Another Look at the Definitions of Right and Left
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/September, 26/18
Among the most interesting ironies I have known is the weird relationship between the USA and Communism. The Great Superpower that has always carried the banner of Capitalism and led the fight against Communism to the extent of refusing entry visas to any member in any Communist movement, gave us John Reed who perhaps was the best historian of the Bolshevik Revolution which created the Soviet Union.
It definitely is an irony that an American Harvard-graduate Leftist journalist would write “Ten Days that Shook the World” to chronicle the October 1917 Revolution, but it is a fact!
Two years ago, we witnessed another irony, when the US Republican Party picked the Right-winger billionaire Donald Trump as its candidate in the 2016 Presidential Elections. This time Trump’s electoral rhetoric was so populist that it ran against the grain of Capitalist thought; as he raised the banner of Protectionism which directly opposes the principles of Competitiveness and free movement of goods, services and investment. Moreover, he not only championed the cause of unskilled manual labor in the face of cyber communications, robotics and high technology but also called for a return to the mining industry which is facing extinction, in America as well as in most countries of Western Europe, as they move to alternative sources of energy.
At least, from the outside, Trump 2016 slogans looked very much like the slogan of Europe’s Left a few decades ago. In fact, Trump won the election in early November 2016 thanks to winning only around 77000 votes distributed among three industrial and former ‘Democratic’ state, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. These votes were enough to give him all three states’ votes in the ‘Electoral College’, and thus, hand him a majority in the ‘Electoral vote’ count.
However, what happened in the US was not a purely American phenomenon; since we have seen it happen again and again throughout Europe, where the tidal wave of liberal Capitalism – based Globalization is being confronted by an aggressive isolationist reaction bordering on outright racism. But what is more interesting in this respect, is that such a reaction against Globalization and free movement is not the monopoly of the classical nationalist and racist Right, but is being shared by groups from the classic and hardline Left, and the remnants of fossilized trade unions which have all but lost out the fight to keep traditional and labor intensive ‘old industries’, such as mining and textiles.
France ushered the beginnings, as the Communists began to weaken during the term of the Socialist president Francois Mitterrand. Fears of the fast demographic increase of Muslim immigrant population grew in some parts of France, soon multiplied by the influx of cheap labor flocking into France from the former Communist East European countries as they became full members of the European Union, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
In the light of these developments, a sizeable part of the French ‘blue collar’ workers relinquished its internationalist and ‘class allegiance’ and carried its bitterness at losing its ‘job security’, politically and electorally, from the camp of the traditional Left to the camp of the extreme anti-immigrant and anti-immigration extreme Right. What happened in France soon spread out to other parts of western Europe, especially to countries that host large immigrant communities such as Germany, or countries that live with an identity crisis or active separatist – or quasi-separatist movements such as the UK, Italy and Spain.
Germany, had actually, paid a heavy price after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification, as diehard radical Right and Left cultures permeated the former ‘West Germany’ from the former Communist ‘East Germany’. Today, the extreme Right is gaining more support, by highlighting the ‘danger of immigration’ and ‘Muslim identity’.
On the other hand, in the UK, the fragility of the ‘European’ loyalty has increased as a reaction against foreign immigration and East European labor; and hence, there was the shocking vote to exit the European Union, i.e. BREXIT. In this case, similar to the fall of ‘separating lines’ between the extreme Right and extreme Left in both America and France, the British hard Left voted with the isolationist and racist Right in favor of exiting the EU! The Leftist Labour Party leadership, as represented by Jeremy Corbyn continues to oppose a second referendum on BREXIT. However, the most interesting case must be that of Matteo Salvini, Italy Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister who, personally, crossed the ideological divide from the Leftist camp to lead one of Europe’s most virulent extreme Right and xenophobic anti-immigrant Parties.
How can we read into what is currently taking place in Western democracies – at least – as far as we have been familiar with of ‘Right’ vs ‘Left’, and wealth and development against poverty and backwardness?
A dear relative recently sent a recording containing interesting data, that deserves being discussed. The data, said to have been collected from reliable sources, including the UN, claims that 200 years ago the ‘rich countries’ were only 3 times richer than the ‘poor countries. By 1960, they became 35 times richer, and now they are 80 times richer.
The recording goes on to tell us that the ‘rich countries’ try to ‘compensate’ this huge discrepancy by giving aid to the ‘poor countries’ which today is estimated at 130 billion US dollars; however, this amount is dwarfed by the 900 billion US dollars the ‘rich countries’ draw from the ‘poor countries annually through trading regulations and practices; noting that the latter pay no less than 600 billion annually in debt servicing! In addition – according to the recording – every year no less than 2 trillion US dollars leave ‘poor countries’ to ‘rich countries’!
Furthermore, from a human perspective, only 2% of the World’s population own more than half of its wealth, and only 1% control 43% of the wealth, compared to 80% who own not more than 6%. Still, perhaps, the most significant piece of statistics is that wealth of the richest 300 individuals is equal to what is owned by 3 billion people, which is actually the combined total of the populations of China, India, the USA and Brazil.
I think, given these figures, many hypotheses become irrelevant, and many principles, ideals, and obsessions collapse.