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January 2019, Week 2

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 		 [Despite its weaknesses, writes reviewer Ó Broin, this book "is
an important contribution to the strategic debate for those of us
committed to political and socio-economic alternatives based on
principles of democracy, equality and social justice." ]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 FOR A LEFT POPULISM: A NEW STRATEGY FOR DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM  
[https://portside.org/2019-01-09/left-populism-new-strategy-democratic-socialism]


 

 Eoin Ó Broin 
 December 22, 2018
The Irish Times
[https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/for-a-left-populism-a-new-strategy-for-democratic-socialism-1.3729091]


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 _ Despite its weaknesses, writes reviewer Ó Broin, this book "is an
important contribution to the strategic debate for those of us
committed to political and socio-economic alternatives based on
principles of democracy, equality and social justice." _ 

 , 

 

For a Left Populism

Chantal Mouffe

Verso

ISBN: 9781786637550

A spectre is haunting Europe. It is slowly emerging from the rubble of
the great recession. Once proud democracies gaze passively at its
approach. Some are divided. Others, without majorities, can barely
govern. The prospect of an election strikes fear into the heart of
those once dominant liberals.

Democracy, we are told, and decency too have a new enemy. It is no
longer stalking in the shadows. It has no need to shake off the stigma
of extremism. It now announces itself openly and brazenly.

After Orban and Salvini, Corbyn and Tsipras, the fears of the liberal
centre have been confirmed. The populist moment has arrived.

Across Europe a narrative of the populist threat to democracy is
becoming dominant. Whether of the left or right, its illiberalism is
apparently undermining the very fabric of society.

While the virus infected just the periphery could be contained,
through brute force in Greece or amputation in Britain. But now with
Italy, it has entered the very bloodstream of the union.

Defeating populism, particularly in the forthcoming European
Parliament elections, is liberalism’s most urgent task.

Punchy tract

Not so, argues political theorist Chantel Mouffe in her short but
punchy tract, _For A Left Populism_. With an economy of words that is
both refreshing and rewarding, Mouffe challenges the political
centre’s assault on populism.

More than that, she reverses their claims by placing liberalism’s
undermining of democracy at the centre of our current political
crisis. In response she argues that a left-wing democratic populism is
both necessary and urgent.

_For A Left Populism _builds on three decades of writing on the limits
of liberalism and the need for a new strategy for democratic
socialism. Since the publication of the groundbreaking _Hegemony and
Socialist Strategy _in 1986, co-authored with Ernesto Laclau, Mouffe
has been articulating a political project that rejects social
democracy’s capitulation to liberalism while at the same time
refusing to retreat into Leninist nostalgia. Her latest book serves as
a timely reminder of and a useful introduction to that work.

The cause of the populist moment, argues Mouffe, is the triumph of
liberalism over democracy. Postwar welfare capitalism struck an
imperfect balance between the needs of capital and labour. Democracy
acted as a constraint on unbridled liberalism. That balance was broken
with the rise of neoliberalism, which after 30 years, has replaced
contested democracy with technocratic rule.

Mouffe agrees with Crouch and Ranciere that we have entered a
post-democratic era. Rising socio-economic inequality, coupled with
the depoliticising of politics, has undermined, possibly fatally, the
traditional social and Christian democratic movements. In the
fragmentation that has ensued populism has re-emerged.

For Mouffe a democratic pluralist populism, arguing against the racism
and xenophobia of the populist right and against the technocratic
liberalism of the political centre, is the best antidote to our
current crisis.

Hegemonic project

Following Corbyn’s Labour and Iglesias’s Podemos, Mouffe argues
that it is time for the left to articulate a new hegemonic project,
bringing together all of the local popular resistances to the
post-democratic neoliberal order. This is best done, she argues, by
redefining the people in opposition to the elites and oligarchs and by
reclaiming antagonism as the defining logic of a truly democratic
politics.

In place of consensus she argues for partisanship. Instead of the
atomised consuming subject of liberalism she calls for the
construction of a popular democratic movement of the people.

Unfortunately Mouffe avoids two obvious questions that even a
sympathetic reader is bound to ask.

The left-wing populist project that was Syriza in Greece was crushed
by the combined forces of the European Council and Central Bank.
Meanwhile, the advance of Podemos in Spain and Momentum in Britain
appears to have stalled. Elsewhere the populist left is struggling to
make any significant breakthrough. In some states, including Ireland,
the liberal centre is regaining ground. Yet Mouffe says nothing of all
of this.

The book is also silent on the question of the European Union, all the
stranger given that it was written against the backdrop of Brexit by a
writer living in England. What does a left populism have to say about
the political and institutional constraint that is the EU. Should
Mouffe’s silence be taken as a tacit endorsement of exit?

_For A Left Populism _would have been a stronger book if it had
grappled with these political realities, even if its author offered no
definitive resolutions. Nonetheless it is an important contribution to
the strategic debate for those of us committed to political and
socio-economic alternatives based on principles of democracy, equality
and social justice.

 

_Eoin Ó Broin is a Sinn Féin TD and writer._

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