In 2004, a number of prominent progressives issued statements calling on people to vote for Democrat John Kerry in the close states and the Green Party candidate in the so-called safe states where the outcome would not be close. In 2020, many of these same people have moved further to the right and call for a vote for Biden without any support for a Green vote in the so-called safe states.
In 40 states, the vote for the Green presidential ticket determines whether the Green Party retains or gains ballot line for the next election cycle. In most states, it’s 1%, 2%, 3%, or 5%. But there is no support for the Green Party this year from these progressives. What happened to left solidarity?
They have abandoned the idea that the best way for the left to fight the right is to build and fight with its own independent strength, advancing its own program under its own banner against two-capitalist-party system of corporate rule. Instead, they have responded to the rise of Trump by shifting to the right with him, telling the independent left to silence and disarm itself and back Biden, a man who would fit comfortably into the center-right parties of Europe.
Reliance on the lesser evil has historically led to greater evils. In the classic case, instead of running their own candidate for German president on 1932, the largest party, the Social Democrats, supported the conservative Paul von Hindenberg as the lesser evil to Hitler. Von Hindenberg won and appointed Hitler to the Chancellorship. The Communists ran their own candidate in the most sectarian way imaginable, saying the Social Democrats were the “social-fascist main enemy” and “after Hitler it’s our turn.” That was a case where left solidarity against the fascist threat instead of relying on conservatives to stop the fascists. Had the socialists and communists formed a left united front, they would have easily outpolled the rightwing parties.
The result of progressives consistently settling for the Democrats as the lesser evil has created a political dynamic has been moving US politics to the right for decades. The soft-right Democrats ignore progressive demands they pose no threat of taking their votes elsewhere. Instead, they adapt to the hard-right Republicans. Bill Clinton called it “triangulation.” Joe Biden calls it “working across the aisle.”
Meanwhile, the progressives in the Democratic Party are accommodating to Biden’s politics. Bernie Sanders is now for Medicare for All over 55 years old with a public option for the rest. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the Green New Deal slogan from the Greens and diluted the content in the non-binding resolution for a Green New Deal by dropping the essential immediate demand for a ban on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure, eliminating the rapid phase-out of nuclear power, removing the deep cuts in military spending to help fund the program, and extending the deadline for zero carbon emissions from 2030 to 2050. The words Green New Deal were not mentioned at the Democratic convention, in the Sanders-Biden Unity Task Force recommendations on climate, or in the Democratic Platform, which is pro fossil fuels and, for the first time in 50 years, pro nuclear.
There will be no Medicare for All or Green New Deal from the Democrats, let alone a retreat from military bloat, wars, and coups abroad. But these progressives counsel people to vote for them everywhere, which tells the Democrats to take them for granted because posed no threat to vote for the Greens anywhere.
I don’t support a safe states strategy. Every state is a battleground for the Green Party. The gas industry is fracking the hell out of battleground states Pennsylvania and Ohio where the ducking Democrats join the retrograde Republicans lending no support to the anti-fracking movement. Greens, not the Democrats, are fighting the expansion of the Enbridge oil pipelines that take Alberta tar sands oil and Bakken fracked oil across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota on to oil refineries. In every state, Greens are taking on Democratic machines in the cities, and real estate industry that finances them, when we fight for affordable housing and against the brutality of police forces that do what the Democrats in the cities designed them to do, which is to keep downscale people, particularly Black people, down and out of upscale communities. They are set up to police the New Jim Crow lines of school district and municipal boundaries that segregate us by race and class.
