Right VS. Left Populism

By: Nicole Beswitherick

In the readings this week, we learn a lot about the differences between left and right populism – and why they aren’t the same.

In Luke March’s paper, we learn the definition and expectations of the two. He takes lots of his knowledge from Cas Mudde in saying that the influential view of populism is a ‘thin-centred’ ideology ‘that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups‘. He then lists that there is the ‘pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’, and argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people (Mudde, 2004: 543).

Throughout the article, it is learned that right populism is primarily exclusionary, and left populism is primarily inclusionary. Basically, the right populists demarcate key groups as outsiders, and the left more so focus on policies of economic, cultural and political incorporation.

Davide Vampa helps explain the competing forms of populism and territorial politics in his writing but also helps explain the difference between left and right populism. He says there is a clear difference between the both of them in their approach to regionalism and autonomy. One represents the ‘core’ areas of the country where demands have been weaker, and the other is usually more electorally competitive in more ‘peripheral’ areas where demands have been stronger. This is in Spain, so perhaps it is different, but Vampa explains that the territorial factor seems to be the ideal element of contrast between the two forms of populism.

In Catherine Fieschi’s piece, she argues that there is no populism without democracy. To that she is correct. She helps describe what populism is by saying that it is a byproduct of democracy and it arises from a perception of betrayal of democratic promise. This helps explain why revolts against authoritarian regimes obey a different logic and don’t fall into any populist category.

Populism in recent years has undergone a renaissance on the left of the political spectrum. This is leading people to think of one of two things, according to Fieschi.

  1. “I like these people and so they cannot be populists”
  2. This is left-wing populism, so it really can’t be bad”

Overall, this week’s readings show that there is a difference in both left and right populism, and that one does not necessarily rank higher than the other.


  1. Catherine Fieschi, “A Plague on Both Your Populisms” (April 19, 2012) Open Democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/plague-on-both-your-populisms/
  2. March L. “Left and right populism compared: The British case” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 19(2) (2017): 282-303.
  3. Davide Vampa, “Competing forms of populism and territorial politics: the cases of Vox and Podemos in Spain” Journal of Contemporary European Studies vol. 28, issue 3 (2020).
  4. Cas Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, C “Exclusionary vs. inclusionary populism: Comparing contemporary Europe and Latin America” Government and Opposition 48 (2013): 147–174.
  5. Davide Vampa (2020) Competing forms of populism and territorial politics: the cases of Vox and Podemos in Spain, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 28:3, 304-321,

Right VS. Left: Neofascism in Italy

By: Nicole Beswitherick

One thing that really stuck out to me in the readings for this week was the Guardian article, by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Kate Connolly in Berlin, and Angela Giuffrida in Rome; as well as the Hyperallergenic one by Charlie Jarvis. Perhaps this is because my major is journalism, but reading more recent examples of a fascist-leaning movement than older ones brings a more meaningful understanding as it is happening in real time.

In the Guardian reading, it really struck me how more women are moving towards a nationalist populism that was once so dominated by patriarchal ideology. Perhaps it is suggested that they are moving away from feminism as the article says. However, Le Pen rejects the term “feminism” because they associate it with an instrument of leftwing nonsense, replacing it with what the definition is, “women’s rights”. The Italian rightwing populist parties are targeting women as well with controversial messages that immigration brings misogynistic cultures that threaten freedom in Europe. These immigrants are mostly from countries with high Muslim populations. It all seems like a very manipulative scheme which we have seen in the west too, particularly in the United States.

Jarvis talks in his article about a massacre at Piazza Fontana in Milan, Italy. He also touches on how far-left groups (yes, left. Not right) like the Brigate Rosse waged war against the state through kidnapping and targeted assassination. However, the neofascist cells also sowed terror with massacres such as the one at Piazza Fontana. I liked how one journalist worded it, “the bombs that changed Italy.” Jarvis makes a connection with these relationships in regard to a museum. He explains that remembrance enables reconciliation between victims and perpetrators and also between the far left and extreme right.

Of course other articles this week also touched on Italy and its fascist past and present. But these two went really well together in explaining not only what has happened previously between the left and rightwing parties and supporters in Italy, but also what has been going on recently as a “look forward” type of ideal.

Two Dichotomies

By: Hannah Long

Image : georgelmosseprogram. “Confrontation: Paris, 1968.” YouTube. 5:45, November 1, 2012. 

