a secret cabal or set of cover ups. Many of the things that states do are overtly public. You can read about these things in publicly available documents. The ruling class maintains power not through covert operations, but through the class system which everyone interacts with on a daily basis. Conspiracy theories as such have their roots in reactionary politics, based on the fear the ruling class has of mass movements. Every time a conspiracy buff says that black lives matter is actually an AstroTurf movement funded by George Soros they are echoing the fears of those who really maintain power that their power will be destroyed.

Conspiracy theories have their origin in the “Illuminati” which was a real organization. It was actually an anti-monarchical rebel secret society which conspired to overthrow the Bavarian monarchy. They were defeated, but their existence made the ruling class permanently afraid that similar conspiratorial groups where behind every mass movement which had aims that contradicted their power, because obviously the masses could not have just been fed up with being oppressed, at least in the minds of the ruling classes. This is how conspiracy theories have historically been propagated. Conspiracy theories are deeply reactionary and need to be challenged by people who really want to end exploitation and oppression.

Joseph is also not simply content to believe these things while being open to debate about them. Joseph is not someone who likes open disagreement. He has directly strained his relationship with close colleges who have questioned his conspiracy theories. This goes into his tight control of TZM as its highest level bureaucrat.

Sustainable Democratic Centralism:

Leninist democratic centralist organizations are notoriously bureaucratic, whether it be groups like Socialist Workers Party (SWP), or actual societies such as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. One of the nice things about democratic centralism however, if there are any, is that there is a group of people who maintain a power bureaucracy over the society, or organization. TZM is controlled unilaterally by one person, Peter Joseph. Joseph likes to claim that TZM is simply a free flowing creation of many different people around the world, but in reality his cult of personality is undeniable. Just as Kautsky was “the pope of Marxism” Joseph is the pope of Zeitgeist. He is the movement’s intellectual leader and as such he maintains tight control over the organization. Local chapters follow Joseph’s design for the movement rather than acting in cooperation with each other to accommodate to their specific situations. TZM is not a self-organized effort of the oppressed and exploited, but the creation of a pseudo-intellectual bureaucrat.

TZM’s Analysis and What It Lacks:

As highlighted above, TZM sees the problem with modern society as a distorted system of values, or a culture which favors competition and greed over cooperation, sustainability, and meeting human needs. As a result we get racism, war, the capitalist system, poverty, and the whole gamete of social problems. What this analysis fails to recognize is that there is an underlying system of production that conditions culture and ideology. TZM almost never talks about why our society values profit and the pursuit of material wealth over all else. They simply note that this is the case. This allows them to argue that if we just underwent a cultural shift where people accepted that cooperation and sustainability are better than greed and competition then we would have a better world. Unfortunately for TZM there is a reason why modern society is inundated with such a culture and ideology. That reason being that the predominant mode of production, or the way in which social labor is organized, is a capitalist mode of production. That is a mode of production where a minority of the population controls society’s productive resources meaning that the rest of us have to sell our ability to work to this minority in order to attain the means of subsistence produced by these productive resources. In exchange we give up most of what we produce through labor to this minority who then sells this produce on the market in order to make a profit which it then in part reinvests into production and part consumes for itself. In capitalist society the only way to survive is to attain money and buy commodities and as such commodities produce other commodities since there is an ever expanding demand for them. Commodities and their production dominate society and people are as such conditioned to accept this reality as normal.

The aforementioned minority which controls the productive resources of society as such benefits from the status quo and it will and has fought to maintain it. When workers in France rose up during the Franco Prussian war and created a network of communes run by and in the interests of workers they were brutally crushed by the French capitalist class which used the forces of the state to slaughter the workers en mass. The repression was so brutal that it was even readily difficult for French socialists to set up the French Socialist Party later on. In Germany Otto Bon Bismarck instituted anti-socialist legislation which made it impossible for socialists to organize meaning that the first years of the SPD (The Social Democratic Party of Germany) were largely spent underground. In Spain in 1936 where, in response to a Fascist coup against the Spanish republic, workers rose up in the summer to take control of society and run it themselves for three years in conjunction with the peasantry who took control of the land with the help of the Anarchist CNT-FAI, the Priests, the capitalist class, and the nationalists teamed up to commit class genocide against revolutionary workers, slaughtering thousands of them. None of these situations could be have been de-escalated by a “cultural shift”. The ruling and oppressed classes have their own cultural norms and environments. The cultural environment of the ruling class is one of privilege and power and as such the ruling class will stop at nothing to preserve its control over society and the planet.

