There are no Democratic or Green saviors: Get in the streets!

Regardless of the outcome of November’s U.S. elections, what will count most is what happens in the streets. As Frederick Douglass put it plainly a century and a half ago, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”

All the advances of the 20th century (most of which are being steadily eroded in these early years of the 21st century) came about through organized movements, forcing elected officials to react.

I know that what I’ve written above is something that most of you reading this already know. But it does seem that we need to remind ourselves of this as United Statesians ponder a choice of two of the most unpopular candidates in the history of U.S. presidential campaigns, a choice reflecting the growing crisis of capitalism. The technocratic corporate war monger versus the proudly ignorant misogynist egomaniac. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that a ready-made alternative exists on the November ballot, and not simply because either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next president.

Hermann Park in Houston, location of the 2016 Green Party convention (photo by Another Believer)

Hermann Park in Houston, location of the 2016 Green Party convention (photo by Another Believer)

Revolutions are made in the street, not in the election booth. Bernie Sanders can promise a “revolution” all he wants, but no matter how fervently some of his followers wish it, the Vermont senator offered no revolution. Significant reforms that would be welcome should they be realized, certainly. But Senator Sanders offered merely to ameliorate the conditions of capitalism, not transcend them. His example, Sweden, is not a socialist country, even if it is a county that is much more humane. The Swedish government didn’t keep its banks in public hands after nationalizing them during an early 1990s crisis; instead it re-privatized them.

Secretary Clinton supports every U.S. imperial adventure, while Senator Sanders supports only some of them. Moreover, Senator Sanders’ main complain about NATO isn’t its imperial mission but rather that Europeans don’t pay more. Why should I get worked up over this difference?

And that brings us to Jill Stein, about to receive the Green Party’s presidential nomination. Or, rather, to the Green Party itself. Those who see the Greens as an anti-capitalist alternative are, sad to say, destined for disappointment. Here I can speak from personal experience, having been highly active in the New York State Green Party more than a decade ago, and even serving as the editor of state party’s newspaper for two years. There are Greens who are sincerely socialists, and who would like to see the party be socialist, but these folks represent the left wing of the party, not the party as a whole.

Contradictory trends among Greens

The New York Green Party at the time I was active was filled with liberals and ex-Democrats; the latter joined when the Greens earned ballot status in New York because they had not risen in the Democratic Party and believed they could be big fish in a small pond. Many of these folks wished for nothing more than to tug the Democrats a bit to the left and to cross-endorse Democratic candidates deemed sufficiently progressive. But as Democrats thoroughly dominate state politics and have no need for Green support, such cross-endorsements were worth nothing and these dreams of influence proved empty. At the national level, shortly before I ceased active involvement, a bureaucratic structure calling itself Green Party US was created, further cutting off the party’s rank and file from decision-making.

The center and right wings of the party (more oriented toward electoral politics than activism) generally supported the creation of Green Party US; unfortunately they were supported by a minority of activism-oriented Greens, one of whom, a sincere life-long activist who should have known better, argued on the floor of a state party assembly against me that “the train is leaving the station and we have to be on board.” That the Green Party’s national committee this year approved an “ecological economics” plank that declares the party “anti-capitalist and in favor of a decentralized vision [of] socialism” does not magically turn a “big tent” party into a socialist one.

The party’s platform has stated that “Greens support small business, responsible stakeholder capitalism, and broad and diverse forms of economic cooperation.” The new language, to be formally approved at this week’s national convention, states that the party “seeks to build an alternative economic system based on ecology and decentralization of power” and seeks to instead “build an economy based on large-scale green public works, municipalization, and workplace and community democracy.” Further, the new language states that “Production is best for people and planet when democratically owned and operated by those who do the work and those most affected by production decisions. This model of worker and community empowerment will ensure that decisions that greatly affect our lives are made in the interests of our communities, not at the whim of centralized power structures of state administrators or of capitalist CEOs and distant boards of directors.”

