California Green Party imploding?

I’m told the Green Party of California just cancelled, on two weeks’ notice, their only statewide meeting before the June primary. No plenary in an election year is not the hallmark of a functioning political party.

This is shaping up as a year where a third party could make a major impact too. A well-organized third party would be running strong candidates nationwide now, capitalizing on the growing disaffection with the two major parties. Yet the Green Party isn’t doing much of anything. Long-time Polizeros readers may recall I was active in the Green Party from 2000-2004.

The seeds of the current implosion were sown in the 2004 elections when the DemoGreens jacked the party, then bailed, leaving a demoralized husk.

There are plenty of dedicated grassroots organizers in the California GP, trying hard, working tirelessly. But grassroots Greens, as well as candidates, get virtually no help from mostly dysfunctional county, state, and national Green organizations, who too often are consumed with poisonous infighting and paralysis of action.

The problems are structural. With this crucial plenary being cancelled, then clearly, things in the California Green Party are disintegrating. The California Green Party is the biggest in the nation too.

[tags]Green Party[/tags]

  • “DemoGreens jacked the party” is only an opinion. It happens to be the party line of one of the insular camps waging a destructive faction fight. If it was presented to you as anything like objective fact, your source is less than reliable. Yes, the party is wracked by infighting, and quite dysfunctional right now. But the faction fight long predates the 2004 election cycle, and it’s about personal cliques, not political philosophy. The current idiocy, where various insular camps hurl ridiculous slurs like “Demogreen” and “ISO mole” is only the latest manifestation.

  • Bob

    Cameron, I was Co-co of the Green Party of LA County from about 2001-2003 and know the terrain and players well, even if I’m no longer active or a Green.

    The GP has been dysfunctional for years, but what happened in 2004 will be looked back upon as being the beginning of the final collapse.

    Would it be that it were otherwise. Lots of people, including yourself, have put years into the GP.

  • Well, what does this mean for the Camejo campaign for governor? What Bob says is true, surely? The Third Party space must be widening in California…

  • Bob

    Camejo is running in 2006. But there’s no state or county organizations that can Get Out The Vote, provide volunteers, etc. That kind of structure and organization doesn’t exist in the GP.

    Here in the States, there’s no proportional representation like I think you have in Australia. So third party candidates tend to be completely ignored, with the notable exceptions of the presidential campaigns of Ross Perot in what 1992, and Nader in 2000.

    The Peace and Freedom Party also has ballot status in California, are nominally socialist, but have even less organization.

    The Third Party space is huge here. And needs to be filled.

  • Well, I’m sure Camejo is aware of these factors– the question is whether he can galvanize a campaign which is broader than the Greens.He was at the last conference of the ISO –and spoke at the rally there –so my guess he has an idea of what forces could be grouped together.The reality is that in Europe(Italy, Spain, Holland, Denmark,etc) and Scotland especially, electoral coalitions among groups who do not see eye to eye are proving productive such that they raise the unity threshold. (Even RESPECT in England)

    I’ve been involved in many of these here — which included the early Greens until they adopted an exclusionist course. The Socialist Alliance here grew out of such a formation — of left groupuscules — and has staid the course since (but there-in hangs a story).

    I am not aware of Camejo as directly as I once was (soonafter he was driven out of the US SWP)– as he has spent some time here(& we still distribute some of his stuff in new locally produced editions) — but if something could be generated he’s probably the one who could do it. I found his stance at the time leading up to the presidential race there and his tactics at the time when the Greens deferred so outrageously to the Dems to be pretty astute and principled.(By that I mean he hasn’t apparently “sold out” )

    Last time he ran in Calif — Camejo wasn’t ignored as he made it to the televised debate. But I granted his poll figures were small.

    The other key factor this time is the Latino movement in the wake of these mobes. Surely the Dems don’t deserve their support by deafult given their lien on imigration? So there could be a electoral push there perhaps as happened with the La Rasa Unida Party in the early seventies.

    The major break in alternative electoral politics here began in 1984 when the Nuclear Disarmament Party exploded — within a 3 month window — onto the electoral scene., resting as it did on the disarmament movement. What has followed since has been directly caused by that break through.

