Monday, January 27, 2020

3310. In Defense of the Green Party

By Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist, January 27, 2020
American liberals, the bulk of the ecological movement, and much of the left voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Although formulated as recommendations to the Greens in general, the Open Letter is actually a polemic against Howie Hawkins’s CounterPunch article “The Green Party Is Not the Democrats’ Problem.”

As has been the case in most elections since Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate in 1964, the threat of a “unprecedented danger” has become a talking point of the Communist Party, the Nation Magazine and a broad spectrum of liberal thinking epitomized by the articles of Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin, as well as the spectacle of Michael Moore getting down on his knees to beg Ralph Nader not to run for President on the Bill Maher show in 2004 .

In addition to holding up a second Donald Trump term as a bogeyman, the authors have the gumption to tell Howie Hawkins that even if the Greens run a low-key campaign, they will come out of the elections stronger:

We have no way to assess the claim that Greens would find it dispiriting to remove themselves as a factor that might abet global catastrophe via a Trump re-election. But wouldn’t Trump out of office much less Sanders or Warren in office not only benefit all humanity and a good part of the biosphere to boot, but also the Green Party? For that matter, weren’t more potential Green Party members and voters driven off by the party’s dismissal of the dangers of Trump than were inspired by it? Which grew more in the last four years, DSA or the Greens?

The Open Letter was signed by Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Ron Daniels, Kathy Kelly, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters and Michael Albert. Some political background on these high-profile personalities is necessary.

To start with, Chomsky had a conversation that touched on lesser-evilism with Robert Scheer, the editor of Truthdig, where the Open Letter appeared among other places. I ordinarily have zero interest in any of these ubiquitous transcriptions of Chomsky’s profundities, but was curious to see his defense of “lesser evilism”. Scheer, an 83-year old leftist who has made a living since the 1960s publishing magazines like Ramparts and Truthdig, still has enough piss and vinegar inside him to be skeptical of Chomsky’s justifications for voting Democrat. Chomsky, now 91, is an old-fashioned pragmatist despite his anarchist pretensions. Here he is reassuring Scheer that voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 or Joe Biden in 2020 would be good for us, just like cod liver oil:

There’s another word for lesser evilism. It’s called rationality. Lesser evilism is not an illusion, it’s a rational position. But you don’t stop with lesser evilism. You begin with it, to prevent the worst, and then you go on to deal with the fundamental roots of what’s wrong, even with the lesser evils.

The best you can say about Robert Scheer is that he keeps these meetings of the great minds to a minimum. Over on ZNet, fellow Open Letter signer Michael Albert has inflicted them on his readers dozens of times over the years. Besides putting Chomsky on a pedestal, Albert’s main interest over the years has been to promote PARECON, or participatory economics. Unlike those nasty revolutions in Russia and Cuba, this is a blueprint for a future society that will be like the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where “the sun shines every day on the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees.” So, he has no strategy for getting to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Nobody’s perfect.

As for Bill Fletcher Jr. and Barbara Ehrenreich, suffice it to say that they constituted half of the committee that initiated Progressives for Obama in 2008. Meanwhile, Ron Daniels was Deputy Campaign Manager for Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign and urged a vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Leslie Cagan was one of the founders of the Committees of Correspondence in 1991, a Eurocommunist split from the CPUSA that retained its orientation to the Democratic Party. Norman Solomon was a Sanders delegate at the 2016 convention. A most mutually reinforcing coterie.

Unlike those mentioned above, Kathy Kelly has no paper trail identifying her as a Democratic Party supporter; nor does Cynthia Peters. I have to assume that they are like most people on the left today, deathly afraid of Trump and harboring immense illusions in the difference that a Sanders presidency can make.

What unites all of them is a belief in gradual change, as if electing Democrats can serve as a brake on the inexorable decline of the capitalist system. There’s a real cognitive dissonance between the almost daily reports on one catastrophe or another, from the Australian fires to thirty percent of birds in North America dying since 1959, and the plodding, self-serving liberalism of the Democratic Party. This includes not only the regular Democrats from Joe Biden to Amy Klobuchar. It also includes the Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, whose idea of socialism is to bring back the New Deal on a silver platter. It was WWII, after all, that broke the back of the Great Depression, not building roads for the WPA.

The Open Letter believes that it would help the Green Party grow if it incorporated a “safe state” strategy. Missing from its calculations is any understanding of its relationship to the two-party system. Whatever its flaws, and they are legion, it is the only party in the twentieth and now the twenty-first century that has functioned as a opponent of a rigged game that serves, first and foremost, to preserve the electoral shell-game.

In Chomsky’s chat with Robert Scheer, he refers to the need for staying in the streets even if a Democrat is elected, even Bernie Sanders. That’s the same advice the Progressives for Obama gave in 2008. Even if Obama was elected, we’d have to put pressure on him to promote progressive legislation. They use the analogy with FDR, who supposedly pushed through New Deal legislation because of trade union militancy.

