A general question that baffles most people, when they read politics is the ideologies of the Left-Wing and Right-Wing. The spectrum of Left and Right-Wing is basically the set of beliefs that are practiced by the individuals having an inclination towards betterment of the society; the people can be politicians, community workers or social entrepreneurs. These principles help an individual or an organisation to formulate a strategy on which they plan to work for a progressive state.
In terms of religious connotations, since most of the people were right-handed, right side meant being positive, while left was considered negative. The terms like righteousness and leftovers developed due to this mentality. In Buddhism, out of the two-paths, the right-hand side leads to Nirvana. In Christianity, the Son is at the right-hand side of the Father and in The Last Supper, the favorite of the Lord, the apostle John is sitting to His right, and not left.
The history for this segregation takes us back to 18th century Europe, specifically in France which was on a brink of a revolution. The French society was divided into three estates (like the Indian Caste system): First Estate (Priests and Clergymen), Second Estate (Nobility and Warriors) and Third Estate (Workers). In the decade of 1780s, even though France was indulged in nine years of war, yet the French monarch increased taxes only on the third estate, to maintain the lavish lifestyle of the Royal family as well as the two estates. This led to large-scale food shortages and riots.
In order to fix the situation; in 1789, months before the revolution, Louis XVI convened a national assembly of these three estates. The Meeting of the Estates as it was termed; the representatives were made to sit in a set pattern. The third estate members who opposed the monarchy [workers] were made to sit on the left of the King while the first two estates who supported the monarchy [Clergy and Nobility] were made to the sit on the right, given the religious connotations – right is superior, left is inferior.
The French Revolution witnessed the third estate members (seated to the left) to be anti-establishment, while the first and second estate members (seated on the right) worked on protecting the establishment. They eventually threw out the monarch, the religious authorities and the nobles.
Since then, left wing meant throwing the establishment and right wing mean protecting the establishment.
EVOLUTION OF MEANING
From the times of French Revolution, the Left became a symbol of change, while the Right became a symbol of order or preservation.
Since both religion and business is to do with preserving the existing, both groups often allied together. Rapid change was bad for both business & the church. World over, religious and business conservatives thus got into an uneasy partnership even if they both despised each other. They were also more likely to be patriots/nationalists, because nation is an identity that is at the core of stability. They are much more likely to be aggressive in preserving the symbols – flag, history, Constitution, anthem etc.
Since, the left was the side from where the workers came; it traditionally was much more towards equal rights and about spreading of wealth. Most often, leftists hated both religions and businesses. Thus, they voted for governments that put tight clamps on both – such as Communist China & Soviet Union.
The definitions of Left and Right have changed over time, and depend on country and party. But, from a broad, broad perspective, Left-wingers will include the communists, feminists, anarchists, egalitarians, secular, atheists like Stalin and Mao. And right-wingers will include the fascists, neo-Nazis, religious fanatics, monarchists, racial supremacists and fundamentalists like Hitler and Mussolini.
Left wing beliefs are usually progressive in nature, they look to the future, aim to support those who cannot support themselves, are idealist and believe in equality. People who are left wing believe in taxation to redistribute opportunity and wealth. They believe in equality over the freedom to fail.
Right wing beliefs value tradition, they are about equity, survival of the fittest, and they believe in economic freedom. They typically believe that business shouldn’t be regulated, and that we should all look after ourselves. They believe in freedom to succeed over equality.
The intermediate stance is called centrism and a person with such a position is a moderate or centrist. Even though there are many extremists on the either side, most of the politicians are moderate or centrists. They are segregated as:
- Centre Left: They believe in working within the established systems to improve social justice.
- Radical Centre: It is defined as idealism without illusions. Most radical centrists borrow what they see as good ideas from left and right, and then meld them together. Most support market-based solutions to social problems with strong governmental oversight in the public interest.
- Centre-Right: They believe in building progressive societies by promoting capitalism.
BELIEFS ON CORE ISSUES
LEFT: Central planning via governing structures, a welfare state, nationalization of economy. Income equality; higher tax rates on the wealthy; government spending on social programs and infrastructure; stronger regulations on business and subsidies.
