What is the Alt-Left and how different are they from the Far-Left or Ultra-Left? Are they similar to the Alt-Right in any way?

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    The alt-right isn't a single thing either. It's a conglomerate that has no real cohesion other than opposition to democrats and will pull itself apart.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 3:22
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 3:17
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    I have never heard of Alt-Left (except in computer courses maybe) until today. I wish the question would cite some prominent uses of the term because asking about the meaning. On the other hand a quick wikipedia search already gives a definition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-right#Alt-left. A bit more initial research would be nice. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 9:30

8 Answers 8


The alt-left is not really a thing unless you live in Switzerland, where it is a political party.

In the US, it's a term that got cooked up by the alt-right to describe their fantasized progressive equivalent. The problem, of course, is that there is no such thing.

There's the oddball violent antifa, but where the aim of such would-be alt-left might be fighting intolerance or a better (re)distribution of wealth, that of the alt-right is white supremacy. Personally, I find it hard to accept that the two are equivalent. The alt-left is leaning far left, whereas the alt-right stands for everything the US fought against during the Civil War and World War II.

The expression's history has a few interesting tidbits. Long story short, it seems to have appeared in Reddit alt-right groups. There is about zero reference to it in Google (except for the keyboard shortcut) prior to the last US presidential campaign. It got some uptake after a Vanity Fair article denouncing it as a problem. (There also were a few calls to embrace the term after the article.) It got much more serious uptake after Trump used the term in his "on both sides" commentary after Charlottesville.

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    Groups like antifa are exactly the types I've heard this moniker used to describe in the U.S.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 21:13
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    Antifa isn't just left though - it's a reactionary group that opposes fascist marches. Sometimes violent, often infiltrated by black bloc anarchists and other "I Wanna Smash Things Up" types, I've known centrists and anti-racists who don't much care for left V right politics turn up at antifascist counter-protests. The alt-right has a more cohesive political outlook - that's why they're called the Alt-Right, not something else.
    – Miller86
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 10:51
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    @Miller86 "Reactionary" as used in politics is usually used to refer to conservatives. I get what you're saying though, Antifa is a response to fascists rather than a "standalone" political movement.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 17:08
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    -1 for the unnecessary and baseless derision of Anti-Fascist Action as "oddball" - which almost alludes to them being the "alt left" somehow. Please consider removing that part of your answer.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 22:31
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    This answer does not appear very objective to me. First of all, "better (re-)distribution of wealth" should at least have quotes around "better", which is a normative issue. Then there's the odd "The alt-left is leaning far left, whereas the alt-right stands for everything [...]". Many would define the alt-right to be far right, on the one-dimensional internationalism/ultranationalism axis. If you then concede that the "alt-left is leaning far left", they are symmetric on that dimension.
    – FooBar
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 11:42

There is no "alt-left". It's a term made up by the right to far-right in an attempt to create a false equivalence between white supremacists and those opposing white supremacism:

It's a "made-up term" used by people on the right to "suggest there is a similar movement on the left," [Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism,] said.

But there's no equivalent with the anti-Semitic and bigoted groups that call themselves "alt-right", he said.

[George Hawley: ] "There is no such movement as the alt-left. Obviously, there are left-wing extremists but there is no congruence between the far-left and the alt-right."CNN: What's the 'alt-left'? Experts say it's a 'made-up term'

Researchers who study extremist groups in the United States say there is no such thing as the “alt-left.” Mark Pitcavage, an analyst at the Anti-Defamation League, said the word had been made up to create a false equivalence between the far right and “anything vaguely left-seeming that they didn’t like.”New York Times: Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language

Ultimately, the intent seems to be to frame alt-left as the opposite of alt-right and create a false equivalence between groups on the far ends of the right and left. But here's the thing: No left-wing group has ever called itself the alt-left. And the groups smeared by the alt-left label don't include anything like the heinousness of overt white supremacism that has increasingly defined the alt-right.

It's a blanket term some right-wing media commentators and white nationalists have taken to throwing over groups they disagree with Wired: There Is No 'Alt-Left,' No Matter What Trump Says

"Alt-right" on the other hand is a self-applied term that was made up by white supremacists themselves for propaganda purposes.

