In The Nation, Waleed Shahid interviews eminent political philosopher Chantal Mouffe. Although the interview took place before the recent US presidential election, it provides valuable insight into the socioeconomic factors animating support for Trump. In the excerpt below, Mouffe discusses strategies for left-wing renewal, including establishing a "populist frontier" and a "chain of equivalence." Visit The Nation for the full interview.
Waleed Shahid: What are your thoughts about the development and popularity of left and right-wing populism in the United States?
Chantal Mouffe: ... Trump’s base is also part of the popular classes because they have also been abandoned by neoliberalism. The white working and middle classes used to have more social and economic rights, and Trump is using a racist populism to appeal to that feeling and construct a new political identity beyond just left versus right.
In response, the left must create what I call a “a populist frontier” of all the popular classes against the elites and establishment. The only candidate who could have provided this alternative was Sanders.
In France, the majority of the working class is voting for Marine Le Pen. It’s easy to understand, because these sectors have become the losers in globalization. Le Pen has been able to articulate—in a xenophobic vocabulary—the demands of the popular classes. They are democratic demands. They are ordinary people who are suffering. But Le Pen comes with the discourse: “I understand that you are suffering. The people who are responsible are the immigrants.” She is establishing a frontier against immigrants. Le Pen says that she cares about the people while the French Socialist Party—like Clinton—has no discourse about people’s genuine problems with the status quo. People don’t trust the establishment leaders and parties anymore. They no longer convince.
It seems to me that this is what Sanders was trying to do. He was giving another answer. The adversary is not immigrants, but it’s Wall Street and financial interests. This is left-wing populism. But it’s not only about the demands of the working class. It’s also about establishing what I call “a chain of equivalence” between different sectors: the demands of the feminists, civil rights, and different movements.
A chain of equivalence is very difficult to establish on the left. It means that the groups in the chain each have their own particular relation to the power structure. But they are still able to act in a unified manner around some form of a common agenda. But the chain is not about uniting all demands into one single and homogeneous movement. This grouping of forces simply begins to see themselves in solidarity with one another and disadvantaged by the existing power structure. Each link in the chain remains distinct, but they begin to operate together, in concert.
But in order to for the chain of equivalence to be established, you need to define a common adversary. That’s how it becomes a united chain.
Image of Chantal Mouffe via kettosmerce.blog.hu