Left-wing politics

Left wing is also a term used in several sports; see winger (sport).

In politics, left-wing, political left, leftism, or simply the left, are terms that refer (with no particular precision) to the segment of the political spectrum typically associated with any of several strains of socialism, social democracy, or liberalism (especially but not exclusively in the American sense of the word), or with opposition to right-wing politics. Communism and socialism (as well as the Marxist philosophy that it relies on) and most currents of anarchism are considered to be radical forms of left-wing politics. (See political spectrum and left-right politics for more on the merits/limitations of this kind of classification.)

The terminology of left-right politics was originally based on the seating arrangement of parliamentary partisans during the French Revolution. The more ardent proponents of radical revolutionary measures (including democracy and republicanism) were commonly referred to as leftists because they sat on the left side of successive legislative assemblies. As this original reference became obsolete, the meaning of the terms has changed as appropriate to the spectrum of ideas and stances being compared.

The term is also often used to characterize the politics of the former Soviet Union and other one-party "communist states". During the early 20th Century such states enjoyed a considerable degree of popularity amongst many on the political left around the world, however today many (perhaps most) on the political left (including many Marxists) would not consider their own politics to have anything significant in common with any of these states.


Left-wing issues

Equality, social justice, democracy, gender equality, civil rights, labor rights and trade unionism, governmental concern for the poor, working-class solidarity, secularism, and internationalism are the values typically associated with the left wing of the political spectrum. The left favors government control over economics and the redistribution of wealth, but is against social hierarchy and authority over moral behavior, strict adherence to tradition, monoculturalism, privilege for the wealthy, and other values commonly associated with the political right. Those on the left are sometimes self-described "progressive", a term that arose from their self-identification as the side of (social) progress.

History of the term

The term "Left" was first used in the early days of French revolution. When the National Assembly first met, the reformers sat on the left side of the meeting hall, while supporters of monarchy and nobility sat on the right. Originally, it wasn't meant to be a political statement, but as the factions within the National Assembly formed, the label stuck.

Although it may seem ironic in terms of present-day usage, the original "leftists" during the French Revolution were the largely bourgeois supporters of laissez-faire capitalism and free markets. As the electorate expanded beyond property-holders, these relatively wealthy elites found themselves clearly victorious over the old aristocracy and the remnants of feudalism, but newly opposed by the growing and increasingly organized and politicized workers and wage-earners. The "left" of 1789 would, in some ways be part of the present-day "right", liberal with regard to the rights of property and intellect, but not embracing notions of distributive justice, rights for organized labor, etc.

In some countries, such as the Netherlands, left had for long times the meaning of the non-religious side of politics. This gradually changed in the more general European meaning of the word. The European left has traditionally shown a smooth continuum between non-communist and communist parties (including such hybrids as eurocommunism), which have sometimes allied with more moderate leftists to present a united front. In the United States, however, no avowedly socialist or communist party ever became a major player in national politics, although the Social Democratic Party of Eugene V. Debs and its successor Socialist Party of America (in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) and the Communist Party of the United States of America (in the 1930s) made some inroads. While many American "liberals" would be "social democrats" in European terms, very few of them openly embrace the term "left"; in the United States, the term is mainly embraced by New Left activists, certain portions of the labor movement, and people who see their intellectual or political heritage as descending from 19th-century socialist movements. The "New Left" has had varying degrees of unity since its rise in the 1960s, and can be seen as a coalition of numerous distinct movements, including (but not limited to) feminists, greens, some labor unions, some atheists, some gay rights activists, and some minority ethnic and racially oriented civil rights groups. Many Greens deny that green politics is "on the left"; nonetheless, their economic policies can generally be considered left-wing, and when they have formed political coalitions (most notably in Germany, but also in local governments elsewhere), it has almost always been with groups that would generally be classified as being on the left.

Leftism and the Soviet Union

Much as fascism is generally included in "the right," the Communism of the former Soviet bloc is generally included in "the left." Some argue that (in spite of its use of socialist rhetoric), Soviet-style communism should be viewed independently of the conventional left-right spectrum: this case has, perhaps, been made most eloquently by Karl Popper, through his development of the concept of totalitarianism. Critics of democratic socialism or of left-liberalism have often used the association of communism with Soviet-style politics to tar the political left with the perceived crimes of Stalinism, but these accusations are usually little more than rhetorical devices (similar to the ones used by some critics of conservativism or other right-wing ideologies in associating the political right with fascism).

