Oriented, descriptively, by recent liberal definitions of populism, this essay pursues a historical-materialist definition that grounds populist antagonisms in class struggles as ‘crystallised’ in the capitalist state. A critical assessment of Laclau’s early equation of populism and socialism inaugurates the reading of Poulantzas’s relational account of class and state as a nascent framework for a theory of populism, centred on the state and its ideological crystallisation of individualisation, the mental/manual-labour division and the ‘people-nation’. This framework is then expanded to articulate the political-economic core of populist antagonisms, the specific character of ‘neoliberal populism’ today, and the potential, in relation to theories of ‘popular politics’ and a ‘communist people’, that left-wing populism might hold as a process of new political productions of class. This reading provides for a more expansive account of such movements’ potentials, beyond a threat to or correction of pre-determined democratic or Marxist schemas.
Angosto-FerrándezLuis FernandoAngosto-FerrándezLuis Fernando‘Indigenous Peoples, Populist Logics, and Polarization: Understanding the Pivotal Role of Indigeneity in Venezuelan Elections’Democracy Revolution and Geopolitics in Latin America: Venezuela and the International Politics of Discontent2014LondonRoutledge
BrayMichael‘El Estado Somos Todos, El Pueblo Soy Yo? – On Chavismo and the Necessity of the Leader’Theory & Event201417 1 available at: <http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/theory_and_event/v017/17.1.bray.html >
BrayMichael‘The Market Thinks It Knows Better than You! – Why Neoliberalism Breeds Populism and What the People Can Do About It’2014paper presented at the Western Political Science Association conference18 April
GudynasEduardoDávilaRhonSchuldtAcostaBarandiarán‘Diez tesis urgentes sobre el nuevo extractivismo. Contextos y demandas bajo el progresismo sudamericano actual’2009cedla Bolivia Bebbington Alayza and Gudynas2009
MuddeCasKaltwasserCristóbal RoviraMuddeCasKaltwasserCristóbal Rovira‘Populism and (Liberal) Democracy: A Framework for Analysis’Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy?2012CambridgeCambridge University Press
SpronkSusanWebberJeffery R.CarrBarry‘Neoliberal Class Formation(s): The Informal Proletariat and “New” Workers’ Organizations in Latin America’The New Latin American Left: Cracks in the Empire2012Lanham, MDRowman and Littlefield
Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser2012p. 8. This definition was first formulated in Mudde 2004.
Raby 2006; Cammack2000.
Germani 1978; Di Tella1965.
Laclau1977p. 167. See also Laclau 1977 p. 196: ‘the resolution of “the people”/power bloc contradiction can only consist in the suppression of the State as an antagonistic force with respect to the people.’
Poulantzas1975p. 21. I follow Bob Jessop here in emphasising ‘strategic-relational’ elements as the most fruitful if still provisional aspects of Poulantzas’s work. See Jessop 1985 and 2008.
Cf. Balibar1994p. 140: ‘there is no “pure” process of exploitation: there is always some domination involved. In fact the idea of “pure exploitation” the purely calculable difference between the value of labour-power and capitalizable surplus value is nothing but an illusion resulting from the contractual form in which the “seller” and “buyer” of labourpower “exchange” their respective “properties.” ’
Poulantzas1980p. 19. This conception of the state encompasses the ‘extended’ or ‘integral’ concept of the state that Gramsci first developed i.e. ‘state + civil society’.
Poulantzas1973pp. 188–91; Poulantzas 1980 pp. 63–5.
Balibar and Wallerstein1991p. 96. The ethnic character of each people-nation highlights the central intersection of populism (but not only populism) with nationalism and racism a connection manifest in most right-wing populisms but also present (if more obscured or ‘historicised’) in left-wing forms. If all modern states are racial (Goldberg 2002) then so must be all people-nations (and all ethnic formations as both Balibar and Goldberg highlight are also gendered/sexualised especially though their (imaginary) connections to kinship and family). Populism in other words is located at the core of ‘the confrontation as well as the reciprocal interaction between the two notions of the people’: ethnos ‘the “people” as an imagined community of membership and filiation’ and demos ‘the “people” as the collective subject of representation decision making and rights’ (Balibar 2004 p. 9). A full rearticulation of contemporary populism must reckon with the specific effects and implications of this confrontation and interaction. In a few subsequent notes I gesture towards elements of such an account but the principal focus here is on the intersection of class antagonisms and demos. A full critical engagement with the notion of ethnos and ultimately how to understand the tensions and intersections between the two is the second core element of my book project on contemporary populism of which this article represents the first. What should be avoided above all is the presumption that populism is intrinsically more racist than other modern political forms. This presumption merely combines ‘neo-racism’ which posits a ‘natural’ basis of xenophobia (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991 p. 26) with a ‘class racism’ which posits the more ‘natural’ or ‘primitive’ character of the dominated classes.
