...They'd Make it Illegal: The Green Party Illusion
By Jess Grant - Industrial Worker (November 1991)
In California, attempts to achieve ballot status for the Green Party is a reinvention of the wheel. Most Greens would have a hard time disagreeing with the platform of the Peace & Freedom Party, a group which has enjoyed ballot status for twenty years. After all, ecology and social justice are at the heart of what P&FP stands for. So why the Green aversion to working with an established, alternative ballot-status party?
My own experience as a member and candidate of the P&FP has been a fascinating and generally fruitful experiment in coalition building. I ran for San Francisco Sheriff in 1987, gaining nearly 10,000 votes and 6 % of the tally. As a tenant activist, I ran an essentially single-issue campaign, promising to halt all evictions as a way of fighting homelessness. The campaign also afforded me the opportunity to address other issues including victimless crime (all three Sheriff's candidates were pot smokers!), police repression, and the racist, c1assist nature of our criminal "justice" system.
In '87 and '88 there were three disparate tendencies within P&FP, and we fought like cats and dogs. So much for consensus building! The New Alliance Party is a cult-like group out of New York led by a former associate of Lyndon LaRouche, and their disruptive tactics were matched only by those of a reformist tendency which included the Communist Party (USA). The remaining majority was a loose coalition of radical greens like myself, trotskyists, and independent socialists who ran under the collective label of the "Socialist Slate."
If by forming their own Green Party today's California Greens hope to avoid the sort of contentious infighting we experienced three years ago in P &FP, they are naively mistaken. If the Green Party achieves ballot status or any success in the polls, they can expect to be overrun by the same political opportunists who infiltrated P&FP. The New Alliance Party, which currently refers to itself as "Pro- ' Gay and Pro-Socialist," will waste no time in calling itself "Pro-Green." They and the CP will flock to whatever party seems to be the best vehicle for their own questionable ambitions.
Besides the avoidance of inevitable conflict, I believe there's another reason that California Greens have avoided the P &FP. This can best be described as an internalized form of red-baiting. Greens like to think of themselves as the purveyors of a new, holistic philosophy, one which owes more to indigenous cultures than any "Old- or New Left" tradition. Yet this is a sad denial of our own history, and an unconscious acceptance of fifty years of Cold War propaganda.
To be sure, state socialism is dead, and good riddance. But there are libertarian and decentralist traditions within the socialist movement which we can be proud to claim as our own. We would be foolish to disavow a radical legacy that dates back at least as far as the Haymarket martyrs, and perhaps as far back as England's 17th-Century Diggers. For these links with the past can lend our movement an historical continuity that will see us through our inevitable bouts of futility and despair.
Ultimately, third-party electoral politics will always be an exercise in futility. until we 'level the playing field." Proportional representation, along with equal access to media and campaign funds, are a prerequisite to becoming more than just a "protest vote." As long as our candidates are systematically precluded from meaningful participation in the political process, our ideas (as embodied by those candidates) will also remain marginalized.
While I have no problem with helping to elect Republicans by drawing progressive votes away from the Democratic (sic) ticket, I do fear that our perpetual marginalization within the electoral arena will ultimately alienate our potential constituency. Nobody likes a loser, especially an institutionalized one (which may be yet another reason why P &FP fails to excite the imagination of today's Greens). At least direct action politics allows us to claim the occasional small victory.
I have made a personal choice to devote my own organizing energies toward building a radical, democratic alternative to the AFL-CIO trade unions. As General Secretary Treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) in 1991, I hope that our union can work with (or within) the Green movement to fulfill that part of the· Green program which calls for "organizing democratic unions." It's my belief that the workers within the polluting industries are in the best position to shut those industries down, provided that those of us in their communities and unions are able to provide the necessary material support to see them through the inevitably difficult economic and personal transformation that such displacement, will entail.
Ultimately, I question any electoral strategy above the municipal level. Gaining fair access to the electoral system at the State, Provincial, and National levels is a flat-out impossibility so long as the
, employing class maintains control of the political and legal systems, Even in a major urban center like San Francisco, leftist candidates with less than a half million dollar warchest will be uniformly ignored and trivialized by the capitalist media.
Green activists will be far more effective if they continue to build the grassroots organizing campaigns they've mounted so far. Even municipal electoral campaigns should be undertaken with the goal of spreading ideas, not winning votes. And I would hope that more Greens join the Wobblies in our efforts to empower workers at the point of production in order to redress the ecological and social ills faced by all of us. Healing the earth means eliminating certain industries altogether, and the only ones capable of that are the working people themselves.