Leo Hollis is the editor of Towards a Green Democratic Revolution: Left Populism and the Power of Affects by Chantal Mouffe, a selection in our Book Club. See our fall/winter book club selections here!
Last week Chantal Mouffe sat down at the London Review of Books Bookshop in London to talk to James Schneider, author of Our Bloc and one of the founders of Momentum. For fifty minutes the conversation cascaded with names, movements, parties and factions that have been all of our hopes and political debates over the past few years: Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Podemos, Melenchon, and the near successes of Le France Insoumise, the rise and fall of Syriza. Chantal told the audience of her thoughts about recent events, flying through the latest news from Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Lula’s amazing victory in Brazil and told us that she was going to Santiago de Chile in two days’ time to talk to Boric and his team.
The news from these places was not necessarily good for left populists, but by the end of the discussion with Schneider there was some hope kindled in the room. We can’t go back but we can learn from the past and must seek a new path.
Chantal’s last book, For a Left Populism, came out in the summer of 2018, when the political horizon was very different. There were waves of populism demanding change across Europe and the Americas. It appeared as if Chantal was talking directly into the political moment: that the left needs to develop an identity in opposition to the right populism of Trump, Johnson, Bolsanaro, Modi and Putin. Such a hegemonic programme could bring a new popular movement together, and this was exactly what was being built in the here and now.
Today, that feels a long time ago. 2019 saw the end of Corbyn, Bernie fell out of the Democratic race in April the next year. And then the pandemic forced us indoors, where the hopes of organising a movement based upon people coming together in new ways and forming new coalitions became an increasingly impossible prospect. When we did, it was in anger and sadness for Black Lives Matter. For Sarah Everard in London. For Extinction Rebellion.
So, what do we do? What can we salvage out of the historic defeat? Chantal Mouffe remains a potent and inspiring guide to our emerging future. She proposes two essential steps.
While left populism did not work this time, we should form and re-form a coalition. But this time it should be coalesced around a green democratic revolution. Climate change is the clear and present issue of our day upon which we can create a dividing line between those who seek the world’s remaining assets as their property and those who wish to save the planet for the future.
Secondly, we should not underestimate the power of the politics of affect. Mouffe argues that the left has become too reliant on well-reasoned policy and the power of rational persuasion for the rightness of their position. They have forgotten that politics can be driven as much by passion as reason. Movements should appeal to the collective convictions of groups who can come together – online, in the streets, as new parties and formations.
In a crisp 96 pages, Towards a Green Democratic Revolution, Mouffe offers a toolbox for the next steps and restates the importance in building a left populist global movement. It is a re-commitment to a left future, learning from the mistakes of the past, seeking new partnerships and coalitions to face the major crisis of our times. This is where the hope for the future that Mouffe spoke about that evening at the LRB bookshop lies: in, and with, each other.
London, November 2022[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]