Of all the words Hugo Chávez mangled during his countless hours on TV, the one that always made me smirk was pueblo. The people. He would turn the “u” into an “o”, so it sounded like poeblo. During campaign speeches, he would lean on that “o,” all he cared about was the pooeblo, he was—in his words, especially towards the end—not Hugo Chávez anymore. He was pooeblo.

To this day, it’s the word that defines Chávez better than any other. Because the ism that goes with pueblo is… populism.

After 20 years of chavismo, have we Venezuelans learned anything about what brought us here? Judging by opinion polls and results of the last election the opposition contested fully, most of us have learned not to vote for some specific parties and politicians. I can’t see any member of the ruling clique winning a minimally fair presidential election.

But learning—truly internalizing the lessons of these years—means more than knowing which parties to reject. Avoiding in the future the mistakes of the past requires understanding both of the deep and shallow forces that lead to 20 years of pain. And, in my opinion, populism should top the list of culprits.

Learning—truly internalizing the lessons of these years—means more than knowing which parties to reject.

In Venezuela we have come to understand by populism what’s actually clientelism: “buying” support through profligate policies and plain gifts; paying for votes, giving away washing machines, food and even houses in exchange for political support. But while chavistas—and more than a few in the opposition—regularly engage in clientelism, populism is something different, if sometimes related.

For this post, I’m following Mudde and Rovira’s definition: populism entails framing politics as “us against them,” where “us” means the people—the pure people, you know, El Pueblo—and “them” is the corrupt elites. Populism then includes an appeal and adulation of the people, and an attack against the establishment and elites. The stated goal of the populist, their promise, is that, through them, politics will be the expression of the people’s will.

See, not Chávez anymore, but el pueblo.

Populism is as powerful as it is shallow. It can feed on fear, resentment, disenchantment, anger, disappointment and xenofobia, and put wind into the sails of dangerous political movements from both the left and the right. The “them” can be anyone that fits a given place or time: oligarchs, the establishment, immigrants, elites, whites or blacks or latinos, landowners, right-wingers, left-wingers, businesses or labor unions, Jews or Muslims, and so on.

Populism can also adapt to any real or perceived enemy and, in turn, can be used by anyone. There are right-wing and left-wing populists, differing only —and not always—on the enemies they choose. It worked—or works—for Hugo Chávez, Viktor Orbán, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Beppe Grillo, Marine Le Pen, Evo Morales, Alberto Fujimori, Rafael Lacava, Donald Trump and, yes, Jair Bolsonaro. Populism fits marxists and fascists just as well.

In Venezuela we have come to understand by populism what’s actually clientelism.

As Venezuela implodes, there’s no shortage of takes on what the hell happened. Was it socialism, or was it unchecked corruption at the highest levels of government? I’m sure both have a sizeable part of the blame, but I believe that what ultimately lifted Hugo Chávez from the bottom of opinion polls into Miraflores wasn’t voters’ sudden appetite for leftist policies—those had been offered for decades—but rather his brand of charismatic and cathartic populism, tailor-made for late-90s Venezuelans that had had enough.

That he was a marxist and corrupt is true, but that was secondary. Chávez was first and foremost a textbook populist. It was populism what supercharged marxism and corruption into a red-beretted bulldozer.

Winning as a populist was just the start; Chávez ruled like a populist, just as Nicolás Maduro after him. The model populist won’t be satisfied with winning an election. Once in power, they attack the institutions curtailing their power. From their point of view, it makes perfect sense: how can you fight against the enemies of the people without dismantling the checks and balances that protect them?

Populists will say that institutions and the rule of law are an obstacle to solving problems and defeating the enemy; they’re dumb, unfair or too strict. Sometimes they’ll agree, a given law makes sense. But surely there ought to be exceptions for dealing with emergencies, right? The Central Bank has all that money sitting there doing nothing. One billion, just one millardito, that’s all we need to build houses for the poor. Sure, separation of powers makes sense, but what if the country is under attack? People should not be arrested without a warrant, but these are not really politicians, they’re terrorists! And of course, thou shalt not kill. But these criminals are not really people, they’re animals, right?

When populists go after institutions and the rule of law, they’re going after arrangements put in place to protect us from others and, more importantly, protect us from power. A couple of populists ended the rule of law in Venezuela, and we’re now utterly vulnerable to power. And they usually don’t stop there.

In some cases, their challenge against conventions will include stubbornly going against the opinion of experts and common practices. It’s the sort of approach that leads to economies wrecked by overspending, protectionist trade policies, and all kinds of economic controls. The perpetual challenge of the past leads populists to fight against everything and anything—parties, institutions, policies—that were not of their own creation. It’s inevitable that the disdain for rules and their constant erosion will also open the door for wholesale corruption.

When applauding populists for ignoring the law to fight “them,” remember that the only thing saving you from abuse is that you are not one of “them”, yet.

History is filled with marxist and corrupt rulers that harmed their countries, but few to the extent that chavismo did in Venezuela. In Malaysia, the Prime Minister took $700 million straight from the country’s development fund into his bank account. Vladimir Putin and his billionaire cronies likely regard Venezuelan officials as nouveau riche chumps. Even in Greece a marxism-infused party managed to avoid economic armageddon. Neither Malaysia, Russia nor Greece are doing as bad as Venezuela.

Had Chávez been just marxist and corrupt, I’m sure today Venezuela would be in a very different place. Chávez’s years would have no doubt been lost years, but not as destructive as they were. Instead, we got a populist regime that exceeded its expiration date by squandering a once-in-a-generation oil boom.

