Conspiracy 101: The Rise Of The “Radical Left”

It’s a term that we’re hearing often from right-wing politicians but what does it mean and do the radical left even exist?

Silhouette of a crowd with people waving flags by Freepik.com
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This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Conspiracy 101

Politics across most of the world is split into “Left” and “Right” wings, with the right being on a more conservative footing and the left being (depending on your country) a more socialist/liberal one[1]Diffen: Left Wing vs. Right Wing.

Of course, most things in life are rarely a simple black and white choice and as a result there are lots of nuances when it comes to left versus right wing politics.

If you look at the political scene in the US and the UK for example, you might think that the Republican Party in the US and the Conservative Party in the UK are on the same political footing, and that the Democrats are the US version of the UK Labour Party but that is an extremely limited view of party structure and beliefs.

In this article, even though I am English, we’ll be looking at the “Radical Left” through the lens of US politics as the phrase is used regularly in speeches by right-wing politicians there (although it’s slowly creeping into use in the UK).

In US politics, both parties are right of centre when it comes to political views although the Democrats are more left-leaning on many social issues when compared to their Republican counterparts[2]Charts of the day: Here’s a partisan history of the culture wars since 2000.

Even though they are technically on the same side of the political spectrum, there are some major differences in their political beliefs.

Republican Versus Democrats

This is just a broad overview of the US Republican party’s political beliefs and it will, of course vary on a person-to-person, politician-to-politician basis.

In general, Republicans[3]EnkiVillage: Republicans vs. Democrats: What’s the Difference?:

  • Favour lower taxes (mainly for higher earners) or a flat rate of tax for all
  • Think wages should be set by the free market (i.e no mandated minimum wage)
  • Think there should be less Federal government oversight and the States should be able to set their own laws
  • Favour rolling back abortion rights
  • Oppose gay marriage
  • Oppose universal healthcare believing private companies should supply it
  • Are anti-immigration
  • Are pro voter ID
  • Are pro gun ownership
  • Are pro large military/police spending budgets
  • Less funding for social care (welfare,unemployment, food stamps etc.) as they believe private companies can provide these services.
  • Favour the expansion of oil/gas fields even at the expense of the environment
  • Think student loans should be provided by the private sector and not the Government
  • Favour harsher penalties for crime and are pro-capital punishment
  • Prefer personal responsibility rather than legislation when it comes to individual liberty

There’s a bit of a theme that private companies should provide a lot of services rather than the Federal government when it comes to Republican ideology.

The Democrats tend to have the opposite of these views thinking that the Government has a responsibility to provide for the people, especially when it comes to things like healthcare and unemployment benefits.

What Is A Political Spectrum Anyway?

Before we get into the “Radical Left” breakdown, it’s important to understand how the political spectrum works[4]YouGov: Left-wing vs right-wing: it’s complicated.

On the spectrum you have at the far and most traditionally “radical” left, Communism and at the most traditionally radical right you have Fascism.

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I’m not going to get into the breakdown of each of these political ideologies as that’s beyond the scope of this article, but what is important is that roughly around the middle of these opposite political ideologies is a “Centrist” view – a political middle ground, and to the left and right of this centre line are varying degrees of liberal/socialism and conservatism.

In the graphic below I’ve created a very basic overview of where various political parties in different countries sit in this left/right spectrum.

Note that this isn’t based on any empirical data, polling or stats, just what I’ve researched about each country’s parties, their policies and how they identify themselves. If you know of a better breakdown, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll update this article

Simplified view of the political spectrum from left to right wing
Simplified view of the political spectrum from left to right wing

So from the above we can see that the Republican Party is more right wing, leaning towards authoritarianism and the Democratic Party, while still right wing, are more centre-leaning.

You’ll also see above that the Democrats are more closely aligned with the UK Conservative Party and I thought it important to point out that in the UK while the Conservatives are considered a right wing political party, they are surprisingly not as right wing as the Republicans as they still support gay marriage, abortion rights and universal healthcare (although these are all being chipped away at by true right-wing members of the party so this stance may change in the next few years).

So, if both parties are on the right side of the political spectrum, where does the “Radical Left” come into it?

The History Of Right Versus Left Politics

You might be surprised to know that the term “radical left” is not a new political catchphrase invented by a spray-tanned former reality TV host-turned-President. It actually dates back to 1789 and the French Revolution[5]History: Where Did the Terms ‘Left Wing’ and ‘Right Wing’ Come From?.

After the Revolution, France and its politicians were deeply divided on how the country should be run and how much power King Louis XVI should wield.

Previously politicians would sit anywhere in the assembly hall but as the debate wore on and the pro/anti monarchy sentiments started to grow more tense the sides split into two distinct areas in the meeting hall with the anti-monarchists sitting on the presiding officer’s left, and the traditional, conservative royalists sitting to his right.

And so began the “left” and “right” wings of politics.

But this is hardly radical, is it? I mean it’s just people with differing views sitting on two different sides of a debating chamber.

So how did this term find its way into American politics?