RIGHT: Capitalism, social and economic hierarchies, economic freedom, decentralized economy, lower taxes and less regulation on businesses, reduced government spending, balanced budget, less dependence on subsidies and welfare assistance.
LEFT: Progressiveness, Counter-Culture and belief in Internationalism.
RIGHT: Important to defend Tradition, Moral Order and national interests.
3. Global Trade
LEFT: Anti-free trade. They don’t values profits if they come at the cost of violating laws of social equality and levelness. They rarely lay down the red carpet for multinationals and private players.
RIGHT: Pro-free trade. They make sure that the policies they draft ensure good amount of profit to the nation even if some of the parameters of social justice are compromised on the way.
4. Minority Rights
LEFT: Extra Protection and privileges
RIGHT: Everyone is equal
LEFT: Several people on death row were innocent and have been exonerated. The justice system is not perfect and it would be wrong to kill an innocent person. It is inhuman to take a life, even that of a murderer. It’s not so much about how heinous the crime is but how much the defendant can afford to spend on lawyers.
RIGHT: The death penalty is an effective deterrent against crimes, especially crimes of a heinous nature. The alternative — life in prison — would only mean spending taxpayer money to keep them confined, fed and provide healthcare services to them. Victims and their families deserve justice; often they can only get closure when the perpetrator is put to death.
EXAMPLES OF CENTRE-LEFT and CENTRE-RIGHT
- India: Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).
- UK: Labour Party and Conservative Party.
- France: Socialist Party and National Front.
- USA: Democratic Party and Republican Party.
- Australia: Australian Labour Party (ALP) and Liberal Party.
- Pakistan: Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and Jamaat-e-Islami.
- Germany: Die Linke and Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
- Canada: Liberal Party and Conservative Party.
- Poland: Civic Platform and Prawo-i-Sprawiedliwość (PiS).
- Netherlands: Socialist Party and Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV).
The BJP would thus be called centre-right in their ideology, while the Congress would be called centre-left. At the extremes will be the Shiv Sena/AIMIM (on Right) and the CPI(M)/AAP (on Left).
After Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014, it has become convenient to lump the BJP and the Sangh parivar as right-wing forces, when the reality is that their views reflect a wide variety of positions on political, social and economic issues. Also, the Congress is not totally to the left of the BJP on many issues.
In India, the “right-wing” Bharatiya Janata Party has market-friendly economic thinkers like Arun Shourie and Subramanian Swamy and yet it also has Lal Krishan Advani, who is suspicious of the entire American financial model. In between, stands Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is not allergic to capitalism or the free market but is also reluctant to abandon the country’s public sector units.
The same might be said of the “left-wing” Indian National Congress. Some of its members like Shashi Tharoor and Capt.Amarinder Singh might have much more in common with Arun Shourie than their own leaders of yesteryear who advocated control of the commanding heights of the national economy.
People don’t remain on the same side throughout. When he was younger, Stalin fought on the side of the revolutionaries since he wanted to change & get the power. However, as soon as he got the power he became the establishment against which others had to fight; changing his ideology from Right to Left. In some sense, almost all leftists transform into a totalitarian establishment. No one wants to give up power, while everyone wants to take power.
In Indian context, it was India’s “liberal” Prime Minister Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru who introduced curbs on free speech and a “conservative” thinker like Vinayak Savarkar who argued against untouchability and the caste system. Dr. BR Ambedkar was a strong votary of capitalism and free markets, but most of the parties which now worship Ambedkar would be reckoned to be broadly to the left of the political universe. The Congress party itself advocated a mixed economy, building a middle path between state and private capitalism. The BJP, in its earlier avatar as the Jana Sangh, had stronger positions against state interventions than in its current incarnation.
These are the basics of that one needs to know about Left and Right politics. In a healthy society, both left and right ideas are needed. It’s a lot more complicated than this, and the definitions are dependent on era, party, leader and country. But the core tenets of the ideologies remain more or less the same.