Green Party Identity Question

by Andrew Stewart on January 16, 2017

Identity-Crisis

The true utopianisms today are precisely the modest social democratic attempts… [Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century] is a utopian book at its purest. Why? On account of its very modesty! -Slavoj Zizek, May 2014

Dr. Stein

Is the Green Party a labor party that just so happens to not have a labor movement or is it the materialization of an eco-socialist movement that combines the praxis of environmentalism with socialism? Some would consider this a wasteful exercise but it actually matters a great deal.

Perhaps the distinction between a labor party and a socialist party seems to be hair-splitting nonsense but it in fact is quite pronounced owing to the absolute goals of the two being diametrically opposed. A labor party and corresponding labor movement functions like a shock absorber in the capitalist system. It places itself between its worker base and the capitalist edifice and tries to lighten the shocks along the roadway to the member chassis. If that means the workers will put food on their tables by working on awful, polluting projects like the DAPL project, so be it, just make sure that there is a chicken in every union member’s pot. We are discussing an issue that comes down to the fundamentals of capital and how it finances the private sector union movement. The sorts of mass-scale renewable energy infrastructure financing is not being rolled out in America, it is the Chinese who are mass-producing solar panels and the like.

By contrast, the goal of socialist parties is to do nothing less but “expropriate the expropriators” by nationalizing the means of production, such as banks, railways, and natural resources. Rather than lighten the shocks on the road, socialism is about abolishing the road. Does that make one ‘lesser than’ or ‘worse than’ the other? Not particularly, but it does make them fundamentally different creatures with very different goals that can and do sometimes intersect but ultimately come to loggerheads.

Now I obviously can understand that people would be inclined to put their eggs in the Green Party basket because it has the potential to replace the Democratic Party as the de jure labor party for a union movement that is currently on life support. Any sane adult with sympathies for progressivism would support this.

But the simple fact is that the capitalist system is inherently and forever inter-twined with a fossil fuel industry that is anathema to the ecological movement. The idea that an edifice which has caused multiple worldwide conflagrations dating back at least a century to a World War over fossil fuels would ever possibly allow the labor movement it controls to embrace ecology and hold up a Green New Deal is quite obviously problematic because, well, money talks and you know what walks.

And so to build their base, the Green Party has engaged in the past 18 months with a series of PR moves to quite obviously and undeniably cater its appeal to socialist types. Now this is a very important point given the fact that their right wing would protest about radicals joining their ranks. That’s absolutely the opposite of reality. When Jill Stein went this past spring to Left Forum, the undeniable radical pilgrimage site of every outfit in American leftist politics where the Communist Party is the most conservative outfit in the bunch, she knew exactly what kind of base she wanted to build when she participated in a panel with Chris Hedges and Glen Ford. Any claim to the contrary is simplistic sophistry that bears no resemblance to reality. By selecting Ajamu Baraka as her vice president, doing her photo op at Standing Rock, saying she is in support of self-determination, and executing many more moves to curry favor with lefties of every stripe, the Green Party actively and intentionally tried to position itself in the political landscape as the site where people opposed to the capitalist system should go to build a party. When Eric Draitser interviewed her for Counterpunch Radio, she did not say she was opposed to building of a Green Panthers Party that would enact the best practices of the Black Panthers. To further buttress this, she did not raise her hands to silence the Left Forum moderator who said that the old Ten Point Program of the Panthers would be of good use to Greens today. I have been operating now for the past six months under the impression that Jill Stein was interested in creating a mass movement that would be operating outside parliamentary structures and building itself through a dues collection system that would accommodate and promote the growth of a cadre not unlike Tito’s partisan movement during World War II or the Black Panthers at their zenith.

Now that the election has ended, Jill Stein and the wing of the Green Party she was always aligned with are not interested in a Green Panthers Party, building an eco-socialist movement, or the sort of thing that would make them enemies of the state. I know there are members of the Green Party who would not mind a night in jail, which is admirable. But they also would not be interested in going on the run like Angela Davis or becoming a political prisoner like Mumia Abu Jamal. I do not resent anyone for that mentality, it is perfectly sane and acceptable to be contented with a car, mortgage, and democratic socialist ideals. By contrast, the left side of the party, centered around people like Chris Hedges, Margaret Flowers, Bruce Dixon, and others want to build this party and wrestle control away from an NGO-styled mentality that finds Democratic administrations preferable to Republicans.