    Now the question is can we employ the achievements of the Socialist Alliance which have primarily been OUTSIDE elections to foster a broader new socialist party into being.(Thats’ a major debate here) In that regard the experience in the US of the Workers Party in the thirties are very instructive. I was only reading about it last night.

    But how thsi jeells with a spcialit perspective is covered well by a lot of stuff Murray Smith has written. But the good peopel at the Socislit Unity Network collate a lot of realted stuff too:

    I guess my point is this: that if Camejo runs in Calif it woudl be a real pity if it was purely a Greens campaign. I thionk something braodera nd much larger is possible. The advantage with running under the Greens logo is that they are on the ballot(right?) and any other independent candidates wouldn’t have that access.

  • If I could add one addendum and that is the ‘problem’ organised socialist groups have with regroupment politics like this.

    If you think you are ‘the way’ and that your program is ‘it’ — it is very hard to then be as one in working collectively with other forces and accept them on equal terms when the assumption is that you will proceed though a process to a position of greater unity –that forces will integrate with one another to create a new party — can be anathema.

    But the problem is that when they do this half way or with so many riders and provisoes driven by separate schemata the business can be very limited indeed. The business of politics is motion but the soc orgs are still, in their vast majority, caught up in a standalone and separate competing caucus mode.

    Herein the example of the New Zealand new workers party is instructive…

    But then there are many examples today that indicate various options in this process of regroupment. And as the political space enlarges the challenge is to find ways to fill it given the very small size of the organised socialist left.

    Of course IF the socialist left doesn’t try to help fill it other forces will –and the orgs will be outside and marginal.

    The example of the Scottish Socialist Party is very relevant in this regard as despite themselves the orgs had to sign up with the project because they were marginalised by its success.

    Elsewhere the whole recent experience of revolutionary forces in Latin America from the FDR/FMLN of El Salvador to Venezuela today is about a process of radical regroupment and collective activity. Thats’ the lesson.

    That doesn’t mean that organised cadre forces are irrelevant and unnecessary: my experience in Australia suggests that such a core is essential to drive the process forward and defend it and consolidate it. You need that conscious core for it to work. I’m convinced of that,

    Thats’ been what I’ve learnt as I began with the Alliance here with a very spontaneous perspective.

    But hey! let’s say it isn’t easy. Here there has been a penchant to assume that this was an easy quick fix guaranteed to grow exponentially as though the political conditions are ALWAYS favorable.

    It doesn’t work like that at all except in your imagination.

    This then comes back to all the initiatives Camejo has been involved with before the Greens from the North Star Network, to the Committees of Correspondance, etc. He has been trying hard on this. But I guess where I’d differ from him — not that he is supposed to care — is that he probably doesn’t see the cadre aspect as relevant or important as I see it as crucial if any particular formation is to hold its course.

    Look at the US Greens as a case in point and their collapse under pressure from the Dems.

    Interestingly enough, this year a socialist cuacus has been formed inside the British Green Party. Thats’a hopeful development taht begins to suggest that the power of the Green copyright (of a colour)is beginning to fade and people are looking for more.

    With this you have to study examples elsewhere –and the ongoing debate about RESPECT in the UK is very instructive. My guess is that that is something that appeals to the ISO there in the US given their enthusiasm for Galloway.

    But RESPECT is a ‘have your cake and eat it’ model which, I think, will end up squandering the opportunity it has initially seized. This is what you do rather than embrace Scots bearing gifts (ie: the SSP).

    Where I am , even the main force driving & leading this process — the DSP — has a small minority within it which wants to junk this orientation to the Allaince and go back to the ‘olden days’.

    Many groups will see this process as one of liquidating their politics. I don’t believe that at all.

    Herein lies an instructive tale of how revolutionary formations survive and prosper while carrying the leadership burden and mixing it within a much looser congregation of forces which do not adhere to your outlook, that in fact begin life as broadly socialist and don’t have a sharp and developed perspective of what needs to be done.

    And, I guess, the motor of that tale is simply this: struggle — going through the struggle together and learning as you go to develope these new party formations both politicallly and organisationally.

