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Rearticulating Contemporary Populism

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Class, State, and Neoliberal Society

image of Historical Materialism

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.

Affiliations: 1: Southwestern University Georgetown


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