Defining Our Terms
by Richard Curtis
Toward Freedom magazine, February 1998
The word democracy is used a lot these days. We're told that the Cuban
system isn't democratic, and that Fidel Castro is a dictator. We're also
told that the Right-wing business interests in Miami and elsewhere bent
on destroying the Cuban Revolution are democrats. Does this make any sense?
To find out, let's look at two other popular labels-Right and Left.
During the French Revolution, the Right referred to those in the original
revolutionary assembly who physically sat on the right side of the hall.
The ones with money and historic influence, they were suspicious of including
the masses in decision making.
Those on the Right felt that people with money and property should make
the decisions. Like the "Founding Fathers" of the US, they were
concerned that a government representing the unpropertied could challenge
their freedom of action. On the other side of the hall were those who. thought
the franchise should be extended to all, regardless of property holdings.
Since then, we've come to use the terms Left and Right to define, positions
on government and its relationship to property-more properly capital.
The Right claims to be concerned about the rights of individuals (they
just don't mention that they only care about individuals with wealth). As
representatives of capital, they have always been suspicious of democracy.
In fact, they believe that democratic government represents a threat to
freedom -that is, the freedom to pursue individual economic interests. Of
course, when the wealthy get together and vote on policy, that is a kind
of democracy-democracy of the few, or oligarchy.
Removing power from its traditional roots in the aristocracy meant granting
some to small property holders, and over time to those with no property.
But this extension of the franchise (and democracy) threatened the freedom
of capital. And so, these days we hear that the problem is big government.
As it's always done, the Right says that the government is a threat, that
it ruins things and controls us.
In fact, government is the compromise the ruling class makes with the
working class. The ruling class retains power, but gives up some freedom,
like the freedom to pollute, use child labor, or make dangerous products.
Mainly, however, the Right claims that the market will sort all this out,
and that government just gets in the way. Some working people and small
farmers have been persuaded to agree.
The Right, which in modern history is known as fascism, advocates a
system in which those with wealth are free to do as they please and the
functions of government are limited to policing and war. Some self-described
conservatives reject the term fascism, claiming that the fascists were actually
statists who believed in retaining the power of government. But that just
suggests an ignorance of history.
Fascism has always been about ensuring the rights of capital. The police
and army are necessary to protect corporations, human services aren't. Thus,
the Right-in all its forms, regardless of what it calls itself- wants less
government in areas that serve human beings, but just as much or more in
areas that protect capital and the pursuit of private profit.
Ironically, the political philosophy of the Right, fascism, has been
so discredited by history that contemporary so-called conservatives refuse
to identify their politics with its roots in European history. Even 70 years
ago, the leading German exponent of conservatism, Adolf Hitler, called his
fascist party the National Socialist German Workers Party. It was national
in the sense that the Nazis were ultimately protecting large German corporations
from those of other nations. But the word socialist was used only because
Hitler felt he could appeal to working people by appropriating the language
of the Left.
Today, capitalists call themselves democrats. As a result, Right-wing
groups in Miami can advocate the overthrow of a government in Cuba while
lining up for money to pursue what they call ''democracy building."
But capitalists claiming to be democrats rings as true as fascists claiming
to be socialists. Big capitalists are and always have been fascists-Rightists
who believe the rich should be free to do as they please. Socialists are
and always have been democrats-Leftists who believe every citizen should
As Jim Hightower puts it, there's nothing in the middle of the road
but yellow stripes and dead armadillos!
Richard Curtis, a freelance writer and radio producer, chairs the Colorado
district of the Communist Party USA.