The case for progressive populism

With Donald Trump’s successful campaign to win the US presidency and Britain’s decision to ‘Brexit’ from Europe, we’ve suddenly begun to hear a lot of the word ‘populism’ in the political discourse. It’s used as a swear word, yet progressive figures such as Bernie Sanders and Bill Shorten have also been described as populists.

So what is populism? A lot of people think populism is about seeking popularity but this is not the case. It actually it comes from the Latin word Populus which means The People. It’s a slippery term but most research has concluded that it‘s a political philosophy based on the common good of ordinary people. And populism counter-poses the interests of ordinary people to the power of an elite. Just who constitutes the people and the elite differs between right and left.

Big Coal : how climate action is sabotaged by the fossil fuel industry

At this time in history there is  a very simple truth we must recognize. If the world wants to avoid catastrophic climate change, the world must stop burning coal.  

But we have not stopped burning coal. Far from it.  The world is bingeing on coal. Global coal production has risen by 4 per cent on average each year since 1999.  What does that mean? It means that between the year 2000 and 2008, global greenhouse emissions rose 30 per cent.  No fallen, not leveled off, but rose 30 per cent.


How can climate change be stopped?

This article was based on a talk to Greenpeace activists in February, 2013.

The recent visit to Australia by climate campaigner, Bill McKibben, has highlighted the need for deeper and wider protests and mobilization to stop the relentless trend to global warming. McKibben has galvanized the US scene by his emphasis on grass roots campaigning, rallies and public protests. In particular, he has emphasized the need to target the fossil fuel industry – coal and oil – as part of these protests. (See McKibben’s website:

Rupert Murdoch's Crusading Corporation

Chapter 10 of my new book 'Rupert Murdoch: an investigation of political power'

I think what people don't understand about me is that I'm not just a businessman working in a very interesting industry. I am someone who's interested in ideas.

Rupert Murdoch,1995

The 2004 convention of the Republican Party held in New York's Madison Square Garden was a triumph for President George W. Bush. Still lauded by many as the hero of the Iraq war, Bush went on to defeat John Kerry for the presidency later that year. At the end of the Republican convention, as most delegates were streaming out of their seats, a revealing incident occurred. Dozens of delegates turned to where CNN had its convention-floor set. CNN hosts Judy Woodruff and Wolf Blitzer were still doing post-convention interviews when the delegates began chanting WATCH FOX NEWS! WATCH FOX NEWS! The delegates saw Fox News as their friend and CNN as the enemy in their midst.

CNN once infuriated someone else. Riding his daily exercise bike Rupert Murdoch used to frown at the successful news network and dream of building a TV news operation to rival what he called the 'liberal' and 'left leaning' CNN. Today CNN's rival flourishes and consistently beats CNN in the ratings war. Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is a powerful persuader in US politics. It is credited with not only influencing its loyal audience but with affecting the tone of all US television, summed up in the term, 'the Fox News effect'. Its shouting heads broadcast a nightly mantra of fear-filled messages to its three million viewers. Its swirling graphics and dramatic music intensify its 'Fox News Alerts' about the latest threat from terrorists, liberals, gays -- and Democrats. President Barack Obama has been a particular target.

When he was running for the Democratic nomination in 2007, Fox News commentators rushed to air with a false report that as a child growing up in Indonesia Obama had been educated at an Islamic school, a madrassa. For post-9/11 America, an association with a madrassa was likely to prompt an association with Islamic terrorism. Later, during the presidential campaign, one Fox commentator flippantly suggested that he and Michelle Obama had greeted each other with a 'terrorist fist jab'. The commentator apologised, as did another Fox commentator who joked about assassinating Obama and Osama bin Laden after supposedly muddling their names. Throughout the campaign for president in late 2008 one of Fox News' belligerent hosts, Sean Hannity, nightly attacked Obama for being an 'arrogant elitist' and suggesting he had been a friend of terrorists and black radicals, echoing pro-Republican attack ads. Obama referred to these as 'rants from Sean Hannity' and was particularly upset at attacks on his wife, Michelle.



