left wing extremism
Marxism and the Capitalist System
Up until the early 19th century, most people in Europe were not living in large cities but were working for small family-owned businesses like farms or cobbler’s shops. From the mid-19th century on, inventions like the steam engine drastically changed the daily life of people by allowing for the transport of people and material by steam locomotives (boats). This ‘industrial revolution’ also saw the mass-production of goods with the help of machines like the assembly belt. People left their small businesses behind and flocked into the cities. The economic boom resulting from the advancement in technologies was enormous and entrepreneurs built giant factories. Although the new factories produced new jobs, the stream of people coming from rural areas to the cities was so large that the factory owners could very freely choose and replace their workers. This made it so that workers were less likely to complain or go on strike because the risks were much higher. Life in cities like London was terrible for the workers: the air was so heavy with coal dust that the walls of houses turned black, multiple families shared a single apartment, and even children were forced to do manual labor.
Karl Marx, a German law student, observed the situation of the working families and the society they lived in. In his eyes the society was made up of two types of people. On the one hand, there were the workers: they were using their bodies to work for somebody who paid them in return. And then there were the bosses: those who had people work for them and they paid them. Marx called the two groups “classes”. He referred to the working class as the “proletariat” and called the class of bosses the “bourgeoisie.”
According to Marx, those who owned the factories did not lift a finger and still got richer and richer while those working in the factories worked themselves to death and stayed poor. Marx called this system a “capitalist society.” But Marx did see a way out for the suppressed workers: At some point some workers would find a way to educate themselves. They would realize the systematic exploitation and would start and lead workers’ protests. Marx anticipated the bourgeoisie would try to suppress these uprisings. Therefore, there would be a conflict between the two classes (groups of people) which Marx called the “class struggle.”
Marx believed the ultimate outcome would be the triumph of the proletariat (the working people) because they greatly outnumbered the bourgeoisie (factory owners) and could have a large violent rebellion, he thought this to be inevitable. Marx said the workers’ goal was this: A classless, moneyless, and stateless society. He called this ideal society the “communist society”. In many ways, he depicted this society to be the optimal society, or a utopian society.
But did Marx’s theory (which later became an ideology) have any realistic benefits? What happens if everyone shares everything? If no one could have more than his neighbor? Would this be beneficial?
What does this have to do with Left Wing Terrorism Today?
Many radical left wing groups today have ideologies that are founded in socialism, anarchism, or communism: all aspects of Marx’s teachings in some way. Left wing groups are different from most other types of terrorist organizations in the sense that their ideology does not surround religion, or involve religion to any extent for
that matter. Jihadist groups have ideologies founded in radical Islam, and many right wing organizations have some association with Christianity.
The left wing terrorist groups are often a reflection of the current political climate, meaning, a group of people generally becomes unhappy with the political culture of their country (deeming it too right wing or fascist) and they call for the whole of society to rise up and stop it. The rising up of all of society is very important for the left. Not only does it show its historical roots in Marxism, but it also does not ‘discriminate’ as some groups may. The only requirement for joining their movement is willingness to follow their left wing ideology or to hold their political values.
The Antifascist movement has its roots as a ‘counter fascism’ movement that began in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Germany. Their goals were to counter fascist behavior in Germany at the time.
Fascism is a bit of a confusing term, largely because the exact definition is not agreed upon, but simply put, fascism describes a type of government where the leader acts in a very authoritarian/ dictator like manner. They will also try to control the industrial and economic systems of their country. Examples include: Nazi Germany under Hitler (1933- 1945), and Italy under Mussolini (1922- 1943).
Antifascism was born out of a dislike for the growing adoption and forced implementation of the Nazi ideology.
On April 23rd, 1925, the movement committed what was likely one of their first terrorist attacks. A political fascist group was meeting in Paris one evening. A group of communists smashed out the lights of the buildings around them. They did so to allow them to hide unseen in the shadows. When the fascist group finished their meeting, they left their building to an ensuing riot outside. The communist group attacked, shooting and killing four of the fascist party while injuring an additional thirty. If you are wondering why this would not just be labeled as ‘gang violence,’ or something similar, it is because it was one political group attacking another.
Although their true motivations are unclear, it seems that the group aimed to promote their own ideology through violence, which makes it terrorism.
Antifa is the modern group that was born out of the historical movement which was explained earlier. Although Antifa has taken on many forms over the past century, today’s version has proven to be very violent and threatening to American society.
The group views their role as one of the ‘protector.’ They believe that ‘alt right’ messages of hate need to be stopped. They do this by attending conservative and alt right rallies and becoming extremely disruptive. Although most Americans do not agree with the messages of most ‘alt right’ groups (KKK, white nationalists, etc.), Antifa takes their disdain to another level by openly confronting these groups in public in often violent ways. Antifa’s leaders have called for violence to stop conservative and alt right groups from convening. Tactics they use include: burning cars, destroying buildings, attacking opposing protestors, and even using weapons to disarm their opponents. Although Antifa does have vocal leaders, unlike most terrorist groups they do not seem to have a clear hierarchy, and individuals within the movement will call for people to meet at rallies.
What do you think the difference is between a hierarchy and having community organizers? Why may Antifa choose not to have clear leaders or a hierarchy?
The Weather Underground was a left wing terrorist group born out of the leadership of the Student’s for a Democratic Society organization, in 1969. The Weatherman felt certain that the war in Vietnam at the time was wrong, that black people were being oppressed, and that they needed to take action against the United States government to put an end to these injustices.
They became more and more radical when they felt no action was being taken by the government, until finally they decided that violence was the only way to change society and the government. Their goal was to overthrow the government through violent revolution. At first it did not matter to them if people got hurt, so they organized what was supposed to be an enormous, violent protest with hundreds of people, known as the “Days of Rage” in Chicago in October of 1969. The violent protests only drew around 200 people and were met with hundreds of police officers, tear gas, and barricades.
The group bombed around 24 targets in the 1970’s from the Capitol Building, to the Pentagon, to the New York City Police Department. All the while never harming or killing anyone. In the late 1970s the group began to deteriorate and many members turned themselves in to the authorities. Many of the members of the Weather Underground rejoined society and left their radical and violent beliefs behind. Today, a part of the group and ideology survives as the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, which calls for an end to all forms of oppression and injustice like racism and sexism.