Populism (as shown in *The Progressive Populist*

Chip Berlet cberlet at igc.org
Sat Jan 1 21:44:58 PST 2000

Hey, Max, snearing at academic research may score points in some circles, but the new research on populism and producerism is substantial. It deserves a more intelligent response than your claim that since you consider yourself a producerist, any critical analysis must be elitist liberal slop or dogmatic commie rage. I embrace neither, thanks. I'm just a progressive who has read Kazin and Canovan and Stock. I think that populism is a style and producerism a paradigm that has a tendency to slip into conspiracy theories of power. Jacksonian producerism only looked good if you can stomach ignoring the slaughter of Indians. The Populist Party started out with some good ideas and then a significant number of its supporters slipped into demonizing Jews and Blacks. As Canovan pointed out, both the elitist liberal and romanticized progressive views of populism were flawed.

The Progressive Populist ran two columns warning about the conspiracism and bigotry of right wing populism. If they can get it...

And to anticipate Max's next complaint, yes, I have worked with a predominantly White printing trade union, and my wife and I spent ten years organizing for peaceful integration in a White working class neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago. I do not think White working people are devils, but I know they aren't saints, either. Historic producerism only looks good if you limit your assessment to the gains of White men. Not my idea of a good business for a left observer. :-)

Doug asked:

> How large a constituency do you think there is for right-wing
> populism?

Christian Right + Patriots/Birchers + Militias + Far Right

Toss in a bunch of angry downsized middle and working class "producerists."

There are probably 5 million people who think the government is run by secret elites and expect some form of tyranny. A broader crowd of right wing populists from the above-named sectors might number closer to 20 million. Anyone who listens to talk radio in most of the geographic US will hear right wing populism on a daily basis. Not a voting bloc, but a deep current in US politics.

>Do you agree with my rather complacent assessment of the
> Buchanan threat, for example?

Nope. Buchanan can't win a national election, but that does not mean there is no constituency for his views. A whole (albeit minority) sector of the Republican Party is composed of business nationalists. NAM still has some clout.

> And how much do you think the U.S. antiglobalization movement draws on this?

I have been ranting about the Milliken/US Business and Industrial Council (USBIC) alliance with the Naderites for several years. I think there is a small but significant group of anti-globalization activists who have chosen to set aside concerns over racism, sexism, homopobia, and antisemitism in their efforts to stop the growth of corporate power. I would like to think that one can be for economic AND social justice. There is a spread of left-right alliances in both Europe and the US. My argument is that since the right is clearly seeking to recruit the left into an alliance, there needs to be special care taken to not mistake a tactical parallel campaign with a strategic coalition. I attended one conference where Lori Wallach shared the speakers platform with a representative of the ISBIC, and no one mentioned their history of anti-union activism. Copies of the John Birch Society and Liberty Lobby newspapers were left in stacks on the literature table, but when I asked the conference organizers to say something distancing the meeting from these periodicals, I was told that they were trying to build a broad coalition. When Allen Hunter raised a criticism of some of the xenophobic anti-NAFTA rhetoric of the Naderites, he was trashed.

I think the history of "producerism" is to focus on the needs of a largely White sector of the middle and working class, while frequently tolerating or supporting attacks on people of color, immigrants, and Jews. The economic analysis masks a lack of concern over social justice.

I think if there is an economic downturn, right wing populist scapegoating will grow rapidly.

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