‘left’ and ‘right’ are widely used to designate political positions, but they
are now much abused in common parlance and in the media, and as a result the
online resource Wikipedia writes: “Despite the prevalence and durability of
these terms, there is little consensus on what it actually means to be Left
or Right at the present time.”
is a breakdown in the meaning of words that are widely used in one domain of
social life, one solution for the social scientist is to invent new technical
terms. In this particular case, however, I predict that whatever connotations
of ‘left’ and ‘right’ the reader was using would immediately be mapped to
whatever terms I chose to innovate, abolishing any benefit. So, given that my
purpose is to rescue the -- still surviving -- main meanings of these
words, I have concluded that I must confront the current confusion head on: I
will keep the terms and I will explictly defend my
way of using them as the most sensible.
breakdown in meaning, the original uses of these words are not in
doubt. In its list of possible meanings of ‘left’ and ‘right,’ Wikipedia
gives the following first:
“Support for the economic interests of the less privileged
classes as part of the left, or of the more privileged as part of the right.
…this issue of class interests was the original meaning of the dichotomy.”
the dichotomy arise? At the time of the French Revolution. Wikipedia states:
“The terms Left and Right have been used to refer to political
affiliation since the early part of the French Revolutionary era. They
originally referred to the seating arrangements in the various legislative
bodies of France, specifically in the French Legislative Assembly of 1791,
when the moderate royalist Feuillants sat on the
right side of the chamber, while the radical Montagnards
sat on the left.”
So, in the
context of the French Revolution, which gave birth to these terms, the
opposition of the ‘right’ and ‘left’ had a rather clear meaning, which I
sense is still the main meaning, despite the modern confusion. I have
therefore chosen to isolate these meanings from other meanings in order to
clean these words up and turn them into useful technical terms for the
practice of social science.
definitions are as follows:
Left : defends the interests of the many against the
interests of the wealthy few.
Right : defends the interests of the wealthy few against the
interests of the many.
first, that the above definitions are broad, so they admit of all sorts of
qualifiers, such as ‘radical leftist,’ ‘extreme right-winger,’
‘center-right,’ ‘moderate left,’ etc., but the basic contrast remains. Thus,
for example, if you are on the ‘moderate right’ you do not favor sadistic
oppression of workers, but neither do you want the workers to be in power; if
you are on the ‘moderate left’ you favor reforms that will improve the lives
of the workers, but you are not calling for revolution. The most extreme
right-wing system will be a slave-making state run by a tiny, sadistic, and
wealthy aristocracy. The most extreme left-wing system will be a state where
the working and middle classes are not merely free to make choices in every
domain of life, but where they also constitute the overwhelmingly dominant
force in politics.
since my definitions are broad and identify merely whose
interests one supports, they do not say a thing about one’s proposed solution
to a perceived problem. In other words, for example, my terms in no way
require that a leftist opposes private property and market economics, or that
a rightist favors them. I think this is a sensible way of speaking, because
disagreements about proposed solutions are secondary to the question of whose
interests one is trying to advance.
are descriptive, not normative. In other words, the above definitions do not
say that the left is ‘good’ and the right ‘bad,’ though if you are a leftist
you will naturally tend to map this normative equivalence to the terms,
because your politics are always, inevitably, about your values. Conversely,
if you side with the wealthy few, then the left will be ‘bad.’
is possible to be on the left -- as per my definitions -- and
simultaneously to tell people that you are on the ‘right’ because the way
these terms are now abused in common parlance and in the media has affected
you, or because you wish to spread disinformation about yourself or about the
thing you are supporting or opposing. The converse -- being on the right but
saying that you are on the ‘left’ -- is likewise possible. This is the most
important point here, so I will rely on a few historical examples to make
myself clear, before moving to the case of Israel, my ultimate quarry.
The Soviet Union
that the Soviet Union was an extreme right-wing system. Why?
the Soviet Union the workers were coerced to live and work in a
certain way, and imprisoned or murdered if they disagreed, by the millions.
So there was no liberty.
those who benefited were a tiny elite in the Communist Party that monopolized
political power and lived in considerable luxury from the fruits of the
oppressed workers. In other words, in the Soviet Union the workers were the slaves
of the Communist Party elite. So there was no equality.
