Monday, August 7, 2017

Reasons Why the Green Party Will NOT Lead the Political Revolution

Jason O'Neal
Green Party Activist and former NTEU Steward

Will the Greens become another "bourgeoisie" party?
Anyone following the rising tide of organized mass protest movements in the United States will attest that the issues can at times become blurred and confusing.  For many Americans, life is a daily struggle to survive. 
Overwhelmed by a multitude of outlets for entertainment few Americans follow the daily news.  Corporate media companies run 24-hours a day with “breaking news” about Russia’s involvement in our elections or the latest Twitter rant by the degenerate occupying the White House.  And we must not forget the weekly shake-ups in the circus cabinet of the President.  With such a spectacle is it any wonder why so many Americans do not understand the importance of the many marches for better wages, women’s rights, healthcare, science, the environment, and police brutality on people of color? 

That said, however, the plight of millions of Americans is excluded from the conversation or even participation in the discussions provided by those channels covering these events.  Almost always depicted as a war between Democrats and Republicans, interpretations of the increased protest actions are biased to force voters to choose between one or the other.  A third option, like the Green Party, is always absent from the discussion.  Because of this, millions of Americans have practically given up on politics and who could blame them?  Elections have given them nothing more than a diminishing standard of living over the last fifty years.  As their children grew up, they watched both parents go to work.  When the factories were shut down and their jobs shipped overseas or replaced by automation, their savings accounts or retirement pensions were raided and their credit card bills piled up.  Living hand to mouth every month, it is not uncommon for some families to have adult children who still live at home while working part-time to pay off their student loans.  And to think that those are the lucky ones.

Aside from the fact that the Trump presidency has ushered in a new fervor to march in the streets, many movements remain splintered or under direct control of the liberal wing of the current national government.  This includes many labor union leaders and could possibly explain why there has been very little mentioned other than statements which are anti-Trump or against his GOP allies.  Unless, of course, one considers the union leaders from the building trades who gleefully rubbed shoulders with the former reality television character now sitting in the Oval Office.  But, hasn’t this always been the case in the United States?  In absence of a Labor Party, which the Green Party is far from being, workers are cornered into supporting the lesser evil liberals who help broker deals with big business and conservatives.

This is the story of American democracy which has existed for more than one hundred and fifty years under the control of the two political cartels of economic power.   At the same moment in time when the most productive generation limps into retirement and social security, millions of Americans are underemployed or without work.  Wall Street, however, is busier than ever as the Dow Jones Industrial Average shattered past 22,000 this week.  An unprecedented level even for the past twenty-five years of globalization.  With no jobs to go to and failing neighborhood schools, crime and poverty cripple urban centers across America.  And, what was once depicted as a problem solely in the inner-city ghettos, gang violence and drug addiction now exist in rural communities throughout the Midwest and the South.  Wait until those problems hit the suburbs. 

Meanwhile, politics and the media have Americans divided along lines of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and religious zealotry.  These problems did not just arrive out of nowhere, but it takes a politically conscious person to understand their complexity.  This is where class becomes a crucial lens for interpretation and this is exactly why the Green Party will fail in its endeavor to become the newest political party of the people. 

With so many voters enamored by Bernie Sanders’ campaign rhetoric they had nowhere to turn when he endorsed Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee.  Some capitulated and returned to the herd in fear of Trump in the White House while others happily cast a vote for “the Donald.”  Those who “#DemExit”-ed were dispersed to write-in campaigns or voting for third party candidates who collected approximately 4.5 percent of the total 137 million votes cast.  That is less than 6 million votes.  The Green Party’s nominee, Jill Stein, received only 1.5 million.  Hardly a dent in the 65.8 million votes for Clinton or the 62.9 million given to Trump, and a poor showing even for a reform party.  To move forward, the Green Party must address this failure and purge the progressives and liberal elements from its leadership if it ever hopes to become a legitimate revolutionary party of the working class.

Before the keyboards are set ablaze with the flurry of fury from the reactionaries within the Green Party, I would like to elaborate on my position.  For the record, I am a registered Green Party member in the state of California.  I have been an active member of the Green Party since 2013 and before that I volunteered and worked within the Democratic Party of San Diego for about six years.  After moving to the Bay Area, I attended meetings with the Alameda County Green Party, as well as the Oakland Greens, and I was also a founding member of the UC Berkeley Green Party student organization.  It’s because of my experience within the party, and my interpretation of political theory and social movements, that I say the Green Party will not be leading a revolution anytime soon, if ever. 