Yes, a significant step forward from the thinly disguised “green capitalism” that the party previously had stood for. Green capitalism, the hope of liberals and social democrats that the same system that has brought the world to economic, political and environmental crisis will somehow solve these problems, is a fantasy, one best given no quarter. I certainly do not wish to discourage Greens, or anybody else, from moving beyond the chimera of “green capitalism.” But does an organization declaring itself “socialist” — or, in this case, “anti-capitalist” — make it so? A measure of caution is warranted.

The record of the Green Party is not particularly strong. In 2004, maneuvering by David Cobb’s supporters wrested the presidential nomination from Ralph Nader (although national-convention attendees I talked to told me that had Mr. Nader campaigned for the nomination rather than expecting it to be handed to him by right he would have been the nominee). Mr. Cobb ran a “safe states” campaign, whereby he would only ask for votes in states that were firmly in the hands of one of the major parties, unmistakably implying that voters in states that were up for grabs should vote for pro-war Democrat John Kerry. I should note that when I had a chance to ask him about this intellectually dishonest campaign, he, with a straight face, told me that he was running a 50-state campaign. But his slick “professional politician” personality told a different story.

Mistaking Bernie Sanders for a savior

That mistake hasn’t been repeated. But Dr. Stein committed a serious strategic error when she offered to cede the presidential nomination to Senator Sanders if only he would abandon the Democratic Party and instead become his vice presidential running mate. Why a person as serious as she is would indulge in such a fantasy I do not know. There was no possibility of Senator Sanders doing anything other than endorsing Secretary Clinton; he not only said so clearly from the start but political reality (i.e., his ability to retain any influence in the party) mandated that he do so. Complaining that he is a “sellout” for doing so is naïve.

Here, I would strongly disagree with the analysis of Chris Hedges that it was a mistake for him to have run as a Democrat instead of as an independent — his impact would have been minuscule had he done so. Whatever criticisms we have of Senator Sanders, he galvanized millions of people and put socialism into a national conversation, even if he wasn’t actually offering socialism. These are positive steps.

Dr. Stein does offer a more progressive vision than that of Senator Sanders. And let us note the new anti-capitalist plank in the Green platform. But there is a world of difference between an abstract idea and practical work to make that idea a reality. The history of social democracy, theoretically parties working toward a form of socialism, provides ample evidence.

Germany’s former Social Democratic chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, pushed through his “Agenda 2010” legislation in 2003 that imposed austerity. The so-called “German miracle” has been so only for German multi-national capital. The “secret” to Germany’s economic dominance within the European Union is cuts to German wages. Germany has undercut other countries that use the euro as their currency by suppressing wages, while the common currency has the effect of making German exports cheaper.

In France, the “Socialist” government of Francois Hollande has resorted to bypassing parliament to impose rules speeding up layoffs and cutting wages. And then there is Tony Blair in Britain, Jean Chrétien in Canada and so on.

German Greens invert definition of imperialism

The Greens are not the Social Democrats. But does that make them genuinely different? Recall that when the German Greens attained power, joining a Social Democratic government as a junior partner, they found themselves administrating Germany’s nuclear power plants despite their anti-nuclear stance, and eagerly joined in the bombing of Yugoslavia, a particularly unfortunate place for Germany to intervene militarily given the history of World War II in the Balkans. This was the handiwork of Joschka Fischer and his wing of the German Green Party, who liked to call themselves “realos” (realists) while dismissing those who sought to uphold the party’s ideals as “fundis” (fundamentalists).

The “realos” did not engage in Germany’s first post-World War II imperial adventure unwillingly. I was one of a small group of New York Greens who sent a letter to the German Green leadership asking them to honor party principle and not participate in the U.S.-led bombing of Yugoslavia. We received a response calling us arrogant and imperialists for daring to discuss their policies. Separately, a letter sent from The Greens/Green Party USA, the more progressive of the then two U.S. national organizations, asked the German Greens to “set an example” by opposing the bombing of Yugoslavia or participating in the U.S. war in Afghanistan. German Green leadership responded by dismissing the request as “a terrific exercise in ‘green imperialist’ thinking,” as “sectarian propaganda from afar” and as an “attempt to lecture and bully other parties.”

A U.S. sister organization asks for support of its opposition to U.S. war-mongering waged to open new lands for U.S. multi-national corporations to exploit and for this they are called imperialists and bullies!

