The Nader campaign, part two: the Green Party

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Jun 11 07:19:08 MDT 2000

>I got this useful history of the US green written by Lou Proyect on the day
>that the ASGP's Annie Goeke unsubbed from the CrashList, seemingly because
>the ongoing discussion there about capital accumulation and its limits was
>overloading her inbox. Pity; I'd planned to ask her about the necessity for
>parallel green organisations in the USA, given that you can barely shove a
>cigarette paper between her party's programme and that of the GPUSA. On
>paper anyway. Lou's own account seems to stop before he gets to answering
>that question. I'd like to know more, who can help?
>Mark Jones

>From Howie Hawkins' "Are the Greens Ready for Success" in New Politics. The
full article is at:

But are the Greens ready to handle such success? It is no secret among
independent political activists that Greens have been squabbling on the
national level since they began organizing in the U.S.. While local Green
groups and many state parties have functioned well without debilitating
power struggles, the same cannot be said for the Greens nationally. Today
there are two national Green Party organizations, The Greens/Green Party
USA (GPUSA) and the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), reflecting a
split that has been developing since the mid-1980s.

The split is not particularly about the programs and platforms. Both
organizations and their affiliates support the same basic platforms:
single-payer health care, jobs for all, guaranteed minimum income,
reduction in work time, no nukes/renewable energy, progressive income and
wealth taxes combined with eco-taxes to discourage pollution and depletion
of resources, deep cuts in military spending, opposition to financial and
trade deregulation, an end to the war on drugs and alternatives to
incarceration for nonviolent offenders, citizen review boards to oversee
police, rewriting corporate charters to restrict capital mobility and
introduce forms of economic democracy, and so forth. While NATO's bombing
campaign in Yugoslavia has created enormous controversy and contention
inside European Green parties, both U.S. groups have come out clearly
opposed to NATO's intervention. If there is any difference in politics, it
is over the vision of a Green economy. Within the Greens, this vision
ranges from an anti-corporate Jeffersonian vision of small property owners
to various anti-capitalist visions of decentralized eco-socialism. This
range of visions exist within both GPUSA and ASGP. The ASGP draft "Green
Platform" does articulate more limited anti-corporate measures, while the
GPUSA "Green Program" presents more expansive anti-capitalist proposals.
But both groups welcome Jeffersonians and eco-socialists alike within what
they conceive of as a broad anti-corporate front.

The split is not about independent politics versus fusion politics.
Although the New Mexico Greens flirted briefly with fusion, it never had
much support in any section of the Green Party movement. In New York, the
only state where fusion is common practice and candidates normally try to
get as many of the eight ballot lines as they can, sentiment is strong that
the New York Greens must not become just another ballot line trading favors
for endorsements of corporate politicians. The draft bylaw amendments to
deal with the Green Party's new ballot status propose limiting the
possibility of cross-endorsement with other ballot line parties to no more
than 30% of any county's Green candidates.

Nor is the split about movement vs. party. Both groups are on record for
building a party that is engaged in movement as well as electoral work.

Participatory vs. Plebiscitory Democracy

and GPUSA. GPUSA took on its current name at the 1991 Green Congress in
Elkins, West Virginia when the Green Committees of Correspondence, which
had begun organizing in 1984, decided it was time to explicitly become a
national party with electoral ambitions. The GPUSA built upon the
pre-existing Green Committees of Correspondence structure of individual
members grouped in local chapters, which elected delegates to the Green
Congress with votes proportional to their members. Although the structure
adopted in Elkins was passed by consensus, within six months a group called
the Green Politics Network, whose members had wanted to set up a Green
Party separate from the existing "movement" of Green Committees of
Correspondence, began calling for an Association of State Green Parties
outside of GPUSA. Their call went nowhere until 1996 when they encouraged
Draft Nader Committees to form outside of GPUSA and the state Green parties
in order to insure that their expenditures were independent of Nader to
keep his total spending below his $5,000 limit. Meanwhile, they prepared a
meeting for the week after the election to found the ASGP, saying that
there was no national Green Party. In fact, state Green parties could have
made independent expenditures on behalf of Nader, as the Green Party of New
York did.

Some of the state parties were already operating outside the GPUSA
framework by 1996. In California and Oregon, for example, when state
membership assemblies of the Green Committees of Correspondence decided it
was premature to seek a ballot line, groups split off to register voters
into the Green Party to create a Green ballot line. When California got its
ballot line in 1992, its leaders began demanding more representation in
GPUSA's Green Congress and National Committee than their GPUSA members in
the state entitled them to on the grounds that they also had 80,000 party
registrants. When it formed in November 1996, ASGP organized as a
federation of state Green parties. While leaving it to the states to decide
what constituted their state party membership, ASGP's leadership promoted a
registration-based party model. However, several ASGP affiliates are
structured around dues-paying members and 23 states don't even keep party
enrollment lists.

