"Leftism" redirects here. For the political position that combines centrist and left-wing policies, see Centre-left politics
. For the album by the group Leftfield, see Leftism (album)
supports social equality
, often in critique of social hierarchy
Left-wing politics typically involves a concern for those in society whom its adherents perceive as disadvantaged relative to others as well as a belief that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished.
According to emeritus professor of economics Barry Clark, left-wing supporters "claim that human development flourishes when individuals engage in cooperative, mutually respectful relations that can thrive only when excessive differences in status, power, and wealth are eliminated."
Within the left–right political spectrum
were coined during the French Revolution
, referring to the seating arrangement in the French Estates General
. Those who sat on the left generally opposed the Ancien Régime
and the Bourbon monarchy
and supported the French Revolution, the creation of a democratic republic
and the secularisation
while those on the right were supportive of the traditional institutions of the Old Regime
. Usage of the term Left
became more prominent after the restoration of the French monarchy in 1815, when it was applied to the Independents
The word wing
was first appended to Left and Right in the late 19th century, usually with disparaging intent, and left-wing
was applied to those who were unorthodox in their religious or political views.
The term Left
was later applied to a number of movements, especially republicanism
in France during the 18th century, followed by socialism
, the labour movement
, social democracy
in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Since then, the term left-wing
has been applied to a broad range of movements,
including the civil rights movement
, feminist movement
, LGBT rights movement
, anti-war movement
and environmental movement
as well as a wide range of political parties
Since the Right was populist, both in the Western
and the Eastern Bloc
anything viewed as avant-garde art was called leftist across Europe, thus the identification of Picasso's Guernica
as "leftist" in Europe[page needed]
and the condemnation of the Russian composer Shostakovich
's opera (The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District
) in Pravda
as follows: "Here we have 'leftist' confusion instead of natural, human music".[page needed]
The following positions are typically associated with left-wing politics.
Other leftists believe in Marxian economics
, named after the economic theories of Karl Marx
. Some distinguish Marx's economic theories from his political philosophy, arguing that Marx's approach to understanding the economy is independent of his advocacy of revolutionary socialism
or his belief in the inevitability of a proletarian revolution
Marxian economics do not exclusively rely on Marx and draw from a range of Marxist and non-Marxist sources. The dictatorship of the proletariat
and workers' state
are terms used by some Marxists, particularly Leninists
, to describe what they see as a temporary state between the capitalist state of affairs
and a communist society
. Marx defined the proletariat as salaried workers, in contrast to the lumpenproletariat
, who he defined as the outcasts of society such as beggars, tricksters, entertainers, buskers, criminals and prostitutes.
The political relevance of farmers has divided the left. In Das Kapital
, Marx scarcely mentioned the subject.Mikhail Bakunin
thought the lumpenproletariat was a revolutionary class while Mao Zedong
believed that it would be rural peasants, not urban workers, who would bring about the proletarian revolution
, libertarian socialists
believe in a decentralized
economy run by trade unions
, workers' councils
, opposing both state
control of the economy, preferring social ownership
and local control in which a nation of decentralized regions is united in a confederation
. The global justice movement
, also known as the anti-globalisation movement
and the alter-globalisation
movement, protests against corporate economic globalisation
due to its negative consequences for the poor, workers, the environment, and small businesses.
One of the foremost left-wing advocates was Thomas Paine, one of the first individuals since left
became political terms to describe the collective human ownership of the world which he speaks of in Agrarian Justice.
As such, most of left-wing thought and literature regarding environmentalism stems from this duty of ownership and the aforementioned form of cooperative ownership means that humanity must take care of the Earth. This principle is reflected in much of the historical left-wing thought and literature that came afterwards, although there were disagreements about what this entailed. Both Karl Marx and the early socialist philosopher and scholar William Morris
arguably had a concern for environmental matters.
According to Marx, "[e]ven an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations".
Following the Russian Revolution, environmental scientists such as revolutionary Alexander Bogdanov
and the Proletkult
organisation made efforts to incorporate environmentalism into Bolshevism and "integrate production with natural laws and limits" in the first decade of Soviet
rule, before Joseph Stalin
attacked ecologists and the science of ecology, purged environmentalists and promoted the pseudoscience
of Trofim Lysenko
during his rule up until his death in 1953.
Similarly, Mao Zedong
rejected environmentalism and believed that based on the laws of historical materialism, all of nature must be put into the service of revolution.
From the 1970s onwards, environmentalism became an increasing concern of the left, with social movements and several unions campaigning on environmental issues and causes. In Australia, the left-wing Builders Labourers Federation
, led by the communist Jack Mundy, united with environmentalists to place green bans
on environmentally destructive development projects.
