Republicans claim to fear left-wing authoritarianism — but there's no such thing

Yes, dictators sometimes cloak themselves in "socialism." But tyranny, here and elsewhere, is always right-wing

By Cody Cain
Published August 14, 2021 12:12PM (EDT)
Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The meaning today of the "Big Lie" almost always refers to the false claim by Donald Trump and his right-wing cronies that the 2020 presidential election was somehow stolen by the left and Joe Biden, with the help of foreign agents.

Not only is this claim false, it is absurdly false.

This is hardly the first Big Lie from the right. Not even close. The right has been promulgating Big Lies for decades.

In fact, lying is the only way the right wing can win elections. After all, its policies are profoundly unpopular with ordinary people because the right-wing favors the 1% rich over the 99% working and middle classes.

How in the world could 1% of the population ever win elections over the 99%? Simple. The 1% bamboozles the 99%. To win elections, the right must conceal its true intentions from the voters and instead engage in manipulative tactics, like lying and fearmongering.

The lies are not just little lies.They are whoppers. They are the complete opposite of the truth. They are 180 degrees from the truth. They are the polar opposite of the truth, like from the North Pole all the way to the South Pole. Hence the term Big Lie.

Yet, shockingly, many of these egregious lies actually work. They take hold. They create a false impression in the mind of the public.

One of the egregious lies that has taken root throughout society, and remains persistent today, is the false notion that dictatorships and fascism are associated with the left.

Once again, this is the exact opposite of the truth. Dictatorships and fascism are right-wing, not left-wing.

This "Big Lie" grew out of the aftermath of World War II and the emergence of the Cold War in the extreme backlash against communism and the Soviet Union. This was the era of the "Red Scare" and lying Republican demagogue Joe McCarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who falsely smeared innocent liberals as being dangerous communists, destroying their careers and lives. This period ranks among the most shameful in American history.

During and after the Cold War, the right undertook a relentless campaign that rages on to this day of falsely smearing Democrats and the left as the cause of authoritarianism, like the horrendous dictatorships of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Fidel Castro in Cuba and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

In fact, the right so maligned the concept of "socialism" and the profoundly influential thinker Karl Marx that "socialism" remains a poisonous word to this day, often wielded as a weapon against Democrats and liberals.

Republican candidates accuse Democratic candidates of being diabolical "socialists" and claim that Democratic policies such as Medicare for All, child care, or taxing the rich are evil "socialism." Republicans allege that electing Democrats will turn America into a failed socialist state like Venezuela.

Shockingly, this nonsense actually works.

When people hear "socialism," they often think of Stalin and Hitler. They have been incorrectly conditioned to associate Stalin and Hitler with the left wing, and wrongly conclude that left-wing policies lead to totalitarianism.

This is a Big Lie.

The truth is that left-wing policies, broadly speaking, are popular and beneficial to society, while dictatorial regimes are right-wing, with policies that are unpopular and horrendous for society. So how did these opposites become associated with each other? How is it that beneficial policies from the left wing of the political spectrum, became mixed together with dictators from the right wing of the spectrum?

To understand all this, keep in mind the two basic forms of government that are opposite to each other. And let us indeed oversimplify for clarity. One form of government is monarchy, which is rule by a king or a dictator. The other is democracy, which is rule by the people through popular vote of their elected officials. Monarchy and dictatorship are right-wing, while democracy is left-wing.

Historically, governments were primarily monarchies, which are essentially dictatorships. Just think of all of the European countries and world empires that were ruled by kings and queens or their equivalents, such as England, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Russia and on and on.

Along came the liberal Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, which celebrated liberty of the individual and emancipation from the strictures of monarchy. These new ideas led to the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, including the American Revolution of 1776, in which the United States declared its independence from the King of England, thereby giving birth to modern liberal democracy. France soon followed with the French Revolution in 1789, overthrowing the French monarchy.

