Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Fri Feb 10 13:44:37 MST 1995

On Fri, 10 Feb 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> Gee, Jon, thanks for helping to point the path away from abstruseness....

This is a little unfair, I think (and abstraction is not abstruseness).
Following my little attempt at a definition, I also tried to begin talking
about the concrete features of populism, primarily in the UK, US and
Argentina (in decreasing order of cases I know best).

But I'll try to be clearer, to produce more satisfactory ways of thinking
about these movements.

Again, I'd suggest in all these cases populism is self-consciously based
on class, and making appeals to class (or at lest to a specific class
fraction).  Probably it is the case that usually that class is
"petit-bourgeois" or "C1/C2" (though it may not be, as with Peronism) but
the movement also creates that class (or class fraction) and the
conditions of its success.  This seems clear to me with Thatcherism and
Peronism, at least.

In part, these movements do this by clearing away *cultural* obstacles to
this class fraction's advance (eg. the priority placed on university
education in the UK, as opposed to a revalorization of the enterprise
spirit under Thatcher), but also they can make more structural, economic
changes (playing on the fact, here Thatcher again, that the Welfare State
did indeed produce a middle-class "poverty trap" for some, mostly its own

Despite being thus rooted in class, however (and, I think,
self-consciously so--you can see this in Gingrichism definitely),
in so far as they pose a critique of the existing system and
consolidate their own constituencies, populist movements appeal to other
criteria for their own legitimation, suitably erasing the class
consciousness of their earlier moment.

This may all be hopelessly wrong, of course--but it is an attempt to deal
with Doug's original question.

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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