Recent blog postings regarding the BNP being a left-wing party - most notably by conservative blogger Iain Dale (and his readers) - got me thinking.
Loathed as i am to getting involved in blogosphere tit-for-tattery, it's an interesting subject and not one to which rational lefties should offer only a knee-jerk reaction.
It cannot be denied that after various largely unsuccessful attempts, most people now naturally associate socialism with austere, dictatorial rule. With that comes an instinctive mistrust of "social solidarity" or collectivism; the not unreasonable fear that any such system would be coerced and therefore, by definition, empty and oppressive.
But ask many people on the street what they see as being one of the major social problems of our time and they will tell you that drugs, violence and high crime rates are all connected to the break down of common sensibilities; that family values no longer exist.
Problems that socialists believe would be solved in their "ideal" world.
However, history shows us that these are often the same arguments used by the far-Right to justify their xenophobic policies. Political "parties" such as the BNP thrive in areas where the essence of traditional "community spirit" has been decimated and replaced with economic and social migration and insecurity.
Where the Marxist would argue for revolution, so the fascist argues for expulsion. The same root, but different interpretations. So it is true that there exists a blur between extreme Right and Left in these cases.
In such delicate circumstances the Left must tread very carefully and, in my opinion, it usually does. It was, after all, the far-left who set up the Anti-Nazi League - a group that has done much good work opposing the National Front and British National Party movements in this country over the last 30 years.
Equally, in the same way that socialism and fascism overlap in some key places, can't the same be said of right wing, neo-conservative politics and anarchism? For example:
"To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about by men who have neither the right nor the knowledge nor the virtue."
Who spoke in such damning terms of the ruinous effects of the leviathan state? Margaret Thatcher? Ronald Reagan? Nope, Pierre-Jospeh Proudhon, one of the founding fathers of anarchism.
Yet it is a statement with which many on the right would readily agree - though none on the right would subscribe to Proudhon's most famous notion that "property is theft", just as no socialist would seek to implement "lebensraum".
The point is that in such a politically fragmented world as the one we live in, it is hardly surprising that there are overlapping principles between even the most disparate ideologies. Surely then, the question must be: what is the ultimate goal of each ideology? What end product would we get if any of these rival systems was uniquely established as the global hegemony?
Clearly we would see stark differences in their respective "utopias".
A large part of this political befuddlement regarding the left/right overlap is down to what i would consider a fundamental misunderstanding of socialist thought. It is often beleived that individualism and socialism are incompatible. This is clearly not true - never has been. Even Karl Marx acknowledged that people "would not be individuals if they were not unequal." He never expected this natural imbalance to change, nor did he seek some artificial means of affecting one.
However, there is big difference between respecting- even celebrating - the individual and countenancing ruthless self-interest by a minority "elite" that repeatedly and increasingly exploits the poorer majority.
That is where socialists differ not just from those who rest fully on the Right but even those fascists whose opinions sometimes, on some points, drift to the Left.