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Synthesis/Regeneration 25   (Summer 2001)

A Burning Question for Greens:

If We Oppose the Corporate-Dominated Economy,
What Do We Replace it With?

by Richard Whitney, Shawnee Green Party, Illinois Green Party

A subscriber to our Illinois Green Party internet (http://www.egroups.com/group/illinoisgreens/info.html) discussion group recently raised a question of paramount importance to the Green movement that merits serious reflection and discussion. The question was phrased as a hypothetical about the problems that might befall our nation if Ralph Nader had been elected President:

Could anybody post a list of reasons why Nader won't ruin the economy? I have a friend whose reasoning against Nader is: "Our economy is based on corporations."

The person who submitted the inquiry was new to the Green Party (a green Green?) and it was apparent that she was hoping that one of our more veteran members could provide her with some quick, ready-made "ammunition" that she could use to answer her friend and win over another voter. Instead, she (and her friend) had inadvertently raised a question that is more profound than she suspected—a question that demands a better answer from our organization and the Green movement.

Of course, the friend's criticism fails to recognize the premise that, for Greens, putting an end to corporate domination over our economic and political institutions is not simply an "idea;" it is a necessity. The fate of the planet, and of our aspirations for creating a more democratic, humane, life-affirming society depend on it. Furthermore, since corporate domination is driving our society toward not only economic ruin but environmental and social ruin as well, the criticism that the overthrow of corporate rule will bring about economic collapse is rather hollow.

...most people are naturally reluctant to support a major change from the status quo without some assurance that it will be an improvement.

Still, most people are naturally reluctant to support a major change from the status quo without some assurance that it will be an improvement. Until the deterioration of the status quo begins to threaten their very survival, most people will be more inclined to accept a known evil that they have managed to live with than venture into an unknown and uncertain future. If we hope to ever win the support of the majority, we will need to be able to point to a coherent plan for transforming and/or replacing the corporations upon which tens of millions of workers presently depend for their livelihood. Otherwise, should the day come where the Green Party actually gains control of the government, while the economy remains under the thumb of the corporate powers-that-be, those same corporate powers would likely cause an economic collapse, which will be used to discredit the Green Party and make it impossible for it to govern effectively. The day of our premature victory would be the beginning of our defeat.

Clearly, we have much work to do on this question. In the interest of advancing the discussion, I offer the following thoughts, a slightly edited version of my answer to the subscriber's question:

I don't think that there is a simple answer to your question. I think it's honest to say that the Green Party/movement as a whole is still working on the answer.

There are some Greens who believe that the sum and substance of the Green movement is to support a certain set of progressive government policies (e.g., universal health care, living wage, tougher environmental laws, etc.) and that Green politics doesn't necessarily have to challenge the capitalist foundation of our society. There are other Greens who believe that it is essential to replace the capitalist foundation of our society, and many, many Greens who fall somewhere in between or haven't thought about it much, or are still searching for answers. Presently, the more "reformist" Greens tend to predominate in the state parties affiliated with the ASGP, while the more "transformative" Greens tend to predominate in the G/GPUSA. It's also fair to say that those of us who have "answers" of a sort are still searching for better, more definitive answers.

The most short-term Green political objectives can be achieved without setting off an economic collapse. If the Green Party begins to win elections and gain real governmental power, it would presumably do so gradually; it would not suddenly be able to enact our entire platform and supplant corporate power in one fell swoop. The corporations would still dominate the economy and would still be driven by the profit motive but we would be able to channel their activity so that they would be forbidden from pursuing that objective in ways that are most destructive of the planet and human life. The rules of the game would be changed, at a pace that would depend on both how strong the Green movement and its allies are and how fast Greens get in control of government.

Some of the most destructive practices would simply be prohibited. Additionally, the social costs of environmentally harmful and wasteful practices would be imposed on corporations, in order to induce them to adopt better practices. They would have to pay higher taxes to help support the society that has so long supported them. They would be curbed on the labor front by stronger and hopefully more internationally organized unions. They would be subject to periodic public review of their corporate charters, which could be used to coerce them into socially responsible behavior. A Green government could also adopt positive incentives to encourage socially beneficial conduct.

Yet it is unrealistic and naive to suppose that the wealthy and powerful beneficiaries of corporate rule would simply accept the new rules imposed by a Green government without any fuss and without any disruption. No ruling class in history has ever gone down without a fight. At some point, as the social controls get to the point where they seriously threaten the wealth and power of the corporate elite, we can expect rebellion, which may include, as your friend suggests, actually precipitating an economic collapse in order to discredit the Greens. They could disinvest in the economy, hold their assets out of actual production or even close up shop in a kind of "capital strike."

No ruling class in history has ever gone down without a fight.

Such a strategy has been used to foil or control Social-Democratic governments in Europe in the past, such as the economic collapse that greeted the Mitterrand government in France in the early 1980s. Of course, the ruling class does not necessarily have to conspire or plan to trigger such a collapse. The mere prospect that their rate of profit might suffer a substantial decline under a Green government would undoubtedly prompt individual corporations and their investors to slow the pace of new investment, thus fostering a recession or depression. The corporate-controlled media would of course blame the Greens and our economic policies rather than the corporate owners and controllers who actually make the major economic decisions.

This could in turn foster a swing of the pendulum favoring the forces of reaction. The historical example of the collapse of Weimar Germany and the human disaster that followed provides a dire warning of the need to address this question with the utmost seriousness.

One central idea is that of promoting worker ownership and control of the major industries.

Unlike the Social Democrats, the more forward-looking Greens have ideas for meeting this challenge by promoting new, more democratic forms of ownership and control of the facilities of production—so that, even if the corporate owners did rebel, we would be prepared, not to simply resist them, but to replace them. One central idea is that of promoting worker ownership and control of the major industries. There are a number of possible ways to approach that objective—using government means to support democratic workers' cooperatives; encouraging and working within labor unions to take on such a transformative mission (if coupled with democratic reforms of the unions themselves) much as the Industrial Workers of the World has long advocated; using government to put corporate assets under workers' control if the corporations disinvest or otherwise rebel, etc.

The need to develop new, more democratic and socially responsible means of operating our economy is one of the reasons why it is imperative that the Green Party (be it GPUSA, the new proposed GP-US or any other manifestation) be a movement-based party. It must never adopt the premise that getting "Green" politicians elected to office and getting a certain quantum of legislation passed is going to solve all of our problems. Whether it's workers' cooperatives, workers' councils, some form of popular citizens' councils, democratic unions or some combination of the above, we will need to develop new democratic institutions besides the party, that can be prepared to either take over or replace and transform the corporations that presently dominate our economy and our lives.

Some aspects of this approach to the problem are described in the G/GPUSA Platform, in the section titled "Economic Democracy." The other way to answer your friend is to say that we don't have much choice. Because if we don't seriously challenge and put a halt to corporate power soon, we will be facing both ecological and economic catastrophe — and the ruling class's "solution" is likely to be a totalitarian one. Better the Greens' imperfect answer than no answer at all.

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