However, I also am a direly realistic person. There are no New Dealers coming to save the day, that is all over. Those progressives who now hoot and holler over the idea that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump are simply failing to recognize that, even if he had, as a New Dealer without a coalition he would have never gotten a single thing done. The neoliberal political order has quite openly and shamelessly broken the back of entire countries like Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Libya. It is one of the most violent and expensive military-industrial complexes seen in human history, a behemoth not unlike the dragon in the Book of Revelations. Fredric Jameson touched on this matter in an essay anthologized in the 2001 volume Lenin Reloaded when he said:

The welfare state is of course the great postwar achievement of social democracy, even though in continental Europe it knows longer and older traditions. But it seems to me important to defend it, or better still, to give social democracy and the so-called Third Way, a chance to defend it, not because such a defense has any prospects of succeeding, but rather very precisely because from the Marxian perspective it is bound to fail. We must support social democracy because its inevitable failure constitutes the basic lesson, the fundamental pedagogy, of a genuine Left.

We are moving into a space-time continuum where any time wasted on such Quixotic battles is criminal due to the undeniable chauvinism of Donald Trump and the pain we will see as a result of the accelerating climate crisis. Those sorts of coordinates require far more than parliamentary electoral politics.

A century ago, the son of a petit bourgeois school teacher gave up his notions of class and race in the name of a socio-political cataclysm that unmade the basic coordinates of civil society. With the aid of a few comrades, he brought about the collapse of an imperial power and set in motion a series of events that led to the rest of the century. In the past hundred years it has become clear that his contemporaries, such as Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek, were offering critiques of the Soviet Union worth contemplating. Yet at the same time I must admit that Lenin’s final writings, such as On Cooperation and Better Fewer But Better, are strikingly realistic and bitterly critical of a tyranny he had no intention at the outset to create. While I respect the Greens for their efforts and think they have their hearts in the right place, I think things are at such a point we need to be as militant as he was and become eco-communists, embracing a type of Libertarian Leninism that might redefine what it means to be on the Left. Slavoj Zizek, who previously contemplated what such an ideological matrix might require, has argued for the following four point program:

And is the only appropriate way to counter the threat of ecological catastrophe that looms at our horizon not precisely the combination of these four moments? What is demanded is:

– strict egalitarian justice (all people should pay the same price in eventual renunciations, i.e., one should impose the same world-wide norms of per capita energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, etc.; the developed nations should not be allowed to poison the environment at the present rate, blaming the developing Third World countries, from Brazil to China, for ruining our shared environment with their rapid development);

– terror (ruthless punishment of all who violate the imposed protective measures, inclusive of severe limitations of liberal “freedoms,” technological control of the prospective law-breakers);

– voluntarism (the only way to confront the threat of the ecological catastrophe is by means of large-scale collective decisions which will run counter the “spontaneous” immanent logic of capitalist development – it is not the question of helping the historical tendency or necessity to realize itself, but to “stop the train” of history which runs towards the precipice of global catastrophe;

– and, last but not least, all this combined with the trust in the people (the wager that the large majority of the people support these severe measures, see them as their own, and are ready to participate in their enforcement). One should not be afraid to assert, as a combination of terror and trust in the people, the reactivation of one of the figures of all egalitarian-revolutionary terror, the “informer” who denounces the culprits to the authorities. (Already in the case of the Enron scandal, the Time magazine was right to celebrate the insiders who tipped-off the financial authorities as true public heroes.)

Do I personally resent Jill Stein for what could be called a problematic set of PR moves? Not particularly, I do not feel I “wasted” or “lost” anything this year and would do it all again. But the plain fact is that we activists could have also been focusing our energies over the past six months on the matters we are only now getting to. It is regrettable that she acted in such a manner when it was unnecessary. I would be perfectly happy, in my Democratic stronghold of Rhode Island, to vote for a Green Party dog catcher. But there were much more important things to be focusing on this year than electoral politics. Perhaps the left element of the Greens need to do something that would be semi-autonomous of the more parliamentary flank of the party, roughly akin to how the best days of the Old Left were defined by a bifurcation between CPUSA efforts on the one hand and CIO organizing on the other. That is totally acceptable and logical for a variety of reasons.

But we need to just be absolutely honest at this juncture about who wants to do what and when. There is no need for any sort of dubious behavior and no need to feel any fear rejection or alienation. Instead, recall Edward Said’s beloved quote from Aimé Césaire, “There’s room for all at the rendezvous of victory.”

(This article appeared originally on The Rhode Island Media Collective.)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

NJDave January 16, 2017 at 12:25 pm

There are simmering pockets of Left Greens who advocate a more radical GP vs. the current Dem LIte GP. This illustrates the age old question: Reform or Revolution. I’m all for Revolution – abolishing capitalism and replacing it with an economic (and social) democracy. What worries me is the concept of Revolution has been distorted and pacified. In my experience, most Greens believe that Bernie advocated Revolution and they are behind that. But we know that Bernie advocated Reforms, not Revolution. So there is yet another obstacle the revolutionaries must overcome. I firmly believe that to transform from a Reform Party to a Revolutionary Party requires a firm foundation, and membership criteria which includes not only dues, but an education -mandated readings, lectures, and discussion groups.

