After far-right trouble in Dublin, Drew Harris attempted to shift blame onto the left. John Molyneux argues that this was another example of the horseshoe ‘theory’, where the establishment creates a false equivalence between left and right.
When Drew Harris said the far left were involved with the far right in their anti-lockdown protest last Saturday it was a straightforward lie, intended, of course, to discredit the left.
But it was also a lie that traded on a long standing and very familiar ‘trope’ in establishment thinking. This is one of the reasons it was so easily and carelessly repeated by RTE and other mainstream media so that, as they say, ‘the lie was half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’
Remember it was only last June that Leo Varadkar said to Richard Boyd Barrett in the Dáil:
‘The far right and the far left aren’t very different to me. It’s the same kind of thing. You know, conspiracy of elites against the people. Simple answers to complex problems. You’re not that different really.’
Similarly former Channel 4 presenter, Ant Middleton, tweeted after the killing of George Floyd:
‘The extreme left against the extreme right. When did two wrongs make a right … BLM and EDL are not welcome on our streets, absolute scum’.
The idea that the far left are the same as the far right is also embedded in the way the establishment talks all the time about ‘populism’.
Richard Boyd Barrett and Herman Kelly (leader of the Irish Freedom Party), Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – they are all more or less the same because they all ‘populists’. Consequently anyone who articulates the anger of working class people, anyone who attacks the banks or austerity, anyone who stands up for the rights of ordinary people against the elites is a populist and therefore no different from the far right.
We should start by stressing what nonsense this is.
What it involves is saying that being strongly anti-racist is no different from being viciously racist; that being opposed to the Direct Provision system because it is inhuman and because you welcome refugees is the same as being opposed to a Direct Provision centre; that being anti-abortion and bitterly opposed to Repeal is no different from being for a woman’s right to choose and complete equality for women; that vehemently opposing homophobia and transphobia is the same as being reactionary bigots to the right of the DUP.
It says that vigorously standing up for workers rights and with workers on the picket line is very similar to hating trade unions and wanting to smash them.
By this logic Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela were the same as arch-defenders of Jim Crow and Apartheid. Rosa Luxemburg was the same as Adolph Hitler and Antonio Gramsci very akin to Mussolini. And it is worth remembering that these figures who are now held up as heroes and icons were indeed attacked in these terms by the Drew Harrises and Leo Varadkars of the day.
For example, the FBI attempted to destroy Martin Luther King, whom J. Edgar Hoover described as ‘the world’s most notorious liar’. Margaret Thatcher denounced Mandela as a terrorist. The German Social Democrats in 1919 more or less called for Rosa Luxemburg to be murdered.
In some respects, the ‘theory’ that the far left equals far goes back to ideas developed within American political science in the early Cold War period.
This was the time of McCarthyite anti-communist witch hunts and US political science, along with US sociology and economics, was both very conservative and highly influential in the English-speaking world. This was when the narrative was fashioned that Lenin and Leninism led directly to Stalin and Stalinism, which became, and to some extent remains, the academic ‘textbook’ interpretation of Russian history in Western universities.
Alongside this the concept of ‘totalitarianism’ was developed as a new and distinct form of regime and society. The main examples of totalitarianism were held to be Nazi Germany (it was just after WW2) and the Soviet Union. They were presented as essentially the same in that they were run by an all-powerful state and were both contrasted with Western pluralist democracies which were supposedly characterised by multiple competing interest groups (rather than a unified ruling class).
In 2002, these ideas were worked up into a full-blown theory by French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye. In his book, The Century of Ideologies, he developed the ‘horseshoe theory’ which asserted that far left and the far right, rather than being at the opposite and opposing ends of the political spectrum, in fact resemble one another in the way the opposite ends of a horseshoe are close together.
The Horseshoe Theory
These ideas, developed in the academic world, seep into the everyday discourse of politics and journalism.
It is not that the likes of Harris, Varadkar, Middleton or RTÉ journalists have necessarily read the political scientists of the 1950s or the work Jean-Pierre Faye. More likely they hear them referred to in some seminar and seize on them intuitively because they grasp that they serve their interests.
For our rulers and their apologists, the horseshoe theory and its antecedents serve the purpose of discrediting in advance any serious criticism of the so-called ‘centre’ and the system on which it rests.
Anyone who examines the influence of financial wealth and corporate power on government policy – be they Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein or Karl Marx – is just a conspiracy theorist and likely anti-Semite on a par with David Icke, Alex Jones and QAnon. Anyone who challenges the fundamentals of the profit system, rather than accepting the mantra that ‘there is no alternative’ to the market and that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,’ is, by definition, on the way to fascism.
It also serves a more subtle purpose for the political establishment in that it mitigates and deflects from the need to denounce the far right or name them as fascists.
Far-right individuals and parties frequently engage in actions, ranging from the violence at St. Stephen’s Green to the extreme terrorism of Anders Brevik, which the political consensus requires mainstream politicians to condemn but the language of condemnation which they employ is usually much milder than when they are attacking, not only the far left, but also anti-imperialists or Islamists and other ‘enemies’ of the state who are routinely rounded on as ‘animals’, ‘monsters’, ‘evil’ and the like.
In contrast, the media tends to treat fascist terrorists as ‘disturbed loners’ while refusing to name even such parties as the National Front and the British National Party as fascist or Nazi. Treating the far right and the far left as just ‘populists’ doesn’t just work to discredit the left it also avoids having to deal with reality of what the Irish Freedom Party and the Irish National Party stand for.
And behind this lies something even more sinister: namely that, however much they may find the far right embarrassing or inconvenient at present, the more far-sighted members of the ruling class realise or simply sense that they may need them in the future. Trump’s words after America’s Nazis paraded and murdered at Charlottesville (‘there were good people on both sides’), and to the Proud Boys (‘stand back and stand by’) were outliers in their frankness but they weren’t a million miles from what many in the ruling class privately think.
Whether Drew Harris’s lie was coldly calculated or just the instinctive reaction of a senior servant of the capitalist state, it was far from being an accident and far from being the first time this smear was levelled at the left. Nor will it be the last.