November 25, 2020

A left populist strategy for post-COVID-19

Class struggle and ecological crisis

Those who advocate a left populist strategy are often accused by Marxists of denying the existence of the class struggle: but this is based on a misconception. A left populist strategy acknowledges that society is criss-crossed by antagonisms, some of them being of a socio-economic nature. They can be called ‘class’ antagonisms, provided that this term is not limited to the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. However next to those socio-economic antagonisms, there exist other antagonisms, located in different social relations, giving rise to struggles against other forms of domination. This is why in 1985 in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy[1] we argued for the need to articulate the demands of the working class with those of the social movements, proposing to reformulate socialism as the ‘radicalization of democracy’ understood as the extension of democratic ideals to a wide range of social relations.

Nowadays with the ecological crisis such a project of radicalizing democracy has acquired a new dimension. During the twentieth century what was at the core of the socialist project was the question of inequality, and the fight for social justice was conceived in terms of an equal repartition of the fruits of growth. The struggles of the new social movements added new angles to the question of social justice but their focus was on autonomy and liberty and, with the exception of some ecological movements, they did not fundamentally target the nature of growth.

In the last two decades we have entered a new phase with the climate emergency, in which the struggle for social justice requires putting into question the productivist and extractivist model. Growth has ceased to be considered as a source of protection to become a danger for the material conditions of existence of society. It is not possible any more to envisage a process of radicalization of democracy that does not include the end of a model of growth that endanger the existence of society and whose destructive effects are particularly felt by the more vulnerable groups.

Hence the importance of a left populist strategy seeking to articulate the manifold struggles against oppression and domination around a Green Democratic Transformation with a view to obtaining a democratic rupture with the neoliberal order. This is how ‘class struggle’ takes place today.

Notes

[1] Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here. The Folly of Technological Solutionism, Public Affairs, New York, 2013

[2] An excellent analysis of Polanyi’s importance to understand current populist movements is found in Jorge Tamames, For the People. Left Populism in Spain and the US , Lawrence & Wishart, London 2020

[3] Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso, London, 1985

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