Political left

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SPD and Left in Parchim (2019)

The political left is understood to mean relatively broad ideological currents in the political spectrum . The currents of the political left, which are sometimes far apart, are united by the fact that they start from the equality of people. With left-wing politics very different implementation attempts are those ideological referred approaches that the abolition of inequality and the suppression of nascent social structures have the benefit of economically or socially disadvantaged goal. Their traditional opposite pole is the political right . Already before the first - the “great” - French Revolution (1789–1799), the term of the political “left” (and its counterpart, the “right”) was used during the so-called “ July Monarchy ” in France after the July Revolution established by 1830 for the division of parliamentary seating arrangements. In terms of content, all political ideas that were in opposition to the traditional, monarchical forms of rule of the European state structures of the early modern period were initially subsumed under the Left . In this understanding, the left tended to denote anti-monarchist and republican political currents , also oriented towards classical liberalism .

In today's parlance, “left” political positioning is generally understood to mean an attitude that is ideologically derived from more or less pronounced and established socialist principles. It is mainly applied to communism and anarchism , historically more strongly, in the present more limited also to social democracy and sometimes to social liberalism or left-wing liberalism .

Although the division of the political poles into right and left is increasingly controversial in view of the complexity of modern requirements in socio-political practice, both at the national domestic political level and even more so at the international level, a corresponding classification is still common in everyday language use and also in public , for example in the mass media , widespread. It is used, for example, both of its own ideological positioning and identification of individuals , political groups and parties as well as the delineation of political opponents.

Definition and history

Classic political left-right spectrum

The political left tried the conventional, mostly as reactionary or conservative -understood policy that (reactionary) to former the backspace or maintenance of existing (conservative) political and social structures aligned to overcome. It counteracts this with a progressive policy , that is, understood as progressive , which tries to implement new social, economic and political conditions through reforms of the existing, not infrequently also through revolutionary activities, to the advantage of the more under privileged sections of the population .

A classic understanding of politics by the left is characterized by an egalitarian conception of mankind, that is to say, it regards, among other things, “ equal rights for all people”, regardless of national, ethnic, gender and other group affiliations, as a political goal to be striven for - in accordance with the ideals of the French Revolution “freedom "Equality, fraternity" (liberté, égalité, fraternité) . From this, a policy of equal opportunities for all strata of the population and the demand for equal access to social, especially material, wealth was and is derived to this day. The principle of social justice led and leads up to the demand for an equal distribution of wealth, socialization or nationalization of the means of production and - in the ideal of communism  - to the goal of a classless society , or in anarchism to a domination-free, non-state-structured society.

Emerging from the radical democratic and largely anti- monarchist liberal currents of the early 19th century, attempts to implement the corresponding world views inspired by socialism in its various forms are now seen as left politics .

Regardless of the fundamental ideological orientation, so-called “left wings” still exist in all political parties , organizations and groupings that are understood to be more “right-wing” (conservative to reactionary) . These take on individual aspects, for example the right to social justice (in part only for certain sections of the population), demands that are derived from the ideals of the classic left and that take a more or less tolerated marginal position in the respective parties. The "left wing" of the parties, who already see themselves as left (mostly social democratic, socialist or communist), often complain for a more consistent, more radical (more fundamental) implementation of the "left" claim and are mostly on the fringes of the inner-party spectrum - as well as the “right wing” as its counterpart, which is accordingly also present in every party. In this respect, the labeling terms “left” and “right” - in relation to the political spectrum  - are always to be seen in relation to what is regarded as the “ political center ” in a country's society .


According to contemporary notes, the distinction between the political “left” and “right” in a parliament goes back to the seating arrangements of the delegates at the convening of the Estates General and the subsequent constituent parts in the transition to the French National Assembly between 1789 and 1791. There, the traditionally “more honorable” seat to the right of the President of Parliament was reserved for the nobility , so that the bourgeoisie sat on the left. From France, the left-right distinction spread across Europe. In the German Confederation , the Paulskirche parliament, which emerged from the March Revolution , was constituted in 1848 on the model of the French National Assembly. The republican MPs who called for the overthrow of the then monarchically structured German principalities sat on the left, while the representatives of the status quo and proponents of a constitutional all-German monarchy sat on their right.

This seating arrangement was later transferred to a more diverse range of political groups - again at the international level. From reactionary or nationalist parties on the right through conservative , liberal or bourgeois parties, the classic semicircle now extends to social democratic , socialist and communist , and soon also ecologically oriented, parties on the left. At the center of this diversification of political views, which is dependent on various factors, would be the political center .

