If political decisions are to be made democratically there must be political issues to make decisions about. Sometimes one has to state the obvious in order to understand its significance.
Preconditions for the political issues
When democracy evolved in the West in the 19th century, Europe and The United States were in the midst of rapid industrialization. This turned almost everything in society upside down: people moved from the countryside to the cities, and the economy changed from small scale farming and family-economies to big factories. The factories needed huge capital investments and created a large group of wage earners. None of this had existed before and a need arose for better schools for everybody as well as roads and railroads to support development.
Many new political issues arose: workers' rights and salaries, how to pay for schooling, how to tax the profits created by the factories, whether unions should be allowed, what kind of poor relief society should provide, where to lay the rail-road tracks, etc.
The challenges and needs for political solutions arose gradually, and meanwhile, political awareness grew in the population. Up until this time, the kings, the nobles and some handpicked ministers had ruled. Now, the middle classes, the farmers, and the workers demanded political influence. Very often they did not have common needs and their interests were not mutual.
The political spectrum
Put simply, the workers supported socialism and its values regarding economic egalitarianism, collectivity and solidarity, plus extended governmental power to enforce economic equality. The middle classes or "the bourgeoisie" who owned the new factories supported capitalism, individual freedom, private property, and as little governmental regulation as possible. The farmers and peasants wanted ownership of the land and opportunities to sell their produce, but their interests differed from those of the middle class. Also, there were many poor land workers who did not own any land and who joined the growing development of socialism.
Left and Right
When democracy was implemented and parliaments were established, a tradition evolved in which socialist politicians were seated to the left in parliamentary assemblies, and capitalist politicians to the right. Out of this grew the concepts of "left wing" and "right wing" politics.
To a large extent, politics in the West has been about what role government should play in society, and how to distribute money in society; whether citizens should show economical solidarity, or one should have the personal freedom to earn money and keep it.
Next chapter: Political Parties and Ideologies