Populism, whether from the Left or Right, is a destructive force that’s not selective nor has pinpoint accuracy. Chávez and Maduro destroyed Venezuela for everyone, not only for their opponents.

Bear that in mind, particularly those Venezuelans that today applaud the rise of populists like Bolsonaro simply because he, too, dislikes socialists. When applauding populists for ignoring the law to fight “them,” remember that the only thing saving you from abuse is that you are not one of “them”, yet: the definition of “them” is malleable. And if you’re lucky enough to never be seen as the enemy, the populist you like will wreck institutions for you, too.

After 20 years under the boot of populists, I hope we have learned to reject them. Rejecting populism means it can’t be tolerated, not even when it comes from someone with some narrow common goals. We should stand for something and do so without exceptions, or we’ll be taking politics as a transaction—supporting the person that can give you whatever you want at some give time—with no place for ethics nor principles. The kind of transaction that makes us pueblo—a word so abused, it has lost meaning—instead of citizens.

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  1. Dear Alberto, I’m afraid to tell you that you are not understanding what is really going on.
    You have to read more history and think deeper…
    You are basically yelling and screaming at the populace to please stop voting for populists. LOL
    Let me tell you something, that won’t ever happen as long as the System is fundamentally populist.
    You have to think why is that so? Is it even fixable within our orthodox democratic system?
    The populist phenomenon is not exclusive to bananas republics but also can be seen in other more “civilized” more established Democracies like the UK, France, US etc.

    If you read world history extensively, you’ll find that unfortunately it has never been the “Pueblo” who have created or conceived the great ideas and inventions we currently enjoy as peaceful civilized societies. That has always been the job of a tiny intellectual and moral elite, who have taken control and set us on the path of progress.

    A keen and open minded observer will notice that at this point, the well intended Universal Suffrage experiment has failed and failed again almost everywhere. This is at the core of this populist dynamic / problem.

    The facts are:
    1. The pueblo at large are not really interested in politics. (cheering for Kings, Caudillos, and folk heroes doesn’t count). Check the large number of people no voting everywhere !!

    2. The general population (~90%), no matter their education level can’t and won’t ever understand the complex issues about economy, social policies, international affairs, etc, etc, hell even local affairs!!. I don’t pretend I do but have a better than average grasp of some subjects.

    3. It is alarming and depressing that in many Democracies (like in Venezuela) there are no strict qualifications rules which could help to filter out these kind of dangerous popular and incompetent, inexperienced leaders away from power, like Chavez, Maduro.

    4. Populism in Venezuela didn’t started with Chavez. The populist dynamic, as a side effect of universal suffrage started right after the fall of Perez Jimenez slowly deteriorating politics, collapsing the entire system with Chavez / Maduro.

    With some of those facts in mind, I hope you realize that we won’t ever have a real positive change in politics away from populism until the election system changes to face these facts/challenges. This is at the core of the Populism problem. Humans will be humans, warts and all no matter how loud you yell.

    The challenge in implementing these changes is how to preserve some degree of people self determination while at the same time have the most competent leaders elected.
    The current system didn’t work.

    • That’s weird. That’s the same argument of Mario Silva and Maduro, and many other chavistas. They say our election system (one-person one-vote) is dangerous, because people can choose the wrong person. They say the system is “bourgeois”, and that they made a mistake in accepting that system, because there’s always the risk they could loose an election. I’m not kidding: go and listen to that leaked audio of Mario Silva talking with a Cuban general. Maduro has said the same on TV.

    • Hello Toro,

      As you dismiss the wisdom of universal vote you would seem advocate, by default, a closed ruling class. Something akin to a nobility, born and bred to rule. Or like in XVIII century US, “property-owning or tax-paying white males”, or even something like the Chinese Communist Party and its politburo.

    • @Torovolt Part 2 “We as citizens have RIGHTS but also have RESPONSIBILITIES,”

      Agreed. The issue is, they must be balanced.

      And furthermore, it is a grotesque injustice to have a system where a cloistered elite of citizens can rule over a far larger population of “Freedmen” who are denied participation in the system they help manage, often keep afloat.

      Even if one did not have an ethical, moral, or legal opposition to this, practical would be sufficient. A system where not enough people can participate leads to disillusionment and refusal to participate. Hence we have the Dominate of Western Rome, Heian Japan, or indeed Venezuela and Cuba today.

      ” such having at least some basic information in order to have the privilege to vote.”

      Again, this is one of the many areas where you’re wrong.

      Voting is a right, not a privilege. it is just and fair that a right should be regulated, limited, and even observed. But that does not mean that the state or society has the right to prima facie deny that people are naturally born with a right.

      For the same reason attempts to criminalize freedom of movement are an abomination largely managed by despots.

      ” Unfortunately that is not how it is conceived.”

      And Thank God.

      “Even if Maduro said what I said, no Chavista would never ever had a chance getting elected, none.Just for not having a high school diploma,”

      You REALLY haven’t accounted for people being able to adjust their rhetoric and strategies to deal with different restrictions, have you?

      To quote an apocryphal Story.

      Losing NFL Team Coach: “A good game, but at least we made more first downs than you.”

      Winning NFL Team Coach: “Ok, next time we’ll play for first downs.”

      If holding power becomes dependent on getting a High School Diploma or *Insert Higher Edu Degree Here*, the powerful and ambitious will MAKE IT A POINT to get that Diploma.