Our problem, however, is the lack of a genuine radical movement in the USA that can coordinate such forceful actions, let alone a militant trade union movement. In the 1930s, there was a powerful Communist Party that despite tail-ending FDR was in the forefront of social struggles everywhere. Over 20 years ago, I wrote an article that gave them their due:

In an essay “Remaking America: Communists and Liberals in the Popular Front”, [Mark] Naison discusses how the CP made the decision to implement the Popular Front in a very aggressive manner. Browder and the American Communists made a big effort to stop speaking in “Marxist-Leninese” and discovered many novel ways to reach the American people.

They concentrated in two important areas: building the CIO and fighting racism. There is an abundance of information about its union activities, but new research is bringing out important facts about its links to the Black community.

A “Saturday Evening Post” writer observed in 1938 that CP headquarters “is a place where every Negro with a grievance can be sure of prompt action. If he has been fired, the Communists can be counted on to picket his employer. If he has been evicted, the Communists will guard his furniture and take his case to court. If his gas has been cut off, the Communists will take his complaint, but not his unpaid bill to the nearest office… There is never a labor parade, nor a mass meeting of any significance in the colored community in which Communists do not get their banner in the front row and their speakers on the platform.”

After WWII, the Cold War kicked in and reduced the CPUSA to a ghost of its once domineering past. However, there was a new upsurge in radical energy as the Maoists and Trotskyists provided the backbone of militant activism in the 1960s and 70s, even making an impact on the trade union movement. Sectarian mistakes and a steep decline of industrial jobs once again led to a decline in radical activism that only began to reappear during the Occupy movement.

Our problem today is we have a renewed interest in using the Democratic Party as an instrument of reform but with a blunt instrument like the DSA leading the charge. Unlike the highly disciplined CPUSA, the DSA seems incapable of using its 60,000 strong membership in a coordinated assault on capitalist power. I try to imagine what things would look like today if the 10,000 or so Maoists and Trotskyists of the mid-70s had not gone off their rocker thinking the revolution was around the corner. If they had dropped their sectarian pretensions and learned to work together, they would have been able to better confront the nativism, racism, and environmentally destructive policies of the Trump administration.

As a DSA member, I get regular communications from Maria Svart, the group’s chairperson. Almost all of it is consumed with electoral projects like going to New Hampshire to go door to door for Bernie Sanders. When Trump authorized the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, there was a genuine fear that this might have led to a new, major war in the region. What was Jacobin’s reaction to this threat? It urged people to work for Sanders’s election to prevent such a war. Talk about electoral cretinism.

There’s some real confusion about leftist parties today, even—I’m afraid to admit—in the Green Party. It runs candidates not exactly in the same way as the Democrats but mostly in the hope of getting elected to local offices that don’t require the kind of money that you need to run for Governor, Congress or the Presidency. The purpose of Howie Hawkins would not be to get elected but to raise awareness of the uncompromising stance of the Green Party on all the important issues of the day.

My idea of the Greens is strongly influenced by the example of the Peace and Freedom Party of the 1960s that was mostly a vehicle for radical activism. It never amounted to much outside of California but for much of the 60s and 70s, it was a key part of the left that drew in many leftists wary of the lunacy of the “Leninist” left, as well they should have been.
When I went to the Madison Square Garden rally for Ralph Nader in 2000, I was stunned to see the sold-out audience of mostly young people filled with energy. It dawned on me that the Greens could draw upon this energy and become the badly needed, nationally coordinated backbone of the left. Unfortunately, the people who believed in a “safe state” strategy, like the Open Letter advocated, maneuvered themselves into a leadership position that was strong enough to deny Ralph Nader the candidacy in 2004. Instead, the Greens ended up with David Cobb as the candidate who was very good at making sure it kept a low profile.

Jill Stein ran a much more energetic campaign in 2012 and 2016 but she doesn’t really have a vision of what the Greens can become. Additionally, she relies on the advice of David Cobb, her campaign manager, who is still bent on preventing the party from exploiting the possibilities that lie ahead of it in a period of deepening crisis.

Howie Hawkins has that vision and that is why I am supporting his candidacy. If he is the Presidential candidate in 2020, I will do everything in my power to back his campaign even if he draws votes away from Bernie Sanders in safe states. The way to build a party is to go full-bore. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. The Republicans are very good at it even if the goal is to turn back the clock to 1895. In politics, you have to have a killer instinct. Lenin had it. So did Fidel Castro. While the USA is nothing at all like Russia in 1917 or Cuba in 1957, the conditions are ripening for immense class battles within a few years.

It will take a revolutionary party to change this country from top to bottom and the time to begin moving toward its formation is now. I do not think that the Green Party can become that party but its growth will create the fertile soil that can determine the outcome, just like the abolitionist parties that gave rise to the Republican Party of Abe Lincoln. The USA had a revolution that put an end to chattel slavery in the 1860s. It is high time to make a new revolution that destroys wage slavery.

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