Who is George Soros, the right wing’s boogeyman?


Many people heard about George Soros for the first time when he denounced George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” lies about Saddam Hussein being behind the 9/11 attacks and the monumentally disastrous invasion of Iraq. Soros ran full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers with the title “When the nation goes to war, the people deserve the truth,” which debunked a dozen statements justifying the war made by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

This was a fearful time when the mainstream media and politicians were afraid to be seen as traitors sympathizing with the 9/11 terrorists.

Soros is a Jewish, Hungarian-American multi-billionaire who founded a network of philanthropic groups active in more than 50 countries that focus on education, public health, human rights and economic reform. He is also a big funder for Democratic Party candidates and many progressive causes in the U.S.

He announced he was spending many millions to defeat Bush in 2004 (education campaigns with America Coming Together, voter mobilization drives with MoveOn.org and research by the Center for American Progress). 

Soros authored a book called The Bubble of American Supremacy, which said the Bush administration suffered from a “bubble” psychology similar to the delusions which afflicted capitalist markets in the late 1990s. Since the U.S. has overwhelming military superiority, Bush pushed a dangerous Social Darwinist “might makes right” stance.

The right wing went crazy. A writer on the conservative website GOPUSA.com said Soros was a “descendant of Shylock.” 

Today, Soros’ support for immigrant rights has made him the villain of the anti-Semitic ‘Great Replacement’ theory. Soros is portrayed as a “puppet master” who controls the world and economy behind the scenes. His support for criminal justice reform and progressive prosecutors in the U.S. also enrages right-wingers.

It’s true that Soros is a highly influential world figure who advises governments and uses his money for media and social activism. He promotes philosopher Karl Popper’s idea of an “open society” as a bulwark against the closed societies of fascism and Stalinism.

Nevertheless, his good works are problematic because philanthropy represents the privatization of social policy. 

Soros himself has noted that “the connection between capitalism and democracy is tenuous at best.” In 1998, he authored a book called The Crisis of Global Capitalism in which he harshly criticized those who promote unregulated free markets, an ideology he calls “market fundamentalism.” 

During a speech at Harvard, he said, “Market values express what one participant is willing to pay another in a free exchange. They do not reflect social values, nor do they express many of the intrinsic values that people hold dear.” 

“Market fundamentalists… [claim] that the common interest is best served by everybody looking out for his own interests” he said. “This claim is false. … There are many political and social objectives which are not properly served by the market mechanism. … These include the preservation of competition and of stability in financial markets, not to mention issues like the environment and social justice.”

He argued that free-market ideology undermines political democracy:

“By promoting market values into a governing principle, market fundamentalism has undermined our society. Representative democracy presupposes moral values, such as honesty and integrity, particularly in our representatives. When success takes precedence over integrity, and politics is dominated by money, the political process deteriorates.”

This speech may seem somewhat unremarkable. But at that time, Soros was talking to many Democrats as well as the Republicans about their romance with free market ideology. This was before the Great Recession of 2007-2008. In response to that crisis, Soros proposed bank nationalization as a solution but he was told that idea amounted to socialism. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Soros spent hundreds of millions in the former Soviet-bloc countries to promote civil society and liberal democracy. In 1992, he recalls proposing that the International Monetary Fund aid given to post-Soviet governments “be earmarked for the payment of pensions and unemployment benefits and its distribution closely supervised” for a stable transition to capitalism. Instead, Western officials promoted a rapid “shock therapy” that produced widespread misery, a vicious kleptocracy and the rise of Putin in Russian and Viktor Orban in Soro’s native Hungary.

Now Putin and Orban are in the vanguard of promoting far right authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world. 

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

Previous articleFor the love of bacon
Next articleHeating up