      Including Communists, Fascists, Populists, or whatever Fill In The Blank Here.

      And the idea that internationally connected terrorists with the backing of several dictatorships *can’t* adjust to that fact is so laughably incompetent it is not even worth discussing.

      The first Communist Party government in the Atlantic World emerged from the tiny, gentrified Republic of San Marino in the after years of WWII, in a campaign largely targeting the educated and urban elite.

      A few months later it tried to stage a coup in order to avoid having to step down as constitutionally required in spite of the overwhelming odds against it.

      The idea that totalitarians will not learn how to “play the game” by the rules you set is wishful thinking to the extreme.

      “Maduro would be automatically disqualified to even run as a candidate of anything, and the same for Chavez ”

      No, they wouldn’t be.

      They’d be disqualified *as they existed at the time.*

      But then Chavez and Maduro could spend a FRACTION of that time they spent doing things like infiltrating the bus drivers’ union in order to gain political power, and instead would focus on getting the appropriate, prerequisite educational credentials.

      Whether they decide to follow their idol Marx and do a correspondence course with some $hitty diploma mill, or actually applied themselves like Lenin did.

      That’s the problem with these castles in the clouds. You are so focused on the ideal you don’t seem to be asking yourself “How would this go wrong?”

      “How would this be subverted?”

      “How would people Intentionally trying to break this system go about doing it?”

      “given his no experience nor relevant education for those jobs, the Presidency, no less LOL.”

      A: Again, who is to decide who has relevant experience or education? Perhaps a backwoods lawyer from Illinois is much too unlearned, mh?

      In contrast to that brilliant minister in Portugal, what was his name? Salazar?

      B: This assumes that nobody outside of this rarefied “elite” can have experiences or insight useful for government.

      Which is Bullshiet.

      “How fucking unfair my elitist view is it?!”


      it’s also nowhere near as learned or smart as you think it is. Because you apparently think that Chavez, Maduro. and their ilk would never, not in a hundred years, *adjust to gaming the system.*

      “Let me tell you what is fucking unfair.”

      Dismissing the work of Leonardo just because you think el metaphorical pueblo have never contributed great inventions or ideas?

      “That now millions of people, including myself have to suffer the consequences of these utterly unqualified, psychopaths thanks to these naive, ill conceived and reckless system of elections.”

      Boo Farqing Hoo.

      No matter how Unfair you think it is, let me assure you that your “solution” is much, much more unfair. And dysfunctional to boot.

      And if you will not let ME assure you, let an actual reading of history do so.

      • Turtler, let me get this straight.
        So you have no problem that a lot of people are voting for things that they have no clue about? We might as well throw the dice for every election.
        Also you think is OK to have people running for critical jobs in government with no relevant education or experience?
        Is that how you think things will improve in politics/government?
        I guess for you is more important universal voting rights than the Civilization itself.
        Completely Absurd!!!

        • @Torovolt

          The fact that you have to resort to an attempt at strawman is no endorsement of you or your arguments.

          “Turtler, let me get this straight.”

          Yes. Let us.

          ” So you have no problem that a lot of people are voting for things that they have no clue about?”

          That is WRONG.

          I have MANY problems with a lot of people voting for things they have no clue about. This is why I firmly support things like Franklin and Jefferson’s dictum that education is crucial for the freedom and morals of a population.

          How-ever, I do believe it is a lesser evil than limiting freedom to the purview of so-called elites.

          Because here’s the secret, Torovolt: Lots of people are going to vote without a clue or care about the issues. Even under your magical system in which a High School Diploma is the bare minimum to even be *considered* for the franchise.

          It’s human nature.

          ” We might as well throw the dice for every election.”

          The fact that you’re comparing your fellow humans to dice indicates a poverty in psychology knowledge.

          “Also you think is OK to have people running for critical jobs in government with no relevant education or experience?”

          Yes, Torovolt, I do.

          And the fact that you think it ISN’T affirms most of my criticisms about you. That you are so deeply invested in your “Meritocratic” fantasy that you don’t realize Machiavelli’s old dictum: that people honor titles, not the other way around.

          You don’t realize how passages of certification WILL be weaponized by the corrupt or merely self-interested to squelch dissent and political participation, as we saw with Rome’s “Course of Honor” and the Confucian scholar-bureaucracies of Asia.

          And as always, you underestimate the general public and the value of their influence.

          But hey, let’s just go on the basis of credentials! The fact that this makes Salazar a better fit than Lincoln means nothing at all!

          “Is that how you think things will improve in politics/government?”

          It already has improved poltiics and government, Torovolt.

          How do I know?


          Because I study HISTORY. And so I can compare the modern Western democracies with every other system to ever exist. And guess what? Turns out that not only do those universal suffrage societies win out, but universal suffrage is a key reason WHY they win out.

          “I guess for you is more important universal voting rights than the Civilization itself.”

          Logical Fallacy: Strawman.

          The reason why I support universal suffrage is because I think it is a better safeguard to preserve civilization or-if degraded or lost- regain it.

          And I don’t *trust* you Torovolt. You or other self-proclaimed elites who assume they know so much but yet cannot even face up to their own limitations.

          So I will support the system that requires me to trust the least in order to protect the freedom I believe is integral to civilization and its progress.

          “Completely Absurd!!!”


          What’s completely absurd is giving undue power to an elite- or anybody- and assuming they won’t abuse it.

          But go on. Explain your “Smart Democracy.”

