The American debate over the right to bear arms is strangely inverted. Conservatives defend it, while the left advocates limiting it or taking it away altogether. The left condemns Trump and his allies, and speaks of them in apocalyptic terms. Yet the left advocates gun laws that would give them a monopoly on the ability to use force.
Except for the left’s legitimate revulsion at America’s rampant gun violence, this political lineup makes little sense. Conservative, moneyed elites have always sought a weapons monopoly to perpetuate their class rule. For millennia, these elites were a landed nobility. In modern times they’re more often industrialists and bankers. It should be — and in most countries it is and/or has been — the left wanting arms, and the right seeking to restrict them.
George Orwell noted that despotic governments “cannot give the factory-worker a rifle and tell him to take it home … that rifle … is the symbol of democracy.” The Spanish Civil War was an example. (RELATED: Lindsey Graham Holds Another Senate Hearing For Gun Confiscation)
In 1936, Gen. Francisco Franco, armed by fascist Germany and Italy, launched a coup d’état against Spain’s left-leaning democratic government. In desperation, the government handed out rifles to factory workers, who then formed leftist militias and stopped Franco’s army. Orwell fought in a communist militia and was angered that England, France, and the U.S. refused to aid Republican Spain. He later wrote:
The militias were hurriedly raised, ill-armed…the ragged, weaponless armies of the Republic held out for 2 ½ half years, which was undoubtedly longer than their enemies expected.
“The hatred which the Spanish Republic excited in millionaires, dukes, Cardinals…would in itself be enough to show how the land lay. In essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the [wealthy] all over the world rubbed their hands.”
Similarly, the Sandinista revolutionary government of Nicaragua during the 1980s was under siege from American-backed rightist (“contra”) attacks. In response, the leftist government armed the people.
By 1984, 1/6th of Nicaraguans over the age of 14 were armed by the government, some serving in the army, most serving in militias. Given Nicaragua’s population, 300,000 under arms would be equivalent to the U.S. government voluntarily arming 44 million citizens. The Reagan administration labeled Nicaragua a “tyranny” but never explained why a tyranny would hand out weapons to so many of its own people.
In many ways, this was Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a republic of armed yeoman farmers come to life. Upon defeating the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979, the government expropriated the massive lands belonging to Somoza, his family, and cronies. It gave land to peasants for family and cooperative farming. Sometimes there would be a ceremony where a government official would give a peasant the title to the land and a rifle to defend it.
The militia largely served in rural areas protecting Nicaragua against murderous, destructive contra attacks. Similarly, Jefferson thought America should be defended by family farmers with a musket over the fireplace who can be quickly rallied into a local defense militia.
Economically strangled, Nicaragua was given the choice between continuing the war (along with facing a possible U.S. invasion) versus voting for Washington’s candidate and gaining peace. The Sandinistas were voted out of office in 1990. Former contra leader Edgar Chamorro denounced the elections as neither free nor fair, explaining that Nicaraguans “were not electing a president, they were electing a way out.” However, this armed population was not defeated militarily — more evidence of the value of the right to bear arms.
In Chile in the early 1970s, the military and right-wing paramilitary groups had the same monopoly on arms that the American left currently advocates. Socialist President Salvador Allende took office in 1970 and made numerous reforms to help the poor. He straddled the line between militant, leftist workers and the military’s allegedly “Constitutionalist” officers. Meanwhile, Chile faced a massive U.S. campaign to “make the economy scream,” as then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said.
Dr. Senan Fox of Kanazawa University in Japan explained:
On September 4, 1973, as the Chilean military prepared to overthrow Allende…[Allende] remained defiant as he spoke to an unprecedented one-million-strong pro-Allende demonstration in Santiago. The demonstrators filed past…and shouted ‘Allende, Allende, el pueblo te defiende’ (‘Allende, Allende, the people will defend you’).
The demonstrators also chanted “Give us arms!” One week later, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, backed by the U.S., launched a military coup. During Pinochet’s 17-year military dictatorship, between 10,000 and 30,000 leftists were murdered, and 200,000 exiled. Had a significant portion of those 1 million Allende supporters been armed, the coup might never have been attempted.
There have been dictatorships on the left (Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, Rákosi, Ceaușescu, the North Korean dynasty) which have monopolized weapons ownership. Each regime sought to militarize their labor force to deal with crises while brutally stamping out any opposition to the privileged ruling bureaucracy.
There have been far more rightist dictatorships who have maintained a weapons monopoly, including Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, and countless Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian regimes. All used their monopoly to protect the interests of the wealthy few against the needs of the many — the true purpose of government in any class-divided society, including ours. Is this what the American left really wants?
Glenn Sacks teaches at James Monroe High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.