The emergence of the Greens is fully understandable in light of contemporary national and global dynamics. The two principal parties in the United States have responded to the national economic and commercial decline and the structural crisis of the world-system by safeguarding the interests of the corporations and turning their backs on the people. In contrast, the Green Party affirms the responsibility of government to protect the rights of the people. The Green Party Platform upholds the social and economic rights of the people, advocating free tuition at public universities and vocational schools, universal health care, a minimum living wage for all, and measures to guarantee affordable housing. Its platform includes affirmation of the fundamental moral principles of modern democratic revolutions, including respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of nations and for the right of workers to organize.
The Green Party Platform has good proposals for the creation of employment. It advocates public funding to create living-wage jobs in such areas as “environmental clean-up, recycling, sustainable agriculture and food production, sustainable forest management, repair and maintenance of public facilities, neighborhood-based public safety, aides in schools, libraries and childcare centers, and construction and renovation of energy-efficient housing.” It calls for government subsidies for renewable energy companies, which among other benefits, would generate employment.
Consistent with the widespread feeling among the people that the political process is not responsive to their needs, the Green Party Platform calls for reform of the electoral process, and it has several good proposals that would strengthen the capacity of officeholders to be independent of the demands and expectations of the corporate elite. The proposed reforms include the enactment of proportional representation voting systems, full public funding for election campaigns, equal television and radio time for candidates, and the prohibition of corporate contributions to election campaigns.
Although the political gains and moral commitment of the Green Party ought to be appreciated by the people, we must recognize that current objective and subjective conditions make possible a level of popular support for an alternative party of the Left much higher than four percent. I believe that the inability of the Green Party to attain more support is a consequence of its limitations, which is revealed in the party platform, a document that is ahistorical, unphilosophical, and unreflective (see “The Green Party Platform” 8/26/2016). In order for the Green Party to begin to play during the next thirty years the role that an alternative party of the Left can and must play, the party must incorporate into its leadership persons who are capable of leading the Green Party toward becoming a party that: is characterized by philosophical understanding, historical consciousness and political reflection; redefines what a political party is and does; takes seriously its mission of taking power; and is capable of forming alliances with various social movement organizations in all popular sectors.
Philosophical understanding. We all have perceptions of reality and opinions of what ought to be done. But what is the foundation on which we can truly discern the true and the right? This is the central philosophical question, and popular social movements (but not academic philosophy departments) have been teaching us the answer: we understand social reality from below. Marx was the first to demonstrate this, by forging a comprehensive understanding of human history and the capitalist world-economy from the vantage point of the emerging Western European working class, thus moving Western European understanding beyond the conceptions of German philosophy and British political economy, which had been formulated from the vantage point of the bourgeoisie. The Marxian breakthrough represented a threat to the established world order, inasmuch as it provided the epistemological foundation for the emancipation of the people. Recognizing this, the dominant class has successfully marginalized the work of Marx. Moreover, through donations and grants to universities, the dominant class has guided higher education toward a bureaucratization that has ensured that knowledge would not be formulated from below, and that it would be fragmented into specializations. And so it was left to the charismatic leaders of the socialist revolutions of the world to further develop the insights of Marx, gradually creating a comprehensive understanding of human history and the capitalist world-economy, formulated from below, an understanding that has become a heritage of the popular social movements of the world.
Inasmuch as the economic, political and cultural system in which we live is a world-system and a world-economy, in seeking to look at reality from below, we must take seriously the vantage point of those who form the dominated and superexploited sector of the entire world-system, and not merely the excluded in a particular nation. Thus we must examine reality from the vantage point of the colonized. We must seek to understand the insights of the charismatic leaders who have led the anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial movements formed by the peoples of the Third World during the last 200 years, which have sought to attain both national and social liberation. In the discourses of leaders lifted up by the people and formed in heroic struggle, the insights from below can be found, enabling us all to discern the central dynamics of the world-system, thereby making possible united liberating political action by the people.
Global historical consciousness. What insights can be attained when we take seriously the discourses of the charismatic leaders of the Third World movements for national and social liberation? Above all there emerges the understanding that the modern world-system and capitalist world-economy were built on a foundation of European conquest and colonial domination of vast regions of America, Africa and Asia; and that the Third World movements for the most part accomplished political independence but not true sovereignty and genuine independence, resulting in a neocolonial world-system in which the essential economic structures of the colonial era are preserved. Thus, global structures continue to promote the development of the core nations as they promote the underdevelopment of the peripheral nations of the Third World.
