07 April 2008

Greens and Revolutionary Socialists: What Relationship Should There Be?

There has been a lot of talk about Green parties among members of the socialist left recently, particularly since there are several major Green campaigns that socialists in general, and revolutionary socialists in particular are trying to orient themselves around. In the US this is represented in socialist attitudes toward the Nader and McKinney campaigns, and in the UK, Siân Berry's campaign for mayor of London is attracting attention since there are strong arguments that she is indeed a socialist. As a result of these fairly strong and potentially promising campaigns, the question of whether revolutionary socialists should support Green candidates or not. This is by no means an easy question, as Green politics can waver over a large political/ideological spectrum, but I hopefully intend to tackle some of the debates over supporting Green candidates and Green Parties, and contribute my own thoughts to the conversation.

When looking at the situation around the London mayoral election, it presents some more interesting questions than elections in the US for two reasons. First, the election isn't entirely first past the post/winner take all, and does take voters second preference choice into account. While it's by no means perfect, it is certainly not a bad step for electoral democracy. Second, the Green candidate in this election, Siân Berry, is actually a socialist. She is a noted supporter of the Green Left tendency within the GPEW, which advocates for a unified anti-capitalist movement in and around the Green Party. While I personally believe that, in the long run, such a movement will probably have to leave the Green Party to maintain its political cohesion and socialist platform, the fact that there is a vocal and active socialist tendency within the Green Party of England and Wales makes for a good argument to support Green candidates affiliated with that tendency. However, the fact that Lindsey German, who is a revolutionary socialist, is also standing in the London mayoral election should make the choice somewhat easier, at least from my perspective. While there is no love lost between me and the Socialist Workers Party, and to some extent the IST in general, I feel that it should be a point of political principle for revolutionary socialists to vote for revolutionary socialist candidates wherever possible. Ideally, if the London mayoral elections used an instant runoff ballot rather than a supplementary ballot, it would not be unreasonable to call for a vote for Lindsey German first, Siân Berry second, and Ken Livingstone third, but unfortunately this is not the case.

The Green Party in the United States is somewhat of a different case. While the Green movement in the US was originally rather left wing and even Marxist influenced (a la the tradition of the Die Grüne in Germany), it seems like history and political manoeuvring have not been kind to the left-wing and socialist tendencies within American Green movement. In short, there were originally two different organisations battling for the name "Green Party." The first, known as the Greens/Green Party USA (G/GPUSA) was considered to be more left-wing, with ideological roots in the social ecology, deep ecology, and eco-socialist movements. Not exactly your traditional left-wingers, but with a definite socialist undercurrent. In addition, the G/GPUSA was the carrier of the idea of the "anti-party party" that was originally formulated for the Green Committees of Correspondence, forerunner to the entire Green movement in the US. The second group, the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), was a more moderate grouping and more focused on electoral action. The ASGP was formed out of the 1996 presidential election and the first Green presidential campaign (where they ran Ralph Nader for the first time), and a strange relationship of cooperation and competition between the two Green organisations resulted in the victory of the ASGP (which changed its name to the Green Party US in 2001), and the eventual decline of the G/GPUSA. Technically, the G/GPUSA still exists today, though it has no status as an official political party, and seems to function primarily as a left grouping within the Green Party. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be a particularly well known organisation in the Greens or out, so doesn't seem to serve as an organised left tendency within the Green Party today.

Nevertheless, there are still many people in the Green Party that would consider themselves socialists of some sort. I'd imagine that many of them are unaffiliated to any larger socialist organisation, though there are a few socialist organisations that undertake active work within the Green Party. In particular, Solidarity, the International Socialist Organization, and Socialist Alternative either do work within the Greens or have at some point in the recent past.

