Episode 4: Green New Deal—Interview with Brendan Cooney

RFH co-host Brendan Cooney has written and spoken extensively about “left economic populism,” including the Green New Deal (GND). In this episode, Andrew interviews Brendan about the GND, both as environmental policy and as left-populist politics. The interview includes a discussion of Brendan’s provocative call for “More Green, Less New Deal,” Bernie Sanders’ GND plan, the lack of realism of GND proposals (and why that matters)—and much more.

In this episode’s current-events segment, Brendan and Andrew discuss Paul Heideman’s recent Jacobin magazine article on “white working-class” Trump voters, which doesn’t quite promise that a Democratic Party committed to economic populism would win many of these voters back.
The following materials are cited during the podcast:

Cooney, Brendan. “Against Left Economic Populism,” With Sober Senses, Aug. 10, 2017.

Cooney, Brendan. Apr. 13, 2019 conference presentation, in “Video: MHI Panel at Jacobin/Historical Materialism Conference: ‘Fighting Trumpism and Left Accommodation.’”

Cooney, Brendan, June 30, 2019 conference presentation, in “Video: MHI Panels at Left Forum Conference—Confronting Right & ‘Left’ Authoritarianism, Confronting Trumpism.” 

Heideman, Paul. “What Liberals Miss About Trump Country,” Jacobin, Oct. 15, 2019. 

Kliman, Andrew. “The Baseness of Trump’s Base: a review-essay on Sides, Tesler & Vavreck’s Identity Crisis,” With Sober Senses, Dec. 17, 2018.

Marxist-Humanist Initiative. “Economic Mythology of the Left-Populist Alternative to Neoliberalism,” Part III of Resisting Trumpist Reaction (and Left Accommodation): Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s Perspectives for 2018, Dec. 2017.

Bernie Sanders. “Issues: The Green New Deal” [2020 presidential campaign platform plank]. 

John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck. Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2018.

Radio Free Humanity is a podcast covering news, politics and philosophy from a Marxist-Humanist perspective. It is co-hosted by Brendan Cooney and Andrew Kliman. We intend to release new episodes every two weeks. Radio Free Humanity is sponsored by MHI, but the views expressed by the co-hosts and guests of Radio Free Humanity are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of MHI.

We welcome and encourage listeners’ comments, posted on this episode’s page.

Please visit MHI’s online print publication, With Sober Senses, for further news, commentary, and analysis.

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November 8, 2019


  1. Excellent episode! Walking a tight rope between: yes we need a green project asap, and we also need to end capitalism to preserve the environment, is a tough task, but Brendan does it well! The Green New Deal reminds me of Jill Stein’s environmental platform in 2016, in that it’s certainly predicated upon an impossible premise: creating all these green jobs, and innovating in green tech, will only be a boon for the economy. Except the economy in its capitalism form is an open system, not a closed system, predictive economic power in capitalism (e.g., what paid prize fighting economists do) is about as reliable as visiting psychics in the panhandle. No one can know a priori, over the course of a decade or generation, what hiccups will occur in basic capital circulation. So, I’m glad some Marxist both applauded and critique the green new deal in equal cogent measure.

    One thing I have noticed about Sanders though, which MAY deviate from Brendan’s analysis regarding the green new deal being predicated upon the successes of democratic socialism, is that whenever a decent percentage of the country tolerates one of Bernie’s leftward pivots, he just moves further left. Sanders of 2019 is far to the left, publicly at least, of 2016 Sanders. And by the end of the 2016 primaries, Sanders of 2016 was to the left of 2012 Sanders (‘Democrats win when we get out of the vote to defeat Romney’). I suspect, or maybe just hope, that deep in that man’s bones isn’t a Warren capitalist, but the ghost of Eugene Debs. I’m not sure if this matters, or would have any positive impact, but I can imagine if a large chunk of the populace decided democratic socialism via a green new deal was a priority, Sanders would start pressing for the actual end of capitalism and push for a movement towards socialism. Maybe. Maybe… And if so, that could add some nuance to our assessment of the green new deal. Or this is blind optimism in the face of the what seems to me to be incoming fascism when this impeachment procedure fails to oust Trump and finally proves on the world stage that American Presidents can be conspicuous and flagrant criminals because they’re above the law. [Of course they were always inconspicuous and clandestine criminals, circumventing and haggling with the law].

  2. Just a short note to thank Brendan and Andrew, as well as others who work(ed) on the pod, for such good work. Structure, content, Q&A and music combine together very well to make it intellectually and politically stimulating and a good “listening experience”. Going forward, I hope that listeners will help spread its reach in the podverse.

  3. What a fantastic episode! Brendan deserves real credit for his work here. Almost no one else on the left has advanced a substantive critique of the Green New Deal, and Brendan is likely the only one critiquing the extremely pernicious influence of left populist politics on the climate movement. This episode should be required listening for all activists in today’s burgeoning climate justice movement and anyone concerned about the future of our biosphere. As Brendan suggests, it is high time to face the crisis “with sober senses,” rather than by promoting opportunistic endeavors, like “building the left,” or chiliastic fantasies about Bernie saving us all.

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