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Leaving So Soon?

I usually have no desire to polemicize against Joshua Frank, because his analysis is usually excellent. Yet I find that his leaving the Green Party saddens me as much as the joining of opportunists like Normon Solomon disgusts me. His is an overreaction to events, one that can be explained, and hopefully corrected.

The left in America has a history of splintering apart at the first sign of weakness or drift to the right in a political party. Our inability to act as a sophisticated, critical body of political actors as well as thinkers has been our doom. Comrade Frank is upset at the rightward drift of the Green Party under the leadership of David Cobb. It is obvious that there is a faction within the Greens that is ready to capitulate to the Democratic Party. This disturbed me greatly as a delegate to the national convention in Milwaukee. How could a political party that prided itself on resistance to ruling class parties suddenly hiccup and nominate a candidate whose entire campaign has been about lying prostrate in front of the Democratic Party?

More than any other leftist party in the US, the Greens can lay claim to being something of a mass party, with at least 200,000 members across the country and many more sympathizers. Yet it has still not sunk roots deeply into working class-America, or any other sector too greatly. Many states which send delegates to the convention or the party leadership councils have small party bodies which are distantly connected to broader struggles, and more likely to respond to the pressures of liberals surrounding a very small political party. Alongside this, the tradition of internal party dissent and discussion – though it exists and is allowed – has not been familiarized to the extent that European leftist parties consider normal. Frankly, the internal theoretical discussion in Greens has, until lately, been almost nonexistent. We have not formed ourselves into competing factions with different political ideas (though this would be healthy).

Thus, when the extreme fear of another victory by the Bush cabal became the all-consuming panic of liberals, the Greens were unprepared to deal with this and were affected by the wave. Many of our members are scared liberals or act like they are, because we have not had rigorous internal debate. David Cobb’s apparatus was able to sweep in and catch the left within the party unawares. Indeed, this was one of the first things discussed at the first meeting of the Greens For Nader caucus after the convention floor defeat in Milwaukee.

My point is that the left within the party cannot simply abandon the struggle and the organization to the Cobbites. Joshua Frank ignores the very substantial discontent within the party for Cobb’s policies, and the desire for a left-wing tendency/faction. Given that the Greens are still the best hope for a multi-tendency, democratic, left-wing party in the US, we simply cannot abandon the struggle. Instead, we should welcome this challenge, and create a left-wing tendency to counteract the influence of the Cobbites. There should be vigorous internal debate about policy, direction, and platform. Let us create the internal journals of the Greens online and in print – Comrade Frank could be a leading light of those.

None of this is exactly new for the left. Socialist and (non-Stalinist) communist parties have had internal factions since their mass inception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As disparate as Bernstein, Luxemburg, Jaures and Lenin were, they coexisted within the broader social democratic movement until the outbreak of the First World War, debated, and did not abandon the struggle because of rightward drift one year or one election season. Politics is “slow boring through hard boards”, to quote Max Weber. Perhaps Lenin said it best in Left Wing Communism:

“But we wage the struggle against the ‘labor aristocracy’ in the name of the masses of workers and in order to attract them to our side; we wage the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to attract the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and self-evident truth would be stupid. But it is just this stupidity the German “Left” Communists are guilty of when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the heads of the trade unions, they jump to the conclusion that… we must leave the trade unions!!”

Peter Camejo has already announced his desire to create a “Democracy” caucus within the GP after the election is over. I myself am president of the Green Alliance, a grouping of leftists, ecosocialists, and generally discontented members of the Greens. Abandoning the Greens now means ensuring their collapse and demise. Does the party have to be led by Cobbite policies of capitulation? No. However, Joshua Frank and those who choose to follow his example are doing a great disservice to what could be an epochal event – a point of decision at which a larger leftist party in America does not split down the middle and collapse under its own hubris. Maybe we could have a real internal debate about the issues Frank has been raising, or force one if the Cobbites do not wish to have one willingly. How else can we move forward?

PETER LaVENIA, President of the Green Alliance, is a 23 year old Ph.D student in political theory at SUNY Albany. He can be reached at albanygreens@yahoo.com.

This article originally appeared on Left Hook.

 

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Peter LaVenia received a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY. He has been an activist and organizer for over 15 years and has worked for Ralph Nader in that capacity. He is currently the co-chair of the Green Party of New York, and can be reached on Twitter: @votelavenia.

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