The intriguing aspect of post-war politics has to be the extreme shift and impact the left and right had democratically, so much so that I believe we can still feel the effects today. Each of this week’s readings seamlessly flowed over one another to provide a detailed perspective of both the historical events and thoughts of societies who were looking to reestablish themselves. Bar-On’s work delves into this matter by discussing the birth of Nouvelle Droite and many French national’s subsequent scramble to defend cultural identity. The need for a cemented identity in France took two turns, one in a liberal standoff for the emerging adolescent portion of the population in the 1968 student riots, and the other form of cultural homogeneity. 

The riots challenged the democratic foundation to change traditional institutions as well as a contempt for leftover imperialist attitudes that were embedded in the conservative system (Confrontation Paris, 1968). This far-left movement wanted to uproot the seemingly unchanging right wing to move to a new era that better represented the rapidly growing interconnectedness more youths were feeling that the access of post-secondary education was allowing them. This unprecedented confrontation between the state and students changed the cycle of conservatism, shutting down the Gaullist Regime and the economy. 

In a measure of opposition Alain de Benoist (founding member of the Nouvelle Droite) sought to annihilate the far-left as it was up-rooting societies across Europe. There was a belief that hierarchy was key in maintaining a functional and secular society away from international influence. The founding of the ND provided “new spaces” for other far-right wing political parties to emerge (217, Bar-On). Benoist provided growth for the extreme right wing in Europe that can still be seen to this today, which circles back to the present day facist movements that were discussed two weeks ago, which I believe further shows how widespread and rooted the ND has become since its inception more than fifty years ago. 

As I stated prior, when anlyazing each of the readings closely the remnants and more so the influence WWll has had can be easily spotted when looking at the actions and beliefs of those around this time. On one hand we see a part of society who wanted to permanently get as far away as possible from the past, seeking to change it and move their nation into the then “global/modern” liberal concepts. On the other there is a seeking out of fascist concepts, masquerading them as traditionalism, to focus on internal matters such as recementing ideas of hierarchies, ethnic identity, and Judaeo-Christian world-view. All of which are straight from Nazi rhetoric. What is interesting to me as a final thought is the internal struggle that comes up each week with these readings, there is a present “need” to hang onto the past however it seems that when it comes to discussing the past and pulling back the layers of the rationale and history behind these concepts there is almost a denial of fascists to state that what they are doing is derived from Nazism.

The Paris Review - May '68: Posters of the Revolution
Image: The Paris Review. “May ’68: Posters of the Revolution.” The Paris Review, May 1, 2018. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/05/01/may-68-posters-of-the-revolution/.


georgelmosseprogram. “Confrontation: Paris, 1968.” YouTube. YouTube, November 1, 2012. 

Tamir Bar-On, “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 45, no. 3 (July 2011): 199–223.

Op/Ed #1: Populist Parties in the Former Eastern Bloc; the USSR’s Last “Parting Gift”

Jacob Braun

The flag of the Soviet Union is lowered for the last time and replaced with the flag of the Russia, December 26th 1991. Source

On December 26th, 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved into its 15 constituents— signifying the end of the Cold War. The capitalist western powers were finally able to reach through the Iron Curtain and begin the arduous process of democratization within states formerly subjugated by the Warsaw Pact, marking an era of increased European political and economic interconnectedness. However in the liberalization process of states such as the former East Germany, Poland and Hungary, the USSR had left behind the perfect storm of conditions for today’s populist parties to emerge; steeped in anti-establishment, anti-elitist and ultra-traditionalist rhetoric. The democratization experiment was something unfamiliar to most, and certainly had the possibility for improvement following the western powers’ first attempts in the aftermath of the Second World War. In my opinion though, we’ve gravely mishandled this situation which has allowed for the growth of a dangerous “populist plague.” If not properly amended, the inevitable takeover of Europe by right-wing populist parties will have dire consequences. 

Life behind the Iron Curtain was very harshly regimented. One’s loyalty to their local communist party was of utmost importance to the authorities, lest they allow capitalist dissidents to run amok. Essentially, from 1946 to 1991 a herculean campaign of repression was undertaken across eastern Europe to foster the collectivization of society. After the dissolution of the USSR however, all of this oppressive architecture would vanish— finally allowing for these states’ transitions to democracy to occur. Initially, cooperation between western institutions and former communist states went smoothly. As time went on though, the groups most repressed by the USSR became more agitated and active in national politics; seeing organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) as no more than mimics of their former Soviet overlords. An odd combination of nostalgia for the Soviet period and hatred for its communist governance combined to propel groups like the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Fidesz and the Law and Justice Party into the forefront of European politics. 

