The Left Populist Movements and Emerging Setbacks in Europe and the United States


The Left Populist Movements and Emerging Setbacks in Europe and the United States

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009 is, arguably, one of the most profound events witnessed in the Western world in contemporary times. Today, reverberations of this incident are still evident and are often characterized by political ideologies and inclinations directly linked to altered political allegiances traced to this period. The 2008 Great Recession is, therefore, mainly credited with the emergence of shifting loyalties in party politics and the subsequent development of the left-populist movements as notable elements of the wider political structure. Over the past decade, left-populist movements have mainly emerged within countries hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis: chief among them being the United States, Argentina, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The political rhetoric and ideology espoused by members of left-populist movements, such as Podemos in Spain, were characterized by a deep desire to attract the majority to their cause by focusing on individual-level provisions (Agustin 2019).

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This strategy was designed with the primary aim of attracting undecided voters with first-hand experience of the negative impact of the financial crisis such as members of the existing anti-austerity radical left. Individuals who happened to subscribe to the ideology of left-populist movements typically challenged mainstream sentiments on the forces behind the financial recession and those responsible for its emergence. They often held unconventional views about the aforementioned economic crisis; with a considerable cross-section of their opinions directly attributed to unfulfilled expectations.  The emergence of left-populist movements was also associated with prolonged periods of electoral turmoil setting the stage for the integration of economic voting models. It is, therefore, fundamental to discuss the recent setbacks of the left-populist movements originating from the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 within the context of Europe and the United States.

Fundamentals of Left-wing Politics

Left populist movements are a relatively recent phenomenon deeply rooted in the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. They are normally based on a populist left-wing ideology known to harbor anti-establishment and anti-elitist views with the supposed aim of speaking for the “common people”. Also embedded in this ideology are anti-capitalist views introduced in an attempt to demystify and deconstruct the most recent financial recession and its causes. Over the past decades, left-populist movements have morphed into robust organizations that now integrate emerging concerns such as pacifism and social justice with the primary aim of broadening their support base (Kioupkiolis & Katsambekis, 2019).  Growing concerns over the actual consequences of global economics on individual nation-states have also prompted left-populist movements to adopt a stern anti-globalization rhetoric. Exponents of the left-wing school of thought view globalization as a precursor to militarism and have blamed it for unpopular military incursions such as those conducted by the United States in the Middle East.

            This above-mentioned political stance also aligns with exclusionary populism where left-wing politicians and proponents of such views strive to support and clamor for minority rights. According to Swann (2020), one of the main objectives of left-wing political movements which mushroomed in Europe and the United States was to redefine and reinvigorate social democracy in a fast-paced contemporary political environment. Left-wing politics is frequently associated with novel terms such as post-democracy and often proposes broadening the political space to guarantee the electorates’ participation in a given political dispensation. Presently, political pundits contend that the initial success witnessed among major left-populist movements was a direct consequence of their focus on democratization and the idea that citizens should enjoy popular sovereignty. Left populist movements, such as Podemos in Spain, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, and the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, eventually attempted to integrate this nascent political rhetoric with elements of nationalism to promote the adoption of egalitarian ideals for posterity.

Accounting for Recent Setbacks of the Left Populist Movements

Recently, left-populist movements have registered a sharp decline in popularity in their spheres of influence and are now thought to portend their end. Their inability to successfully conduct mass mobilization is viewed by leading political analysts, such as Yannis Stavrakakis and Giorgos Venizelos, as a clear sign of their waning influence on left-populist movements in the existing political order (Grandesha, 2018). Recent changes in electoral dynamics witnessed in Spain, Italy, and the United States with the election of polarizing political figures such as President Donald Trump is evidence of a clear shift in electoral dynamics. The recent defeat of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, the political compromise struck by Podemos in Spain, and the capitulation of the Left-wing Syriza anti-austerity movement in Greece have a huge blow to the left-populist movement. The following is an in-depth appraisal accounting for the recent setbacks of the left-populist movements, particularly in Europe and the United States.

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Skepticism over the Long-Term Viability of Left-Wing Populist Rhetoric

The recent compromises and the outright failure of post-democracy left-wing proponents in Spain, Germany, Greece, and the United States serves as prime examples of plummeting influence and a major setback for existing left-populist movements. Political analysts interpret this as a clear sign of a steady surge in skepticism among the electorate and within the very core of its support base over concerns surrounding long-term viability.  Left populist movements have also failed to convince the electorate of their dependability given the notable absence of a clear long-term political strategy. More often than not, left-wing political outfits that ended up replacing incumbent right-wing governments failed to deliver on their promises. This was often blamed on poor planning, lack of political will to implement drafted policies, institutional bureaucracy, and poorly drafted.

The anti-austerity left-wing Syriza coalition was greatly criticized by the Greek electorate for failing to create an elaborate political strategy, ultimately culminating in its capitulation 3 years after ascending to power. Initially, the party was elected to office by a substantial majority inspired by its radical criticism of crippling austerity measures originating from the 2007-2009 worldwide crisis. However, the coalition seemed to lack a clear perspective and failed to identify noteworthy political strategies beyond anti-austerity measures Syriza’s coalition was also plagued by constant internal rifts among disillusioned members critical of the handling of Greece’s financial woes.  Syriza’s decision to sanction the privatization of public sector enterprises and an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), under instructions handed down by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) was sharply criticized by a debt-weary public.  Syriza’s coalition was subsequently accused of failing to implement robust and practicable austerity measures and subsequently blamed for a 48% reduction in pensions, a 37% fall in wages, and the scaling down of civil servants by 30% (Katsambekis, 2016). The mobilized left-wing masses further fanned the coalition’s capitulation given that Syriza’s rash policies affected the weakest and most vulnerable cross-section of society such as individuals classified under the lower tier of the socio-economic structure and senior citizens.

