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Email sent 22/9/09

Bernard Keane

Re: Is Kevin Rudd a communist dictator?, Crikey, 21/9/09

Your presentation implied that it is wrong for critics to equate Australia's Prime Minister (Mr Rudd) with a 'communist dictator'; and that the main problem in Australia's political system is the lack of an effective Opposition.

I should like to endorse your comments, because:

  • no one could seriously claim that Mr Rudd is a 'real' communist;
  • Australia's system of government moderates any prime minister's dictatorial tendencies;
  • there is a need to strengthen support to Australia's system of government, to ensure that both Governments and Oppositions can be more effective, and unlikely to abuse their power.

These points are developed in more detail below.

John Craig



Mr Rudd is Not a Real Communist

No one could accuse Mr Rudd of being a 'real' communists. In fact few now even support 'real' communism - except perhaps in North Korea and Cuba.

Even China (the only significant nation whose social elites call themselves 'communists') is only pretending. China is better regarded as a neo-Confucian corporatist state, a dictatorship by the intellectual elite who comprise the 'Communist Party' and whose economic policies advance their own power and wealth (see China as the Future of the World?). Only 'pretend communists' would take advantage of their positions to enrich themselves and their families [1], to the point that 1% of households now control 60% of China's wealth [1].

Mr Rudd could never even be described as a Chinese-style 'pretend communist', unless he had taken advantage of an official position to enrich himself or his family.

There are Constraints on Incipient Dictators in Australia

Your presentation argued that dictators tend to be associated with: a personality cult; propaganda to support a 'big lie'; high popularity; the 'disappearance' or exile of rivals; and ultimately of mass murder.

Some observers have implied that Mr Rudd, in his earlier career as a Queensland Premier's chief of staff and later as head of the Cabinet Office, had exhibited some dictatorial characteristics, which earned him the title 'Dr Death'. For example, 'reform' under that administration was characterised by a ruthless purge of the public service, which eliminated any who might have exposed the ignorance or inexperience of the government's political advisors (see Reform of Queensland Institutions or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?)  One observer suggested that:

The Goss government was a control freak's dream. The government was dismissive of caucus, ministers were relieved of policy responsibility and media control / political spin were highly centralised. ... Rudd ran a large, activist and hands-on cabinet office with an ambitious policy purview. It often over-rode ministers - and developed a culture of adversarial relations with the public service. (Wanna J., 'Sunshine past offers a glimpse of Rudd's style', Australian, 17-18/11/07).

However more-or-less dictatorial features have been claimed to characterise other Queensland regimes (eg those of Joh Bjelke Peterson and Peter Beattie), and it may be that such behaviour mainly reflects weaknesses in Queensland's institutions (see "Nip corruption in the bud": Good idea, but Fitzgerald didn't go far enough) .

Moreover Mr Rudd argued strongly in his 2006 'Faith in Politics' essay that Christians should emulate the example of Dietrich Bonhoffer who resisted Hitler as the latter's elected chancellorship in Germany unfolded into political repression.

In that regard, it is also worth considering Mark Lilla's argument that tyranny emerges from the involvement of intellectuals in politics (eg see Lilla M., 'A century fit for tyrants', Australian, 14/11/01). Lilla apparently suggested that:

Tyrannical intellectuals fail to master their passion for the life of the mind. They dive “headlong into political discussion, writing books, giving speeches, offering advice in a frenzy of activity that barely masks [their] incompetence and irresponsibility. Such men consider themselves to be independent minds, when the truth is that they are a herd driven by their inner demons and thirsty for the approval of a fickle public.” (see Mark Lilla: "The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics" )

Hitler, for example, had intellectual pretensions. His political ideology (developed in Mein Kampf) appeared to be based on very dubious perceptions of German history (which owed more to Hitler's assumptions than to reality), was presented as a quasi-religious 'intellectual' work and then ruthlessly enforced.

While Mr Rudd has a tendency to express grand political theories that seem a bit divorced from reality (see A Social Democratic Alternative to 'Neo-Liberalism'?), it seems unlikely (given the character of Australia's institutions) that any prime minister could exhibit the extremes that have emerged in deeply troubled, unstable nations. After all, in Queensland, the pretensions and ineptitude of the Goss Government (in which Mr Rudd had a central role) soon caused it to lose electoral support.

None-the Less Australia's Institutions Need to To Be Strengthened

In Queensland, Oppositions tend traditionally to be weak (as your presentation suggested now applies nationally in Australia) and this has permitted power to be abused by political populists (see More Competent External; Support to Parliament). To overcome this chronic problem requires more capable support to that state's political system (eg so that Oppositions don't just have the right to ask questions, but have a real chance to know what questions they should be asking).

Similar issues seem to arise in relation to Australia's national system of government as a consequence of increased complexity, globalization, public service politicisation etc (see Australia's Governance Crisis ). To overcome any tendency by Australian prime ministers to become 'dictatorial' in the manner that has often seen to apply to Queensland premiers, there is now a need to strengthen the support to the political system generally. Expecting Oppositions to constrain potentially dictatorial governments on their own is unrealistic.