ROME -- After the fall of Soviet Communism some political
scientists came to believe that the terms Left and Right no longer made sense,
that they were actually the same. Before his death in 1980 former Communist
Jean-Paul Sartre went so far as to speak of Left and Right as �empty boxes,� as
if they had been buried by Stalinism. Other political thinkers began using in
their place terms such as progressive and conservative.
Though the Democratic and Republican parties in the United
States contain both, a little of this, a little of that, with the result that
both parties are the same, no political movement with a genuine ideology
is and can be both Left and Right. Some positions and values can be exchanged
and integrated in diverse systems, but there is after all a limit. For example,
war cannot be peace.
In these times these two words are often considered
old-fashioned. They shouldn�t be. Besides they are not as old as some would
like us to think; the two
words were in vogue from the French Revolution up until a few years ago when at
the onset of the American counter-revolution they became somewhat politically
Left and Right had a geographical birth, originally in reference to the seating
arrangements in the French Chamber of Deputies after the revolution. They have
been used in European parliaments since. Popular or not, politically correct or
not, the Left/Right classification reflects what I see as the fundamental
polarity in social-political thought.
simple words work fine. They distinguish an entire Weltanschauung, the vision
of life and social relations of human beings.
French Revolution society was divided vertically. Power was at the top, and
filtered down, down, down through the hierarchy to the voiceless peasant-slave,
thus facilitating the rise of history�s despots. Though weaker from Power�s
point of view, the horizontal Left-Right division was more democratic, intended
to limit and control Power.
Kropotkin notes in his The Great French Revolution that the whole of
France was then divided into two hostile camps: on one side those who possessed
property, on the other, those who possessed nothing -- the rich and the poor.
Just as property holders and the landless, Left and Right are by definition
criteria distinguish between the two visions of life. The Right defends the
status quo and is defined as conservative or reactionary. Right believes in the
superiority of its cultural heritage. Right defends traditions, the past and
the nation, and as a consequence, militarism, individualism and more recently
reformist or revolutionary, stands for emancipation from the chains of the
past, libertarianism and innovation. For example, emancipation from the binds
of organized religion. Though not universally true, especially in Europe
religion is generally considered Right and atheism, Left (symbolically the good
are seated on the right of God; the evil on His left).
obviously belongs to the Right. The position on war of America�s Democratic
Party today is a Right position, as is its position on social justice. Right
positions inevitably result in clash, in war and increased social injustice.
The pro-war position of European Social Democracy at the outbreak of World War
I led directly to its decline and the predominance on the Left of the
Bolsheviks and thus to the birth of Stalinism.
War is no
minor political oversight, a slipup, a boo-boo, as American Democrats must by now know. War is historically
all-determinant. War has already destroyed the foundations of the American
republic and undermined American democracy itself.
Equality and inequality -- one or the other
Bobbio (1909-2004), Italy�s leading political philosopher, determined that the
major distinction between Left and Right is the relationship of each with
equality. Bobbio�s book, Destra e Sinistra (Right and Left), is a key reference
for this article.
every social-political view can be classified as Right or Left, Left as a rule
tends toward everything that strives for equality among men; Right tends toward
inequality. Or, expressed more forcefully, Right favors forms of hierarchies
distinction on the issue of equality is clear, uncompromising and on target.
Yet French revolutionaries themselves were hard put to come
out unequivocally for equality even in their Declaration of the Rights of Man.
But when the popular revolution forced the new government to finally proclaim
equality in the Preamble to the (new) Constitution, the Revolution flung
defiance in the face of all of the powerful royalty of Europe.
It�s one or the other -- Left or Right. They are not
interchangeable. Despite Right�s frequent claims that it too is �Socialist� and
despite Hitler�s appropriation of the word in National Socialism, and despite
Left�s frequent electoral claims that it too is moderate middle of the road,
both ideologies if they are genuine are one or the other.
Neither Left nor Right can be middle of road.
Some political philosophers like to describe the basic
dichotomy between the two with the categories Progressive and Conservative.
Those common words are not satisfactory. The words recall Sartre�s empty box;
Right can be progressive on certain limited themes, while Left to achieve and
maintain political power easily becomes conservative as seen in the Left of
America�s Democratic Party or often in European Socialism. Again, the extreme
Right of Nazism and Stalinism used the word Socialist freely and, in the end,
created parodies of socialist states.
Today, Left considers the Center a disguised Right; the
Right believes the Center is only a cover for the Left. And it is true; the
Center or the Third Way is often a cover for one or the other. Often the Third
Way is labeled a �conservative revolution� as if the ambivalent Third Way could
prevail over genuine Left or Right. For in the long run, the Center also is obligated
to assume positions reflecting either Left or Right.
One or the other, Left or Right, predominates in a given
society in a given moment, though one does not eliminate the other. Times
change but the basic dichotomy remains.
In Italy, the Right of Mussolinian Fascism fell and after
World War II the Left predominated -- though the imperialistic USA in the
post-war never allowed it to govern Italy. In the confusion of post-war Italy,
both the neo-Fascist Right and the ex-Communist Left came to assume Center
positions in order to emerge from political oblivion.
Like Washington, the European Center today is crowded by
survivors from Left and Right hanging onto crowded political life rafts.
The worst and most blatant and disturbing example of
ignoring the obvious is the USA, the world�s most powerful country controlled
by a one-party system, where the very words Left and Right are shunned.
America�s Republican and Democratic parties stand comfortably shoulder to
shoulder on the Right, bolstered by religious extremists and a myriad of secret
militias -- those in the woods and those abroad like Blackwater -- and the
usual flag-waving patriots.
In order to
devaluate the other, each party has devaluated itself.
is that today America�s two parties are interdependent, one on the other. They
have exchanged political and social values as if they were merchandise. The
two-component one-party system on the basis of the great euphemism, democracy, now a fa�ade, fake and mendacious,
today heads the great American Counter-Revolution.
one-party system and mainstream culture have meanwhile coined less threatening
words for Left such as: �Alternative� or �Indy,� which is America�s Left. The
active Left. Independent bookstores and publishers. Alternative press and
Stewart is originally from Asheville, NC. He has lived his adult life in
Germany and Italy, alternated with residences in The Netherlands, France,
Mexico, Argentina and Russia. After a career in journalism as a correspondent
for the Rotterdam newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, he began writing fiction. His
collections of short stories, "Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A
Stranger" and "Once In Berlin" are published by Wind River
Press. His new novel, "Asheville," is published by www.Wastelandrunes.com He lives with
his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.