Unfortunately for the working class, however, even the elimination of monarchies did not improve their plight as they had hoped. From approximately 1850 to 1880, Karl Marx came along and explained the problem. Even though monarchies were receding, a new oppressive force was emerging: capitalism.

The Industrial Revolution was underway, and this new system of capitalism was creating great wealth and control at the top for a tiny minority, while simultaneously oppressing the vast number of workers in the middle and lower classes by forcing them to work long hours under difficult conditions for paltry wages.

Marx provided a solution. He observed that the working class (the 99%) overwhelmingly outnumbered the rich at the top (the 1%), and thus the working class could transform its massive size into political power by uniting together in a cohesive political movement. Workers of the world, unite!

This is a powerful idea. Extremely powerful. This idea filled the suffering working class with great hope and inspired them to attempt to join together in unity in order to seek greater fairness for workers.

At the same time, Marx's idea struck fear into the hearts of the ruling rich at the top. They knew full well that Marx was exactly right that the unification of the working class would pose an existential threat to the dominance of the rich at the top — and to their vast fortunes.

The world was shocked as it watched Marx's theoretical idea come into actual fruition in the Russian Revolution of 1917 when the working class united in the Bolshevik party led by Vladimir Lenin and overthrew Czar Nicholas II and the Romanov dynasty, ending the Russian Empire and creating the Soviet Union.

But Lenin fell ill not much later, became weak and disabled, and died in 1924. Within a few years, Joseph Stalin seized control, consolidated his power, and ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist for three decades, until his death in 1953. Stalin is now justly regarded as among the worst dictators of the modern era. Stalin created a deplorable totalitarian state, waged a campaign of murder and imprisonment against millions of political dissidents (as well as imaginary enemies) and repressed human rights, free speech and any version of democracy. 

So what is the assessment here? Was the Soviet Union left-wing? Was Stalin left-wing? Are dictatorships left-wing? Is totalitarianism left-wing?

This is exactly what the right alleges today. Republicans claim that electing Democrats would result in turning America into a socialist or communist regime like Russia under Stalin. Many Americans believe this, associating Stalinist repression, dictatorship and totalitarianism with the political left.

This is a Big Lie. The truth is entirely different.

The truth is that the communist movement in Russia in 1917 began as a left-wing movement that was positive and beneficial for society. After all, the population was in fact suffering grievously from oppression under the Russian monarchy. The working class united, as Marx had suggested, in order to bring fairness to government and improve the lives of ordinary people. This movement was inspired and driven by positive motives.

Unfortunately, it was hijacked by a right-wing dictator in Stalin, steered into the opposite direction, and transformed into a right-wing totalitarian state, all under the false pretense of being a left-wing movement. This too was a Big Lie. Stalin falsely proclaimed to be governing under left-wing principles for the people, when in fact he was concentrating power into his own hands and governing as a right-wing dictator.

This transformation of the Soviet Union by Stalin from a beneficial left-wing movement into a hideous right-wing dictatorship was masterfully described by George Orwell in his famous novel from 1945, "Animal Farm." That book, summarized here, tells an allegorical tale about animals on a farm who rise up in revolt, banish the humans from the farm, and seek to govern themselves on the farm under a free and democratic animal society.

The story is essentially a retelling of the Russian Revolution, with the animals representing the working class revolting against the humans that represent the Russian monarchy. The new democratic animal society represents the new left-wing society sought by the working-class revolutionaries who created the Soviet state.

But then, one particular pig on the farm, who represents Stalin, seizes control through lies, propaganda and violence, transforming the farm from a beneficial left-wing movement into a horrendous right-wing totalitarian regime. As in real life, the initial rebellion on the farm began as a positive development to improve the lives of the working animals, but then the entire movement was seized and transformed into a dictatorship.

Therefore, to say that Stalin, dictatorships and totalitarianism are left-wing is the exact opposite of the truth. It is indeed a Big Lie.

Russia, of course, is not the only example. When Republicans claim that the left-wing and Marxism results in authoritarianism, they cite not only Russia but also various other regimes, like those of Castro in Cuba or Chávez in Venezuela.

