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Radical democracy and left populism after the squares: ‘Social Movement’ (Ukraine), Podemos (Spain), and the question of organization

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Contemporary Political Theory Aims and scope


This article begins with a theoretical tension. Radical democracy, in the joint work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, can be understood as a joint articulation of a post-foundational ontology of contingency and a politics of autonomy of ‘democratic struggles’ within a hegemonic bloc as loci of antagonisms in their own right, while Laclau’s theory of populism marks a shift from the autonomy of struggles to the representative function of the empty signifier as a constitutive dimension. This tension between a horizontal logic of autonomy and a vertical logic of representation comes to the fore not least in the manifold attempts to combine radical-democratic and (left-)populist practices in the wake of the ‘movements of the squares.’ This argument is illustrated empirically in the cases of two party projects situating themselves in contexts of social protest—‘Social Movement’ in Ukraine and Podemos in Spain—both of which seek to combine a left-populist discursive strategy with some form of radical-democratic politics of autonomy, either by supporting local alliances independent from the party (Podemos) or by integrating trade union representatives into the organizational center, which in turn finds expression in a representative logic (‘Social Movement’).

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The author expresses his sincere thanks to Aristotelis Agridopoulos, Martin Nonhoff, Jakob Schultz, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Seongcheol Kim.

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Kim, S. Radical democracy and left populism after the squares: ‘Social Movement’ (Ukraine), Podemos (Spain), and the question of organization. Contemp Polit Theory 19, 211–232 (2020).

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