Yesterday the Green Party of the United States unveiled its Green Shadow Cabinet. And a rather long shadow it casts—I counted no less than 73 members (several of whom are CounterPunchers), including a Secretary of Space and a Commissioner of Comedic Arts, both of whom must have been the chief consultants in the launching of this august enterprise. I scoured the seemingly endless list for a Deputy Commissioner for Pothole Repairs, hoping to elicit some rapid action for a nasty gash in the pavement outside my building in New York City—no such office was in evidence, so perhaps I can appeal to the pretend—I mean “shadow”—Secretary of Transportation.
In this bloated roster of nonelected fantasy executive office-holders we have a spectacular efflorescence of nonprofit-sector “progressivism”—the kind that mills decorously on the margins of the system, enrobed in leftish virtue while going about the business of bureaucratic self-promotion and endless self-serving fund-raising; hence the illusion of being “players,” without the taint of implication in the crimes of the status quo. The whole apparatus of official titles, salaries, staff—it makes everyone involved feel accomplished even if the only accomplishment is the perpetuation of the group, as much for the edification and well-being of its founders and leaders as for any goal it purports to pursue.
This syndrome begins in high school and college student government—the leaders get to cavort in their bureaucratic sandbox, reduced to purely pro forma play-acting, rehearsing the rituals of “someday” real office-holding, the kind that comes with a staff and a fat salary and even the occasional interview on the local news or maybe even NPR or MSNBC. There in germinal form is the mentality that spawns the whole nonprofit-sector left—and, it seems, the idea of this Green Shadow Cabinet, where everyone gets a title if not, alas, the staffs and salaries and MSM access (one can always hope!); but each cabinet member does get, as a consolation prize, an accompanying picture on a Web page and a link to another page detailing his/her impressive pwog resume. How all that is supposed to promote radical social change in the face of looming economic and environmental disaster is another question.
What is lacking in this bureaucratic fantasy is the “visionary gleam,” a spirit of independent activism and an urgency about forging democratic, militant organs of mass struggle. Someone once said that the revolution is not a dinner party—neither is it self-important play-acting, the expenditure of finite time and resourcesspawning bureaucratic castles in the sand like this one, which probably will indeed generate a dinner party or at least a conference or some such at some point, but most likely not a coherent, militant strategy for sparking real-world movements of the size and scope needed to do battle with the entrenched forces reaction that govern this country and this planet.
We clearly need an independent left party—but one that seeks to mobilize independent mass action on a scale and tempo commensurate with the gathering crises of the time, one that views electoral campaigns as an adjunct to political organizing, not a substitute for it. This shadow cabinet, with its lush exfoliation of titles and subtitles, smacks of left Babbitry, not of revolutionary ardor—it is a mirror-image of the electioneering routinism and office-seeking of the duopoly twins, purveying the illusion that merely electing (or, as in this case, appointing) the right people to the right offices will peacefully usher in a bright new tomorrow—a vision that is jarringly at odds with the ferocity with which the elites will defend their rotting fortress until and unless routed by masses of an aroused and organized citizenry.
This cabinet is indeed a shadow—a shadow of what serious left activism ought to look like in a time of crisis.
William Kaufman is an educational writer who lives in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org