Parliamentary left

In a narrower sense, supporters of parliamentary left politics in modern times often demand social benefits and state intervention in economic issues in order to promote material equality for socially weaker people.

Extra-parliamentary left

Left politics has always been not limited to parliamentary politics. As early as the 19th century, left-wing parties and groups were excluded from parliaments for relatively long periods of time , were banned or, due to a census suffrage , were only underrepresented in chamber parliaments in relation to the actual majority in the population. This was especially true for socialist-inspired associations, which, especially in the 19th century, but also up to the present day, aimed for and in some cases implemented revolutionary upheavals. Accordingly, these groups have always been actively involved in revolutions , uprisings , revolts and other social (class) struggles throughout modern times or led them.

Today there are many political groups outside of parliament with varying degrees of effectiveness that relate to left-wing positions. The substantive ideas about what left politics is striving for and by what means are very heterogeneous .

The postmodern “culturalist” left

For a long time, the left regarded culturalist interpretations of society as conservative. For a long time, the Marxist tradition assumed that the factor “culture” was relatively insignificant in relation to economic and social conditions. This led to a universalist idea of ​​leveling out cultural differences or to the multiculturalist concept of the coexistence of all cultures in the same society, regardless of how religious, traditional or authoritarian they are. But even Michel Foucault could no longer identify any sphere of social change as the cause of the others.

Today, however, the postmodern left emphasizes the role of cultural values ​​and subjective perceptions in relation to common material interests. It organizes itself primarily in virtual social and media spaces that are no longer tied to the nation state, and vehemently defends the rights of minority cultures, while political rights appear as the guardians of national cultures. Even social democracy as the “defender of the industrial-standardized lifestyle”, as a representative of a “culture of the average”, is losing its resonance in a “society of singularities” (Andreas Reckwitz) almost everywhere in Europe as the “identity-political protecting power” of the common people.

Many critics argue that the postmodern left has developed into a purely culturalist left that is no longer fighting for changes in an economic system and the abolition of the associated underprivileged or even class rule as a whole, but for an urban, liberal-hedonistic lifestyle . The left ignores its “historical-philosophical mission”; today it is characterized by “tolerance fetishism”, “excessive moralism” and “exaggeration of postmodern identity politics”.

In the opinion of many authors, the culturalist concepts of the right and left touch each other in their political implications, even though they fight each other fiercely as movements: while the left criticizes Islamism as a totalitarian ideology, the right attacks Islam from the perspective of a Christian value orientation or as "culturally alien". The author Jens-Martin Eriksen and the philosopher Frederik Stjernfeld use Denmark as an example to show how both nationalism and radical multiculturalism are expressions of a culturalist “separation policy” (according to their book title). The left is no longer in a position to aggressively deal with the positions of culturalist parties such as the Danish People's Party because they lack social utopias and ultimately represent the same conception of culture as their mirror-image opponents. The culturalist left does not share the idea that individuals are completely determined by their culture and can only be realized within it; Rather, it insists that people can freely choose their culture and religion; but these cultures are inviolable for the left and cannot be restricted by majority rights or decisions.

The British philosopher Brian Barry takes similar positions : culturalism leads to a politics of “divide and rule”. If underprivileged groups can be made to worry more about their culture and identity, they will reliably split up. According to Eriksen and Stjernfeld, this is also a structural reason for the deep crisis of the social democratic and socialist parties in Europe, whose core voters are grouping more and more according to their cultural ties and not according to common interests.

Nancy Fraser sees the causes of this development in the fact that the left has sought a new field of activity with the rise of globalization and neoliberalism. Because the means were taken out of their hands to pose the social question in terms of power politics, they switched to the field of symbolic recognition: Nobody should be discriminated as a “consumer”. In doing so, they unwittingly formed an alliance that Nancy Fraser calls "progressive neoliberalism".

The British economist and migration researcher Paul Collier criticizes the takeover of the previously very successful parties of the center-left by utilitarian intellectuals who (ruled) the state with technocratic- paternalistic means “from their prosperous metropolis while the communities were in the provinces saw themselves increasingly exposed to the danger of falling into the economic abyss ”. Right-wing populists and neoliberals pushed their way into the gap created by deregulation and debureaucratisation.

Historical aspects

The Left's Relationship to Colonialism and Immigration

Caroline Fourest states in her book La tentation obscurantiste ( The attempt of obscurantism , 2005) that the main points of reference of the European left during and after World War II were the anti- totalitarian struggle on the one hand, and decolonization and anti-imperialism on the other. For a long time both could coexist without conflict. After the rise of Islamism in Islamic countries and Muslim immigrant groups, the left is now divided on the question of whether to fight it as a totalitarian ideology or to support it as an expression of an anti-imperialist current (as Judith Butler does).

