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 have power.

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.

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