Some critics of the left claim that leftist movements lost their moorings—or their rationale—after the collapse of the European communist states (beginning in 1989 and ending with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991).

In the days of the Soviet Union, leftist movements worldwide had different relationships with Moscow-line communist parties, ranging from enthusiastic support to outright opposition. Lincoln Steffens, in 1919, said of having visited the Soviet Union, "I have seen the future and it works"; it would be many years until any large portion of the left believed otherwise, and even today, some parts of the radical left extol all or some aspects of Soviet-style communism or that of Maoist China, while others loathe the perceived crimes of those regimes and denounce them at every turn.

For example, most Trotskyists adhere to some variant of Leon Trotsky's view of the post-Lenin Soviet Union as a "degenerated workers' state" and denounce Stalin as a traitor, some even claiming that the Soviet Union was actually a kind of 'monopoly capitalist' state. Large segments of the left never took inspiration from the Soviet model and actually rejoiced to see the USSR's system collapse -- as Michael Albert of Z Magazine put it, "one down, one to go" (referring to Stalinism and capitalism). At the other end, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA continues to praise the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Leftism and postmodernism

A few self-described leftists also subscribe to postmodernism, including deconstructionism, a philosophical point of view that claims that every text "contains the allegory of its own deconstruction" and thereby questions the possibility of rational discourse. (Most postmodernists see themselves as leftists, but most leftists are not postmodernists.) Critics on the right have generally seen this as an indication of the poorly thought-out, fashionable nature of academic leftism. However, there are many on the left who say that postmodernism makes no sense and offers no useful political lessons.

Some critics of the left also suggest that deconstructionism is not the only Nietzschean element in contemporary leftism, pointing to older, mistaken interpretations of Nietzsche as the font of moral relativism and the "God is dead" philosophy, both of which they see as characterizing the perceived nihilism of modern leftist politics. On the other hand, most leftists consider such accusations to be completely baseless and incorrect; this is especially true of religious leftists, many of whom hold the ideas of moral relativism and nihilism in less than low regard.

Leftism and Neo-leftism in China

The 1949 victory of the Chinese Revolution brought to power the then ultra-leftist Chinese Communist Party of Mao Zedong, who, over the next quarter of a century attempted the radical transformation of society through the Great Leap Forward and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. After Mao's death, it became the conventional wisdom among China's leadership that these attempts had been a disaster. Although it has retained its name, the Chinese Communist Party today has abandoned Communism in its economic policies, pursuing instead an agenda of economic liberalization, beginning in the 1980s with the Four Modernizations of Deng Xiaoping. The Chinese government, however, has remained rigidly authoritarian; socially and politically, it is still commonly viewed as repressive, though far less so than in Mao's time. Most leading Chinese dissidents are political and social liberals.

In contrast both to the government and the liberal dissidents, Chinese neo-leftism, embracing postmodernism and Chinese nationalism, and opposed both to democracy and to what they see as a return of China to the capitalist world, arose as a political idea during the mid-1990s. Neo-leftism is seen as being more appealing to students in China today than liberalism, as problems faced by China during its modernisation such as inequality and the widening gap between the rich and the poor are becoming more serious.

Leftism, Pacifism and "War on Terror"

See main article Post-September 11 anti-war movement

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the immediate, worldwide reaction was widely described as "shock". [1] (http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/09/11/trade.centre.reaction/), [2] (http://www.tgorski.com/Terrorism/Psychological%20Shock%20Of%20September%2011%20-%20PEWS%20Research%20Report.htm) [3] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-4339991,00.html) No national government claimed connection to the attacks and the governments most associated with Islamism sought to distance themselves from the attacks. [4] (http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/09/11/trade.centre.reaction/) [5] (http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm)[6] (http://www.september11news.com/InternationalReaction.htm) On the left, condemnation of the attacks was equally general, although often including (even in the days immediately after the attack) condemnation of ostensibly related aspects of U.S. policies. [7] (http://www.zmag.org/prashadcalam.htm) [8] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/wtccrash/story/0,1300,550464,00.html) [9] (http://www.zmag.org/chomnote.htm) Elected officials generally identified as being on the U.S. "left" also joined in strongly condemning the attacks, without choosing to point out a context. [10] (http://kennedy.senate.gov/~kennedy/statements/01/09/2001913535.html) Three days after the attacks, Congress passed a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against "those responsible". The Senate voted 98-0, the House 420-1, with only Barbara Lee (D-California) dissenting. [11] (http://www.cnn.com/2001/US/09/14/congress.terrorism/), [12] (http://www.daveyd.com/barbaraleevotepolitics.html)