We should all be concerned about the voter suppression activities of Trump and the Republicans. But Greens know from bitter experience that we should also be concerned about voter suppression in the form of party suppression by the Democrats. The Democrats were able to knock the Greens off the ballot in Montana, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania where the Green petitions had two to three times the required signatures, which was difficult to do in the Covid lockdown. But the Democrats are also legislating party suppression. For example, in New York the Democrats rammed through a law attached to the state budget bill in April while attention was focused on the pandemic that triples the number of votes the Greens need to keep their ballot line. Only Nader for president in 2000 and me in 2014 for governor ever got that many votes as a Green candidate in New York. If we lose the ballot line, we will need 45,000 good signatures – triple the old number – collected in a six-week window to get statewide candidates on the ballot. When the Socialist Party lost its ballot line in 1938 in New York, it never recovered it. There was not an independent left party with a ballot line in New York again until the Green Party, 1999-2002 and 2010-?.
I can understand why people in a close state would vote for Biden to stop Trump. I don’t agree, but I share their desire to get Trump out. But why aren’t the prominent progressives afraid of a repressive Democratic Party that is suppressing the Green Party?
The simple-minded trope that a vote for the Greens is a vote for Trump ignores the fact that a Green vote is in the Green column, not Trump’s. It is an anti-Trump vote, a stronger anti-Trump vote, and a second front against Trump that adds to the total against Trump. But instead of a united front against Trump at least in safe states, these progressives are showing no solidarity with the Greens.
That trope also falsely assumes that Green voters will vote Democratic. It ignores the fact that most Green voters are Green voters, not wayward Democrats. Greens bring their own voters out, people who are disgusted with the two corporate parties. 100 million people didn’t vote in 2016. They are disproportionately working class, people of color, and young. They are the potential base of an independent left in the US.
The 2016 exit polls showed that 61% of voters for the Green presidential candidate Jill Stein would have stayed home if she was not on the ballot. Plug those numbers into the close states in 2016 – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – and it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. It was Black voter suppression and the Electoral College that gave the presidency to the popular vote loser, Donald Trump. The Greens didn’t do that.
The move to the right by the left in this election has reached into the ranks of traditionally independent socialists who used to take the position of building an independent socialist party and no support for the capitalist parties. These folks used to believe that crossing this line of working class political independence in elections is like crossing a picket line in a strike.
On the System Change Not Climate Change (SCNCC) website, ecosocialists are not calling for system change in this election. Maura Stephens calls for a vote for Biden even in her home state of New York where Biden has been ahead of Trump in the polls by 25% or more since he became the presumptive nominee in March and more than 30% in the polls since late August. Likewise, Ted Franklin on the SCNCC website calls for a vote for Biden everywhere, even his home state of California where Biden has led Trump by an average of 32% since March.
On the System Change Not Climate Change listserv commentaries on these articles, others have chimed in for a vote for Biden everywhere including the safe states. Brian Tokar wrote he was voting for Biden in Vermont where the polls have consistently shown Biden ahead by at least 23%.
Richard Smith is the author of the recent book, China’s Engine of Environmental Destruction, a devastating analysis of the drivers of endless rapid growth embedded in China’s hybrid capitalist-statist economic system and in China’s police state that represses all resistance. His most recent SCNCC post, “The Chinese Communist Party Is an Environmental Catastrophe,” summarizes the book’s analysis. Agreeing with the vote-Biden-everywhere posts, he wrote, “Given our winner-take-all system, no third party has a chance in this country, so left political struggle takes place outside the parties and inside the Democratic Party for lack of any other option.” That is like saying given the Chinese one-party state, the Chinese left of environmental, labor, oppressed-nationality, and pro-democracy activists should work inside the Chinese Communist Party for lack of any other option. What happened to system change?
There is an option for the US left. Greens have won office in over 1,200 elections in the US. Over 100 currently hold office. The left could replicate those wins in the thousands if it stopped saying and acting as if there is no other option but the Democrats, where progressive demands like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and ending the endless wars go to die.
The irony of this shift to the right and no support for the Greens as an independent left by so many prominent progressives in this election is that in hopes of getting rid of Trump, they have followed Trump to the right. After this election if the Green Party is eliminated from many state ballots, the question may not be whatever happened to left solidarity, but what happened to the left, period.
*Howie Hawkins is the leading candidate for president for the Green Party of the United States