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Populism beyond left and right? Try again. December 23, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Odd that Desmond Fennell in the course of a good number of words in the IT on ‘populisms’ of the contemporary period doesn’t somehow manage to mention once a defining characteristic of almost all those parties that represent this in the places he mentions, those being France, Germany, Italy, Holland and Austria (and the UK too come to think of it). That is, that bar Italy, all are parties that place immigration and immigrants at the heart of their political discourse. No indeed, he writes:

The parties called “populist” by the media have not chosen that description of themselves. From France and Germany to Italy, Holland and Austria, from Brexiteers to Trumpists, they pursue causes within their own nations, and have in common only that they are opposed to the neoliberal establishments and worldview on cultural, ideological and economic grounds. Knowing what in fact “populist” means, they are not unhappy with that description of them, while resenting the elitist insinuations – uneducated, low-class, easily led by demagogues – of those who use it.

If that seems a bit self-serving, what of this old chestnut?

As these things happen, it will become clear that political commentary had best find a new terminology to replace those “left, right” terms taken from the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly of 1789-91 – not only those terms but also “progressive”, “conservative”, “reactionary” and so on which served their purpose in a different world.
A new, realistic terminology for writing about politics would mean progress and enlightenment in the precise meanings of those tired, much-abused words.

But there’s no great mystery where the particular ‘populists’ he writes about (and note no word about those like Syriza or Podemos or other left groups – clearly that’s a different populism to him) lie on the political spectrum. There’s no confusion at all.

They are what those like them have always been.

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Comments»

1. Phil - December 23, 2016

I don’t know what to think about this idea of there being left or liberal forms of populism. The idea of, say, Podemos or Syriza or Corbyn’s Labour being left-populists is just flannel. The only major contemporary populist movement that’s at all hard to place on the left-right spectrum is the M5S – and if you look at the usual checklists, Berlusconi & his followers are at least as good a fit as Grillo, if not better. In practice, populism seems to bleed into a hard nationalist politics very easily; the salience of the migration issue for almost any populist party you care to mention is a bit of a tell.

But then, there is Grillo, who is certainly a left-ish politician using anti-political, anti-elite language, and perhaps there are others; I heard the other day about a grassroots anti-evictions movement in Croatia which has morphed into a political party, definitely on the Left but big on denouncing corruption, accusing the other parties of being all the same & so on. I guess time will tell how ‘left’ populists evolve; my hunch is that it’s an unstable marriage, and that one element or the other will come to predominate.

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dublinstreams - December 23, 2016

is Grillo left-ish?

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2016

I’d wonder too re Grillo. He seems to me to be more liberal right, but I do agree that if it came to the crunch a lot of the formations that have ‘leftish’ wings would split, and I fear I know which wings would probably prosper.

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Jim Monaghan - December 25, 2016

I don;t think so. It reminds me of Direct Democracy here. http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article39114 This links to a detailed discussion

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John Goodwillie - December 23, 2016

There is certainly a tradition of left populism in Latin America – positing of a struggle between people and elite rather than between classes, over-reliance on one leader, disregard for the rule of law which easily morphs into corruption. On the first two criteria here, there may be some elements in Podemos and Syriza, I’m not aware of any in Corbynism.

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2016

Distinctly not obvious in Corbynism.

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2. CL - December 23, 2016

Trump is not populist says Krugman:

“All indications are that we’re looking at huge windfalls for billionaires combined with savage cuts in programs that serve not just the poor but also the middle class. And the white working class, which provided much of the 46 percent Trump vote share, is shaping up as the biggest loser.”
http://www.alternet.org/economy/paul-krugman-completely-destroys-trumps-phony-bait-and-switch-populism

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CL - December 23, 2016

Reactionary rather than populist.
‘Trump described himself as an Ayn Rand fan. He said of her novel The Fountainhead, “It relates to business (and) beauty (and) life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” He identified with Howard Roark, the novel’s idealistic protagonist who designs skyscrapers and rages against the establishment.’
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/04/11/donald-trump-interview-elections-2016-ayn-rand-vp-pick-politics-column/82899566/

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2016

Hmmmm. Rand – eh? The Fountainhead – eh? This – eh? http://jezebel.com/5490207/a-welcomed-rape-sex-and-ayn-rand

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CL - December 23, 2016

Yes, a ‘masculine cult of personality.’

Trump: fascism as farce.

“Trump’s entire movement is rooted in an ethnic, racial, and linguistic nationalism that sanctions and glorifies violence against designated enemies and outsiders, is animated by a myth of decline and nostalgic renewal and centered on a masculine cult of personality…. Trump’s “program” meets the fourteen characteristics of fascism famously outlined by Umberto Eco in every way.”
http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/11/28/seven-theses-trump/

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1995/06/22/ur-fascism/

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2016

Yep, 100%. I was only wondering in my comment was Trump thinking through what he was saying. But then again, of course he wasn’t. Or he doesn’t care.

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CL - December 23, 2016

How will it all work out in practice? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next tweat.

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2016

It is strange to get this view into his thinking. Very odd.

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Starkadder - December 24, 2016

I once read a book on writing a novel by Thomas F. Monteleone, and I lost all respect for him after he praised
“Atlas Shrugged” as “clever” and having “Brilliant content”.

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sonofstan - December 23, 2016

Trump read a book that long?!

