Far-left politics, also known as extreme left politics or left-wing extremism, are politics further to the left on the left–right political spectrum than the standard political left. The term does not have a single, coherent definition; some scholars consider it to be the left of communist parties, while others broaden it to include the left of social democracy. In certain instances—especially in the news mediafar left has been associated with some forms of authoritarianism, anarchism, communism, and Marxism, or are characterized as groups that advocate for revolutionary socialism and related communist ideologies, or anti-capitalism and anti-globalization. Far-left terrorism consists of extremist, militant, or insurgent groups that attempt to realize their ideals through political violence rather than using democratic processes.


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 mainstream left-wing politics.[1] As with all political alignments, the exact boundaries of centre-left versus far-left politics are not clearly defined and can vary depending on context.[2] Far-left ideologies often include types of socialism, communism, and anarchism.[3][4]

The radical-left is situated between the far-left and social democracy. Per Richard Dunphy, "the radical left" desires fundamental changes in neoliberal capitalism and progressive reform of democracy such as direct democracy and the inclusion of marginalized communities,[5] while per March "the extreme left" denounces liberal democracy as a "compromise with bourgeois political forces" and defines capitalism more strictly.[6] Far-left politics is seen as radical politics because it calls for fundamental change to the capitalist socio-economic structure of society.[7] Radical-left politics, rejecting both neo-liberal social-democracy and revolutionary action, instead seeking to enact change from within government,[8][9] prioritize equality of outcome over equal opportunity.[10] Post-Soviet radical left-wing movements in Europe and the United States are associated with anti-globalism and anti-neoliberalism.[11]


Various courants and movements of socialism are considered far-left. Socialism has historically been divided into left-wing reformist socialism and far-left revolutionary socialism.[12] Modern social democracy is generally considered to be a centre-left socialist ideology.[13][2]

Socialism seeks to create a socially equal society in which every individual has access to basic necessities and in which prosperity and knowledge are shared.[14] It is derived from ideas of egalitarianism.[15][16]

Democratic socialism is generally considered to be a reformist left-wing[17][18] or radical-left[19] ideology, and it has historically been considered centre-left,[20] though it is occasionally considered far-left. Democratic socialism is sometimes used interchangeably with social democracy in political rhetoric, but is often used to describe political movements to the left of or following radical social-democracy. Communists may also identify as democratic socialists to contrast themselves with Stalinists.[21] Democratic socialists reject Third Way social democracy for its association with neoliberalism, and they reject communism for its association with authoritarianism.[22]

Communism and Marxism

Communism is an ideological group that seeks the creation of a communist society. Modern communism is a form of revolutionary socialism based on support for the communist society described the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, known as Marxism.[23][24][25] Offshoots of Marxism include Leninism, Marxism–Leninism (which was distinct from both of its eponymous ideologies), Maoism, Eurocommunism, anarchist communism, and others.


Anarchism seeks to create an alternate form of society that excludes the state entirely.[26] Anarchism incorporates elements of both socialism and liberalism,[27] and it was a prominent ideology among the far-left globally from 1900 to 1940.[28] Anarchist movements include classical anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, social anarchism, individualist anarchism, anarcha-feminism, black anarchism, and queer anarchism, and green anarchism.

Anarcho-capitalism is generally regarded as a right-wing ideology.[29]


Far-left groups support redistribution of income and wealth. They argue that capitalism and consumerism cause social inequality and advocate their dissolution. Some far-left groups also support the abolition of private property.[30] 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.[6]

Far-left groups are anti-establishment, opposing existing political and economic structures.[30] Both anarchist and statist far-left ideologies may support disestablishment of traditional sociopolitical structures.[31] They are opposed to liberalism and liberal democracy.[10] They may be classified as radical, supporting a total reformation of society and its functions.[32] Proponents of the horseshoe theory interpretation of the left–right political spectrum identify the far left and the far right as having more in common with each other as extremists than each of them has with centrists or moderates.[33] This theory has received criticism, however, by many academics.[34][35][36]

Communism has historically emphasized economics and class over social issues.[37] In the 1970s and 1980s, far-left movements in Western Europe were increasingly defined by the new social movements, which gave prominence to issues such as environmentalism, animal rights, women's rights, the peace movement, and promoting the interests of the Third World. These ideas as a singular movement became less prominent in far-left politics as they were subsumed by green politics, but they are still disparately supported by many in the far-left.[38]


