Saturday, May 26, 2007

California Green Party to split?

The train wreck that seems to be threatening the California Green Party has been very little discussed on the British left, but is of some significance. I have not been following events closely myself, and welcome corrections and clarification from those who know more, and understand better.
The following two blog articles give some background, here and here including some debate from all sides in the dispute.

Why does it matter? Well firstly the California Green Party is relatively large for a progressive party in the English speaking world, with some 40000 members, and has had modest but significant electoral success, despite the fact that the American political system discriminates against minor parties even more than the British system.

Secondly, some of the issues in dispute are relevant to debates in the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) about structure and accountability, and are also interesting for the left as showing both the opportunities and problems for the socialist left orienting on the Green Party.

At one level this appears to be a left/right conflict. The supporters of former Santa Monica councillor Michael Feinstein, are arguing for fusion with the Democrats, or allowing Democrats to be endorsed with the Green party ticket. On the other hand, Peter Camejo, a former member of the Socialist Workers Party (an organisation with a different political tradition from the British SWP) is seeking to rally the left. Camejo is a major player, and was the running mate of Ralph Nadar for the 2004 presidential elections. Itself somewhat confusing as Green party leader, David Cobb was himself running against Nadar.

On the plus side, the American Greens have succeeded in a modest way in building a broadly progressive electoral base for a left of centre party, and also one that has been relatively open to allowing socialists to work within it. The British SWP’s former sister organisation, the ISO, also orients on the Greens now, but from what I gather in a way that is felt by other activists to be a bit of a raid.

However, the difficulties for the Greens have been compounded by a culture of seeking consensus and being seen as nice and woolly. Bizarrely every Green party meeting in California has a moderator, who shouts “Vibes!” if they sense that someone is becoming too passionate or committed to a non consensual point of view! I know that some people on the British left find the GPEW’s culture refreshing compared to the sometimes competitive culture of the far left groups. But Camejo points to Jo Freeman’s classic feminist text, The Tyranny of Structurelessness, to show how consensus doesn’t work.

As Freeman argues: “structurelessness becomes a way of masking power [and ] is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not.) For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit.”

Certainly anyone who ever had any dealings with Ian Bone’s Class War anarchist group in the 1980s will tell you how its lack of formal leadership structures was completely undemocratic.

The Consensual culture of the California Greens requires that if full consensus cannot be reached then an 80% majority is required, leading to paralysis of concerted action.

The tyranny of assuming that ideological and political differences can be subsumed into consensus also leads to lack of transparency and accountability of the leading bodies in the Party. In Los Angeles County, 20000 members were led by a single committee of six, five of whom were Feinstein supporters. What is more, there are serious allegations of financial impropriety of cheques made payable to the Green party being paid into Feinstein’s personal account, with an alleged embezzlement of some $30000.

Clearly there is no suggestion of financial or political impropriety with the GPEW, but I helped a friend recently who was standing as a local Green candidate, and I was shocked by the lack of democratic culture or structures in the party at local level, where democratically agreed leaflets were rewritten without consultation, and candidate selection does not seem to be through a transparent process. This would not be tolerated in, for example the Labour Party.

9 comments:

Charlie Marks said...

The consensus thing gets to the heart of the problem with the greens: no understanding of class conflict, and no understanding of conflict per se.

It needn't be a bad thing that there are serious vibes going on. what matters is that minorities can become majorities and that democratic decisions are respected. It's a balancing act. a dialectic if you will

Dave Riley said...

While the handicap of consensus is real I think in terms of Green Party politics internationally, the core issue is their relationship with capitalism.

Consensus only becomes an issue when there are other issues -- otherwise the GP USA would have imploded long ago.

So Camejo is more to the point, I think when he focuses on the question of the DEMS.

9PS: I'll have interview I did with Derek Wall ready to go soon.]

polizeros said...

Some (maybe much) of the criticism of Camejo by US Greens is disguised red-bashing. US Greens aren't comfortable talking about socialism, if anything they want a "small is beautiful" capitalism. Economic structures are rarely if ever discussed.

I suspect this is quite different from Greens in other countries where, even if they oppose socialism, they will also at least know what it is.

Rohan G said...

Polizeros is correct in his/her assessments, except in suspecting that US Greens are (generally) different.

Green politics, especially in its mainstream-seeking capital G electoral party forms, is known for its middle class / petty bourgeois social base, and it inherits the Quaker pacifist tradition of opposition to "violent" class struggle. The Greens combine this aversion to Marxist class analysis with an idealist philosophy and politics that presupposes that the ruling class can be won-over to the social goal of sustainability, claiming that the necessary structual changes (toward small [read petty-bourgeois] "beautiful" capitalism) will flow naturally from this paradigmn shift of ideas within the ruling class.

In this context consensus is used as a weapon of social control to prevent "divisive" left v right ideological discussion in the movement. This is simply a discussion they do not want to entertain as it threatens to expose the flimsyness of their analysis in this class intensified era of globalisation.

They would have us belive that their green paradigmn transcends outmoded left v right philosophies.

Derek Wall said...

The division is generally between 'realists' orientated to quick parliamentary success and those of us who believe in more fundamental change.

The realists say time is short, lets make some short cuts.

The radicals say realism leads to the kind of problems the greens were set up to combat in the first place.

anti-capitalism, more serious cultural politics and the core geen commitments tend to be off the agenda for the realists.

Generally continental european green parties are more realist than Greens in the GPEW, US, New Zealand and Australia.

for my small take on this read
http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2936

obviously these issues are key for all socialists..

AN said...

I am not sure Derek. Looking at the question only within the paradigm of green politics the dispute may seem like being between realists and fundamentalists.

But judged by more conventional political standards, it seems the diffences relate to social justice issues, and are a straight left/right dispute.

Die Gruenen, by far the most sucessful green party in the world, seem to have positioned themselves as a centre right party on economic questions, and argue for market mechanisms to be used to achieve environmental change.

Under a green foriegn minister, the German military were deployed abroad for the first time since 1945.

Les Verts supported the European constitution, signing up to the prinples of both "free movement of capital" and "free and undistorted competition", which you know as well as I do are code words for private ownership and deregulation. Les Verts also accepted the idea that member states of the EU should "shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities"

As I have argued elsewhere, an environmentally progressive party has an innate need to address control the market mechanism (although that is not accepted by die Gruenen), but envirinmentalism does not have an innate link to social justice and equality.

The left and the greens are therefore overlapping but seperate political projects.

Alex Nichols said...

'The left and the greens are therefore overlapping but seperate political projects'

There is an overlap on the issues, which effect everyone.

The Greens are the political current most associated with a solution, but do they really have one?

On the whole, it's the relative lack of activity by the socialist left, which has allowed them the political space to operate.

Where they haven't moved to the right, there's certainly a basis for joint work.

More reason to develop a distinct socialist programme on the environment and energy and not simply tail-end the Greens.

Alex Nichols said...

Just as an aside to this discussion. I heard a recording of George Galloway yesterday, where he was endorsing Barak Obama as the next Democratic candidate for President.
It was actually part of the sound track of a Youtube video, so I'm not sure where it came from, but sounded like a genuine recording from a speech, public appearance or perhaps his Sport-Talk radio programme.
Given this public endorsement of the Democratic Party by GG, I wonder where this leaves Respect.
He is after all, its most prominent leader!

AN said...

George is back on big brother as well! Hosting the "Big Brother's Little Brother" for a few days while Russell Brand is absent.

Ad far as I can see, GG has almost no interest in respect now, except as a stepping stone to a media career.

Respect has just become a cringe making embarrassment.