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Andres Gonzalez January 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

I have felt that in the absence of a mass socialist or labor party the GPUS ultimately could fill that void and for awhile it did appear that it’s presidential candidate was looking in that direction, but now I’m not so sure , I haven’t given up yet, but based on some of discussions like ” I’m not Left,I’m not Right,I’m Green”. This party has serious problems with identity, which is a sign that it’s activists have been totally mis-educated.

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NJDave January 16, 2017 at 2:16 pm

You wrote, “This party has serious problems with identity, which is a sign that it’s activists have been totally mis-educated.”

I’ll add “woefully” miseducated. Perhaps misguided? Intentionally? The cure is some honest discussion with current membership – some of whom have taken issue with my tone, and my suggestion/observation that they don’t have much in the way of a political or economic understanding of our current political state. Or alternatives other than, “Vote Green” which, presently, is a vote for reform.

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Andrew Stewart January 16, 2017 at 2:31 pm

This is a conversation we need to be having with people. I have gotten some good feedback already from people in my local Green Party who are inclined to a sort of activism that might become very important if not essential to surviving the Trump presidency. Share this widely with friends to help develop this conversation further and emphasize that this is not about anything but sticking to goals that we had 18 months ago. I’m hearing from people also who were the brains behind the 2004 fiasco with David Cobb, they are grouchy and carry on about something that has more to do with ego than strategy. I think they will marginalize themselves on their own accord regardless of what we do.

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NJDave January 16, 2017 at 3:22 pm

I am a Melonist. A water Melonist.
Green on the outside and Red on the inside.
I have started a Facebook group: The Melonista Vista.
If this is reinventing the wheel, please let me know.

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Fred Welfare January 16, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Zizek invokes the Communist totalitarian terror which implicates its victims for no reason under the imputation of being on the wrong side. The Black Panther’s 10- Point Program is similarly totalitarian in that it rejects the given legal framework in order to impose its own justice. Both programs raise the spectre of extreme white backlash. The problem is assimilation – the acceptance of the judicial framework. There is no doubt that the US Judiciary is incomplete, partial and biased in certain respects – Law evolves. The expectation is that individuals work to become competent and present reasoned argument to change the law towards Universal Principles. However, simply inverting the system will lead to implosion, not to legitimacy – to equally binding statutes.

Here is the Black Panther’s 10-Points, for your edification:

What We Want Now!
We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
We want full employment for our people.
We want an end to the robbery by the white men of our Black Community. (later changed to “we want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.”)
We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

What We Believe:
We believe that Black People will not be free until we are able to determine our own destiny.
We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American business men will not give full employment, the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as redistribution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities: the Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered 6,000,000 Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over 50,000,000 Black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.
We believe that if the White landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make a decent housing for its people.
We believe in an educational system that will give our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.
We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.
We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States gives us the right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self-defense.
We believe that all Black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.
We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that Black people will receive fair trials. The 14th Amendment of the U.S Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peers. A peer is a persons from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical, and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the Black community from which the Black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all-white juries that have no understanding of “the average reasoning man” of the Black community.
When in the course of human events, it become necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, and that all men are created equal that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its power in such a form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accused. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, and their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards of their future security.[2]

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jethomas5 January 17, 2017 at 4:16 am

“However, simply inverting the system will lead to implosion, not to legitimacy”

This is a vital point.

Think of it like we’re playing a game, and when the time comes we will play a new game.

If you switch from canasta to bridge, the guy who was winning at canasta doesn’t get a special advantage to help him win at bridge. His canasta trophies are irrelevant in the new game. But you also don’t give him a special handicap. It’s a new day.

Make sure everybody knows the rules of the new game, and what it means to win. And you give everybody a fair chance.

If you decide that the previous winners will be your victims, then they will be your implacable enemies and you will probably have to kill them. They will cause trouble as long as they live.

But if they get their fair chance to play under the new rules, a lot of them will settle down and play their hearts out, and try to become respected citizens the new way.

If you can’t forgive them for playing the old game by the old rules, you will probably have to kill them, and then kill their families who will resent you for killing them, and it’s a great big distraction from running the new game well.

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SocraticGadfly January 17, 2017 at 2:16 am

I’m fine being an eco-socialist, or as I said in the Discussion Issues FB group, a libertarian socialist.

As for not getting stuff done, you just need a President and 535, count that number carefully, 535 NSA or FBI critters to help keep 535 Americans and their staffs “safe” under the Patriot Act. ;)

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