Expecting socialism from such a party is futile. Remember, that swatted-away criticism wasn’t from U.S. Greens as a whole, but rather from the party’s left wing. The Greens are not a revolutionary grouping, and are and will be moved in the directions that social democratic parties are moved. That Dr. Stein in effect declared that a Democratic candidate who is in favor of many imperialist adventures and who supported the stationing of air force bombers against the will of his constituents is the savior of the United States amply demonstrates that the party has not shaken itself free of capitalism or properly analyzed the nature of imperialism.

One of the underlying reasons for that is its lack of strongly defined principles. The “10 Key Values” on which the party bases itself are vague, a lowest common denominator representing what could be agreed upon. Much of the party is led by middle class people who tend to vacillate. For now, the campaign of Senator Sanders has helped put socialism in a national conversation, so the switch to anti-capitalism in the party’s program can be interpreted more as a weather vane than a sudden move leftward. If the wind shifts, it can not be excluded that the platform will as well.

Expediency over principle

Senator Sanders simply fails to make the connection between austerity at home and imperialism abroad, and that is a serious error reflecting his lingering nationalistic thinking and an inability to make a proper critique of capitalism. Dr. Stein, I believe, does not share these deficiencies, but that she was willing to indulge them for the sake of an ill-fated, chimeric short-term expediency reflects an organization that is groping toward some version of a kinder and gentler capitalism, not one working toward socialism no matter what its platform states. And thus not a party that genuinely offers an alternative to the detested two-party system, one deeply rooted in the winner-take-all, single-seat district U.S. electoral structure.

And what choice is there between those two parties? On the surface, it would appear that there are drastic differences between the two. The demagogue Donald Trump offers a dark vision of turning back to the 19th century, when everybody not a White male possessing wealth knew their place. The technocrat Hillary Clinton, and other speakers at the Democratic Party national convention, offered soaring visions of a coming world of equality and hope, a kinder and gentler capitalism that will bring prosperity to all. President Barack Obama, in particular, gave a bravura performance. As I watched some of this, I couldn’t help but think “If only they meant it.”

However outstanding the oratory, the dismal results speak for themselves. Bill Clinton was the most effective Republican president the U.S. ever had, putting into law policies that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush could only dream of doing. The Obama administration organized repression against Occupy Wall Street, unilaterally kills people with drones and protects Wall Street. Given her record as a senator, her pathetic foot-dragging on same-sex marriage until it was absolutely safe to be in favor, her role as the leading hawk of the Obama administration and her support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the “gold standard” of trade agreements until political pressure forced her into carefully worded opposition that leaves her maneuvering room, can it be reasonable to believe her administration will be substantially different?

The only route to a better world is through mass movements articulating clear goals. But instead of settling for reforms, the only way out of our present crises is to push beyond what is possible in the world’s present political systems. There are only two reasons for voting for Secretary Clinton instead of Mr. Trump — one, that voting for the latter is a vote for open racism, misogyny and immigrant-bashing embodied in a candidacy that carries with it the seeds of a potential fascist movement and, two, that it would be better to be on the offensive than the defensive. A Trump presidency would necessitate a multi-pronged movement against an all-around assault on civil rights just to maintain the crumbs left to us. Although a Clinton presidency is hardly destined to be a golden age, mass movements would be better able to go on the offensive as she will have to give lip service to the campaign promises she has been forced, through gritted teeth, to make to fend off Senator Sanders’ primary challenge.

Either way, what we do in the streets, what pressure movements bring to bear, will be decisive. Vote for a lesser evil if your conscience dictates (although I can’t bring myself to do so), but then get in the streets to push hard that lesser evil. There are no saviors on the ballot, not Bernie Sanders, not the Green Party. Some day we will have candidates we can vote for rather than against, but there is much work to do before we arrive at that day. That work is up to us.

26 comments on “There are no Democratic or Green saviors: Get in the streets!

  1. A quick note to readers. Although I will continue to be writing the Systemic Disorder blog regularly, I’ll be doing it less frequently than weekly for a while due to other commitments that require my attention. I do hope you all will keep reading!