          Tell us How it will work. And specifically, how it will avoid becoming a farce like the Roman Republic or the Confucian Imperial Examinations, in which a group of exquisitely credentialed thugs (whose credentials have given them a hidebound view of the world and a confidence far beyond their actual abilities to solve problems) squashed everyone else.

  2. I agree with your analysis, Mr. Fernandez, but from my perspective as a religious conservative I would add a couple of more reasons to the origin and potency of populism.

    1)-Marxist class war theory. This has permeated all aspect of left wing thought. Everything is analyzed under the paradigm of oppressor/oppressed. Certainly Chavez’s discourse of escualido versus poooeblo fits, it is after all the classic duality of greedy rich versus noble poor and it demands wealth redistribution. Here in the US a current incarnation of it is “intersectionality” with you-name-your-category versus white men is another manifestation presented with a strong sentimental appeal. You cover a good number populist class wars in your article.

    2)-Perfectibility of society by human means. This is a modernist idea which comes from the French Revolution and is incorporated into Marxist theory. Moreover, it requires centralization of power to efficiently implement the measures to bring the promised perfection. But invariable it ends in violence. “If You Want to Make an Omelet, You Must Be Willing to Break a Few Eggs.” — Lenin.

    3)-The spurning of traditional values where envy is repackaged as justice. I patently remember a TV clip where Lilian Tintori was entering the courthouse in Venezuela and Chavistas stood by heckling her. She walked in ala Botticelli “Birth of Venus” dressed in white but it was clear that the poor chavista lady screaming at her wished she looked like her and had her privileged life.

  3. Well said. The labeling of these movements is always problematic. There are faux populists. Trumpism has strong elements of an ethno nationalist movement, and also a cult of personality. In the case of Chavez you have something of an ersatz Marxist personality cult, wrapped around what is basically a criminal organization. Bolsonaro looks like more of a straight up fascist. AMLO looks to me to be the closest to the classical left wing populist we’ve seen in a while but like Chavez, there is a strong element of the bat-s-crazy about him. So all of these characters and their movements have distinguishing features.

    The common denominator though, would be the populist elements you describe, and the intensely committed and loyal internet armies these folks command, and their bizarre rallies. The use of language is always an interesting sign, and the followers delight in the language and tone of the leader.

    What all of these movements reflect is a decline in belief in democracy and democratic institutions.

    • We should of guessed we’d see you here rah rahing the villification of “populism” (whatever the hell that is supposed to be) in order to pave over the ideological conceits that lay under Chavez and why they believed their state and party should be structured like it is.

      “The labeling of these movements is always problematic. ”

      Mostly by those trying to do so wrong, or trying to make a point. Like the jagoffs so focused on lumping Trump and Maduro together they purposefully ignore clsoer relations like Maduro and Silva.

      “Trumpism has strong elements of an ethno nationalist movement-”

      Yeah, and?

      So did MacDonald’s campaign for Home Rome, the Israeli Labour Party, and Fianna Fail.

      I disagree with ethno-nationalism on plenty of grounds- starting with ethical ones- but the idea that it invariably leads to horror or tyranny is something so stupid it should be smashed whenever seen.

      “and also a cult of personality. ”

      Remind me again what the Gandhis, Kennedys, and Trudeaus have been up to?

      “In the case of Chavez you have something of an ersatz Marxist personality cult,”

      And who defines it as “ersatz”? How so?

      “wrapped around what is basically a criminal organization. ”

      Except dedicated Marxist parties- especially those bent on the Proletarian Revolution- were by definition criminal organizations. Just look at the underground Bolshevik Party in Geneva and Petrograd in 1916, the CCP in China during the 1920’s, and the CPUSA. Or the Illegalist Anarchists of the turn of the last century.

      Groups like these engage in crime because it pays the pills and it is ideologically valid; a totalitarian political movement that completely rejects the validity of the existing political system will also reject the validity of said system’s laws.

      So assuming that a group has no political or ideological goals because it’s a criminal one is F***ing stupid.

      “Bolsonaro looks like more of a straight up fascist. “”

      Ok: Define Fascist.

      And yes, there is a right answer and many wrong ones.

      And no, the right answer is not “merely” “This person is a despotic, murderous goon.”

      “AMLO looks to me to be the closest to the classical left wing populist we’ve seen in a while but like Chavez, there is a strong element of the bat-s-crazy about him.”

      Perhaps, we’ll see.

      ” So all of these characters and their movements have distinguishing features.”


      So why continue to act as if they are the same?

      “The common denominator though, would be the populist elements you describe,”

      Not really.

      A lot of the common denominators are either much more generalized than just to populist groups (ability to adjust to new enemies? Reallllly?), or more artificial or specific like “US vs. Them.” (You mean like the nobles that gathered together to smash the Jacquerie?0.

      “and the intensely committed and loyal internet armies these folks command, and their bizarre rallies.”


      Totalitarians can be uncharismatic bores too.

      ” The use of language is always an interesting sign, and the followers delight in the language and tone of the leader.”

      Agreed there.

      “What all of these movements reflect is a decline in belief in democracy and democratic institutions.”

      This thing….. the stupid burns.

      Apparently we’re supposed to believe that populism- whatever the heck it is defined as this day, but which explicitly derrives power and support from appeals to *the people*, Il Popolo- represent a decline in belief in democracy?

      Canucklehead, you might want to look at how the Austro-Hungarians reacted to “Populist” movements agitating for reform. See if you can find any democratic institutions under Franz Joe’s scepter.

