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The Old Left is an informal umbrella term used to describe the various left-wing political movements in the Western world prior to the 1960s. Many of these movements were Marxist movements that often took a more vanguardist approach to social justice; focused primarily on labor unionization and social class in the West.[1] Generally, the Old Left, unlike the New, focused more on economic issues than cultural ones.

The Old Left often overlooked social matters such as abortion, drugs, feminism, gay rights, gender roles, and immigration. While some parties within the Old Left eventually embraced gay rights, influenced by movements like Eurocommunism, others remained focused on only advocating for the working class, like the Communist Party of Greece and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The Old Left frequently opposed immigration, viewing it as a strategy employed by employers to lower wages. Historical leaders such as Marx and Engels either disregarded or displayed hostility towards homosexuality. In fact, in the Soviet Union, male homosexuality was considered a crime, a law which would not be revoked until 1993 after the dissolution of the USSR.

The emergence of the New Left, which initially originated in the UK, witnessed a shift away from the focus on class struggle and Marxist views of labor. New Left theorists like Herbert Marcuse emphasized instead the liberation of human sexuality.

Social policy

Unlike the New Left, the Old Left puts less emphasis on social issues such as identity politics, intersectionality, abortion, drugs, feminism, gay rights, gender roles, immigration and the abolition of the capital punishment; some Old Leftists outright oppose the New Left positions on these issues. Since the mid-1970s with the advent of revisionist movements such as Eurocommunism (and earlier in the Anglosphere, the New Left), some parties on the far left in the West have begun to adopt homosexual rights from the New Left as part of their platform while parties in the East such as the Communist Party of Greece and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation have rejected this move and continue to focus exclusively on working class as the Old Left.[2][3][4] The party voted against the Civil Partnerships Bill proposed by Syriza, responding: "With the formation of a socialist-communist society, a new type of partnership will undoubtedly be formed—a relatively stable heterosexual relationship and reproduction".[5]

Militant was a Trotskyist entryist group in the British Labour Party, based around the Militant newspaper launched in 1964. According to Michael Crick, its politics were influenced by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky and "virtually nobody else".[6] Militant has been cited as an example of left-wing opposition to feminism and gay rights initiatives within the labour movement in the early 1980s, specifically within the context of reaction to the financial support given to gay rights groups by the Greater London Council under the leadership of Ken Livingstone.[7] While Militant was present in Labour Party women's sections, claiming forty delegates attended the Labour Party women's conference in 1981, it opposed feminism which declared that men were the enemy, or the cause of women's oppression.[8]


The Old Left sometimes took a stance hostile to immigration, promoting policies that would preserve the ethnic homogeneity of the country. Australian Prime Minister John Curtin, who was part of the Australian Labor Party, reinforced the White Australia Policy and said the following in his defense: "This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race."[9] Arthur Calwell, another Old Leftist who led the Australian Labor Party in the 1960s, strongly defended the White Australia Policy and said the following: "I am proud of my white skin, just as a Chinese is proud of his yellow skin, a Japanese of his brown skin, and the Indians of their various hues from black to coffee-coloured. Anybody who is not proud of his race is not a man at all. And any man who tries to stigmatize the Australian community as racist because they want to preserve this country for the white race is doing our nation great harm ... I reject, in conscience, the idea that Australia should or ever can become a multi-racial society and survive."[10] Left-wing Labor members perceived unrestricted immigration as a ploy by owners to drive down wages, resulting in the leadership of labor unions often being skeptical of expanded immigration.

As late as 2015, Bernie Sanders criticized open borders a "Koch brothers proposal", although he later switched to the more New Left position welcoming to immigration.[11]


Communist leaders and intellectuals took many different positions on LGBT rights issues. Marx and Engels wrote little on the subject; Marx in particular commented rarely on sexuality in general. Writing for Political Affairs, Norman Markowitz writes: "Here, to be frank, one finds from Marx a refusal to entertain the subject, and from Engels open hostility to the individuals involved".[12] This is because in private Engels criticized male homosexuality and related it to ancient Greek pederasty,[13] saying that "[the ancient Greeks] fell into the abominable practice of sodomy [Knabenliebe, meaning 'boy love" or pederasty] and degraded alike their gods and themselves with the myth of Ganymede".[14] Engels also said that the pro-pederast movement "cannot fail to triumph. Guerre aux cons, paix aus trous-de-cul [war on the cunts, peace to the arse-holes] will now be the slogan".[15] Engels also referred to Dr. Karl Boruttau as a Schwanzschwule ("gay prick") in private.[16]

The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality is unequivocal on Marx and Engels view of homosexuality, stating in volume 2: "There can be little doubt that, as far as they thought of the matter at all, Marx and Engels were personally homo-phobic, as shown by an acerbic 1869 exchange of letter on Jean-Baptiste von Schweitzer, a German socialist rival. Schweitzer had been arrested in a park on a morals charge and not only did Marx and Engels refuse to join a committee defending him, they resorted to the cheapest form of bathroom humor in their private comments about the affair".[17]

In 1933, Joseph Stalin added Article 121 to the entire Soviet Union criminal code, which made male homosexuality a crime punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor. The precise reason for Article 121 is in some dispute among historians. The few official government statements made about the law tended to confuse homosexuality with pedophilia and was tied up with a belief that homosexuality was only practiced among fascists or the aristocracy. The law remained intact until after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and was repealed in 1993.[18][19] Gay men were sometimes denied membership or expelled from Communist parties across the globe during the 20th century as most Communist parties followed the social precedents set by the Soviet Union.[20]

The West was less beholden to Soviet ideas. Notable Western gay members of Communist parties included Mark Ashton, founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners[21] and LGBT rights advocate, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain;[22] and Harry Hay, a gay rights activist, labor advocate,[23] Native American civil rights campaigner,[24] Mattachine Society founder,[25] co-founder of Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front,[26] and a member of the Communist Party USA.[27]

The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) is a party which strongly opposes LGBT rights in Moldova and works with nationalist, right-wing and religious movements to counter the "promotion of vice spread with the help of the US in Moldova"; the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) holds similar positions.[28][29] The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) supported an anti-gay law in 2013.[30] The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) voted against the introduction of same-sex civil unions in 2015, but has also criticized homophobia and discrimination in general.[31][32]
















Czech Republic



United Kingdom


Emergence of the New Left

The New Left arose first among dissenting intellectuals and campus groups in the United Kingdom and later alongside campuses in the United States and in the Western bloc.

