Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

January/February • Vol 6, No. 1 •

Green Party “Peace” Campaign, Not a True Break
with Capitalist Politics

Todd Chretien, a well-known antiwar activist in the S.F. Bay Area has announced his Green party candidacy for U.S. Senator from California. He is seeking the Green Party nomination to oppose Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who has been a prominent supporter of the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the so-called “War on Terrorism” as well as the U.S. Patriot Act and other attacks on civil liberties and human rights.

Chretien is known in the Bay Area of California for his articulate condemnation of U.S. wars and occupations, his leadership in the College Not Combat campaign against military recruitment in S.F. schools, against the death penalty, and against the state murder of Stanley Tookie Williams, which just took place Dec. 13 of 2005. During the campaign to save the life of Williams, Chretien was a major public spokesman for the campaign to gain clemency for Williams from Gov. Schwarznegger, a campaign which gained broad-based international support and assistance from the NAACP, youth organizations, the Nation of Islam, and many other religious and community organizations.

Chretien wrote an essay advocating a Green Party run against Feinstein (“The California Green party’s Perfect Storm: A Million Votes for Peace in 2006”) that was circulated to Green Party members and antiwar activists. A later version of this essay was printed in The Socialist Worker, newspaper of the International Socialist Organization, an important and growing socialist group that is active in the antiwar and abolition of the death penalty movements. In this essay, Chretien lays out the idea that “the Green Party should be the electoral expression of the peace movement.” But, should it?

Greens do not lead antiwar movement

I would argue that the Green Party is not an adequate or effective electoral expression of the peace movement for these reasons: First, the Green Party has not been part of the leadership of the antiwar movement. It has not been responsible for the calling and building of the mass demonstrations, the local work against military recruitment in schools (such as Proposition I in San Francisco to get military recruiters out of the schools), or the work of reaching out to convince the American people that the war is wrong and against their own best interests.

While the Green Party did endorse various antiwar campaigns in California, and Green Party leaders did come out and speak at antiwar rallies, they were unable (or unwilling) to mobilize their own Green Party members to take an active role. While hundreds of Green party activists in San Francisco mobilized in support of Matt Gonzalez, the Green Party candidate and president of the S.F. Board of Supervisors who was narrowly defeated for Mayor of San Francisco, these same activists have been largely absent from the organized antiwar movement.

Poor record of genuine independence

Second, the Green Party has a poor record of independence from other capitalist parties—including the Democrats and Republicans. Some of its most well known candidates (such as Nader in 2000, and Cobb in 2004) have actually argued that their campaigns could aid the Democrats, or they have campaigned actively only in states where Democratic Party candidates would not lose votes to the Greens, only Republicans would.

Aimee Allison, the articulate war resister from Gulf War I, and Green Party candidate in Oakland elections, actually played a role in the Fall of 2005 in urging retired veteran Democrat, U.S. Congressman Ron Dellums, to run for Mayor of Oakland. Chretien identifies himself in the essay and Socialist Worker piece he wrote as a volunteer for Allison’s campaign, a strictly reformist one, where Allison spoke out against the war only in certain venues and not in others.

Which class shall rule?

Third, and most important, the Green Party does not offer real, practical solutions to the crucial questions of our time: how to end war, poverty, homelessness and hunger; how to achieve nuclear disarmament; and how to save Earth’s environment from the ravages of capitalist anarchy in production.

It is not enough to protest the evils of capitalist society. To contend with the capitalist candidates such as Feinstein, who serve the corporate masters—the owners of wealth in this society—it is incumbent to offer a real alternative. The question is: Which class shall rule society—the capitalists (who rule now) or the workers? The Green Party and its candidates have proven unable to take sides in this biggest of issues—which class shall rule?

The Greens seem to think that capitalism can be reformed into being less warlike, kinder to the poor and disenfranchised, and more friendly to the environment. Given the record of capitalism and what we are learning every day about the use by the United States government of widespread bombing, including the use of white phosphorous against the Iraqi civilian population, torture, extraordinary renditions, draconian prison conditions and assaults on civil liberties. It is very clear that the capitalist system in power is willing to use any means at its disposal to assure its control of all levers of power. Capitalism cannot be reformed out of existence. The capitalist class must be removed from power. That is very clear.

Chretien played a paid role in the Nader campaign in 2000, but Nader does not supported full self-determination for the people of Iraq. In fact, Nader advocated a U.N. solution for the current war the U.S. is waging against Iraq. And when Nader spoke in S.F. last during his independent 2004 campaign, the war did not figure big in his campaign appearance. Even Peter Camejo—who was a prominent and revolutionary spokesman for the Socialist Workers Party in the 1960s and 70s and former Green party candidate for Vice President with Ralph Nader, and candidate for California Governor against Arnold Schwarznegger, and is a supporter of Chretien’s senatorial campaign—has been weak in his condemnation of the U.S. war against Iraq in his many public appearances.

Chretien’s essay lacks a full understanding of the treacherous role of the Democratic Party and leaves room for supporting some sections of it. For example, Chretien applauds The Nation magazine for announcing its refusal to support any Democratic Party candidates “who fail to demand the US troops withdraw from Iraq.” The Nation represents the “left-wing” of the Democratic Party in that it advocates big reforms, including antiwar positions. However, when election time is at hand, the magazine always endorses the Democrats.

Now that a majority of the American people is opposed to the war, The Nation says it will only endorse antiwar candidates. It does not demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq—the only demand consistent with really ending the war and supporting the Iraqi people’s right to self-determination. “Antiwar” candidates with these kinds of views turn out to be the ones who, like the Republicans, and with the Republicans, prosecute the wars, having hoodwinked the people into voting for them!

But, even more important, is the need for antiwar people to break definitively with the Democratic Party as a whole and on principle, even Democratic Party officials and office-holders, such as Cynthia McKinney, and other liberals who may have a good position on Iraq in that they may call for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces. There are some Democrats who have correct positions on most questions that come up for a vote in Congress. But, by their very participation in a political party that is completely controlled by the capitalist class, they are part of the problem in that, by their example, they say to working people and their allies that the Democratic Party is a viable option for change. Something that it most certainly is not!

The Democratic Party shares equal responsibility with the Republican Party for every war and other actions against humanity carried out by the U.S. government. Their votes in Congress have funded these wars and de-funded human needs. Chretien has a good critique of Dianne Feinstein’s sordid pro-war record in the U.S. Senate, but the role of the liberal Democrats is equally pernicious and he doesn’t seem to understand that. The applauding of the “antiwar” Democrats, such as Cynthia McKinney and Jesse Jackson, by leaders in the antiwar movement, has only served to misinform and mislead antiwar activists into voting Democrat or believing that the movement has some allies within the Democratic Party. This is wrong on all counts.

The Green Party appears to this writer to be a transmission belt back into the Democratic Party, and not a step toward real independent electoral political action. For activists who have become disenchanted with the Democrats’ terrible role in supporting the War on Terrorism and the War on Iraq and want to make a break from the Democratic Party, the Green Party does not offer a genuine alternative.

Conscious leaders in the antiwar movement need to tell people seeking a real means of breaking with the Democrats that the way to end war is to end the capitalist class’ stranglehold on power. We cannot support a political party whose program, stated or implied, is that capitalism can be reformed.

What America desperately needs is a working-class party that includes its natural allies—all those victimized by the government of the rich and powerful.

—Carole Seligman

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