      The truth is, populism is a cousin of democracy, because unlike more traditional forms of justification (Divine Right/the Will of Heaven, Rightful Heritage, or Kinship) it is based on the idea that the will of the people in and of itself deserves consideration.

      That doesn’t mean it always is Supportive of democracy. One of the few things we can agree on is that there have been a lot of anti-democratic populists and populist ideologists, like Communism and Fascism. But they are much more closely linked to each other than either of them are to things like Franz Joe’s proudly-asserted title of “Last monarch of the Old.”

      And excessive vilification of populism- and by extension Il Popolo- is a solid route to rejecting the foundations upon which democracy is built.

      “I think the usefulness of your comparisons, across ideological poles, is that it illustrates that populism arises under diverse situations from diverse causes.”

      This is one of the few things I’d agree with, even if I think he completely freaking misdiagnosis it.

      Starting by ignoring the origins of the term, with the Populares of Rome and the struggle for the Poor Vote in the old Roman Republic.

      “For example, European populism, and elements of core Trumpism, cannot be accounted for-”

      And yet the chances of you actually acknowledging such a thing and reconfiguring your analysis of populism to account for the new data aaaarreeee…..?

      “None of us can sit back and comfortably say: this is a third world issue, or this is a problem of leftist indoctrination, or lack of education, et cetera.”


      But who says that it, in and of itself, is a problem?

      “Constitutional democracies are an historical anomaly, ”

      Absolutely correct, and agreed there.

      “and for many years we’ve regarded them as an inevitable historical arrival point.”

      Depends on who we’ve are.

      ” You throw in a couple of disrupters like the internet, a sudden precipitous rise or drop in oil prices, mass displacement of people, et cetera, and democratic systems of checks and balances quickly become vulnerable to these movements.”

      Sure, but even if the new disruptions are new, they often aren’t of new types. The question is: how much are we going to learn from the past?

  4. “After 20 years of chavismo, have we Venezuelans learned anything about what brought us here?”

    “We Venezuelans” should be read CC authors and editors.

  5. Populists are left-wingers promising the poor something for nothing.

    I love how leftists now want to change that accepted definition to include rightists, in an attempt, I guess, to excuse their own extreme leftism.

    Like, “Everyone does it! Not just us!”

    Regardless, I don’t see the point of debating definitions anyway. Doesn’t really shed any light on anything.

    • Read a book. Or Wikipedia, if you’re too lazy. You will find that the “accepted definition” is the one in the post. You’re talking about clientelism, not populism. And yes, many populists also engage in clientelism. It’s in the post, which I guess you didn’t actually read.

      By the way, without definitions, what’s the point of talking about… anything? Could you complain about leftists without a definition of leftist?

      • I think the usefulness of your comparisons, across ideological poles, is that it illustrates that populism arises under diverse situations from diverse causes. For example, European populism, and elements of core Trumpism, cannot be accounted for simply by saying masses of uneducated people are choosing incompetent leaders. Educated people get caught up in these movements. Some of these leaders are from the establishment.

        None of us can sit back and comfortably say: this is a third world issue, or this is a problem of leftist indoctrination, or lack of education, et cetera.

        Constitutional democracies are an historical anomaly, and for many years we’ve regarded them as an inevitable historical arrival point. You throw in a couple of disrupters like the internet, a sudden precipitous rise or drop in oil prices, mass displacement of people, et cetera, and democratic systems of checks and balances quickly become vulnerable to these movements.

      • I think we all know what a leftist is. Maybe you should read Wikipedia yourself.

        As far as the definition of populist, you’re obviously a leftist. And try to use your brain…just a little, is that possible?…to look at the construction of the word. It’s derived from “populace,” meaning the majority of the pueblo.

        The poor idiots who believe in the promises of something for nothing. Us against them.

        More relevant, you’re recommending WIKIPEDIA as a resource? Where any idiot…like you…can edit the definition?

        My God, are you fucking stupid.

        Go ahead, Quico. Delete away. Who gives a shit.

      • @Alberto Fernandez I disagree with Ira’s needling only the left (or assuming that the classical left wing populist was always a bad thing, which I fervently disagree with given the Gracchi).

        However, I disagree with your analysis even moreso.

        “Read a book. Or Wikipedia, if you’re too lazy. You will find that the “accepted definition” is the one in the post. ”

        To which I reply: Accepted by Who?!?

        And what good ARE They?

        If I read Wikipedia, I will learn that the “accepted” outcome of the Sino-French War was a Chinese victory even though the Chinese failed their ultimate goal of preventing the annexation of their Indochinese tributaries. Because an out-flowing of Chinese nationalist “sources” Or ones sympathetic to them said so and Wikipedia goes by simple preponderance.

        Which is why I do not hold “acceptance” as a high standard myself.

        “You’re talking about clientelism, not populism.”

        He’s talking about both. Appealing to the public using common, popular policies- like the grain dole, debt forgiveness, or national service- is a common populist strategy throughout the ages and political spectrum. Providing some of that is a hallmark of clientelism, as you noted..

        “And yes, many populists also engage in clientelism. It’s in the post, which I guess you didn’t actually read.”

        I did, it did not impress me.

        “By the way, without definitions, what’s the point of talking about… anything? ”

        This I view as intellectual cowardice and historical illiteracy.

        The point of talking- and communication in general- is to try and communicate. Or convey ideas or information.

