Monday, February 7, 2011

Is the far right far left?

Those movements called far right often have radical left wing economic policies.

The British National Party, for example, advocates economic protectionism: taxes on imports that would dissuade British consumers from buying cheap foreign goods. Here BNP's member of the European Parliament Andrew Brons denounces free trade:

The problems that the developed world faces is not too many trade barriers, but too few. That is, too few barriers against the products from emerging countries like China, with its low wage rates, grossly undervalued currency and its artificially impoverished home market.

The BNP use very collectivist language; I have highlighted examples from their economics policies described below:

We further believe that British industry, commerce, land and other economic and natural assets belong in the final analysis to the British nation and people.

To that end the BNP will restore our economy and land to British ownership and will take active steps to break up the socially, economically and politically damaging monopolies now being established by the supermarket giants.

Fully cognisant of the reality that economic growth is driven primarily by true free enterprise, a BNP government will seek to give British workers a stake in the success and prosperity of the enterprises whose profits their labour creates. Such schemes are the only guarantee of workers being motivated to ensure the success of their employers.

So they talk of supporting "free enterprise", but call for government interventions to attain it. They identify as the aim of the market the welfare of the British nation and people, whereas a true economic rightist might argue that industry and resouces belong only to the individual owner - regardless of race or nation - not to the collective "people".

BNP also oppose inequality, according to their 2005 Election Manifesto:

It is no secret that since Thatcher, economic growth in this country has tended to flow to the top of the income scale.... Of course, it is no secret that the old-style socialist methods of redistributing income down the scale turned out to have harmful effects, so unfortunately it is not just a matter of taxing income away from the rich and towards the working class. But there are other policy tools that can be used to reduce income inequality. The BNP will use all non-destructive means to reduce income inequality....

If ordinary Britons increase their savings rate and invest the money in British industry, it will over time transpire that they are the owners of British industry. This has been called “pension-fund socialism,” and it combines the efficiency of capitalist private ownership with socialism’s ideal of worker ownership of the means of production.

So the BNP emphasise the protection of workers from globalisation and the reduction of income inequality with worker-owned industry. Oh, and they are uneasy with giant supermarket chains.

Now let's look at the far left. Britain's Socialist Party here attacks the IMF for demanding an end to economic protectionism:

The dismantling of tariff barriers which were used to protect national economies, the privatisation of state industries, and the cutting back of food subsidies and essential services, were all conditions of the loans.

From the same article, the SP attack globalisation for causing income inequality:

Globalisation has also led to the increased polarisation of wealth within the advanced capitalist countries. An estimated 45 million people in the US live below the poverty line, and 32 million have a life expectancy of less than 60 years.

SP dismiss protectionism alone, on the grounds that it also benefits "national capitalist interests". As for giant supermarket chains, however, lo and behold they share BNP's scepticism.

In Ireland the Socialist Workers Party echo this far left dislike of globalisation, blaming Haiti's poverty on American pressure to remove protectionist trade tariffs.

So the far left and far right share anger towards globalisation and towards the economic liberty they blame for modern inequality. Yet far left are supposed to be the opposite of the far right, surely!

For historical reasons the extreme right today is defined by its anti-immigration or racist policies. Yet in economics, right wing usually means something totally different: lower taxes, the weakening of state controls of the economy, the opening of borders to trade and even sometimes the opening of borders to labour, like the open immigration policy proposed by libertarian think tank Cato.

Right wingers like globalisation and free trade, unlike the far right, who hate them. Even Nazi Germany intervened aggressively in the market, with major public health campaigns and huge public works to fight unemployment. Nazi, after all, means National Socialism, and Hitler remarked in Mein Kampf that capital should "remain the handmaiden of the state". He sometimes attacked relatively free market UK as a "plutocracy" - Nazi Germany was supposed to control the market for the collective good of its people.

Perhaps what far left and far right have in common is a belief in collectivism, even if the right reserve collectivist ideals for ethnic or national insiders: their compassion ends at the border.

Why does this matter? I fear that the association of extreme immigration policies with the far right reflects badly, and unfairly, on the economic right. During angry political debates I sometimes see people complain about migration policies being "right wing". Yet open borders that flood the market with cheap labour can be compatible with some right wing perspectives!

So, yep: the far right are often far left.


  1. absolutely brilliant post, just brilliant.

  2. I think the problem lies in the labeling of political groups. Someone once told me that the political spectrum is not linear but more of a circle (I've seen horse shoe diagrams) and so this would help explain the apparent contradicions you're talking about. For me the left/right political spectrum is too, well, completely, one dimensional to describe how one feels about their what social values and how the economy should be run.

    You could be an anarchist who believes in no private ownership (left wing) but also no government control (right wing). You can come up with the opposite contradictions for fascists, while the communists and the libertarians are the two most extreme groups who are both left and right repectively in the way we label collective economic and social values.

    There should be a broader way of decribing personal feelings on these different issues. The X,Y axis I talked about before is the best model I've some across so far.

    Nice post by the way :)

  3. Yes Dave, I've seen some anarchists and libertarians describe policies as being "statist": related to, or in favour of, government intervention of any kind. Corporate bailouts for huge companies are statist, social welfare for the poor is statist, drug prohibition is statist too. This is a totally different perspective from the usual left-liberal/right-conservative perspective. The libertarians point to the inconsistency of both sides, since both call for limitations of liberty: the one, social liberty, the other economic liberty.

    I usually try to keep the words "right" and "left" to refer only to economic policies, not social policies. Yet "far right" is understood today as anti-immigration or racist, so it is difficult to replace it with a more accurate word.

    (Incidentally, the annual Europol Terrorism Situation and Trend Report also calls racist violence "right-wing". They talk about terrorist attacks by the far left, and by the far right. But perhaps this gives an unfair idea about the attacks if the "right wingers" actually hold radical left-wing economic views.)


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