None of this is to say that cultural shifts aren’t important, rather it’s to say that a cultural shift away from capitalism and rejection of bourgeois ideology (the ideology of capitalism) will come as a result of a militant movement which can meaningfully challenge and overthrow the status quote. This means a mass, international, militant movement of workers, nationally and racially oppressed peoples, sexually and gender oppressed peoples, and any and all other victims of oppression and exploitation sustained and perpetuated by this society, against this society. This movement needs to have, as its aim, the complete reconstruction of society into one where nobody is oppressed or exploited. This society will be one of voluntary cooperation to meet the many unique needs of each person to the best of the ability of all. This is a libertarian communist society. The method to achieving and fighting for such an order is Anarcho-syndicalism. Anarcho-syndicalism is a strategy for the achievement of libertarian communism which entails the organization of the working class, who are exploited by capitalism, into working class associations which can fight for the workers’ interests and the new society described above. Anarcho-syndicalism also stresses that this working class movement be intersectional in that it fights against the different forms of oppression that different workers face such as national oppression, gender oppression, racial oppression, and so forth.


Conclusion:

TZM and TVP, for that matter, are not well equipped to deal with the modern problems facing the oppressed today. As long as the members of these groups align themselves with this particular form of utopian futurism they will not be able to produce the society that all living creatures desperately need, that the planet desperately needs. We don’t need conspiracies, personal fiefdoms, and utopian visions of the future completely divorced from the material reality of existing society. We need a mass, militant, Anarcho-syndicalist movement for libertarian communism.

Posted By

deathspiritcommunist
Apr 27 2017 13:21

Share


  • We don’t need conspiracies, personal fiefdoms, and utopian visions of the future completely divorced from the material reality of existing society. We need a mass, militant, Anarcho-syndicalist movement for libertarian communism.

Attached files

Comments

zugzwang
May 4 2017 00:05

Nice post, D., coinciding with Peter Joseph's recently released book New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression as well as that new film series he has coming out. I might also point out this older critique of TZM/TVP from 2009 which agrees with a lot of what you've written here (their lack of class analysis, believing the ruling class have any reason to change the status quo, Joseph's preoccupation with conspiracy theories, etc.)

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-the-problem-with-zeitgeist

Along with all the conspiracy theories, 9/11 and so on, Joseph was also a Ron Paul supporter at one point, supporting his run for president on his website, I believe. Joseph has for the most part now distanced himself from the conspiracy theories and other Right-Wingers. It should be worrying, however, to his followers how he's changed his positions like this. It's also irritating how 'zeitgeisters' view their 'movement' as non-political and 'above politics,' which doesn't make any sense because anything concerning how people should organize themselves is political; that's just a lame way to avoid reading about political philosophy and instead having your politics served to you in documentary form. If your political ideas are based on a handful of documentaries, as if Peter Joseph and Jacque Fresco are the world's saviors, that should ring some alarm bells and tell you that you need to do some re-evaluating.

zugzwang
May 3 2017 23:25

double post

Spikymike
May 4 2017 14:40

Thanks for this good critique. Others have shown an interest in the wider Zeitgeist 'movement' beyond just Peter Joseph. The SPGB in particular have engaged with some of their supporters in relation to the SPGB's version of Marxism here for instance: www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/comments/zeitgeist-and-'marxism' (or just search this title)
I think the SPGB would agree with much of your criticism except for your promotion of anarcho-syndicalism (which I am also critical of from a different perspective) but the SPGB's rather 'ideological' and propagandist approach perhaps makes them more sympathetic to TZM than most who post on this site - they might like to comment themselves?

Spikymike
May 4 2017 17:55

And I notice that one member of the SPGB suggests that Peter Joseph has moved on to some extent in a more positive way here:
www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/events-and-announcements/book-peter-joseph

zugzwang
May 20 2017 01:16

Fresco has recently passed away by the way, at the age of 101. You can read about it here if you're interested. I wonder how this will affect TVP, whether it will fade into obscurity.

Spikymike
May 21 2017 16:07

And the spgb's continuing interest in this here as well;
www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/general-discussion/jacque-fresco-and-venus-project
Only dipped into the video mentioned there and whilst JF does an interesting and entertaining talk his approach to solving social problems with technical solutions still seems to be based in an idealist rather than a materialist analysis of how capitalist class society functions in reality though others might disagree.

Spikymike
Jun 1 2017 09:45

And now a largely positive review of Peter Joseph's new book here:
www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2017/no-1354-june-2017/peter-joseph-indicts-capitalism
with minor criticism from the usual spgb'ish way.