Populism

Sam D Fassbinder sfassbin at magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu
Sat Feb 18 13:21:56 MST 1995


Guy Yasko's comments (18 Feb 1995) raise interesting points:

The recent comment on the possibilities of viewing populism as a sort of
Turnerian anti-structure, potentially useful for the Marxist
project brings to mind a number of objections and thoughts on populism.

First, haven't we been through structural Marxism already?  Granted it
didn't have much  a  populist cache, but I suspect that the mere introduction
of
populist folksiness would do little to satisfy its critics.   Secondly, even
if
Marxism had not experienced Althusser (or here in Japan, Hiromatsu -- I think
there are translations in French and German, but none in English), structural
populism would still remain vulnerable to very old questions.  For example,
how far would such anti-structural populism take us from the current regime?
Even if structuralism maintains a center outside or above the structure,
anti-
structure for example, the entire system remains no less centered. The
centered
nature of structure plays a role in limiting the play of the structure.
Without
pushing the structure of capitalist society -- and necessarily, our
consciousness of it as structure -- off its axis, it would seem difficult to
break out of the capitalist game.

My idea on this: Maybe it would be good at this point to generate ideas on
what we mean by structure and antistructure.  Victor Turner left the concept
open, as did Karl Marx.  A Marxism dependent upon ideas of the
"antistructure" would not have to depend upon Althusser.

An "antistructure" exists ANYWAY.  It is generated out of a popular need for
comic relief from the effects of the structure, of the ways we have of doing
business now, dependent as they are upon structures, organization, and
hierarchies of status with their varying degrees of Taylorization within
corporate and government systems which are the foci for the introduction and
maintenance of social engineering under capitalism.

Even though the centered nature of structure may play a role in limiting the
play of the structure, and though another center outside the structure may
leave the entire system centered, it is not structuralism per se I had in
mind.  We don't have to be structural Marxists (and I'm not one, thank you)
to believe that capitalist society has a structure.  The folks who run it
believe it does, we ourselves follow a structure, and the idea of an ontology
of structures is there, in Marx's GRUNDRISSE and CAPITAL.

My idea of antistructure is taken from Victor Turner's THE RITUAL PROCESS and
his THE FOREST OF SYMBOLS.  When communication is not framed by the ritual
processes of the status quo, people can actually raise questions about the
way things are in an efficacious way.  How is this done?  What sort of
radical enactments get people to believe in the possibility of change?  We
can't get this done if we all just sit in our rooms and philosophize about
it.  And "joining the system to change it" only gets us so far.  We could try
to use the public and semi-public-corporate-media forums to "raise the right
questions," but who would pay attention and, if they paid attention, would
they do anything to change the system?

Political candidates such as Jerry Brown who occasionally raised the right
questions were dismissed as irrelevant by the media and the public for the
reason that they were raising the right questions now and then.  Do
candidates like Jerry Brown offer potential leftists the possibility of
actually being leftists?  Does the left offer people an alternative to
work-as-wage-slavery that isn't just more work-for-someone-else?  After a
hard day of producing for capitalism, people ususally want to go home and do
something else.  Why should they want to be populists or Marxists after they
punch the clock?

What is inappropriate about harnessing the dissatisfaction of the world?  If
99% of the world is satisfied in being poor, then what point is there in
being a Marxist?

Samuel Day Fassbinder
Department of Communication
Ohio State University
3016 Derby Hall, 154 N Oval Mall
Columbus OH 43210


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