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Synthesis/Regeneration 24   (Winter 2001)

The Politics of the Boston Proposal

by Howie Hawkins, Syracuse Greens

I think that the way to approach the Boston proposal is politically, not from the perspective of ASGP or GPUSA organizational interests. We should think first about what the independent left and the Green Party movement need organizationally at this time. I think four things are crucial.

1. United Electoral Front

As long as we have winner-take-all election rules, the left needs a united electoral front of everyone who is independent of corporate money and control and to the left of the Democratic Party . Our core support is too small to divide our vote among different independent left parties. It just marginalizes the left. Coming off the 3 million votes for Nader and with 22 ballot-qualified state Green parties, the Green Party is the vehicle to keep building for that united electoral front.

2. A Single Green Party

Two feuding Green Parties is not helping either GPUSA or ASGP. People don't join sectarian fights. The general public doesn't take seriously a Green Party movement that can't overcome its division. We just need one ballot line Green Party for a united electoral front of the independent left.

We just need one ballot line Green Party for a united electoral front of the independent left.

In the whole world, only in the US does the privilege of ballot access require political parties to surrender control of their power to bestow their party label on nominees for public office, and even to elect internal party officers, to government-conducted elections called primary elections. That makes political parties in the US merely agencies of the state. Let ASGP become this empty vessel: the statutory Green Party. Let GPUSA continue (with a different name) as the membership organization of Green Party activists that fills that empty vessel with radical democratic politics.

3. Grassroots Organization

If US political parties are agencies of the state, they are also empty vessels which different organizations compete to fill with their own people. In the corporate parties, these extra-governmental organizations are mainly corporate-sponsored candidates' committees and corporate-sponsored PACs. There are also popular organizations competing for influence—e.g., the AFL-CIO in the Democrats, the NRA in the Republicans—but they are grossly outmatched by the corporate interests.

The Green Party (as long as it refuses corporate money) is different. Popular organizations and candidate committees will compete to have their members elected to its statutory local, state, and national committees and for nominations for public office. GPUSA, as the biggest membership organization in the Green Party movement, can readily elect its people to the Green Party committees and get its members nominated on the Green Party line for public office if it stays organized.

The power of these statutory committees is quite limited. Their candidate designations and nominations can be overturned in primaries. They are nearly as limited in raising and spending money on behalf of their candidates as PACs are. But under FEC regulation of federal election campaigns, the soft money loopholes for "party building activities" and "issue advocacy" make all these limits meaningless anyway for all practical purposes. And for state campaign finance laws, the parties are often more limited in their spending than candidate committees and PACs.

Oligarchy in the Green Party will not come from direct corporate funding of the party but could come from corporate-funded candidate committees. The only antidote to oligarchy in the statutory Green Party is an extra-governmental organization of Green Party activists organized democratically from the grassroots up. That can't be done through the statutory committees established by election laws. It can be done by an organization structured like GPUSA is.

The only antidote to oligarchy in the statutory Green Party is an extra-governmental organization of Green Party activists organized democratically...

The statutory committees are limited in membership. In a state where the election law says one precinct committee member is elected from each precinct to the county committee, the statutory party structure excludes most Greens. But with the direct memberships structure of GPUSA, every Green in every precinct can participate in the local organization.

GPUSA can change its name to Greens USA or the Green Federation or something like that, but change nothing else. It can be that grassroots organization for Green Party activists that can build a precinct by precinct activist organization with a structure capable of enlisting the participation of many of the 3 million people who voted for Nader and the 10 million people who said Nader was their first choice.

4. Issue Activism

By our deeds we shall be known. Green activism on the issues is what is going to win people over. It is how we are going to enlist the participation of a multi-cultural base and a broader base in working class and poor communities.

The statutory committees of ballot-qualified political parties are too structurally inflexible to be effective in organizing issue campaigns. Once the primary election has happened, the committees' personnel are entrenched for 2 to 4 years. If committee members become inactive, no one can replace them. Their agendas tend to be dominated by legally required electoral and financial filings with boards of elections, not advancing a political program, whether electorally or extra-electorally.

A direct membership structure like GPUSA's is built for issue activism and grassroots electoral campaigning because it incorporates all active members in its activities as they become active, not just once every two to four years at primary elections, and gives them a direct say in shaping the activism.

Affirm the Main Point, Not the Details, of the Boston Proposal

Forget the details because they can be changed by amending the bylaws of the statutory Green Party. The main point of the Boston Proposal is to dissolve ASGP and create a single statutory Green Party and to continue GPUSA as a membership organization of Green Party activists under a new name.

This main point of the Boston proposal meets all four of these political criteria: a united electoral front and a single Green Party through the new statutory Green Party and grassroots organization and issue activism through the membership organization for Green activists.

