Far-left politics

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Far-left politics, also known as the radical left or the extreme left, are politics further to the left on the left–right political spectrum than the standard political left. The term does not have a single definition. Some scholars consider it to represent the left of social democracy, while others limit it to the left of communist parties. In certain instances, especially in the news media, far-left has been associated with some forms of authoritarianism, anarchism, and communism, or it characterizes groups that advocate for revolutionary socialism, Marxism and related communist ideologies, anti-capitalism or anti-globalization.


Similar to far-right politics, extremist far-left politics have motivated political violence, radicalization, genocide, terrorism, sabotage and damage to property, the formation of militant organizations, political repression, conspiracism, xenophobia, and nationalism. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Far-left terrorism consists of militant or insurgent groups that attempt to realize their ideals through political violence rather than using parliamentary processes. [1] [2]


The definition of the far-left varies in the literature and there is not a general agreement on what it entails or consensus on the core characteristics that constitute the far-left, other than being to the left of the political left. In France, extrême-gauche ("extreme left") is a generally accepted term for political groups that position themselves to the left of the Socialist Party, although some such as the political scientist Serge Cosseron limit the scope to the left of the French Communist Party. [7]

Scholars such as Luke March and Cas Mudde propose that socio-economic rights are at the far-left's core. Moreover, March and Mudde argue that the far-left is to the left of the political left with regard to how parties or groups describe economic inequality on the base of existing social and political arrangements. [8] March, a lecturer in Soviet and post-Soviet politics at the University of Edinburgh, defines the far-left as those who position themselves to the left of social democracy, which is seen as either insufficiently left-wing, [9] or as defending the social democratic tradition that is perceived to have been lost. [10]

The two main sub-types of far-left politics are called "the radical left" and "the extreme left"; the first desires fundamental changes in neoliberal capitalism and progressive reform of democracy such as direct democracy and the inclusion of marginalized communities, [11] while the latter denounces liberal democracy as a "compromise with bourgeois political forces" and defines capitalism more strictly. [8] Far-left politics is seen as radical politics because it calls for fundamental change to the capitalist socio-economic structure of society. [12]

March and Mudde say that far-left parties are an increasingly stabilized political actor and are challenging mainstream social democratic parties, defining other core characteristics of far-left politics as being internationalism and a focus on networking and solidarity as well as opposition to globalization and neoliberalism. [12] In his later conceptualization, March started to refer to far-left politics as "radical left politics", which is constituted of radical left parties that reject the socio-economic structures of contemporary society that are based on the principles and values of capitalism. [13]

Radical left parties

In Europe, the support for far-left politics comes from three overlapping groups, namely far-left subcultures, disaffected social democrats, and protest voters—those who are opposed to their country's European Union membership. [14] To distinguish the far-left from the moderate left, Luke March and Cas Mudde identify three useful criteria: [15] [16]

Other scholars classify the far-left under the category of populist socialist parties. [19] Vít Hloušek and Lubomír Kopeček of the Masaryk University at the International Institute of Political Science suggest secondary characteristics, including anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, opposition to NATO, and in some cases a rejection of European integration. [18]

March states that "compared with the international communist movement 30 years ago, the far left has undergone a process of profound de-radicalization. The extreme left is marginal in most places." March identifies four major subgroups within contemporary European far-left politics, namely communists, democratic socialists, populist socialists, and social populists. [20] In a later conception of far-left politics, March writes: "I prefer the term 'radical left' to alternatives such as 'hard left' and 'far left', which can appear pejorative and imply that the left is necessarily marginal." According to March, the most successful far-left parties are pragmatic and non-ideological. [21]

According to political scientist Paolo Chiocchetti, radical left parties have failed to concretise an alternative to neoliberalism and lead a paradigm shift towards a different path of development model, despite electoral gains in the 2010s; [22] when they were in government, such parties were forced to put aside their strong anti-neoliberalism and accept neoliberal policies, either proposed by their larger allies or imposed due to the international context. [23] This view is also shared by Mudde [24] and political scientist Yiannos Katsourides in regards to SYRIZA. [25]

Historian Gary Gerstle writes that, in the neoliberal era, with the collapse of communism, the globalization of capitalism and, in the Western world particularly, the end of any imperative for compromise between the capitalist class and the workers, the hard left has been rendered largely powerless and no longer feared by ruling elites. [26]