Role reversal as Liberals belt Labor with class war rhetoric

[This article was published by the Age in Melbourne, 2 June 2011.]

Once the Australian working class was oppressed by big business. Today it suffers under the yoke of actors and actresses.

Is it just me, or have others noticed that the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott has become the party of class war, class envy and class hate?

In an astounding rhetorical trick Cate Blanchett is attacked as a symbol of wealth and power for speaking out on climate change. Yet dollar for dollar, she barely rates against genuinely wealthy Australians such as mining heiress Gina Rinehart who is a generous supporter of the climate denial movement.

Rethinking Marx and Hayek

Most people who reach 90 years of age would be enjoying their retirement, perhaps reminiscing, probably relaxing. Instead, veteran political activist Eric Aarons has spent the last five years researching the conservative philosopher and economist Friedrich Hayek and re-reading Karl Marx. While Marx is familiar to many people, Hayek is less well known. Yet Hayek's ideas have provided the intellectual foundation for the neo-liberal Right which has been so globally influential for the last 30 years. In Australia Hayek's influence is now better known thanks to Kevin Rudd's various essays attacking neo-liberalism. Occasionally, Hayek is discussed and defended in the columns of The Australian.

Privatised, corporatised Labor has lost touch with its core values

Published in The Australian , 20 November 2010

Julia Gillard's refusal to consider regulating the banks highlights the reason for Labor's malaise

THE fate of the Rudd government and Labor's dismal election results have reignited a long-running debate about the beliefs and principles that underlie Labor's policy and public statements.

The climate of opinion at The Australian

Published 11 December 2010, in The Australian

The Australian is undoubtedly the most serious newspaper in Australia and its record on climate change matters because of this. More importantly, its stance matters because of the civilisational challenge which climate change presents to Australia and the world.

This was recognized by the CEO of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch who warned in 2007 that climate change posed 'clear catastrophic threats'. Mr Murdoch also pledged that News Corporation would 'weave this issue into our content' and 'tell the story in a new way'.

I happen to agree with Mr Murdoch description of the seriousness of the threat. But there is a puzzle. In recent years The Australian campaigned in favour of objective facts in the teaching of Australian history against 'political' interpretations. By contrast, its attitude to the science of climate change has zig zagged from a grudging acceptance of the facts to simple denial and back again. In all modes, its stance is invariably dominated by old ideological obsessions that are tangential to this profound issue.

Underground in Asia

Excerpt from 'Espionage and the Roots of the Cold war'

by David McKnight

Chapter Four

Underground in Asia

On May 1, 1929 an unusual meeting of trade unionists took place in Shanghai. The communists who organised the meeting later regarded it as 'perhaps the biggest single feat of illegal organisation' at the time.

It was a copybook version of the kind of illegal activity under conditions of savage repression which was described by the Comintern Commission on Illegal Work:

A guildhall on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Settlement was booked. Factory workers went to the hall in groups of three or four. Their times of arrival were carefully staggered. They were still arriving when a policeman walked into the hall to ask what was going on. He was politely disarmed and locked in a small room. The meeting was held, 400 people heard a 45 minute May Day address and dispersed into the night. Then the policeman was released.

The description is by a British communist, George Hardy, who worked underground in Shanghai for Profintern, Comintern's trade union wing. Hardy's task was to stimulate the left wing trade union movement in China and in South East Asia and he worked closely with historic leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) such as Chou En-lai, Deng Hsiao-ping and Liu Shao-chi who were all active in the underground trade union movement, particularly that part centred in Shanghai.

A new Left today?

Published in Arena magazine, number 104,Feb-March 2010

Around the world the financial crisis and climate change have focused many minds on a revival of the Left. Some people point to the success of socialists in South America or the election of Barack of Obama, other point to the rise of a Left Party in Germany. Even Michael Moore's latest film, Capitalism, A Love Story, seems to be a straw in the wind. The fate of the Left was one of the topics at a conference of activists and thinkers at Deakin University recently and was discussed in an editorial of Arena (No. 102). The purpose of the conference was to rethink ideas from that broad political force known loosely as 'the Left'.