In our Modern Political world, we often hear terms like Left-Wing Politics and Right-Wing Politics, we often get confused and misunderstood these terms, so what does this term means, In this article, we will clear the concept of the Political Spectrum of various Left Wing, Right Wing, and Centrist Parties, What does this ideology mean? Why do we call it a party a left-wing party or right-wing party or a politician Leftist or Rightist? In this article, we will discuss what are the basic differences, what are the basic policies that are part of these leftist and rightist Parties?
The Political Spectrum
Let’s just start with simple classification of the political ideology
This is an imaginary line, there is the centre of the line, and any party that is on the right side of the centre point, they are called Right Wing, and all the parties who have an ideology that range Left from the Center are called Left-wing.
So if some party has centrist or moderate approach then it will be called Center, then if the party is little bit Right of Center so it is called Right centre or Center Right, then if there is extreme Right it goes further Right direction then we call it ‘Far Right’, and on the end of the spectrum, we have Fascism, followed by Hitler and Mussolini during world war 2 and before that in Germany and Italy.
Any party leaning a little bit left from the centre position called Left-Center from there is Far Left and finally, we have Communism, the ideal form of communism. But you must know that there is no ideal communist state in the world, as of now, which follows communism to the latter. To know more click the link for Communism Capitalism Socialism Capitalism, to know more about that in detail.
On one hand, we have Communism, and on the other hand, we have Fascism. These are two extreme ideologies in between there are Far-Left, Left-Centered, Center, Right-Center, Far-Right and Fascism.
So this is the brief classification that we do of various political ideologies but this is a very basic classification, Many political scientists have developed their own classifications, you would find a lot of variety in this, this is only for basic understanding. The line is not necessary, this is just to give proper understanding about all these.
Here is the another one, this is depending on country to country, what kind of policy are followed there.
So Left-Center policy are often called as Liberalism Policy or Liberal policies, Socialism and Finally Communism.
And Right-center policy called conservatism policy, then libertarianism and finally Fascism.
This is another method of classifying, Based on Economic Policy we call a party Left or Right While on the other hand, based on the social policies we call then Authoritarian or Libertarian.
If any political party is believing in Right-wing economic policies, then it will be called Right-wing, but on the other hand, it says that the entire state society should be controlled, all be social interaction of the people should be according to the government than that is authoritarian as Stalin did in USSR. So that could be authoritarian but he was Right-wing in economic. He was left extreme left.
Than there is Authoritrian right, Say that Hitler was extreme right but, then again his economic policy were bit different.
Libertarian – Means, people are given full freedom, most of the modern economies and democracies we have the libertarian type of government to some extent, where people have their liberties, they have right to speech, these liberal right were given by the constitution, so here if the economic policy is right-wing than it is called libertarian right, on the other hand, the policy is libertarian but economic system is left so it can be called libertarian left.
Origin of the Term
From French Revolution in 1789, Seating arrangement of ‘Estate general’ (Estate General was assembly, it was meeting of all the people of the country) when the French Emperor called for Estate General, so in that meeting people who were Pro-Change, who wanted Revolution, they were the common people, they sat on the left side and those were Pro Monarchy and Pro King sat on Right.
Basically, Pro Monarchy was the first estate people, the Nobility, The Rich people, they did not want any change in the status, they wanted the status quo because they were doing very well. So the Clergy (Clergy was Christian Priest in Roman Catholic church, the Church was also very powerful, the priests were very powerful and Nobility), Nobility, they were enjoying so they were Pro Monarchy, and they were Pro King. So they Sat on the Right Side.
So from that time onwards, that, it was commonly called Left and Right-Wing. So anyone who was Pro-Change or Pro Revolution was called Left Wing and anyone who was Pro Monarchy did not want any change in the setup that was going on it means they want the status quo, they wanted things to go on as they are they were called Right Wings, So this is the origin of these terms
Whoever is sitting on the right they are pro-monarchy, and they are Conservatives, which means they want to conserve the old values, the old systems, they want to conserve them, preserve them, that is why the Revolutionary, the Republicans, who wanted the head of state to be an elected person, not a King, that is why they were called Republicans.