In addition to enabling understanding of the foundation of the modern world-system, global historical consciousness, acquired through listening to the voices of the neocolonized, enables us to discern that the world-system is no longer sustainable. Built on a foundation of conquest and expanding for four centuries through the conquest of new lands and peoples, the world-system has run out of lands and peoples to conquer, and thus it is no longer capable of its form of development, skewed to the advantage of the core nations. It has entered a profound structural crisis, the signs of which have been evident since the 1970s. This means, as the leaders and movements of the Third World understand, that the world-system must abandon the logic of domination in favor of a logic of cooperation, if is it to attain a new equilibrium.
Fortified with global historical consciousness, an alternative political party of the Left would be able to delegitimate the ideology of the corporate elite and the strategy of the two political parties allied with it. It would be able to explain to our people that current US foreign policy cannot attain its objective of preserving US domination, because the world-system itself is no longer sustainable on a basis of domination. Aggressive economic and militaristic polices, although based on a certain logic, that of domination, have deepened the global crisis, have increased the decline of the United States, and have placed the earth and humanity at risk, as a consequence of the fact that they are inconsistent with current needs of the world-system. An alternative direction is not only demanded by our fundamental values; it also is necessary.
National historical consciousness. Global historical consciousness helps us to understand our own nation in global context, and it would enable an alternative political party of the Left to debunk the dominant historical narrative of US ideology. That narrative has many of our people believing that the United States has been a land of opportunity in which many ordinary people, many of them immigrants, experienced upward mobility through hard work. But looking at US history in global context, we see that the economic ascent during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of New England and the mid-Atlantic colonies was made possible by a lucrative trading relation with the Caribbean, in which middle class farmers of the English-American colonies sold food and animals to Caribbean slaveholders, who found it most profitable to use sugar income to purchase food and animals, rather than cultivate and raise them on their plantations. It thus can be seen that the farmers of the English-American colonies, in addition to their work ethic, also possessed a blind eye with respect to the morality of slavery. Their strategic economic and geographic location, combined with their capacity to be indifferent to the morality of their trading partners, enabled them to become middle class farmers who were accumulating capital. A similar story would be repeated in the first half of the nineteenth century in a somewhat different form, as slaveholders in the US South sold cotton to northern US industry, inasmuch as the middle class farmers/merchants with accumulating capital were transferring capital into industry. This North-South core-peripheral economic relation was central to the spectacular ascent of the United States during the nineteenth century. In understanding the role of these regional economic relations in US commercial and industrial ascent, we see that the industrial expansion of the United States was rooted in slavery, or more precisely, the amoral capacity of upwardly ascending farmers and merchants to engage in lucrative trading relations with slaveholders.
The rapidly expanding US industry needed factory labor, so the shores of the United States were made open to immigrants, mostly European peasants, during the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth centuries. These immigrants also experienced upward mobility, benefiting from an expanding national economy, built on slavery, and on an expanding world-economy, based on new European conquests in Africa and Asia. The factory jobs that the new immigrants could attain, since they were in advanced and new industries in a core nation, were relatively good-paying, and the higher income enabled higher levels of education for the children of the factory workers. Persons of color, however, were excluded from this process of upward mobility, due to customs of racial segregation and job discrimination. Thus, the upward mobility of white immigrants in the United States was made possible not only by slavery but also by patterns of racial discrimination.
By the time the United States decided to end racial discrimination in employment in 1964, the industrial expansion of the United States was coming to an end, and the world-system was entering a profound structural crisis. The opportunity window was being closed just as the doors of racial barriers were being opened. This dynamic made necessary a political will to pay the accumulated social debt to persons of color, in the form of programs of community development, employment, and education. But the debt was not payed. To the contrary, the people, both blacks and whites, were abandoned.
An alternative political party armed with national historical consciousness could educate our people with respect to these basic dynamics. In doing so, it would delegitimate the dominant ideological discourse. And it would discredit the leaders of the two political parties, who catered to the discourse and to the interests of the corporate elite, for their own gain. It could call upon the people to cast aside the historically inaccurate narrative and to reject the political parties that have betrayed the nation and the people; and to support an alternative party that has attained, through its commitment to understanding and to justice for the people, a capacity to lead the nation in an alternative direction, in defense of the people.
