Violent extremist tactics and the ideology of the far left

Allington, Daniel; McAndrew, Siobhan and Hirsh, David. 2019. Violent extremist tactics and the ideology of the far left. Technical Report. Commission for Countering Extremism, London. [Report]

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Abstract or Description

This study addresses the question of whether a relationship exists between sympathy for violent extremism and openness to ideological positions associated with the revolutionary far left. We begin by analysing the characteristics of British far-left sectarian groups: that is, small, ideologically homogeneous organisations, each of which rejects parliamentary politics as a route to socialism and instead aspires to become the ‘vanguard party’ of Leninist revolutionary theory. We distinguish the members of such groups from members of the public who identify as ‘very left-wing’. We then develop a survey instrument derived from publications by sectarian far-left groups and pilot it on a stratified random sample of the selfidentified ‘very left-wing’ (N = 1073). The data collected is then re-used as a boost sample for a nationally-representative sample of the British public (N = 3823). Using these data, we test the hypothesis of a positive association between the belief system disseminated by the sectarian far left – which we term ‘revolutionary workerism’ – and sympathy with violent extremist tactics. We find a relationship which is highly significant in both statistical and substantive terms: those who express strong agreement with revolutionary workerist ideas are far more likely to express sympathy with violent extremist tactics than those who express strong disagreement. We also find a positive relationship between sympathy for violent extremism and a geopolitical outlook resembling the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideology promoted by the sectarian far left, in that those who see the US and the UK (and, among the ‘very leftwing’, also Israel) as a greater threat to world peace than NATO strategic adversaries such as North Korea tend to be more sympathetic to violent extremism than those who do not.

Item Type:

Report (Technical Report)

Additional Information:

The fieldwork for this study was funded with a grant from the UK Commission for Countering Extremism, which also arranged for independent expert peer review of the research and for online publication of the current document. The Commission had no role in the design and conduct of the research.


Extremism, commission, far left, sectarian left, violence

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19 July 2019

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Date Deposited:

05 Aug 2019 09:22

Last Modified:

13 Jun 2021 11:38


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