To be sure, a number of dictators have proclaimed themselves to be Marxist, socialist, and left-wing — as did Stalin. This does indeed create the false impression in the public mind that these dictatorships are left-wing when, in fact, they are not. Just like with Stalin, these dictatorships are right-wing, not left-wing.

So why have so many dictators claimed to lead left-wing, socialist governments? For a very good reason. Think about the situation from the perspective of a right-wing, wannabe tyrant who desires to seize control of a government. What campaign message should the wannabe tyrant communicate to the population?

Should the tyrant tell the population: "I am a devious person. I want to be a dictator who controls everything myself. I want to suppress all the working people, corrupt the government and steal loads of money by abusing my power"? Of course not. Tyrants who desire to become dictators cannot possibly tell the truth. In order to seize power and remain in control, tyrants must lie to the people, misrepresenting themselves as someone they are not.

Clearly, tyrants should pretend to be someone who can offer what the people desire. Many tyrants falsely proclaim to be Marxists, socialists and left-wingers because the ideas of the left are broadly popular among the oppressed classes in many countries around the world. And for good reason: Left-wing policies would indeed improve the quality of life in most societies. 

Once in office, the tyrants do not truly implement left-wing policies, but instead rely on totalitarian right-wing policies, such as consolidating their own power, restricting democracy, aligning with the wealthy, imprisoning political dissidents and so on, all while falsely proclaiming to represent the left.

Consider the example of the Nazi Party. Its name was a German abbreviation for the party's full name, the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Politicians from the right, to this day love to point to the words "Socialist"  and "Workers" as proof that the Nazis were sincere socialists somehow affiliated with the left, and that electing Democrats or "democratic socialists" somehow risks turning America into Nazi Germany.

This is the exact opposite of the truth. Hitler was a perfect example of a right-wing dictator and the Nazis were a right-wing fascist movement. They co-opted the language of the left to some degree. That was a Big Lie. 

This is exactly the playbook followed by right-wing dictators: They falsely pretend to represent a leftist movement that favors the working people, because left-wing policies are the best way to win popular support. Once in power, dictators abandon left-wing policies and instead implement right-wing authoritarian policies.

This dictator's playbook has been used again and again. Castro in Cuba and Chávez in Venezuela are often cited as examples of "left-wing dictators," largely because they implemented various left-wing policies designed to benefit the working class, including widespread public education, public health care and income redistribution.

But implementing a few left-wing policies does not magically convert a right-wing dictatorship into a left-wing democracy. The societies ruled by Castro and Chávez were never left-wing democracies, and cannot truly be considered "socialist." They were overwhelmingly defined by right-wing attributes, including strongman rule, a one-party monopoly on power, suppression of free speech, false propaganda glorifying the regime, persecution of political dissidents, the restriction or elimination of democracy and so on.

Another example is the People's Republic of China, which is ruled by a "Communist" party ostensibly based in Marxism. Right-wing politicians often cite China as an example of a left-wing state, and an example of what Democrats have in mind for America.

Of course, this is nonsense.Does anyone really believe that China is a "People's Republic"? as its name proclaims? Of course not. This too is a Big Lie, is the dictator's playbook on full display. China falsely proclaims to be a left-wing government in order to win support from the people, but in practice, China operates as an authoritarian regime that implements all the right-wing techniques of wielding power. Indeed, China's leader, Xi Jinping, eliminated term limits and cleared the way for him to remain as president for life. (Xi was praised for this by none other than Donald Trump.)

If Karl Marx were here today, he would be appalled by all of these countries that falsely invoke his name and ideas in order to impose right-wing governments of domination and control. This is precisely the opposite of what he had in mind, which was a vision of robust democracy and rule by the ordinary people.

This is not to say that Marx offered a magic solution in communism, which he did not outline in practical terms. Indeed, the theory of communism may be riddled with many problems and contradictions, although it's fair to say it has never really been implemented anywhere in the world.

