The Relevance of Left and Right

Hi all:

I am going to give you the definition of left and right that I am
comfortable with, and then explain why, for me, left and right are still
relevant terms.

My definition would be that where you stand on the spectrum from left to
right is a basic representation of where you stand in relation to the
primary power structures of your time. The primary power structures of our
time are those of global capitalism and large-scale pro-capitalist state
militarism. In addition, the older structures of patriarchy, racism and
religious fundamentalism, linger in the backdrop. To be on the left,
therefore, is to stand in a state of confrontation with these power
structures. To be on the right is to seek to reinforce these power
structures, and to be in the centre is to try compromising with these

I would divide the spectrum into five sections: far right, centre right,
centre, centre left, and far left. The far right signifies those forms of
domination which pre-date the industrial capitalist era: patriarchy,
religious fundamentalism, racism, militarism, futilism and so forth. These
forms of domination still exist, but signify older forms of power which will
sometimes come into conflict with more recent power structures, but which
are fundamentally of the far right, because of their motivation. The centre
right signifies the secular capitalist class power system in which we live.
It is the power system with which we are all familiar. Officially the
centre right is non-sexist, non-racist and so forth, but below the surface,
it will use older forms of domination if such forms can help secure and
maintain capitalist power. The centre, centre left and far left represent
three degrees of response to the centre right. The centre, essentially
liberal democracy, seeks to curve the excesses of the centre right with
legislation protecting the individual. Universal suffrage, the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms, and environmental protection legislation, are all
of centrist responses to the centre right and far right. The centre left
seeks to go a few steps further in countering the right, seeking social
security as well as legal security. The range of progressive social
that have come into being in the past hundred years is probably what most
readily signifies the centre left. The idea of countering the corporate
dominance of the economy with state-owned corporations, cooperative
enterprises and such, as a way of making life more livable within the
system, would also qualify as an aspect of centre left thinking. The far
left signifies those currents of thought which seek, not simply to modify
the capitalist system, but to overthrow and replace the capitalist system.
Among the alternatives proposed to replace capitalism we find both the
centralism of Lenin and Mao, and the decentralist tendencies of anarchism
and syndicalism. This is why it is simplistic to say that the left is
centralist. What all strands of the left have in common is a deep criticism
of the capitalist system, and a desire to work for alternatives either
within the system or in replacing the system. Once in power, as many have
pointed out, state socialist empires, such as the USSR or Mao's China,
essentially became right wing empires on to themselves with their own power
structures and their own internal spectrums. This is absolutely correct,
but, getting back to our original definition, where you are on the
left-right spectrum is about where you stand in relation to the power
structures of your time. The power structures of our time are those of
capitalism and militarism, with the backdrop of older structures like
patriarchy and religious fundamentalism. The fact that governments of the
eastern block imitated the mistakes of capitalism and futalism is really not
relevant. What is relevant is what is here now.

The metaphor of left and right is not perfect, but I would suggest that, if
we chose not to use this metaphor, we would have to find some other
language for speaking about issues of power and class conflict within our
society. I have thought of a couple alternative terminologies over the
years. One idea would involve using the word "movement" instead of "left",
and using the word "empire" instead of "right". In this terminology, the
ongoing struggle for human dignity and ecological well-being becomes seen as
a battle between Movement and Empire, in which the Empire is the complex of
corporate and capitalist state power that governs our world, and the
movement is the web of millions of human beings who have the courage to
resist. The
question for the Green Party then becomes, to what extent are we "of the
movement" and to what extent are we "of the empire".

Another metaphoric system I thought of involves a three layer diagram, like
the upper, middle and lower layers of a three-layered cake. From top to
bottom, the layers are the elite layer, the social layer and the ecological
layer. Various actions and various societies may be charted somewhere on
this three layer diagram. The early human Australo Pithicus society of a
million years ago, that took very little from the earth and had practically
no impact on the surrounding biosphere, would be place at the bottom of the
ecological layer, as completely in tune with the earth. The most elite acts
imaginable, those involving global destruction such as global nuclear war or
global warming, would be placed at the top of the elite layer. Various
other societies and actions that fall between these extremes could be placed
in various positions on the three-layered diagram, sometimes being
represented by a circle or ellipse to encompass a range of aspects
coexisting in the same society.

I will likely continue to use the terminology of left and right, and to use
it in the context of the Green Party, because I feel it expresses something
which it is sometimes very necessary to convey. What we meant when we said
the Green Party was moving too far to the right, was simply that we feared
that we were moving away from a good strong analysis of capitalism and
corporate power, and a willingness to pursue policies guided by such an
analysis, and moving toward weaker policies, based on an absence of
analysis, which would not challenge the power structures and which, in the
end, would not work. If you prefer, I could say, I fear sometimes that the
Green Party is moving too far away from the Movement and too close to the


Dave Greenfield

email greendl at sasktel.net