Early history

Societies resembling communist society have been postulated throughout human history, and many have been proposed as the earliest socialist or communist ideas.[39][40] The ideas of Plato have been described as an early type of socialism.[40] In medieval Europe, some philosophers argued that Jesus believed in shared ownership of property and that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was contrary to his teachings. This included the Taborites, who attempted to create a social structure that resembled a communist society.[39] Early examples of communist societies in fiction include Utopia by Thomas More, which proposed a society without personal property, and The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella, which proposed a society without the family unit.[41] Modern far-left politics can be traced to Europe and North America in the late 18th century, when industrialization and political upheaval caused discontent among the working class.[42] Socialists were those who objected to the changing social and economic structures associated with industrialization, in that they promoted individualism over collectivism and that they created wealth for some but not for others, creating economic inequality.[40]

The term socialism first came into use in the early 19th century to describe the egalitarian ideas of redistribution promoted by writers like François-Noël Babeuf and John Thelwall. Inspired by the French Revolution, these writers objected to the existence of significant wealth, and Babeuf advocated a dictatorship on behalf of the people that would destroy those who caused inequality.[43][41] Socialism was recognized as a coherent philosophy in the 1830s with the publications of British reformer Robert Owen, who self-identified as socialist.[44] Owen, as well as others such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Étienne Cabet, developed the utopian socialist movement, and these utopian socialists established several communes to implement their ideology.[45][46] Cabet responded to More's Utopia with his own novel, The Voyage to Icaria.[47] He is credited with first using the term communism, though his usage was unrelated to the ideologies that were later known as communism.[48]

Early anarchists emerged in the 19th century, including Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin. These anarchists endorsed many utopian ideas, but they emphasized the importance of revolution against and complete abolition of the state for a utopian society to exist.[49] Bakunin argued that peasants rather than the working class should lead a socialist revolution, and he popularized calls to violence among the anarchist movement.[50] Anarchist ideology spread to the Americas shortly after its development.[51]

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels introduced Marxism in the 1840s, which advocated revolutionary socialism.[52][48] As the state bureaucracy was developed in the late 19th century and labor rights were increasingly recognized by national governments, socialist movements were divided on the role of the state. Some objected to the increase in the state's involvement, while others believed that the state was a stronger alternative to protect worker's rights than labor movements.[53] Many of the former moved to anarchism, while many of the latter responded with the development of social democracy.[26]

Early 20th century

East Asian anarchism developed in the 1900s during the Russo-Japanese War, based on the ideas of Japanese writer Kōtoku Shūsui, who was in turn inspired by Peter Kropotkin. This movement saw its greatest prominence in the 1920s in China.[51]

Communism in early 20th century Europe often gained power in countries with significant polarization between segments of the population on an ethnic, religious, or economic basis,[54] and in countries that were destabilized by war.[55] It was less prominent in industrialized nations, where social democracy maintained electoral success over communist parties.[56] The first communist revolution took place in Russia, when the Russian Revolution emerged in 1917 amid political instability caused by World War I. The Bolsheviks seized power, under the rule of Vladimir Lenin and his ideology of Leninism.[57] The state ideology developed during the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921, setting the preservation of Bolshevik power as the highest priority to assure the building of socialism as well as seeking to spread communist revolution to other nations. Some additional communist governments formed in Europe, but they lasted only months.[58] Though the Bolsheviks identified as communist, the term socialist was often used interchangeably at the time.[59]

By 1922, as Russian SFSR became one of the founding countries of Soviet Union, it responded to widespread hunger and poverty with the New Economic Policy, which restored market enterprise for smaller industries.[60] After Lenin's death, a power struggle between Nikolai Bukharin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin ended with Stalin taking power by 1928.[61] Stalin implemented his ideology of Marxism–Leninism, which reorganized society and created a cult of personality in his favor.[62] This also entailed the Great Purge in the late 1930s, an interpretation of Lenin's revolutionary violence that saw hundreds of thousands of Stalin's opponents killed, often to be replaced by ambitious loyalists.[63] By this time, Marxism–Leninism was seen as the definitive implementation of communism by most communists globally, justifying the Great Purge as an effort to eradicate fascist infiltrators, with state censorship obscuring the Great Purge's extent.[64]

Anarcho-syndicalism was developed as a form of anarchism in the late 19th century, and it grew popular around 1900. It remained relevant in far-left politics through 1940.[28] During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, anarcho-syndicalists seized control of multiple regions in Spain, but this ended when the nationalist faction won the war.[65] This, along with the rise of communism, ended the relevance of anarchism among the far-left globally after 1940.[66] As mass production became more common, the traditional style of labor that anarcho-syndicalists objected to ceased to exist, preventing any significant resurgence in the movement.[67]

