Can the Green Party merge populism and progressivism? Discussion posted at GPNYS theoretical journal.

excerpt from
A Green State of Mind: A Green Theoretical Journal
(hosted by the Green Party of New York State)
The Rise of the Populist-Progressive
by Darin Robbins [member of the GPNYS State Committee] May 22, 2009

The populist and progressive movements need each other, both historically and now, in order to present a real political alternative to the the interlocking system of militarism, religious fundamentalism, and corporations.

The presidential election of 1896 was considered the most dramatic in American history up to that point. It was a realignment of political positions as well as a strong showing of third party activity. The Republican candidate William McKinley forged a coalition in which businessmen, professionals, skilled factory workers, and prosperous farmers were heavily represented. This made up the character of the Republican party well into the 20th century. In contrast, William Jennings Bryan was the nominee of the Democrats, the Populists, and the Silver Republicans. Economic issues were the most important in this election…

…although Bryan lost the election and his support by the Populists caused that third party to dissipate, the new political grouping emerged as the forefront in the Democratic Party well into the progressive movement and into the New Deal era. In other words, the election of 1896 was the official split between party politics of the 19th and 20th century. It was only after World War II that the overall similarity between the Democrats and Republicans became truly apparent and obvious…

Even though populism as a political party was in decline after 1896, it did not mean that the populist movement disappeared completely. In official history, there is the appearance that the populism of the 1890’s gave way to the progressive movement of the first twenty years of the 1900’s. What actually occurred was an interaction that distinctly defined left and right progressivism. The populists exerted an invisible influence on the leftwing progressives, and would have created the new phenomenon of the populist-progressive in the American political field if World War I did not provide an obstacle at that time. The outbreak of war caused liberals who were limited by the Democratic Party to support the Wilson administration in a way that paralleled many socialists who supported their respective countries in Europe. On the other side of the coin, rightwing progressives were also nationalists in the same way that Theodore Roosevelt was a nationalist…Both the rightwing version of the populist and progressive movements were contained by the existing political and economic system. Any possibility of change would always be redirected to particular reforms that served to perpetuate the system in the long-term.

Populism and progressivism need each other in an interdependent way. Populism is a methodology while progressivism is a perspective on political change…the progressive vision is one that seeks to change the deep political, cultural, and economic structures for the benefit of people. The progressive vision without populism can easily become a source of centralized control and a bureaucratic hierarchy, as hinted at by Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. The populist method without a progressive long-term perspective can also degenerate into a fear of change and the scapegoating of supposed “elitists” solely within the cultural sphere.

The Green Party in this respect can be the point of intersection of populism and progressivism within a political party organization. As the Green Party can be said to be the children of the 1960’s, it can also be considered to be the grandchildren of the Populist Party. There is a rich heritage that has resulted in the emergence of a populist-progressive movement within late capitalism. The intersection of populism and progressivism is a bulwark against the appropriation by conservatives and liberals of either populism or progressivism alone. The populist-progressive is a new political identity that reaches toward the past for a new future. The populist-progressive is completely outside of the old liberal and conservative spectrum. The Green Party, as a party of populist-progressives, can remake the political landscape in a way that empowers individuals and communities.

48 thoughts on “Can the Green Party merge populism and progressivism? Discussion posted at GPNYS theoretical journal.

  1. Donald Raymond Lake

    If only:

    can the greens keep on focus

    can the greens reach out to new allies

    can the greens say what they mean

    can the greens mean what they mean

    can the greens act sober

  2. G.E.

    “classic liberalism, which seeks to live in harmony with concentrated corporate power by trying to regulate its excesses.”

    Ross – The article might have been “mostly true” as you said, but this was way off the mark.

    Market anarchism in the Rothbardian tradition = Principled Populism!!!

  3. Mik Robertson

    This highlights an area where the Green Party and the Libertarian Party are very closely aligned. The ideas that government exists to secure the rights of the individual, and that decentralized authority and local control are better are common to both parties.

    Often Greens are portrayed as lite-socialists and Libertarians are portrayed as ultra-conservatives, sometimes even being accused of such by their own members. Neither is true, and the two have a lot more in common than many of their members may even realize. Certainly both are outside of the conventional liberal-conservative spectrum.

    Maybe Robert Milnes isn’t so crazy after all.

  4. Robert Milnes

    The correct course of action is clear. There seems to be some problem with Nevertheless, the alternatives are: to try to revitalize the Progressive Party and/or OR to create Milsted’s “new upper left party” OR to vote coordinate the Green and Libertarian parties. After A LOT OF THOUGHT, I am going with the latter.

  5. Robert Milnes

    Another factor, Green (leftist radicalism) + Libertarian (rightist radicalism)= Progressivism. Kind of like when you mix 2/3 of one color & 1/3 of another color you get a third color. Both sides compromise & morph. e.g. Greens must give up socialism.

