Far-left politics, also known as the radical left or 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, coherent 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 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 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 like political scientist Serge Cosseron limit the scope to the left of the French Communist Party.[1]

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.[2] 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,[3] or as defending the social democratic tradition that is perceived to have been lost.[4]

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,[5] while the latter denounces liberal democracy as a "compromise with bourgeois political forces" and defines capitalism more strictly.[2] Far-left politics is seen as radical politics because it calls for fundamental change to the capitalist socio-economic structure of society.[6]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] To distinguish the far left from the moderate left, Luke March and Cas Mudde identify three useful criteria:[9][10]

Other scholars classify the far left under the category of populist socialist parties.[13] 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.[12]

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.[14] 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.[15]

According to political scientist Paolo Chiocchetti, radical left parties have failed to concretize an alternative to neoliberalism and lead a paradigm shift towards a different path of development model, despite electoral gains in the 2010s;[16] 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.[17] This view is also shared by Mudde,[18] as well as political scientist Yiannos Katsourides, in regards to SYRIZA.[19] Historian Gary Gerstle writes that in the neoliberal era, with the Fall of Communism, the globalization of capitalism, and the end of any imperative for compromise between the capitalist class and the workers in the Western world, the far left has been rendered largely powerless and no longer feared by ruling elites.[20]

Far-left militants and terrorism

Further information: Left-wing terrorism

Many far-left militant organizations were formed by members of existing political parties in the 1960s and 1970s,[21][22][23] among them the CPI (Maoist), Montoneros, New People's Army, Prima Linea, the Red Army Faction, and the Red Brigades.[24][25][23] These groups generally aimed to overthrow capitalism and the wealthy ruling classes.[26][27] In the Years of Lead in Italy, far-left militants justified the usage of political violence as a revolutionary means and defense against far-right terrorism and neo-fascism in Italy.[28]

Relation to right-wing politics

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.[29] This theory has received criticism,[30][31][32] including the argument that it has been centrists who have supported far-right and fascist regimes over socialist ones.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Cosseron 2007, p. 20.
  2. ^ a b March & Mudde 2005.
  3. ^ Liebman & Miliband 1985.
  4. ^ 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."
  5. ^ Dunphy 2004.
  6. ^ a b March 2012b.
  7. ^ Holzer & Mareš 2016, p. 57.
  8. ^ Smaldone 2013, p. 304.
  9. ^ March & Mudde 2005, p. 25.
  10. ^ Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, pp. 45–46.
  11. ^ a b Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, p. 45.
  12. ^ a b Hloušek & Kopeček 2010, p. 46.
  13. ^ Katsambekis & Kioupkiolis 2019, p. 82.
  14. ^ March 2008, p. 3.
  15. ^ March 2012a, p. 1724.
  16. ^ Chiocchetti 2016, pp. 1–6.
  17. ^ Chiocchetti 2016, "Filling the vacuum? The trajectory of the contemporary radical left in Western Europe".
  18. ^ Mudde 2016.
  19. ^ Katsourides 2020.
  20. ^ Gerstle 2022, pp. 11–12.
  21. ^ Pedahzur, Perliger & Weinberg 2009, p. 53.
  22. ^ Balz 2015, pp. 297–314.
  23. ^ a b Clark 2018, pp. 30–42, 48–59.
  24. ^ Raufer 1993.
  25. ^ Chaliand 2010, pp. 227–257.
  26. ^ 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."
  27. ^ CISAC 2008: "The PL [Prima Linea] sought to overthrow the capitalist state in Italy and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat."
  28. ^ 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."
  29. ^ Safire, William (1978). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 385. ISBN 9780199711116.
  30. ^ Berlet, Chip; Lyons, Matthew N. (2000). Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press. p. 342.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ 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.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  33. ^ Choat, Simon (12 May 2017). "Horseshoe theory' is nonsense – the far right and far left have little in common". The Conversation. Retrieved 10 June 2020.


Further reading


Radical left parties case studies

Radical left and radical right