Now I would like to comment on some of the points made in the discussion of this proposal

"Merger" and "Dissolution"

The Boston proposal is not a merger proposal. It does not dissolve GPUSA. It explicitly says GPUSA continues as an independent organization with a different name.

"Political Differences Are Too Great"

The only significant difference between the ASGP and GPUSA platforms is over what to do about corporations. That's why the ASGP realos split in the first place. GPUSA says democratize the corporations and has some fairly specific proposals. The ASGP platform says vaguely that they are open to a "mixed economy" including cooperatives and public enterprises.

What the ASGP/Green Party platform will become in the next round is up to those who participate. It will not be possible to shove a platform through another convention without opportunity for amendment if we organize the grassroots to participate in the state parties and the election of delegates. The ASGP bosses got away with it this time because too many of the state parties were weak and poorly organized at the grassroots. But judging from the reception to speeches by Joel Kovel and Manning Marable at the Denver convention, the poorly organized rank and file is way to the left of the ASGP bosses.

"Can't Work with ASGP Bosses"

If people can't deal with would-be Green bosses, how are they going to deal with the capitalist bosses? ASGP's structure is open enough that the bosses can be removed by getting democratic-minded Greens elected from our state parties to the national committee. The statutory committees of the state Green parties are even more open. It just takes some organizing, but it's nothing compared to organizing against capitalism. If we can't democratize the Green Party, we'll never replace capitalism with a democratic society.

With all the people coming into the Greens in the wake of the Nader campaign, ASGP has grown too big for a little clique to control anymore. And people are flooding into the ASGP structure simply because Nader has pointed them that way by attending ASGP meetings and not GPUSA meetings. If GPUSA stands outside and shouts we are the "real" or the "better" Green Party, we will be marginalized. If we say, become a member of our activist Green organization to participate directly in Green issue campaigns and policy discussions and to really know what's going on and how to participate in the Green Party movement, a lot of people will join.

"GPUSA Gives Up Party Status and FEC National Committee Status"

It is ironic that those most critical of electoral campaigns and of the statutory structures dictated by state election laws seem most concerned about "giving up party status." What does party status really give us?

It is the national division that keeps most of the 600+ dues-paying NY Green Party members from joining GPUSA as members.

It compromises the participatory structures we prefer. FEC party status gives us no more freedom to raise and spend money than any multi-candidate PAC. National committee status would raise those contribution and expenditure limits some for direct contributions to candidates, but as an activist organization with multi-candidate PAC we can raise and spend as much as we like because we can take unlimited donations and spend unlimited amounts on electorally (or extra-electorally) oriented "issue advocacy" and "party building."

It is also ironic that the realos in ASGP place such importance on FEC national committee status. When ASGP, or the proposed Green Party of the United States, gets FEC recognition, so what? The higher FEC contribution and expenditure limits are of very limited utility and, given ASGP's finances, unlikely even to come into play. And FEC recognition gives them "control" of nothing given the decentralized structures set up by state regulation of political parties.

"Dual Affiliation Not Possible"

There is nothing in the Boston proposal that prevents state Green parties and organizations from affiliating with both the Green Party and the Green activist organization. That is up to the Greens in each state.

"Membership Will Decrease"

Why? Because we are not a Green "Party." Another irony here is that some fundis resisted calling ourselves a party in the late 1980s and early 1990s because it invoked the bureaucratic structures the state imposes. The irony is that some fundis now cling to the "party" label.

Dropping the party label and the statutory restrictions that come with it frees GPUSA (as Greens USA or whatever) to do what we want with our publications, actions, and program and policy statements.

By adopting the Boston proposal to create a unified statutory Green Party and a membership organization for Green Party activists parallel to the party, I think the membership will swell. It is the national division that keeps most of the 600-plus dues-paying NY Green Party members from joining GPUSA as members. But many of them, now organized into dozens of Green Party clubs across the state, will join if the Boston proposal is affirmed. The division is keeping a lot of people out who don't want join a fight. There are whole states like Washington whose people are staying out until there is some kind of resolution.

"All or Nothing"

The idea that GPUSA and ASGP have to adopt the Boston proposal in one all or nothing decision is not realistic. ASGP is going to form a Green Party with Nader's needed affirmation for FEC recognition no matter what GPUSA does. GPUSA can become an independent membership organization for Green Party activists with a new name no matter what ASGP does.

I see the Boston Proposal as more a statement of solidarity than an organizational plan. The details of the Green Party structure can always be amended.

I would like to see GPUSA National Committee affirm the spirit of the Boston proposal while making criticisms of certain details. I would also like see it call a special Congress for April to consider bylaw proposals to change our name, clarify our purpose, and make us more democratic.

See followup article in Left Turn (Nov 2002): The Green Party and the Future of the US Left

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