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  • Left-Wing Populism and NationalismA Comparative Analysis of the Patriotic Narratives of Podemos and France insoumise
  • Laura Chazel and Vincent Dain

The 2008 economic and financial crisis created a new political space allowing the emergence of left-wing populist movements in Europe. Among these new movements, one can find Podemos [We Can] in Spain, created in 2014, and France insoumise [Unbowed France, FI] in France, created in 2016. Numerous studies have focused on the populist strategy of these two parties, which have set aside the symbols usually mobilized by the radical left in favor of a new approach opposing the "people" to the "elite."1 Their discourse has been described as populist based on the following elements: (1) the mobilization of a rhetoric opposing two antagonist groups: the "people" versus the "elite"; and (2) the attachment to popular sovereignty,2 which implies a Rousseauian vision of democracy.3 This article aims to contribute new elements to this discussion by taking into account the development of a nationalist discourse as a dimension of their populist speech.

In order to define nationalism, we refer to the distinction made by De Cleen and Stavrakakis between populism and nationalism, which is based on different ways of defining the "people." Populism involves a vertical "down/up axis" ("people" vs. "elite"), while nationalism uses a horizontal "in/out axis" ("members" vs. "nonmembers"; "own nation" vs. "other nations").4 [End Page 73] At an analytic level, populism is not necessarily linked with nationalism, as we consider that their articulation is purely "contingent."5 However, they can be, in political practice, intimately associated. Therefore, academics should analyze, at an empirical level, the discursive articulations that explain the many "complex interrelation" between populism and nationalism.6 According to De Cleen and Stavrakakis, two types of "articulations" can be highlighted: (1) when exclusionary nationalisms exclude minorities from "the people" and blame national elites for promoting a multicultural agenda that jeopardizes the nation's ethnic or cultural identity (radical-right populism); and (2) when the sovereignty of the people is closely linked to the sovereignty of the nation, which is considered violated by "larger state structures, colonising forces and supra-national political bodies" (right-wing or left-wing populism).7

The links between nationalism and right-wing populism have been widely analyzed in the academic literature. Some define nationalism as a "thin host ideology" to which populism can be attached8; others look at the question through the prism of the distinction between nativism and populism.9 Nevertheless, these links have been analyzed much less in the case of left-wing populism—with the exception of the study of the inclusionary Latin American populisms of the 1990–2000 and their "national-popular" rhetoric.10 However, left-wing populist movements in Europe also have developed recently a "national-popular" narrative. Indeed, Podemos and France insoumise have developed a civilian and democratic nationalism that significantly differs from the ethnic nationalism mobilized by right-wing populist movements. Both parties have made the "homeland" the backbone of their political narrative, a concept they prefer to that of the "nation," which is more usually associated with far-right parties. Therefore, Podemos and France insoumise would rather describe their organizations and political projects as "patriotic" than "nationalist."

Given that populism is not necessarily associated with a nationalist rhetoric, we propose to empirically analyze their interconnection in left-wing inclusionary populist discourse. Analyzing the relationship between left-wing populism and nationalism in Spain and France raises several questions: Is the mobilization of the "homeland" a discursive innovation or is it rooted in the political culture of the Spanish and French left? What are the intellectual foundations which explain the mobilization of this speech? What are the differences between the two movements in terms of the nationalist dimension of their discourse? [End Page 74]

Materials and Methods

As already mentioned, the main objective of this article is to analyze the relationship between left-wing populist discourses and the development of a nationalist rhetoric through a focus on two cases: Podemos and France insoumise. To do so, we propose a corpus-based analysis based on diverse materials. We first collected firsthand data. Participant observation was done during the electoral...