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
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.)