Throughout the twentieth century, the left acted as a catalyst of change.
By constantly challenging capitalism, exposing its inadequacies and in-
justices, Socialists and Communists forced it to adapt and alter. Over a
long period of time, extending even into the 1970s in Mediterranean
Europe, they were at the forefront of the battle to assert and guarantee the
full political and social citizenship of excluded groups. Whether in gov-
ernment or outside it, left-wing parties and movements brought pressure
to bear that resulted in the achievement of material gains as well as
benefits in terms of welfare, education, and social policy for the lower
classes. For this reason it would not be correct to describe the post-1945
years as a period of defeat for the left. Inscribed within the bedrock of
values and norms accepted with greater or lesser conviction by all major
parties and social forces are notions and ideas that form part of the legacy
of socialism.
Parts of the left-wing credo, however, became less relevant over time
or were bypassed by events. For all its commitment to innovation and
change, the left remained to some degree suspicious of, or hostile to-
ward, phenomena that became central to the organization of contempo-
rary societies. To the ethical individualism of capitalism, it counterposed
an emphasis on community that, quite apart from the theoretical and
practical objections this mode of perceiving the social order may give
rise to, contradicted the fundamental trend of the postwar years toward
privatization and the demobilization of collective identities. Over a long
period, moreover, socialist parties and intellectuals sought to resist con-
sumerism and commercial entertainment. Consequently, the left often
found itself at a loss to understand new sensibilities and values or know
how to respond to the patterns of behavior that sprang from them. The
result, as became clear in the 1980s, was a serious erosion of socialists’
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