However, the question of the relationship between social upheaval and culture is at least as old as the communist movement: Even in the early days of the Soviet Union , there were fierce arguments about the question of whether the (national) communist parties anchored in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements should be considered in the feudal Islamic countries around the Caspian Sea as reliable allies. Lenin advised caution, while Zinoviev, as a representative of the Comintern, called for a “holy war [...] against British imperialism” at the “Congress of the Peoples of the Orient” in Baku in 1920 , whereupon many delegates enthusiastically drew their sabers while he was shortly afterwards advocated breaking the "power of the mullahs in the Orient by force" and being pelted with garbage. The merger of the Transcaucasian states in the Transcaucasian SFSR in 1922 against the resistance of the national communist actors ultimately led to their suppression and to the intensification of the anti-religious struggle.



Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ T. Alexander Smith, Raymond Tatalovich: Cultures at War: Moral Conflicts in Western Democracies . Broadview Press, Toronto 2003, p. 30.
    Norberto Bobbio, Allan Cameron: Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction . University of Chicago Press, 1997, p. 37.
  2. ^ A b Steven Lukes: Epilogue: The Grand Dichotomy of the Twentieth Century. (pdf, 235 kB) In: The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought. Terence Ball, Richard Bellamy (Ed.), 2003, pp. 602-626 , archived from the original on May 21, 2013 ; accessed on September 16, 2018 (English).
  3. ^ Ian Adams: Political Ideology Today (Politics Today) . Manchester University Press, Manchester 2001, ISBN 0-7190-6020-6 , p. 32: "Liberal parties in Europe now find their niche at the center of the political spectrum".
    Hans Slomp: European Politics Into the Twenty-First Century: Integration and Division . Praeger, Westport 2000, ISBN 0-275-96814-6 , p. 35: "Conservative liberals occupy a place at the right end, social liberals in the middle."
  4. Jan A. Fuhse: Left or Right or somewhere completely different? To construct the political landscape . In: Austrian Journal for Political Science . tape 33 , no. 2 , 2004, ISSN  2313-5433 , p. 209–226 ( uibk.ac.at [PDF; accessed on June 16, 2019]).
  5. ^ Andrew Heywood: Political Ideologies: An Introduction . 6th edition. Macmillan International Higher Education, Basingstoke 2017, ISBN 978-1-137-60604-4 , pp. 15 .
  6. Paul Wetherly: Political Ideologies . Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom 2017, ISBN 978-0-19-872785-9 , pp. 250 .
  7. ^ Nancy Sue Love: Understanding Dogmas and Dreams . 2nd Edition. CQ Press, Washington, District of Columbia 2006, ISBN 978-1-4833-7111-5 , pp. 13 .
  8. ^ Jean A. Laponce: Left and Right. The Topography of Political Perceptions . Toronto / Buffalo / London 1981.
  9. ^ Michel Foucault: Les mot et les choses. Paris 1966 (German: The order of things. An archeology of the human sciences. ) Frankfurt 1971, 2003.
  10. ^ Walter Reese-Schäfer: Political Thought Today: Civil Society, Globalization and Human Rights. Munich 2007, p. 158.
  11. ^ Nils Markwardt: The end of the social democracy. In: www. Republik.ch, November 20, 2018.
  12. Robert Kurz : The world as will and design. Postmodernism, lifestyle leftists and the aestheticization of the crisis. Berlin 1999.
    Guillaume Paoli: The long night of metamorphosis: About the gentrification of culture. Berlin 2017.
  13. ^ Nils Heisterhagen : Critique of Postmodernism: Why Relativism does not have the last word. Springer Verlag 2017, p. 245.
  14. Jens-Martin Eriksen, Frederik Stjernfelt: Adskillelsen's politics. Copenhagen 2008 (Danish).
  15. ^ Jens-Martin Eriksen, Frederik Stjernfelt: The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism. Kindler e-book, ISBN 978-0914386469 .
  16. ^ Brian Barry: Culture & Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism. Harvard University Press 2002.
  17. ^ Nancy Fraser: Redistribution or Recognition? A political and philosophical controversy. Frankfurt 2003.
  18. Paul Collier: The left has to recognize that we all long for a home. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . November 29, 2017. Retrieved September 16, 2018 .
  19. ^ Caroline Fourest: La tentation obscurantiste. Paris, 2nd edition 2009.
  20. Jörg Baberowski : The enemy is everywhere. Munich 2003, p. 251.