The party structure issue came down to GPUSA's participatory democracy of
party activists vs. ASGP's plebiscitory democracy of party registrants.2
Who gets voting rights in the Green Party: active dues-paying members or
whoever enrolls in the party with the state? GPUSA argued that the
dues-paying activist model was more consistent with the Green principle of
grassroots democracy. A party of active members can build itself around its
values, principles, and program, can elect its candidates and leadership by
membership convention instead of state-run primaries, and thereby govern
itself by a democratic process with grassroots participation and
accountability. GPUSA argued that the registrant/primary party would, as it
has with the Democrats and Republicans, lend itself to domination by
entrepreneurial, personality-based candidacies run by elite cadres of
campaign activists who have no direct, face-to-face interaction with the
base of party registrants. Anybody can register in the party, regardless of
her/his politics. Registrants' only role is to vote for candidate
nominations and party committee leaders in primaries and caucuses, which
are really just plebiscites where the candidates have been pre-selected by
party elites, which means the politicians, their financial backers, and the
campaign workers looking for spoils. This uniquely American party structure
has historically bred self-seeking, personality-based politicians and
undermined principled, programmatic parties. GPUSA also argued that its
dues-paying activists model would insure financial democracy by making the
party responsible to thousands of small supporters instead of a few fat cats.

ASGP advocates of the registrant party model scorned dues as a "poll tax"
and argued that primaries and caucuses open to all party registrants were
more democratic because they were more broadly based. ASGP formally expects
its state party affiliates to contribute 1% of their state party budgets,
but no state party has made this contribution so far.

This issue over party structure is one every third party faces when it
begins to acquire ballot lines. When the Socialist Party of Oregon got a
ballot line in 1996, it made demands on the Socialist Party USA similar to
those the Green Party of California had made on the Green Party USA. The
Socialist Party USA stuck with its active membership structure, so the
Oregon party disaffiliated. (When they lost their ballot line in the 1998
election, they began merger discussions with the Pacific Green Party of
Oregon, which is registrant-based.) In adopting its Resolution on Electoral
Strategy in November 1998, the Labor Party answered this question by
declaring it would nominate candidates by membership convention instead of
primary, which means it will have to challenge many state election laws
that mandate nominations by primary.3 The Libertarian Party has
accommodated itself to state primary requirements, but still allocates
votes to its national convention proportional states' dues paid membership.
With 26,000 members, the Libertarian Party is able to sustain a fairly
effective national organization. Nader told the Labor Party convention in
November 1998, "If you were to ask me what it takes in the next two to four
years to build a major party in America ... I would say the following: a
million people contributing an average of $25 a year each and volunteering
an average of 100 to 150 hours a year each, and you've got yourself a major
political party."4 While the California and New Mexico parties have been
militantly anti-dues, several other ASGP-affiliated state parties require
dues of voting members.

In an effort to acknowledge the reality on the ground and create a unified
national Green Party, "inclusive" structure proposals have been put to both
ASGP and GPUSA to adopt a structure that gives state parties proportional
representation in the national bodies according to some formula that
factors in different measures of membership or support: dues-paying
members, party registrants, and/or votes received. While these proposals
have wide support among Greens generally, they have not been accepted by
either group yet. ASGP has refused thus far to put such a proposal on its
agenda or even to discuss structure and unification with GPUSA, which has
sought discussions. While GPUSA has instructed committees to prepare
inclusive structure proposals, to date they have only narrow majority
support in Green Congresses, but not the two-thirds support needed to amend
the bylaws. While these structure issues are important for what kind of
party the Greens will become over the long run, most Greens would probably
accept any reasonable compromise to get all Greens back under one tent.

National Organizational Vacuum

national level: leadership rivalries. The structural issues could easily be
resolved if the rivalry and distrust between GPUSA and ASGP leaders were
not so sharp. Over the years, the controversies have become personal and a
small number of hotheads have inflamed the differences with ad hominem
attacks, accusations of Machiavellian manipulation and bad faith, and
malicious gossip, speculation, rumor mongering, and occasional red-baiting.
Internet forums have been the primary venue for these screeds, but readers
of New Politics got a small taste of it in a review by ASGP partisan Lorna
Salzman of GPUSA member Brian Tokar's book, Earth for Sale. Salzman alleges
that "the Left, in particular the Green Party USA (GPUSA), is waging war
against electorally oriented Greens." Strange New Left/New Age hybrids
called "Marxist-Lentilists" are said to have destroyed the Green Party in
the United Kingdom as well. I am identified as "the leading intellectual
theorist of the GPUSA," yet Murray Bookchin is said to have "expelled [me]
from his presence" [!] because I ran for public office.5 Not only was this
news to Bookchin and me, but we wondered at how the leftist GPUSA was
waging war on electorally oriented Greens and running candidates in
elections at the same time. Bookchin, of course, has long advocated an
electoral politics of "libertarian municipalism" with a view toward
establishing popular, directly democratic assemblies in opposition to the
top-down state apparatus.6

