What is the Alt-Left?

The “Alt-Left” is a broad catch-all category to describe the growing sentiments among certain progressive people and organizations that have begun to depart considerably from the conventional notions of the old, established Left. Accordingly, the Alt-Left seeks to develop an alternative to outcompete and replace these.

The Alt-Left is hence as much a counter-reaction against the growing right wing populism, including its latest development, the Alt-Right, as it is a dissent within the Left, reacting against the perceived inadequacies of the old established Left, in the form of liberalism in America and socialism and social democracy in Europe. The Alt-Left has emerged from the awareness that these lack answers and productive responses to the challenges of global capitalism, technological progress and disruption and ways of countering nationalist and populist uprisings.

The Alt-Left is distinct from the wider critical, “postmodern” Left (focusing on minorities, identities, postcolonialism and HBTQ rights). During the past couple of decades the old established Left has been challenged by the postmodernly inclined identity and sustainability focused Left. But these developments have arguably failed to develop a coherent and functional program to replace the traditional Marxism of its predecessor. The Alt-Left sees that the postmodern Left has too many unresolved issues and fails to address many of the most acute problems in an adequate and realistic manner, which explains why it is losing on so many fronts in our current day and age. The Alt-Left is thus a challenger to the old established Left and the postmodern Left, and it differs considerable from both of these movements.

Many people and organizations have made claims to the term “Alt-Left”, but they have failed to differentiate themselves sufficiently from the old established Left and its postmodern successor to justify the creation of a new category. It has commonly been observed that many of the thoughts commonly termed “Alt-Left”, upon closer inspection, do not depart significantly from what has been commonly available for the last 30-40 years. The real Alt-Left does just that.

We have identified the following aspects to be the core ideological elements that differentiate the abovementioned Lefts:

The Old Established Left:

  • Economic focus: redistribution of wealth and struggle over the control of economic resources.
  • Pro labor: seeking to defend the interests of the working class, increasing wages, protecting jobs, etc.
  • Egalitarian: to build upon ideas of equality, creating equality by use of democratic and/or revolutionary measures.

Postmodern Left:

  • Identity and privilege focus: seeks to unmask and criticize the power structures and ideologies that uphold unjust social orders.
  • Pro minorities: seeks to defend all weak and underprivileged.
  • Communitarian: to create flat and participatory communities in which all voices are included.

The Alt-Left:

  • Cultural and psychological focus: seeks to develop a more inclusive, resilient and global culture by helping people lead happy, productive lives.
  • “Betrayal” of the working class: to focus instead on the interests of the two new classes: the precariat and the creative class, both of which are growing in the postindustrial societies and are not protected by the Old Established Left.
  • Elitist/developmentalist: to see the importance of small groups of progressives in creating new solutions and to favor the progressive forces found within the creative class.

The Alt-Left leaves behind the focus on the order of the world in which industry and material goods were most important, and focuses upon the growing, new digitalized order. As such it works together with the real forces of transformation of our world, much like the theories of Karl Marx originally intended to.

When it comes to the cultural and psychological focus over the economic one, it is not that the Alt-Left ignores the logic of the economic forces or culturally upheld privileges. It is just that it recognizes that the problems of real citizens, in our everyday lives, are more often of a psychological and social kind and less of an economic one. And to be able to create a fair distribution of wealth and services, these problems must be addressed. To put it crudely: the Alt-Left does not consider it a problem that the working and middle class in affluent countries are not making enough money. If we want to beat the 1% of global rich elites and create balance between the rich world and the poor, we must think in accordance to new terms.

The reason that the Alt-Left is still called Left, is simply that it has more in common with the general progressive sentiments of the Left, than it does with any of the Right.

The Alt-Left realizes that we cannot expect to create a free, fair and sustainable society if our understanding of the world is still based upon industrial society, its life conditions and its classes. The political game has shifted. This is the fundamental flaw of the two other Lefts, and this is why they are both destined to fail. The Alt-Left is more flexible and it can act more efficiently in this new landscape where the old positions are becoming obsolete.