  2. Mind Margins says:

    Very well said. Thank you for putting into words exactly what I’ve struggled to express myself. It’s very easy to surrender into cynicism and hopelessness, but the Sanders campaign at the very least offered a small glimmer of hope that people are slowly beginning to open their eyes and demand change. Change won’t happen overnight, and it will take much time effort, on and off the streets, but it’s a start.

  3. Prole Center says:

    Chris Hedges was right. If Bernie was sincere the last thing he would have done is to run as a Democrat. All he did was drag the name of socialism through the mud. As Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report said all along, he was “sheepdogging” for the Democrats. This is not positive, it is not inspiring. The Democratic Party is where truly popular, progressive movements go to die (through co-optation and guilt by association).

    • It certainly is true that the Democratic Party is where progressive movements die, and I have no argument with Glen Ford’s “sheepdogging” analysis. What I am arguing is that Bernie Sanders provided a service by inserting socialism into a national conversation. Yes, he is not a socialist, as I have previously written. But it is not up to him to define socialism, it is up to actual socialists to do so. What we should be doing it to take advantage of a rare opportunity and advance it much further than the senator would do himself.

      Had Sanders runs as an independent, he would have gone nowhere and received little attention; he could have run the campaign he ran only as a Democrat. His campaign has reached its limits, where most of us knew it would. It nonetheless is an opening for the Left that we should use.

  4. Asteroid Miner says:

    Nuclear power is the only way to stop making CO2 that actually works. To stop Global Warming, we must replace all large fossil fueled power plants with nuclear.

    Renewable Energy mandates cause more CO2 to be produced, not less, and renewable energy doubles or quadruples your electric bill. The reasons are as follows:

    Since solar “works” 15% of the time and wind “works” 20% of the time, we need either energy storage technology we don’t have or ambient temperature superconductors and we don’t have them either. Wind and solar are so intermittent that electric companies are forced to build new generator capacity that can load-follow very fast, and that means natural gas fired gas turbines. The gas turbines have to be kept spinning at full speed all the time to ramp up quickly enough. The result is that wind and solar not only double your electric bill, wind and solar also cause MORE CO2 to be produced.

    We do not have battery or energy storage technology that could smooth out wind and solar at a price that would be possible to do. The energy storage would “cost” in the neighborhood of a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That is an imaginary price because we could not get the materials to do it if we had that much money.

    The only real way to reduce CO2 production from electricity generation is to replace all fossil fueled power plants with the newest available generation of nuclear. Nuclear can load-follow fast enough as long as wind and solar power are not connected to the grid.  Generation 4 nuclear can ramp fast enough to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar, but there is no reason to waste time and money on wind and solar.

    The “Greens” are fake green, or they don’t know any engineering or science.

    • There are technical issues with solar and wind energy, although you are exaggerating them. And it is true that renewable energy in itself is insufficient to reverse global warming because there are significant manufacturing processes required that themselves contribute to global warming, issues I have previously written about.

      But you are quite incorrect about nuclear energy. There would no nuclear industry without massive government subsidies and when you take those into account, there is no energy source more inefficient. And that is before we get to the massive environmental and safety risks from nuclear, which dwarf those of any other energy source, and is enough to turn back in themselves.

      There are so many subsidies for nuclear energy that it is impossible to quantify them with precision, but in my own study of this issue, I found that the total is easily in the hundreds of billions of dollars. It makes far more sense to put investment money into making renewable-energy sources, such as solar and wind, more efficient. But what the world really needs to do is to use a lot less energy and to stop throwing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Until we acknowledge that, we’re not serious.

  5. One of the 99 says:

    Great analysis overall but one observation. Urging people to “get into the streets” is kind of vague as a plan of action. In the past people have gotten into the streets to fight for a nuclear weapons freeze, against both Iraq wars and for action on climate change with little or no impact on the system. The idea of “mass movements articulating clear goals” is fine too but it might have been helpful to provide some examples if possible. Are we going to rally around a call for some of the things Sanders was able to mobilize mass support for as a starting point or just move right into a demand for real socialism without considering feasibility in terms of uniting as many people as possible on the left? Finally, will electoral politics play no part in translating mass public pressure into action to change things?

