Cracks Within Crisis: A Conversation with Liaisons on Populism

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In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we speak with three comrades who a part of Liaisons, an international collective who have come together to produce and write analysis and give context to struggles across the world, all from an autonomous anti-capitalist perspective. For their first issue, the group has tasked itself with writing about the rise of both Right and Left populisms that have developed in the aftermath of the failed movements, struggles, and revolutions that grew out of the economic crisis of 2008 – from Occupy to the Arab Spring.

From the collective’s website:

The ghost of the People has returned to the world stage, claiming to be the only force capable of correcting or taking charge of the excesses of the time. The relationship between the collapse of certain orders, the multiplication of civil wars, and the incessant appeal to the People is clear: as the liberal mode of governance experiences a global legitimation crisis, different forms of right and left populism gain strength within the fractures of ever expanding ruins.

Populism has now become familiar as a global phenomenon: from the eruptions of the far right in the West to the populist capture of the movement of the squares—Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, or Our Revolution in the United States—to the electoral victories of Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Narendra Modi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Brexit, all alongside large populist gains in every European country. While disparate in many ways, these dynamics all share an appeal to combat the rule and sensibility of the elites, with the help of a figure that can channel the affective energies of discontent through operations of identification and exclusion.

And yet, from the Narodniki to the Black Panthers and Zapatistas, to the emancipatory political movements which expressed themselves as the authentic people—Nuit Debout, the 99%, the indignados—history reminds us of revolutionary populisms. 

How do we distinguish the new from the old? What are their limits and potentials? What is the nature of the affective flows that characterize their relations? How do we address the indeterminacy inherent in mass movements and mobilizations, as well as their confusions, fears, and hesitancies?

But if the project of populism is to harness both the anger and imagination of the people and use it towards political ends, then what does its rise say about autonomous movements who instead seek revolutionary collective and communal responses to the burgeoning crisis of class society, white supremacy, and industrial civilization? If the rise of populism is in part a response to “what is left” at the tail end of mass autonomous movements, from anti-globalization to Occupy, then what does this mean about how we should be organizing ourselves now?

Using contemporary examples of current struggles in Mexico and in France such as the Yellow Vests, we attempt to dive into these questions and more, at a time when statists, fascists, and reformists on all sides of the political spectrum are attempting to present themselves as tangible challengers to the collapsing neoliberal order.

More Info: Liaisons on Common Notions, Liaisons homepage with correspondence, and on Twitter.


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