To begin, this position must be situated within our current social crisis, both political and economic.  In the United States and other industrialized nations around the world economics is determined by those groups who control the political apparatus of the government.  This means Democrats and Republicans argue over the best way to grow the economy and spend money, usually in favor of the same people.  Wall Street banks, technology companies, pharmaceutical giants, industrial food producers, and big insurance companies spend money on candidates from both major parties.  Globalization, which has been pushed by leaders in both parties, is the latest endeavor for a corporate dominated means of production whose existence relies on establishing new markets for exporting surplus goods in exchange for cheap labor, raw materials, and resources.  Today, the unfettered capital of big business, which fueled the rapid economic expansion of the United States during the two decades following World War II, is no longer bound to remain at home.  Unlike the early years of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed for access to markets in developing nations, corporate investment in national infrastructure and social services through taxation is practically nonexistent. 

This is the reality in which we live.  Any attempts to reverse course on this path of development have been met with sharp rebuke from legislatures and courts across this nation.  It is also important to understand that the quality of life enjoyed by middle class workers who lived during the 1950s and 1960s will more than likely never return to the shores of this country so long as the status quo is maintained.  To believe a presidential candidate can restore “greatness” to a nation where millions of Americans are in a downward economic slide could be fatal for a so-called democratic society obsessed with continuous growth and consumption. 

The policies which created today’s conditions were put in place decades ago by presidents along with men and women in Congress from both political parties.  To make matters worse, justices sitting on the Supreme Court have sided with them and their high dollar campaign contributors by cementing in place the influence of corporate money and power within our society.  As the mass media follows script keeping reporters and commentators focused on the identity group differences between the two parties, the rusty gears of the economy continue to grind out profits for a few at the expense of the many.  These days the only choices Americans have are centered around what brand names to buy and where one chooses to spend their money.  Bridled by ignorance, and perhaps even apathy, those Americans fortunate enough to have a job now work harder and longer for less money while all of us get a minimal return from services and benefits paid for by our tax dollars.

To expand on this downward spiral of economic and financial insecurity for the American working class one needs only to remember the past and the lives of our parents.  For Americans born during the two decades after World War II, today may appear to be a bad dream.  A retiree today remembers a time when a high school graduate could get a job at a factory which paid enough money to buy a home and put food on the table for their family.  They had a car, took vacations, invested in retirement and savings, and some paid for their children to go to college if it wasn’t already completely free.  As war raged on in the developing nations of the world and U.S. troops were deployed to protect political allies in foreign markets, tax cuts for wealthy corporations began to trickle down at home. 

By the 1970s both parents were in the workforce to maintain the same standard of living provided by a single earner just ten years earlier.  Shocks to oil markets and currency manipulation brought unemployment and interest rates higher.  In response, America began deindustrializing as factory jobs relocated overseas.  Usually, to countries were American bombs were dropped just a few years before.  Those producers who remained began to implement automation in their manufacturing plants and on assembly lines.  Blaming the loss of their economic livelihood on the advancement of rights for women and people of color, many working-class Americans saw an opportunity to move against “socialist” programs of big government.  Unfortunately for them, their jobs did not return. 

The 1980s saw more tax cuts for the wealthy.  Households where both parents were working could no longer afford to invest in retirement or savings as Cold War military spending ballooned the federal budget.  Arming religious fundamentalists and right-wing dictators with modern weaponry to fight communism was the idea at the time.  However successful or flawed that strategy may have been, it clearly had negative effects on the domestic economy and has made an impact on American credibility worldwide ever since. 

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the 1990s ushered in NAFTA and the speculation bubble to drive the economy as Americans were buying goods and services on credit debt.  After more tax cuts, and a restructuring of welfare, the new millennium witnessed an increase in global commerce and military campaigns in the oil producing regions of the world.  More deregulation of banks allowed financiers to craft multiple schemes to push consumers into home ownership and the bad loans issued nearly collapsed the global economy in 2008.  Households across America were barely getting by with both parents working as billionaire bankers received a taxpayer-funded bailout of several trillion dollars.  Usually renting a home and financing a car, there was no money left over for savings or retirement.  Company pensions were replaced by stock shares, IRAs, and a 401k and many college educated children lived at home to help pay bills.  Not much has changed for the better.  After a dismal economic recovery, and facing the next global financial meltdown, many families will have nowhere to go except to join the millions of Americans already living in the streets.  Ultimately, that is where a revolution will begin—millions of organized protesters marching in the streets.   

