Tag Archives: populism

At a rally in Dallas on the first day of early voting, congressional candidate Colin Allred said “We have two weeks to save democracy!”


Soon afterward, the election in Brazil sharpened world concern for democracy’s future. Jair Bolsonaro openly welcomes a return to military dictatorship. He threatens all his political opponents with using the military and government sanctions militias to carry out “a cleansing never before seen.” Women, gays, landless peasants, and the homeless are targets named in a New York Times article.

Almost immediately after the election, military units began raiding student organizations to confiscate any “anti-fascist” or “pro-democracy” materials, according to @castriotar on Twitter.

It’s not just Brazil. The Week news service says, “Right-wing populist and nationalist governments are in power in Russia, Turkey, India, Israel, Hungary, Poland, and the United States, and they share power with left-wing populists in Italy. Established right-wing parties in Britain, Canada, and Australia are busily adapting to the populist trend. Japan’s Shinzo Abe has taken his conservative Liberal Party in a notably nationalist direction. And with Angela Merkel announcing her intention not to run for re-election, and her party anxiously watching the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, it’s likely her conservative coalition will also begin sounding right-wing populist themes.”

What’s “Populism?”

In American history, the populists were always considered the representatives of the downtrodden, primarily farmers and sharecroppers who were being squeezed out by urbanization. Populism was associated with being pro-democracy, according to Wikipedia.

Today, newspersons and pundits use the term to mean anybody who claims to oppose the status quo. They’ve invented the term “right-wing populism” to include politicians who are virulently against democracy. Others just call them fascists.

What’s “Left,” What’s “Right?”

On the democracy scale, “left” is usually associated with more democracy while “right” is associated with less. The meaning of both terms is so thoroughly distorted as to make them generally useless. “Pro-democratic” or “anti’” is more accurate.

President Trump’s recent claim that he can overturn the American constitution’s birthright guarantee by executive order is a good example of anti-democratic activity.

What’s “Democracy?”

Historically, we associate democracy with the ancient Greeks. The idea was government by the will of the people. Through the ages, we have never seen anything close to a complete democracy. The Greeks, of course, excluded their slaves. In America, democracy has grown a lot since slavery days but has never included the people’s control over basic economic nor foreign policy.

Of especial importance is the people’s lack of control over the machinery of elections. We may get to vote, but we have never controlled the elections.

During economic or military emergencies, democracy is always diminished. Wartime presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were often called dictators.

Socialists have held out the promise of great extensions of democracy, but have never completely delivered because of the extreme tactics of capitalist opposition. The best that socialists have been able to deliver was “wartime democracy” similar to what Lincoln and Roosevelt practiced.

Who Is “Shifting to the Right?”

Commentators are scrambling to explain the anti-democratic global changes. They ask why people have been voting away their own democratic powers. The answer is that we aren’t.

Our democracy, even American democracy, is not complete and never was. The struggle between the poor and the rich, the 1% and the 99%, the employees and the employers, the workers and the owners, is being played out in elections that are ignored by many on our side. The elections are  being manipulated by the rich and distorted by incredible rivers of dark ugly money.

As a world crisis of international competition shrinks their opportunities, the wealthy are increasingly choosing to give up all pretense of government by the people. They are throwing their considerable wealth and power behind reactionary anti-democracy politicians who are willing to carry us all down an obvious path of total destruction.

Only our side can save democracy.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site


Ny times

Brazil Election: How Jair Bolsonaro Turned Crisis Into Opportunity

Mr. Bolsonaro’s broadsides against women, gay people, Brazilians of color and even democracy — “Let’s go straight to the dictatorship,” he once said as a congressman — made him so polarizing that he struggled to find a running mate until early August. Traditional parties and politicians considered him too extreme.

President Trump called on Sunday to congratulate him on his victory, following up with a tweet on Monday morning that said, “Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won the race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else!”

In 1993, he delivered a fiery speech before the lower house of Congress urging its demise, calling the emerging version of democracy in Brazil a lost cause.

“I am in favor of a dictatorship,” Mr. Bolsonaro thundered. “We will never resolve serious national problems with this irresponsible democracy.”

rc‏ @castriotar Oct 26

rc Retweeted Folha de S.Paulo

More than 20 Brazilian universities were invaded by the military police in the past 2 days. They confiscated material on the history of fascism, interrupted classes due to ‘ideological content’, removed anti-fascist banners and posters claiming that it was electoral propaganda.


Many other student movements and organizations reported military police forces inside classrooms, student units, academic directories, confiscating any sort of materials with ‘anti-fascist’ or ‘pro-democracy’ content.

“It will be a cleansing never before seen in Brazilian history.” [referring directly to “reds,” to Workers Party leader Lula Da Silva, and to his present electoral opponent. He said they will “rot in jail.” He directly threatens to use the armed forces and civilian militias with legal sanction against enemies such as the landless peasants movement and the homeless movement.

April article From Independent about Hungary:

Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist party has vowed to would crack down on organisations helping migrants and refugees, in an announcement made just a day after it won an overwhelming election victory.

The autocratic prime minister portrayed himself as the saviour of Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, an image which resonated with more than 2.5 million voters.”

His Fidesz party won a two-thirds super majority in the country’s parliament, which would allow it and its small ally, the Christian democrats, to push through changes to constitutional laws.


From Washington Post:

By Mateusz Mazzini February 27

Poland is in the midst of a pitched battle over its collective memory. The ruling party has recently stirred an international controversy by passing a bill criminalizing the use of the phrase “Polish death camps.” But in many ways, those international rifts are just collateral damage. The real battle is at home and is over what counts as legitimate political authority, and who can wield it.