Several segments of the socialist and Marxist left consciously merged environmentalism and anti-capitalism into an eco-socialist
ideology. Barry Commoner
articulated a left-wing response to The Limits to Growth
model that predicted catastrophic resource depletion
and spurred environmentalism, postulating that capitalist technologies were the key cause responsible for environmental degradation, as opposed to human population pressures.
Environmental degradation can be seen as a class or equity issue, as environmental destruction disproportionately affects poorer communities and countries.
Global warming was the cover story of this 2007 issue of the Ms.
Several left-wing or socialist groupings have an overt environmental concern and several green parties contain a strong socialist presence. The Green Party of England and Wales
features an eco-socialist group, the Green Left
, which was founded in June 2005. Its members held several influential positions within the party, including both the former Principal Speakers Siân Berry
and Derek Wall
, himself an eco-socialist and Marxist academic.
In Europe, several green left
political parties such as the European United Left–Nordic Green Left
combine traditional social-democratic values such as a desire for greater economic equality and workers rights with demands for environmental protection. Democratic socialist Bolivian president Evo Morales
has traced environmental degradation
to capitalist consumerism
stating that "[t]he Earth does not have enough for the North to live better and better, but it does have enough for all of us to live well". James Hansen
, Noam Chomsky
, Raj Patel
, Naomi Klein
, The Yes Men
and Dennis Kucinich
hold similar views.[page needed]
In the 21st century, questions about the environment have become increasingly politicized as the Left almost unanimously accepted the findings and consensus of environmental scientists and climatologists about anthropogenic global warming
while the Right has disputed or outright rejected the scientific consensus that modern-day global warming is caused by human activity.
However, the Left is also divided over how to effectively and equitably reduce carbon emissions
as the center-left often advocates a reliance on market measures such as emissions trading
and a carbon tax
while those further to the left support direct government regulation and intervention in the form of a Green New Deal
, either alongside or instead of market mechanisms.
Nationalism, anti-imperialism and anti-nationalism
The question of nationality
has been a central feature of political debates on the Left. During the French Revolution, nationalism was a key policy of the Republican Left.
The Republican Left advocated for civic nationalism
and argued that the nation is a "daily plebiscite" formed by the subjective "will to live together". Related to revanchism
, the belligerent will to take revenge against Germany and retake control of Alsace-Lorraine
, nationalism was sometimes opposed to imperialism
. In the 1880s, there was a debate between leftists such as the Radical Georges Clemenceau
, the Socialist Jean Jaurès
and the nationalist Maurice Barrès
, who argued that colonialism diverted France from liberating the "blue line of the Vosges
", in reference to Alsace-Lorraine; and the "colonial lobby
" such as Jules Ferry
of the Moderate Republicans
, Léon Gambetta
of the Republicans
and Eugène Etienne
, the president of the Parliamentary Colonial Group. After the antisemitic Dreyfus Affair
in which officer Alfred Dreyfus
was falsely convicted of sedition and exiled to a penal colony in 1894 before being exonerated in 1906, nationalism in the form of Boulangism
increasingly became associated with the far-right.
The Marxist social class
theory of proletarian internationalism
asserts that members of the working class
should act in solidarity with working people in other countries in pursuit of a common class interest
, rather than only focusing on their own countries. Proletarian internationalism is summed up in the slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!
", the last line of The Communist Manifesto
. Union members had learned that more members meant more bargaining power. Taken to an international level, leftists argued that workers should act in solidarity with the international proletariat in order to further increase the power of the working class. Proletarian internationalism saw itself as a deterrent against war and international conflicts, because people with a common interest are less likely to take up arms against one another, instead focusing on fighting the bourgeoisie
as the ruling class
. According to Marxist theory, the antonym
of proletarian internationalism is bourgeois nationalism
. Some Marxists, together with others on the left, view nationalism
as divide and conquer
tactics used by the ruling classes to prevent the working class
from uniting against them in solidarity with one another. Left-wing movements have often taken up anti-imperialist positions. Anarchism has developed a critique of nationalism that focuses on nationalism's role in justifying and consolidating state power and domination. Through its unifying goal, nationalism strives for centralisation
(both in specific territories and in a ruling elite of individuals) while it prepares a population for capitalist exploitation. Within anarchism, this subject has been extensively discussed by Rudolf Rocker
in his book titled Nationalism and Culture
and by the works of Fredy Perlman
such as Against His-Story, Against Leviathan
and The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism
The failure of revolutions in Germany
in the 1918–1920 years ended Bolshevik
hopes for an imminent world revolution
and led to the promotion of the doctrine of socialism in one country
by Joseph Stalin
. In the first edition of his book titled Osnovy Leninizma
(Foundations of Leninism
, 1924), Stalin argued that revolution in one country is insufficient. By the end of that year in the second edition of the book, he argued that the "proletariat
can and must build the socialist society in one country". In April 1925, Nikolai Bukharin
elaborated on the issue in his brochure titled Can We Build Socialism in One Country in the Absence of the Victory of the West-European Proletariat?
