A recent study from King’s College London has found that a quarter of people in Britain believe that the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax. In total, a third of people hold some level of belief in conspiracy theories.
The focus of these is not limited to the pandemic. Other popular conspiracies include suspected government involvement in terrorist attacks; malign motivations for the introduction of digital currencies; and various covers for restricting personal freedoms.
The primary culprit in spreading these ideas was found to be social media, with YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok the most common gateway sites for conspiracy theorists.
It would be wrong to suggest, however, that social media is at the root of Britain’s conspiracy theory boom.
Sleaze and scandal
What these findings really demonstrate is that a third of people, no matter what they believe, have no trust in the establishment.
Currently, only 1-in-5 UK voters trust political parties. And less than half the population trust the police. Overall, 75% of people believe the country ‘is heading the wrong way’.
And no wonder. No government policy has stopped the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer, or curbed the torrent of sleaze and corruption emanating from Westminster.
Many ordinary people, understandably, no longer trust politicians and the mainstream media, who they rightly see as liars. And in searching for alternative explanations, they stumble across conspiracies.
Instead of keeping up the facade that ‘we’re all in this together’, conspiracy peddlers recognise the anxiety, alienation, and lack of control that people feel over their lives under capitalism, and feed off of this.
This is easily done, since the reality is that we are not all in the same boat, especially when capitalism hits stormy waters.
It is no surprise, for example, that the pandemic was a major turning point for the popularity of conspiracy theories.
Role of the reformists
For many, these conspiracies are more than a passing consideration. One-in-seven of those polled believe that violence would be a reasonable response to any realisation of the conspiracies they subscribe to.
This is an indicator of the level of anger, distrust, and anxiety that exists in society. And it is this that condescending liberal commentators wring their hands over.
Yet, ultimately, all that is achieved as these more and more outlandish conspiracies grow is that discontent and resentment are redirected down dead-ends, away from the real criminals: the ruling class and the capitalist system.
The leaders of the labour movement should be stepping in to cut across the impotent myths of the conspiracy theorists, and to channel the anger in society along socialist lines.
By explaining the everyday problems that people face in clear class terms, and fighting for bold socialist demands, they could offer a real alternative to the cover-ups and half-baked solutions of the establishment.
Instead, ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer is doing everything he can to show that he and his Labour Party are part of this very same establishment. And the leaders of TUC, meanwhile, are seeking compromises with the bosses and the government, instead of mobilising for class struggle.
One solution: revolution
It is the role of Marxists to explain that the turbulence and instability that ordinary people are living through is not the result of any hushed-up conspiracy, but is a consequence of the anarchy and madness of the capitalist system.
A bold socialist programme could easily win over many of those sympathetic to conspiracy theories – not only by explaining the root of society’s problems, but by offering real, revolutionary solutions.
With the economy organised under a democratic, rational plan, people would have control over their own lives for the first time, removing the fertile ground of chaos and misery upon which conspiracies thrive today.
The truth is that the world is run by a sinister elite: the capitalist class. The task for workers and youth is to get organised, to sweep out the bosses and bankers, and to overturn their decrepit system through socialist revolution.