Cold War

The Soviet Union's influence during and after World War II spread communism, directly and indirectly, to the rest of Eastern Europe and into Southeast Europe. New communist governments were formed in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia.[68] The onset of the Cold War brought an end to communism's political influence in most of Western Europe,[69] and the development of post-industrial society caused many of the traditional sectors associated with communism to dissipate.[37] Following Stalin's death, the workers of several Eastern European countries staged revolutions against communist rule, which were suppressed by the Soviet military.[70] Many of these countries were led by Stalinist rulers, who were forced out and replaced by the subsequent Soviet government.[71] Yugoslavia distanced itself as a neutral communist nation, aligned with neither the East nor the West.[72]

The New Left developed in Western Europe as an alternative to communism in the 1950s, taking positions on social issues and identity politics.[37] Green politics developed as an offshoot of the New Left, but it was deradicalized by the end of the 20th century and became a centre-left movement.[73] The association of Marxism–Leninism with the Soviet Union also caused Eurocommunism to be developed as a democratic communist movement in Western Europe, but it only briefly saw electoral success in the 1970s.[74] In the Years of Lead in Italy, far-left militants, such as the Red Brigades, justified the usage of political violence as a revolutionary means and defense against far-right terrorism and neo-fascism in Italy.[75]

The Chinese Communist Party had been active since 1921, but it did not seize power in China until its victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.[76] As with the Soviet Union, the newly formed People's Republic of China carried out purges of political enemies, killing millions of land owners. The peasants were not targeted, however, instead using them as a base of political support.[77] In the late 1950s and early 1960s, China under the rule of Mao Zedong distanced itself from the Soviet Union.[78] Maoism then grew in popularity as an alternative to Soviet-style communism.[79] At the same time, North Korea and North Vietnam were established as communist governments, triggering the Korean War and the Vietnam War against South Korea and South Vietnam, respectively.[80] By the late 1970s, Maoism in China was replaced by the ideology of Deng Xiaoping, which restored the private sector and market pricing.[81]

The Cuban Revolution led to Fidel Castro becoming the ruler of Cuba in 1959. Though he was not a communist, he aligned the nation with the communist movement to seek Soviet support.[82] Many other nations adopted socialism distinct from Marxism–Leninism during the Cold War, particularly in Africa and Latin America.[83]

Communism was rapidly replaced between 1979 and 1992, in which eleven of the world's sixteen communist states were disestablished.[84] By the 1980s, the Soviet Union moved away from ideas of international communism as such efforts came to be seen as too inconvenient.[85] By 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had effectively abandoned communism.[81] In Europe, the far-left declined after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and it remained relatively subdued during the 1990s.[30] In many Eastern European countries, communist parties were banned by the new governments.[86] In others such as Moldova, they saw continued electoral success.[87]

21st century

Of the five communist states that survived into the 21st century, three of them — China, Vietnam, and Laos — had restored private ownership and reintegrated with global capitalist markets[84] although state and public control continued as well. For instance, Peter Nolan argues that land in China was decollectivized but not privatized, with control of land remaining in the hands of the community.[88] The Party of the European Left was established in 2004 as a pan-European political party for the far-left.[89] The far-left parties during this time were rarely new creations, instead descending from earlier far-left parties of the 20th century.[90] In 2012, the autonomous region Rojava in northwestern Syria established self-governance based on an anarchist direct democracy at the local level and a one-party state at the regional level.[91]

Emergence and positioning of the populist left

In reaction to the neo-liberal turn of European social-democracy under the Third Way, populist left-wing parties and politicians emerged in the late 2000s and early 2010s as a Eurosceptic, anti-globalist response to the Great Recession. These parties and movements are qualified by various observers as either left-wing,[8] radical-left (between the far-left and social-democracy) or far-left.[30] At the same time, in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, populist movements formed around Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.[8]

While left-wing populist parties were in power in the 2010s, they were often 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.[92][93][94] In Europe, the support for populist left politics comes from three overlapping groups: far-left subcultures, disaffected social democrats, and protest voters—those who are opposed to their country's European Union membership.[95] European populist left politics share many of the values of centre-left politics, including cosmopolitanism, altruism, and egalitarianism.[96] They overlap in some areas with far-right politics concerning radicalism, economic nationalism, Euroscepticism, and populism. Two clear distinctions emerge: first, "education [...] tends to statistically significantly lower chances of voting for radical right but increases the chance of voting radical left"; and second, radical-left voters tend not to share the social nationalism of the radical-right, instead having a socio-tropic, or other-regarding, bias based on the ideological concern for economic egalitarianism.[96] Other characteristics may include anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, opposition to NATO, and in some cases a rejection of European integration.[97]