Poland’s government is suggesting that the present-day cosmopolitan liberals who want to acknowledge Polish collaborators in crimes against Jews are traitors, like the Communists, willing to sell the nation to the highest international bidder. And such national mythmaking has more real-world power than many understand.

From The Atlantic:  June 6

“A new populist government came to power in Italy this week, and the right is calling the shots. It swept in on a wave of anxiety about immigration and the economy. On the economy, certain European rules could prevent Italy from going totally off the rails. When it comes to immigration, things could get rough—at least in rhetoric. In 88 days of coalition talks, Salvini, known for his strident attacks on immigrants as a threat to Italian safety, grew emboldened by the League’s rising popularity in the polls, and in the 11th-hour negotiations to forge a government, he appears to have outmaneuvered Luigi di Maio, the head of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which won twice as many votes as the League in Italy’s March 4 elections

From The Week:

“Right-wing populist and nationalist governments are in power in Russia, Turkey, India, Israel, Hungary, Poland, and the United States, and they share power with left-wing populists in Italy. Established right-wing parties in Britain, Canada, and Australia are busily adapting to the populist trend. Japan’s Shinzo Abe has taken his conservative Liberal Party in a notably nationalist direction. And with Angela Merkel announcing her intention not to run for re-election, and her party anxiously watching the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, it’s likely her conservative coalition will also begin sounding right-wing populist themes.”

“What is the commonality in contemporary conditions, around the world, that has made people in so many countries susceptible to both emotional impulses at once, and powered the global rise of the populist right?

That’s the question that liberal democrats need to answer before they are completely swept away.”

Listening to almost anybody talk about American politics today unavoidably leaves one with the impression that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Populist? Nationalist? What do all those terms mean, if anything?


Click here for a glossary and lesson on political words. Click here for my previous analysis.

What one considers good or bad in politics depends on how one understands the idea of progress. Everything is moving in one direction or another all the time. A positive trend in politics is one that strengthens our side in the lifelong battle with our employers, or one that weakens the employers’ side. That’s progress.

Progressive for Whom?

If ordinary working people are strengthened by being more unified, or better informed, or by attaining positions of power, that’s progress. Progressive people are those who strengthen workers against their employers. Organizing a new union, for example, would be a progressive thing to do. Helping workers make good electoral decisions by providing useful information would be progressive.

Causing an unnecessary split in a workers’ organization is a reactionary event, the opposite of progressive.

“Left” and “Right” are Fuzzy Concepts

During the capitalist revolution in France around 1789, one group sat to the speakers’ left in parliament and another group sat to the right. That’s where we got “left wing” and “right wing,” but it’s really hard to tell what they mean today. Besides, everything is moving so what’s left today is right tomorrow!

If “Left” is Good, Then Is “Ultraleft” Even Better?

Serious activists might think “left” means “favoring the workers,” but “ultraleft” is a special term that does not mean “even more favorable toward the workers.” An ultraleft is an egotist willing to do anything, progressive or reactionary, to draw attention to themselves. Ultraleftism is a real pain in the movement. It’s been called “the infantile disorder.”

“Liberal” and “Conservative” are Confusing

If a liberal is a nice person who cares for others, what’s a neoliberal and why do the South Americans seem to hate them so? Is a neoliberal the same thing as a neoconservative or neocon? Actually, yes.

If a politician is racist and misogynistic, but votes for a giant boondoggle for his/her home district, is she/he a liberal or a conservative? If another politician is really stingy on government spending but promotes abortion and gay marriage, what is he/she?

Who’s Middle Class?

It’s common now to confuse “middle class” with “middle income.” I think the unions distorted the definition because union people, it’s true, make more money than other workers and, especially with overtime pay, often get into the middle income range.

The only useful meaning of “middle class” is that they’re neither bosses nor employees. So small shop owners, professionals, preachers, policemen, union staffers, and all the people “caught in the middle” in the great fight between workers and bosses, they’re the middle class.

The French revolutionaries called them “petit-bourgeoisie” or “small capitalists.” Ultraleft supercilious nut cases use it as a derogatory term.

Everybody hates being called middle class and will argue with you until they’re blue in the face about it, but if you can’t understand “middle class,” you probably can’t understand “worker” or “employer” either. Without clarity on those concepts, I don’t see how anybody understands anything about politics.

What’s a Populist?

It’s gotten popular today to talk about “populism of the left” and “populism of the right.” Supposedly clever people refer to Senator Bernie Sanders and Presidential Candidate Donald Trump that way. But what does it mean?

The populist movement of old was made up of agricultural interests banded together politically to fight against the industrialists who were taking over the nation. The populists lost. That battle has been over for some time.

Google says a populist is “A member of a political party claiming to represent the common people.” But don’t all politicians do that? Click here for Wikipedia’s treatment.

I’m pretty sure that what the pundits mean nowadays by “populist” is a candidate that doesn’t directly represent the employing class. As no candidate ever says he/she directly represents the employing class, it’s a pretty meaningless term.

What’s a Nationalist?

There are books on this. Nationalism, dividing people’s interests more or less by their region of origin, is usually divisive and hence reactionary. Not always, though. Groups of people fighting imperialist domination may be using nationalism in a very progressive way. People that use it to split the overall progressive movement, though, need to be avoided.

Think of the Class

If one sticks to the idea that workers are the only ones who can really overcome their employers, and that strengthening our side or weakening the employers’ side is the definition of “progressive,” one can be more clear in their communicating and their own thinking. Always, think of the class!

–Gene Lantz

Click here for more of these ideas