s/r home  | issues  | authors  | 24 contents
The Strange Odyssey of Greens in the US
[This introduction to the section on "Genuine Green Unity?" is based on a presentation by Don Fitz at the Gateway Green Center in St. Louis on January 3, 2001.]
Greens who formed a new party in Germany in the 1970s began with a commitment to the environment, women's rights, and the anti-nuclear struggle. Disagreements began almost immediately between "fundis" (those wanting to stick to Green principles for fundamental social change) and "realos" (those using realpolitik to do whatever seems necessary to get elected). These different points of view have been reproduced as Greens have spread throughout the world.
In the US, Greens existed from 1984-91 as a bioregional confederation called the Green Committees of Correspondence. By the time the name "Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA)" was adopted in 1991, the division in the US had become exceptionally hostile. The different experience of Greens in Germany and the US is largely due to their contrasting political climates. A major portion of the international Green movement consists of those who left socialist organizations either because they found them too authoritarian or insufficiently environmental. Most of Europe, including Germany, has often been ruled by a coalition including socialists or social democrats. This has meant that "realos" in European Green Parties have not had any reason to drive out the more socialist "fundis" because both groups realize they are stronger working together.
In the US, however, the McCarthy era continues to shadow the political climate 50 years after the witch hunts. US "realos" see socialistic "fundis" as a liability for potential electoral success. Since the beginning of the US Green movement, "realos" have made a consistent effort to drive out the radicals. "Realo" leaders have been involved in not informing "fundi" Greens of meetings, physically preventing fundis from entering meetings, threatening legal violence (in the form of lawsuits) against fundis, attempting to expel those with whom they disagree, holding rival meetings to split Green groups they do not control, and orchestrating hate campaigns against Greens they target as "lefts."
The conflict within US Greens has been exacerbated by a high degree of naiveté. Many people come into the Green Party expecting that everyone will just get along and are surprised to find that Greens have disagreements as strong as those of Democrats, Republicans and Socialists. The confusion of New Age thinking has intensified the lack of political sophistication of American progressives and the consequences can be seen in the Greens.
One of the favorite explanations of those taking an ostrich-like approach to political debates is to claim that they are due to "personality differences." Ironically, such unwillingness to acknowledge the political reasons behinds conflicts exacerbates those conflicts as each of the contending parties works harder to win over the middle. Among US Greens, perhaps 5-10% are "fundis," 3-7% are "realos," and 85-90% are unsure. Since the undecided comprise such a huge prize to be won over, the struggle is intense.
Debates in 1991 centered around the realo demand that US Greens agree to the creation of state Green Parties that would be independent of any Green movement. The national Green Congress which established the GPUSA endorsed the formation of state Green Parties but wanted them to be in the same organization as active party members.
Not satisfied with this compromise, US realos began laying the basis for a split. They developed the ideology that state Green Parties should not be based on dues-paying members and urged local and state groups to disaffiliate from the GPUSA. Prior to this, joining the Greens meant that a person became part of whatever local, state and national organization existed. From 1992 onward, the situation became increasingly confused, with members not being sure of what Green group they actually belonged to.
As the 1996 elections approached, California Greens asked various celebrities if they would accept their state's nomination for President. Most said "No;" but a "Yes" came from Ralph Nader.
After the '96 election, Greens who had lost votes in '91 and '92 national GPUSA meetings called for a meeting to set up a rival Association of State Green Parties (ASGP). To make sure they won the vote at that meeting, they guarded the doors to prevent the entry of those they could not control.
For the next four years, the GPUSA invited the ASGP to re-join, or at least negotiate a unification. For four years, ASGP leaders refused. During this time, GPUSA members developed different approaches to "Unity." Some felt that it would be best to agree to the ASGP demands that a Green Party be structured like the Democrats and Republicans, without dues paid members and without a structural connection to an activist movement. Others advocated that if the GPUSA concentrated on strengthening itself, the ASGP would be more likely to see it as a valuable ally and negotiate.
As the 2000 election approached and it became clear that a unified Green Party might receive millions of dollars in federal matching funds, the ASGP leaders did a 180 degree turn and agreed to negotiate with the GPUSA. The May, 2000 GPUSA Congress selected negotiators and provided them with guidelines called the "Proposal for Genuine Unity." These guidelines said that a Green Party should finance national offices, staff, and publications through dues-paying members, should have a genuine commitment to anti-oppression caucuses, should have a voting base of local Green Parties, should have annual conventions at the state and national levels, should respect proportional representation of political views, and should guarantee the right of delegates to make and speak to motions.
On October 1-2, 2000, negotiators from the GPUSA and ASGP met in Boston and agreed to something very different. They did not achieve a merger or unity. Only 1 of the 10 portions of the "Proposal for Genuine Unity" appeared in what came to be knows as the "Boston Proposal." According to the "Boston Proposal," the GPUSA would pledge to cease being a party and the ASGP would have the power to determine the structure of a new Green Party.
In early 2001, Greens are examining at least four options:
- accept the Boston Proposal as written;
- decide that unity efforts have not succeeded and accept that there will be two Green organizations;
- send negotiators back to obtain a more equitable agreement; or,
- attempt joint actions or unification with a broad range of progressive groups.