Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Word Play

The right, of course, plays fast and loose with vocabulary. Words like “Marxist,” “socialist,” “communist,” “Stalinist,” “traitor,” and “terrorist” are often used interchangeably, thereby muddying whatever issue happens to be under consideration.

When I ask people on the right to define their terms, however, all I ever get is a continued use of interchangeable pieces, not definition at all.

For our own use, then, I am offering the following functional definitions:

These are simplistic definitions, I admit, but they can be used to reduce the confusion the right tries to engender by mixing the terms to suit its own ends:

Marxist: Usually applied to academics whose approaches to their studies have been heavily influenced by the writings of Karl Marx. They are not revolutionaries, but scholars. In fact, they often enjoy all of the benefits of bourgeois lifestyles without any feeling of contradiction and rarely want to overthrow existing regimes.

socialist: One who believes that worker control of the means of production would make for a more equitable society. A socialist can also believe in democracy and has no necessary revolutionary agenda.

communist: A supporter of a movement to implement an egalitarian system without private property. Some communists have believed that violent revolution is the only means of reaching that goal; others feel that different means can be used.

Stalinist: Stalin didn’t have a philosophy as much as a methodology. His was a top-down totalitarian regime, and a Stalinist was someone who obeyed orders from that top. There really can be no Stalinist today, because there is no Stalin and he left no body of theory for anyone to study or follow.

traitor: One who assists a foreign government to overthrow or otherwise attack one’s native government.

terrorist: One who uses acts of terror to advance a political agenda. Terror is a tactic, not a philosophy, as the fact that there have been terrorists from all spots on the political spectrum testifies.

From these definitions it is clear that a Marxist isn’t necessarily a traitor or a terrorist—though a traitor or a terrorist could also be a Marxist. Nor is a Marxist at all the same as a Stalinist or even a socialist or communist (each of whom has political agendas that the Marxist may not be interested in at all). Nor is a communist, even one who wants to overthrow his or her government, necessarily a traitor—for they may not be assisting a foreign government but simply fomenting home-grown revolution (something quite different from traitorous conduct).

Maybe these definitions are too vague and imprecise. Maybe they are downright wrong in one aspect or another. However, the more clearly we hold the definitions of these terms in our minds, the less likely we can be thrown off stride when the right uses them improperly.

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