By the way,
it is precisely because the Soviet Union made slaves that, like any
slave-making state, it developed a problem with runaway slaves --
e.g., athletes going to an international competition who took advantage of
the trip to escape. These were called ‘defectors,’ which strikes me as a
rather tendentious label for wanting to impute to the act of escape a
propagandistic ideological statement. Merriam Webster Online gives the
following definition of to defect: “to forsake one’s cause, party, or
nation for another often because of a change in ideology.” But the desire not
to live under conditions of extreme oppression seems to me quite enough to
the Soviet Union people had to be careful because anybody -- one’s neighbor,
co-worker, etc. -- might be reporting one’s activities or statements to the
authorities. So there was no fraternity.
of the French revolutionaries, who bequeathed to us the meaning of the term
‘leftist,’ were liberty, equality, and fraternity. All three
were absent in the Soviet Union, and then some. It follows that the Soviet
Union was not a leftist state. The Soviet Union is one of the worst things
that ever happened to the workers.
everybody talks about the Soviet Union as a ‘leftist’ system. Why?
reasons. The Soviet Union was created after the triumph of the Russian
Revolution. The Russian Revolution was a pro-worker movement, and the Soviet leaders after the revolution
always continued to claim to be ‘leftist’ in their propaganda (when they
murdered the workers, it was in the name of the workers…). They also financed
the growth of movements in various parts of the world that likewise called
themselves ‘leftist.’ But a social scientist may not take official propaganda
and turn it into the foundation of his analysis. Lenin and Stalin destroyed
the revolution and re-enslaved the workers, so it is absurd to call the
Soviet system ‘leftist.’ Neither were many of the Soviet-sponsored movements
leftist in the least. For example, almost every supposedly ‘leftist’
government and movement that the Soviet Union sponsored in the Arab world was
right-wing -- and some of these supposed ‘leftists’ had been enthusiastic
allies of the Nazis in WWII. Not coincidentally, the Soviet Union became an
enemy of Israel, which was a genuinely leftist state.
But it was
not just Soviet propaganda that pushed the interpretation of the Soviet Union
as ‘leftist’: the ruling elites in the West -- the same ones that determine
how the Western media talks -- also pushed this equivalence.
they? In my view, because by identifying the nightmare that was the Soviet
Union with the ‘left,’ they harmed the prestige of worker movements in the
West, the same movements that the wealthy Western elites had an interest in
undermining. After all, why would workers in the West want to be enslaved
like those in the Soviet Union? If that’s what the ‘left’ promised, the
workers would want nothing to do with the ‘left.’
This was a
brilliant strategy, especially because many Western leftists assisted it by
offering contorted defenses of the Soviet Union. The consequence? The Western
state which developed the sharpest public confrontation with the Soviet Union
has also had the weakest worker movements and in consequence the starkest
inequalities in the industrialized world: the United States.
The United States
States has two large right-wing parties, both of them controlled by the
wealthy elites. One of them, the Democratic Party, sometimes pretends to be
on the ‘left,’ but the pretense does not affect the reality. Since neither party
cares about defending the poor, working and middle classes, the terms ‘right’
and ‘left’ -- because they must describe politics that happen almost entirely
on the right -- have taken, in the United States, rather narrow meanings that
moreover appear not to describe anything that actually happens.
example, many Americans have learned to think of the ‘right’ as standing for
smaller government and fiscal responsibility, and the ‘left’ for bigger
government and fiscal profligacy. At one time, this was grounded in the
traditional meanings of the terms, because leftists originally became
enamored of big government as a way of correcting the disproportionate
advantages of the wealthy few, redistributing income to the many; whereas
those on the right -- representing the interests of the wealthy -- naturally
opposed this. But the one balancing the budget and dismantling the welfare apparatus
(already the smallest in the West before his surgery) was Bill Clinton, from
the supposedly leftist party; whereas the ones massively increasing
government spending while slaughtering the tax revenues were Ronald Reagan
and George Bush Jr., supposedly on the right. In my terms, they are all
on the right, because the specific nature of the policies has been to benefit
the wealthy few. In the United States, a party representing the unwealthy simply does not exist. From the middle class
down, the policies of both parties have everybody under attack. The ones who
benefit are the very, very wealthy.
The use of
the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ has also become rather strange in Israel. Just
as the United States does not have a significant left-wing, Israel has never
had a significant right-wing when it comes to issues unrelated to the
Arab-Israeli conflict. Just as all politics in the United States is conducted
on the right, because both major parties are right wing, most politics in
Israel are conducted on the left, and this skew, as in the mirror-image that
is the United States, accounts for the curious manner in which these terms
are used in Israel. But to better grasp the problems with these terms as they
are used in Israel, it will be useful to discuss first where the German Nazis
fit, something that I doubt will elicit much controversy.