Far-left terrorism

Many far-left militant organizations were formed by members of existing political parties in the 1960s and 1970s,[98][99][100] among them the CPI (Maoist), Montoneros, New People's Army, Prima Linea, the Red Army Faction, and the Red Brigades.[101][102][100] These groups generally aimed to overthrow capitalism and the wealthy ruling classes.[103][104]

See also


  1. ^ Cosseron 2007, p. 20.
  2. ^ a b Ostrowski, Marius S. (2 January 2023). "The ideological morphology of left–centre–right". Journal of Political Ideologies. 28 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1080/13569317.2022.2163770. ISSN 1356-9317. S2CID 256033370.
  3. ^ Ostrowski, Marius S. (2 January 2023). "The ideological morphology of left–centre–right". Journal of Political Ideologies. 28 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1080/13569317.2022.2163770. ISSN 1356-9317. S2CID 256033370.
  4. ^ Jungkunz, Sebastian (2 January 2019). "Towards a Measurement of Extreme Left-Wing Attitudes". German Politics. 28 (1): 101–122. doi:10.1080/09644008.2018.1484906. ISSN 0964-4008. S2CID 158624439.
  5. ^ Dunphy 2004.
  6. ^ a b March & Mudde 2005.
  7. ^ March 2012b.
  8. ^ a b c Cervera-Marzal, Manuel (2019). "Élections européennes 2019". Le Monde.
  9. ^ March 2011, p. 202.
  10. ^ a b March 2011, p. 10.
  11. ^ March 2011, p. 172.
  12. ^ Marks, Gary; Mbaye, Heather A. D.; Kim, Hyung Min (2009). "Radicalism or Reformism? Socialist Parties before World War I". American Sociological Review. 74 (4): 615–635. doi:10.1177/000312240907400406. ISSN 0003-1224. S2CID 144904504.
  13. ^ Cronin, Shoch & Ross 2011, pp. 1–3.
  14. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 1–2.
  15. ^ van der Linden 2022, p. 3.
  16. ^ Newman 2005, p. 2.
  17. ^ Millard, Gregory; et al. (2021). "1.3.1 Relating Ideologies: The Left-Right Spectrum". In Vézina, Valérie (ed.). Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction. Kwantlen Polytechnic University. ISBN 9781989864241. Retrieved 24 September 2023.  
  18. ^ Smithin, John (2008). Money, Enterprise and Income Distribution: Towards a Macroeconomic Theory of Capitalism. Taylor & Francis. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9781134641871.
  19. ^ March 2011, p. 16.
  20. ^ McIntyre, Richard (2 November 2022). "Democratic Socialism". Rethinking Marxism. 35: 24–35. doi:10.1080/08935696.2022.2127726. ISSN 0893-5696. S2CID 253291157.
  21. ^ March 2011, p. 94.
  22. ^ March 2011, p. 19.
  23. ^ March 2011, p. 18.
  24. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 11.
  25. ^ van der Linden 2022, p. 10.
  26. ^ a b van der Linden 2022, p. 18.
  27. ^ Franks 2013, p. 388.
  28. ^ a b van der Linden 2022, p. 20.
  29. ^ Franks 2013, p. 389.
  30. ^ a b c d Visser, Mark; Lubbers, Marcel; Kraaykamp, Gerbert; Jaspers, Eva (2014). "Support for radical left ideologies in Europe: Support for radical left ideologies in Europe". European Journal of Political Research. 53 (3): 541–558. doi:10.1111/1475-6765.12048. hdl:2066/129529.
  31. ^ van der Linden 2022, p. 24.
  32. ^ March 2011, p. 8.
  33. ^ Safire, William (1978). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 385. ISBN 9780199711116.
  34. ^ Berlet, Chip; Lyons, Matthew N. (2000). Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press. p. 342.
  35. ^ Filipović, Miroslava; Đorić, Marija (2010). "The Left or the Right: Old Paradigms and New Governments". Serbian Political Thought. 2 (1–2): 121–144. doi:10.22182/spt.2122011.8.
  36. ^ Pavlopoulos, Vassilis (20 March 2014). Politics, economics, and the far right in Europe: a social psychological perspective. The Challenge of the Extreme Right in Europe: Past, Present, Future. Birkbeck, University of London.
  37. ^ a b c March 2011, p. 35.
  38. ^ March 2011, pp. 172–173.
  39. ^ a b Brown 2013, p. 364.
  40. ^ a b c Newman 2005, p. 6.
  41. ^ a b Brown 2013, p. 365.
  42. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 7–8.
  43. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 4–5.
  44. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 5–6.
  45. ^ van der Linden 2022, p. 8.
  46. ^ Newman 2005, pp. 7–11.
  47. ^ Newman 2005, p. 8.
  48. ^ a b Brown 2013, p. 366.
  49. ^ Newman 2005, p. 15.
  50. ^ Newman 2005, p. 17.
