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1. Maxmilien Robespierre of the Jacobins. 2. V. I. Lenin, Russian Marxist revolutionary. 3. Salvador Allende, pacifist and electoralist Chilean Marxist. 4. Headquarters of the Social Democratic Party of Germany during the United Front era, 1932. 5. First Intifada in the Gaza Strip, an anti-imperialist struggle headed by leftist and socialist groups. 6. "Big Bill" Haywood, American socialist organizer. 7. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese revolutionary.

Left-wing politics, also known as leftism, is a broad grouping of ideological tendencies which seek to alter and advance past the given socio-economic and political status quo in favor of a more egalitarian arrangement. In a modern context, leftist politics centers around the abolition of capitalism in favor of socialism and communism. Modern leftists also oppose the ideological forces in support of capitalism, including liberalism and fascism.

Common left-wing tendencies include Marxism, anarchism, reformist or democratic socialism, and the various sub-groupings in those trends.


The terms left-wing and leftism are derived from the French Revolution, when the more progressive, egalitarian political factions were seated on the left-side of the assembly whereas the reactionary factions sat on the right-wing.[1]



Marxism is the framework of ideas developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century. It incorporated continental philosophy, early socialist thought, and contemporary political economy to create dialectical and historical materialism as well as Marxian economics. Marxism distinguishes itself from other forms of socialist thought in that it regards itself as scientific socialism, being founded on concrete analysis of historical phenomena.




Anarchism is a libertarian socialist tendency which views all forms of authority and unjust hierarchy as oppressive institutions which must be abolished, chief among them the state. Anarchists seek to create a stateless socialist society based around communal ownership and direct democracy, although there is a large amount of variation on how this model will be exactly implemented or reached among anarchism's sub-ideologies.

Communist anarchism

Collectivist anarchism



Reformist socialism includes multiple tendencies which seek to create a socialist society primarily by the gradual and peaceful reformation of capitalism. Although social democracy is sometimes considered to be a reformist socialist ideology, it is usually considered to be the left-ward flank of liberalism, a capitalist ideology.

Democratic socialism


State verses anarchy

A common point of division between leftists is towards the question of a revolutionary state. Most Marxists, particularly Marxist–Leninists and Maoists, argue it is necessary to create a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat following the revolution to maintain the gains of the working class, fight class enemies, etc.[2] Anarchists and other libertarian socialists on the other hand believe that creating a state in any form, socialist or not, will lead to the leaders of that state growing as corrupt as the bourgeois government preceding it, which will reproduce capitalist society. Therefore, from an anarchist perspective, statelessness is the most liberative form of political organization.[3]

Revolution verses reformism

One of the main contentions in left-wing thought is the question of whether socialism is to come by gradual reforms and participation in bourgeois democracy or by the extra-legal revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. Reformist socialists argue that electoralism and participation in bourgeois parliament is adequate in slowly developing socialism, and is preferable over the potentially negative repercussions of a revolution.[4] The main supporters of reformism are democratic socialists and Eurocommunists.

Revolutionary socialists, including most anarchists, Marxists, and other tendencies, regard reforms under capitalism as nothing more than temporary concessions by the ruling class, which themselves are often only able to be afforded by the wealth gained from imperialist extraction like in modern social democracies. Although many socialists argue that under certain conditions, tactical participation in parliament is warranted, revolutionists ultimately believe that only after the total overthrow of the violent capitalist system is socialism truly able to be achieved, and that long-term participation in the bourgeois government will result in nothing more than the party degenerating into a capitalist party (e.g. the modern Social Democratic Party of Germany).[4]

Vanguardism verses spontaneity

Marxists–Leninists, Maoists, and other tendencies hold that a dedicated vanguard party of the most politically advanced sections of the working class is needed to secure revolutionary gains and organize the people for a revolutionary situation. This vanguard party will eventually form the basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist state after a socialist revolution. However, certain Marxist trends like council communism as well as most anarchists believe that a dedicated vanguard of revolutionaries will do little more than form a new bureaucratic caste, and therefore argue that the revolution must be directed by the spontaneity of the masses and other decentralized action.[2]

Markets verses planning

In modern and historical leftist discourse, a question exists over how to organize a socialist economy. Tendencies like democratic socialism, Titoism, market anarchism, and Dengism have argued that markets are needed in order to develop the productive forces and provide a superior mode of distribution over a planned economy, which they perceive as ineffective and bureaucratic. On the contrary, socialist advocates of a planned economy argue that markets fundamentally reproduce capitalist relations, generate the same periods of economic crisis due to their inability to be rationally planned, and ultimately create a new bourgeois class which will eliminate socialism and restore capitalism as a whole once empowered.[5] The exact form of a planned economy also differs among different tendencies; anarchists and other libertarian socialists wanting a decentralized and communal-based form of planning whereas Marxists–Leninists and others wanting centralized economic planning.

See also


  1. "left-wing" Wiktionary
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Anarchism" The Espresso Stalinist
  3. "Anarchism" (In Russian) Great Soviet Encyclopedia
  4. 4.0 4.1 Vladimir Lenin (1913). Marxism and Reformism at the Marxists Internet Archive.
  5. "Yugoslav Revisionism" The Espresso Stalinist