The German Nazis
to my definitions of ‘left’ and ‘right,’ the German Nazis were an extreme
right-wing movement because they viciously attacked the working and middle
classes, turning everybody into the victim of a racist, autocratic, and
totalitarian policy, or else rewarding those with correct ‘racial’ background
and ‘good’ behavior by turning them into proud cannon fodder. Again agreeing
with my technical terms is the fact that this movement was generously
financed by the wealthy German (and American) elites, and it came to power by defeating genuine leftists.
promotion of racism -- a specialty of the German Nazis -- has traditionally
worked quite well for the extreme right wing. When racism is not providing
the justification for the elite oppression of a particular group (e.g. blacks
in the US), it helps pit the workers against each other, distracting them and
weakening their political resistance to the depradations
of the upper classes. Either way, racism can only benefit ruling
elites, never the unwealthy. The Nazis were
particularly adept in the promotion of racism, which they deployed to create
a slave-making state, with Jews working until they were executed in death
camps, and prisoners of war from the Soviet Union and many other places
worked to death in Nazi factories that produced war materiel with which to
bring more slaves. The culmination of the Nazis’ specifically anti-Jewish
policy is known as the Final Solution: the effort to kill every last Jew in
Now, it turns
out that the controlling core of the so-called Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) -- Al Fatah --
traces its roots to the Nazis. Al Fatah
was created by veterans of Hajj Amin al Husseini’s Arab Higher Committee.
al Husseini, from his position as Mufti of Jerusalem, had used his Arab
Higher Committee to organize large terrorist riots against innocent Jews in
British Mandate ‘Palestine’ in the 1920s and 30s, so he naturally felt a
great affinity with Adolf Hitler, who in fact supplied the weapons for the
largest such conflagration, which was called the ‘Arab Revolt’ (1936-39).
World War exploded Hitler recruited Husseini as a leader of his Final
Solution, and Husseini organized tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim
volunteers into large SS units that played a major role in the slaughter of
hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, and Roma (Gypsies) in Yugoslavia.
was also instrumental in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of
Hungarian Jews and in speeding up the killings in the death camps. After the war, Hajj Amin al Husseini
mentored Yasser Arafat and it was his own Arab Higher Committee that created Al Fatah, Arafat’s organization, which
by 1970 had swallowed up the PLO. This naturally means that the PLO -- which, true to its
heritage, calls for the extermination of the Jews in its founding charter -- is an extreme right-wing
So here is
the contradiction: it is precisely those who call themselves ‘leftists’ who
have pushed for an Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza run by PLO/Fatah . This absurdity obtains generally but we are talking
about Israel, where there is a surprisingly large contingent of Jews who have
pushed hard for this suicidal outcome, and who call themselves not merely
‘leftists’ but proponents of ‘peace’!
symmetry, those opposed to the PLO are called…‘rightists.’ This label is
applied especially to the religious Jews in Israel, which brings us to
the next curiosity.
Jews are people who take the Torah (Genesis, Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) quite
seriously. The Torah is also known as the Five Books of Moses, or the Law of
Moses, and it happens to be a radically leftist law, carefully
designed to protect workers from the repressive excesses of wealthy elites.
Not coincidentally, it is based on the story of a successful slave revolt
(Exodus), after which the successful revolutionaries created a utopian
law to forever protect the lower classes. Therefore, the religious Jews in Israel, keepers of a
radically leftist law, and bitter enemies of the PLO, an extreme right-wing
organization, are of course leftists.
media calls them ‘right-wingers.’ As a result, many religious Jews have
learned to call themselves that too -- particularly since they feel a need to
distinguish themselves from the alleged ‘leftists’ who claim that supporting
the enemies of the Jewish state is a strategy to achieve peace.
explains these curiosities in the use of the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ in
Israel? Are they tethered in any way to the traditional meanings of
‘left’ and ‘right’?
so-called ‘peace’ camp in Israel is traditionally tied to the Labor party,
and the Labor party emerged out of what was a radically leftist movement
among those who founded the state of Israel. Before the state of Israel was
declared in 1947-48, the Yishuv (the Jewish
community in what became modern Israel) was dominated by a collection of
unions and their associated political parties.
leftists were opposed by the Revisionists: liberal democrats who did not
frown on private property and did not like collectivization. The Revisionist
camp and its descendants traditionally received support from religious Jews,
which in some ways makes sense: the Labor Zionists were largely secular, and
believed in collectivization, whereas the Law of Moses, though radically
leftist, has never frowned on private property. But the main reason it makes
sense is that the Labor Zionists had a pronounced Marxist bent and were
viscerally opposed to the Jewish faith.
A series of
mergers eventually brought together the various leftist parties in what
became the ‘Labor Alignment’ that produced the Labor Party. For its part, the
Likud party is a descendant of Menachem Begin’s Herut, which grew out of the Revisionist movement. Likud
has identified itself with the ‘right,’ in opposition to Labor, and has
favored market economics. Since religious Jews were more on the Likud side
than Labor, they ended up identified with the ‘right.’ But these are liberal
democrats -- there is no far right in Israel.
those in Labor who originally developed the argument that ‘peace’ would
result from empowering PLO/Fatah,
and it is for this reason that this position has become identified as a
‘leftist’ one. It isn’t, however. No matter where you originally come from,
if you are now supporting extreme right-wing terrorists descended from the
German Nazis your claim to be on the left is suspect, to put things mildly.
