populism

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Sat Feb 4 10:59:33 MST 1995


On Sat, 4 Feb 1995, Rebecca Hill wrote:

>     Speaking of populism, I live in Minnesota, the capital of U.S.
> anti-semitism and you guessed it - good ol' Mid-western populism.
>   Oversimplified or not, I remain suspicious when I am
> confronted by any movement based not on a theory of social relations, but
> instead in an abstracted idea of the "true people." to defend such a
> movement, as the Narodniks did when they refused to "respond hostiley or
> even indifferently to a truly popular movement" in 1881, simply because it
> is popular, is certainly an overly simplistic response - is it not?

First, I think these recent posts by various people show that there is
still a great deal of uncertainty and confusion over how to analyze and
appraise it.  Is it agrarian or industrial in its base?  Small business
or corporatist?  Even basic descriptive features are under some dispute.
Here, Laclau runs through the problem with (then) current theories of
populism quite well.

Is it possible to talk of Newt Gingrich et. al. at populists?  Do we need
some new term--neo-populism?  If so, how would this help us understand
what is going on?  Stuart Hall termed Margaret Thatcher's government one
of "authoritarian populism," but I forget where (and would appreciate the
reference--Tom?).

Now, I understand why Rebecca is suspicious (and she hits on what makes
populism problematic for marxism or other left analyses), but the problem
remains that:

i. populism is popular--are "the people" just manipulated?  Surely not.

ii. populism *does* tend to be against the State and the status quo, if
it is rarely explicitly anti-capitalist.

iii. populism seems almost an inevitable component even of movements that
are otherwise socialist, and this is even more true of Third World nations.
Here's Immanuel Wallerstein on this:

"For more than a hundred years, the world Left has bemoaned its dilemma
that the world's workers have all too often organized themselves in
'people' forms.  But this is not a soluble dilemma.  It derives from the
contradictions of the system.  There cannot be *fur sich* class activity
that is entirely divorced from people-based political activity.  We see
this in the so-called national liberation movements, in all the new
social movements, in the anti-bureaucratic movements in socialist countries."
	(w. Balibar, _Race, Nation, Class_ [Verso 1991], 85)

As for Peronism... I hope to reply later to Juan Inigo's post.

> -Rebecca Hill

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons

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