Right versus Left Political Violence: an Anarchist perspective

Dr. Angelos Kaskanis
Dr. Angelos Kaskanis

Project Manager - Tactics Institute

Over the last year, extremist organisations exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to spread radical discourse across Europe, according to EUROPOL’s TESAT report released on Tuesday, June 22. Such political groups pose a significant threat and, despite their diverging agendas, extreme left-wing and right-wing political groups articulate an anti-systemic political language that condones violence as the ultimate and unavoidable means to an end.

As the chief of the EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), Catherine De Bolle, warned back in February “Extremist groups, left-wing and right-wing, are taking advantage of the vulnerability created by the pandemic in Europe to spread their message of hate on social networks and the internet”.

An old standing Legacy of Right-Wing Extremism

Last year, the Hanau shootings shocked German society. Driven by hate for non-Germans that was articulared in social media and in public, Tobias Rathjen shot dead nine people, and killed his mother before taking his own life.

Right-wing extremist discourse currenctly echoes Jihadist tactics, laying the foundations for ‘leaderless resistance’ by people who serve and are inspired by the struggle of a bigger case. Lone wolf attacks in general are a rising trend, although there are differences in the modus operanti of the far-right and Jihadi individuals: far-right ideologues are more immersed in a militarised ideology and will often have access to arms.

Measured by  volume alone, Germany and Italy lead in far-right extremism. Despite decades of apparent success in promoting democratic political norms through schools and constitutional prohibitions, nativist and xenophobic values are inspiring a new generation of right-wing violent terrorism in the former Axis powers. However, this kind of violence is common across a number of European states, directed primarily against foreigners, Muslims, and Jews.

The dividing line between older and newer generations of extremists seems to be social media. The Internet has offered the young opportunities for instant communications across borders that their post-World War II grandparents could only dream of. This has given rise to a transnational Euro-American radical right that evokes similar historical memories of racial purity and idealised monoculturalism, as well as a vision of struggle for its restoration that is inspired by Nazism and Fascism.

For the past decade, the Polish state has an had ambivelent relationship with paramilitary far-right nationalist groups and this year’s appointment of Tomasz Greniuch, a far-right activist, to lead the Wrocław branch of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) suggests that the fringes are becoming maintream.

Left-Wing Extremism in Europe is made in the Mediterranean

Left-wing and “anarchist” terrorism are also highlighted in the exhaustive Europol report, suggesting that Greece, Italy, and Spain continue to be the epicentres for attacks carried out by left-wing urban warfare groups. Italy reported 24 left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks while 52 people were detained. Greece and Spain reported only a few cases comparing to 2018 and 2019 but EUROPOL’s report underlines that there is considerable transnational cooperation and support between groups.

Tactics Institute discussed the matter with Mr. Dimitrios Tsoutsoulopoulos, a historian and a researcher of Contemporary Anarchist Studies. Mr. Tsoutsoulopoulos is a vocal critic of EU fiscal policies that he believes have fuelled anti-systemic discourse in the Mediterranean, evoking deep roots that predate the Second World War.

AK: Taking into consideration EUROPOL’s recent findings do you believe there is indeed international cooperation between the anarchist groups of the region?

DT: I believe the communication between such groups is mostly articulated in ideological terms or through the extension of solidarity in various forms. I would not say that there is a collective plan, but there is an understanding between them. The groups are lacking an administrative core, a leader that takes decisions. There is a cooperation and coordination issue: 200 Greeks cannot organise something with 500 Italians. Those groups are geographically and ideologically close but such cooperation rarely happens. Less so with Spanish groups that have a completely different agenda dominated by {ethnically} separatist ideology.

AK: However, this continuity of action does require a causal factor, an inerconnection or at least “a level of understanding” as you say.

DT: There is currently a common agenda of more “soft” policies. Left groups today are described more like activists. They fight for the rights of specific social groups: the LGBTQI+, civil liberties, minorities, immigrants, and environmental issues. Ecology is leadinng the way and I would say that deforestation is the no.1 issue on everyone’s agenda, followed by sea pollution and the fight against capitalism. Through the environment, the “fight against” international organizations, big corporations, and generally the system is a logical conclusion.

AK: So today, left extremism is more willing to be “systemic” than it was 30-40 years ago, when left groups were more  anti-systemically active?

DT: Yes, I would say that there is an alienation of anarchism today, compared to what it was 30-40 years ago. We saw leftist groups that fought against Franco in Spain and were the drivers of May 1968 in France. Those were two historical points that paved the way for the formation of IRA, ETA, Baader–Meinhof, Brigate Rosse, etc.

Those groups, despite their modus operandi, the shootings, the bombings, and the assassinations had mass appeal to the public. They would attack international organizations, bankers, corporate alliances, and embassies. Those anarchists as they described themselves, could run for the parliament and get elected. They were what we call anti-systemic superstars.

Today we only witness groups that mimic the history of those groups. A broken camera, a burnt car, a broken glass wall, or burnt garbage. What  does that change? Who is being “hurt” in any way? At the end of the day, this is of benefit for the system, as it retains the idea that there is an invisible enemy in-between us. But this is little more than an urban war of leaflets.

AK: Are there any similarities between left and right-wing extremism?

DT: In terms of what is strengthening the groups, the political agendas have some common denominators. Both sides highlight unemployment, the poor south to the rich north of Europe, refugees, and generally a non-ending fight against the systemic political structure. What differs is what they are fighting for.

Right extremism attacks the weak, the refugees, the common worker, the social minority, the person that tries to identify his/her role in society. Left groups oppose oppression and will use violence against the system and security forces to protect the environment and civil society groups and movements.

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