Spotlight Populism: Should We Talk About Fascism?

The word populism has become a kind of container that serves almost everything you do not like.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, priests of the 'more-market-and-less-state’ religon Foto: reuters

„Populism“ has been the word of the year 2016 in Spain according to Fundéu, the foundation that promotes the good use of Spanish in the media. If there was a time when this originally neutral word was used to define, today it is used to qualify and always with negative connotations. The fact that it has become the word of the year indicates its use – and also abuse – in a short period of time. Indeed, last year populism grew in stature in its most varied forms both in Europe and in the United States. However, we are not dealing with a political phenomenon coming out of the blue, born suddenly, nor it is a one-time phenomenon.

Populism has had a long period of incubation in the last decades, since the concepts of right and left began to lose their original content with the supposed disappearance of ideology being replaced by a single religion, the Market, imposed by the conservative revolution of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan under the mantra of 'more-market-and-less-state’.

The European left did not know how or did not want to avoid that neoliberal agenda. Social-Democracy began to walk along the „third way“ theorized by British sociologist Anthony Giddens. It took on the neoliberal postulates and in some cases, as in several policies imposed in the United Kingdom by the Labor government of Tony Blair, went further than the original conservative ones. The left allow herself to be dominated by financial elites and was dazzled by a supposed modernity.

They were times of economic growth, of fat cows, of social progress. There was a visible socialization of benefits in the growth of public services and in the expansion of a middle class with numerous graduations according to the different schools of sociology. However, the cycle came to an abrupt end and a very painful one for most of the people. It was discovered how banks had swindled small savers, how corruption had become systemic in many countries, how in others it had kept its citizens obscure on issues that affected them. How they had to pay for the excesses of the others.

In December 2016 the European Academy Berlin invited 20 journalists from Southern Europe to visit Berlin. taz was part of their official tour programme. The meeting quickly turned into a talk about our shared need for international cooperation, aiming to find a media counterbalance to current crises in Europe. To start with, we decided on a question that concerns us all: How will we survive populism in Europe?

To that first confusion, that of a left taking on ideas and policies of the right, another one has been added, opposite direction. Now it is the right that usurps approaches of the left in the social field. It claims to defend the disadvantaged, even at the cost of condemning other more disadvantaged people like refugees or immigrants, and proposes, at least on paper, to give greater weight to the state although there seems not to be much interest in the return of Keynes.

Populism has its best breeding ground in confusion. If it is a question of fighting it, it must be done from clarity. In our postmodern world we are told that the ideological division between left and right no longer exists, that the axis is another one, but let us not fall into a delusion. This is not the same thing, a right-wing policy or a left-wing one, a conservative or a social-democratic one. The old axis continues to exist. We must confront it and turn around the old neoliberal mantra. We must demand 'more-state-and-less-market’.

Auf Einladung der Europäischen Akademie Berlin besuchten 20 JournalistInnen aus Südeuropa im Dezember 2016 Berlin und die taz. Schnell wurde deutlich, wie groß das gemeinsame Bedürfnis nach internationalen Kooperationen ist, einem Medien-Gegengewicht zu den aktuellen Krisen in Europa. Wir haben uns zum Auftakt für eine Frage entschieden, die uns alle gleichermaßen umtreibt: Wie überleben wir den Populismus in Europa?

Clarity also passes through an adequate use of language. Unfortunately, the word populism has become a kind of container that serves for almost everything you do not like. This wide and varied use makes its real meaning trivial while avoiding to call other things by their proper names. Why do we talk about populism when we should talk about fascism on so many occasions? Why do we use that word as synonymous with demagogy? It is the same perverse mechanism that invents a neologism and thus we speak of „post-truth“ when in all languages there is a word for it: „lie“.

Rosa Massagué, Senior Analyst on Foreing Affairs at El Periódico de Catalunya. Former correspondent in London and Rome. Author of 'El legado político de Tony Blair’.

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