Far-left militants and terrorism

Many far-left militant organizations were formed by members of existing political parties in the 1960s and 1970s, [27] [28] [29] among them CPI (Maoist), Montoneros, Prima Linea, the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigades, and the New People's Army. [28] [30] [31] [32] These groups generally aimed to overthrow capitalism and the wealthy ruling classes. [33] [34] [35]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Rossi, Federica (April 2021). Treiber, Kyle (ed.). "The failed amnesty of the 'years of lead' in Italy: Continuity and transformations between (de)politicization and punitiveness". European Journal of Criminology . Los Angeles and London: SAGE Publications on behalf of the European Society of Criminology. doi: 10.1177/14773708211008441 . ISSN   1741-2609. S2CID   234835036. The 1970s in Italy were characterized by the persistence and prolongation of political and social unrest that many Western countries experienced during the late 1960s. The decade saw the multiplication of far-left extra-parliamentary organizations, the presence of a militant far right movement, and an upsurge in the use of politically motivated violence and state repressive measures. The increasing militarization and the use of political violence, from sabotage and damage to property, to kidnappings and targeted assassinations, were justified by left-wing groups both as necessary means to achieve a revolutionary project and as defences against the threat of a neo-fascist coup.
  2. 1 2 el-Ojeili, Chamsy; Taylor, Dylan (September 2018). Cheng, Enfu; Schweickart, David; Andreani, Tony (eds.). "The Revaluation of All Values: Extremism, The Ultra-Left, and Revolutionary Anthropology". International Critical Thought. Taylor & Francis on behalf of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 8 (3): 410–425. doi:10.1080/21598282.2018.1506262. eISSN   2159-8312. ISSN   2159-8282. S2CID   158719628.
  3. McClosky, Herbert; Chong, Dennis (July 1985). "Similarities and Differences Between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals". British Journal of Political Science. 15 (3): 329–363. doi:10.1017/S0007123400004221. ISSN   0007-1234. S2CID   154330828. Once one adjusts for superficial differences, Shils contended, communists and other radicals of the far left resemble right-wing radicals in zealotry, susceptibility to Manichean interpretations of human events, implacable hatred of opponents, intolerance toward dissenters and deviants, and an inclination to view public affairs as the outcome of conspiracies and secret plots.
  4. Kopyciok, Svenja; Silver, Hilary (10 June 2021). "Left-Wing Xenophobia in Europe". Frontiers in Sociology. 6: 666717. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2021.666717 . ISSN   2297-7775. PMC   8222516 . PMID   34179182. We find that a surprisingly large share of those who identify as far left do express extremely xenophobic attitudes, and we profile them in contrast to far right xenophobes.
  5. Chen, Cheng; Lee, Ji-Yong (1 December 2007). "Making sense of North Korea: "National Stalinism" in comparative-historical perspective". Communist and Post-Communist Studies. 40 (4): 459–475. doi:10.1016/j.postcomstud.2007.10.003. ISSN   0967-067X. the role of strong anti-liberal ideology that combined both far left and far right nationalist elements was highly significant in sustaining the regime and therefore should not be underestimated...the DPRK regime was able to hold on to power by using imagined and real external threats, such as the nuclear and missile crises, to justify continuing domestic repression and reinforce its nationalist claims
  6. Pruitt, Sarah. "How Are Socialism and Communism Different?". HISTORY. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  7. Cosseron 2007, p. 20.
  8. 1 2 March & Mudde 2005.
  9. Liebman & Miliband 1985.
  10. March 2008, p. 1: "The far left is becoming the principal challenge to mainstream social democratic parties, in large part because its main parties are no longer extreme, but present themselves as defending the values and policies that social democrats have allegedly abandoned."
  11. Dunphy 2004.
  12. 1 2 March 2012b.
  13. Holzer & Mareš 2016, p. 57.
  14. Smaldone 2013, p. 304.
  15. March & Mudde 2005, p. 25.
  16. Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, pp. 45–46.
  17. 1 2 Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, p. 45.
  18. 1 2 Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, p. 46.
  19. Katsambekis & Kioupkiolis 2019, p. 82.
  20. March 2008, p. 3.
  21. March 2012a, p. 1724.
  22. Chiocchetti 2016, pp. 1–6.
  23. Chiocchetti 2016, "Filling the vacuum? The trajectory of the contemporary radical left in Western Europe".
  24. Mudde 2016.
  25. Katsourides 2020.
  26. Gerstle 2022, pp. 11–12.
  27. Pedahzur, Perliger & Weinberg 2009, p. 53.
  28. 1 2 Clark 2018, pp. 30–42, 48–59.
  29. Balz 2015, pp. 297–314.
  30. Raufer 1993.
  31. The Irish Times, 22 April 1998: "German detectives yesterday confirmed as authentic a declaration by the Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist group that its struggle to overthrow the German state is over."
  32. Chaliand 2010, pp. 227–257.
  33. CISAC 2008: "The PL [Prima Linea] sought to overthrow the capitalist state in Italy and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat."
  34. Ballaran, Jhoanna (5 December 2017). "Duterte declares CPP, NPA as terrorist organizations". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  35. "Proclamation No. 374, s. 2017" (PDF). Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. 5 December 2017. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 December 2017. Retrieved 17 September 2020.


Further reading
Radical left parties case studies