Political reflection. What it is the meaning of democracy? Elite control of the US political process and US educational institutions and news media has had the consequence that popular reflection on the meaning of democracy has been limited. An alternative political party of the Left should endeavor to stimulate popular reflection on the concept of democracy, including an analysis of the class, racial and gender dynamics of the American Revolution, and the evolution of these dynamics since 1776. It could put forth the proposition that democracy includes not only the protection of civil and political rights but also economic and social rights as well as the right of the self-determination and sovereignty of nations. It could propose constitutional amendments that would guarantee the protection the social and economic rights of citizens, as has been done in new progressive constitutions in Latin America, and that would mandate that US foreign policy respect the sovereignty of other nations.
Redefining what a political party is and does. Taking as an example the efforts of socialist movements and nations to develop popular councils, an alternative party of the Left could seek to form regular meetings among neighbors and co-workers for the purpose of public discussion and dialogue. It could disseminate reading materials for discussion, taking as its example the publication and distribution of pamphlets during the American Revolution, such as Tom Paine’s Common Sense. The meetings and reading materials would be the basis not only for the nomination and election of candidates to office at various levels of government, but also for political reflection and for the development of global and national historical consciousness among the people. The party would be not only an electoral party, but also a social movement organization that educates and organizes the people.
Taking seriously the mission of taking power. We in the movements of the Left are so accustomed to our powerlessness and marginality, that often it is difficult for us to internalize the idea that an alternative political party seeks to take political power. Sometimes we debate among ourselves tactics that seek to pressure those in power to adopt particular measures, losing sight of the fact that the more just and sustainable world that we seek can only be attained when a party of, by and for the people takes power and, once in power, struggles to implement policies that promote the will, interests and needs of the people. In the Green Party Platform, some of the proposals were put forth in the form of demands to the government. But we should be consistent and clear on this point. An alternative political party should not put forth demands. It should make promises to the people, which will be implemented when the people bring the party to power.
In order to take power, an alternative political of the Left would have to attain the support of the majority of the people. Often, the discourse of the Left lacks consideration of what kind of arguments it would take to convince the majority. It indulges in self-expression, satisfied that it has expressed its views, rather than reflecting on the kind of discourse that would be necessary to attain a majority consensus. An alternative party of the Left in the United States should be sensitive to the fact that many of our people have conservative values with respect to religiosity, marriage and sexuality. These are private and personal matters, and governments and social movements should respect such views and should interfere with them only when they violate rights, and in these cases, with sensitivity. With respect to reproductive rights, for example, the discourse of the Left should affirm the right of abortion in a form that is sensitive to those who believe that abortion is morally wrong. It should explain that society has no option but to uphold the right of each woman to make a difficult decision without state interference, even as it affirms the right of persons and organization to be opposed to and to teach against abortion. It could propose full public support for all available options, without intending to promote either abortion or adoption, and it could commit itself to the development of a kind of society that provides support to all parents in the difficult and important task of child-rearing. Similarly, with respect to gay rights, the party should affirm the rights of all to select partners, without suffering discrimination or exclusion; but the party should be careful to avoid the appearance of celebrating a lifestyle that some define as sinful, or of denigrating those with more conservative views. In all issues that have the potential to divide our people, an alternative party of the Left should seek to defend what is right in a form that is sensitive to the values of our people, recognizing that, if it is going to take power, it cannot afford to alienate the people. Progressive social goals, standing in opposition to the interests of the corporations, cannot possibly be attained if the people are divided, and the discourse of progressive movements must be formulated with sensitivity in relation to issues that divide our people.
Popular coalition. The people of the United States are characterized by ethnic, class, occupational, religious and gender diversity. All of our people in their diversity have formed organizations that seek to protect and defend their basic rights. An alternative party of the Left must actively seek coalition with the various organizations that our people have formed, always being careful in its discourse to adopt language that is fully inclusive, and does not offend any the sectors of our people. The discourse of an alternative party of the Left should be offensive only to the corporations and to the one percent who want to preserve special privileges.
An alternative political party of the Left that redefines what a political party is, that leads a coalition of popular organizations, and that educates the people toward an alternative national and global historical narrative is attainable. The current economic decline of the nation and the structural crisis of the world-system establish conditions favorable to fascism, but they also strengthen the possibilities for an alternative party of the Left that is rooted in philosophical, historical and scientific understanding as well as the fundamental values of modern democratic revolutions, and that, as a result of the exemplary commitment of its leaders, is able to earn the trust and confidence of the people.
The Green Party could evolve to be such a party. But in order to do so, it has to recognize its current limitations. It has to turn for help to those who could assist it to move to a more advanced stage, for the good of the people and the nation.