The Green Party: offering a real challenge to business as usual, or just Capitalism Lite?

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Democrats cashed in this past election thanks to public disgust with Republicans. But when the Democrats don’t change things (again), where will voters turn? What candidates or parties can they expect to oppose the war, take on the Wal-Marts, defend civil liberties?

Some people are exploring the Greens as a possible alternative. Even some socialist groups are backing Green Party candidates and running for office under its banner.

In California, a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) ran for U.S. Senate as a Green. In Michigan, Workers World Party (WWP) did the same thing. In Washington state, ISO and Socialist Alternative were mainstays in the campaign of a former Black Panther Party leader who ran for U.S. Senate — as a Green.

So why doesn’t the Freedom Socialist Party endorse Green candidates? Because the Green Party doesn’t target capitalism, which is the cause of the vicious exploitation of workers and the earth. This means that voting Green is not going to do any more for working people than voting Democrat.

Notwithstanding the radical inclinations of many of its members, the Green Party doesn’t offer a real challenge to the status quo, and it isn’t moving in that direction.

Giving aid to the enemy. To the contrary. In the elections of 2004, the Green Party position effectively was one of support to the Democrats, the more dishonest of the two U.S. parties of big business.

This was despite opposition from many grass-roots Greens who wanted to give the pro-war Democrats and Republican parties serious competition. Instead, the message of Green leaders, including presidential nominee David Cobb, was to vote Green only in those states where it didn’t pose a threat to Democrat John Kerry.

Cobb’s “safe states strategy” wasn’t an aberration. The Green Party doesn’t draw a class line against support for Democrat candidates, and frequently endorses them.

This does the Democratic Party two favors. It provides it with a progressive veneer, and it diverts energy from building effective resistance to the system — i.e., anti-capitalist resistance.

The Green Party’s loose structure and wide-ranging, rather abstract program appeal to many activists. Yet these very qualities also make the party a convenient tool for political chameleons and opportunists who use its base and ballot status to launch careers as Democrats.

In Seattle, this was the case for several Democrats who dumped their Green label soon after winning City Council seats. In California, Green candidate Audie Bock won a State Assembly seat in 1999, then quickly morphed into a Democrat and cheerleader for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Feeding a fantasy. The Green Party’s structure, program and support for Democrats flow from a pro-capitalist outlook. It accepts the profit system, but wants to make it more humane. This is like asking a shark to become a vegetarian.

The Green program calls for more democracy, government decentralization, a peaceful foreign policy, and fair international trade that respects workers’ rights. Yet the “Ten Key Values” of its platform say nothing about overthrowing the system that makes these things impossible.

Greens project a world where consumer co-ops and small businesses flourish — alongside McDonald’s and Microsoft. Such a vision isn’t new. Reformers have tried repeatedly to achieve such capitalist make-overs for more than two centuries, and have failed.

Like the Progressive Party of the early 20th century, the Green Party appears to champion the little guy. But in practice it serves the big guy, by nurturing the illusion that “free enterprise” can be fixed with judicious tinkering and better people in office.

Its politics reflect the political psychology of the petty bourgeoisie, or middle class — small-business owners and others who don’t work for a wage. Although individual members of this class can be radical, and the class in general can side with workers in times of crisis, its basic impulse is cautious and conservative.

Selling out in Germany. The Green Party aspires to win seats at the table in order to bargain better with those who hold the reins of power. But when petty bourgeois parties do make it to the table, they end up serving as junior partners of the parties of the big bourgeoisie.

In Germany, the Green Party won enough votes in 1998 to join a coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD), a reformist party that has implemented austerity measures against workers. Under the administration of SPD leader Gerhard Schröder, top Green Joschka Fischer became minister of foreign affairs. He abandoned his party’s pledge to stand for peace and backed NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. These interventions marked the first time since World War II that Germany committed troops to combat.

On the environmental front, the German Green Party let the nuclear industry off the hook. It engineered legislation to shut down nuclear plants, but loopholes will allow those plants to run several years into the future.

In protest, grass-roots Greens dumped the party in droves. The tragedy was not in their leaving, but in the lack of a principled workingclass electoral alternative for them to join.

Green: no substitute for Red. Socialists should be the ones building such an alternative. But too many radical groups — including the Socialist Workers Party, ISO and WWP in the U.S. — won’t collaborate to create it. Their deadly sectarianism is a huge obstacle to mounting viable united left slates.

Workers World won’t support candidates from other socialist parties. ISO abstained from electoral politics entirely, until recently. In 2004, it did a remarkable about-face and endorsed the presidential ticket of Ralph Nader, a wealthy consumer advocate, and running mate Peter Camejo, an ex-radical turned investment broker. This ticket was not anti-capitalist and even welcomed support from the rightwing Reform Party.

Behind WWP’s and ISO’s opportunist alliances with the Green Party is the paternalistic view that people aren’t ready for socialist ideas. But to clearly identify capitalism as the problem and educate about why and how socialism is the answer is the essential reason for leftists to be in the electoral arena at all!

Let the spirit of Debs live! And it isn’t unrealistic to think that voters will warm to revolutionary candidates.

Eugene V. Debs proved this in 1920 when he ran for president from jail as an unapologetic socialist and got almost a million votes. So have Freedom Socialist Party candidates, who have racked up impressive numbers running in several states.

But immediate numbers are not the main point. Time is running out for humanity and the planet as both are sacrificed to ensure profits for Exxon, Dow, ad nauseam. To turn this around requires persuading poor and working people of all descriptions that the only solution is revolution.

This is the opportunity that socialists have in elections. By keeping this in mind, left candidates can make a powerful contribution toward bringing down a polluted, poisonous system and charting a healthy new course.

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