Racists are not ‘populists’

This video from the USA is called The People’s (Populist) Party.

By Solomon Hughes in Britain today:

Jeremy should be as populist as Tom Watson

According to the Guardian, some of those close to Jeremy Corbyn want him to try a more “populist” stand.

If he does, the one lesson he should learn from populism is that to succeed, it must be anti-racist.

This might sound odd because in Britain, right-wing, anti-migrant parties are often called “populist.” But the actual original populism was firmly on the left. This is all about Tom Watson, populism and bigotry.

No, not that Tom Watson, but the one who was born in the US in 1856. He was one of the leaders of the People’s Party, a US insurgent political movement of the 1890s, which was the original “populism.”

It was a movement of poor US farmers for political reform, that grew massively until it was absorbed by the Democrats in 1896.

It stood for a progressive income tax, nationalisation of the railways, an eight-hour day, and the end of the “gold standard,” which tended to depress farm prices. When the party was growing, Watson made strong speeches against racism.

He said to black and white farmers: “You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because on that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both.

“You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.”

The People’s Party was far from perfect in its stand against racism, but it made some advances given the deeply racist nature of the US at the time.

The first populists were better than the thoroughly racist Democrats of the US South.

However, when the People’s Party sank into decline in the 1900s, the same Tom Watson became a leading “white supremacist” and an anti-semite. The lesson is clear. If you want a growing populism, it has to be against bigotry, if you want to spiral into decline, then play with the poison of racism.

Etienne Balibar: Populism in the American Mirror: here.


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