There are of course far-left ideologies such as various sorts of communism, anarchism, etc. They are not comparable to the so called "alt-right" though; while some may contain racism or antisemitism, it is not central to any left-wing ideology, while they are central elements of the so called "alt-right". There are of course a lot of other differences, but that seems to be outside of the scope of this question.

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    Politically speaking, I completely agree with this answer; however etymologically speaking, all terms are made up by somebody. If you conclude from this that there is no Alt-Left, you could also conclude that there have never been any Nazis. Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 22:00
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    @leftaroundabout The person or people who coin a term matters. The Nazis and the Alt-Right named themselves (proudly, I might add). Therefore those groups affirmatively exist. I could say "the Alien Mafia caused the most recent thunderstorm in my area" but that doesn't mean there is anything out there that actually is the "Alien Mafia". If someone turns around and says "We are the Alien Mafia" then they are validating my invention of that term, or I heard it and I'm blaming a real group for the weather. Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 22:47
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    There is no "alt-left" Just because a term is an exonym (alt-left) it doesn't mean it's any less valid than an endonym (alt-right).
    – rath
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 10:53
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    @rath True. The reason that it is invalid is that those who invented the term did not do so in order to describe an existing, well-defined phenomenon on the left, but to draw a false equivalency. I'm not sure why people keep stopping at "made up term" and ignore the rest regarding why the term was made up, and that - according to experts on the topic - it does not describe any actually existing phenomenon. (btw, that is also why "alt-right" is mostly an invalid term; it's just a euphemism for white supremacy, not describing anything new)
    – tim
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 11:24
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    That's a terrible definition of Fascism @jpmc26
    – ubadub
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 15:10

The alt-left, regressive left, or illiberal left are terms used to describe a subset of people on the left. The three terms may not be exactly the same, however they are close enough that I felt it makes sense to talk about them together. These terms seem to collectively amount to a certain type of criticism of some aspects of the left. First, it should be noted that the expressions are not used as self-identification, but rather used by opponents of their beliefs/actions.

The people in question are often committed to some degree of the blank slate or egalitarianism. From this it follows that all/most differences between human groups are caused by differential treatment of those groups, or by differential media portrayals of group members [*]. Particular areas of controversy are: sex differences, ethnic differences, class differences, cultural or religious differences. The main offenders are generally the patriarchy, white-supremacist society, the capitalist society, etc.

The terms are generally not used just because of their beliefs, but for their actions against people that challenge those beliefs.

When Lawrence Summers or James Damore suggested that there may be biological differences between the sexes in terms of e.g. interests that lead to different statistical representations of the sexes in various fields, then that goes against the beliefs of the "alt-left". But it's not just that they disagreed: they had to be fired, and it doesn't matter if they presented evidence. There was no reason to discuss the evidence, it was simply sexist stereotypes. Despite several experts generally agreed, and it is not something suggested without evidence. Instead of reasonably discussing the evidence, they are labelled (neuro-)sexists.

Another area of controversy is on the subject of Islam. Instead of reasonably discussing the topic with critics of Islam, they label them Islamophobes and/or racists. This is why Maajid Nawaz -- a practicing moderate muslim himself -- coined the term "regressive left". He believes that, while there are right-wing groups who are too eager to stereotype Islam/muslims, there are also many left-wing people who are too reluctant to criticize Islam. This is a sentiment shared by some other muslims and ex-muslims.

It should be noted that just because there are people who are too quick to call someone sexist, islamophobic, or whatever, that does not mean that the terms "sexist" or "islamophobe" are always misused.

These are just a few examples, I could easily give more areas in which such controversy have arisen. Generally, the "alt-left" view their opponents as so evil (sexist, racist, islamophobic, etc) that they don't even deserve to have a rational conversation about the topic at hand. So it is not just disagreement, but the desire to shut them down. Thus we see trends of disinvitations of university campus speakers, and in the most extreme cases riots and violence (see e.g. Antifa).