An anti-war movement forms

See main article Post-September 11 anti-war movement (section)

Within days of the September 11 events, it was widely (though not universally) agreed that the attacks were carried out by al-Qaida. Many Muslims though less so among Muslims in the U.S. [13] (http://www.cnn.com/2002/US/02/26/gallup.muslims) [14] (http://www.hamilton.edu/news/muslimamerica/summary.html), along with a small segment of the left placed the blame elsewhere. A much larger dissenting minority concurred with the clear majority of Muslims that a military attack on Afghanistan was not the correct answer to the September 11 events, a view even more widespread with respect to the later attack on Iraq.

Within weeks, it became clear that Bush intended a set of changes to U.S. criminal law and immigration law and an invasion of Afghanistan. There was division within the left as to the invasion of Afghanistan. [15] (http://csf.colorado.edu/mail/pfvs/2001III/msg01707.html) [16] (http://website.lineone.net/~jon.simmons/roy/010929ij.htm) [17] (http://www.muhajabah.com/muslims4kucinich/archives/007435.php) Nonetheless, an international anti-war movement began to arise; in the U.S. and other countries whose governments enacted legislation analogous to the PATRIOT Act, it was equally a movement in protest of what were perceived to be assaults on civil liberties and immigrant rights.

Most prominent in this loose coalition were leftists; pacifists and others with longtime associations with global peace movements; and Arabs and Muslims, including, but by no means limited to, Islamists. The predominant arguments against the Afghanistan invasion and the subsequent invasion of Iraq were on the grounds of pacifism, international law, opposition to perceived U.S. imperialism; disbelief in the sincerity of the U.S.'s stated war aims, belief that the wars were motivated by neocolonialism and petroleum politics; that war would bring unnecessary suffering on the people of Afghanistan and that it was not the most effective way to dislodge or isolate al-Qaida; and, in a few cases, denial of al-Qaida's responsibility for the September 11 attacks.

Many Islamists and Arabs, and a few leftists, saw the military campaigns as battles in a religious war -- a crusade -- against Islam. This was the obverse of the ideas expressed, for example, by Samuel P. Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Left and anti-war in the U.S.

See main article Post-September 11 anti-war movement (section)

The most prominent U.S.-based movement groups are Act Now to Stop War and End Violence (ANSWER), Not in Our Name (NION), and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). ANSWER and (to a lesser degree) NION have been targets of much criticism from within the left [18] (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2527) for their respective associations with the Workers World Party [19] (http://www.why-war.com/encyclopedia/people/Ramsey_Clark/) [20] (http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=3181) and the Revolutionary Communist Party. Right-wing critics have also seized on these relationships, pointing at them to claim that these small parties "dominate" the anti-war movement.[21] (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=29524) Critics of ANSWER and NION from within the anti-war movement (such as Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom writing in Z) generally urged support for these groups' rallies, despite their qualms, arguing that most people at a "...demonstration will in fact be unaware of exactly who said what and whether any particular speaker omitted this or that point. What they will experience will be a powerful antiwar protest. And most of the public will see it that way too." [22] (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2527)

The groups have collaborated at times on events, although collaboration has not always been easy. In perhaps the most infamous incident, Rabbi Michael Lerner was banned from speaking at a February 16, 2003 anti-war rally in San Francisco, less than a month before the U.S. invaded Iraq. It was generally believed that this was done at ANSWER's behest, because Lerner had been critical of what he perceives as ANSWER's anti-Israel politics. Lerner, though irked that NION and UFPJ did not stand up for his inclusion as a speaker, continued to encourage people to attend the rally. [23] (http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0305/article/030512a.html), [24] (http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0211-06.htm)

Left and anti-war in Europe

See main article Post-September 11 anti-war movement (section)

Popular opposition to war on Iraq in Europe climaxed in an international synchronised anti-war demonstration around the world on February 15, 2003.

