The words right and left have been used to define party political positions since the days of the French Revolution. Le droit (the right) was represented by the clergy, the aristocracy and the monarchists. Le gauche (the left) was represented by anyone else who wasn’t born into the purple. In recent years, the words right and left have been described variously as “unhelpful” or “useless”. While this may often be the case – particularly when describing positions within political parties – it is all that we have and regardless of its flaws, it works.
Within the last few days I have witnessed a blatant (and Orwellian) manipulation of language so that the extreme-right appears to be extreme-left. At least this is the case in the mind of Daniel Hannan and his supporters who seem to feel that the BNP are “left-wing” because there is a trace element of socialist economics in their policies. I say ‘trace element’ because whatever socialism there is within their economic policies is reserved only for les certains, in other words – as Griffin would describe them – ‘indigenous’ British. The BNP is not socialist and they are certainly not an internationalist party.
I often find that it is those on the Right who will shout the loudest about the right/left cleavage. Today another Telegraph blogger has waded into the fray. Gerald Warner shouts,
We have to get rid of this nonsensical vocabulary. The correct terminology for those who futilely seek to improve the world through some innovatory creed such as socialism is “radical”, “liberal” or, preferably, “progressive”, since that places some onus on them to explain to what destination they imagine they are progressing. In the more extreme cases they may be described as “revolutionary”.
The shouts are at their loudest when parties like the BNP or their predecessor, the National Front are described as ‘extreme right’. It seems as though the problem stems from the fact that parties like the BNP, NF and of course the Nazis lean towards authoritarianism. According to commentators like Hannan or Tebbitt, authoritarianism and tyranny are characteristic of left-leaning regimes and will cite Stalin-era Soviet Union or Maoist China as examples. Apparently this is what happens when left-wing parties take power…or so they continue to delude themselves into thinking.
But they seem ever-so-sensitive about their assignment on the Right. Left-wingers don’t get this worked up. Ed West says,
This is because, as Daniel Hannan wrote last week, the BBC and the wider liberal media conflates “Right-wing” with evil, even when it’s absurdly inappropriate, anachronistic or nonsensical (such as with the Iranian hardliners).
“Evil”? Someone needs to grow up. Surely the Iranian hardliners are right-wing? Why get so upset about it? But the BBC are described here as ‘liberal’ when they are, in fact, rather conservative (witness the BBC’s response to the DEC request to air an appeal for the people of Gaza earlier this year). Hannan was so enraged that he even claimed that,
A true Rightist believes that, other things being equal, the individual should be as free as possible from state coercion: a position equally abhorrent to socialists of the National or Leninist varieties.
His argument comes unstuck when Pinochet, Franco, Stroeßner, the Greek Generals or Salazar are offered as examples of right-wing tyrannies which, incidentally, were all trading partners of the so-called liberal democracies from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s. For instance, Pinochet had the support of the Thatcher government, ostensibly because of Chile’s succour during the Falklands War. But this support was also ideological: Chile under Pinochet was brutally fashioned into a model of free-market economics. This ‘miracle’ impressed Thatcher and those on the right of her party, who were referred to as the ‘Dries’. The left of her party or the ‘Wets’ (or One Nation Tories), on the other hand, were known to be dismayed. Curiously, in the 50’s and 60’s, some One Nation Tories were denounced for their ‘socialism’.
Stalin: left or right?
As I mentioned above, the Right will often use Stalin as a tactic to undermine the arguments of the Left, pointing to both Stalin’s character and his authoritarian regime. But if we have a closer look at Soviet-era ‘communism’ we see two things: first, there is the regime’s glorification and worship of the military – something that is consistent with fascism. Second, Stalin’s policy of ‘Socialism in one country’ was in direct conflict with socialism’s internationalism; it was nationalist in scope. We could argue that the thesis of ‘socialism in one country’ gave rise to the former. Related to Stalin’s doctrine was the need to keep the revolution at ‘home’: this was manifested in the way in which the public was kept in line: through coercion and repression.
Apart from the nationalism and the glorification of the military, Stalin’s USSR had a centrally planned and managed economy; there were no private companies; all economic activity was state-controlled. This is not necessarily the same as a commonwealth, where all the citizens of a nation share in the wealth created through common ownership.
In the so-called ‘free’ world, the act of consumption was regarded as ‘freedom’. However when we unpack this thesis we find that one has to have the economic means – in other words, the money – in order to participate; in order to be ‘free’. This message of ‘freedom’ was sold to the east as an ideal and when the Eastern Bloc collapsed in the late 1980’s, there was a headlong rush for consumer goods. How quickly ideas of freedom evaporated when it was discovered that the West’s ‘freedoms’ rested entirely on the means to consume. As a consequence we now see former Soviet satellite states adopting authoritarian and reactionary regimes.
The end of ideology is a myth
In the early 1990’s we were told by a succession of Right-thinking academics and politicians that we had reached the ‘end of ideology’. Fukuyama described it as the ‘end of history’. But have we come to the end of ideology or is this what the certain politicians want us to think?
One of Thatcher’s objectives was to ‘destroy’ socialism in Britain. How she was going to achieve this was anyone’s guess since, as the character V says in the film V for Vendetta, “Ideas are bullet-proof”. People who espouse certain ideas can be killed- often by the state – but their ideas refuse to die. The de-Nazification of Germany in the aftermath of WWII did not lead to a purging of all Nazis from Germany nor did it wipe from the memory the Nazi ideology. Nazi parties, as well as fascists ones, continue to exist in spite of the misguided efforts to eradicate their ideas.
I find it odd that no one has ever declared Conservatism or Liberalism dead, but many on the Right will erroneously claim that socialism is dead because of the collapse of the USSR. Even the Left bought into this idea and so the race was on among social democratic parties to make themselves appear slightly more right-wing. This included the abandonment of long-standing policies and the full embrace of neo-liberal economic policies in order to appeal to ‘floating’ voters. This became known as the Third Way.
Left-wing and proud
I will not apologize for being a left-winger nor will I erroneously claim that Franco was actually a left-winger in order to pervert historical materialism for the sake of ideology. The legacy of the Thatcher years has been to demonize anything that is vaguely left-wing; even the Labour Party fell into this trap when Kinnock expelled the Militant from the party. Labour then went on to reject anything that appeared or sounded slightly socialist. Why? Because 18 years of Tory rule created a culture of intolerance (just look at how loudly they shout about ‘political correctness’). The Tory-supporting press were more than happy to oblige in the ritualistic slaughter of an ideological enemy and so lies were told about left-wing councils in order to make them left look foolish, trivial and silly.
The Left is weak in Britain and it has only itself to blame for this sorry state of affairs. While the Right continue to thrive…but for how much longer?