The Rise Of “Radical” Political Ideas

Left and Right first started to appear in the American political vernacular in the 1920s[6]Time: What to Know About the Origins of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in Politics, From the French Revolution to the 2020 Presidential Race and at this time (post World War I and pre-World War II) there was an influx of socialists and communists into the United States.

During the 1930s, the US Government, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, became more liberal and introduced a regulatory Federal state that included a massive infrastructure project (“The New Deal”[7]VCU Libraries: President Roosevelt’s New Deal) and created the welfare system[8]Providence: Franklin Roosevelt and the Heart of Liberalism. This new style of government meshed the public and private sectors together in a way not seen before in modern American society.

This harmony didn’t last for long however and after the end of World War II (and the start of the subsequent “Cold” War) anything left-leaning (meaning liberal or socialist) was seen to be a form of communism and therefore a threat to the “American Dream[9]History Skills: Atomic fears and communist threats: The United States in the grip of the Second Red Scare”.

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America’s fear of communism, an ideology that’s essentially the antithesis of the capitalist American Dream[10]The Classroom: What Are the Causes of Fear of Communism in the US?, has meant that anything that’s left-wing or could be seen as socially progressive was now a “radical” concept that was at odds with the American way of life.

Left-leaning socialist ideologies such as universal healthcare undermine the private sector’s ability to profit from providing medical care, medical insurance companies will no longer profit from people paying premiums and pharmaceutical companies will no longer be able to charge extortionate sums of money for live saving medication as socialist values undermine capitalistic ones.

Socialism also means that a bigger government is needed to oversee these welfare programs and this goes against the right-wing view that individuals should have greater personal liberty[11]Michigan Daily: The hypocrisy of “small government” Republicans and there to be less government regulation.

What Is The Real Radical Left?

In true political terms, radical left politics is a form of socialism where the state provides for its citizens, owns the means of production for the majority of goods and services and distributes any profits from the sale of these goods of services back to the people[12]ThoughtCo: What Is Socialism? Definition and Examples (I’ll be covering Marxism in another article to explain what this means).

That’s obviously a very simplified view and one that can’t really work in a capitalist society but there are compromises to be had such as state-owned railway networks, broadband and phone infrastructure and healthcare which means that everyone has equal access to resources irrespective of their economic or immigration status.

To the American Republican party though that’s a radical concept which is why anything that is to the left of their political ideology is termed the “radical left”.

Republicans believe that private enterprise should be the ones to provide these services, not the Federal Government – and I am sure it has nothing to do with that fact that Republican candidates receive millions of dollars in donations from big business, nothing at all, right?

If a right-wing political figure was to use the term “left-wing” in a speech people probably wouldn’t take much notice but if they say “radical left-wing” what does that conjure up? Something sinister, something out to infringe on the American way of life by subverting the very essence of the American Dream.

Thanks to the Red Scare and McCarthyism in the 1950s[13]History: Senator Joseph McCarthy charges communists are in the CIA, fear of communism and therefore radical left political ideologies became engrained in American culture.

Even though McCarthy largely made up his communist infiltration plot American culture shifted towards an anti-left mentality and this sentiment still remains over 70 years later.

McCarthyism is something for another article but if you’re interested in learning more about what was essentially a witch hunt (who do we hear that from quite often I wonder) on McCarthy’s part I highly recommend the podcast series “American Scandal: The Red Scare” from Wondery which explains in detail what a fraud McCarthy really was.

It doesn’t matter if the ideas that the opponent has are even radical or not, if it doesn’t match the Republican ideology that we looked at above then it’s “radical” even if it’s considered standard in other countries, just using the phrase can stir up the necessary fear in your voter base.

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Does The Radical Left Really Exist?

In terms of American politics (and most Western politics)? The short answer is “no”.

“Radical Left” is often conjoined with other scary sounding terms like “Marxist”, “communist”, “anarchist” and “ANTIFA” (something I’ll be writing about soon) in order to make this enemy seem even bigger and scarier that it really is.

A “radical left Marxist ANTIFA anarchist” group doesn’t exist in US politics.

But it sounds scary and makes for one heck of a soundbite.

Then-President Donald Trump’s July 4th Speech, 2020 – watch on YouTube

Fear is a huge driving factor when it comes to getting votes[14]American Psychological Association: Fear: A powerful motivator in elections and what better way to get people to vote for you than to demonise the other side by making them out to be a “radical” group that’s coming for you, your family and your way of life?

“Radical left” is a catchphrase that right-wing politicians have hopped on the bandwagon of in order to drum their base into a frenzy and get them to vote.

It doesn’t mean anything and has no basis in political reality but it makes for a simple catch-all term for anyone not like “them”.

No doubt it will be replaced by something just as equally scary-sounding in the near future as people become desensitised to it or, hopefully, realise it’s a hollow term.

What will be the next iteration of “radical”? Let me know in the comments below!

This article is part of a series taking a look at the world of conspiracy theories, modern ideology and rhetoric. If you’d like to know when a new instalment is published, please follow Politically Inclined on Twitter or follow my personal accounts on Threads or BlueSky

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