On Art and Populism: Is the populist groundswell today an effect of the internet?

July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

syriza
Syriza protest Greece

A by country list of popular political movements

27/10 2015 In previous posts I discussed why political populism tends to get dismissed as an unworkable political tendency and why it nonetheless stands as a legitimate response to current political conditions. What results is an apparent stalemate between a desire for change (reactionary and progressive) and the entrenched interests that prevent it from happening. It’s a situation that creates the expanded contemporary moment we find ourselves in, one shot through with equal parts risk and possibility. The populist tendency is regarded with misgiving by the vested interests it is marshalled against. This is of course because it’s hard to find silver bullet solutions to highly complex problems. But it also may be an indicator of “how isolated our elites and their media mouthpieces have become.”

The French political economist Guy Sorman makes a useful distinction between populist tendencies and civil society, which assumes that to be effective the former would have to be absorbed into the latter. He also says all contemporary populist movements share use of social networks on the internet as a means of mobilization and expression. Its an important point perhaps too easily overlooked. Taking into account the way populism’s ability to “galvanize new forms of political engagement”gets intensified by the internet, I put together an expanded list of today’s populist movements. The list includes recent mass movements that are popular but can’t be defined as populist because they lack a definitive leader or political party affiliation. Note that many of the populist tendencies listed below emerged within the last 5 years.

Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan) Uprisings for democracy that spread across the Arab world in 2011 (in the order listed above). The role social media played in these movements is acknowledged to be significant. Four years on, lack of civil society traditions sees the Arab Spring momentum stalled or moving in reverse, in some cases to catastrophic effect.

Alternative for Germany/AfD Germany’s Tea Party. While initially formed to demand Germany abandon the Euro, the AfD has become increasingly xenophobic. It’s been an apparently successful shift helping “German voters overcome a deeply entrenched taboo against voting for a right-leaning party.”

Bernie Sanders (US – Democrat) The so-called “socialist senator” is galvanizing voters in the US simply because he addresses issues like income inequality and advocates for federal stimulus spending. Building a financial base through small donations, it remains to be seen if he poses a real threat to the“dynastic, seemingly unstoppable Democratic nominee frontrunner”, Hillary Clinton.

Dansk Folkeparti/DF (Denmark) One of the Danish People’s Party’s stated goals is to prevent Denmark from becoming a multiethnic society. Winning 21% of the popular vote in June elections, the DF “once seemed quite extreme but now they’re mainstream” — to the extent that they have pushed Denmark’s political landscape to the right.

Donald Trump (US – Republican) Is Donald Trump’s Rhetoric Distorting Reality? asks a clickbaiting recent headline. The idea has some plausibility if it’s a reality measured in wall-to-wall media coverage backed by a personal fortune counted in the billions. As a populist candidate, Trump is the genuine example of the phenomenon, using xenophobia and bribes to manipulate voter emotion.

English Defence League/EDL Cas Mudde, scholar of the radical right, calls emphasis on the most extreme and photogenic radical right groups “misguided.” While admittedly a fringe tendency, the EDL’s anti-Muslim platform backed by thuggish street protests can be filed under the category of populism that is deleterious to the public order.

Freedom Party of Austria/FPÖ (Austria) Founded in 1955, the far right FPÖ can be included in the anti-migrant wall-building strain of populist tendencies. Although they surged in popularity in October elections, it was not enough to unseat the Social Democrats, Vienna’s governing party since the end of WWII.

Five Star Movement/M5S (Italy) Led by comedian and TV personality, Beppe Grillo, the party first gained electoral success in 2013. Following the recent resignation of Rome’s Mayor, disgraced by an expense scandal, an upcoming election in Rome looks to favor M5S, “now the most popular party among Romans sickened by years of graft and poor public services.”

Finns Party (Finland) Forming part of the country’s ruling coalition after elections in April, the Finns Party is typical of populist parties in Europe, being Eurosceptic and anti-migration. Its platform includes the suggestion that “young women should be persuaded not to study and instead give birth to Finnish babies.

Forza Italia/FI Founded in 1993 by Silvio Berlusconi, four time Prime Minister of Italy. The centre-right party is the best recent example of cult-of-personality populist politics, aided no doubt by Berlusconi’s personal television empire. Its current state is disarray, populist allegiances having shifted to either comedian Beppe Grillo’s M5S or the Northern League, which calls for independence for the north and an end to the Euro.

National Front (France) Led by Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, the party’s long time leader (1972-2011). Signaling Marine’s more mainstream intentions for the party, the elder Le Pen was in August expelled from the party in the wake of his statement that the Holocaust was “a detail of history” (a view he first expressed in 1987).

Party for Freedom/PVV (The Netherlands) “Mass immigration is leading to the dilution of cultural identity in the European Union member states” wrote the PVV’s Geert Wilders in an opinion editorial in the Wall Street Journal coauthored with France’s Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League. It’s a show of unity that may belie a more significant weakness, as 2014 European Parliament elections saw a drop in the extremist party’s support at the polls.

Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident/Pegida(Germany) Anti-Islamist protest alliance founded in Dresden in 2014. Leading weekly street protests that have been moderately successful in Germany, “the group’s demonstrations elsewhere in Europe have not witnessed significant participation.” Plans to form a political party look unlikely to go ahead.

Podemos (Spain) With origins in the anti-austerity Indignados series of demonstrations in Spain, Podemos was founded in 2014. Led by the 36 year old academic Pablo Iglesias, Podemos gained in regional elections in May of this year but more recent polls show a softening of support in advance of a general election on December 20th.

Occupy (Global) – Starting in 2011 with the occupation of New York’s Zuccotti Park, the anti-capitalist movement grew to see Occupy-related events staged in 951 cities in 82 countries. In part inspired by the Arab Spring and Indignados movements, in the US Occupy is often described as the left-wing populist counterpart to the right-wing Tea Party. Current activities include activist debt relief.

Syriza (Greece) A snap general election in September gave the left-wing Syriza a decisive victory, bringing some measure of stability to Greece and a mandate for legislation of reforms — at the same they will be doubtless confronting the reality of “what it means for the radical Left to govern in the world of global capital.”

Tea Party (US) – A symptom of ideologic dysfunction within the US Republican Party, the Tea Party movement recently expressed the full force of its nuttiness by forcing John Boehner, the already right-wing Republican Speaker of the House to resign, for not being extremist enough. A movement started in 2009, the Tea Party shares in common with the Arab Spring and Occupy decentralized leadership and lack of a uniform agenda.

UKIP/United Kingdom Independence Party (UK) Founded in 1991, this right-wing, Eurosceptic party started to get traction within the mainstream of British political life in the last two years. Showing the volatile nature of populist politics, the BBC recently reported that party insiders believe UKIP’s future is uncertain; “the party will be over in a few years’ time.”

This is one of ten posts written to accompany the Kunsthalle Wien’s Political Populism exhibition (November 11, 2015 – February 2, 2016).

Rosemary Heather is a freelance writer based in Toronto and Editor-in-Chief of Q&A, an information retail project focusing on interviews.

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