however, an additional argument behind the identification of PLO/Fatah supporters in Israel as
‘leftist.’ Support for the downtrodden is of course a traditionally leftist
position, so the media representation of the West Bank and Gaza Arabs as a
third-world people oppressed by supposed Israeli ‘colonialists’ is meant to
activate associations in the brain based on the original and main meaning of
‘leftist.’ It is a psychological warfare strategy. During the Cold War, PLO/Fatah assisted this by spouting
leftist slogans in public.
media representation contradicts reality. Israel acquired the West Bank and
Gaza defending itself from a genocidal Arab attack, not in a war of conquest.[9a] And it is simply false that the West
Bank and Gaza Arabs are oppressed by the Israelis -- it is trivial to
document that these Arabs were much better off when directly governed by the
Israelis.[9b] The West Bank and Gaza Arabs are
oppressed by PLO/Fatah,
which makes sense because the PLO is an extreme right-wing movement, and any
such movement will always oppress the majority once in power. The PLO/Fatah ‘police’ has routinely tortured
or murdered any Arab who disagrees with it, which has led the Arabs to refer
to this police as the “death squad,” a moniker that speaks volumes (despite
some recent propaganda to the contrary, Hamas is not different -- they are
also in the business of oppressing Arabs who disagree with them, and have in
fact cooperated extensively with PLO/Fatah
to oppress Arabs).
support for a PLO state, which has characterized so many people on the
Israeli so-called ‘left,’ cannot have anything to do with compassion
for ordinary Arabs, and so this is not really a leftist position. It is the
Israeli patriots, who oppose PLO/Fatah,
who are in fact defending ordinary Arabs.
also an additional argument supporting the identification of Israeli patriots
with the ‘right’ that must be examined: the widespread perception among
Israeli patriots that the American ‘right’ defends Israel. For while it is
true that many ordinary people who identify themselves as Christian
conservatives in the US, and who tend to vote Republican, support Israel
against its terrorist enemies, the Republican Party’s own rhetoric of support
for Israel is completely contradicted by its actual policies.
It was a
Republican President, George Bush Sr., who forced the Israelis to participate
in a diplomatic process that would bring PLO/Fatah – at the time completely defeated, and in Tunisian exile --
into the Jewish state! Bush and his Secretary of State, James Baker III,
threatened Israel for 8 months with the denial of all US economic support.
This coincided with a moment of great need in Israel, for there were hundreds
of thousands of immigrants from the Soviet Union to resettle. Bush also
threatened that the US would decide the future of the Middle East with the
Arabs—and without consulting Israel—if the Israelis did not go to the Madrid
‘peace’ talks that became the platform for the Oslo ‘peace’ process. The
perhaps the single most detrimental policy to the security of the Jewish
state in its entire history, and it was pushed through by the leadership of
the Republican Party -- though of course the leadership of the Democratic
party loves this policy too.
Let us now
reflect on who benefits from the identification of PLO/Fatah supporters with the ‘left’ and Israeli patriots with the
‘right.’ The propaganda against Israel is that it is supposedly a racist
state oppressing a third-world population. In other words, Israel is
slanderously accused of being an extreme right-wing state: the Israelis are
supposed to be the ‘new Nazis’ and the West Bank and Gaza Arabs are supposed
to be the ‘new Jews’! This is assisted in the media by the representation of
PLO/Fatah supporters as ‘leftists’
and Israeli patriots as ‘right-wing extremists’ (consult the footnote for an
example).[11a] If Israeli patriots identify
themselves as being on the ‘right,’ they assist the propaganda of their enemies.
They do this daily!
Orwell famously explained that the point of a propaganda that inverts the
meanings of words (“war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” “the left is the
right”…) has for purpose making it impossible for ordinary people to speak in
such a way that they can think clearly about their political situtation, making self-defense impossible. Across the
ages, propaganda mobilized against the Jews has been terribly effective, as
evidenced by the mass killings of Jews that have been one of the most
reliable features of Western ‘civilization’ (most centuries, for the last
2000 years, have contained at least one great anti-Jewish bloodletting).
In my view,
Israeli patriots, rather than adopting the absurd Newspeak of their enemies,
thus assisting their own destruction, should confront and deny this
way of speaking. They should point out to their so-called ‘leftist’ brethren
that the policies which Israeli ‘leftists’ support are not leftist in the
least, nor do they really express any compassion for the West Bank and Gaza
Arabs. They should point out, also, that the Law of Moses which so many
secular Jews find uninteresting is actually the historical inspiration for
Western progressive politics, and therefore for the modern socialist
movements that these Israeli leftists are so fond of. This strategy contains
the possibility of Enlightenment, which is the only thing that can bring the
Jews together to effectively defend Israel.
To use the
language of the enemy, by contrast, will be to continue to assist him.
and Further Reading