Poulantzas1980p. 56. Also Poulantzas 1975 pp. 233–4: ‘[T]his division . . . forms in every mode of production divided into classes the concentrated expression of the relationship between political and ideological relations . . . in their articulation to the relations of production . . .’ It is not grounded in the technical character of specific forms of labour – as if there were pure ‘manual’ work that involved no thought or ‘mental’ work of a incorporeal mind. Rather the division itself is the (shifting) product of ideological-political forms that constitute the relations of production.
Balibar2014p. 10. See also Cammack 2000 p. 153.
As Bob Jessop notes (cf. Poulantzas1980p. 63) Poulantzas’s account of the unity of the state never escapes an implicit functionalist presumption – the state unifies because that is its necessary function – and so tends to eclipse any account of precisely how such unity is constructed. What populism suggests is that such unity is inherently fragile and contested. The nation-people can become a term in an antagonist confrontation as much as the integrative term for a fragmented set of individuals. The inverse side of this critique is that Poulantzas ‘overlooks the implications of the “isolation effect” for the creation of hegemony in favor of a class reductionist account of political forces and ideologies’ (Jessop 1990 p. 188). Populism is precisely one of the key such implications especially as argued below given neoliberalism’s intensification of that effect. At the same time the homogenising character of race is a central factor in the construction of such unity (Goldberg 2002).
Quoted in Modonesi2013pp. 16–17 (Q25 § 5: 2289).
Roberts2013p. 42. Despite his identification of ‘economic’ initiating causes Roberts retains a liberal discursive definition of populism.
García Linera2014pp. 294–5.
Pollack 1990; Konings2011.
Fraser and Gordon1994.
For a range of accounts see Lapavitsas2014Kliman 2012 and Duménil and Lévy 2011.
Davies2014p. 89. This basic change allows a number of ‘discoveries’ in economics and state regulation including that large corporations do not impede ‘competition’ and that situations that are not strictly speaking ‘markets’ can be rationalised through the application of market-logics of assessment and rational choice.
See amongst many others Krippner2012.
The obvious exception is Laclau2007which defines populism as the ground of all politics. The account offered here suggests that the plausibility of such a claim lies rather in the historical conditions of neoliberalism. For elements of a critique of Laclau’s later account of populism see Bray 2014a.
Badiou 2010; Dean 2012; Bosteels2011.
Dean2012p. 98; Compare Dussel 2007 p. 12.
Dussel2008p. 76. I find more unresolved tensions in Dussel’s use of ‘potentia’ and ‘potestas’ than Ciccariello-Maher suggests. Compare the claim that ‘without organization the power of the people remains pure potential . . . objective nonexistence ideal voluntarism and anarchism’ (Dussel 2008 p. 98).
García Linera2014pp. 229 238 308.
García Linera2014p. 239.
Ellner2013p. 65. The question of whether ethnic/racial identities might undergo analogous (re)formations through such processes in such places must remain an open one here. Something similar at least seems to be projected in Goldberg’s query as to whether states (or peoples?) could become ‘the principal terrains in which social life is played out in all its cultural – what one might characterize as ethnoracial – thickness’ (Goldberg 2002 p. 274).
Lo2012. Also Davidson 2013 p. 292: ‘The people organized by such movements may well be morally and politically misguided but it is patronizing – and above all politically useless – to pretend that they are simply being manipulated by élite puppetmasters’.
Agarwala 2008; Spronk2012.
Davidson 2013; Kalb2011p. 15.
García Linera2014p. 156.
Gudynas 2009; Veltmeyer and Petras2014. On the ‘magical state’ see Coronil 1997.