Reading List

Top 20 Books on Populism

Populism_reading_list-

Bolsonaro, Trump, Podemos, Brexit, and the rise of Boris Johnson—these and other electoral earthquakes of recent years have all been grouped under the term “populism.” But what actually defines populism and what can the left learn from the global populist wave?


 

What is the “populist moment” and what does it mean for the left? We are currently witnessing in Western Europe a “populist moment” that signals the crisis of neoliberal hegemony. The central axis of the political conflict will be between right- and left-wing populism. By establishing a frontier between “the people” and “the oligarchy,” a left–populist strategy could bring together the manifold struggles against subordination, oppression and discrimination.

Neoliberalism is fracturing, but what will emerge in its wake? The global political, ecological, economic, and social breakdown—symbolized by Trump’s election—has destroyed faith that neoliberal capitalism is beneficial to the majority. Nancy Fraser explores how this faith was built through the late twentieth century by balancing two central tenets: recognition (who deserves rights) and distribution (who deserves income). When these begin to fray, new forms of outsider populist politics emerge on the left and the right.

In this short and accessible book, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, presents the case for joining a trade union. Drawing on anecdotes from his own long involvement in unions, he looks at the history of trade unions, what they do and how they give a voice to working people, as democratic organisations.
 

In Bigger than Bernie, activist writers Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht give us an intimate map of this emerging movement to remake American politics top to bottom, profiling the grassroots organizers who are building something bigger, and more ambitious, than the career of any one candidate.  Bigger than Bernie offers unmatched insights into the people behind the most unique campaign in modern American history and a clear-eyed sense of how the movement can sustain itself for the long haul.

This book is essential reading for those who want to know where Corbynism comes from: the policies, personalities and moments of resistance that have produced this new horizon. This includes the story of power struggles within the Labour Party, and the eventual defeat of New Labour. The movements outside it—unions, feminists groups, anti-fascists activists, anti-war protestors—that have driven the policies of the movement forward.

In this highly original and influential work, Ernesto Laclau focuses on the construction of popular identities and how “the people” emerge as a collective actor. Skilfully combining theoretical analysis with a myriad of empirical references from numerous historical and geographical contexts, he offers a critical reading of the existing literature on populism, demonstrating its dependency on the theorists of “mass psychology,” such as Taine and Freud.

In the early days of democracy, populism sought to represent classes and social layers that asserted their political roles for the first time. In today’s post-democratic climate, it instead expresses the grievances of those who had until recently felt they had a voice. The new populism is the child of an age in which the left has been hollowed out and lost the capacity to offer a true alternative.

Enzo Traverso’s historical gaze helps to decipher the enigmas of the present. He suggests the concept of post-fascism—a hybrid phenomenon, neither the reproduction of old fascism nor something completely different—to define a set of heterogeneous and transitional movements, suspended between an accomplished past still haunting our memories and an unknown future.

Drawing on a Gramscian theoretical perspective and developing a systematic comparative approach, The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe: Italy, Spain and Romania 1870–1945 challenges the received Tocquevillian consensus on authoritarianism by arguing that fascist regimes, just like mass democracies, depended on well-organised, rather than weak and atomised, civil societies.

The resurgence of the far right across Europe and the emergence of the “alt-right” in the US have put the question of fascism urgently back on the agenda. For those trying to understand these forms of politics, there is no better place to start than Fascism and Dictatorship, the unrivalled Marxist study of German and Italian fascism.

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From one of the most prominent voices on the American left, a galvanizing argument for why we need socialism today.

George Monbiot shows how new findings in psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology cast human nature in a radically different light: as the supreme altruists and cooperators. He shows how we can build on these findings to create a new politics: a “politics of belonging.” Both democracy and economic life can be radically reorganized from the bottom up, enabling us to take back control and overthrow the forces that have thwarted our ambitions for a better society.

Populism raises awkward questions about modern forms of democracy. It often represents the ugly face of the people. It is neither the highest form of democracy nor its enemy. It is, rather, a mirror in which democracy may contemplate itself, warts and all, in a discovery of itself and what it lacks. This definitive collection, edited by one of the worlds pre-eminent authorities on populism, Francisco Panizza, combines theoretical essays with a number of specially commissioned case studies on populist politics.

The acclaimed analyst of contemporary politics and economics Wolfgang Streeck argues that the world is about to change. The marriage between democracy and capitalism, ill-suited partners brought together in the shadow of World War Two, is coming to an end. The regulatory institutions that once restrained the financial sector’s excesses have collapsed and, after the final victory of capitalism at the end of the Cold War, there is no political agency capable of rolling back the liberalization of the markets.

In this new edition of a highly acclaimed book, Wolfgang Streeck revisits his recent arguments in the light of Brexit and the continued crisis of the EU. These developments are only the latest events in the long neoliberal transformation of postwar capitalism that began in the 1970s, a process that turned states away from tax toward debt as a source of revenue, and from that point into the ‘consolidation state’ of today. Central to this analysis is the changing relationship between capitalism and democracy—in Europe and elsewhere—and the advancing immunization of the former against the latter.

Exploring the fury of the young in a world of crisis that seems to offer no alternatives.

In looking at the stories of Muslim men accused of terrorism-related offences, Nisha Kapoor exposes how these racialised subjects are dehumanised, made non-human, both in terms of how they are represented and via the disciplinary techniques used to expel them. She explores how these cases illuminate and enable intensifying authoritarianism and the diminishment of democratic systems.

It is clear that the right is on the rise, but after Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the spike in popularity of extreme-right parties across Europe, the question on everyone’s minds is: how did this happen? An expansive investigation of the ways in which a newly configured right interconnects with anti-democratic and illiberal forces at the level of the state, Europe’s Fault Lines provides much-needed answers, revealing some uncomfortable truths.

In American Breakdown, David Bromwich provides an essential analysis of the forces in play beneath the surface of our political system. His portraits of political leaders and overarching narrative bring to life the events and machinations that have led America to a collective breakdown.

Investigative reporter David Neiwert has been tracking extremists for more than two decades, and here he provides a deeply reported and authoritative report on the background, mindset, and growth on the ground of far-right movements across the country. The product of years of reportage, and including the most in-depth investigation of Trump’s ties to far-right figures, this is a crucial book about one of the most disturbing sides of the US.