We often time see debates on who in American politics is the real populist some say Donald Trump and the conservatives’ others will say Bernie Sanders and his social democrats and there was also be those who say Marxism or Fascism are the true and real forms of populism. However, if we look at the original American populists of the 1870s to 1890s that being the People Populist Party, The Farmer Alliance, the Knights of Labor, National Labor Union, and the Greenback party we find there are many similarities with all tendencies but had many stark differences.
What united the People Populist Party all the way to the Greenback party was a strong resistance to monopoly capitalism, Banking cartels and support for cooperatives and preservation of family farms, craftmanship, artisans, shopkeepers, and local communities that where being displaced by the centralization of land and capital by corporations and banking cartels. They were also very localist, religious, had negative attitudes towards immigration and were agrarian in many cases. They were also very key on producers and workers owning the means of production not being controlled by large corporate or government bureaucracies which is the heart of original American Populism.
Like mentioned earlier the original American populism has some similarities with current forms of so-called populism but have many strong differences. For starters if we are to look at the Trump forms of populism, we see it shares its conservative and anti-immigration stances however Trump populism was hardly against corporate capitalism despite many elements of this class despising him. Not to mention Trumpian populism fails to see how corporate capitalism wants cheap foreign labor and how corporate monopolies destroyed small business and traditional social norms that original populist sought to preserve. Sanders shares the some of the anti-capitalist sentiments however if we get down to what social democracy is which is a welfare state which hardly opposes corporate bureaucracy which in many ways strengths it and removes support for more radical opposition to capitalism not to mention its strengths government bureaucracy as well.
Fascism shares its synthesis politics and support for unions however what separates American populism is the localist and anti-centralization sentiments of the populist while fascism is inherently statist. Not to mention the reason the original populist wanted to preserve localism and mass proprietorship/ ownership by forming cooperatives was not only to preserve their way of life and independence but also because mass proprietorship was seen as something necessary for democracy to survive and not have politicians be controlled by large corporate or banking interest while fascism is an inherently anti-democratic movement.
Marxism shares many of populism anti-capitalist sentiments however Marxism believed that the small shopkeepers, farms, and others who made up populist were destined to be defeated by larger corporate industrial capitalism and centralize industrial production, the last one even being also a part of a Marxian socialist society both in theory and in practice seeing it as the progress of history. Populist were in complete revolt against this so-called progress of the centralization of productions which they fought against in name of keeping control of the means of production or in case of National Labor Union and Knights of Labor to regain control and to preserve their local communities and democracy.