In conclusion, "alt-left" is one of several terms used to describe a certain faction on the political left. Certain beliefs are typical of the "alt-left", however it is not just their beliefs, but rather their desire to shut down people who disagree them with them, or their inability to honestly discuss an issue, which -- at least according to some people -- justify the name.

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    You know, I think this is the only answer here that actually even tries to answer the question about what it's supposed to refer to by the people who use it.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 1:50
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    The answer provides an example for a somewhat radical or even violent left subgroup, but that does not address the question if there in fact is an alt-left. Of course I can label any subgroup as I like, but that does not mean that the label is accepted generally or that it has a deeper meaning. In that way, the label is not more than "a left subgroup that many on the right side dislike and that has some violent extremists". It does not accurately describe a movement, nor would people with this mindset see themselves als "alternative". And it surely is not a leftist version of the alt-right.
    – Thern
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 9:31
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    @Nebr The purpose of my answer was explicitly to try and give the context for what people mean when using such terms. I also explicitly state that people do not self-identify as "alt-left". I also didn't say that it was a leftist version of the alt-right, so I don't understand that criticism. It's my view that you cannot understand the term "alt-left" without understanding other similar terms as I've addressed in my answer. On "a left subgroup that many on the right side dislike", much of the criticisms given in my answer are actually from people on the left or center.
    – Eff
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 11:17
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    @Nebr Much of your criticisms can be used almost exactly equivalently about other things, even the term "alt-right". While there are people who identify as alt-right, there are also many who don't who are still called it due to the same subjective feeling of "wrongness". The same could be said for other terms such as "racist", "white supremacist", "sexist", etc, terms which relatively very few people identify with yet are called due to some subjective feeling of wrongness. I tried in my answer, as best as I could, to describe what sentiment people try to get across with the term(s).
    – Eff
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 16:07
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    @Nebr By the way, I'm happy to be challenged, so no hard feelings at all. I think we come from two different positions: I tried to describe what people generally approximately mean when using these terms. You, as far as I can tell, criticize the terms because they do not correspond neatly to some objective group. I agree with that sentiment, and in fact, I prefer to stay away from such terms which can be highly subjective. I still think my answer is valuable to address what people generally mean, instead of only whether there is some objective group that the terms accurately describe.
    – Eff
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 16:38

Many people on both sides falsely label their opponents.

The fact is there are bad on both sides and the simplest answer to the stated question is

Alt-left is the name given by conservative groups to the most extreme members of the left

Just as alt-right is used to describe the extreme elements of the right. (including, as state in other answers, by those extreme-right wingers themselves). So there is no real difference in labeling them far-left or alt-left.

Most commonly it is used as a term to denounce groups and individuals committing violent crimes (notably antifa and various individuals on university campuses) and those who use fraud to progress their agenda (fake hate crimes) and who push for false equality and affirmative action (I'm more equal than you)


Same thing that the alt-right is - a pejorative used to label people one strongly disagrees with. Accompanied by cherry picked outlier incidents of a few fringe individuals, to further denigrate an entire group.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 3:44
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    This answer is speculative and agrumentative as opposed to explanatory and essentially uncorrelated with the actual question. Consider supporting the answer with references. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:11
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    @DynamicStardust this is not uncorrelated to the question, although the answer is hardly complete. Specifically the notions that the term 'alt-left' is primarily a pejorative and has a subjective component would be key components of a definition, if they apply. References would be nice, though.
    – Him
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 15:44

There is no such thing as the alt-left according to experts because it is a made-up term and no accepted by those on the left unlike how extremes on the right accept the term alt-right... the term you are looking for is the "extreme left", a term that is accepted by people who see themselves far left of socialism and are extreme in their methods similar to the alt-right. The word originally came from the French term extrême-gauche and was accepted by the French Communist Party. The term, according to political scientists like Luke March and Cas Muddle, can apply to far-left extremists who meet these criteria:

  • rejects the underlying socio-economic structure of contemporary capitalism
  • advocate alternative economic and power structures that involve the redistribution of income and wealth from political elites
  • internationalists, seeing a causality between imperialism and globalization, and regional socio-economic issues

What people need to understand is that these terms generally become 'official' because they are accepted by the extremes they describe and become a part of a lot of academic papers. Aince alt-right is generally accepted by many members of the far-right, that term stuck in peer-reviewed political studies and - in a way - became an official term. Similarly, the extreme left became an 'official' term since far-left groups like the French Communist Party accepted the term and even far-left academics started using it in studies and reports. This makes it easier to see this as an 'official' term.

