Drivers of Far-Left Extremism: a Systematic Review on Current International Scientific Literature

di Francesco Antonelli, Santina Musolino e Valeria Rosato

In the 1960s and 1970s, far-left terrorism was one of the main threats to democracy in Europe. Therefore, one can say that the whole “classic” theory on terrorism and political violence was established having far-right terrorism as a reference point. Broadly speaking, two classic perspectives can be identified: on the one hand, a standpoint centred on the importance of ideology, a sort of secular religion, as the main driver of far-left radicalisation and, more generally, of each kind of radicalisation (e.g. Voegelin 1939; Bracher 1984; Pellicani 2012; Orsini 2009). On the other hand, a perspective focused on the relationship between social movements, political systems and terrorism that considers the latter to be the result of the “poor functioning” of the other two (e.g. Della Porta 1995; 2013). Nowadays, in a time of international Jihadism and the spread of far-right nativism, how is the state of the art of the scientific research on far-left extremism and terrorism, given their partial decline?


The purpose of this paper is to examine systematically current scientific international literature on far-left extremism with three analytic aims: first, to identify the main trends within the current scientific debate about such political extremism; second, to focus our attention on gender and youth; third, to develop a “gap analysis”. According to current scientific literature, far-left groups are characterised by the widespread use of the Internet for both propaganda and mobilisation purposes as well as fighting tactics through an increase in cyberattacks that has been matched by a decrease in physical violence. Manifestations of physical violence are in fact limited and often take place in the form of sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare. On the contrary, within this literature, a fundamental under-researched aspect concerns the link between local and global dimensions in explaining new forms of social and political conflict that characterise European societies, as left-wing extremism is.

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