  51. ^ a b van der Linden 2022, pp. 19–20.
  52. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 9–10.
  53. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 14–17.
  54. ^ March 2011, p. 28.
  55. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 3.
  56. ^ March 2011, p. 33.
  57. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 46–48.
  58. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 51–53.
  59. ^ Brown 2013, p. 372.
  60. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 56.
  61. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 59–61.
  62. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 63–67.
  63. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 71–72.
  64. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 91–92.
  65. ^ van der Linden 2022, p. 23.
  66. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 20, 23.
  67. ^ van der Linden 2022, pp. 23–24.
  68. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 95, 104.
  69. ^ March 2011, p. 41.
  70. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 151.
  71. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 153.
  72. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 154.
  73. ^ March 2011, pp. 37–38.
  74. ^ March 2011, p. 42.
  75. ^ Rossi 2021: "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."
  76. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 117–118.
  77. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 126.
  78. ^ Breslauer 2021, pp. 164–166.
  79. ^ March 2011, p. 36.
  80. ^ Breslauer 2021, p. 135.
  81. ^ a b Brown 2013, p. 381.
  82. ^ Brown 2013, pp. 379–380.
  83. ^ Newman 2005, pp. 4–5.
  84. ^ a b Breslauer 2021, p. 1.
  85. ^ March 2011, p. 149.
  86. ^ March 2011, p. 45.
  87. ^ March 2011, p. 72.
  88. ^ Nolan, Peter (9 December 1995). China's Rise Russia's fall. MACMILLAN PRESS LTD. p. 191. ISBN 0-333-62265-0. Farmland was 'de-collectivised' in the early 1980s. This was not followed by the establishment of private property rights in land. Because the CCP wished to prevent the emergence of a landlord class, it did not permit the purchase and sale of farmland. Still in 1994, the Party 'adhered to the collective ownership of farmland'. The village community remained the owner, controlling the terms on which land was contracted out and operated by peasant households. It endeavoured to ensure that farm households had equal access to farmland, while the village government obtained part of the Ricardian rents from the land to use for community purposes. The Chinese government, through the communist party remained substantially in control of the de-collectivisation of farmland. Farmland was not distributed via a free market auction, which would have helped to produce a locally unequal outcome. Rather the massively dominant form was distribution of land contracts on a locally equal per capita basis
  89. ^ March 2011, p. 162.
  90. ^ March 2011, p. 24.
  91. ^ van der Linden 2022, p. 25.
  92. ^ Chiocchetti 2016, "Filling the vacuum? The trajectory of the contemporary radical left in Western Europe".
  93. ^ Mudde 2016.
  94. ^ Katsourides 2020.
  95. ^ Smaldone 2013, p. 304.
  96. ^ a b Rooduijn, Matthijs; Burgoon, Brian; van Elsas, Erika J; van de Werfhorst, Herman G (2017). "Radical distinction: Support for radical left and radical right parties in Europe". European Union Politics. 18 (4): 536–559. doi:10.1177/1465116517718091. ISSN 1465-1165. PMC 5697563. PMID 29187802. The radicalisms of both left and right share concerns about the European Union, but they yield diametrically opposed attitudes about immigration—where the radical left shows marked signs of cosmopolitanism and the radical right clear nativism.
  97. ^ Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, p. 46.
  98. ^ Pedahzur, Perliger & Weinberg 2009, p. 53.
  99. ^ Balz 2015, pp. 297–314.
  100. ^ a b Clark 2018, pp. 30–42, 48–59.
  101. ^ Raufer 1993.
  102. ^ Chaliand 2010, pp. 227–257.
  103. ^ 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."
  104. ^ CISAC 2008: "The PL [Prima Linea] sought to overthrow the capitalist state in Italy and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat."


Further reading

Radical left parties case studies

Radical left and radical right