Back in the early 1930s, the economical crisis lead to huge increase of extreme-right and extreme-left parties all over countries which were victims of the crisis.

Today following the 2008 crisis a similar situation happens, however only the extreme-right is rising, and the extreme-left is stagnating and extremely marginal. The only counter-example might be Greece but it's an isolated case.

By "extreme-right" and "extreme-left" I do mean parties that are considered by the regular media to be such a party. I know those labels are terrible and do not mean a thing - especially not in an international context - however I do not have any other alternative as what the media uses.

If a party refuses to be called "extremist", this does not count. If a left-wing supporter calls a moderate right-wing supporter "extremist", or the other way around, just to feed their own propaganda, this does not count either.


3 Answers 3


Apart from the discussions in the comments about what constitutes an extreme-left party and what does not, I think this is a very complex question.

Extreme left?

As usual the right-left separation, which is very popular in the media, is, to say the least, a very unsatisfactory one. It depends on the culture of each country, and depends on time. What was seen as left 100 years ago, might be right today, or the other way around.

In many countries, economic-liberals (damn you English, for misusing that word! ;-)) often constitute the centre-right, when conservative take the slightly more right spot (up to extreme-right's door). But economically, they often agree. So why should one be more centre than the other one?

But still, let's roll with it for now.

Where are they?

Well, Syriza took the power in Greece as you mentioned in your question. In Spain, you can look at Podemos, it is a political party which was created two years ago and reached the 3rd spot in the last general election breaking the bi-partism that was in Spain since the change to democracy. Some expect them to get better results in the upcoming re-election.

In Germany, Die Linke is a rather recent party, and in the 2014 European election, they received 7.5 % of the votes, ahead of the right populists Alternative für Deutschland.

In France, the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections showed a spread of far-left parties. So the Front de Gauche was created to present a single candidate for the "left of the left" in the 2012 election. It was partly successful in that, as one candidate was seen as the leader for the extreme left, but two other candidates were also present. Cumulated, they fell short of 13% (11% for the Front de Gauche alone).

And I could go on, but I think it is clear that extreme left parties are there and more or less successful. It should be noted that some left-wing parties tend to take more radical views, moving themselves more to the extreme, like ecologists both in France and Germany.

Why aren't they more successful?

Still, in the time of crisis, people tend to reject ruling parties and favour the extremes. But apart from the Southern countries, we mostly see a rise of the extreme right in Europe. Why that?

  • History. I won't cross that bridge to say that current extreme-right and extreme-left parties are copies of the 1930 parties, but there is a certain inheritance. 1930's extreme-right parties were actually more successful in Europe, as they ruled at least three large western-European countries. However after the second world war, and, in fine, since 1976, few countries were actually ruled by extreme-right parties. One of the reason is that the effective ruling of those parties from the 1930s were perceived as harmful in the post-war Europe. Nazis? But time passed, and the filter of history faded the colour of the time. On the other hand, until 1991, half of Europe was under control of a communist party. It is still very fresh in memory.

  • Economic paradigm. The extreme-left often stem from the conflict of classes. So the working class oppose the bourgeois, asking for a better re-distribution of riches. To keep it simple. That is an effective philosophy in the heavy-manned industries. A lot of people sharing similar work for low wage: they are numerous and all share the same incentive. They can effectively shut down the industry. Clothing industry, metal industry, mines, etc. were often stronghold of radical left. Since the 1970s, the economic paradigm has shifted from secondary to tertiary. Many people work in smaller companies of services, or the larger companies are more separated: the finance department, the engineering department, the service department, etc. So smaller groups and with diverging interests.

  • Perceived weakness. Our societies are under real and perceived threats. I will oversimplify, but they are related to the relationship of Europe's societies with Islam. Some people fear a cultural invasion by migrants, whether real or not, a fear is not always rational. However the threat of radical jihads is very real. The extreme-left typical approach is based on the social: no Islam isn't a problem, poverty is. Whereas the extreme-right is more on the line: yes they are a problem, even the pacific one, and we should protect ourselves. Strong nationalistic state appears as a better answer than equality and social justice.

And I think one can add a few other reasons, some related to those three, some independent, but I think those are the majors ones, and allow to answer your question without having too long an answer.

  • Candidature of Popular Unity, United Left, and EH Bildu are better examples of "Extreme Left" in spain as seen by the media than podemos. podemos is center-left in almost all of their social and economic program.
    – CptEric
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 8:00
  • I did write that left-right scale was very relative. I would still be hard-pressed to call Podemos centre-left though. I suppose by your scale, the socialists of PSOE are on the right? And do note that Unidad Popular and EH Bildu have a somewhat lesser representativity over the whole country. And furthermore, there are discussions for Podemos to join Izquierda Unida for the upcoming elections. And they already went together on a number of places. So I don't think they have programs that far away from another. Commented May 6, 2016 at 5:24
  • Psoe i scenter right, yes, they vote with PP ( conservative right) and ciudadanos ( center right,neoliberal) . Podemos started as center left and is starting to align more as Time passes. You have to take in count that they are the heirs of the 15-M/occupy/indignados movement, and it had from far left to far right participants. They now(16-J) have the opportunity to embrace IU ideals and make a stronger left, or even win. Iu/cup/bildu happen to have very spread voters, and the current law makes that they've should had around 25 seats ( 4,5 million votes, 3 less than pp only)... But didnt.
    – CptEric
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 5:48
  • The above comments are perfect illustration why "extreme" is just a convenient dog whistle and not a useful political science term in discourse.
    – user4012
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 20:43

Using of the word "extreme" is inaccurate, firstly because it implies something unnatural and secondly and more importantly as it subconsciously equates the two "extremes", i.e. left & left-ish movements with fascism/Nazism. Thus, my answer will focus more to why there is not a strong social movement against capitalistic crises in Europe today, which is a better way to approach your question.

1) There is still a general shock, since the fall of Soviet Union in 1989. After that, capitalism and its ideas has dominated the world entirely, as people are afraid that any opposing movement will end up like the soviet example. So, this is mainly a historical/psychological reason.

2) Any radical movement will be opposed with extreme force by the ruling class. All the people that are currently happy with the status-quo and usually have the power to do so, will relentlessly bombard the society (using the media, internet, newspapers) that the only way to go is to accept the things as they are and be patient, hoping that the crises will end and prosperity will come again. So, the environment for an uprising of a truly revolutionary movement is beyond ideal, even in a period of crises.

3) Exploitation of radical movements by non-revolutionary parties/organisations/unions. Movements that either pretend to be revolutionary or are not willing to change the whole system to its base (opportunistic movements), often with the blessings of the ruling class, attract large chucks of the society in case the society is not fully socially conscious. Latest example of this is the "Syriza movement" in my country, Greece. Even worse, disappointed people could be attracted by far-right movements instead, as it is happening in Europe at the moment.


It seems that there are two overlooked factors here.

First, the 1929 financial crisis led to a decade-long depression with considerable unemployment &c, which likely would have continued if WWII hadn't intervened. The 2008 "crisis" didn't. Most people expected (and got) a recovery in the short to medium timeframe. (Some of us actually profited from it :-))

Second, and IMHO more importantly, in the 1930s the philosophies of the far left were new and basically untried. People in the west could still write glowing accounts of Soviet Communism. By 2008, Communism had collapsed, and its massive human rights abuses were well known. The only people interested in a return of those policies are those who've failed to learn from history.

  • Your first paragraph is completely wrong, at least for many countries. We are barely starting to recover from the 2008 crash, and it's been 10 years, so decade-long. The US recovered faster I think,l but I was focusing on europe. However your 2nd paragraph is totally correct.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 19:38

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