Most Greens, whether affiliated with ASGP, GPUSA, both, or neither are sick
of the infighting and could not care less about who said what to whom years
ago. The questions of structure and unity will come up again at the ASGP
and GPUSA national meetings this year in June and July respectively. ASGP
claims 25 affiliated state parties and GPUSA claims 18 affiliated state
parties, along with members and locals in most of the states. Eight state
parties are affiliated with both GPUSA and ASGP. The New York party has
called for a caucus of dually-affiliated states to take the lead in trying
to pull the Greens back together.

Meanwhile, national Green organizing is largely uncoordinated. GPUSA tries
to make decisions and carry them out with paid staff and travel subsidies
for people doing national or international work, but its resources are so
limited that volunteers still do most of the work. From a peak of 2100 paid
members in 1991, GPUSA has dropped as low as 550 members partly because of
the split, partly because the energy is focused at the state party level in
many states, but mainly because dues renewal and solicitation notices have
not been going out consistently.

GPUSA maintains a national information clearinghouse, holds an annual Green
Congress and three National Committee meetings a year, and publishes a
quarterly newspaper, Green Politics, and a quarterly magazine,
Synthesis/Regeneration. But it does not have the resources to support field
organizers, issue research, party literature, and other services a national
party could provide. ASGP is running purely on volunteers and mainly
through the internet, with one annual meeting of two delegates from each
affiliated state party. A newspaper, Green Pages, comes out intermittently.

One consequence of this lack of national staff and resources is that people
doing national and international work on behalf of GPUSA and ASGP do so
largely out of their own pockets, which limits who gets to do it to who can
afford to do it. The Green national organizations make decisions, but
things tend to happen only when volunteers come forward to do it, which
means many decisions are not carried through and sometimes self-appointed
people step into the vacuum to make things happen that were never
collectively decided.

This free-for-all national Green milieu means the Green presidential
candidate(s) will have enormous influence on how the Green Party will look
after the 2000 election. Any serious Green presidential campaign will
qualify for federal primary matching funds and raise hundreds of thousands
of dollars, if not a few million dollars. That means the presidential
campaign organization(s) will dwarf the national staff and volunteers
working on behalf of GPUSA and ASGP, as well as the state party
organizations in most of the states. What the presidential candidate(s) do
will probably matter more than what GPUSA or ASGP do in determining what
the Green Party looks like nationally coming out of the 2000 election.

Neither GPUSA nor ASGP is going to roll over the other. Since both have the
organizational capacity to run their own presidential campaigns with a
candidate on at least 20 state ballots, they both have the capacity to
spoil the other's candidacy. Although a few partisan voices on both sides
have advocated separate candidacies and separate Green parties, the
majority of Greens view that prospect as a recipe for marginalizing the

If the Greens are going to have a unified presidential campaign, at a
minimum they need to agree on an inclusive national convention that is
legitimate to the state affiliates of ASGP, GPUSA, both, and neither. That
convention would need to nominate the presidential ticket, adopt the
platform, and at least set in motion a process for coming up with a unified
structure in order to take the next step: a unified filing with the FEC for
the status of National Committee of the Green Party, which will then
qualify the party for federal funding should its ticket receive more than
5% of the vote.

That unified structure could be a variant of the hybrid structure mentioned
above. It could also be the traditional party structure of the Democrats
and Republicans, where national committees and conventions represent state
party delegations proportional to the general populations of the states
rather than the party membership (however defined), perhaps with some
superdelegates thrown in to insure that politicians and party leadership
have extra weight in the process. Indeed, the national convention proposal
from an ASGP committee to be considered in June is along these lines,
although a counter proposal supporting a hybrid structure is expected. If
the Greens use the conventional American party structure, the rivalry
between GPUSA and the Green Politics Network that spawned the ASGP will
probably continue in the form of rival political clubs contending for
influence within the larger registration party framework set up by the 50
states' election laws and FEC regulations. The third possibility is that
ASGP and GPUSA will put forward competing candidates, set up competing
parties in the states and nationally, and render themselves marginal.
Whether the Greens have the political maturity to set aside sectarian
interests and put the larger interests of the movement foremost will
determine whether the Greens are ready for the political success they are
on the brink of achieving or whether they will squander the opportunity
they have in 2000 to establish the Green Party as the independent left
alternative on ballots all across the U.S.

Louis Proyect
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