Since 1988 I have been engaged in the launching of a new party of the Left in Finland.footnote1 It was established in 1990 under the name of Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet (the Left-Wing Alliance). lwa continued the tradition of skdl/dfff (the People’s Democratic League) which included the Communist Party of Finland. It was launched as a ‘Red-Green’ party of the ‘modern Left’, but despite the enthusiasm at the founding meeting, which was open to all, the party has not been able to attract a new mass base. Its election support has hovered around 11 per cent. In the elections of March 1995, it did fairly well, and a decision was taken to enter the new ‘rainbow’ government, which includes the Social Democrats, the Conservatives, the lwa, the Swedish People’s Party and the Greens. The party is, however, still searching for its ideological and political home. The negotiations which led to the formation of the new government, and the strong disagreements revealed inside the party during that process, demonstrate the need for a clearer-cut ideological and strategical position. In our work on the new party programme, which was accepted at the congress in June 1995, we elaborated the concept of the ‘Third Left’.

In Denmark there is a party which calls itself Venstre (Left). It is, however, a conservative right-wing party. There is another party called Radikale Venstre (Radical Left), but this is a social-liberal party at the centre of the Danish party-spectrum. Both are hangovers from the First Left. The First Left emerged with the American and French revolutions, and it was bourgeois, liberal and republican. It demanded liberty from absolutist and feudalist fetters, called for equality through the abolition of rank and privilege, and extolled brotherhood over the power of the masters. The First Left was the Left of liberty, citizenship and democracy. For me, it is personified by Thomas Paine who participated in both the American and the French revolutions. He was an ardent champion of representative democracy and citizens’ rights. Two hundred years ago, Paine’s book The Rights of Man was read in millions of copies in England, Europe and America.

The First Left was inspired by the idea of free and equal citizens who could arrange their personal lives as they wished, and decide on common matters democratically. The market was seen as a sphere of freedom and equal opportunity in which citizens were able to realize their own objectives without the interference of monarchy, church, estate or guild. Socialists—revolutionaries like Babeuf, and reformers like Owen—were part of the First Left, but even they did not turn against the market. Rather, they aimed at a more equal distribution of incomes and wealth, and supported mutual assistance and cooperation.

The Second Left, by contrast, was ‘proletarian’, it was the Left of the workers’ movement, of social-democratic and communist parties. It struggled for economic and social rights, and was the main vehicle of the welfare-state project. It favoured collective solutions to social problems, and saw nationalization and planning as means towards a more just and progressive society. If the First Left is personified by Thomas Paine, the central figure of the Second Left was Karl Kautsky. Up to the First World War, he was the greatest authority within the socialist movement. Through the influence of Kautsky, Marxism became a doctrine and socialism an ideology which separated the new Left from the old. Although Kautsky was criticized by both Bernstein and Lenin, it was his interpretation of capitalism, socialism and the historic mission of the workers’ movement that marked the Second Left, in both its social-democratic and communist currents. The main target of the critique of the Second Left was the capitalist market economy. To overcome it, the power of both an organized class and the state should be used. The capitalist markets caused inequality, insecurity and crises: Krise, Kriege und Katastrophe, as Hilferding put it. Instead, a socialist planned economy, or at least a mixed economy with a strong welfare state, should be built.

The Second Left was a continuation of the First, but also its antithesis. The First Left stressed universal humanism, the second class character. The First Left believed that free markets could be just and efficient, the Second Left was convinced of their immanent weaknesses and unfairness. The First Left wanted to decrease the role of the state, the Second Left to increase it. The First Left believed in the individual and the citizen, the Second Left in collective organization. The First Left wanted everyone to have their share of property, the Second Left favoured common, often state, property.