What is the meaning of “left” wing in politics?

Answer by Saurabh Malpani:

First of all, this is a question whose answer has been well explained on wikipedia, here : Left-wing politics and to understand something more we need to understand its polar opposite, in this case : Right-wing politics.

So go read the wikipedia pages, and you do not need to come back to read mine and some of the other answers. But I can still give you a little bit interpretation based on my own opinion. I will try my best to not be swayed by my own inclinations but interpret the words as have been written on wikipedia.

First, of all apart from a few bigoted die hard communists and bigoted right wingers, leftist and rightist thinking is a part of almost every individual. Let's look at the wiki definition of "left" and "right" and apply it to certain examples :

Left : are political positions or activities that accept or support social equality, often in opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality.

Right : are political positions or activities that view some forms of social hierarchy or social inequality as either inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable,[1][2] typically justifying this position on the basis of natural law or tradition.

Application to gender equality :

Women have been traditionally subjected to mistreatment, humiliation and differential treatment. For men they have been no different for a while an object that can be used for pleasure, traded in, and sold for profit or exchange. If someone is a right wing supporter and wants to never be identified as left, he has to take a position that "men mistreated women out of traditions and also because of difference in capacities of women". The same person will also go on to say that even today the problems faced by women in society and social life "is a natural result of natural biological differences and so on. " A right winger by definition would try to preserve the social order which he or she is used to and is less accepting of making change towards equality. When it comes to this particular topic of gender equality, right wingers would often sound as misogynistic. On the other hand a left wing stand on the same issue will be "Men have historically abused their powers and physical strength to put women down. They pro-actively denied women access to information and education and socially conditioned them to be subordinate to men. Although a lot has changed since mediaeval times, women still face legal and social inequality in different geographies. Let's proactively work to change this via all possible means, providing political representation by reservation is also an option.". I guess looking at the history of the world, the evolution of European and American women, and the winds of change in countries like India, we can very well see that the subjugation of women was nothing natural, and left wingers have been spot on this.

People are left-wing and right-wing on convenience :

Looking at the last paragraph, if you read it, you will ponder that if a women is educated and has a thinking mind, she is likely to be a left winger. After all, how can women who have been oppressed for having a gender support right wing action. But this is the great virtue (or vice) of human nature. For example, a lot of women in India who belong to upper caste, tend to preserve the caste system. Not only they take very closed position on policy of reservation, they are also very discriminatory in marriage etc. Similarly lot of women cannot stand the gender queer and do not advocate their rights or movement for social equality. It may sound very hypocritical but it is just a manifestation of the adage "only bearer knows where the shoe pinches". Women understand women's problems and stand to correct them because of empathy to women. Empathy is easier than sympathy. Similarly a person of lower caste would advocate reservations but may not advocate equal rights for women within his own community. These are bad examples. Let me also take a benign example. It is my personal opinion that while we need to move forward quite a lot in terms of social equality, the decline of several aspects of Indian traditions is very disturbing. For example, I increasingly find in metros that young men and women look down on regional language, there is un-necessary and exaggerated praise of foreign literature, art, cinema, etc. There is a feeling of pride to be associated with these things, and similarly people pursuing "desi" are almost but socially humiliated. It triggers my right wing instincts.

You may wonder, what is the purpose of this section. The point I am trying to drive is that what is natural for most men and women is to have liberal and conservative stand on different issue and some of it may in fact make sense to voters. Thus political formation identified as pure right or pure left cannot serve the basic task of representing people. They can only serve vested interests.

Left wing and right wing (political-)economics :

While often always left wing policies tend to come up on top when it comes to social problems, the economics of far left has come bonkers. Communism prescribes that it is the duty of government to own means of production and distribution and carry on business with the purpose of public good. However noble this sounds it turns out that it is the government which stands as the biggest impediment to social good. The far right advocates laissez – faire capitalistic system and wants government to stay out of the way. While the usefulness of laissez faire is debatable but the right wing theory of private ownership of business with profit motive indeed does more public good, than a giant monolithic business run by government. Left wingers advocate distribution of wealth but have very little to suggest that how large amount of wealth can be officially created. Right wingers advocate that when immense wealth will be generated, lives of everyone will improve dramatically and people will be automatically pulled out of poverty. In the process some people will make a lot of money . That is but natural is right wing opinion.

In a country like India which has a mix of everything and with rampant corruption, both sides of the divide are making it tough for people to determine what is the correct step. For example, take the civil aviation sector with companies like Air India (State owned) and Kingfisher, Jet and Sahara (privately owned). You can do your own research that none of the models actually served public interests.

In my personal opinion, the role of any modern government is to encourage private ownership of business but with well defined public regulations. It has to vary from sector to sector.  Laissez faire can happen in perfectly free market of large number of producers and consumers. But interference and monitoring is required to prevent monopolies, cartelization, ensure essential services like education, water, health care, transportation and clean environment to all at reasonable and affordable costs irrespective of the mechanism. Also ensure enforcement of fundamental civil rights. I personally think the onus is on the government to crack down on cronies and all businesses to truly conduct themselves on the ethical standards they espouse in their PR campaigns.

Right wing and left wing in electoral politics and governance :

In last several centuries, as democracy is moving forward, it can be safely argued that the left wing politics has made great inroad into what has been traditionally right wing affair. Back in 18th and early 19th century, for example, you couldn't vote in US if you were not a land owner, or if you were a woman. Right to own slaves was a recognized right. Many forms of nominated (and not elected) representations were tried in British India also. All of these were bids to preserve the traditional rights of the conservatives / right wingers which have finally collapsed.

Similarly even the left wingers have fallen from their historic highs. The emergence of USSR as a nation which can see eye ball to eye ball with communist policies to capitalistic nations was of great importance from left-wing politics point of view. Their decline exposed the flaws of the far left policies. China's shifting away from communist policies and emergence of private businesses in China has been the basic driver of improving the life of people in China.

Thus the more sensible world is realizing the importance of staying in center. Left wing and right wing is no longer the complete political identity of most politicians any more. In fact you won't even hear any politician or political party officially stating their commitment to left or right. Rather they will let other people interpret them to appear to be so based on the mood of the electorate.

Left-wing and right-wing identity also makes sense only on issue by issue basis. Simplistic definitions have to be rejected. When taking any decision governments have to explain how they intend to serve public good the best and satisfy both sides the left and the right.


tl;dr In modern times, left wing politics tends to force the traditional establishments of religion, business and law enforcement to shift from their position of far right towards right of center or center. This tends to establish the true ideals of democracy, government of all, for all and by all.

What is the meaning of "left" wing in politics?


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