, whose position was adopted as state policy after Stalin's January 1926 article titled On the Issues of Leninism
(К вопросам ленинизма) was published. This idea was opposed by Leon Trotsky
and his supporters, who declared the need for an international "permanent revolution
" and condemned Stalin for betraying the goals and ideals of the socialist revolution. Various Fourth Internationalist
groups around the world who describe themselves as Trotskyist
see themselves as standing in this tradition while Maoist China
formally supported the theory of socialism in one country.
Today in the Western world
, those on the Left generally support secularization
and the separation of church and state. However, religious beliefs have also been associated with many left-wing movements such as the progressive movement
, the Social Gospel
movement, the civil rights movement
, the anti-war movement
, the anti-capital punishment
movement and Liberation Theology
. Early utopian socialist
thinkers such as Robert Owen
, Charles Fourier
and the Comte de Saint-Simon
based their theories of socialism upon Christian principles. From St. Augustine of Hippo
's City of God
through St. Thomas More
, major Christian writers defended ideas that socialists found agreeable and advocated for. Other common leftist concerns such as pacifism
, social justice
, racial equality
, human rights
and the rejection of capitalism and excessive wealth
can be found in the Holy Bible
In the late 19th century, the Social Gospel movement arose, particularly among Anglicans
in North America and Britain which integrated progressive
thought with Christianity
through faith-based social activism, promoted by movements such as Christian anarchism, Christian socialism and Christian communism. In the 20th century, the theology of liberation and Creation Spirituality
was championed by several scholars and priests, such as Gustavo Gutierrez
and Matthew Fox
. Other left-wing religious movements include Buddhist socialism, Jewish socialism and Islamic socialism. There have been alliances between the left and anti-war Muslims
, such as the Respect Party
and the Stop the War Coalition
in Britain. In France, the left has been divided over moves to ban the hijab
from schools, with some leftists supporting a ban based on the separation of church and state in accordance with the principle of laïcité
and other leftists opposing the prohibition based on personal and religious freedom.
Social progressivism and counterculture
is another common feature of modern leftism, particularly in the United States, where social progressives played an important role in the abolition of slavery
the enshrinement of women's suffrage
in the United States Constitution
and the protection of civil rights
, LGBTQ rights
, women's rights
. Progressives have both advocated for alcohol prohibition
legislation and worked towards its repeal in the mid to late 1920s and early 1930s. Current positions associated with social progressivism in the Western world
include strong opposition to the death penalty
, mass surveillance
, and the war on drugs
, and support for abortion
rights, cognitive liberty
, LGBTQ rights
including legal recognition of same-sex marriage
, same-sex adoption
of children, the right to change one's legal gender
, distribution of contraceptives
, and public funding of embryonic stem-cell research
. The desire for an expansion of social and civil liberties often overlaps that of the libertarian
movement. Public education was a subject of great interest to groundbreaking social progressives such as Lester Frank Ward
and John Dewey
, who believed that a democratic society and system of government was practically impossible without a universal and comprehensive nationwide system of education.
Various counterculture and anti-war movements in the 1960s and 1970s were associated with the New Left. Unlike the earlier leftist focus on labour union
activism and a proletarian revolution, the New Left instead adopted a broader definition of political activism commonly called social activism
. The New Left in the United States is associated with the hippie movement
, mass protest movements on school campuses and a broadening of focus from protesting class
-based oppression to include issues such as gender
and sexual orientation
. The British New Left was an intellectually driven movement which attempted to correct the perceived errors of the Old Left
. The New Left opposed prevailing authoritarian structures in society which it designated as "The Establishment
" and became known as the "Anti-Establishment". The New Left did not seek to recruit industrial workers en masse, but instead concentrated on a social activist approach to organization, convinced that they could be the source for a better kind of social revolution
. This view has been criticized by several Marxists
, especially Trotskyists
, who characterized this approach as "substitutionism" which they described as a misguided and non-Marxist belief that other groups in society could "substitute" for and "replace" the revolutionary agency of the working class.
and post-modern philosophy
oppose attempts to supply universal explanatory theories, including Marxism, deriding them as grand meta-narratives
. Post-modernism views culture as a contested space and seeks to undermine all pretenses of absolute truth through deconstruction
. Left-wing critics of post-modernism assert that cultural studies
inflates the importance of culture by denying the existence of an independent reality.
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