The Basic point of difference between the Left and Right is that the amount of Individual liberty, Individual Freedom that they allow to a citizen, of state, and the power of the government, How much interference will the government have in the economy in the day to day life of the people, in the society.
Who are the LEFT?
Any party that calls itself Liberals, or Socialist or Democrats or Communist they are all part of Left wing.
- Liberals – There might be the party which beliefs in Liberal, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, all these modern human rights, the concepts that have developed in the past 100-200 years, all these modern philosophies they follow, they are called Liberals.
- Socialist – who wants equal justice for all.
- Democrats – who believed in Democracy, Rule of the People.
It is a very general classification because some right-wing parties can also be democratic, it is not necessary that Right wings party cannot be democratic, No, they can also be Democratic, but they will have some other differences.
So Left-wingers are mostly Pro-Change in the ancient systems of the old societal norms, the old structure of the government that was going on like their in the French revolution, there you see the old structure is going on, the king used to do whatever he wanted, he could tax the people. So they wanted to change in that, so they were pro-change, and that has continued till today, whichever left-winger is there they want to change in the older systems and they are liberals.
So pro change and liberals are the two basic qualities of the left wing
What are their policies?
- Equality in Society – They will always demand that everyone should be equal in society, the king, the earlier king should be equal to the poorest farmer in the country, should have the same rights and same duties, no special treatment should be given to the king.
- Separation of Religion and State – The church or any other which is dominant in the country, should not interfere with the government, the government should not ask for the religious authorities to interfere in the work of the government, the government should be totally separate from the religion.
- And there was also championed after French Revolution because in France church was very powerful, after French revolution, the power of the church over the state was gone. So the modern concept of separation of religion and state comes from there.
- Central Planning – The economy should be planned, Because some year, there is more money required for infrastructure in any country more roads, railways need to be built, but let say after few years there is a drought for continuously 2-3 years, then instead of infrastructure that money spent on drought relief projects, that is why the central economy should be planned. You should know when where industries which infrastructure have to be promoted. So India has a five-year plan cycle. This is the key element in left party central planning.
- Government intervention in Economy (Keynes) – This concept was given by John Meynard Keynes, he was a famous 20th-century economist and he gave this concept that there should be the not completely free economy, it should no free market, it means completely free, the government should not do anything, why? Because if the market is completely free then there the things like the Great depression of 1929, As in the United States, the economy fails very badly in a single day, many people go on loss, they attempted suicide because of losing so much money in the share market, their market is just crashed one day, and to avoid this situation like that, John Meynard Keynes, told all the capitalist countries, he suggested that you should have some amount of intervention in the economy. When the economy is good, the economy is Booming it is going very good, then the tax rate should also go up so that the extra money that you are collecting can be used when the economy is in recession, you can use the money to lower the tax for other projects, this government intervention in the economy is very necessary according to him, the market should not be completely free.
- Welfare State – Government should work for the betterment of the people, the welfare of the people not for profit purposes.
- Protectionism – Let say a company manufactures a towel, now these towels are manufactured by company A and they are sold for 100rs, But a company B which is based in the USA, is manufacturing it in the USA, and they are exporting it to India and hereafter transport, the cost here is 60rs, so which towel did people buy/ Obviously, the American one, But it is very harmful to local companies that are A Indian company, so the government it should have a protectionist policy, they should tax 40rs in each towel. So these towels should also cost 100rs from America.
- It is against free trade (anti-free trade) but it is required for the betterment of the companies of your own country.
- Progressive Views (modern views) – On matters like Same-Sex Marriage, Abortion, immigration (allowing people to come into their country.
