Political Left

… a core concept in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101

Concept description

Encyclopaedia Britannica (reference below) describes the political left as “the portion of the political spectrum associated in general with egalitarianism and popular or state control of the major institutions of political and economic life.”

It notes that:

“The term dates from the 1790s, when in the French revolutionary parliament the socialist representatives sat to the presiding officer’s left. Leftists tend to be hostile to the interests of traditional elites, including the wealthy and members of the aristocracy, and to favour the interests of the working class. They tend to regard social welfare as the most important goal of government.”

Wikipedia (reference below) notes that in contemporary society, the political left is distinguished from the political right in a number of domains:

Economic

“Leftist economic beliefs range from Keynesian economics and the welfare state through industrial democracy and the social market to nationalization of the economy and central planning, to the anarcho-syndicalist advocacy of a council- and assembly-based self-managed anarchist communism … Leftists continue to criticize what they perceive as the exploitative nature of globalization, the “race to the bottom” and unjust lay-offs.”

Environment

“From the 1970s onwards, environmentalism became an increasing concern of the left, with social movements and some unions campaigning over environmental issues. … In the 21st century, questions about the environment have become increasingly politicized, with the Left generally accepting the findings of environmental scientists about global warming and many on the Right disputing or rejecting those findings. However, the left is divided over how to effectively and equitably reduce carbon emissions: the center-left often advocates a reliance on market measures such as emissions trading or a carbon tax, while those further to the left tend to support direct government regulation and intervention either alongside or instead of market mechanisms.”

Nationalism and anti-nationalism

“The question of nationality and nationalism has been a central feature of political debates on the Left. … 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 focusing on their own countries. … Left-wing movements therefore have often taken up anti-imperialist positions. … European social democrats strongly support Europeanism and supranational integration, although there is a minority of nationalists and eurosceptics also in the left. Some link this left-wing nationalism to the pressure generated by economic integration with other countries encouraged by free trade agreements. This view is sometimes used to justify hostility towards supranational organizations.”

Religion

“The original French left-wing was anti-clerical, opposing the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and supporting the separation of church and state. Karl Marx asserted that “[r]eligion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. … However, religious beliefs have also been associated with some left-wing movements, such as the civil rights movement and the anti-capital punishment movement. … Other left-wing religious movements include Islamic socialism and Buddhist 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 supporting a ban based on separation of church and state and others opposing the prohibition based on personal freedom.”

Social progressivism and counterculture

“Social progressivism is another common feature of modern leftism, particularly in the United States, where social progressives played an important role in the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and multiculturalism. Progressives have both advocated prohibition legislation and worked towards its repeal. Current positions associated with social progressivism in the West include opposition to the death penalty and the War on Drugs, as well as support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage, cognitive liberty, distribution of contraceptives, public funding of embryonic stem-cell research and the right of women to choose abortion. … Various counterculture movements in the 1960s and 1970s were associated with the “New Left”. Unlike the earlier leftist focus on union activism, the New Left instead adopted a broader definition of political activism commonly called social activism. The United States New Left is associated with the hippie movement, college campus mass protest movements and a broadening of focus from protesting class-based oppression to include issues such as gender, race and sexual orientation. … Many early feminists and advocates of women’s rights were considered left-wing by their contemporaries. … The women’s liberation movement is closely connected to the New Left and other new social movements that challenged the orthodoxies of the Old Left. … The connection between left-leaning ideologies and LGBT rights struggles also has an important history. Prominent socialists who were involved in early struggles for LGBT rights include Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde, Harry Hay, Bayard Rustin and Daniel Guérin among others.”

The Political Left is at tension with the Political Right.

See also Socialism.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Ideas and the Policy Process (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101.

Sources

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Left, at https://www.britannica.com/topic/left, accessed 3 September 2018.

Wikipedia, Left-wing politics, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-wing_politics, accessed 3 September 2018.

Page created by: Alec Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified 3 September 2018.

Image: Rabble.ca, at http://rabble.ca/category/tags/left-wing-politics, accessed 3 September 2018.