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Synthesis/Regeneration 39   (Winter 2006)

Thinking Politically

Conflict in the Green Party: A Response

by Mark S. Kamleiter

After reading “Conflict in the Green Party,” a Green Horizon article by Ted Glick and Steve Weltzer, it seems that a response might advance the dialogue. I share the writers’ desire to move beyond the emotions of the 2004 election and to make growing the Green Party our first priority. We will not get there, however, by minimizing or glossing over the issues. I feel that their article fails to present the rigorous, balanced analysis necessary to comprehend the genesis and nature of Green Party tensions. A truly frank analysis may not bring ideological unity, but it may bring into sharper focus the significant ideological and political differences within the party. Green Party members must then determine whether or not these differences can be brought into healthy and productive political tension.

Glick and Weltzer have reduced these diametrically opposed positions to a dispute between Greens who understand and practice “realpolitic” and those who are fundamentalists. So much for a balanced, analytical study. Can anyone miss the insulting nature of this characterization?

Those who support “realpolitic,” by implication, are politically mature and wisely comprehend the reality of the political world. They understand the subtle “nuances” of running a “strategic” campaign and trailing along in the draft of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). Those who argue that the present political system is absolutely bankrupt and cannot be accommodated are fundamentalists. These “fundis” are reactionaries. They do not understand the realities of the political world, the “realpolitic.” They blindly hang onto their “values” and will not compromise even if it means that they will become isolated.

What if the “fundis” are actually very politically savvy? What if they have great clarity about the American bipolar corporate political system? What if they already have years of futile experience trying to work with and accommodate liberal Democrats? What if they are not “fundis,” in the pejorative sense, but are, in fact, intelligent, rationale, political individuals, who make political decisions based upon experience, maturity, and a clear sense of what must happen to effectively change American politics? What if they are absolutely and logically convinced that the Democratic Party and its perpetually recycling liberal/progressive wing must be challenged by a steadfast, firmly independent, value-based third party?

Do the writers think that the Democratic Party is going to be so happy with our collaboration with their liberals that they are going to open some political space for the Green Party?

What if the “realos” are, in reality, not so politically clever? Could it be that, in the depths of their beings, they simply do not really believe that the Green Party can actually break open the bipolar corporate party system? Might they be, therefore, very content to ride on the Progressive Movement without fundamentally challenging the existing political power structures? Are they so eager to be next to the “power” that they will compromise Green Party independence and the dream of Greens across the country?

The reference to Germany in the “realo” versus “fundi” analysis is a perfect example of the wrongness of this “realpolitic” analysis. Do the writers seriously wish to compare the American political scene with Germany? Germany has at least five relatively strong parties and an independent represented in the Bundestag. In countries with multiple parties it is common practice for parties to form coalitions to increase their influence and power. These coalitions are generally formed from positions of true independence, are built around toughly negotiated terms, and last only as long as they serve the member parties.

This is the USA, the country with two overwhelmingly dominant political parties. These parties do not recognize the legitimacy of third parties. Our legal and electoral systems are built to prevent effective third parties. Our electoral districts are gerrymandered to the point that truly democratic elections are disappearing. The Democratic and Republican parties have a hammerlock on the system and they will never voluntarily allow the development of a true multiparty political system.

So let’s talk “realpolitic.” Do the writers think that the Democratic Party is going to be so happy with our collaboration with their liberals that they are going to open some political space for the Green Party? Do they seriously think that at some point the Democratic Party or even their PDA is going to say, “This is a good time for the Greens to run candidates against a Democrat?” Or have the “realos” decided this is a battle that cannot be won, so it is better to compromise and work under the domination of the Democrats?

Let’s not equate the Green independence movement with isolationism. Across this country Greens are taking strong, independent Green positions while working in collaboration with non-Green groups and progressive Democrats. My local Green Party has an excellent reputation of being a good coalition partner in important community actions. This Green local has maintained the respect of the local activist community, while at the same time maintaining an unwaveringly independent Green stance.

Of course the Green Party can collaborate with progressive Democrats on specific common, non-electoral issues. We can collaborate and be absolutely independent. We must collaborate from independent strength and arms-length negotiation. What we must not do is align this Party in any way with the PDA or any other such group. We must not support them, raise money for them, or encourage our members to join them or work under their leadership. We must not support their candidates, register voters for them, vote in their primaries, or otherwise be Democrats.

What we must not do is align this Party in any way with the PDA or any other such group.

The writers suggest that ideally the realos and fundis would provide the Green Party with an “optimum blend of realism and resolve.” They describe this realo contribution as getting “beneficial policies implemented,” which would draw progressives out of the Democratic Party. Can we get real here? Why would a progressive Democrat come out of the Democratic Party, when she has both the Green Party and the Democratic Party at her beckoning? Why would a Democratic candidate become a Green when he can get both Green and Democratic Party support?

Finally, any hope of some symbiotic relationship between those seeking an independent Green Party and those working within the PDA depends entirely upon the democracy of Green Party internal procedures. Unfortunately, the writers cavalierly dismiss the very real and very earnest issues of democratic member representation. The “good faith” of the designers of the present system is frankly irrelevant. What is crucial is the fact that the present system does not provide members with anything close to an equal voice. It does not matter which “side” a Green may be on; the system must be reformed.

The facile dismissal of these issues and the determined protection of the status quo by those advantaged by it are the biggest present dangers to the Green Party. If we had sound democratic procedures, where every member felt heard, then the various currents of the Green Party would have a chance to offer the “beneficial monitoring-counterbalancing” function desired by the writers. I believe most Greens are willing to work through their issues if the playing field is even. The danger comes when many Greens feel that they have no voice and that the Party is being “managed” by tactics of “realpolitic.”

It is not necessary to argue about the state of democracy in the Green Party.

Perception is everything. My honest perception, at this moment, is that I have no voice—none at all. I am absolutely discouraged by the “realpolitic” smugness and cleverness I see at the national level. I am very tired. The fight outside this party is overwhelming and tough. We will not win that fight if we must also fight to have a fair voice within the party itself. We will not win if the party leadership has already given up the struggle for an independent Green Party.

So where is the hope? For me the hope is found in the grassroots Greens across the county, who still believe in the dream of a revolutionary, independent Green Party. The hope resides in Greens who understand that the present American political system must change and who are building a steadfast, powerful alternative to the anemic corporate Democratic Party. The hope is in the thousands of Greens whose “realpolitic” is running successful, independent election campaigns and the thousands of uncompromised Greens standing unflinchingly for the values that make a difference.

Mark Kamleiter, attorney and co-chair of the Green Party of Pinellas County (Florida), is president of the Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities (STAND). He promoted passage of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Ordinance amendment, which extended discrimination protection to gays and lesbians.

[2 mar 06]

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