Left-wing Assault on Preexisting Mainstream Ideals as a Threat to Stability

 Over the past decade, left-populist movements have increasingly been viewed as a threat to national and global stability based on their critique and elaborate attempts to disrupt the status quo and mainstream ideals. Left-wing capitalized on growing discontent among politically disillusioned groups wrought with apparent social exhaustion after the Great Recession of 2008. Based on the anti-elitist, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, and anti-militarism positions espoused by left-populist movements, detractors of this emerging political ideology and rhetoric viewed them as a direct threat to long-standing Western traditions and ideals (Katsourides, 2016). This was further exacerbated by a regressive politics of nationalism which, essentially, posed a direct threat to global peace and the balance of power. Firebrand left-wing politicians such as Giuseppe Conte, capable of mobilizing fanatical supporters to put forth demands centered on radical post-democracy and economic justice also became a major concern. Challenging the mainstream, as was the case with the anti-globalization, is now generally considered a slippery slope capable of reorienting and reorganizing global ties accompanied by negative consequences.

 Moreover, radical and rigid views espoused by politicians under the banner of left-populist movements are largely viewed as a direct threat to political consensus often due to the left’s propensity for chronic deadlocks. A polymorphic political system will, therefore, fail to function optimally based on its internal structure and may ultimately fail to prioritize people-eccentric policies. The radical left is also treated with a great deal of suspicion by members of the establishment wary of an attempt to seize the state through unconstitutional means through a coup. The current setbacks associated with left-populist movements are also linked to constant political fights and squabbles with contemporaries when attempting to form coalitions. Constant fights eventually diminish and erode the electorate’s trust in the left’s credibility and political goodwill crucial when seeking to achieve national goals.  Today, the consequences of this critical setback are evident in a rapidly fading electoral momentum and voter apathy due to ambiguous political stances held by leaders of the radical left. Members of political outfits under the left-populist movements also fail to secure the total and unequivocal support of the general public due to serious concerns and a looming fear of spur-of-the-moment decisions to reverse Neo-liberal policies.

Low Demand for Left Populist Movements

Although left-populist movements enjoyed a great deal of popularity after the Great Recession of 2008, support for the basic left-wing ideology and rhetoric has fallen drastically due to low demand. The failures and ineptitude of left-wing politicians and coalitions have cast doubt on the actual efficiency and the ability of the left populist movement to realize set political goals. Additionally,  a considerable cross-section of the public seems skeptical of the primary objectives of left-populist movements. A growing number of such detractors are deeply critical of the intentions of left-populist movements and are frequently viewed as just but a continuation of the establishment.  The left-populist movement has, therefore, had to contend with the precarious nature of its current standing given the overt criticism of the radical archetypal left-wing ideology and its implications in modern times. Evidence of low demand for left-populist movements now proved to be a serious impediment to progress to the long-term success of left-populist movements.

Furthermore, low demand for left-populist movements and their agenda is also a direct consequence of the public’s confidence in policies instituted by the establishment.  Save for rare instances of global financial recession, free-market capitalism and globalization has had a positive impact on nation-states and are often accorded boundless support by the Western elite. The perks of existing economic policies introduced by Neo-liberalism include free-market trade, trade incentives such as limited taxation, and a concerted drive toward market liberalization (Keith, 2017). The left-populist movements,  therefore, face an uphill task when drumming up support for various political outfits under their banner when expected to provide appropriate alternatives to existing economic policies. Besides, low demand for left populism can also be attributed to the presence of highly educated voters capable of independently interrogating contentious political issues during an electioneering period. Left populism is also plagued by low demand given its economic base. The economic state of nation-states rarely remains static. This poses a serious threat to the very existence of left-populist movements, especially in a scenario where perceived economic injustice and long-standing economic hardships are successfully addressed. The setbacks of the left-populist movements can also be attributed to the public’s failure to back them fully. For instance, adopting an anti-capitalist stance has increasingly proven difficult to achieve since a considerable population of its followers are either wealthy or self-identify as middle-class.


The Great Recession of 2008 has often represented a crucial period in history and is credited with the emergence of the left-populist movement. Over time, the left-wing political ideology and rhetoric have morphed into a radical tool for the post-democracy keen on addressing political disillusionment and socioeconomic exhaustion. Characterized by anti-establishment, anti-elite, anti-militarism, and anti-capitalist stances, the left-populist movement now grapples with emerging challenges currently associated with its steady decline. Today, a notable drop in supporters and followers of the anti-establishment school of thought is evident in Europe and the United States due to its assault on mainstream sociopolitical and socioeconomic ideals, questions surrounding its long-term viability, and low demand for populist movements. Conventional success for the left-populist movements can, therefore, only be achieved by addressing controversial elements such as regressive nationalistic politics coupled with a thorough evaluation of possible solutions to existing setbacks.

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