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Left-wing politics
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Left-wing politics

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

In politics, left-wing, political left, or simply the left, are terms which 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 in the United States sense of the word), or with opposition to right-wing politics. Communism (as well as the Marxist philosophy that it relies on) and 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 Soviet Union and other one-party "communist states", although 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.

Table of contents
1 Political groups on the left
2 History of the term
3 Leftism and the Soviet Union
4 Leftism and postmodernism
5 Leftism and Neo-leftism in China
6 Leftism, Pacifism and "War on Terror"
7 See also
8 External links
9 Other meanings

Political groups on the left

One might normally characterize the following groups 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, but in terms of the whole country he was generally perceived as being on the moderate left.









New Zealand




United Kingdom

United States

The following groups fall more within the self-described "liberal" or "progressive" center-left:

History of the term

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.

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 America, 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", despite important differences from other rightists, Soviet-style state communism is generally included in "the left", despite important differences from other leftists. 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).

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. 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, while the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA takes the opposite view and continues to praise the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

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). However, 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).

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 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 Nietzsche's philosophy 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"


After the September 11 terrorist attacks which killed more than 3000 people in the United States, U.S. president George W. Bush declared a campaign against terror organizations and terror supporters, which he called the "War on terrorism". Although Bush has never formally articulated exactly which of his programs constitute that "war", it is clear that the term embraces at least two major Bush administration initiatives: a set of changes to U.S. criminal law and immigration law (most notably through the USA PATRIOT Act) and the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The term may also embrace such related matters as the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.

The September 11 attacks were the first succesful attacks by foreign forces against the U.S. mainland since the War of 1812. The nearest thing to a precedent in living memory was the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, although in 1941 Hawaii was merely a U.S. Territory, not a U.S. state. Pearl Harbor was clearly an action of the Japanese government and military. In contrast, the September 11 attacks appear to have been carried out by a small group of individuals who formed part of the al-Qaida network: Islamists without formal backing from any state (though there were and are suspicions that Al-Qaida was aided and funded by serveral Arab\\Mualim countries).

The immediate, worldwide reaction to the attacks was widely described at the time as "shock". [1], [1] [1] No national government claimed connection to the attacks. Indeed, the governments most associated with Islamism sought to distance themselves from the attacks. Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakel, the foreign minister of Afghanistan's then-ruling Taliban government, declared, "We denounce this terrorist attack, whoever is behind it." [1] Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian president, said he felt "deep regret and sympathy with the victims." [1] Shaykh Abdul Aziz al-Ashaikh, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and Chairman of the Senior Ulama, said, "Hijacking planes, terrorizing innocent people and shedding blood constitute a form of injustice that can not be tolerated by Islam, which views them as gross crimes and sinful acts." [1] Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said, "We completely condemn this serious operation... We were completely shocked..." [1] Many, though, considered the Arab-Muslim recation as an hypocracy since states like Iran and Syria were known for long-year funding of terrorist networks such as Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad. Also, Al-Qaida training camps were operating undistrubly in Afghanistan.

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. Noam Chomsky's statement in the immediate wake of the attacks begins by condemning this "major atrocit[y]" and "horrendous crime", but also by contextualizing it in terms of the Clinton-era U.S. attack on the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory and prefiguring what would be a widespread concern for the left worldwide: "...the crime is a gift to the hard jingoist right, those who hope to use force to control their domains." [1] Similarly, from Vijay Prashad, "The attacks must be condemned without reservation. But we must be certain to recognize that these are probably the work of frustrated and alienated human beings hemmed in by forces that are anonymous and that could only be embodied by these structures." [1] Martin Woollacott, writing in The Guardian, called the attacks, "above all a stupendous crime," but also wrote, "America's best defence against terrorism originating from abroad remains the existence of governments and societies more or less satisfied with American even-handedness on issues which are important to them. Plainly, this is furthest from the case in the Muslim world." [1]

Anti War movement

Following the September 11 events the "Anti-War movement" (henceforth: AWM), a loose coalition of left-wing groups, united to resist the United States and its military campaign against Middle East countries believed to sponser terrorism. The AWM also includes pacifists, European nationalists, Arabs, Islamists, antisemites and also further-left groups who do not necessarily advocate the views of the majority of leftists, although many of them also disapproved of the war. One major group in the AWM is "ANSWER - Act Now to Stop War and End Violence". The English major group is Stop the War Coalition.

Different factions of the movement resisted the war on different grounds: some resisted it on pacifist grounds, some resisted because they saw the war as illegal under international law while others resisted because they saw it as oppressive and colonialist in that its main goal was seen as not liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's oppression but rather gaining the control of oil in the region. Some Islamists and Arabs saw the military campaign as a religion war, a crusade, against Islam. Others simply felt that Iraq was not a threat to the United States and that a preemptive attack was morally wrong, believing in a more isolationist policy. Many people just condemn the war because they believe the rationale for invading was faulty, whether it be Saddam's relation to al-Qaida, weapons of mass destruction or the lack of support under international law or from the United Nations.

The anti-war movement has organized massive anti-war rallies, specifically against the war in Iraq. Some rallies include what some have called "hate speeches" against Bush, UK's prime-minister Tony Blair and Israel's prime-minister Ariel Sharon although many of them are peaceful civil demonstrations.

Reaction to the anti-war movement has ranged from hailing its proponents as moral heroes and defenders of humanity, to accusing them of being traitors and terror-supporters.


A major criticism of the anti-war movement is the claim that they have turned a blind eye toward war crimes and atrocities commited by Arabs, including al-Qaida terrorists, Saddam Hussein and the Palestinianss. There are some among the AWM who see al-Qaida's and Palestinian "terrorist" attacks as a legitimate asymmetric war against the oppressors. This view has not been publicly denounced by the AWM. [1]

More over, some of the critics, such as exiled Iranian writer Amir Taheri, blamed the anti-war movement and radical left-wing movement in cooperating with the extreme fundamentalist Islamic movements which stand against all "leftist" values. This cooperation is seen by Taheri and many others as advocating terrorism and anti-humanist values. Taheri explains that radical left-wing groups and Muslim fundamentalists form an alliance despite the difference, based on hatred of Jews and Americans (the "capitalists"). Far left groups are said to do this because of political opportunitism, perhaps believing that only the power of Islam can resist U.S. capitalism. [1]

Although this is a valid argument with respect to extreme leftists and Islamists, many moderate leftists condemn war crimes and other atrocities commited by terrorists while still condemning the war. Extreme leftist factions are becoming more prevalent in today's society (particularly in Europe), and the public image of the AWM is more and more affected by them.

See also

External links

Other meanings

Left wing can also refer to a player's position in sports such as soccer and ice hockey.

In video games and censorship, left wing can refer to the side of the video game or media controversy issue spectrum of those who oppose censorship. See also Video game proponent.