It stands in contradistinction to right-wing politics, with both terms originating in early nineteenth-century French parliamentary practice. The monarchists tended to group themselves on the right of the chamber, while the constitutionalists or radical reformers would sit on the left (see spatial politics). From this, "the right" came to connote support for a strong monarchy, while "the left" implied support for a more democratic government.
From this, "the right" came to mean support for monarchical and aristocratic interests, while "the left" implied opposition to the same, proto-laissez faire free marketeers (who in modern America are considered to be rightists) and communists. At the time, the defining point on the ideological spectrum was the old order, on the right. On the near left stood people holding views similar to those of Edmund Burke, and on the far left massed a host of competing alternatives.
Traditionally, the left side of the political spectrum spans a spectrum from modern liberalism, extending through social democrats and moderate socialists into anarchism and communism. Many have disputed this arrangement as simplistic; they argue that Russian-style communism does not really belong on the left and should be viewed independently of the conventional spectrum or placed on the right as a type of authoritarian dictatorship. Critics of democratic socialism or of left-liberalism have often used the association of communism with Soviet-style politics to argue that the political left has become tarred with the crimes of bolshevism.
The European left has traditionally extended into Communist parties, which have sometimes allied with more moderate leftists to present a united front. In the United States of America, however, labor unions and New Left activists rather than 19th century socialist ideas have defined the left.
The 'New Left' has had varying degrees of unity since its rise in the 1960s, and is a coalition encompassing several movements (such as feminists, Greens, Labor unions, Atheists Gay rights activists and racially oriented Civil Rights groups). Greens often deny that the 'left' label provides any useful cover or coherence, and build their green politics on a different set of assumptions, usually asserting that local control improves on central control, and that only a few issues benefit from global unity.
Many critics of the left have claimed that leftist movements lost their moorings after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Most leftists respond that they have never taken their inspiration from the Soviet model and rejoiced to see the USSR's system collapse -- as leftist writer Michael Albert put it, "one down, one to go".
Some leftists also subscribe to post-modernism and Nietzschean philosophies. Critics on the right have generally seen this as an indication of the poorly thought-out, fashionable nature of leftism. Critics on the left say postmodernism makes no sense and offers no useful political lessons.
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3 Other meanings