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3. Gerryboy - December 23, 2016

Some politicians and parties appeal, during elections and referendums, to issues that concern the ‘popular masses’ many of whom may be lower paid manual working class. But once they get into office these same individuals and parties forget their populist promises. BTW Wasn’t Fianna Fail once the great democratic populist success story in Western Europe? Up Dev, Let Lemass Lead on, Rise up and follow Charlie and Bertie is Best for the Country…and all that jazz. Mussolini, using left-wing slogans about bankers and others, came to power in Italy with promises to clear up the shit – he soon cleared the communists out of it and used banker power to implement his fascist agenda, committing Italy to an axis with Nazi Germany that brought Italy down to the historical dregs. But it is useful to query the language of political discourse nowadays. What is liberal? Who is Left? Who are the Liberal Conservatives? Which newspapers care more about abortion and LGBT issues than about social housing programmes?

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2016

I’d always agree re interrogating terms, where I’d part company with Fennell is thinking that those terms don’t have any meaning in the contemporary period. And actually your last two sentences raise a very important point. The shift and substitution of class politics with social politics rather than progressing both as part of a genuine progressive programme is a characteristic the LP exemplifies almost best.

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Gerryboy - December 24, 2016

And Independent Newspapers?

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WorldbyStorm - December 24, 2016

To an extent but I’ve never expected much more from them. I’d have said the IT exemplified that even more except that they were never a working class paper. Or the LP really – despite respecting many people I’ve known on the left of it across the years (most of whom appear to have left it now) its always been a party I’d never even think of joining.

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4. Mick 2 - December 24, 2016

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/19/panel-jeremy-corbyn-brand-leftwing-populism-yanis-varoufakis

“For the establishment, anyone who does well electorally by challenging its favourite sons and daughters is dismissed as a populist.”

Neat enough encapsulation. Ditto the word “ideology”. In the Irish context, how many time have we heard FF or FG or Labour reps (actually, Labour reps more than any), their shills on the airwaves and in op-eds, etc., decry “populists” for being active against Irish Water or whatever when those doing the decrying are no strangers to supporting policies that have no evidence basis but are intended merely to please certain demographics come election time? Take Noonan’s recent ignoring of his officials’ advice to the effect that his mortgage help rules could only further overheat property prices. Total populism, only it’s populism that is popular with FG voters and not working-class people and therefore not populism for some reason.

Similarly, there’s a ceaseless stream of comments daily in the Dáil along the lines of “the other side of the House need to leave the ideology at the door”, FG of course being an ideology-free party. Stephen Collins will always call a left-winger an ideologue, but never Theresa May or Simon Coveney. The latter of course have their own ideology and populism, only the Stephen Collinses of the world are so dim as not to recognise their own biases and prejudices for what they are on the larger spectrum of opinion but instead to internalise these as representing “common sense”, against which anything a millimetre to the left of the Guardian can be dismissed as “populism” or “ideology”. The two words used in this way don’t really carry any semantic content; they just mean “I don’t like it”.

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WorldbyStorm - December 24, 2016

+1

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RosencrantzisDead - December 24, 2016

Labour are not populist.

Populists, by definition, have to have some appeal to the general public.

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5. Starkadder - December 24, 2016

There’s good reasons for thinking that anyone saying “we should reject left and right labels” or “I’m neither left nor right” is actually a right-winger in disguise. To wit, Alberto Pastor, a Spanish Falangist:

We were a movement with our own spirit, out not to defend the rich but also not to put the poor above the rich. In many points we agreed with the socialists. But they were materialist revolutionaries and we were spiritual ones. What differentiated us most was that we lacked the hatred of capitalism which they exhibited. The marxists declared war on anyone with wealth; our idea was that the right must give up a part in order to allow others to live better.

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/janet-biehl-the-fallacy-of-neither-left-nor-right-militia-fever

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Starkadder - December 24, 2016

Oh, and like every lazy writer out there, D-Fens is obsessed with “Political Correctness” or “PC”. To which a much better Irish Times writer had the answer:

We have now reached the point where every goon with a grievance, every bitter bigot, merely has to place the prefix, ‘I know this is not politically correct, but…’ in front of the usual string of insults in order to be not just safe from criticism, but actually a card, a lad, even a hero. Conversely, to talk about poverty and inequality, to draw attention to the reality that discrimination and injustice are still facts of life, is to commit the sin of political correctness. Anti-PC has become the latest cover for creeps. It is a godsend for every curmudgeon and crank, from fascists to the merely smug.

“Fintan O’Toole”, 1994.

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6. roddy - December 24, 2016

Did O’Tool not try to form a grouping to fight an election which could have been described as “neither left or right”.

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Starkadder - December 24, 2016

Do you mean this? O’Toole ran a petition for political reform a few years ago. He began a speech about it by invoking James Larkin:

http://www.irishcentral.com/news/mad-as-hell-journalist-stokes-huge-petition-drive-111182509-237729301

The petition’s demands strike me as being “centre-left”, certainly not “neither left nor right”.

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7. roddy - December 24, 2016

Nice try sir- “democracy now ” was the group fronted by O’Tool, Dunphy Shane Ross and David McWilliams. Centre left my arse!

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Starkadder - December 24, 2016

I was discussing the contents of the petition, not the “Democracy Now” movement.

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