    But the major problem that bears down on say the US left is this: here is this massive new movement being generated within the working class in relation to immigration. Despite its massive scale and grass roots nature — unless there is some attmept to ensure its independent organisation and secure its perspective, it will be subsumed into the Dems. That’s the iron rule of US politics.

    Do we then hope that the left orgs can pick up a few ones or twos from it to replenish their own ranks and facilitate their interventions , or is their another tactical option?

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  • I have ever been puzzled by some Greens attraction for the Socialists or the Dems. Neither represent Green values. Socialist approaches to Green issues are just a variation on “lesser-evilism” in my book, as would direct electoral reliance on non-Green candidates to carry the Green banner.

    As one of the newer members of the GPLAC County Council, and experienced with local governance of people from ALL backgrounds, it is my hope the the GP can get back to being Green — which was and can still be a really NEW idea that speaks to people from many backgrounds.

  • marc

    There are pockets of organization within the Green Party in California that are functional.

    The GPCA as an entity is a paper party, unable to complete the basic tasks of being a state political party. Yet people dedicate an inordinate amount of their time to fighting over the nothingness that a state party without a base is.

    In San Francisco, for example, Peter Camejo beat the Republican, Simon, in 2002 when he ran as a partisan Green.

    After bolting the Green Party in 2004 under the impression that any weak candidacy would have impacted that race, Camejo has turned his fury upon the GPCA, targetting San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Camejo’s internal disruption has been so successful that the San Francisco Green Party which has 3 elected local officials, will most likely not endorse Camejo and may affirmatively disendorse when he is nominated. Suffice to say that Camejo will not beat the GOP candidate in SF in 2006.

    The Green Party is not a socialist party. Sectarian leftism has been a resounding failure in the US unlike elsewhere. Yet Camejo seeks to mix moderate success with abject failure by uniting with authoritarian factions like the ISO.

    The Green Party is faced with a challenge that the Republicans faced in 1964. They responded to it with a 50 year plan for success which came to fruition 10 years early.

    Greens must think like a sequoia rather than a weed.

  • Bob

    Roger: Socialism and Green can co-exist fine. Cuba is a perfect example. They, as a country and unnder socialism, are working towards completely sustainable agriculture, organic everything. They are way ahead of other countries on this.

    Check The Greening of Cuba, a film that documents this.

    Marc: Some would say what Camejo did was needed, trying to prevent the GP from getting bulldozed by the Democrats.

  • Bob

    Roger, Marc: Without structure, how do you govern? Philosophically, Greens seems anarchist to me (that’s not a putdown, anarchism is certainly a current today.) As little structure as possible is the best.

    But then, how do you govern? Especially considering that those you displaced from power will want back in. And they will be organized. So you need to be too.

    A planned economy, like Cuba is doing in The Greening of Cuba, does allow for good stuff to happen. It also is my solution for larcenous gas prices. Nationalize the companies and charge enough to break even and for a prudent reserve. No 400 million dollars payouts to Oil Co. CEOs. By the people for the people. How is that not Green?

    BTW, in Cuba, one way they prevent the rise of a privileged class is by limiting salaries. The head of a union (and unions are powerful in Cuba) is only paid a little more than a worker. Ditto for ranking government positions.

  • For a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is America is NOT Cuba, socialism per se is a dead letter in the US. A Green party that co-opts or is co-opted by socialist ideals is alikewise a dead letter. Americans are ready for something else other than the Dempublicans, but it is not going to tolerate — let alone welcome — warmed-over socialism with a new label. My point is that clean, cool core Green values work well as that something else.

  • Bob:

    Sorry, left off the most important part: I never said, and did not mean to imply, there should be no Green party structure. In Pasadena, of all places, we have a highly developed series of steps to insure very detailed public participation and actual input into major government decisions, including planning and development issues. We get grief all the time from developers about being so participatory. We have many requirements that are fundamentally Green even if not labeled that way. It works pretty well. And it is not a top-down socialism, but a functioning Grass Roots Democracy . . .

  • Bob

    The process you describe in Pasadena for public input is almost precisely how unions make decisions in Cuba. And unions mostly run the country there.

    Socialism doesn’t imply top-down, no input, not at all.

