Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 27, 2020

In Defense of the Green Party

Filed under: Green Party — louisproyect @ 10:43 pm

Howie Hawkins, attacked for trying to win votes for the Green Party in all fifty states

On January 24th, an Open Letter appeared on various leftist websites urging the Green Party to follow a “safe states” strategy in the 2020 presidential elections. It argues that if Howie Hawkins or any other Green Party candidate runs in contested states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, there is a danger that he or she would steal votes from the Democrat. Needless to say, if that candidate is Bernie Sanders, there will be that much more pressure on the Greens to tamp down their campaign.

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 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 competitive 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.

 

 

13 Comments »

  1. Howie Hawkins has the ability to put forward a Socialist Green perspective.

    Comment by Lewis Ward — January 28, 2020 @ 1:56 am

  2. What’s clearly irrational is the notion that some Independent calling hinself a Socialist then running as a Democrat has any chance of changing property relations in the USA.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 28, 2020 @ 2:12 pm

  3. This is right on target. Alfred Marshall, the once famous economist, inscribed in his extremely popular Principles of Economics book that Nature does Not Make a Leap. This book represented part of a long-term assault on Marx and radical socialism. Don’t Chomsky, Fletcher, Ehrenreich, et. al. believe the same thing? Aren’t they in the end, whatever they might preach to the gullible, suffused with the same bourgeois mindset? Aren’t they in fact enemies of radical change? I think so.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — January 28, 2020 @ 4:41 pm

  4. Brilliant article, Louis! Especially how you pulled no punches at the end: “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.”

    The Left in the U.S., among other problems, seriously lacks a “killer instinct”, yes, but the Left also fails even have a serious work-ethic when it comes to organizing a mass, Left Party to the left of the Democrats. A criticism of your article defending the Greens, and maybe you made this point somewhere and I just missed it, but I think supporting Hawkins and other Left Greens is just one source of many, like Left Independents running for office, progressive individuals that see through the duopoly, any Left groups even, who can get into being part of building a mass Left or workers party of some sort… all these, I think, we’ll be needed to even form the outlines of a mass party representing working people and youth and starting from even its outline to lure away progressive lesser evilists from the Democratic party itself.

    Comment by Jeff Booth — January 28, 2020 @ 4:55 pm

  5. Well reasoned argument, Louie. I’ll likely vote for Howie in the GPUS primary, and probably also in the general election this fall. It seems very unlikely to me that a pro-(Green) New Deal liberal like Sanders or Warren will be nominated over the neoliberal corporatecrats who control the DNC.

    Comment by Kurt Hill — January 28, 2020 @ 6:17 pm

  6. I’m not at all convinced by your argument. Clearly, Trump represents a “special” threat that requires effort be made to stop his re-election. In the context of US democracy, voting for a third party is throwing away a vote (and will not represent an effort to build an alternative), and this will be case even moreso in this election. The most important issue/question is how we respond to global warming. Why on Earth someone left-wing would not see Bernie elected president at this moment in time as something “useful” (to put it simply) given our tenuous future is beyong my understanding.

    Comment by Jed E Rosenstein — January 28, 2020 @ 10:08 pm

  7. Why on Earth someone left-wing would not see Bernie elected president at this moment in time as something “useful” (to put it simply) given our tenuous future is beyong my understanding.

    I think you should read Karl Marx before weighing in on such matters.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 28, 2020 @ 11:09 pm

  8. If Bernie were to get by some miracle the Democratic nomination for president, I’d likely vote for him in the general election. Frankly, though, I’m very skeptical that the DNC will permit him–or Elizabeth Warren–anywhere near the nomination. If you or anyone else thought the plutocrats and their running dogs savaged progressives in 2016, wait until you see what they do this time around…

    Comment by Kurt Hill — January 29, 2020 @ 6:06 pm

  9. Louis writes: “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.” Politics is not about things that are “inexorable.” Capitalism may or may not decline but, either way, we don’t know at this point how things will turn out.

