The hammer and sickle returns: Far-Left parties are on the rise across Europe – if the trend continues, the Continent could become ungovernable

Far-left, pro-Palestinian students hold placards showing the communist hammer and sickle and the slogan "Freedom for Palestine!" as they gather to listen to speeches at a protest at the Free University Berlin (Freie Universitaet Berlin) on February 08, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


Communism was supposed to be dead after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The Communist Party of Austria (KPO)’s recent resurgence in Salzburg, however, shows that this spectre could still haunt Europe.

Far-Left parties are increasingly becoming popular across the European Union. Ireland’s Sinn Fein, once the political arm of the terrorist Irish Republican Army, continues to lead Irish polls in the run-up to next year’s election.

Belgium’s Worker’s Party (PTB) has soared in support since the last vote and is now poised to challenge the far-right Vlaams Blok for first place in June’s parliamentary election. Similar parties are gaining strength in Germany (Bundnis Sahra Wagenknecht), Denmark (Green Left – SF and Red-Greens – O), and even in non-EU Norway (Socialist People’s – SV and Red – R).

These parties have much in common on many issues with the far-Right. Sahra Wagenknecht, the leader of the eponymous party, has virtually adopted the national populist Alternative for Germany’s program on immigration.

BSW, like AfD, also opposes sending weapons to Ukraine and calls for a negotiated end to the war. The Danish Red Greens want more national sovereignty in the face of an EU that it claims often puts the interests of big business ahead of its people.

The PTB rails against “austerity” and opposes the reimposition of the Stability and Growth Pact targets. Sinn Fein’s combination of large tax cuts for working-class Irish and big tax hikes on business and the upper middle class, combined with a huge expansion of public spending, is a classic witches brew of populist, vote getting economics.

Far-Left parties also tend to chafe at the American domination of European defence through NATO. PTB, for example, calls NATO an “offensive alliance” and says the U.S.-built F-35 fighter jet was “developed for offensive military interventions”. BSW says that the United States has “invaded five countries in violation of international law in recent years” and that NATO is therefore “contributing to global instability”.

Other parties avoid directly confronting current policy while emphasising their commitments to neutrality and diplomacy rather than endorsing US-led efforts such as NATO or EU military aid to Ukraine.

No party better exemplifies these political and policy trends than the KPO. Austria had long been one of the few European nations without a Left-wing alternative to the Social Democrats.

The KPO had been represented in parliament while the USSR occupied part of the country, but have not had national representation since the 1956 election. It has struggled for decades and has not obtained over 1 per cent of the vote since the 1970s. Yet now some polls show it surpassing the 4 per cent needed to win seats.

This surge in support has happened despite its defiant refusal to change its name. The party’s website includes a long defence of its pride in its moniker.

This defence argues that the name “Communist” might even be a positive attribute for voters dissatisfied with the current politico-economic system. The fact that Austria’s second largest city, Graz, has a Communist mayor and that the Communist candidate received 37 per cent in Salzburg’s mayoral runoff suggests they might be right.

That should worry Europeans because the KPO also defiantly remains committed to antique Marxist dialectical thinking.

It still believes that private property inherently enslaves people and that public ownership is necessary. It still proclaims its commitment to such a socialist society and the replacement of capitalism. It decries the very neoliberal consensus that is the foundation of the modern EU.  There can be no doubt what would happen if the KPO or its sister parties were to become powerful players in Europe’s politics.

The KPO’s ascent is clearly a sign of widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo which is not limited to Austria. The satirical Bierpartei – the Beer Party – obtains about 7 per cent in recent polls while the Freedom Party (FPO) leads with 30. Over 40 per cent of Austrians thus are choosing a clear outsider party.

Over 50 per cent of Irish currently tell pollsters they will back independents or a party that did not feature in Irish politics prior to 2008’s Great Financial Crash. A recent leaked poll showed that Marine LePen’s National Rally (RN) would win a large plurality of parliamentary seats in the next French election, and roughly 60 per cent of the seats would go to either RN or the far-left populist NUPES alliance.

This is no accident. Anger at an apparently unreformable status quo will drive people to personalities and parties that are clearly and unmistakably untainted by association with it. That has so far benefitted the national populist Right but there is no inherent reason why it cannot also help the populist Left.

The elite consensus’s continued failure to deliver peace, social stability, and widely shared prosperity is driving voters across Europe to previously unimaginable places.

It should no longer be unthinkable that by decade’s end a combination of Right-populist and Left-populist governments are in power in an unignorable number of EU states. What happens then is open to the imagination.