Left-wing terrorism — sometimes called Marxist-Leninist terrorism or revolutionary/left-wing terrorism — is a set of tactics directed at the overthrow of capitalist governments and their replacement with Marxist-Leninist or socialist societies.
Left-wing terrorists view the governments they oppose as authoritarian, exploitive and corrupt, and emphasize idealism and anti-imperialism. Their ideology is heavily influenced by Marxist and other communist and socialist thought. Narodnaya Volya, a 19th century terrorist group that killed tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881, and developed the concept of propaganda by the deed is a major influence.
Modern left-wing terrorism developed in the context of the political unrest of 1968. In Western Europe, notable groups included the West German Red Army Faction (RAF), the Italian Red Brigades, the French Action Directe (AD), and the Belgian Communist Combatant Cells (CCC). Asian groups included the Japanese Red Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, although the latter organization later transformed into nationalist terrorist. In Latin America, groups that became actively involved in terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s included the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the Peruvian Shining Path, and the Colombian 19th of April Movement.
Modern left-wing terrorist groups in the United States developed from remnants of the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers and extremist elements of the Students for a Democratic Society. During the 1980s both the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO) and the smaller United Freedom Front were active. After 1985, following the dismantling of both groups, there were no confirmed acts of left-wing terrorism by similar groups.
Comparison with other forms of terrorism 
In "Looking Back on Anger: Explaining the Social Origins of Left-Wing and Nationalist Separatist Terrorism in Western Europe" (2012), Sarah Brockhoff, Tim Krieger and Daniel Meierrieks explained the differences in the ideology, origins, and international associations between left-wing and nationalist terrorism.
While Left-wing terrorism is ideologically motivated, nationalist-separatist terrorism is ethnically motivated. The revolutionary goal of left-wing terrorism is non-negotiable, whereas nationalist terrorists are willing to make concessions. The rigidity of the demands of left-wing terrorists may explain their lack of support relative to nationalist groups. Many on the revolutionary left showed solidarity for non-European liberation groups employing terrorism, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and the South American Tupamaros, seeing them as engaged in a global struggle against capitalism. Since nationalist sentiment is fueled by socio-economic conditions, some separatist movements, including the Basque ETA, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army incorporated communist and socialist ideology into their policies.
Incidents of left-wing terrorism dropped off at the end of the Cold War, partly due to the loss of support for communism, but had no effect on the level of nationalist terrorism.
Left-wing terrorism has its roots in 19th and early 20th century anarchist terrorism and became pronounced during the Cold War period, while nationalist terrorism has its roots in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles following the end of the First World War The level of left-wing violence varies with the strength of local communist parties, while the strength of separatist parties tends to reduce nationalist terrorism. This may be explained by concessions to nationalist aspirations leading to reduced ethnic tension.
Left-wing terrorists, lacking popular support, often turned to foreign sources for backing. Some of them may have received military and financial support from the Soviet Union. Nationalist terrorist groups were more likely to rely on local sources of support, obtaining foreign support mostly through fellow nationals living overseas.
The organizations listed below engaged in left-wing terrorism during the last third of the 20th century.
Western Europe 
In "Western Europe's red terrorists", Dennis A. Pluchinsky identified the following eight organizations as the most significant and notorious "fighting communist organizations" that have operated in Western Europe since the 1970s: Red Army Faction, Communist Combatant Cells, Direct action, Red Brigades, First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Groups, Revolutionary Organization 17 November, Popular Forces 25 April, and the Revolutionary Left. These organizations are typically small and urban-based, committed to overthrowing their countries' governments and replacing them with regimes guided by Marxist-Leninist ideology. Although none have achieved any degree of success in accomplishing their goals, they have caused serious security problems in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, Portugal and Spain.
