The Rise of Right-wing Populism and How Social Movements Fight Against Them
Populism as a political concept has triggered an explosion in populism research and a significant increase in relevant publications. Once treated as a form of politics that was associated with “democracies-in-the-making”, now the concept has re-emerged as a buzzword for defining a large array of political movements from authoritarian and even racist and misogynist right-wing politics to leftist mass movements all around the world. What all of them have in common is that they try to market themselves as an alternative to traditional representative democracy, often labeling it as elitist, instead promising to (directly and miraculously) implementing the direct will of the people.
Historically, the central common denominator of diverse populist movements is an appeal to “the people”, often, but not exclusively, defined in ethno-national terms, which is contrasted with a corrupt, privileged and out-of-touch elite. As a political strategy, populism is characterized by four components in the related literature: (1) a personalized and paternalistic pattern of political leadership, (2) a multi-class coalition, (2) an amorphous and eclectic ideological discourse, and (4) the distribution of material gifts to consolidate political support. Yet differences persist in how we understand populism, both in populist political approaches and in epistemological terms.
Even though the return of the concept owes much to the repercussions of the 2008 crisis (particularly, the crisis of the established forms of political representation and the crisis of the neoliberal economic consensus), the rise of large scale refugee and migrant movements, the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the Brexit vote in the UK, it had long been a pressing issue in the peripheral capitalist social formations from Brazil to Thailand and Turkey. Scholars used to associate populism with nationalist, inward-looking economic policies, which flourished during the initial stage of import-substitution industrialization from the 1930s to 1950s. Yet the resurgence of populism in the 1990s contradicted this argument, and the recent coincidence of political populism and economic liberalism has discredited it further.
Particularly spectacular, is the rise of right-wing populist parties and movements. In many countries, by drawing a political frontier between “the people” and the “establishment” they managed to articulate in a xenophobic vocabulary political demands by social strata of society that felt excluded due to changing economies and societies under dynamics of globalization. Where they have grown in influence right-wing populists have succeeded in setting the political agenda and their policies were nevertheless implemented and had a long-term effect on parties of the center. Where they have actually won the majority of votes and ascended to power (e.g. in Turkey, Poland and Hungary), they have managed to destabilize salient democratic institutions (in the media, justice and education spheres) and distanced themselves from constitutive democratic principles such as the separation of powers, and human rights conventions.
Therefore, this proposed conference endeavors to come to terms with the rise of right-wing populism and the problems it imposes on social movements. The conference aims to address conceptual and practical issues like how the phenomenon should be defined, the context behind its surge and what factors in our past and current conjuncture facilitated it. It aims to bring together different experiences internationally as well as to promote a comparative debate on populism as a global phenomenon. Furthermore, the conference seeks to bring together researchers and the world of political practice in order to provide a platform to discuss what kind of political and social capacities could be mobilized against the illiberal and authoritarian institutional arrangements and practices that undermines the rule of law, checks and balances, autonomous social institutions, individual and group rights or pluralism. The conference will draw from examples of successful social mobilization against populist parties and political groups.
More particularly the conference will address issues like following:
What exactly do we mean by “populism” and how can we analyse it?
What do politicians in different countries mean by “the nation” and “the people” and how are these signifiers constructed?
Which social and political conditions are conducive to the emergence of populist movements?
Which policies are suggested in the name of “the people” today and which strategies are now employed to justify them?
Is populism by definition anti-democratic or illiberal?
What is the relationship between the crisis of liberal democracy and the proliferation of populism(s) in today’s world?
What are the linkages between right-wing populism and fascism?
How can we resist against the illiberal and authoritarian institutional program of right-wing populist movements?
What examples of campaigns/movements/individuals exist that have been successful in pushing back against the rise of populism? What were their success factors? How can these be used locally?