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During tumultuous times in history, left-wing icons have stood up against injustice globally. May it be Martin Luther King Jr. during the American Civil Rights movement, or may it be Bhagat Singh during the Indian independence struggle. Due to the right’s failure in either participating in, or suppressing these movements, they now label leftist heroes as rightist icons.
An article in the Washington Post labelled Martin Luther King Jr. as a Conservative. Except he wasn’t.
The Right argues that “Dr. King did a lot to preserve, protect and defend the best of our principles and values.”
That does not, in any way, constitute Conservatism.
The Right does not have the sole authority on freedom. Freedoms and rights are ends, and the Right and Left have different means of achieving those ends.
King was, in fact, a democratic socialist. In a letter he wrote to his wife Coretta Scott King in 1952, he said, “I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic.”
He further added that capitalism had “outlived its usefulness” because it had “brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”
While King was a Christian in all rights and regards, his beliefs fell well within the Social Gospel tradition, which began as a critique of American capitalism and its industrial conditions of poor and working-class Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a socialist and will remain one for eternity.
The right’s inability to be on “the right side of history” haunts its past, and may continue to hamper its future with their countless wars and other social malpractices.
The most blisteringly evident case of appropriation occurs in India, where far-right members of the RSS, BJP’s ideological paramilitary wing, try to idolize freedom-fighters Bhagat Singh and Subash Chandra Bose.
Singh was a communist; Bose was a socialist.
The far-right in India highlights the lack of support these historical figures received from the Congress party which was dominated by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi and Nehru are both opposed by the RSS for causing the partition and, in the case of Nehru, starting a political dynasty that controlled India for most of its independent history.
While some of their criticisms may be debatable, one thing certainly isn’t: Singh and Bose were NOT right-wing icons.
Bhagat Singh was part of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and was involved in numerous protests. He and his comrades entered the British-Indian parliament and dropped propaganda leaflets with non-harming bombs, resulting in his subsequent arrest and hanging by the British colonialists at the meager age of 23.
Subash Chandra Bose was a Socialist who believed in a temporary authoritarian system somewhere between the Soviet Union and Turkey’s Atatürk on towards a path to democracy.
He was part of the radical leftist segment of the Congress party, and became its president, but resigned due to differences with Gandhi. His attempt to create the Indian National Army to fight the British in the second World War left an inspiring yet troubling legacy, and it is believed he died in a plane crash in 1945.
The Right, meanwhile, was headed by V.D. Savarkar who, while he initially attempted agitation against the British, became a stooge that begged his way out of prison in exchange for non-participation in the freedom struggle.
Savarkar founded the far-right RSS, the group from which Gandhi’s assassin and India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi stem. He even regarded Adolf Hitler has an inspiration.
It is clear that globally, the right hasn’t been a great champion for the cause of freedom they so claim. Their horrid attempt at trying to cover up their inadequacy comes in the form of using actual Socialists and trying to pose them as right-wingers.
Right-wingers didn’t work against the system historically; their attempt to edit this comes at a cost to their own ideological beliefs. The left must increase their educational visibility to tackle this erasure of progressive narrative that helps their cause.
Leftist heroes will never be rightist icons, no matter how much the right will try to appropriate our successes to fit their own definition.