European Populism(s) as a Counter-hegemonic Discourse: Podemos and Movimento Cinque Stelle Against Austerity

Arthur Borriello, Samuele Mazzolini

One of the consequences of the Southern European crisis has been the deep transformation of party systems and the emergence of new political actors uneasy to define along the classic left-right cleavage. This paper investigates the rise of Podemos and Movimento Cinque Stelle in a comparative perspective: to what extent do these political movements pertain to the same political logic? What does differentiate them and to what extent does this impact from a strategic point of view? In order to seize their common features, we rely on Ernesto Laclau's definition of populism as a mode of construction of the political in terms of a chain of equivalences against a common enemy. Moreover, we argue that these political movements should be understood as a reaction against the hegemonic discourse of austerity - which we define as an attempt to remove the political confrontation through a "restructuring" and "rescaling" of political practice. In particular, we argue that, regardless of their ideological differences, they belong to the same counter-hegemonic discourse which attempts to build the political frontier exactly where the austerity camp tries to remove it, by re-embedding the economy in the political sphere and defining national and European elites as the enemy (against the claim that the collective national interest matches perfectly the collective European interest). However, we also argue that the normative and symbolic repertoires they deploy present important dissimilarities, which make the long-term perspectives of each movement different. Intuitively, the M5S may be better placed to enlarge its electoral consensus, but at disadvantage when thinking from the point of view of hegemony and the implementation of policies. We intend to explore these questions by combining a theoretical discussion on populism with an in-depth qualitative analysis of the discourse of both political movements during the 2014 European election campaign.

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