The German critical theorist Herbert Marcuse is referred to as the "Father of the New Left". Marcuse rejected the theory of class struggle and the Marxist concern with labor. According to Leszek Kołakowski, Marcuse argued that since "all questions of material existence have been solved, moral commands and prohibitions are no longer relevant". He regarded the realization of man's erotic nature as the true liberation of humanity, which inspired the utopias of Jerry Rubin and others.[33]

Between 1943 and 1950, Marcuse worked in U.S. government service for the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency) and criticized the ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the book Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis (1958). After his studies, in the 1960s and the 1970s he became known as the pre-eminent theorist of the New Left and the student movements of West Germany, France and the United States.

Parties that subscribe to the Old Left

See also


  1. ^ Cynthia Kaufman (2003). Ideas For Action: Relevant Theory For Radical Change. South End Press. ISBN 9780896086937.
    - Todd Gitlin, "The Left's Lost Universalism", in Arthur M. Melzer, Jerry Weinberger and M. Richard Zinman, eds., Politics at the Turn of the Century, pp. 3–26 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001)
    - Grant Farred (2000). "Endgame Identity? Mapping the New Left Roots of Identity Politics". New Literary History. 31 (4): 627–648. doi:10.1353/nlh.2000.0045. JSTOR 20057628. S2CID 144650061.
  2. ^ "Greece passes bill allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples". The Guardian. Reuters. 22 December 2015.
  3. ^ "Κουτσούμπας: Όχι στο σύμφωνο συμβίωσης και στο δικαίωμα υιοθεσίας για ομοφυλόφιλους". 28 August 2014.
  4. ^ "After all, homophobia is a Greek word".
  5. ^ "Greek Communist Party Pushes Anti-Gay Bigotry".
  6. ^ Crick 1986, p. 3.
  7. ^ Stephen Brooke (24 November 2011). Sexual Politics: Sexuality, Family Planning, and the British Left from the 1880s to the Present Day. Oxford University Press. pp. 236–237. ISBN 978-0-19-956254-1.
  8. ^ Peter Taaffe (November 1995). The Rise of Militant. Militant Publications. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-906-582473.
  9. ^ "Fact sheet – Abolition of the 'White Australia' Policy". Australian Government Department of Home Affairs. Archived from the original on 12 January 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  10. ^ Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not, 117
  11. ^ Matthews, Dylan (29 July 2015). "Bernie Sanders's fear of immigrant labor is ugly – and wrongheaded". Vox. Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  12. ^ Markowitz, Norman (6 August 2013). "The Communist movement and gay rights: The hidden history". Archived from the original on 16 August 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  13. ^ Kon, Igor (1995). The Sexual Revolution in Russia: From the Age of the Czars to Today. Simon & Schuster. pp. 52–53.
  14. ^ Angus, Ian; Riddell, John. "Engels and homosexuality". International Socialist Review. No. 70. Archived from the original on 1 July 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  15. ^ Engels. "Letters: Marx–Engels Correspondence 1869". Australian National University. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  16. ^ Ireland, Doug. "Socialism and Gay Liberation: Back to the Future". New Politics. Archived from the original on 21 January 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Marxism" in Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, Volume 2
  18. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Russia: Update to RUS13194 of 16 February 1993 on the treatment of homosexuals". Refworld. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  19. ^ Buetikofer, Anne (11 April 1999). "Homosexuality in the Soviet Union and in today's Russia". Savanne. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  20. ^ Ireland, Doug. "Turns out Norman Thomas's Socialist Party Came Close to Breaking the Gay Taboo in 1952". Archived from the original on 1 July 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  21. ^ Kelliher 2014.
  22. ^ Skeates 2007.
  23. ^ Timmons 1990, pp. 64–65.
  24. ^ Timmons 1990, pp. 193–197.
  25. ^ Timmons 1990, pp. 143–145.
  26. ^ Timmons 1990, p. 230.
  27. ^ Markowitz, Norman (6 August 2013). "The Communist movement and gay rights: The hidden history". Political Affairs. Archived from the original on 16 August 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  28. ^ "LGBT solidarity march in Moldova stopped due to fear of clashes with orthodox counter protesters". Archived from the original on 12 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Voronin vrea referendum "anti-homosexuali"". (in Russian). Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  30. ^ "Russian MPs vote overwhelmingly to outlaw gay 'propaganda'". Euronews. 11 June 2013.
  31. ^ Epochi, rizospastis gr | Synchroni (20 December 2015). " - Η θέση του ΚΚΕ για το Σύμφωνο Συμβίωσης". ΡΙΖΟΣΠΑΣΤΗΣ (in Greek). Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  32. ^ "Δήλωση του Δημήτρη Κουτσούμπα για τη Διεθνή Ημέρα κατά της Ομοφοβίας". (in Greek). Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  33. ^ Kołakowski, Leszek (1981). Main Currents of Marxism. Vol. III: The Breakdown. Oxford University Press. p. 416. ISBN 0192851098.