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    Acceptance by the group is not an indication of the phenomenon [non-]existence. And, as noted to other answers, all terms are "made up". Arguably, the idea of rebranding as "alt" is to indicate that it is a different, new kind of right (or left), alternative to the old. From this point of view, it is not the same as "extreme", and communists are, of course, not "alt", simply because they are "the" left, the good/bad old one. They still often like to rebrand themselves, though, and arguably it's the same "thing", just different words.
    – Zeus
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 23:51
  • @Zeus All words are made up, but some kind of acceptance helps when creating somewhat 'official' terms to designate certain groups. I think what experts are saying is that since alt-right is generally accepted by many members of the far-right, that term stuck in peer-reviewed political studies and - in a way - became an official term. Similarly, the extreme left became an 'official' term since far left groups like the French Communist Party accept the term and even far left academics started using it in studies and reports. This makes it easier to see this as an 'official' term.
    – Tyler Mc
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 15:38

There is no alt-left, because the Left doesn't offer or allow alternatives.

The term "alt-right" is short for "alternative Right", because they propose a conservative/reactionary nationalistic philosophy that is an alternative to the neoliberal internationalist philosophy embraced by the mainstream conservative Right. They're the alt-right because they offer an alternative to the mainstream conservative Right - and, moreover, reactionary thought is presented as an alternative to the slowly losing battle of conservatism (because today's conservative is the liberal of 20 years ago).

There is no such alternative philosophy offered by those on the Left. Those who might be termed "alt-left" by some commentators, such as antifa, "social justice warriors", and the like, aren't truly representing an "alt-left" because they endorse the same philosophy as mainstream progressive Left, just more so. As such, it is more correct to refer to them as "extreme Left". Indeed, it's notable that the Left doesn't allow alternative philosophies the way the Right does; just look at how JK Rowling is treated because she adheres to a version of Left politics that was popular when she was young, rather than the current version of it.

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    this is also true of the alt-right, but the alt-right exists anyway. Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 14:51
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    @user253751 No, I literally explain in this answer how this isn't the case. The alt-right provides a coherent alternative philosophy to that of the mainstream right, unlike the far left which merely embodies the same philosophy as the mainstream left, but moreso.
    – nick012000
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 10:40
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    the alt-right endorses the same philosophy as the mainstream conservative right, just more so. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:36
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    @user253751 No, they don't. The reactionary, ethnic nationalism alt-right is qualitatively different to the neoliberal internationalism of the mainstream right. Additionally, there's a significant difference between the "I want to keep things the same" of Conservatism and the "I want to change things back to how they used to be 40/70/100 years ago" of Reactionary ideology.
    – nick012000
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:49
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    @user253751 Neoliberal internationalism is also the mainstream Republican party, but moreso.
    – nick012000
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:50

To my ears, alt-left/far-left/ultra-left is the same. Ditto alt-right/far-right/ultra-right.

It describes zealots who are irrationally convinced in the ultimate truth of their politically beliefs, find everybody who even mildly disagrees evil, intolerable to free expression of political thought that doesn't coincide with theirs, and willing to use violence to promote their political agenda. Basically extremists, in both their views and their method.

Both left and right had multiple examples of that throughout the 20th century, and, I'm afraid, both are present in US now. Much of 2020 was a bacchanaly of alt-left, with multiple cities burning by self-righteous leftist zealots, and January 6 2021 alt-right did a similar thing in DC.

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    Hmm. Am I really alt-left if I (hypothetically) am stubbornly convinced that Hitler was a really bad guy and willing to use violence against people who think Hitler was a really good guy? Or would I simply be considered normal? Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 14:52

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