        This is why even when you have two people from very different areas or no shared language meet each other- like Cortez and the Northern Maya or Da Gama and the Calicut Brahmins- you often see them instinctively try and work out how to communicate, using nonverbal cues.

        The fact that these people do not share definitions- in fact, don’t share a *language*- does not eliminate the need or desire for communication. Or how gradually understanding can be reached in spite of those obstacles.

        As for the value of talking without shared definitions? I think helping to work towards understanding and a united definition is helpful itself.

        And it’s one of the issues I’ve had with how “populism” has been thrown around.

        “Could you complain about leftists without a definition of leftist?”


        Same reason people can complain about Trumpists, Bolsie supporters, Jihadists, or really anybody without an accurate definition of who they are.

        Way back in the mid hours of 9/11 there were probably a lot of people cursing about “Those ****holes who crashed the planes.”

        Just like how someone didn’t have to have an accurate definition of “Roman” or “Slaver” to object to getting carted to the market in shackles.

    • “Populists are left-wingers promising the poor something for nothing.”

      In many cases, they were. But not always.

      They were also groups like the King’s Representatives in France delivering heated speeches agaisnt the Duke of Burgundy or the Count oF Alecon arguing they were betraying France and their people in the Renaissance.

      And so on.

      That’s why I view the extensive and worried conflict over “populism” to be both unfruitful, and flatly wrong.

      Like I said before: The German with the Moustache was a Populist. But so were the Gracchi.

      Whatever differed between them, it wasn’t populism per se.

  6. The term populism is somehow understood differently in Latin America and in the U.S. and tends to confuse the discussion of the Venezuelan tragedy in the north. In Spanish populismo is a bad word, a posture based on promises that will never be fulfilled, one that has brought Venezuela much suffering. In the U.S. a populist leader is one who cares about the people in a positive manner, This is the reason Chavez is perceived in many U.S. circles as a leader who cared for the poor, when – in fact – he made them poorer than before.

    • It is true that in North America there has been what we call populism that has not featured the traits Mr. Fernandez talks about. i.e. the prairie populist tradition. So the term has other uses- sometimes opposite in meaning. The word “liberal” is similar that way: depending on where you are from, it can mean a traditional free market capitalist, or something akin to what Europeans call the social democrat.

      • @Canucklehead “It is true that in North America there has been what we call populism that has not featured the traits Mr. Fernandez talks about. i.e. the prairie populist tradition.”

        A: Then the correct reaction to acknowledging such a discrepency is *to reassess the definition of populism to account for it.*


        B: As a student of the prarie populist tradition (particularly the speeches of WJB), I’d beg to differ with the idea that it did not feature the traits Fernandez talked about, at least in some ways. It’s REALLY hard to claim that the Cross of Gold is somehow not an Us versus Them appeal against a well defined enemy.

        The issue is that I find Fernandez etc. al.’s limited and extremely fragmentary definition of populism to be wrongheaded.

        “So the term has other uses- sometimes opposite in meaning. ”

        So fix your terms and adjust accordingly.

        “The word “liberal” is similar that way: depending on where you are from, it can mean a traditional free market capitalist, or something akin to what Europeans call the social democrat.”

        Agreed there.

        But that’s why definition of it is key.

  7. Isn’t POPULISM the worst characteristic of rightwing politics? I don’t understand, wasn’t Venezuelan of the left kind? But Fernandez is right – he’s right in that Venezuelan are the most populist people in the world, starting 200 years ago or more.

    It’s the Populism, idiot.


  8. I don’t particularly disagree with the article, although “opposition to populists” does not sound like much of a solution to me. In the USA at present,”opposition to populism” is a banner under which many kinds of left wing elites justify their white-hating, rich-hating “inter sectionalist” identity politics.

    Outside the box, the situation in Muslim countries seem to be different. Instead of populism there is often tribalism and regionalism (remember Saddam’s Tikrit, Gaddafi’s Siirte?), with the shining prospect above it all being not democracy but Islam (defined any which way according to its proponents’ preferences).

    • That is my problem with this article. He goes on with a long whining list to describe what is Populism and how problematic has been for Venezuela. Only to propose as a solution to Oppose to it.
      Seriously ?!?!?……

  9. Abject nonsense like this- and the comments block- are what nearly drove me away from CC.

    Firstly: Hitler and Chavez were populists, yes. But so were the Gracchi Brothers and DeGaulle.

    While I challenge anybody to argue that a Democrat like Wilson or a communist like Lenin were populists (even if the latter hosted a populist political platform)

    So whatever the problem is with Hitler, Chavez, Lenin, and other deogauges, it isn’t populism Per Se. This is something most CC writers and the supposed “brain trust” have been PAINSTAKINGLY trying to avoid at any cost.

    Which is why most attempts by said “Brain Trust” to define populism have been intellectually shallow- if not outright dishonest- and reek of Sharpshooter Fallacy. Firing a bullet out into the side of the barn and-when challenged about its accuracy- drawing a target around the bullet hole to show “Ya Dude, I totally NAAAILED that!”

    Secondly: even if I were naive and historically illiterate enough to *Believe* whatever baked over diagnosis of populism you have, the fact is that there is no prescriptive portion here. “Reject populism! Do not tolerate it!”

    Ok. How?

    Let’s leave aside the lessons of history telling us this is probably an abso-freaking-lutely terrible idea when applied as a principle in and of itself, whether from Republican Rome or modern Taiwan. How do you propose to meaningfully reject “Populism” in the form of the Communist dictatorship?

