Title: The Brotherhood
Author: Stephen Knight
Publisher: Harper Collins
Reviewer: Doug Lowe
In this case the 'brotherhood' being Freemasonry. This is a subject rarely discussed on the Left but we shouldn't underestimate them.
Many socialists tend to view Freemasons with merely amused contempt because of their strange rituals but, as Knight points out, behind these bizarre rites lie more serious issues. We're not talking about conspiracies as such (although their secretiveness leaves them open to such interpretations). We'll leave the paranoia to others.
There are millions of Freemasons around the world and an estimated 3/4 million in Britain. They claim to stand for 'morality, fraternity and charity'. Accordingly, they make large donations to charity and take care of their fellow members and relatives when bereavement and sickness strike.
But membership itself is strictly controlled. British Freemasonry is exclusively male and overwhelmingly middle class. It is open only to those with enough money to cope with the expense involved (and that can be considerable). Freemasons are mainly businessmen and 'professional' people - policemen, bank managers, lawyers, senior civil servants etc. Shop floor workers and clerks are definite no-no's. Catholic and Jewish people are not excluded, since class counts for more than religious persuasion. I get the impression from Knight that the same 'tolerance' is not likely to be extended to non-'white' people.
Although Masons claim a direct line back into the mists of time, this is just part of the mystical shroud it cloaks itself in. In fact, the real beginnings of Freemasonry (as we understand it today) coincided with the rise of a confident and growing middle class in the Seventeenth Century. It was an expression of their assertiveness and growing identity. Its exclusiveness and secrecy was also an expression of its fear and hatred of the growing working classes.
Now, with the ruling class long-entrenched in its power and privileges, Freemasonry is an extremely hierarchical, respectable and conservative group concerned to maintain the status quo. This is, of course, reflected in its membership. The rituals, oaths, mystical jargon and symbols are merely a way of binding them together against 'outsiders'. This obviously helps to reinforce class loyalties.
Most of this is documented by Knight, who then proceeds to show how many Masons use their membership to advance in business, win promotion and generally 'improve' their wealth and positions.
He used his contacts (Masonic and non-Masonic) to look into instances of corruption involving Masons. Amongst other things, he claims that 'the corruption which led to Operation Countryman...would never have arisen had a masonic City of London police commissioner in the 1970s not turned a blind eye to the activities of several desperately corrupt Freemasons under his command'. He also cites the infamous Poulson case as an example of Masons abusing their membership for corrupt ends.
But, as he himself points out, it can be argued that the possibilities for corruption are not confined to those with Masonic contacts. This is where Knight really goes off the rails. He seems concerned that the 'impartiality' of the police and judiciary might be impaired by 'corrupt' Masons using their influence 'unfairly'. His is a Britain where there are a few 'bad apples' in various parts of the State who use Freemasonry for selfish ends. But the key supporting institutions of capitalism - the City, police, judiciary, civil service etc. are riddled with inherent possibilities for dirty dealings anyway, 'legal' or 'illegal'.
In certain situations it is undoubtedly true that being a Mason is helpful because of the organisation they can use for their benefit. But wheeling and dealing isn't confined to Freemasonry. In any case, when it comes to capitalism and its main institutions Masons are 'loyal citizens' and loyalty to fellow Masons is ultimately secondary.
Naturally, socialists should expose corruption but, unlike Knight, I couldn't care less if a barrister on £xxxxx thousands a year gains promotion aheade of another one because of his Masonic contacts.
As the book proceeds, we head into other familiar territory. He rambles on at length about the dangers of infiltration of Freemasonry by hostile foreign intelligence services. He seems terrified that a major scandal involving Freemasonty would have disastrous effects because it contains many 'top' businessmen, politicians and royals etc. This would cause 'popular revulsion against the whole established order, Government and business', turned to their advantage by unscrupulous extremists. He therefore concludes that the ruling class should do its utmost to weed out the few 'bad apples' who use Fremasonry for 'corrupt ends'.
This is Fantasy Island, of course. The whole orchard is rotten to the core.
Having said that, it is a book worth a glance at as it gives a useful insight into the mentality and workings of Freemasonry. Freemasonry itself is not something that the Left should be overly concerned about - there are clearly a lot more pressing issues. Masonry will only become a real threat during and after a revolution, as one of many organisations attempting to use its power and influence to organise against socialism. Then Freemasonry will have to be destroyed as any other counter-revolutionary institution. Some time to go before that becomes an issue, though!
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