While Marx may not have provided a workable solution, he did provide an accurate diagnosis of the problem: Unbridled capitalism results in unacceptable inequality, with of a small minority of the rich at the top (the 1%) grievously exploiting the vast majority of the population (the 99%). This imbalance remains the central problem plaguing our society to this day, more than 150 years after Marx first described the problem.

Unfortunately, the Big Lie used around the world is alive and well right here in America today. Indeed, it is the defining characteristic of the entire Republican Party, with Donald Trump offering a prime example.

Trump's presidential campaign in 2016 was significantly focused on appealing to the blue-collar working class by promising to implement a number of popular left-wing policies. To be sure, Trump also campaigned on plenty of right-wing appeals, such as opposition to immigration, xenophobic nationalism, overt racism and sexism, gun rights and so forth.

But Trump intentionally sought the support of blue-collar, working-class voters by promising left-wing policies. He promised a new health care system with universal coverage for everyone at a mere fraction of the cost. He promised he would stop U.S. corporations from shipping jobs overseas, and would bring jobs back to America. He promised he would never cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. He promised to get tough on Big Pharma and cut the high cost of drug prices. He promised a massive investment in America's infrastructure, like roads and bridges. He promised to tax the rich, including himself, and to provide a massive tax cut for the middle class.

But once Trump was elected, of course, he abandoned all these promises of policies that would benefit the working class, instead implementing right-wing policies that benefited large corporations and the rich at the top, including granting a massive tax cut to himself and the rich, slashing regulations for big business, seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act and seeking to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This is exactly the dictator's playbook for deceiving the population. Trump followed it faithfully. His entire presidency was based upon a "Big Lie."

In America along with some other Western countries, an outward difference is that the right denounces "socialism" rather than falsely clothing itself in socialism. In America, the right-wing (falsely) claims that "socialism" equals authoritarianism while capitalism equals freedom.

By contrast, in many non-Western countries where anti-capitalist sentiment runs high, the right does not necessarily attempt to claim that capitalism is good. Instead, the right falsely claims to be socialists, when it is actually authoritarian. But the essence remains the same in both cases. The right wing falsely claims to favor the working class and democracy over the rich and authoritarianism, when the truth is exactly the opposite.

In America today, the threat of authoritarianism overthrowing democracy is clear and present. As usual, this threat is not coming from the left but from the right. Look no further than the Republican Party. Trump went so far as to incite an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election that he had lost fair and square, and thereby overthrow democracy in America, while falsely claiming that the purpose of his insurrection was to stop the left from stealing the election. Once again, the right falsely claims the exact opposite of the truth — and falsely blames the left for the very offenses the right itself is committing.

The Republican Party will no doubt continue with its tactics of claiming the exact opposite of the truth. So let us all be informed about the truth. The left wing is not authoritarian. In truth, it seeks robust democracy in direct opposition to authoritarianism. 

Authoritarian regimes around the world that claim to be "socialist" or Marxist, such as China and Cuba, are not proof that "socialism" is authoritarian. In truth, these regimes falsely claim to be left-wing in order to win support from the population when they are actually right-wing authoritarian regimes in direct opposition to left-wing democracy.

The Democratic Party is not authoritarian, and does not seek to create an authoritarian regime such as those in China or Cuba. In truth, the Democratic Party favors robust democracy in direct opposition to authoritarianism. The right wing is the side of the political spectrum that favors authoritarianism, and it has repeatedly led to dictatorships and totalitarian regimes.

Yes, authoritarianism poses a real threat in America today. As usual, this threat is not coming from the Democratic Party, but from the right-wing Republican Party, which falsely claims that the Democrats seeks authoritarianism. In truth, it is precisely the other way around: The Republican Party poses a real threat of overthrowing democracy and imposing authoritarian rule in America today. This is the dictator's playbook in action, and the biggest of Big Lies.

Cody Cain

Cody Cain is the author of the new book, "Mend or Spend: How to Force Rich People to Solve Economic Inequality," available here. Follow Cody on Twitter @codycainland.