Modern political terminology is out of date

Website - 20 July 2005

The terms ‘right wing’ and ‘left wing’ are two of the most abundant idioms in the world of political journalism. Contextual examples include “right-wing eurosceptic” and “left wing liberal” which have been abbreviated further into the “leftie” and “rightie” slang. But does anyone actually question the logic behind these fairly meaningless dog tags?

If you look ‘right wing’ up in a dictionary, the definition reads: “The conservative or reactionary faction of a group.” And with ‘left wing’: “The liberal or radical faction of a group.” However, these labels have become more and more aligned to historic events of the past. Fascism is generally associated with the Right, and Communism with the Left. This theory has resulted in the Right being associated with racism and extreme nationalism, and the Left with equality and fairness. The word ‘Liberal’ simply confuses things more.

In a world where the two main parties are a mirror image, these terms seem to have no current relevance. Both parties are equally ‘radical’ and ‘reactionary’ – for example, the ‘Left’ Labour government brought in the highly authoritative ‘Terrorism Act’ in reaction to terrorism. The ‘Right’ Conservative Party now, quite radically, approve marriage rights to same-sex couples.

If you are someone who uses this political terminology profusely, would you believe the royal family to be bourgeoisie? If so, would Prince Charles’ views be more ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’ than those of a London cab driver? Would you associate pro-Europe politicians with the ‘left wing’? If so, why did Ted Heath, the late Conservative Prime Minister, sign us into the EC? And why did ‘left wing’ Labour remain opposed to the EC until a referendum in the early 1970s?

Would you consider genocide as ‘right wing’? If so, why were 50 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union killed under the reigns of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the pioneers of modern Communism? The list goes on.

This also raises the question of the fundamental differences between Fascism and Communism. Ivo Mosley in his book ‘Democracy, Fascism and the New World Order’ explains how “unlike Communism, Facism arrived without preparation, with no baggage of theory. It arrived more or less on the tide of the moment.” Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini described Fascism as “not a dogma, but an opportunity” which seems to justify the former dictionary definition of a “reactionary” force.

Which brings me back to my point. The perfunctionary, vague terms “right” and “left” are not applicable to a modern society. The politics of today is nearing a consensus on many things, which are both “radical” and “reactionary”. One of the funniest and most naïve descriptions of the left wing/right wing divide came in the context of the Cold War: “a left winger is like an elephant – you can’t define it but you know one when you see one.” Bollocks. An elephant is the largest land mammal on earth and weighs over five tonnes.

Don’t get me wrong, political labels are necessary, because we aren’t all the same. The word ‘conservative’ seems most sensible to be used in the political context of today. The word ‘liberal’ is a little confusing and perhaps needs further consideration. So please, if someone is racist, call them ‘racist’; if someone is extremely nationalistic, call them ‘xenophobic’ – but don’t call them ‘right wing’, because if they ask you why, you’ll have your work cut out explaining it all.