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A popular term, as for instance in "left-wing populism" or "right-wing populism".

Those using this term - typically as an invective - mostly do not bother telling us what exactly they understand by it.

Let us therefore propose a definition:

The populist approach to gaining political power: Pretending to design or reform economic and social policies for the benefit of ordinary people; directing their ire onto the weakest (or simply "the other", exploiting for instance basic herd instincts inherited from our animal ancestry); yet more or less covertly playing the game of the by now proverbial 1%.

By this definition all populism must be tagged "right-wing". And the worst (and most disgraceful) populists are those politicians who still disguise themselves as "social democrats" but have long since converted themselves into "neo-liberals". (They may still have qualms though, to systematically pull the scapegoats out of their hat.)

According to this definition, attaching the label "populist" to "left-wingers" who live up to the predicate "left" in its real sense, is simply wrong.

Because the predicate "left" refers, as it were, to unequivocally making Social Justice, Solidarity, Peace and Quality of Life for all, as well as a large and sustainable Commons, the goals and guidelines of all public policy. Not the weakest, the have-nots, are in the way towards reaching these goals, but usually the strongest of the haves.

Beyond the "classic" terminology of class antagonisms and class struggle (that nowadays may make some turn up their nose), this interpretation of "left" comes down to bringing about a rational constitution for our communities, large and small: a constitution above all, that makes sure the ownership of the means of production does not lead to a misappropriation of the work and the devaluation of the skills of those who create these means of production and the necessary infrastructures, and with them our common wealth.

NB: Proposing one definition does of course not preclude other definitions (including those that do not attribute negative qualities). But those who use the term "populism" as an invective should at least indicate the definition they have in mind.

Hans-Georg Stork, 12/2016