Theses Doctoral

Lenin Hiding Behind an Empty Signifier: The Making of a Left-Wing Populist Party in the Digital Age

de Nadal Alsina, Lluis

This study takes a close look at the making of the Spanish left-wing populist party Podemos, paying special attention to the populist project devised by its original group of founders to capitalize on the political opportunities created by the 2008 economic crisis and the Indignados movement of 2011. Part I examines how Podemos’ founders used digital technology to connect with followers and exchange support and influence with them. It shows that online platforms constitute a precious tool in the hands of populist leaders who seek to mobilize plebiscitarian support for their authority and goals while creating a semblance of democratic participation. Part II delves deep into the biographical histories of the main founders of Podemos to investigate the beliefs and desires guiding their populist project. Based on a combination of qualitative research methods, including archival research, expert interviews, participant observation, and textual analysis, this study challenges the common notion that the founders of Podemos subscribe to the populist “ideology.” Instead, it demonstrates that they used populism strategically in order to take advantage of what Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias called a “Leninist moment” – an exceptional situation in which the seizure of power (through electoral means) becomes possible for a Communist party. It also shows that Ernesto Laclau’s theory of populism exerted a strong influence on some party founders. This was particularly the case for Íñigo Errejón, the main proponent of populism in Podemos, who used Laclau’s theory as a guide to thought and action and turned his book On Populist Reason into the first “sacred text” of the populist tradition.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Gitlin, Todd
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 23, 2021