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Synthesis/Regeneration 20   (Fall, 1999)

The Politics of a Green System

by Mike Woodberry, Illinois Peace Action

The Green Party made a name for itself and ourselves with the 1996 Ralph Nader presidential campaign. The fact that the campaign got such widespread support despite Nader's equivocation on some crucial issues gives us reason to expect that we are going to have a lot of people looking to see what we come up with in 2000. Due to his waffling on immigration and other issues, another Nader campaign is likely to generate less enthusiasm, not more.

We are unlikely to find someone else with such widespread name recognition. What can we come up with? Politics. Green Politics. The politics of advocating a new economic system based on a diversity of ownership forms. These politics are now buried on page 4 of the Green Program.

Anarchists put their advocacy of a new system without rulers at the front of their politics, not on page 4. Socialists put their advocacy of a new system based on public ownership and control of production and distribution at the front of their politics, not on page 4. We are not guaranteed that we will get a new system by putting it at the front of our politics, but we are most unlikely to get it by keeping it buried in the middle of our program. This will be especially true if we continue to pay no attention to this new system which we allegedly advocate in any of our other political work. A new economic system is not something we can expect to quietly usher in through political back windows.

This is no intellectual exercise in useless political theory. Our planet seems unlikely to indefinitely withstand the incessant pressure of profit-driven motivation to forever increase the exploitation of the finite resources on our finite planet.

Putting this new system at the front of our agenda will first require having a name for this system. "A system based on a diversity of ownership forms" is just too much of a mouthful. Since our new system is not based on an ideology, it isn't an "ism" like socialism or anarchism. My suggestion is that we simply refer to it as a/the Green system, and let it go at that. To be able to put our advocacy of a new system at the front of our agenda where it belongs, we will have to transform the present Green Program, which is basically a statement of the broad aspirations of the green movement, into an electoral program of the Green Party.

If you look at the Labor Party Program, you will see a clear statement of legislation which a Labor Party majority government would pass. If you look at the Statement of Purpose or other statements of the New Party, you will see a plethora of vague platitudes which will leave you no idea of what legislation a New Party majority government would pass. The Green Party is now in between these extremes, and needs to get much closer to the clarity of the Labor Party.

A Green system could be mandated by ordinary federal legislation. The powers and even the existence of for-profit corporations are subject to federal control. We could curb the right to advertise, and we could eliminate their ability to make donations. We could make it illegal for corporations to own shares of other corporations. We could place limits on their maximum size. We could retire broadcasting licenses held by corporations upon their date of expiry. It would also be useful to dis-recognize the legal "person" status of corporations, since this would make them susceptible to far more stringent restrictions on what they are allowed to do with their money, including both advertising and making donation to candidates and causes of their choice. We need to get our program clear on this, and we need to overcome the procedural hurdles which have been put in place which make it so very difficult for Greens to establish our political program.

We also need to clear our GP electoral program of all the many proposals in the present Green Program which could not be passed by ordinary legislation. One example is our proposal to abolish the private ownership of land. This would require a constitutional amendment. We will have a Green majority government long before any such amendment could be passed. For this reason it should be excluded from our electoral agenda.

Or what of our proposal for publicly owned and democratically operated railroads? How do we propose to acquire these railroads? What legislation will we pass to make their operation democratic? How will we resolve the inherent conflicts of interest between those who work for railroads and those who use them? Unless we can answer these questions, we should drop it. We are not going to be entrusted with the responsibility of administering government by following the New Party example of speaking in platitudes, however laudable the platitudes may be.

Of all the political organizations in which I have been active, the Greens stand out for having the least political policy discussion at the membership level. Since I have been involved in the Greens in California, Illinois, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland, this cannot be ascribed to a peculiarity of my local situation. Greens spend loads of time discussing the various projects in which we are involved, but discussion as to what our political party should say it will do if elected is conspicuous by its absence, at least at membership meetings.

A socialist or anarchist system could not be enacted by simple legislation. A green system could. It is time to get on with the job.

Mike Woodberry, formerly Mike Muench, has been an activist since 1957 and a Green since 1985. He works as the Communications Coordinator of Illinois Peace Action.

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