Fight Fiercely, Harvard!

Conspiracy theories are complicated systems, and maintaining them could require a great deal of work.  Fortunately, the conspiratorial ecosystem is built on a conservationist ethic:  nothing goes to waste.  Ideologues show no hesitation about recycling earlier theories in the service of new, more timely conspiracies. 

 In the American context, Michael Barkun has demonstrated the facility with which UFOlogists adapt both the structure and the details of foundational paranoid texts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion along with material from proto-New Age sources (Madame Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine) and turn-of-the-century pulp science fiction (stories of evil, subterranean lizard people by Bulwyr-Lytton and Robert E. Howard) (31-33). The repeated invocations of the same source material add weight to the conspiracists' claims, buttressing their works with a pseudo-scholarly authority. 

Post-Soviet Russia had several lines of conspiratorial thought that at times functioned in parallel, and at other time came together, often in extremist newspapers such as Aleksandr Prokhanov’s Zavtra (formerly Den’).  Before we can leave the 1990s, we must take a look at the conspiracy theories that post-Soviet Russia inherited and refined.  We begin with  the one that fits best with the Russian and European conspiratorial classics, particularly The Protocols:  Grigory Klimov’s dark vision of the “Harvard Project” (garvardskii proekt). 

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The Harvard Project gives the anti-Semitism of the Protocols a pseudoscientific veneer, updating them with the preoccupations of the Cold War (mind control, the American threat) and contemporary sexual panic (predatory homosexuals and militant lesbians),  and reinforcing the religious dimension by approaching Biblical texts and confessional differences in terms of genetics and evolution. For the post-Soviet era, the Harvard Project takes on yet another sinister dimension, as it is easily conflated with the economic “shock therapy” programs advocated by Harvard economists such as Jeffrey Sachs. 

Klimov developed an all-purpose demonology that gives the appearance of rigor while actually being extremely flexible.  The result has all the hallmarks of the most baroque conspiracy theories to attract attention in the West, such as Lyndon LaRouche’s assertion that the Queen of England is an international drug kingpin working with the Rothschilds, or that the US government is under the extraterrestrial heel of spacemen with a baffling penchant for anal probes and cattle mutilation.  Klimov finds his enemies slightly closer to home:  for decades, Russia has been under siege by a cabal of genetically defective Jews and homosexuals (virtually synonymous in Klimov’s lexicon), plotting the country’s downfall from behind the ivy-covered walls of Harvard University.

 

Though Klimov is far from a household name in Russia (let alone in the West), his paranoid vision has serious ramification for post-Soviet conspiracism, even if his influence might not always be direct.  Klimov’s paradoxical combination of anti-Semitism, anti-Communism, and Russian nationalism with a strong respect for the Soviet incarnation of Russian statehood that his anti-revolutionary diatribes would seem to attack, proved remarkably prophetic.  Years before the dissident Igor Shafarevich would denounce both communism and Judaism as inherently hostile to life itself, and decades before the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Klimov articulated the worldview that would come to be associated with the Red/Brown opposition. [12]  

Tomorrow: The Union of Concerned Mad Scientists

Note 

[1] Igor Shafarevich's 1977 book Socialism as a Phenomenon of World History (Социализм как явление мировой истории), argues not only that Jews are to blame for socialism, but that the movement's ultimate goal is the "death of humanity" (358).