- [This is not fully true all the time, it does not mean that the Right-wing parties are against immigration, ex- in Germany the political party Christian Democratic Union of Angella Merkel along with coalition partners, have allowed immigration. You heard in news there’s a lot of Syrian immigrants coming from Syria to Germany they welcomed them despite being a right-wing government, the right party in the UK, the Conservatives party which is in power they are against immigration, They do not want any Syrian refugees coming into the UK. So that is one reason in BREXIT, one of the main issues, Immigration]
- Against Death Penalty – Usually, the left-wing parties are against the death penalty. So it is alleged by the Right-wing parties that you are going soft with the crime.
Examples of LEFT
Indian National Congress – In India Congress is the best example of Centre-Left (Just Left of Center)
If you see in Spectrum, You can go through the policies that we discussed, Congress checks all of them.
- Center planning introduce by congress
- Government intervention in the economy, we have state intervention in the economy too to a huge extent earlier but now it is less
- Earlier we had a protectionist policy until 1991. So all these policies were followed by congress, and they are the ones who brought in all these policies.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – Although they say that they are neither right nor left, looking at the work they have done for Delhi for the past two years and the policies they have started it can be said that they are also Left. So they are somewhere a little bit more left to the congress.
Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI(M) – Far left, in the far left we have a communist party of India that is CPI, CPI (M) they are far-left Because they are a communist party.
USA – Democratic party (Hilary Clinton [left]
UK – Labour party (Jeremy corbyn)
As far as you move the spectrum towards left this far-left parties that is the communist parties all over the world believe in this policies extremely. So they are all for equality, separation of religion and state, in fact, most of the communist countries were officially atheist for a long period of time, they believe in central planning, they believe in government intervention, total government intervention and economy, then they believe in the welfare state, protectionism, so you see that this idea became more and more extreme. But as you come towards the centre there must be some relaxation in some of these policies for other parties.
Who are the RIGHT?
They are usually
So these are basic ideologies that call themselves the Right Wing ideologies or Right-wing parties. The basic premise of the Right-wing is social conservatism and economic Liberalism. So in the matters of economy, they are Liberal. They will Prefer free market, free-market trade, laisse fair, but in social matters/social policies they will be conservative. They will be against Abortion, Against same-sex marriages, they will be for the death penalty. So they will be social conservatives. So this is the basic thing it is not necessary but this is a general idea. Socially Conservative and Economic Liberal Policies
What are their Policies?
- Limited role of government in People’s life and economy – Government should not regulate the industries, they should not dictate how people should live, where their children should study all this is the decision of people and state should not interfere.
- Nationalism – Most of the Right-wing parties in the world have a very high nationalism policy, they believe in nationalism.
- Religion conservatism and tradition – the cultural tradition of the country they are conservative in religious matters to preserve the culture and traditions of the country that have been going on for many many generations or a long time, they want to preserve the status quo of religion and tradition.
- Personal Freedom of People – To give you an example, In USA, People are completely free to complete themselves, so accordingly they have the right to carry guns, to carry fine arms, So In USA, laws to own a gun are very liberal, they are not very strict, anyone can go and buy a gun, so there’s a lot of gun violence in the USA.
- Now what the right-wing in USA laws says, people are free to choose, they are free to protect themselves, but on the other hand, the left-wing the liberals, the social liberals they say, that people should not be allowed to carry guns because it is against the majority of the other people who are not carrying guns, they should not feel scared, they should not feel scared that someone will come and shoot us one day in school or theatre as it happens in the USA a lot of time. So this is the main debate between the right and left-wing with relation to guns.
- Equality for all, No special protection to minorities – They also believe in equality for all, but their equality is different, the left-wing will say that everyone is equal, but there can be special protection given to minorities or other minor linguistic groups. But here the right-wing will say that No special protection to any minorities, everyone should be treated equally, so far example in India we’ll see the right-wing will often say that a uniform civil code should be brought in. The Bhartiya Janta party (BJP) which is a right-wing party in India, it will ask for a uniform civil code whenever it is in power because they say that everyone should have equal rights No special protection, no special laws for anyone in the country everyone should be treated equally in criminal as well as civil matters
- Support for Religion – They will also support religion because they are supporting traditional values, conservatism, so they say that, yes, religion is present, it should not be completely separated from the state, but it should be given some support and religion should be supported by the state.
