Violent Extremist Tactics and the Ideology of the Sectarian Far Left

Daniel Allington, Siobhan M McAndrew, David Hirsh

Research output: Working paper


This study addresses the question of whether a relationship exists between sympathy for violent extremism and openness to ideological positions associated with the revolutionary far left. We begin by analysing the characteristics of British far-left sectarian groups: that is, small, ideologically homogeneous organisations, each of which rejects parliamentary politics
as a route to socialism and instead aspires to become the ‘vanguard party’ of Leninist revolutionary theory. We distinguish the members of such groups from members of the public who identify as ‘very left-wing’. We then develop a survey instrument derived from publications by sectarian far-left groups and pilot it on a stratified random sample of the selfidentified ‘very left-wing’ (N = 1073). The data collected is then re-used as a boost sample for a nationally-representative sample of the British public (N = 3823). Using these data, we
test the hypothesis of a positive association between the belief system disseminated by the sectarian far left – which we term ‘revolutionary workerism’ – and sympathy with violent extremist tactics. We find a relationship which is highly significant in both statistical and substantive terms: those who express strong agreement with revolutionary workerist ideas are far more likely to express sympathy with violent extremist tactics than those who express strong disagreement. We also find a positive relationship between sympathy for violent extremism and a geopolitical outlook resembling the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideology promoted by the sectarian far left, in that those who see the US and the UK (and, among the ‘very leftwing’, also Israel) as a greater threat to world peace than NATO strategic adversaries such as North Korea tend to be more sympathetic to violent extremism than those who do not.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherHome Office
Number of pages37
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2019


  • Extremism
  • Belief Systems
  • Survey Research
  • Far Left
  • Political Values


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