Many European countries have large and growing Muslim minorities. From a leftist position these are seen as oppressed minorities, and are seen as taking the place once occupied by Communists, as the bogymen and scapegoats of Center and Right wing politics. Some groups, such as the British Stop the War Coalition, are proud to say that Muslims have taken leading positions in their groups, as they see this as giving a voice to an oppressed minority group. The more extreme religious groups refused to work with the Left in anti-war demonstrations as they disagree with their secularity 1 (http://www.khilafah.com/home/category.php?DocumentID=6108&TagID=28).

Some claim that the presence of extremists and alleged Islamists [25] (http://www.geocities.com/emorseraf/the_london_streets.htm), as well as anti-Israeli slogans, show that the anti-war movement has been "hijacked" to become anti-western and anti-Semitic. Aurélie Filipetti, a spokeswoman of the Green Party in Paris, criticized some of her fellow French left-wingers for creating an anti-Israeli atmosphere which she claims encourages antisemitism. 2 (http://www.nrg.co.il/online/archive/ART/466/162.html) (in Hebrew, partially translated at 3 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Left-wing_politics/Archive3)) Other Jewish leftists have also been critical of the European left for excusing antisemitism when it comes from the "oppressed world" of Arabic/Muslim people. 4 (http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART/768/168.html)

These points are disputed by the left-wing groups who point out that the general mood is in opposition to the rulers of the United States rather than to its people, and that the pro-Palestine slogans it has taken up do not amount to anti-Semitism, as they are critical of the Zionist project rather than the Jewish ethnic group. Also a Pro-Palestine position is the norm amongst the left including some on the Jewish left (See 5 Jews for justice in Palestine (http://www.jfjfp.org/)).

In general the left in Europe see the anti-war movement as reinvigorating the left, however there is some disagreement as to whether it should continue to been seen as a central mobilising tool. The UK political coalition RESPECT argue that anti-war feeling is key to the growth of the left while leading members of the French left-wing group ATTAC claim that to much focusing on the war will lead the left away from focus on economic issues.

Islamist allies?

See main article Post-September 11 anti-war movement (section)

Exiled Iranian writer Amir Taheri, goes much further, viewing portions of the anti-war movement in Western Europe as "an alliance between the radical Left and hard-line Islamists... built around three themes: hatred of the United States, the dream of wiping Israel off the map, and the hoped-for collapse of the global economic system." [26] (http://www.benadorassociates.com/article/5163), [27] (http://www.geocities.com/emorseraf/the_london_streets.htm) Taheri clearly views this alliance with Islamists as compromising traditional humanist values of the left and all "leftist" values in general; he clearly implies that this coalition could go on to embrace terrorism.

While many leftists have happily worked with Arab or Muslim groups in opposition to perceived U.S. or Israeli imperialism, alliances between leftists and Islamists are relatively unusual, since leftist politics of liberalism and egalitarianism jar with far more conservative views of hardline Islamism. More typical examples of leftists working in anti-war coalitions with Muslims would be the membership of American Muslims for Jerusalem in UFPJ or of the Muslim Student Association, American Muslims for Global Peace, and Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam in ANSWER. These are Muslim groups, but they are not Islamist groups.

Political parties on the left

One might normally characterize the following parties as on the political left in their respective countries, though they might have relatively little in common with other left-wing groups beyond their opposition to the right.

Naturally, in all cases "left" and "right" are relative. For example, the Democratic Leadership Council (in which Bill Clinton was active) is generally considered to form the right wing of the U.S. Democratic Party (which outside the US is considered to be right of center), but in terms of the whole country he was generally perceived as being on the moderate left.








Czech republic







Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China

In Hong Kong, the term "left-wing" is usually used to describe the political parties that mostly support the policies of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Central Government in Beijing. To a certain extent, they are often pro-communism. They are in opposition to the "pro-democracy camp."


Republic of Ireland



Until 1991, the main left-wing political party in Italy was the Italian Communist Party (PCI), which opposed the Christian Democracy (DC). Other defunct left wing parties include the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). The current major left wing parties are:

Other minor left-wing parties are:




Latin America




Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN)


New Zealand

Represented in Parliament:

Not Represented in Parliament:





United Kingdom

United States

See also

External links

Discussion sites

Reference sites

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