Left And Right Divides Blur

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Yuba Nath Lamsal 

Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it is just the opposite: John Kenneth Galbraith 

‘Right wing’ and ‘left wing’ are perhaps the two most cited terms in the political discourse across the world. But understanding of these terms is as diverse as world’s geographic variation and heterogeneity of humankind.  The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean differently in different continents and different regions as well as in different contexts. In Europe and northern America, leftists are understood as ones that advocate larger government and policy that seek to favour workers, lower brackets of society, higher tax while conservatives are known to be rightist who seek lower tax, small government and deregulation. 

Evolution of ideology 

Those who support liberal political order and free economy are called centrists while opposing this are rightists. The idea of right and left in politics came into political lexicon after the French Revolution in 1789 based on the seating arrangement in the National Assembly, the French parliament, where radicals and revolutionaries were seated on the left side of the presiding officer while status quoist aristocrats on the right side. This concept was later linked with the evolution of ideologies. Ideology is nothing but a set of beliefs, which encompasses political order, economic system and social norms and values. 

French economist Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital And Ideology’ says, ‘Every century develops a new and different ideology’. Europe is the womb of civilisations from where all ideologies were born. 

Capitalism was born in Europe in 18th century and developed in 19th century to become a dominant ideology in the 20th century. Socialism too was born in Europe in the 19th century as a competing ideology and was put into practice in 20th century. However, socialism soon made a retreat with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in late 20th century, following which capitalism has again triumphed but in a different and modified form. 

With the advent of 21st century, the world is in the process of building a new ideology but it is not known what the new ideology exactly would be. The labour pain for giving the birth of a new ideology is in the process. Piketty goes on to say ‘no ideology can ever command full and total assent and ideological conflict and competition are inherent elements’ in the world of political philosophies. Ideologies change shape and form with the change of time and context. Despite its global triumph, the capitalism does not exist in a way Adam Smith foresaw way back in 1776 when he wrote ‘The Wealth of Nations’. Despite a setback in Europe, socialism still remains as a vibrant ideology and economic system in some countries including China. 

However, the form of socialism China and some countries are practicing is not what Karl Marx prophesised in 1848 when he wrote ‘Communist Manifesto’. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance”. Everything that comes into existence in this universe changes and decays from which a new one is born. This is the law of nature. Change is permanent and inevitable. So ideologies, too, are born, grow and decay. In this process, different ideologies were born, grew and decayed in the annals of history. Feudalism had once its heydays but died out of which capitalism was born.

 From capitalism, socialism was born but with the retreat of socialism, capitalism made a comeback with more vigour but in a modified form. Anyone or any form of system that fails to adopt change loses its significance in course of time. Capitalism has changed its modes, form and shape but its fundamental foundation remains, which is why it has survived and ruled the world. Socialism, despite being a vibrant and competing ideology, lost its steam in realpolitik in many countries simply because they fail to understand the inherent feelings of the people with the tide of time. 

Back in 1993 in the aftermath of the disintegration of Soviet Union and retreat of socialism in Europe, Francis Fukuyama, a political science professor at Harvard University, came with the thesis of ‘end of ideology’. His argument was that the ideological competition was over with Western liberal democracy remaining as the only political ideology ruling the world. But liberal democracy, too, is under attack and is backsliding.  The neoliberalism that has gripped the world with its tentacles is the fundamental cause of global crisis marked by widening income gap and inequality, rising poverty, wars and conflict in the world. 

Demarcation

Despite the tall talks of ideology, the demarcation between the left wing and the right wing is getting blurred. In the past, ideology was the basis for drawing line between left wing and right wing. Capitalists and liberals were generally seen as the right wingers or rightists whereas Marxists or communists were known as the leftist. But this notion has changed. There are left wingers and right wingers within the capitalist camp whereas those under the banner of the communist parties are also divided into leftist or revolutionaries and revisionists meaning right wingers. All communists are leftists but all leftists are not necessarily communists. Similarly, all capitalists and liberals are rightists but not all rightists and liberals are capitalists. 

Based on their political leaning and economic policies and social orientation, political parties and groups are generally grouped into different categories — far-rightists, rightist, centrist, leftist and far leftist. Centrists are further categorised based on their policy orientation as right of the centre and left of the centre. In the context of Nepal, the political parties are generally divided into left of the centre and right of the centre. There are a few far-rightists. Although there are over a dozen groups under the banner of communist party, in reality none is communist. They are communist only in name but left of the centre in practical politics. A couple of small far-leftist parties still do exist in Nepal but their influence among the people is insignificant. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com) 

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