- Less Regulation of Economy, Private sector promoted for growth – Right-wing party will want less regulation of the economy, they want more private sector more free hand to the private sector so that growth and development are faster.
- Low Taxes – For Growth, they wanted taxes to be low, For example- In 2017, USA, Donald trump lowered the US Corporate tax rate over 35% to 15%, also in India, Arun Jaitley Finance Minister in 2016, had lowered the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% in the Budget. And this is for the company whose annual revenue is less than 50 crores, so the right-wing party usually for bringing down the tax rate.
- Tough on Crime – For death penalty, they say that the death penalty is necessary to prevent crime and for effective law and order.
- Tough on Immigration – Again, Donald Trump, brought his famous Travel ban, other countries like the UK, also face the problem of immigration, they do not want immigration coming into the UK. There can be an exemption also, CDU in Germany it is in favour of immigration in Germany.
Examples of Right
- BJP – Right of centre
- Shiv Sena/MNS – Far Right
- More extreme in conservative values in the preservation of the traditional values, they are a bit more extreme when the centre-right parties, that is why they are called Far Right.
Consider RSS, Although RSS is not a political party, but still you can say that, RSS is Far Right Group.
- US – Republican party (trump)
- UK – Conservative party (Theresa May)
- UK UKIP – Far Right (Nigel Farage – he was the leader during BREXIT campaign, he want the UK to exit from European Union)
- Germany – CDU (Angela Merkel)
- France – National Front – Far Right (Marine Le Pen)
- Middle Ground – Neither left nor right, they take the centre approach
- Compromise between left and right-wing views
- Issue-based view – left or right, Ex-Liberal Democrat party of UK
- Let say, there are two different issues, One of Abortion and another issue of Free Trade, So it might be possible that on Abortion their view is equivalent to Left-wing that is, they are in Favour of the Left-wing, Abortion should be Legal, in that manner they are Leftist, But their might agree for free trade, they are against protectionism, here they have Right-wing views, but it is the same party, it happens a lot of time, this party are issue-based depending on the issue they can take their stance either left or right, the Best example of the centre party would be Liberal Democratic Party of UK. In India, there is no such party but sometimes the policy of the Indian National Congress is like Centrists, so you can say that sometimes their policies of congress are Centrists, But mostly they are Left of Center.
Unique Politics of India
What we have discussed in this article is the general classification, which is applicable to Europe and the US, it is applicable In India but it has some problems. What are those problems?
- Congress is the Left party but it was the one that brought in the LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) Reforms of 1991 – Free market, leaving the protectionist policy (anti-protectionist), So these are the policy of Right-wing but they were brought by Left-wing party, Congress. So will you call Congress a Right-Wing? This is the dilemma
- BJP is a Right-wing party, but it has continued with it has continued all those socialist policies that were started by Congress in the past 40-50 years for ex- they have continued MNREGA, they have also brought in programs like Swatch Bharat Abhiyan earlier it was Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. So do you call BJP Left-wing? No, The thing is, In India, all the political parties to some extent are Socialist, they will have some Socialist Leanings, Because they want welfare, India is officially a welfare state, India is officially a Socialist state. So will have to some socialist policies.
- Another example is that at Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) although it is not a political party, but is a very influential organization that has affected the policies of BJP, RSS is completely against FDI, also against Capitalism policies, it is very pro labour. But the BJP when it is in power in the NDA government, Does it follows all these policies? No, the current NDA government has brought a lot of FDI, they have loosened restrictions also many policies favouring Capitalism, the Free market, and also Labour Reforms have been brought in. So the labour Organisation of RSS has been protesting against it. So the Labour organization of RSS has been protesting against BSP government policies so would you call them Left-Wing? All these are left-wing policies. Look at them Pro Labour, Anti Capitalism, Anti FDI, these are the typical policies of Left-wing, But will you call RSS Left-wing? No, Because in other aspects, that is Far Right in all matters, that is conservative values, the tradition and the Role of religion in the country and all that, so it will be called a Far-Right Group.