The primary reason that the Green Party will most likely fail in its endeavor to become the opposition party to lead this revolution is because it has no class identity.  When the Green Party started during the early 1990s, it was viewed as a left-wing party preoccupied with the environment.  Over the years it became a home for many disenfranchised voters, former democrats, environmentalists, sectarian left groups, anarchists, hippies, and conspiracy theorists.  Aside from having some members who claim to be actively involved in their local unions, the Green Party has no real connections to the everyday struggle of working class Americans.  It has yet to grow into a political option for the rank and file organized and unorganized worker. 

Politically, the Green Party has been a non-factor on the national scene.  While winning a few hundred elections at the local and county level, however, none of the fifty state legislatures throughout the U.S. have Green Party representation.  With no true political base to produce leaders organically the Green Party is tied to a strategy of depending on presidential campaigns every four years to increase membership.  This opens the door for opportunists to promote their cults of personality while ignoring the essential step of organizing workers and communities around real problems with concrete demands.  Could this be by design and orchestrated by those who benefit financially from non-profits tied to the Green Party?

During the 2000 Presidential Election won by George W. Bush, the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, was called a “spoiler” for taking votes away from Democrat Al Gore.  Never mind those Democrats who voted for Bush, or any of the other candidates who were on the ballot, particularly in Florida.  Perhaps this played a factor in the 2004 Presidential Election when nominee David Cobb and the Green Party chose not to campaign in swing states where voters might choose other than Democrat or Republican.  A lackluster election in 2008 with former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and back-to-back runs for Jill Stein in 2012 and 2016 have failed to generate the necessary momentum to surpass the popularity of Nader from nearly two decades ago.  An opposition party must continue to grow in popularity or it will become a meaningless voice in the boneyard of failed social movements which have fizzled out over past election cycles.  In some ways, the Green Party may be akin to the Democratic Party in this regard as it becomes a hospice for social movements on life support.    

During the last election in 2016, Stein received between 1.06-1.09 percent of the total votes cast.  It is important to remember that this election was a contest between the two least popular candidates in recent history representing the two major parties of big business and nearly half of eligible voters in America stayed home.  The Green Party finished fourth behind the Libertarians who ran a candidate, Gary Johnson, who had no clue where Aleppo, Syria was even located.  He received nearly three times as many votes as Jill Stein, but to listen to the likes of Cobb and others within the national leadership of the Green Party you wouldn’t know it.  They have been too busy touting that one percent of the vote as a victory which is a ridiculous position to take.  The Green Party must discuss why the election went so poorly and it can’t rely on the outdated excuses of a “media blackout.”  Party leaders appear to be content with using the same playbook from the Nader years and this will not help build a revolutionary party.      

The second reason it is unlikely to have a Green Revolution is the party leadership is controlled by a predominantly white, upper middle-class membership.  Sectarian left organizations have infiltrated the party in hopes of recruiting members to “build the vanguard” and they are countered by environmentally conscious business owners, landlords, and professionals.  Too often Green Parties, especially in California, remain detached from the rank and file labor unions and community organizations fighting for qualitative change on the ground and in the workplace.  The Green Party remains irrelevant in the lives of the very people who could build a strong and vibrant social movement.  Until the Green Party recognizes this disconnect and breaks away from the opportunists from the dysfunctional socialist elements, the academics who fail to acknowledge the role of workers, and the petit bourgeoisie (both white and non-white) who control the party purse strings, it will remain a minor blip on the political radar of American politics.  

Lastly, two additional failures of the Greens are its inability to generate revenue outside of donations during presidential campaigns and the consensus voting method.  If the party is to remain free of corporate influence, which also includes the corrupt ideology of the labor leadership, it must develop a sustainable way to collect dues from members.  This is for two reasons.  First, without a viable campaign war chest only candidates with access to money will be able to run for office in costly elections.  And, secondly, these candidates can remain unaccountable to party members and run on their own platform and agenda.  This was the case in 2016 when Jill Stein made few attempts to identify the Green Party as an “eco”-socialist party, a platform plank adopted at the nominating convention in Houston.  Perhaps, too busy appealing to former Bernie Sanders supporters, Stein missed an opportunity to stand as the lone voice against the environmental ravages of the planet promoted by the free-market economic policies of the other three candidates. 

This lack of accountability to membership leads to the structure of the internal life of the party.  Consensus may be the most ideal way to make decisions for groups, however, a political party cannot function in this way and remain democratic.  Too many times, a minority position holds up motions and elections on party issues because they are not completely satisfied.  A democratic organization should listen to all positions, including the least popular, and a majority vote should govern the decisions of the group.  If any member feels aggrieved or slighted they may continue to voice their opposition and build a coalition to support them.  Allowing a minority group to determine the agenda of the party is not democratic and can lead to a seizure of power which resembles the despotic rule of tyrants.  Steering committee members and delegates for the past fifteen years will know what I am referring to here. 

