From Hobson's Choice
This post is under construction
A loose classification of political ideologies based on the implications of their practical implications. Those that are "left" would tend to attack the existing social relations of production, while those on the right would defend them. Often the classification of political ideologies is every bit as controversial as the merits of the ideologies themselves.
The terms "left" and "right" as political terms of art are mainly a construct of industrialized societies. Typically, pre-industrial societies lack a bureaucratic structure for shaping or managing the social order. Hence, an examination of the left as a political force in history will tend to be dominated by Europe.
It is no accident that the revolutionary phase of European history coincided with the transition to an industrial economy. First of all, in pre-industrial Europe, there were repeated efforts to overthrow the social order (e.g., the Roman Commune, the Hussite Rebellion, the Radicalized religious denominations of the English Civil War), but these came to grief as a result of the great geographical diffusion of the toiling classes of society: "toilers" mean villeins or peasants, and urban proletariats were so few in number as to be easily crushed at any time. The peasant rebellions were not only challenged by the fact that movements had their members scattered over large areas, but also suffered from the logistical challenges of waging war across great distances; and from long-standing ethnic and intra-class conflicts. Hence, for example, the 1524 Peasants' War that erupted in Swabia consisted of a motley collection of disaffected groups pitted against the authorities. With no centralized structure, and entirely dependent upon opportunities, it disintegrated despite the immense bravery of its military commanders.
The importance of industry was that it created, for the first time, an integrated system of production that combined the labor of whole cities. The business of a class of artisans was largely detached from that of other groups of a commune; peasants and villeins farmed wholly separate farms, and overseas commerce was largely confined to luxuries. With the industrial revolution, the old burghers became masters of potentially immense industrial plants; wealth, in the form of capital, could now be concentrated as never before; the proletariat was concentrated into huge encampments like a gigantic besieged fortress. Anonymity allowed the workers to organize well in advance, and develop revolutionary philosophies. Peasants seldom go on strike, since the failures of the food supply would surely kill them, while sparing the landlord. Industrial workers could, since the factory could not contemplate a scorched earth campaign of pacification.
Another crucial feature was the newness of the bourgeoisie, which contributed to the sense that they were usurpers of an alien character, arrogant and insufferable. The aristocrats were already military men and they had ruled since time immemorial. The factory owners were new dictators.
During the French Revolution, it was the civil service that filled out the ranks of the Girondins and Jacobins. When the national assembly convened in 1789 in Paris, the defenders of monarchy sat on the president's right, while the constitutionalists took the seats that remained—on the left (the president was merely the king's emissary to the assembly, who therefore presided over it). Thus from this clash over the allocation of powers in the estates, arose the expectation that the social order's vertical dimension would come under attack from its leftward one.
The conditions workers faced in the new industrial economy of the 19th century were dreadful beyond description. Workers were driven into the major cities by enclosures and the partial mechanization of farming; once inside the city, conditions were dire and employment uncertain. Conditions steadily worsened, especially as depressions repeatedly hit. In the second half of the 19th century, financial markets collapsed so violently that investors from the middle classes were largely reduced to poverty, further radicalizing the population of Europe.
There was no plausible justification that the bourgeoisie could offer to defend the transformation of society it had achieved. The immense boost in production was enjoyed only by them; for the masses, hunger and wretched misery on the factory floor was the result. Filth, cold, and disease were old scourges for the poor; but the 16-hour days year-round, the infernal danger of the machinery, the urban squalor, and the open hatred of the ruling class were indeed quite new. The economic nostrums had nothing to do with objective reality, and the parliamentarians vacillated between utter indifference to the working classes, and open hostility toward them. Each of these factors, separately, stimulated a new thread of radical thinking.
Divisions of the Left
There were many leftwing factions, but three main strands would exist hereafter. One was the Communists; another, the Social Democrats; another was the Anarcho-Syndicalists. The crucial distinction among the three was as follows:
- Anarcho-Syndicalists: The state is inherently malevolent. It cannot legitimately govern. Ideally, people are governed by labor organizations, or syndicates. (Mussolini called his organizations "syndicates" although they actually policed the workers, rather implemented direct democracy). All political action takes the form of general strikes and confrontations against state power until a public space exists from which a full-fledged assault on state power may occur.
- Communists: The bourgeois state is inherently malevolent. Party activity is conspiratorial, with a vanguard leadership. Ultimately, the Party is to take over all workers' organizations and overthrow the state, seize the means of production, and usher in a dictatorship of the proletariat. Any proletarian state must be a dictatorship since the object is to wage internal war against class enemies. Ultimately, when the contradictions of capitalism are removed, the state will "wither away."
- Social Democrats: No feasible alternative to state government known to exist, hence, the goal is to achieve political ends through compromise, political triangulation, and other parliamentary procedures. Victory assured because the proletariat (later, white- and blue-collar workers) are overwhelmingly more numerous.
The economic program of these three factions was logically derived from their political agenda. The Communists and Anarchists favored the destruction of the state, although the Communists expected to create their own after the revolution. The Social Democrats did not anticipate a successful revolution of that character. On the other hand, the Communists and the Social Democrats expected that the economy would have some form of state management that explicitly pursued normative social goals, such as reduced inequality of earnings, protection of the old and sick, universal public education, and so on. The Anarchists expected that a wholly voluntary set of economic relations would arise; the means of production would supposedly belong to these "free associations" of workers. Hence, capitalism supposedly could not exist since no monopoly of access could be enforced; the social relations of production known as capital could not exist.
Communists and Social Democrats tended to regard the economic ideas of the Anarcho-capitalists with scorn. Proudhon and, to a lesser degree, Bakunin, called for mutual associations to take the place of the firm; neither had a problem with small firms. Anarchism, however, was seldom ever a strong counterweight to Marxism except in some Latin countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Argentina. In Northern Europe and in the rest of Latin America, the two main leftwing movements were the Communists and the Social Democrats. After the Russian Revolution these two movements became bitter enemies.
- Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 Oxford University Press (2002)