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
Common to both, however, was an uncritical belief in progress, science and technology. They were grounded in a naive notion of human nature, and were drawn to utopian and constructivist ways of thinking. Neither achieved a sufficiently deep understanding of the power relations between men and women. Neither was able to evaluate the impact of industry and mass-consumption on the ecological balance. Both underrated the significance of culture and religion for the individual as well as for society. They put their faith in either enlightened citizens or ideal social institutions, imagining that, thanks to the good will of people or within the framework of well-designed structures, everything would gradually be rectified. There were, of course, thinkers within the Left who at an early stage were able to see some of these shortcomings, but they were soon forced out of the mainstream.
For more than a century, Finland was a Grand Duchy under the rule of the Russian Czar and, as a consequence, its First Left was relatively weak. Its most notable achievements were realized only when the Second Left had already gained considerable strength. In 1906 an elected parliament took the place of the old Four Estates. The radical nature of this reform can be judged from the fact that women were given the right to vote, and that by 1917 the Social Democrats had gained a majority. Among other great achievements of the First Left were the establishment of general public education and the emancipation of the crofters in the early 1920s.