Populism is a political philosophy which focuses on standing up for the rights and positions of the common people as opposed to the elite and the government. Several political movements around the world have promoted populist ideals. When used to describe political rhetoric, an individual or a political party, the term often carries pejorative connotations, and “populism” has become a loaded word to many people.


For the Common Man
The key ideal behind populism is that the common man should have a chance in society and an active role in government. Populist movements generally divide society into “the people” and “the elite,” with individuals who have limited power being considered the people and individuals who have clout being among the elite. The elite typically are wealthy and often use their wealth to influence the political system while accruing more wealth. Populists typically feel that the government protects the interests of the elite, not the needs of the common people, and they want that to change.

In Support of Democracy
People who espouse populism generally support democratic systems and believe that democracy is the best way for the people to play a role in the government. Although they promote the welfare of the common man, populists tend to shy away from socialism and extreme liberalism. Politicians from various political parties or viewpoints can be involved in populism, and politicians might accuse each other of pandering or playing to populism in an attempt to get support and votes.


For the Greatest Good
These sorts of political movements are designed to encourage governments and society in general to work to provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. This might be achieved through policies and pieces of legislation that support ordinary people. Populist movements, however, often reject policy suggestions such as living-wage mandates, public assistance and government-sponsored healthcare, even though these policies are often designed to help the members of the public who are most in need.

Negative Uses
Some people are fond of using the terms “populist” and “populism” in descriptions of public outcry over political events. People might be said to be “erupting in populist rage” when they lodge complaints about flagrant abuses of power among the elite or when there is backlash against a government pushing through legislation that does little to benefit the lower and middle classes. In this sense, these terms might be pejorative in nature and are often used to suggest that the public is too ignorant or short-sighted to understand what is really taking place.

Socialism is an economic concept that advocates public ownership of all resources. The production and distribution of resources with a society are then controlled by members of that society collectively or by the government that represents that society. Goods are produced and distributed based on need rather than on market forces such as profitability, price and consumers’ purchasing power. In a socialist economy, workers contribute to society based on their ability and receive according to their needs, rather than being paid wages and using that money to purchase what they want. Private possessions are limited to personal-use items such as clothes, and there is no need or ability for individuals to accumulate wealth, so there is equality among the people.

Economic Equality
The ideology of socialism developed from the notion that capitalism creates inequality in society. Under capitalism, socialists argue, the wealthy few who own and control the resources and means of production are able to exploit the working masses. These elite capitalists can pay workers less than the value that they contribute, so the capitalists can keep larger profits for themselves to accumulate even greater wealth. The result, socialists say, is a society in which the wealthy are able to oppress the middle and lower classes.

In a completely socialist society, there would be no money. Things such as food, shelter, education and healthcare would be provided to everyone. There would be no poverty and no division of classes based on wealth. Production and distribution of goods and services would be managed by the government rather than being based on market forces, which can fluctuate and lead to recessions in capitalist economies.

In Short, Populism is a supporting action which support the struggle for right and power of the people against the privileged elite. It establishes the law which is same for all people, it indicates the equality for all citizens. Socialism is different in meaning from populism, it means a society whose primary or mega industries are controlled by Government not by an individual. or any person. The difference between populism and socialism is populism supports equality of law which is part of Good Governance and socialism supports Government ruled society. Socialism is also called as democratic control.
Criticisms and Defenses
Critics of socialism say that such a society is impossible to create and sustain successfully. They argue that there would be no incentives for people to work harder — or even hard enough to meet their needs — because they would receive only enough to meet their needs regardless of how much they contribute. In addition, many capable workers would refuse to work at all and still expect to have their needs met. Socialists, however, argue that workers in a socialist society would have much different attitudes from those in capitalist societies because they would not be exploited by their employers. This would create satisfied workers who are more willing to work, they claim.

Another criticism of socialism is that the government would determine the needs of the people in order to meet them. Critics say that this would cause problems because different people have different things that they would consider to be needs — as well as different things that they want, such as forms of leisure and entertainment. If a person’s own ideas of his or her needs is different from what the government considers his or her needs, this could create unhappy citizens. Socialists, however, argue that the citizens collectively would be happier because each person would have equal access to everything, whether they are wants or needs, instead of the wealthy elite having greater access to many goods and services and the poor having virtually none.

17 thoughts on “Difference between populism and socialism?”

