Words and phrases can mean whatever the user says they mean. This is especially true in politics. Thus a one-party dictatorship, or a forced coalition dominated by one party, can be described as ‘democratic’. Military invasions can be described as ‘peace making’ or ‘defending democracy’, as can building such structures as the Berlin or Israeli/Palestine walls. Indeed all the above have been so described. What is more, by twisting meanings, every one of them can be argued to be correct.
Take the one-Party dictatorship for example. It can be argued that this system preserves an economic system, Socialism for example, which is by its very nature more democratic than, say, capitalism. Therefore it is a ‘democratic dictatorship’. Moreover, it can be argued that to fully exercise Socialist democracy the masses must join the ruling Party and become active in it in order to influence and collectively decide its policies. Thus the system is entirely ‘democratic’.
What this sort of convoluted argument ignores are such things as the rights of minorities, and the fact that if that one-Party becomes infiltrated and corrupted, then inner-Party democracy is crushed and there is no way of getting rid of the government other than popular revolution, peaceful or otherwise.
Many military invasions have been described as justifiable in order to ‘preserve peace’, ‘protect human rights’ or to ‘defend’ or ‘restore democracy’. This applies to invasions by the USA, Soviet Union, UK, and other countries. Thus the invasion of Iraq was to ‘restore democracy and defend human rights’ and similarly with the NATO military action in Afghanistan, while the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was described as being ‘to defeat counter-revolution and defend Socialist democracy’. Since, as described above, ‘democracy’ can mean whatever the user wants it to mean, such justifications are meaningless. The same with ‘human rights’ and ‘peace’, these expressions can also mean whatever the user says they mean.
During the Cold War ‘human rights’ in the West meant things such as freedom of speech, freedom from torture, freedom to travel, etc., even if all these rights were not respected in all Western countries which gave lip-service to them. In the Soviet bloc, however, ‘human rights’ meant the right to full employment and security in old age. Same words, completely different priorities and meanings.
The word ‘peace’ has also come to mean almost anything, mimicking George Orwell’s futuristic novels where words had opposite meanings. Nuclear weapons states threaten the worst genocides in human history and claim it is in the interests of ‘preserving peace’. Military invasions of other countries, inevitably resulting in the killing of civilians and others, are often described as ‘peace-keeping operations’.
The Berlin Wall and the Israeli/Palestine barrier were/are similarly defended as being to ‘preserve peace’ or to ‘defend democracy’.
Even words like ‘Socialism’ can mean whatever you like. Apart from the many varieties on the Left of politics (Trotskyists, Maoists, Social Democrats, Stalinists, Leninists, Marxists, Titoists, Cooperative movement, etc.) there is the far-right fascist variety: National Socialism (Nazism).
I have been guilty myself of twisting words and phrases to mean what I want them to mean. As a member of the Communist Party in the past this was routine, and I actually managed to convince myself that a one-Party dictatorship was a superior form of Socialist democracy which would eliminate class divisions, train the masses to be self-disciplined and politically responsible and was therefore a good preparation for the ultimate democracy of the self-governing classless society of Communism.
I also at one time believed the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 prevented that country slipping into the Western capitalist camp, and therefore was essential to ‘defend democracy’, by which of course, I meant ‘Socialism’. The two expressions were synonymous as far as I was concerned – democracy meant Socialism and Socialism meant democracy. I even argued in print that ‘democracy for the opponents of Socialism’ could not be tolerated, and this was because I believed capitalism was fundamentally undemocratic. That Socialism could also be undemocratic I preferred to ignore or just hope this was a ‘temporary aberration’, like the so-called era of the ’cult of personality’ and the resultant ’violations of Socialist legality’. This was Communist jargon for the crimes of the Stalin era. Words again used to hide or distort/minimize the harsh facts.
In fact all the great flaws in such polemics were overlooked or ignored as ‘temporary problems’, such as the fact that Soviet-style Socialism was ridden with corruption because a new ruling-clique of careerists, opportunists and corrupted former Communists had entrenched themselves in positions of absolute power.
Then take such things as the Second World War. It can be argued that it was a great success because Nazism was defeated and countries like Britain were not invaded. Also that it was necessary because of what happened in the concentration camps to about six million Jews and other minorities. On the other hand it can be argued that it was a massive failure because most of the Nazi leadership survived to the end, most of the 60,000,000 or so casualties were civilians or non-Nazi conscript soldiers, Hitler himself escaped a war crimes tribunal and died by his own hand, Poland (the reason Britain went to war in the first place) was not free at the end of the conflict but was handed straight from Hitler to Stalin, the Allied war crimes never came to a tribunal, and it can also be argued that since 6,000,000 or so Jews and others died in the Final Solution the war failed them, and may even have sealed their fate (Hitler had said he’d kill the Jews if war broke out).
So words and phrases can be used to mean anything, and arguments based on the same facts can come to totally opposite conclusions.
A good politician can make black seem white and white seem black. If caught out, the classic fall-back line is that they were perhaps being ‘economical with the truth’.
In politics of both Left and Right words and phrases are often used in a highly biased way. It can perhaps be summed up by the optimist/pessimist description of a glass containing liquid. The optimist would say it was ‘half full’ while the pessimist would say it was ‘half empty’. Both would be correct, from their own biased perspective, but both would be being ‘economical with the truth’.
To get the full picture in all these cases we need more information than we are being given. To judge whether the pessimist or optimist is correct, we need to know whether the glass is about to be topped up or about to be emptied by a drinker. In the case of the one-Party State, the ‘democracy’ is severely curtailed to allow no opposition to the economic system, and even that limited democracy will only be effective if there is an active, mass membership of the ruling Party, no corruption, and genuine inner-Party democracy. With the barriers put up in Berlin and Israel/Palestine, the main objectives have been omitted – i.e. to stop the economic drain by people leaving permanently or getting jobs in West Berlin and in the Middle Eastern example, not just to make terrorism more difficult, but to grab and secure more territory. In the case of wars, invasions and nuclear arsenals the purpose is to create wars or threats of war in order to impose one’s own conditions for ‘peace’, so in other words, violent bullying tactics.
The conclusion is that politicians of all descriptions very rarely give you all the facts, but instead present a very biased picture leaving out important facts which are detrimental to their case. Hence when they use words like ‘democracy’ and ‘peace’, for example, these words raise a lot more questions that they answer. The old Soviet phrase ‘violations of Socialist legality in the era of the cult of personality’ carefully disguises and avoids the full truth: ‘In the Stalin era very serious crimes such as show trials and executions and imprisonment of totally innocent people took place’.
Words, and phrases, when used by politicians can cloak a host of things they prefer you did not know.