Synthesis/Regeneration 12   (Winter 1997)


Beyond Issues, Platforms and Rhetoric

by Kwazi Nkrumah, Coordinator, Green Party of Los Angeles

The preceding articles provide us with a valuable insider's view of a broad new social/political movement which is rapidly unfolding throughout the United States. But what exactly is this new movement? How does it define itself? What are its objectives? In other words, where is it coming from and where is it going? These are questions we will be forced to grapple with again and again as these movements progress in their work.

The basic thrust of the progressive politics movement is toward the reduction or elimination of corporate power in politics and society. But how far we as a society can, should, and actual will go in this direction is a big question. Mary Cal Hollis is the only one out of the entire group to place this discussion beyond the level of immediate, specific demands. She poses socialism as an alternative to corporate capitalism.

But as anyone with the slightest familiarity with socialism knows, the concept of socialism is such a tangled web of conflicting strategies, policies, and approaches to organizing (or reorganizing) a society that just to throw out the term socialism does not in itself clarify what our goals actually are.

The diversity within the progressive politics movement is only partially circumstantial. It is also substantial.

Historically, the "socialisms" promoted or practiced in Britain, China, Scandinavia, Algeria, the Soviet Union, Israel, Cambodia, Cuba, or Mozambique often had very little in common. Even when that was not the case the real consequences in political or economic terms for the average citizen (or even for the relative position of corporations in those societies) often varied so drastically as to produce polar opposites.

The diversity within the progressive politics movement is only partially circumstantial. It is also substantial. It is true that the proliferation of groups is partly a function of people becoming politically radicalized at different times and in different places. It is also true that we are all products of a competitive and individualistic culture as Ted Glick correctly points out.

However, when we look beyond the question of issues, platforms and rhetoric, what we must realize is that each of the various groupings tends to represent a different stratum or sector of the society. The differences of culture, politics and organizing styles within and between these groups is largely a reflection of that fact.

All these groups feels the need to organize against the growing disparities in our society. All of them realize the need for broad social support in order to conduct such a fight-thus the similarities in rhetoric and programs. But in many cases the core elements within each group experience and interpret the social crisis at least somewhat differently. Thus, the differences of interpretation of the depth of the problems, their relative priority, and the extent of the measures needed to correct them.

It is no mere coincidence the New Party proposes a strategy of fusion inside the Democratic Party, that the Labor Party has a go-slow approach to supporting or sponsoring independent candidates, that the Labor Party also has one of the clearest most concise program of economic demands; that the Campaign for a New Tomorrow emphasizes the question of collective political leadership by people of color in a special way, or that you find more emphasis on issues as disparate as the Arts, Spirituality and Waste management in the Green program.

The Democratic Party has always been the hook used by the corporate ruling class to tame, corrupt, and demobilize every mass insurgency against corporate power. . .

Ultimately the relationship between the progressive politics movement and the Democratic Party will prove to be decisive, not only to the future of the movement, but, more fundamentally, to the millions and millions of politically disempowered people in this country whose only real future is in creating a new society. The Democratic Party has always been the hook used by the corporate ruling class to tame, corrupt, and demobilize every mass insurgency against corporate power since the Populist Movement of the 1890s.

The co-dependent relationship between some elements of the progressive politics movement and the Democratic Party is no small question. As many who followed Jesse Jackson into the Rainbow Coalition found out some years ago, it is a chicken that always comes home to roost.

I agree with Claire Cohen, that

. . .electoral politics can be used as a means to obscure the real seat of power in a society, as well as to develop a facade of citizen political power where there is really none at all. We on the left need to be honest with ourselves and the American people about this fact. We need to stop "enabling" the status quo by giving credence to their propaganda that the average citizen's vote in the current electoral system, as it presently exists, really gives people any significant political power. . .If we are really serious about treating a society based on social and economic justice, if we really want political power, then we must publicly acknowledge challenge and confront our undemocratic political system aggressively exposing it for the sham that it really is. then we must develop and advocate for truly democratic alternatives to our present political system. This is where independent politics comes in.

I do believe that the possibilities for cooperation cross fertilization of ideas and approaches, and harmonization of interests, perhaps eventually even mergers or cross-mergers of at least elements of each of these groups may be a possibility in the future. But I basically think that some of the conflicts within and between various elements within the progressive politics movement in the long run will center more around questions of leadership, social interests and political power than culture. The crucial issues will really be about whether those who suffer some will be able to unite fully those who suffer the most by creating new power relations. If this truly happens, we will indeed evolve a new culture and a new society, even as we are working to transform the old one.

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