Red Army Faction (RAF) 
The Red Army Faction (RAF), which developed out of the Baader-Meinhof Group in Germany, carried out a series of terrorist attacks in the 1970s and remained active for over 20 years. The RAF was organized into small isolated cells, and had connections with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Carlos the Jackal. Although the group's leaders, including Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof were arrested in 1972, it carried out major attacks, including kidnapping and highjacking. On April 7, 1977 an unknown RAF members assassinated a Prosecutor-General, Siegfried Buback, an ex-Nazi. Several leaders of the RAF were killed in the late 1970s and early 1980s during shoot-outs with police.
Communist Combatant Cells 
The Communist Combatant Cells (CCC) was founded in 1982 in Belgium by Pierre Carette. With about 10 members, the CCC financed its activities through a series of bank robberies. Over the course of 14 months, they carried out 20 attacks against property, mostly NATO facilities. Despite attempts to avoid loss of life, there were casualties as a result of these attacks. After Carette and other members were arrested in 1985, the group ceased to be operational. Carette served 17 years of a life sentence, although his colleagues that were convicted with him were released earlier.
Action Directe 
Action Directe (AD) was active in France between 1979 and 1987. Between 1979 and 1985 they concentrated on non-lethal bombings and strafings of government buildings, then assassinated a French Ministry of Defense official. The organization declined following police arrests and became inactive. The French government has banned the group.
Red Brigades 
The Red Brigades were founded in August 1970 mostly by former members of the Communist Youth movement expelled from the parent party for extremist views. It was the largest terrorist group in Italy whose aim was to overthrow the government and replace it with a communist system.
First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO) 
November 17 
Revolutionary Organization 17 November (also known as 17N or N17) was a long-lasting urban terrorist organizsation named in commemoration of a riot against the Greek government in 1973. By 2001, the group had killed 23 people, including U.S. officials, NATO officials, and Greek politicians, magistrates and businessmen. Attempts by the Greek police, CIA, and Scotland Yard to investigate the group were unsuccessful. The group was finally captured in 2002, after one of its members was wounded by a bomb he was carrying. It has been recognized as a terrorist organization by the Greek State, the US and international law enforcement.
Popular Forces 25 April 
The Popular Forces 25 April (FP-25) was formed in Portugal under the leadership of Lt. Col. Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. Named after the 1974 military coup that overthrew the right-wing regime that had ruled Portugal since 1926, FP-25 aimed to overthrow the Portuguese government and establish a Marxist state. It carried out a series of assassinations and bombing attacks against the Portuguese government. They ceased activity in the mid-1980s.
Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front 
The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front, is a militant Marxist-Leninist party in Turkey. It is in the terrorist organization lists in the U.S., the UK and the EU. The organisation is listed among the 12 active terrorist organisation in Turkey as of 2007 according to Counter-Terrorism and Operations Department of Directorate General for Security (Turkish police).
It also appears as one of the 44 names in the current U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, 48 groups and entities to which European Union's Common Position 2001/931/CFSP on the application of specific measures to combat terrorism applies and 45 international terrorist organisations in the list of Proscribed Terrorist Groups of the UK Home Office.
Latin America 
In The new dimension of international terrorism, Stefan M. Audrey identified the Sandinistas, Shining Path, 19th of April Movement, and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as the main organizations involved in left-wing terrorism in Latin America during the 1970s-1980s. These organizations were anti-American and drew local support, although they also received support from the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Shining Path 
The Communist Party of Peru, more commonly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), is a Maoist guerrilla organization in Peru that launched the internal conflict in Peru in 1980. Widely condemned for its brutality, including violence deployed against peasants, trade union organizers, popularly elected officials and the general civilian population, Shining Path is on the U.S. Department of State's "Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations" list. Peru, the European Union, and Canada likewise regard Shining Path as a terrorist group and prohibit providing funding or other financial support. The actions of the Shining Path claimed between 25,000 and 30,000 lives, of these more than 1,000 were children.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is a Marxist-Leninist organization in Colombia which has employed vehicle bombings, gas cylinder bombs, killings, landmines, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, as well as guerilla and conventional military. The United States Department of State includes the FARC-EP on its list of foreign terrorist organizations, as does the European Union. It funds itself primarily through extortion, kidnapping and their participation in the illegal drug trade. Many of their fronts enlist new and underage recruits by force, distribute propaganda and, more importantly, pillage local banks. Businesses operating in rural areas, including agricultural, oil, and mining interests, were required to pay "vaccines" (monthly payments) which "protected" them from subsequent attacks and kidnappings. An additional, albeit less lucrative, source of revenue was highway blockades where guerrillas stopped motorists and buses in order to confiscate jewelry and money. An estimated 20-30 percent of FARC combatants are under 18 years old, with many as young as 12 years old, for a total of around 5000 children. Children who try to escape the ranks of the guerrillas are punished with torture and death.