  1. Very relevant essay thanks sir. Now a day your website content are very effective and relevant in the context of others upsc portal sites. You are now top in google ranking. if i want to write or search ias, upsc, iasmind etc. on google than your post show in top position Congoo… All the best sir…

  2. Thanks sir above are very important for me… see my ideas on above
    populism is a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite. Populism is a strange political beast, as nobody knows what it is, and fewer identify with it, but (in theory) should be the prevailing political ideology in a Democracy Merriam-Webster’s defines it as “the belief in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.
    Socialism Central to the meaning of socialism is common ownership/Public sector. This means the resources of the world being owned in common by the entire global population. Socialism is an economic and political system based on public or collective ownership of the means of production. Socialism emphasizes equality rather than achievement, and values workers by the amount of time they put in rather than by the amount of value they produce. It also makes individuals dependent on the state for everything from food to health care. China, Vietnam and Cuba are examples of modern-day socialist societies.

  3. Currently Indian roads are being choked by the middle class vying to try their hands behind the wheel, thanks to the government policies of providing incentives in taxes. Instead, the government should be even more populist by targeting the low income population by incentivizing mass transit.

    1. Dear Joel, The real world is complex nd most problems do not hv simple solutions. if someone can convince the general public (who don’t have much knowledge and experience in intricacies of public policy) that there are simple common sense answers dt egg-headed bureaucrats have either overlooked or purposely ignored, then this person can become very popular in a democratic system.This scapegoating strategy has worked throughout history in various forms of government nd too often resulted in horrible crimes against humanity.

      1. Technology has made it easier for students to learn with devices new, but nothing can come close to the experience of being taught by an inspirational Student or teacher like you. Once again Thank you so much.

  4. Sir please see my comment which is important for us
    difference between populist and progressive movements?

    The answer is straightforward: A populist movement/parties/leaders is one which uses various resources to obtain popular support. The populist uses a simple and popular language, uses and abuses of personal propaganda, claims to be different from the other movements/parties/leaders, undertake authoritarian actions, does not respect the other movements/parties/leaders and democratic institutions, claims to be capable of solving all the problems and has a very carismatic behaviour. Think of a leader or a movement who can be authoritarian to impose a minimum wage on the privileged classes, for example. It does not implies a dictatorship by any means, but can function in one.
    This is a form of government, it’s not an ideology in the sense that it has a set of ideals, but it has conditions such as the leader/movement has direct relations with the masses, asking them for their support independently of the mechanisms of a representative democracy. A populist movement can be both left-wing or right-wing. It can be also a progressive movement.
    A progressive movement defends that be the capacities of an individual and not the social and economical conditions that determine the limit of his aspirations. Therefore, progressivism proposes a state which should create conditions of equality in order for the human effort to be the only variable that determines social inequality and nothing more. The Enlightenment, Classical Liberalism and Marxism could be included as core political progressive ideologies. It has a left-wing characterization and it’s opposite would be conservatism.

  5. Thankuu so much sir above are very recent debates around socialism.

    The difference between populism and democracy?
    Lets look at the definition of both the terms:

    Populism: A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.

    Democracy: Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or indirectly through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

    From a democratic standpoint, “the people” are defined as citizens who possess rights and duties. They have sovereignty that must be exercised within the limits of the law often codified in a constitution or charter.

    When the populace is frustrated with their perceived inability to affect legislation and regulate governance, they find populism encouraging. Leaders of an anti-establishment faction will often take a populist approach, rallying the followers with promises that the movement will address the wrongs committed against them by the ruling class. This can serve as a warning that the system is not working properly or is weakened.

    In short, Democracy is a form of government elected by the people whereas Populism is a movement initiated by the people to bring some change in the existing government.

    Superficially they look the same but one needs to understand the nuances between them, Please do read the whole article given below.

    1. Dear Rajnish, Canada is a socialist country, to a certain extent nd provides education nd welfare to the citizens. It is not populist, in the political sense of the word.Currently, no.
      As a nation, no.
      However, there have been powerful populist regional movements in Canada. The Social Credit and Reform movememts in Westren Canada and the Bloc Quebecios and the PQ in Quebec are examples.

  6. Populism is like cigarette smoking. You start off as others are doing, or to be cool, or to ease off the pressure. And then you become addictive and you often bump into one even if you dont want to. And it quite often ends with chemotherapy. Populist Politics is injurious to the health of the nation.

    1. Dear Jay, The problem with populism is dt it is typically usurped nd used to eliminate freedom nd persecute minorities. Usually d goals r nebulous nd hence r not really achievable. Frequently, populism has been used to support authoritarian regimes.
      In my opinion, the broad base support of the Republican party is populist in nature. Listen to FoxNews for 30 minutes and you’ll be peppered with “liberal elites” and other such epithets. However, very little of the actionable Republican agenda has to do with their populist stated platform. This is why religion and the Republican party are so intertwined.

Leave a Reply