    At the same time, we do know rather clearly that countries that have so far followed the hard communist root ran into problems they did not envision and could not solve. And, it did not take them long to realize that not everyone accepted their vision so they persecuted opponents and imagined opponents, thereby making things even worse than they already were. Controlling everything, as ought to have been obvious to anyone with a brain, made dictatorship easy and such dictatorship never works in service to anyone but the dictator and, most surely, not to benefit the proletariat. So, hard communism is simply another name for tyranny.

    There are certainly problems in the US. But, the fact is that, along with the other Western countries, widespread starvation has largely been eradicated, not only in Western countries but in most of the world. Disease, while still real, is something that is managed, with the great pandemics that were the feared plague of mankind as late as the 19th Century no longer the norm, even outside of the West. Communism failed to make even the slightest contribution to either of these extraordinary achievements. In fact, the opposite is almost surely the case.

    Critical theory and other leftist critiques of capitalist society raise some issues worth considering. And, criticism is certainly important – criticism being something that communists refused to hear in countries where they had power. In any event, communism’s record in practice suggests that its followers should think more carefully about what they wish for and work, instead, to improve the world in ways that are possible.

    Comment by Neal — January 29, 2020 @ 6:58 pm

  10. “There are certainly problems in the US. But, the fact is that, along with the other Western countries, widespread starvation has largely been eradicated, not only in Western countries but in most of the world.”

    God, so insipid. That’s what you get from reading Stephen Pinker, I guess. Or maybe you just thought up such a bromide yourself. Give yourself a gold star and paste it on your forehead.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 29, 2020 @ 7:05 pm

  11. It has been pointed out many hundreds of times by various commentators, electoral analysts and experts, etc. that Trump won the electoral vote count by a tiny margin of less than 80,000 votes, spread across three states (i.e., on average, by a margin of less than 26,000 votes in each state!!).

    If a Democratic candidate for presidency cannot beat those sorts of odds, it is only indicative of the degree to which they, the Democrats, have alienated their own base. So, to repeat Howie Hawkins, he Greens are not the Dems’ problem; *Dems* are their own problem.

    The Dems are also OUR problem since they have done everything in their power to stop a third party taking root in this country. Successive Democratic administrations have not stopped the rightward march of the ruling class in this country, and in fact have *normalized* Republican policies. The more we give them cover, the more we creep rightward.

    Chomsky’s mechanical ‘rationalism’ is total bunk. Chomsky has been advocating a ‘lesser evil = rationalism’ argument at least since the 2000’s. Has it worked to stop the greater evil?

    It is way past time to stop the charade.

    Comment by Reza — January 29, 2020 @ 7:10 pm

  12. Louis, actually it was Yuval Noah Harari. Be that as it may, the point is factual. Why do you claim that the point is “insipid”? Would you prefer a world where worry about dying from starvation was the norm? Or, where diseases now treated as minor irritants killed people in great numbers?

    Comment by Neal — January 29, 2020 @ 7:22 pm

  13. To me here in the UK as an ecosocialist, I’m torn. The Greens ran in the last general election with some candidates standing down in favour of the egregious, untrustworthy Lib Dems to push the Green project against the democratic vote to leave the EU. As it turned out, such a stand to oppose what was 2016’s two fingers against the arrogant, wealthy elites of which the Greens figure so prominently was perhaps the major factor in the collapse of the Labour vote. As a fomer Green party member and a 1990s EU candidate who has turned decisively against the EU in recent years, I’m interested to see if our Greens learn the obvious lesson from December 2019. “Take ordinary people’s views seriously? Don’t I know anyone who voted to leave the EU’s a racist?” For US Greens, what to do in a rigged two-party system? There are good arguments for either strategy but certainly the world needs Bernie Sanders as President. However, it also needs a widespread socialist and Green movement getting Left people into power across your country. Hmmm…. What do I know?

    Comment by srhope1989outlookcom — January 30, 2020 @ 10:18 am


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: