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A Socialist Case Against Howie Hawkins and the Green Party

Howie Hawkins, a former UPS worker, Teamster and a committed leftist, is the presidential candidate of the Green Party. He promises eco-socialism — but the Green Party, even with a left candidate, is not a socialist alternative to the two parties of capital.

Ezra Brain

September 22, 2020
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As the 2020 election draws ever closer, a sector of voters is looking for an alternative to the two main parties. Joe Biden and Donald Trump represent some of the most depraved elements of American capitalism and, in the midst of the largest uprising against racist violence in U.S. history, both have a horrific record of racism. Millions of voters — including some of the organized Left — are searching for a candidate who better represents their politics. This rejection of lesser evilism is progressive and shows that the current moment has pushed many to the left. Many are being drawn to Howie Hawkins and the Green Party.

Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for president, is an appealing figure: he’s a life-long organizer, former UPS worker, Teamster, and committed leftist. The Green Party, which received around 1.5 million votes in 2016, formally adopted the label “eco-socialist” at its 2016 National Convention. Hawkins, like all other third-party candidates, is being shut out at every turn by an undemocratic system of elections designed to keep only the two bourgeois parties in power. This has led many socialists to support Hawkins and the Green Party in the belief that he is either a socialist or that a vote for the Green Party is a way to challenge the capitalist system. However, the task for socialists in this election cycle is not to fight against the lesser evil by allying with capitalists as the Green Party’s strategy does, but by providing a perspective of how socialists should engage in elections. 

A Multi-Class Party Advocating “Eco-Socialism”

While much of their rhetoric is certainly appealing, it is important to understand that the Green Party is far from a revolutionary, socialist, or even a workers’ party. It is a multi-class party that operates on the principle that it is possible to reconcile the conflicting interests of the working class and the capitalist class. So while the party’s platform talks about the need to wrest power from the hands of the greedy one percent, the party also nominated Ralph Nader, a millionaire and a union-buster, as its 1996 and 2000 presidential candidate. But history shows that multi-class parties, no matter their origins, always come to be dominated by their bourgeois elements through the capitalists who they allow in their ranks. While Hawkins is certainly to the left of both Nader and Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate, his name on the ticket doesn’t change the nature of the party itself. 

Because the Green Party is organized around an “issue” — the environment — rather than a class, it has allowed capitalists into their ranks and they are in control of the party. To see this we only have to look at the contradiction between the websites of Hawkins and the platform of the Green Party itself. Hawkins is the only candidate with widespread ballot access to have the Green New Deal as part of his platform and his own website states, “Implementing the Green New Deal will require eco-socialism — social ownership in key sectors in order to democratically plan the coordinated reconstruction of all economic sectors for ecological sustainability.” But the Green Party’s official website immediately gives the lie to this “eco-socialism” concept: “Business leaders, advertising agencies and even Hollywood must be enlisted [to help fight climate change], a quid pro quo for government bail out of banks and corporations.” 

In other words, the Green Party is perfectly happy to give government bailouts to banks and corporations as long as they aid the fight against climate change — as if capitalists could ever actually fight against climate change. This is damning, considering that socialists should be fighting for nationalization of these same banks and putting corporations under workers’ control, not writing checks to capitalists. The Green Party, however, is perfectly happy to maintain the system of capitalism and collaborate actively with banks and corporations. The Greens support private ownership of the means of production, but with a few more regulations. That isn’t socialist — it’s nothing more than an attempt to reform capitalism.

Collaborating with capital is as disastrous in the fight against climate change as it is in the fight for socialism. The nature of capitalism is that it must always expand and generate greater profit. To do that, businesses need to continue exploiting both labor and natural resources. There is no such thing as “sustainable capitalism” — just as there is no such thing as an “eco-socialism” that exists hand in hand with banks and corporations. 

Socialism means workers’ control of the means of production through a workers’ state, as a step toward the disappearance of all social classes. Under a socialist system, the environment would be protected by the power of workers’ democratic planning of the economy. Protecting the environment and creating an ecologically sustainable economy would be an inherent part of a socialist economic system. That the Green Party is using the abstract and ill-defined concept of “eco-socialism” as a slogan while also proposing active collaboration with capitalists shows the utter bankruptcy of its strategy. The Greens dress up in radical clothing but offer little more than class collaboration and empty reforms. At the end of the day, the Green Party believes in an economy that is neither capitalist nor socialist but rather “eco-socialist” — which, in practice, appears to look like a watered-down version of European social democracy where capitalists can continue to exploit both workers and the environment, but in a more “sustainable” way — but at the end of the day, capitalist productive and social relations remain in place. 

Socialism is more than just nationalized industry, which is undoubtedly what Hawkins is implying when he says “social ownership in key sectors.” Many countries have nationalized industries, but that doesn’t make them socialist — the state is still controlled by the bourgeoisie. Simply substituting bosses with government bureaucrats doesn’t change the class relationships within the economy. Socialists should be calling for the nationalization of industries under workers’ control, which would ensure that newly state-owned businesses are run by the workers to meet the needs of society, not to maximize profits. Hawkins’s failure to call for this shows the limitations of fighting for the politics of “socialism” within a multi-class framework: The capitalists in the party will water down the platform until it is just minor reforms that don’t challenge capitalism as an economic system.

Electoralism Alone is Not Enough

The limitations of the Green Party’s politics can be seen throughout its platform. Some of its proposals (such as creating a National Health Service) are relatively radical, while others (such as the proposal to “curb corporate power” by “re-design[ing] corporations to serve our society, democracy and the environment”) put forward the dangerous illusion that corporations can serve the public good. Taken as a whole, even though they bring up some reforms that would benefit the working class, their platform makes it very clear the Greens are about reforming capitalism, not defeating it. None of the party’s policies actually challenge capitalism as a system

Socialists must fight for every reform that will benefit workers and the oppressed. But we know that capitalists will reverse whatever reforms we win at the first opportunity. Real change cannot be won through elections — We win real concessions by protesting in the streets and challenging the capitalists’ control of the means of production. Electoral campaigns — especially those at the national level — can amplify those fights, but we must formulate every struggle for reforms as part of a larger strategy to build up the power of the working class and topple capitalism.

Our goal must always be to further the fight for socialism, which means building a working-class force powerful enough to overthrow the capitalist state. Participating in elections can be an important tactic to help build that force, but we have to resist the pull of electoralism as a strategy. History is littered with the carcasses of parties that tried to win socialism at the ballot box. It is a strategy that leads only to disaster. 

When we use elections, it should be to rally support for revolution. We have to be clear-eyed about how to use elections to advance the building of a truly revolutionary party — one based in the working class and that actively prepares for the moment of revolution, not that collaborates with capitalists for “eco-socialism.”

The Greens Are Also a Dead-End for Socialists

In an article in Tempest, Ashley Smith and Charlie Post argue that: “Clearly, socialists need to contest elections when we can with candidates of our own and on our own ballot line. That’s why we advocate voting for Howie Hawkins, despite the problems of the Green Party, as a protest vote and alternative to the dead end of lesser evilism.”

This quote is revealing because it shows the way that many socialists who recognize that the Green Party is a multi-class party and not socialist are rationalizing their support for Hawkins. They argue, like Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara, that we should vote for Hawkins as a protest of the Democrats but not build the Green Party as an institution. What is most interesting about this line of reasoning is that, despite being employed as an argument against lesser evilism, it features a very similar logic. 

Lesser evilism proposes that we support a candidate who is in direct opposition to our politics (Joe Biden) to resist a candidate who is even more opposed to our politics (Dondald Trump). The issues with this are numerous — many of which are outlined in Smith and Post’s article. But this is the same logic that is being employed with calling to support the Greens.

The argument goes that socialists should support the Greens — even though their platform calls for the continuation of capitalism — in order to protest a more right-wing capitalist party.  This will demonstrate that the public has lost support for the Democrats which will, so the theory goes, facilitate the creation of a left-wing third party strong enough to take-on the Democrats and Republicans.

But the contradictions with this position make it untenable for socialists. First, while of course Hawkins is to the left of Biden, the Green Party does not help the working class in the fight for socialism because it calls for the continuation of capitalism. In addition, the Green Party doesn’t play a role in advancing class struggle. They were absent from the Black Lives Matter movement that brought millions to the streets and they didn’t do any workplace organizing during the pandemic. They aren’t a part of class struggle and they don’t advance class consciousness in workers because the Greens aren’t asking people to vote for a workers party but, rather, a multi-class one. This not only ignores the centrality of the working class but also continues the illusion that class conciliation is possible. Additionally, as we have seen internationally, if they actually got elected the Greens would ultimately be just as devastating for working people as any other neo-reformist party. 

In addition, it isn’t possible to both call for a vote for the Greens while also trying to work against them. We are in a moment of deep capitalist crisis, with millions having just taken the streets and millions more suffering under both the pandemic and the economic crisis. Now is the time when socialists must be clear about what exactly we support. The many tweets earlier this year about a #DemExit show that people are losing faith in the Democratic Party. The fact that the Green Party draws millions of voters each election cycle illustrates that there is a public appetite for a left-wing party. Support for socialism among young people is the highest it has been in generations and socialists have to be both specific and strategic about how we build in the current moment. 

A vote for the Greens presents to them as an acceptable alternative to the two main parties of capital. Rather than doing the preparatory work necessary to build a socialist party of the working class, these socialists are calling for a vote for a party that supports capitalism.

This is why, at the end of the day, the argument to vote for the Greens has too many similarities with lesser evilism to ignore. This strategy seems to argue that throwing our support behind a capitalist party (even one that calls itself “eco-socialist”) can work out in our favor because it will allow for more favorable conditions to organize in. But in reality, it confuses the role elections can play in generating support for socialist ideas and obfuscates socialists’ vision for change on a mass scale. It is vital that socialists be intransigent with our political independence, especially in times of crisis, so that we never betray the working class by supporting our oppressors. This strategy compromises our principles in the hope that it will somehow benefit us, despite there being no evidence to prove that will occur.

The Green Party reveals the limits of calling for a third party in the abstract. While it is certainly true that the Democratic Party is a dead end for socialists, that does not mean that voting for just any party that is “independent” of the Democrats or the Republicans advances socialism. Voting for the Green Party is just another way for socialists to exempt themselves from elections.

For a Workers’ Party that Fights for Socialism

Socialists should support the democratic right of the Green Party to run in elections, get ballot access, and participate in debates. But socialists should not support voting for Hawkins and the Green Party as a means of fighting for socialism or against the Democrats and Republicans. The reasons are overwhelming. The party and its candidate are in bed with the capitalists because the Green Party is a multi-class party. It can never stand for overthrowing capitalism or establishing a workers’ state. Instead, Hawkins and the Greens propose to nationalize a few industries, enact some reforms, and create partnerships with corporations to fight climate change. This is an insufficient platform from a multi-class party with an inherently electoralist strategy. 

It’s not enough simply to be to the left of the Democratic Party. We need a workers’ party that fights for socialism and against imperialism. We need a party that understands the limitations of elections and how to use them. We need a party that fights for reforms as part of a larger strategy to overthrow the capitalist state, not as an end in themselves. And we need to start to build that party now. 

The Green Party is not the party we need and as a multi-class organization it will never become that party — though some left sectors of the Green Party could split from the party and help build a revolutionary organization. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, the worst economic crisis in decades, a climate crisis, and an advance from the right wing. We don’t have time to sit around and wait for this party to be created, we need to take up the preparatory tasks now. Because the right wing is advancing now and the only way to fight back against it is through class struggle and an organized left. We can’t waste our energies on multi-class parties in the vain hope that it’ll shake out in our favor. Now is the time to begin to organize a revolutionary party. 

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Ezra Brain

Ezra is a NYC based theatre artist and teacher.

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