    By refusing to recognize its legitimacy?

    You’ve been doing that for years.. How has that loosened its jackboot?

    By protest and civil blockade?

    Thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans TRIED that. But it turns out that people power is subordinate to a ruthless regime’s willingness to use bullet power and control over the people who do so.

    There’s a reason why medical students have to look over case studies- and often outright corpses- to diagnose what ACTUALLY happened to someone before they are allowed into the operating room to try diagnosing what IS going wrong with someone.

    Because the past is one of the best guides we have, and it is a way to get information on the present and future. If you can’t accurately diagnose what HAS happened and detail its course, why the flying farq would I want you operating on me to try and cure something that Is happening now?

    Populism is ultimately, attempting to appeal to the popolo (as the Italians would have called it) as a source of legitimacy and strength. Nothing more, nothing less.

    It can certainly be used for evil, and tends to be more destructive than it is constructive. But that doesn’t mean it has no place. In fact, trying to squelch it usually leads to worse abuses. It- along with appeals to the elite or well educated and the rights of the individual- are three of the key tides in human government and society, both of which have to be kept in check with each other.

    Or does anybody SERIOUSLY wanna argue the point that Joeson Korea was a beacon of good governance?

  10. I notice you believe us Yanks made the same mistake as Venezuelans, having gone and elected a populist president.
    You might have thought we would know more what we were doing, having successfully nurtured the oldest democracy in the world. But who knows?
    Good luck with your populism! Wish us luck with ours!

  11. This could only happen in Venezuela. I follow very closely the Mexico situation (and also watch the Netflix third season Narcos – Mexico). I mean, in Mexico since the times of Zapata, this left temptation has existed. The PRI was created on a purely socialist basis. Distribution of earthly riches, land (Reforma Agraria), etc. Corruption is abundant. Drug dealing permanently threatens piece. Etc. So far the same.

    The problem with the Populism is that it includes nationalism and authoritarian policies. In the seventies when we looked up labor we had to import a million Colombian because of work was too hard to Venezuelan. And there they started a certain Venezuelan stile. Bad public behavior in general, lack of respect for your neighbors, exacerbated envy to posses your friend assets including your wife. In short, even if I’m not religious, Venezuelan were fully committed to the 7 capital sins. Besides, it was easing fucking a married woman than a single one, etc.

    That fundamental difference is very Venezuelan. I remember my first business meetings outside Venezuela around the the mid-’70s and I always received the royal treatment. In Venezuela, the first thing you heard on a phone call was ”si mi Amor”. Venezuelan had become out of control individually and collectively. Uneducated, disrespectful and ”populists” – completely à côté de la plaque

    Last of but not the least, I hope AMLO legalizes pot. That will be a populist measure.

    ¿Verdad mi Amor?

    • How about Jesus Christ? Was he a populist? Seems to me he meets all the requirements to be labelled the most successful populist in the history of the world.

      But, nah! He was a good guy! Couldn’t POSSIBLY be a populist!

    • Correct, Kepler.

      But so was Malcolm X. And Jesus Christ. And The Gracchi. And Gandhi. And Juarez. And the Castros (all of them, from Fidel to Raul to their spiritual-but-not-blood kin Cipriano over in Venezuela).

  12. The decline in Venezuelan agricultural production has paralleled the overall decline in the Venezuelan economy.
    Venezuela Decline in Net per capita Production, 1998-2016
    Agriculture (PIN) 9.0%
    Cereals,Total 46.9%
    Crops (PIN) 35.7%

    There are multiple causes for this: “land reform,” price controls that discourage production, high inflation, and others.

    The decline in Venezuela’s agricultural production has some parallels with the following countries.
    Decline in Net per capita Agriculture (PIN) Production
    Cuba 1961-2016 31.2%
    Chile 1970-1973 17.9%
    Nicaragua 1979-1980 39.4%

    Note that the decline in agricultural production in Nicaragua didn’t occur during the 1978-79 war to topple Somoza, but during peacetime, as a consequence of Sandinista policies, such as “land reform” and price controls.

    What are the parallels with Venezuela?
    Self-proclaimed Marxist/Socialist governments
    “Land reform”: all 3- which involved a lot of government confiscation of land, a.k.a. Socialism.
    Price controls: all 3- not a free market in Cuba for the most part, so yes for price controls.
    High inflation: only Chile. While Nicaragua had high inflation from ~1984-1990, the decline in agricultural production occurred before high inflation.

    Which suggests to me that Socialism has something to do with the decline of Venezuela.

    http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QI Production Indices, Net per capita Production Index Number (2004-2006 = 100)

    • Where do we start?

      – Incredibly misogynistic (please, do not tell me he hasn’t been involved in trying to silence prostitutes who slept with him or he did not say what he said about women on that recording. Chavez and Mussolini were as well.
      – He sees the media as a foe against him and is completely unable to handle it, he tries to restrict it
      – Trump is, like Chavez, a tool of the Russians (although he is more directly a tool of them whereas Chavez was initially a tool of the Cubans…who came to power through Soviet influence in the Americas)
      – Trump derives his support from the resentment of a population group, just like Chavez. Although Chavez based his support on the extreme left and the poorest dark skinned people, Trump based it on the far right and the angry white men who realise they have become a minority (bear in mind: the USA is the only developed nation where suicide numbers are still increasing and the largest group is right now of those angry white men…so for them it seems to be either suicide or supprting Trump)
      There are many moore parallels, but you get the basics already, I hope (well, I do not think you will)

      • Hey Kep, news flash! Us white dudes have been a minority, like, forever! Thank God we can still subdue our women to make them vote right and elect populists like The Donald!

