Does left-wing populism exist?

Reinhard Werner/ With kind permission of Reinhard Werner

(By Hannah Kohn)

In the second part of the discussion, “Are we living in the time of populism?“, the issue of left-wing populism is discussed and a look at the prospects for the near future is taken.

Mr. Bude, you remarked that politicians fear the people’s fear. But you also said that fear is the cement of society. That actually sounds like a contradiction…

Heinz Bude:

Yes, but I believe that, in order to rank this phenomenon, it is important to understand that, globally, we have experienced a period of mistrust for 20 years. And mistrust has become an extraordinary socialising, powerful movement.

However, it also includes a diagnosis of the present, as we are at the end of a period, which did not bring us anything good. Let’s call it neoliberalism. The idea of a good society being a society of strong individuals.

And now there is a new phenomenon — namely a turn from the strong “I” to a possibly stronger “we”. Currently this issue is rather taken up by the right-wing, therefore we have a solidarity vacancy on the left-wing and a strong solidarity movement on the right.

The desire for solidarity is also a great motivation.

Mr. Kern clearly spoke about right-wing populism. Ms. Priester, does a left-wing populism not also exist?

Karin Priester:

I hardly see such movements in Europe, one can include Syriza or Podemos and the Parti de Gauche. Chantal Mouffe rightly stressed that, in western countries, consensus politics are followed too strongly: the mainstream parties agree that there really is no longer any other real alternative. This unified policy appears very strong when large coalitions are in power together for longer periods.

And this question is justified: are western democracies still set up in a way that we have a real alternative if we vote for an either conservative or social democratic party, or is this in principle irrelevant?

Mr Müller, in this respect you disagree with Mr. Priester: in your opinion, Syriza and Podemos are not populistic parties, although Podemos characterise themselves as such…

Jan-Werner Müller:

Left-wing populism is not a contradiction in terms, left populism does exist. But if one tries to produce a symmetry between right-wing populism (e.g “Front National“) and left-wing populism (“Syriza”, “Podemos”), then that is laziness of thought.

If it is then said that populists are anti-EU, then one forgets that Syriza and Podemos are not like the Front National: they are not per se anti-EU, they only want a different Europe.

I do not see a fundamental anti-pluralism in these movements. In addition, it becomes clear that the system is not questioned by these parties, which is what populists are happy to do when the election result does not meet their expectations or rather does not turn out for their benefits. They go to vote and accept the result.

You clearly see Christoph Blocher, the boss of Roger Köppel, as a populist. Mr. Köppel has dissociated himself from being a populist. How do you see this?

Jan-Werner Müller:

Everyone can think for themselves what a sentence like “Swiss vote SVP!” could mean against the background of my approach.

Mr. Bude, is the SVP a populist party in your opinion?

Heinz Bude:
Well, yes. With Blocher it is like with the AfD, he addresses correct and important matters, but what always resonates are these resentments, such as the Nazi-nonsense with the AfD.

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