There is no such thing as the ‘alt left’

Earlier in the week, a journalist at the ABC asked me some questions about whether there was such a thing as the ‘alt left’ and the possibility of left-wing violence in the twenty first century. I responded, but in the article published, there were no quotes from me. As the article has attracted significant criticism online, I thought I would quickly post my original comments (only with a slight edit). 

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The term ‘alt right’ was first used as a branding tool by those on the populist and far right, who wished to do away with the connotations with traditional far right politics and white supremacism. It is often used nowadays to describe the various groups and individuals who inhabit the space between hard right conservatism and the organised far right (primarily in North America), with a lot of crossover with what some people have described as right-wing populism.

Some have proposed that a left-wing populism is necessary to counter right-wing populism, but the term ‘alt left’ has not been a popular term and it is not a very useful one. Some on the American left, particularly around certain podcasts, have described themselves as the ‘dirtbag left’, which has been used to identify a ‘non-PC’ left – although this is a mixture of left contrarianism and class reductionism (seeing class as the most important form of oppression to the detriment of any other struggles against oppression). It is unclear how far this concept has permeated into the organised left in North America, such as around the Democratic Socialists of America – although the self-described ‘dirtbag left’ have championed the DSA in the past.

Some others have used the term ‘alt left’ to describe websites that support Jeremy Corbyn, such as The Canary or Skwawkbox in the UK, but I also don’t find this useful. Left populist might be a better term.

The far left has traditionally been organised around distinct political parties or entrist groups inside parties such as the Labour Party in Britain. The decline of the organised left outside the Labour Party, particularly in Britain, has meant that there are more independent leftists inside Labour nowadays, although these activists should not be labeled ‘alt left’.

The number of left-wing organisations involved in explicit political violence in the Western world have been minimal. The Weather Underground in the US, the Red Army Fraction in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy captured the headlines in the 1970s, but they were always on the fringes of the left.

Other leftists have been involved in direct physical action over the years, such as militant anti-fascism, but this has primarily been a self-defence measure against racist, fascist and state violence. Destruction of property at demonstrations, such as those committed by some anarchists, has been sensationalised in the media over the years, but is also a minor part of left-wing activism in most Western countries.

Far right terrorism and political violence is far more prevalent and dangerous than any militant left-wing activism. The right have attempted to portray ‘antifa’ as a violent and organised left-wing movement, but antifa is a broad term used to describe various and often unconnected people involved in anti-fascist activism. The supposed ‘extremism’ of antifa is a moral panic stirred up by the right and perpetuated by conservative media.

I would like to return to this topic in the near future, but due to time constraints, this will do for now. 

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