  13. Merrian Webster: populist
    pop·u·list | \ˈpä-pyə-list
    Definition of populist (Entry 1 of 2)
    1: a member of a political party claiming to represent the ordinary people
    especially, often capitalized: a member of a U.S. political party formed in 1891 primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies
    2: a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the ordinary people

  14. Sometimes reading the comments sections feels like two bald guys fighting over a comb.

    Politcal labels, no matter how historically apt and culturally releant, dreive, in the case of Chvismo, from:

    A: A psychological type (gran narcissist) who dreams of being a gran jefe with absolute dominion of ALL aspects of society (ie anything that can boost or impinge on that power);

    B: A military MO whereby anything deilvered from on high is to be seen as a direct order to be obeyed, never qustioned (lest you are a traitor);

    C: The mentality of an outlaw – borrow all you want with no intntions of paying it back, and use ALL monies as the Gran Jefe sees fit (including filching as much as needed to retain power and la vida fino);

    D: A total disregard for any institution or any indidividual(s) not backing el jefe;

    E: Shamelessness toward personal conduct (no consious or spiritual wherewithal);

    F: Pathological lying (including spin);

    G: Inability to change;

    H: Brutal, ruthless, and undisciplined;

    J: All problems are “caused” by others (the “alcoholic model”);

    K: Vast ignorance, Homeric incompetance and systematic dishonesty.

  15. Until someone better comes along I will go with three successful populists:

    God, Jesus Christ, and Donald Trump.

    Yea, Baby! Rock on!!!

  16. Populism is the politization of soap opera , there are the good noble innocent poor victims, the meanie rich and powerful who constitute the establishment and plot to oppress and decieve the good people in pursuit of their own merectricious agenda and then there are the grand noble heores bent on liberating the fomer from the latter thru epic deeds of violence and gift giving that destroy the institutional restraints of public life and allow them to narcicistically enjoy total and indefinite political power .

    • That’s just your definition of populism. It can be as you say, but it can be other things too. For instance, I regard the takeover of the British Labor party by newly-enrolled rank and file members from the far left of British politics as a type of populism. You may be unfamiliar with this situation, but there are distinct echoes of Chavez in some of the statements emanating from New Labor. Spain’s Podemos is a similar phenomenon.

      I think that “populism”, without qualifiers, is a useless concept.

      • Right on. The Socialism of the 21st-century spread like a virus. Just the Cornyn in UK or Iglesias in Spain. Pure gold populist charism will end the world we know.

      • there are many versions of populism , currently the populism of europe and the US is different from the populism of latam (see latest fukuyana article on the subject) but to me the important part is how populism is based on a primitive childish view of the world , which depict the world as divided between villains victims and heroes , populism is the mark of a puerile mind

  17. It is getting silly how you lefties are working your little brains overtime, trying to make a case that Trump is cut from the same cloth as Chavez:

    “Absolutely! We have studied it in depth! They are both populists!”

    “And they both slept with prostitutes, and then tried to shut them up!”

    “OMG! They both campaigned wearing red hats!!!”

    Really, you guys need to get a life.

  18. The stated reasons and rationalizations vary person to person, but the goal is always the same (as Guillermo just said): “to narcicistically enjoy total and indefinite political power.” This life of our will always be a game of thrones…

  19. @Kepler: you failed on the three counts. But I’ll give you C- for trying. Even the Pope meets that definition!

    If Trump is Populist (negative connotation) is for two reasons 1) He wants America First; and he said that he is nationalist 2) He does not and will not allow illegal immigration not even on the aura of ”humanitarian needs”.

    But then why the heck is Trump part of this discussion? We on the contrary, we have seen the biggest jump in all lines of science, economy, employment, etc. The US has left Europe on the dust over the last two years.

    Just look at my poor France, after so many years of Socialism, during their also Fifth Constitution, nothing but destruction. I’m crying because my boys were born there. And once again I took an opportunity to leave on time. April of 1990.

    Chaveze and Mussolini eat their dust in their respective times leaving nothing but chaos.

    So, please to all leftist in this blog, please compare Chavez with the Pope (ultra-communist), with Castro, with drug dealers (watching Narcos-Mexico in Netflix *****), etc.

    BTW: I love Russians girls, any, especially when the Soviet Union times, women were the most beautiful than anyone and they were obedient and little demanding. And, they were natural, no plastic surgery because of lack of resources. And I love the Dostoyevsky kind and the Tchaikovsky kind. So fuck I’m a POPULIST too.

    And if Socialists try to do here what they have done in other places, I swear to God I will pull out my personal defense artifacts (I love 1911, .45) and eliminate any semblances of a leftist. I won’t die just watching that disaster happening in front of my eyes. I won’t escape this time.

  20. When I read the title I knew there would be the obligatory bashing of Trump in the article.
    I was not wrong.
    In recent times there was not a bigger populist in US History than Obama. Why do you think the “pueblo” in the US called their free/reduced rate phones as “Obama phones”. Or why do you think it was called “Obamacare”. Why do you think there were historical highs on food stamps under Obama.
    But no, let’s use this article to bash the current POTUS.
    Look, all almost all politicians that have to get elected are populists. Otherwise they would not be elected.


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