The rise of populism is, without a doubt, the greatest of the political transformations that Western society has undergone in the last five years. A transformation that, far from stagnating, seems to mutate and evolve every second.
At first, populism was born as a concept that identified those Latin American countries that refused to play the globalization game and still continued with powerful socialist and anti-capitalist discourses. They based their power on the people, on sovereign people, and that was their main weapon.
This way of understanding politics as something that emanates from the bottom up, isn’t it familiar? Probably. It is the central thesis of parties like Syriza or Podemos.
However, over the years, or in parallel (we still do not know), the term was mutating, and it stopped being a typical left movement. Political parties and movements began to emerge whose main power resided in the sovereignty of their people, and they were not necessarily left-wing parties and movements.
Marianne Le Penn’s populism is not the same as Pablo Iglesias’s, for example. Nor is the populism of Donald Trump the same as that of Tsipras. That goes without saying. However, and with the exception of the Spanish case, all populisms do share common elements. We have already mentioned one, sovereignty. The other, more complex, infinitely more complex, is the case of immigration.
And it is that turning this complex issue into a weapon to obtain political gain has perhaps been one of the main mistakes of our time. But it has its explanation.
The inmigration for populism reason
In a world where the class struggle is no longer understood in the same way as fifty years ago, the leftist rhetoric needed to find a formula that would allow it to continue to oppose it in a globalized and capitalist world, but using the same main lines of socialist thought, or, rather, that of Marx. In other words, it needed to find a positionally inferior class to serve as an offensive bulwark against the ruling class. In this sense, the readings of characters such as Antonio Gramsci, who introduced the concept of capitalist hegemony in cultural terms, are vital. That is, the mechanisms of oppression by the dominant bloc towards the proletariat were no longer in terms of productivity, but of cultural hegemony of one class over the other.
Thus, one of the groups chosen by this leftist rhetoric was immigration, and although it was not the only one, it has been one of the most important.
To affirm that a country, in terms of economic productivity, has a limited capacity for migratory absorption is a reality, since it is based on a fact as simple as that countries move according to the law of supply and demand. So much work, for so many workers. However, the problem is that, by identifying immigration as a political subject on the part of the left, it has been promoted that any approach of a political nature concerning immigration is classified as reactionary, that is, ideologically alien to the left.
The left has appropriated immigration, making it a taboo subject in any political gathering or rally. And this diversity is what has resulted in the rise of these populist transformations. We see some examples:
Just a few months ago, in England, the yes to an economic Brexit triumphed, leaving Europe between dread and disbelief. And one of the main political arguments that justified it was the issue of immigration. The slogan of Theresa May’s party, in a 2013 campaign while she was Interior Minister, is lapidary: “Go home or face arrest.”
Across the English Channel, Marianne Le Penn’s National Front is advancing towards the Presidency of the Republic by leaps and bounds. There the problem is similar to the English case, however, it introduces a much more controversial variable: Islamism.
Affirming that it has become a conquering religion and strongly linked to crime and social conflict, Le Penn’s approach is very simple: “those immigrants who come to France in search of a better life are wrong, legitimately wrong, it is true, but wrong. We cannot offer it here ”.
In the Spanish case there is also this same problem, the main difference being the volume of immigration, higher than the rest of the other countries in the Eurozone. This fact, together with the speed with which immigrants have been welcomed and the impossibility, on the part of the State structures, of making their integration policies work, has caused, on the one hand, the unrest of the working class, which has seen how a social mass was introduced that competes directly with it for the same resources; and on the other, the degradation of left-wing parties, which have turned a deaf ear to the demands of their electors, perhaps for fear of suffering an almost irreparable loss of their political power.
Thus, it is logical to think that the problem of immigration is closely linked to the rise of populism in Europe. That is undeniable. Given this fact, some parties demand that it be treated as a political problem, thereby giving wings to their affiliations and their phobias. While others, on the contrary, prefer not to throw stones at their own roof and avoid the issue, especially when there is so much to lose and betraying their ideological roots seems to be a capital sin.
As for the electorate, today it seems comfortable in its philosophy of treating political activity as if it were a sport. I’m from one team, or another, with all the consequences. A manifest inability to shed their sense of political belonging that seems to bring more problems than solutions. We’ll see what happens.