There have been countless arguments through social media and articles posted by Counterpunch and The Black Agenda Report highlighting the inner turmoil as the Green Party struggles to establish its class identity.  Green Party delegates are accusing one another of racism, sexism, and even assault as various factions jockey for power.  To Jill Stein’s credit, she has continued appearances at townhalls and media studios.  However, her campaign’s decisions to not release funds to the party and the subsequent challenge of the election results have the Green Party divided.  All of this was done while accepting money from organizations tied to the Democratic Party.  Understanding that the integrity of elections is essential to democracy, and in response to mass voter registration purges, I agreed with the challenge.  But, myself and other members of Facts For Working People demanded that new elections be held to right the wrongs of election fraud by the two major parties.

By not separating ourselves from the parties of big capital the Green Party will fall into the liberal economic trap of progressivism.  The Green New Deal is a great place to start, but it means nothing without identifying capitalism, not just predatory or crony capitalism, as the root cause of our pending climate catastrophe.  Restructuring the economy to make a nicer form of capitalism will fall short of changing society and holding the reins tighter on growth, or “de-growing,” is not possible.  Capitalism will consume everything on earth to produce commodities for markets because that is its nature.  When the leadership of the Green Party fails to take such a stance it is a good indication that they want another bourgeoisie party.  Trying to move right and appeal to Berniecrats just proves it. 

Also, attending a “democracy convention” at the University of Minnesota this weekend with “progressive” Democrat Keith Ellison in attendance doesn’t sound too revolutionary.  And neither does proudly claiming to be an international party while many Green Parties in other countries are corrupted by their own political systems.  Perhaps, the Democratic Socialists of America convention in Chicago would have been a better place to start looking for a revolution.  At least the DSA is in the process of breaking away from the Democratic Party and have voted for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions) against Israel.  They also voted to break with the Socialist International and pursue a course for reparations.  All three are revolutionary positions in today’s political arena.

Again, I am basing these statements on my observations and interactions with members of the Green Party in California.  There are great people in the Green Party who are conscious of the need for a new political party.  I believe we all want the same things in relation to the environment and social justice, but we must also address the economic system for our party platform.  We must have the courage to speak truth to power and hold our leadership accountable to the main.  The Green Party must not remain under the influence of those with money or access to financial resources.  There are many great revolutionaries fighting within the party in Colorado, Texas, Illinois, New York, Maryland, and New Jersey to do just that.  This is by no means an attempt to discredit their work.  It is, however, the beginnings of a discussion we must have to identify the best strategy needed to raise the collective consciousness of the working class and revitalize the militant forces of labor unions and community activists.  This is an opportunity to network and build coalitions within and between communities to fight back against the onslaught from big money and the two political parties it controls.  Some may say that my position is one where it is easier to criticize than to create, or that I prefer to tear down than to build.  However, myself and many others would like to know—who approved the blueprints for this path forward?  Just exactly what are we building?  And, to whose benefit?         

It may be difficult to imagine, but less than one hundred years ago workers in the United States didn’t even have the luxury of the social safety nets we temporarily enjoy today.  With union membership near record lows, and new legislation preventing workers from organizing, we may lose these rights paid for by the blood of those workers who organized and fought before us.  Millions of workers, including women and children, had to go on strike or walk off the job to force the bosses and the government controlled by big business to concede to better wages and working conditions for less hours while earning benefits like social security and healthcare.  It wasn’t a political party that saved them, it was an organized collective of determined workers and their families who fought and changed society.  Will the Green Party become the political arm of the new movement for social change?  With its current leadership I think not, but only time will tell and the clock is ticking.

1 comment:

KZeese said...

I saw a report that DSA voted down breaking from the Democrats and also is still not planning on being an electoral party.

While I agree with the author on the need for election integrity and recounts, it is surprising the author supported the Stein recount which was developed by Hillary Clinton supporters in order to flip the election for Clinton. Stein raised and spent more money on the recount than on her entire campaign and used a Democratic Party PR firm, lawyers and arguments pursuing the attempt to flip the election. The result re-enforced electoral problems of racism, voting machines and recount laws but did not change the result and raised questions about the independence of the party.

Much of what is said is right on point and is the direction many of us want to see the Green Party move. The party needs to be an opposition party, total separate and never aiding the Democratic Party, with a class-based and race-based analysis rooted in the people who have been most injured, left behind and ignored by the current political system.

The Green Party Power Project is trying to build unity in the Green Party about many of the issues raised in this article, see and join our national telephone call on August 17,2017 to begin a dialogue on these issues. See