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In political terms, now indicative of the radical or progressive socialist spectrum, but originally literally a spatial term. In the French estates general of 1789, commoners sat on the left of the king, because the nobles were in the position of honour on his right. This is the connection with the root sense of ‘left’ as pertaining to ‘the hand that is normally the weaker of the two’, a pejorative association also found in French gauche, Latin sinister, and their derivatives. In the assemblies of the French Revolution this evolved into a custom that the radical and egalitarian members sat towards the left‐hand side of the assembly, viewed from the presiding officer's chair (and higher up, so that some of them were labelled the ‘Mountain’).

What it is to be ‘left(‐wing)’ varies so much over space or time that a definition is very difficult, but the following issue orientations would normally be involved: egalitarianism, support for the (organized) working class, support for nationalization of industry, hostility to marks of hierarchy, opposition to nationalistic foreign or defence policy. ‘Left’ is used to distinguish positions within parties as well as among them. A left‐wing socialist is one who takes extreme positions on (some of) the items on this list. Left‐wing communism (described by Lenin in a pamphlet of 1920 as ‘an infantile disorder’) may be cynically defined as all forms of communism not supported by the prevailing leadership of the Communist Party. However, in the 1920s and 1930s, left‐wing deviation meant encouraging revolution among the people without caring sufficiently about the leading role of the Party; right‐wing deviation meant too much support for NEP and the market.

Subjects: United States History — Politics.


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