    Ditto for the factory collectives in Venezuela.

  • But it does carry a raft of negative conotations for Americans of many parties, which need not be imported into the effective parts of a Green, capitalist but Green, Democracy. Why go out of your way to model oneself on something that is a non-starter. Green. Fresh, new.

  • Bob

    It may be Fresh, new. But the GP as an organization is crumbling. It made, and continues to make, huge tactical and organizational mistakes – mistakes that someone who knew and had learned from 150 years of Marxist history wouldn’t have made.

    You don’t have to be Marxist to learn from Marxism. Karl Rove and the neocons have as much as said that Lenin and the cadre are their organizational model.

    And hey, Marx was a feminist. So are Greens. Doesn’t mean you’re Marxist.

  • i went to RAN fundraiser last night with 600 people at the amazing Ashes and Snow exhibit in SM Pier parking area. mesmerizing exhibit and traveling museum set-up, do not miss it:

    and got me to thinking:
    i read somewhere recently that RAN is trying to change the world , and doing a pretty damn good job with some of their corporate activism on Goldman Sachs, Citibank,campaigns to stop Ford’s oil addiction ,etc..– with 28 staff and 2.4 mil yearly budget. (their plan is instead of yelling about stopping logging to the logging companies, to go after the banks that fund them instead)

    hmm… and the GPCA can’t get a plenary together which of course looks pretty lame during a primary season … but then we don’t have any staff or budget and when vols have a crisis … things fall apart. sure wish we had at least minimal party funding like European Greens, not saying it would fix everything about our process but we really can’t be expected to function like a totally professional political party when we are all volunteers. what we get, unfortunatley, are the persistent wackjobs, with all the time and dysfunction in the world to stick around and play out their “issues” on us, and many of the good/talented/serious people w/ real jobs and families, disappearing…

  • Bob

    All true, yet GP should have full-time staff and ongoing effective fundraising. But it doesn’t. As I’ve mentioned,I think the problems are structural, and not easily fixed.

  • Well… there may be many factors that will determine how organised and effective any sector is. But the reality is none BY THEMSELVES have the influence and strength to relate to such upheavals as this new immigrants rights movement, for instance.

    Thats’ the core problem surely?

    Greens have their constituency, socialists another…but while the argument is over who can copyright what, the actual political conditions– and opportunities — are ignored.

    The Greens did well, in San Franscisco recently as I recall –Matt Gonzalez for mayor in 2004. Camejo’s last bid for governor was a significant credit — but the core political need is broader than that.

    Unless someone begins to galvanize this diffuse movement, unite it, it will be dissipated and fall victim to the Dems and a great opening will be squandered.

    You don’t BEGIN this process by arguing over Cuba — you begin it by deciding that we share a common goal and if Camejo is going to run for governor on a Green Party ticket then thats’ it, surely?

    What a great optrion & beginning!

    I wished we’d be offered such a opportunity here with a figure who isn’t in the business of going belly up for the sake of the main parties or electoralism

    So you do that work together –and see what working together delivers…you don’t NOT do it. The process has to be unconditional and you make the best of it and learn en route.

    But it has to be OUTSIDE the Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum option of US politics.

    As Napolen said: fight then see.

  • Bob

    Great quote.

    Here in the States, third parties have a tougher time because getting 10% of the votes gets you 0% of the seats, unlike in a parliamentary system where you’d get 10% of the seats and maybe be part of a ruling coalition, like the German Greens did until the coalition lost at the polls recently.

    Some soc groups aren’t interested in electoral politics, seeing getting in the streets as the best way to effect change.

    For those who think this is all theoretical, not really. Soc groups and ideas have always been part of the movement in the States, from the labor struggles of the 30’s, to civil rights and the Vietnam War, to the antiwar protests of today, soc groups and thought are there, and sometimes influential.

    A soc organizer I know once looked at me and grinned, saying, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish as a socialist in America when no one knows you’re here.

    Immigrant Rights. The best way to influence that movement is to join it and do everything you can to help it. That will bring you friends and allies, build solidarity, as well as helping the cause.

    Ok, maybe leading with Cuba wasn’t the best of all possible approaches.

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