    • You ask very good questions. You are correct that “get into the streets” is vague, but the point I wished to stress is that we aren’t going to get to a better world at the ballot box but only through mass action. What specific actions we might take, or how we organize, is a much more detailed debate that we need to have.

      I would not argue against participation in electoral politics, but that we should not concentrate our energies there. Many in the Green Party, for example, are activists who see participation in elections are one of many forms of activity, as a platform that can be used to advance ideas and causes. This is what I see as the benefit of the Bernie Sanders campaign: He got people to serious discuss socialism and to make some critiques of capitalist business as usual, putting it in the context of people’s everyday lives.

  6. Tyler says:

    Hi Pete,

    In the last years of his life, Dr. King was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, which essentially planned to occupy Capitol Hill. The campaign still happened after his death, but not enough people showed up for it to have a great impact.

    I’ve begun to advocate what would essentially be a continuation of the Poor People’s Campaign, but with a broader focus on the numerous crises facing humanity: climate change, poverty, illegal wars, police brutality, and more.

    • Linking those causes, and others, is just what we should be doing, Tyler. There is a tendency to focus on single issues in a manner that isolates them. A focus on a particular single issue is often necessary — and we all do that at times in our activism work — but even when a particular issue becomes the focal point of our work, it is crucial to link it to other issues and demonstrate how so many problems are connected to others.

      We can’t get at the root of our problems without first understanding the structural foundations of them and then working on correcting them. At the same time, this approach enables us to work with others focusing on other specific issues, helping to build large coalitions. Best of luck to you in your work.

    • Tyler,
      Not sure whether you’re aware that MLK was murdered by the government. Research William Pepper, a friend of MLK in his last years, and the lawyer representing the King family in the 1999 civil trial (unreported) where the jury named the conspirators. If you’re planning on continuing the work of MLK, and much respect for contemplating it, just wanted you to know the real risks involved.

      Spend time on YouTube at the “Romero Institute” channel for “cut to the chase” true history of America and the world, as told in university lectures by Daniel Sheehan, Harvard Law graduate involved in Iran-Contra, Watergate, Pentagon Papers, Karen Silkwood, etc. The facts of history he shares are ugly, mind-numbing and very hard to deal with, but they are the truth. Best wishes.

      • Tyler says:

        Thank you very much for your kind words, Jerry and Pete. Jerry, I just subscribed to the Romero Institute channel and will check out the videos.

        I am aware that MLK was murdered by the government, and that it was primarily because they were so concerned about the Poor People’s Campaign turning into gigantic riots in Washington.

        I hope to contact Cornel West and Chris Hedges to see if they’re interested in restarting the campaign. I may email Chomsky, too.

        • Prole Center says:

          Tyler, in the process of continuing your political education, may I suggest that you not overlook Marxism-Leninism and the legacy of the USSR. My blog, Prole Center, is a great gateway resource to M-L opinion, history and political analysis. There you will find links to articles by Stephen Gowans (what’s left) and Roland Boer (Stalin’s Moustache).

          Also, please take the time to read Lenin’s basic works:

          What Is To Be Done?

          The State and Revolution

          Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism

          Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder

  7. tubularsock says:

    As you stated SD, “. . . there is a world of difference between an abstract idea and practical work to make that idea a reality.” It appears to Tubularsock that social media has replaced “in the streets” as a means of protest today. Call it a pressure-relief-valve if you would. Not at all as effective but the “lazy-persons” way of “caring”. (Oh, and less glass breakage.)

    An organized sustained economic boycott of the “system” (however in the hell one could do that) would garner far more attention from the established order than being in the streets. A major factor of the Occupy Movement was when the movement interrupted “profit” in many communities. That is when the businesses demanded that police “move them along”.

    Tubularsock has little faith that the American public could be educated enough to really THINK, so Tubularsock sees little hope of change.

    As Tubularsock has always maintained (truly not a brilliant deduction) Killary will be the next president because the fix was in all along. Obummer was just the Black book mark because of the factors and fears right after Dopey left for a life of painting in the bathtub. Now is the time for a WOMAN and THAT agreement is rock solid.

