The Greens, by George!

Mark Lause MLause at
Sat Jul 12 06:08:04 MDT 2003

Jose hits the nail on the head in making the analogy to the Henry George
movement.  However, let me finish putting that nail into place.

Henry George was never as much of an insurgent as the Greens.  Born in
the east, he went to California very early and there became a card
carrying union printer who, like some, wrote his way into a thin but
growing layer of professional writers.  He assimilated the land reform
radicalism of the previous generation (which Marx and Engels liked)
through James McClatchy, founder of the Sacramento BEE.  The New York
City labor movement--politicalized by police attacks and prosecutions of
unionists--decided to form a United Labor Party, and George accepted its
nomination for mayor in the 1886 election.  The coalition ran the
spectrum from communists to clergymen.  United Labor outpolled the
Republicans (running future president Teddy Roosevelt, and, by some
accounts, actually beat the Democrats but were counted out by the
machine.  Elsewhere, similar labor parties were actually electing people
to office in 1886-87.

George's focus on land and his not using socialist terminology wasn't
the problem, any more than the focus of the Greens on the environment is
the primary problem.  And there isn't really an equivalent among the
Greens for George's tunnel vision solution of imposing a single tax on
land--and Engels didn't see that as an insurmountable problem to
supporting United Labor.

Rather, George himself and the key leaders of the insurgency saw it as a
protest movement.  Although, as I said, some believed that George won
the election, he slinked off in a Gore-like satisfaction that he had
already made his point by demonstrating to the powers that be that they
many people were concerned about class issues.  THAT is what we want to
avoid--the notion that we are casting a mere protest vote rather than
challenging the dominant parties over control.

After the strong labor showing in 1886, upstate farmers launched their
own "Union Labor Party" in an effort to court the workers into building
a permanent third party in the state, and the Socialist Labor Party
rightly pressed for the United Labor Party to broader its platform.
George responded by getting control of the United Labor Party, shunning
an alliance with the farmers, and expelling the socialists (who went on
to form a short-lived "Progressive Labor Party"--first use of the name).
As the 1888 election approached, the very people who dismantled this
insurgent coalition waltzed off with George to support the Democrats or
with some of his lieutenants with less Irish Catholic connections backed
the Republicans.

What worries me about the Greens is the idea that they are not actually
voting to deny the Democrats and Republicans power but merely to cast a
protest vote--something with which to bargain with the Democrats and
Republicans. Certainly, the broader the issues on which it attacks the
larger parties, the less like a protest-vote party it will tend to
be...but the essence is to get any third party to define itself as
ultimately challenging the established parties for control.

Simply put, the prospect of their winning had actually given them
something over which they could sell each other out.

Any attempts to make radical politics mean anything in the United States
will involve a coalition effort to get those ideas before "the public."
Instead of a common social reform coalition emerging 1888, you had a
United Labor Party of "George men" without George, a Union Labor Party
of mostly discontented farmers, a Socialist Labor Party, a woman
suffragist Equal Rights Party, and various others who had cooperated
with each other earlier.  There were also a few others, including
non-SLP members of the Progressive Labor Party, the anarchists, diehard
Greenbackers, etc.

Each of these groups had legitimate grievances against each other as
well as the power, but assumed that "circumstances" or "history" would
vindicating them by driving the masses towards their perspective.  All
they needed only to do was to tweek their message to the right pitch of
political correctness until it hit the right "shazam" that would turn
them into Captain Marvel who could then lead the masses to power.

We have little control over what happens in these broader political
movements and there are never guarantees, but we will have no impact on
a grand scale without learning how to do move within them.  We could do
with a lot worse than the Greens...and we have.

Mark L.

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