Solidarity's perspective on the Green Party I feel I have the most familiarity with, as I am a member of Solidarity and have heard some of their members speak on the issue. My understanding of their perspective on the Green Party is that Solidarity is involved with the GPUS because the Green Party is currently the largest and most organised option for left-wing independent political action in the US, and when large groups of progressives break from the Democratic Party, the Green Party is the logical choice for them to go to. As such, Solidarity should take part in and help build the Green Party as a means of challenging the Democrats from the left in the broadest possible way. In short, the argument sounds like a call to build a broad left party. From some perspective, that sounds great; even a reformist broad left party that can seriously engage in social movements and contest elections would be a good step forward in the context of the US political system. However, with this fairly modest goal, the Green Party (and Solidarity's strategy regarding the Greens) falls somewhat short. First, the Green Party does not have a particularly working class perspective; rather, its programme is broadly populist. While its platform has admirable focuses against war, in favour of progressive economic programmes, and for environmental protection, a lot of the rhetoric used by the Green Party seems to be focused on people as individuals, regardless of their class. This attracts many people such as "eco-capitalists;" people with a good environmental perspective, but still either accept the current social order as a necessary thing, or wholeheartedly embrace it with occasional exceptions. This is probably due in part to the fairly weak connection that the Green Party on the whole has to many organise social struggles in the US, and there is at least some sign that the Cynthia McKinney campaign and related efforts might help change that, though I for one am not holding my breath. Second, and this point ties into the first to some degree, the Green Party is somewhat inconsistent when it comes to its independent political action. Even in 2000, at the apparent height of the Green Party's influence and media attention, Ralph Nader said that his campaign, and by some extension, other Green campaigns, were primarily in order to put pressure on the Democrats to try and push them to the left. Not exactly putting forth the best effort to build an independent challenge to the Democratic Party. Third, and this is a problem with Solidarity's apparent strategy, there seems to be no discussion about what to do after the Greens. Specifically, if/when the Green Party does end up capitulating to the Democrats in some fashion (either by politically folding or entering into some major coalition), where do socialists and advocates for independent political action go from there? While such an event might not be in the near future for the Green Party, it is definitely something that Solidarity, and other socialists in the Green Party should be seriously considering and making some rough plans for, so that they won't be caught unprepared when it finally does happen. As a side note, I find it kind of odd that Solidarity doesn't take this "one or two steps ahead" approach, as I see such an approach consistent with the idea of the transitional method, one of the best things that Trotskyism has brought to the table in terms of socialist theory. Solidarity at least has its roots in the Trotskyist tradition (a couple different ones even!), so one would think that they would take the transitional method to heart and at least try to use it effectively in their political work. Then again, Solidarity has, in the words of a comrade of mine, "throw the baby out with the bath water" in terms of Leninist organisation theory, so perhaps there is some connection between that and the apparent non-use of the transitional method in their politics.

I have less experience with the ISO's and Socialist Alternative's individual perspectives on the Green Party, so I'm not as qualified to comment on them. However, from what I have read from each organisation on the Green Party, I feel I agree with Socialist Alternative's stance more than the ISO's (or Solidarity's, for that matter.) Socialist Alternative does admit the limitations of the Greens (their left-populist politics and weak class base, dangerous liasons with the Democrats, etc), and calls for a new party with an explicit working class base, with "left Greens" as a main component of said new party. While some of this rhetoric might just be parroting that of their English and Welsh counterpart (mass workers party and so on), it's certainly a welcome idea, and one that I would certainly like to take part in building. However, SocAlt is apparently relying on the Nader campaign to try and get a new party off the ground, saying in an article on the subject that they "urge Nader and Gonzalez to use their campaign to popularise this idea [of a broad left third party]." While the argument is indeed admirable, based on Nader's behaviour towards the Greens in 2000 and 2004, I do not see him as willing to build any type of broad left party. Now, that same article by Socialist Alternative admits they acknowledge this problem too, but they seem to treat is as due to "mistakes" by the Nader campaign as opposed to Nader's political opportunism and fundamental unwillingness to build a new party. So I suspect that Socialist Alternative will be let down yet again after the 2008 elections, though I would love to be proven wrong.

Nevertheless, the argument for a broad left party with a basic anti-capitalist platform is not something that Socialist Alternative should give up if Nader fails yet again to deliver, and it is also something that the rest of the socialist left (whether they're in the Greens or not) should argue for and help build. At the same time though, there is still need to lay the groundwork for a future revolutionary socialist party, though I believe that working through a broad left party (in a democratic, non-sectarian manner!) will be one of the best ways to achieve that. Touching back to the transitional method, we should use that idea of connecting everyday social struggles, major reforms, and the eventual revolutionary transformation of society together in order to build support for both types of organisations.

On a completely different note, this is the best metal version of a disco-ish song ever.

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