    Don’t you fear …….. it has been arranged. You can’t change the script this late in the movie production because the investment structure is fixed. Everybody knows that!

    Excellent post SD, as usual.

    • Always good to hear from you, tubularsock. I would agree that, for too many people, signing an online petition or sending a tweet has replaced real action. There is no substitute for being in the streets, disrupting business as usual.

      I don’t think Occupy had gotten to the point of interrupting profit, but it did question profit and critiqued capitalist practice (even if it did not live long enough to begin to offer answers) and that was enough for the Obama administration and the corporate interests that animate it to swing into action.

      Even a population as thoroughly propagandized as that of the U.S. can be educated to think. That Occupy blossomed so quickly and to such a large extent shows there is plenty of potential out there. You can only push people down so much until there is a reaction.

      • tubularsock says:

        “They may say that (you’re) a dreamer,
        but you are not the only one . . .” as some guy sang once.

        • Prole Center says:

          I’ll bet you probably never heard this Lennon quote:

          “You know, I really thought that love would save us all. But now I’m wearing a Chairman Mao badge.”

          – John Lennon (Rolling Stone, Feb. 4, 1971)

          • tubularsock says:

            Well now, just where did Tubularsock put his Little Red Book? Hmmm.

            “You say you want a revolution . . . You better free your mind instead
            But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
            You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow . . .” JL

            Cheers, Tube

            • Prole Center says:

              That song, “Revolution,” was recorded in 1968. The quote I provided took place during a Rolling Stone interview in 1971.

              Also, from the Wikipedia entry on Revolution (Beatles song):

              “Lennon had changed his mind by 1972, saying ‘I should have never put that in about Chairman Mao.’ ”

              And stop speaking in the third person – it’s creepy.

              • Prole Center, let’s not make personal commentaries about other folks. Tube is a long-time reader and quite funny on his own blog. And, by the way, Wikipedia is very unreliable; I recommend strongly against citing it for anything. I don’t know if the John Lennon quote is accurate or not (and it makes no difference to me), but it is better to use reliable sources.

            • tubularsock says:

              SD, thanks for you comments and clarifications about your rules and Tubularsock appreciates your position and the overall intellectual quality of your work and that of your following.

              Tubularsock does at times cause a ripple or two with his flippant statements being dropped into the middle of this intellectual forum of opinionated knowledge and your tolerance is appreciated.

              Cheers, Tube

  8. Prole Center says:


    Okay, sorry about the “creepy” comment. I guess that’s just Tube’s shtick. My comment was meant to be somewhat playful, though.

    And I agree, Wikipedia can be unreliable. The quote I cited from that entry does have a source, a book, but I haven’t read it and I can’t verify the quote is there or if it’s taken out of context perhaps.

    However, it does back up what Lennon said in the Rolling Stone interview in ’71 that I did verify and it jives with how I know his political views evolved over time.

    • tubularsock says:

      PC, no issue with “creepy” on Tubularsock’s part. Tubularsock laughed aloud so thank you for that. And shtick is a great term as well. Tubularsock at times may even promote a “creepy-shtick”. Whatever works.

      Tubularsock doesn’t doubt your knowledge about Lennon and his Mao position. Tubularsock was being a bit playful himself. Tubularsock had read the Rolling Stones article back in ’71 and had known Lennon’s views.

      At the time Tubularsock never took, “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
      You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow . . .”, as an anti Mao position by Lennon but more as a statement of the recognition that the society wasn’t ready for that.

      But it sounds from your information that Lennon may have not meant it the way Tubularsock took it. Water under the bridge, now …….

      Tubularsock is going just by memory here so your take is probably more correct.

      Anyway. Fun exchange.

      • Tube, I’m always happy to hear from you — humor is always welcome, so, please, no worries about “causing ripples.” And glad to hear no hard feelings between you and Prole Center.

        For the record, I believe interpreting that song lyric by John Lennon the way you had done is quite reasonable. I don’t know what his opinion toward Maoism actually is, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. The gifts that John Lennon gave the world live on.

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