Are the Populist parties (whether far-right or far-left) alike?

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Against all odds, a year ago the British voted for a small minority, to leave the European Union. The fundamental reason, the fear of what comes from outside. A few months later, and against all the forecasts and polls, the Americans elected as President to Donald Trump, who won with a populist message shaking the spectre of fear. He was supported by the European far-right. Finally, next May 7th in the second round of the French presidential election, Le Pen will be the candidate against Macron, having shown that the National Front (FN) has a large electoral base and a structure that could lead her to win in the coming legislative election.

At present, the far-right populist parties are ruling in Hungary and Poland. In other European countries, like The Netherlands and Denmark the populist have been able to achieve a great influence in the political arena. Although this is not a new phenomena, the economic crisis, the Islamist terrorism and the waves of refugees, have been in recent years some key elements which have decisively energized these movements in central and northern Europe .

But the radical-left is ruling as well: The social-democratic traditional parties have been heavily punished in all the past European elections, attacked from those radical-left populist postulates that have achieved positions of government in Greece and Portugal. It is also not a new phenomenon: Juan Domingo Peron invented it in the 1940s in Argentina, and it is now dramatically present in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. Cuba is a different situation, it is a communist tyranny. Every few years, when certain economic conditions are met, the populism returns in one shape or another, since both are very similar.

The extreme-right populism is rooted in the richest and most developed societies, and precisely among those outcast popular classes who feel discriminated by the system. This populism is basically based on three concepts: nation, race and religion. According to a recent survey by the Chatham House, the prestigious UK based Institute of International Affairs, 55% of Europeans do not wish any immigration from Muslim countries, being more pronounced in Poland (71%), followed by Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. In any European country, the percentage has dropped from 32%. The study also shows that the opposition to Muslim migration is particularly intense among older people. It is also divided by educational level: Among those with only secondary education (59% opposition) while those who support policies to curb Muslim immigration, is among University graduates (40%). Far-right populism seeks to protect us from everything foreign to our nation, our race or our religion, and the enemies to beat are the country elites who are responsible of the social and economic changes produced in the last decades and who are represented by the traditional political forces.

Far-left populism arises within the most traditional Marxism: Protecting to those dispossessed by the economic elites, who had manipulated the economy and politics to satisfy their own interests. This is the populism’ phenomenon in Latin America and the movements like ‘SYRIZA’ in Greece and ‘Podemos’ in Spain. But also in France, where the presidential candidate Marine Le Pen accused his adversary Macron: “You are the France of submission,” Le Pen said with scorn; Mr. Macron was merely a heartless banker, in her view, “We’ve seen the choice you’ve made, the cynical choices, that reveal the coldness of the investment banker you have never ceased being.” Such a message could perfectly come from a Chavista party, without going any further.

Facing currently the second round of the French presidential elections, the similarities between Le Pen and the defeated Mélenchon (a tracing of the Spanish party ‘Podemos’, party founded with money coming from the Chavez regime), are also overwhelming: a very significant part of their programs are coincident, both in the background and in the forms. These are not merely casual and anecdotal similarities, but rather coherent programs in their break with a moderately individualistic and internationalist social order: Both aim to submit those individual freedoms to the collective will of the ‘People’; To delegate to the State the future of citizens’ administration and finally, to protect their country from economic threats or external cultural influences.

Certainly, there are a few key elements which make then different. But there are also other equally key elements that objectively bring them closer to Le Pen than to Macron. That is why their relationship is so conflicting: they hate each other, but at the same time their coincidences are too obvious to obviate them.

Today, populism is related with both the radical-left and the far-right. The latter has never masked its intentions: flaunting his anti-immigration convictions, anti-liberal economic system and in defence of traditional values. In that part they differ, absolutely. But both are enemies of the open societies that liberalism has always defended: enemies of private property, universal equality, social self-regulation, globalization, individual freedom and responsibility. None of them defends a broad conception of individual freedom, which constitutes an impassable frontier to the State, in both civil and economic spheres. On the contrary, both promote the primacy of the collective, versus the individual person autonomy, if necessary, using violence. This populism also is strongly popular in the Islamic world where a radical discourse is being made today and is ruling the great majority of those Muslim states.

Both extremism bring the same type of leadership and transgressive language as an essential tool to differentiate themselves from the elites: The populist leaders are political style and language transgressors and they show it, since it is an asset reporting much popularity among their audience. These characteristics lead to consider populism not an ideology but a way of identifying and addressing the political discourse, against those supposed elites unable to represent the so-called ‘people’. Therefore, Populism must be combated intellectually and politically.

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