The Green Party and Independent Politics

The 1990s have seen many attempts by progressives to break the stranglehold the Democrats and Republicans have over electoral politics. The New Party, the Labor Party, the Green Party, and a myriad of local parties all have been pushes to drive an independent wedge in the duopoly of the super-rich. The most successful of these, of course, has been the Green Party.

The Green Party actually began in the 1980s; it wasn't until it joined forces with Ralph Nader in 1996 that it became a force to reckon with. Nader's name recognition gave the Party an air of legitimacy that hadn't been seen by any third party since the days of Eugene Debs.

Although its showing in the 1996 election was paltry--1%, or roughly 500,000 votes--by 2000 the Greens/Nader combination was powerful enough that the Democratic Party machine began to funnel energy and money into anti-Nader scare tactics. At the end of the election, Nader received close to 3,000,000 votes--a huge increase over 1996. This caused the Democratic Party to put more effort into anti-Nader campaigning; to this day, many still blame Nader for Bush having stolen the election.

A combination of bungling on both sides and "Anybody But Bush" sentiment within the Green Party kept Nader from running as the GP candidate; instead, he chose to launch an independent campaign and asked for the Party's endorsement. This was problematic on many levels; it is not practical for an independent campaign to wait until a June convention to begin a campaign.

The end result of this fiasco was that the Green Party, in its June convention, refused to endorse Nader and instead ran a little-known candidate by the name of David Cobb. Rather than make a serious run for the presidency, Cobb is running a "safe states" strategy where he won't campaign in battleground states--in fact, he hardly seems to be campaigning at all. His nomination is a clear victory of "Anybody but Bush" sentiment in the Green Party, and a setback for the Greens as a vehicle for independent political action.

But Cobb's nomination also highlighted some of the many problems that the Green Party has in terms of structure, organization, and democracy. A number of excellent articles have circulated, pointing out how a minority opinion within the Green Party became a "majority" at the convention through undemocratic processes, weasely maneuvering, and a lose attempt to mimic the already-undemocratic electoral college system.

So now advocates of independent political action (IPA) are faced with an unfortunate situation. Faced with two pro-war, pro-Patriot Act candidates from the capitalist parties, the only response we have is a Green Party with no campaign to speak of and an independent campaign that lacks the resources of a political party.

We need an independent political voice for working people. We need to build an independent party that will allow us to organize working people in the electoral arena independently of the two capitalist parties. Ideally, this party would be similar to the Socialist Alliance formations we see in Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Until now, IPA advocates have seen the Green Party as being the best expression of independent sentiment.

But the time has come for us to step back; to look at the Green Party both as we'd like it to be and as it currently sits. It is a party rife with internal contradictions, factionalism, undemocratic processes, and in some ways does more to act as a pressure group on the Democrats than a true expression of independent politics.

That's the down side of the Green Party. The upside is that it has a distinct activist current within it, that ideas (like those of socialism) can be heard within it, and that it is a diverse grouping of people. We can look to currents like the Greens for Nader formation and Peter Camejo's Avocado Education Project who campaign heavily to turn the Greens into the sort of independent political formation that we're looking for.

The IPA movement, like the Green Party, is at a crossroads. The Greens are far from the ideal party we'd like, but it's also not the cesspool it's sometimes tempting to see it as. We need to continue our work in the Green Party, but we shouldn't let that stop us from evaluating the possibility of new formations. The beginnings of a Socialist Alliance are underway in New York City; this activity should be encouraged. We need to be asking, why not in Pennsylvania? Why not in Florida? Why not in Georgia?

If there is one thing that I've learned during the whole Nader/Green Party melodrama over the past year, it's that IPA advocates need to keep in mind why we support the Greens. We don't support them just to support the Greens, but we support them as a vehicle for IPA. As long as we can continue that struggle within the Party, we need to continue to do so. But we shouldn't kid ourselves; the Green Party is an extremely limited formation, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to only struggle for IPA within the Green Party.

Adam Levenstein, 27, is co-editor of Left Hook and member of Atlanta Palestine Solidarity.

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