What is the Zeitgeist Movement?

Across the developed capitalist world, the Occupy Wall Street  movement has inspired similar protests by thousands of people angered at the government bailouts of the banks and big corporations while the rest of us are forced to endure attacks on our living standards through government-imposed austerity. It has also attracted some weird hangers-on.

Among these are people influenced by Canadian Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist films. Joseph’s first Zeitgeist (German for “spirit of the times”) film, made in 2007, was a cliché of conspiracies, including the idea that 9/11 was an “inside job” perpetrated by the US government and that a cabal of “international bankers” orchestrated the US entry into the first two world wars and the US war on Vietnam in order to force the US government to become indebted to the Federal Reserve Board and thus increase the profits of these same “international bankers”.


It also rehashed a favourite theme within right-wing conspiracy milieus, i.e., that a secret agreement exists between the US, Canada and Mexico to merge into a “North American Union” as the first step towards the creation of “One World Government”, speculating that under such a government every human could be implanted with an ID microchip to monitor them and suppress dissent.

Joseph’s second film, Zeitgeist Addendum, released in 2008, called for the creation of an organised Zeitgeist Movement to promote the ideas of US engineer/architect Jacque Fresco and his Venus Project. Fresco argues that capitalism no longer promotes human progress, and needs to be replaced by a planned, “resource-based” economy directed at first by scientific experts and then by “intelligent” machines.

The film itself advocates that this goal can be achieved by (1) boycotting the major banks (“JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, the most powerful controllers in the corrupt Federal Reserve System”); (2) boycotting “the news networks (CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox, etc.)”, (3) boycotting the US military, (4) rejecting the US political system, (5) boycotting the energy corporations (by detaching your home from the energy grid); and (6) by going to Zeitgeist  Movement’s website “to help us create the largest mass movement for social change the world has ever seen”.

In July 2010 the Zeitgeist Movement claimed to have chapters in 46 countries. The main problem with this movement is that, while it presents a detailed vision of how it would like the world to be, other than advocating individual boycotts of particular institutions and “a revolution of mass understanding and hence values changes within each individual”, it has no perspective on how to get from the world as it is to the kind of world that it wants; i.e., it is a classically utopian movement.

Unless Marxist forces are able to grow and become better organised, there’s a danger that some young people brought around healthy new movements such as Occupy will drift towards organisations and dead-end ideologies such as the Zeitgeist Movement.