- So you can see, that there is some problem in classifying them, that is what you have to understand. None of these classifications is 100% perfect or 100% correct. All of them have some problems, some left-wing policies, there will be a mixture of policies in political parties agenda.
- Another example, Parties espousing socialism – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SJ), Janta Dal [United], RJD
- They are socialist parties they say that we are socialist, we believe in socialist ideals, we will leave up to Ram Manohar Lohiya they say, but when they are in power they do not act like it, they do not act like a left-leaning party in all aspects. Because for development, you have to bring FDI, you have to bring in Capitalist, you have to bring in Industries to your state, so they will try to bring policies which are like Right-wing parties, they will try to bring some policies which are typical of Right Wing. So this is again a problem, what will you call these parties, Left or Right?
- Then there is the Coalition, up till 2013, the Junta dal (united) and BJP were coalition governments in Bihar, Now they call themselves the Left-Socialist party, and BJP calls itself Center-Right party. So do think they should be in a coalition, looking at their ideologies, No, But still they were for a long period of time and JD(U) was also a part of NDA at the centre.
- So Indian Politics is too diverse to label the parties, it is very difficult, it is a very difficult task, ideally, we should not label the parties, all the media organizations love to do it. You read it in the newspaper, this is Left that is Right, that is Liberals, that is conservative. So that is the reason that you should understand is meaning of these words.
The Nature of Left and Right
- Changes with Time – The nature of this Left and Right have changed with time and they will change with time because it has been more than 200 years since we have been using these terms but you cannot say that during the French Revolution Right-wing was Pro Monarchy so today it also Pro Monarchy, there is No Monarchy today, there is no king so how can any Right-wing party favour king. So it means the Right-wing party definition has changed, Now it means something else than what it used to mean 200 years ago.
- Relative to other political parties ideology and policies – The Nature of Left and Right is dependent on the other political parties ideology, what is your opponent whether you’re your opponent is Left or Right it will depend on that. The best example of this USA, In USA, there are two political parties, on the right we have Republican Party, the grand old party and on the Left, we have Democratic party (Hilary Clinton), this democratic party is called left-wing, Republican party called Right-wing, but the economic policies of this democratic party are pretty similar to Republican. Whenever democratic parties in power it will also continue with the free market economy of the USA, It is not changed the USA into a state-controlled economy suddenly when democratic parties in power Republicans or democrats, the economy of the United States continues to be governed in a similar way, a free-market economy, so in isolated state other countries, the democratic party can also be called a Right-wing party in some aspects, in fact, if it was some other country apart from the USA they would have been Right-wing party.
If you see the democratic party somewhere here based on their economic policies, just right of the centre, but since Republicans are Right, they have got this space for themselves so the democratic party cannot be called right-wing they will be left-wing. So that is why it depends on the opposition party’s ideology sometimes.
- How they define themselves – that will also change the nature of Left and Right.
- To suit present-day trends of Politics – And finally the Left and Right depends on present-day trends of politics, all the political parties in the world change their stance, change their policies according to the time, according to the current mood of the people. Ex- Earlier Barak Obama was completely against same-sex marriages, He said on TV that I am against same-sex marriage, it should not be legalized, despite being a democrat he belongs to the democratic party (left-wing) which is favouring same-sex marriage, But the public opinion turned in Favor of same-sex marriages when he said again on TV that yes, Now I am in favour of same-sex marriage, so in four years, why did this philosophy change, because of the people’s perception, because people change their mind, they wanted same-sex marriages to be legalized, so Barak Obama also wanted them to legalize it. So it is dependent on the Public.