United States 
May 19th Communist Organization 
The May 19 Communist Organization, also referred to as the May 19 Communist Coalition, was a US-based, self-described revolutionary organization formed by splintered-off members of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army. The M19CO name was derived from the birthdays of Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X. The May 19 Communist Organization was active from 1978 to 1985. It also included members of the Black Panthers and the Republic of New Africa (RNA). 
- 1. Free political prisoners in US prisons
- 2. Appropriate capitalist wealth (armed robberies) to fund the third stage, and
- 3. Initiate a series of bombings and terrorist attacks.
In The new dimension of international terrorism, Stefan M. Audrey identified the Japanese Red Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as the main left-wing terrorist organizations in Asia, although he noted that the LTTE later transformed into a nationalist terrorist organization.
Japanese Red Army 
The Japanese Red Army (JRA) was originally formed in 1969 as the "Red Army Faction" by students impatient with the Communist Party. In 1970 they hijacked a plane to North Korea, where nine of their members were interned. The group lost another 14 members who were killed during an internal purge. In 1971 the renamed JRA formed a connection with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and established a base in Lebanon. Major terrorist actions carried out by them included an armed attacked on the airport at Tel Aviv, highjacking airplanes to Libya and Bangladesh, kidnapping the French ambassador to the Hague and bombing a USO nightclub in Naples. By the mid-1990s, the level of activity had declined and the U.S. State Department no longer considered them a terrorist threat. In 2001, the leader announced the dissolution of the group, although some of its members were in prison and others were still wanted by police.
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist 
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been responsible for hundreds of attacks on government and civilian targets. After the UPF's Maoist wing (CPN-M) performed poorly in elections and was excluded from the election of 1994. The Maoists then turned to insurgency in order to overthrow Nepal's monarchy, parliamentary democracy and change Nepalese society, including a purge of the nation's elite class, a state takeover of private industry, and collectivization of agriculture.
In Nepal attacks against civilian populations occurred as part of Maoist strategy - Amnesty International states:
The CPN (Maoist) has consistently targeted private schools, which it ideologically opposes. On the 14 April 2005 the CPN (Maoist) demanded that all private schools shut down, although this demand was withdrawn on 28 April. Following this demand, it bombed two schools in western Nepal on 15 April, a school in Nepalganj, Banke district on 17 April and a school in Kalyanpur, Chitwan on 21 April. CPN (Maoist) cadres also reportedly threw a bomb at students taking classes in a school in Khara, Rukum district.
Communist Party of India (Maoist) and Naxalites 
Armed Naxalite groups in India operate across large parts of the central and eastern rural regions of the country. Informed by the People's War strategy of Maoism, the most prominent of the groups is the Communist Party of India (Maoist), formed through the merging of two previous Naxalite organizations, the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCC). Armed Naxalite movements are considered India's largest internal security threat. Naxalite Communists have engaged in numerous terrorist attacks and human rights violations in India's Red Corridor.
See also 
- Aubrey, pp. 44-45
- Moghadam, p.56
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- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, p. 3
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, p. 17
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, p. 18
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, pp. 13, 19
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, pp. 2-3
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, pp. 4, 16
- Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks, pp. 3, 12
- Plushinsky, p. 16
- Kushner, p. 148
- Von RAF ermordeter Generalbundesanwalt Buback war NSDAP-Mitglied (FOcus Online, 15.03.2011, 16:56) 
- Atkins, pp. 62-63
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- Atkins, p. 278
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