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radical left

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noun

the faction representing extreme left-wing political views, often Marxist or Maoist in ideology.

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Origin of radical left

First recorded in 1965–70
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does radical left mean?

Radical left is a term that refers collectively to people who hold left-wing political views that are considered extreme, such as supporting or working to establish communism, Marxism, Maoism, socialism, anarchism, or other forms of anticapitalism. The radical left is sometimes called the far left.

The term does not refer to any official political party or coalition of people, and it can encompass a broad range of political beliefs. Whether someone is considered a member of the radical left depends on who’s using the term and for what purpose.

The word left is used in politics to refer to liberal or left-wing political views and collectively to the people who hold such views. Members of the left wing are generally thought to be those who support measures of progressive political reform, especially to address what they see as widespread social inequality, such as through the institution of federal social welfare programs.

Read our article to learn more about why left means liberal and right means conservative!

In the term radical left, the word radical is used to mean extreme in the sense of holding extreme political views. Members of the radical left are thought to support or actively work for more extreme reforms or even revolution to fundamentally change or overthrow the existing political and economic systems.

Someone considered a member of the radical left can be called a radical leftist. The word leftist is often used by itself to mean the same thing—someone with more extreme political beliefs than someone considered a liberal (though the terms leftist and liberal are often used interchangeably). It’s more likely for someone to apply the label leftist to themselves than radical leftist.

That’s because radical left and radical leftist are often used in a disparaging way by those with right-wing views to criticize members of the left wing and their positions. The terms are especially used in this way to exaggerate such views by making them seem more extreme or dangerous.

Still, some people identify as members of the radical left or as radical leftists, especially as a way to highlight their opposition to right-wing politics.

Radical left can also be used as an adjective to refer to things related to this group, as in radical left ideology.

What about the radical right?

On the opposite side of the political spectrum from the radical left is the radical right, which is more commonly called the far right. These terms refer collectively to people who hold extreme right-wing political views, such as supporting authoritarianism, fascism, or white supremacy. Members of the right or right wing are those who are considered conservative—meaning they oppose widespread change or reform and support preserving existing conditions and institutions or restoring traditional ones. Members of the right wing typically support free enterprise and oppose strong regulation and federal involvement in promoting social welfare. Someone considered a member of the radical right may be called an ultraconservative, or, more pejoratively, an extreme right-winger.

The term radical left is used more commonly than radical right.

Example: Trying to portray his opponent’s views as extreme, the senator dismissed her as a member of the radical left. She responded by saying that if being a radical leftist means you want people to have equal human rights, then she must be one.

Where does radical left come from?

The term radical left has been used since at least the 1870s. Use of the word left in reference to liberal politics dates back to the late 1700s. This sense of left originated in the seating practice of European legislatures, in which members holding liberal views were assigned to the left side.

The term radical left is often used to refer to people who support the kind of politics and beliefs associated with extreme left-wing groups such as the Bolsheviks, the Russian Marxist revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin who overthrew the Russian government in 1917, or the followers of Mao Zedong, who led a communist revolution in China in the mid-1900s. People who identify as communists, socialists, or anarchists are all often considered part of the radical left.

When radical left is used in a critical way, it often implies a link to violent left-wing extremist groups. Sometimes, this is done to make certain left-wing views or proposals seem more extreme or dangerous.

In the U.S., left-wing policies are associated with the Democratic Party (while right-wing policies are associated with the Republican Party). However, people considered part of the radical left are often those who consider mainstream Democratic Party policies too moderate.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to radical left?

  • radical leftist (noun)

What are some synonyms for radical left?

  • far left
  • extreme left wing

What are some words that share a root or word element with radical left

What are some words that often get used in discussing radical left?

How is radical left used in real life?

Radical left is a highly politicized term. It’s often used by those with right-wing views to criticize the left and their positions, especially to exaggerate them or make them seem dangerous. Still, some people proudly identify as members of the radical left.

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