East Germany was perhaps one of the more repressive states to have existed during the Cold War. So, how has a party rooted in authoritarian conservatism been able to rise to prominence? Under the auspices of the Soviet Union and the watchful eyes of the Stasi (East Germany’s secret police, one of the most effective in history), the East German identity was shifted away from the individual and instead towards the community. The state was to be the most important organ in everyone’s lives— and individuals were solely cogs in the machine of the advancement of socialism. Post-reunification, many young Germans born in the territories of the former East Germany felt they had no identity to rely on[1]; a major factor for AfD politicians to take advantage of. If populism can offer a solution for problems caused by the former East Germany, prospective voters are more than willing to overlook its racist and xenophobic leanings.

A German man holds up a sign reading “Respect for German Culture” at an AfD rally. Source

The Fidesz Party of Hungary adopted a similar strategy to that of the AfD— filling a void for voters with the promise of problem solving through direct democracy, as well as attacking democratic European institutions interpreted as detrimental to Hungary’s future[2]. Hungary too was subjugated under the Iron Curtain and was even invaded by its former Warsaw Pact allies in 1956[3], which would understandably cause many Hungarians to be weary of supranational institutions. Although a light amount of skepticism can be healthy, the skepticism promoted by Viktor Orban is rooted in antisemitism[4] and strongman authoritarianism that seeks to destroy the EU from the inside. Coincidentally, Orban is a close ally to Vladimir Putin.

A Fidesz Party poster depicts George Soros and other Orban rivals holding wire cutters, insinuating they will cut the border fence and allow migrants to enter the country. Source

While AfD and Fidesz take advantage of the nostalgic aspects of populism, the Polish Law and Justice Party associates more with its religious aspects. Under Soviet State Atheism, Poland’s majority Christian population was severely repressed. Following the dissolution of the USSR however, this bottled-up religiosity was allowed to run wild; entrenching itself among far-right politicians and used as a tool to demonize the decadent west. Poland’s Law and Justice Party seek a return to Christian tradition and to do away with western degeneracy, such as abortions (which they have banned outright since 2021)[5] and homosexuality (which has been banned in entire regions of the country since 2019)[6].

Law and Justice Party supports using religious imagery in support of the party’s controversial judicial reforms. Source

It is apparent that populist parties have their roots in the totalitarianism of the former communist sphere. The USSR laid the foundations for today’s turbulent political climate, which has been exploited by its successor state, Russia, as a means to destabilize the west. This is an issue which must be recognized— if we do not prescribe the accurate antidote for the plague of populism, we will certainly lose this second Cold War we find ourselves in.


Why young eastern German voters support the far-right AfD – Deutsche Welle

The Secrets to Viktor Orban’s Success – Foreign Policy

Remembering the 1956 Hungarian Uprising – Radio Free Europe

Viktor Orban’s anti-Semitism problem – Politico

How woman are resisting Poland’s abortion ban – Aljazeera

Polish Court Rejects Case Against ‘LGBT-Free Zones’ Activist – Human Rights Watch

Defining terms: Fascism vs. Populism

During the readings for this week, as we have all read, the terms fascism and populism come up often.

When defining the term fascism, a lot of examples had come up, particularly in the reading by Frederico Finchelstein. There, I enjoyed the definition of the term populism as “a political form that thrives in democracies that are particularly unequal…” etc. But yet, this also proves that populism is capable of undermining democracy without breaking it. Finchelstein put it into good words by saying if populism extinguishes democracy, it becomes a dictatorship.

With regard to fascism, I liked that Donald Trump was a key topic of conversation. I found it interesting, yet it made sense to me, that Roger Griffin did not see Donald Trump as a fascist because of his own definition of the term. In his definition, for someone to be fascist, they need to have a longing for a new order, a new nation, and not just an old reformed one. Trump’s catchphrase is “make America great again” which to me, indicates that he did not necessarily want to go a new way in government, but back to how it used to be, I’m assuming prior to Obama. So by this definition, Griffin is correct in saying that Trump is not a fascist.

I am running a bit long here, but I just wanted to add lastly that there was a question in one of the readings about if fascism has really returned from its 1945 grave. As of now, I would agree that fascism hasn’t truly come back as much as others may disagree. Not by true definition. However, populism seems to be the bigger issue now as there is a rival between the common people and the “elites” or the 1%.