Two themes loom large in burgeoning discussions and debates over populism: (1) growing deployments of “authoritarian populism” by the liberal establishment as a means of discrediting populist politics from both the Left and the Right, and (2) vigorous advocacy of left populism to counter virulent, racist, right-wing populisms in many regions of the world today. The most influential proponent of left populism is Chantal Mouffe, drawing on her post-Marxist work on radical democracy with the late Ernesto Laclau in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985). In this essay, I engage critically with both tendencies and seek to chart a different approach by bringing my earlier work on populist politics in South Africa into conversation with two other recent Marxist analyses. We all start with Laclau’s (1977) groundbreaking essay on populism, but then move on from it in different although potentially complementary ways. At the core of this essay are the political stakes of how we think about populist politics.

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