  6. whatever

    The only way Green Party can merge populism and progressivism is by taking 2/3 of Robert Milnes’ DNA and injecting it into Cynthia McKinney’s eyeball.


  7. Robert Milnes

    In my opinion, if TR had deliberately selected a progressive democrat for vp, he may very well have won in 1912. Further, many more progressives would have won. & the Progressive Party would have found the key to success (fusion ticket) & flourished over the years. Not languished as it has.

  8. Third Party Revolution

    Yes, the Green Party can merge populism and progressivism. Populism, which means to serve the people, doesn’t have an exact fiscal/social ideology, as we have seen with the left-wing and anti-war People’s Party from 1971-1976 and the far-right Populist Party from 1984-1994, which nominated people like Bob Richards, David Duke, and Bo Gritz for president (now the party is known as the American Nationalist Union). Progressivism, in the American tense, is a liberal political ideology. So technically, yes the GP can merge the two ideologies.

  9. Robert Milnes

    “Government exists to destroy the rights of the individual.” I do not agree exactly with this-anarchistic- statement. It is too simplistic. But I do agree with the sentiment. The situation calls for a reality check and pragmatism. We need a form of government that is Constitutional and fair and usable to achieve the ideal of anarchism. That is progressivism.

  10. Mik Robertson

    The United States had a pretty good start for a federal government with the Articles of Confederation. Then Alexander Hamilton stuck his nose in…

  11. libertariangirl

    I think the GP is right most of the time , but lose truth when they equate Capitalism with the same destruction caused by multi-corps , WTO , global trade issues like trilateral action and sanctions ect.

    like most lefties ive met they seem to think -that there is something inherently evil about Capitalism and that its the cause of the bad things listed above.

    also ,, im skeptical they wouldnt use government to enforce their enviromental agenda.

    and being super-kind bleeding heart types , im worried they still want a nanny state to care for unfortunates.

    DISCLAIMER: these thoughts are based on opinions formed by the few greens ive encounterd and not on any concrete knoowledge of the GP platform

  12. Erik Geib

    You can’t merge populism with progressivism. Populism invariably pits the interests of any 51% against the other 49.

    “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”
    -Frederic Bastiat (an actual classic liberal)

  13. Donald Raymond Lake

    And in the Mid West,
    [no thanks to BAN or IRP]

    Potential Ballot Acess!

    Kill the New Ruskin Fence has sent you the following story:

    Recall, recall, recall

    Posted on Monday, May. 25, 2009

    Organizers of effort to recall KC [Missouri] mayor turn in signatures


    Organizers of a Kansas City drive to recall Mayor Mark Funkhouser turned in signatures Monday to the city clerk and predicted they had enough to trigger a recall election.

    The petitioners said they were turning in roughly 13,000 signatures in addition to the 7,459 signatures they previously had certified. If 9,491 of the new signatures are certified as coming from valid registered voters, that will be enough to meet the threshold of 16,950 signatures.

    Harris Wilder, spokesman for the recall group, said the grassroots effort, with little funding, had defied naysayers in the business community, establishment politicians and the media, who doubted such a recall effort could succeed.

    Read More…

  14. Michael Cavlan

    What a funny, cute little story.

    Sorry, just had to comment.


  15. Dave Schwab

    libertariangirl –

    I don’t think business is inherently evil. Based on what I’ve observed, I think that business tends toward amorality, and as businesses get bigger, they tend to act with less regard for anything but profits. Since society has other interests beyond securing large profits for business, it makes sense for democratic bodies of government to set up rules of the game that business has to abide by.

    Greens do want to use government to realize their environmental agenda, you’re right about that. I don’t know how you can prevent irreparable damage to the ecosystem and stop climate change without regulation. Government has the reach and resources to empower people to live sustainable lives. I personally think that asking individuals to take pains to live an eco-friendly lifestyle makes about as much sense as asking people to build their own highways.

    Regarding your point about the welfare state, I think Jim Hightower himself summed it up pretty well: “Conservatives have historically seen people falling through the cracks in society and said, ‘That’s the way things work, survival of the fittest. Liberals see people falling through the cracks and say, ‘We’ve got to do something about those people falling through the cracks, so we need a strong government that can provide programs and assist those people. Populists say ‘there shouldn’t be any cracks; lets fix them.'”

  16. Erik Geib


    While I can sympathize with some things you’ve suggested (the larger the business, the worse it tends to be), I’d like to comment on a few things you just said.

    “Since society has other interests beyond securing large profits for business, it makes sense for democratic bodies of government to set up rules of the game that business has to abide by.”

    -It is actually these ‘democratic’ bodies enacting the ‘rules of the game’ (regulations) that prevent smaller businesses and individuals from competing with big businesses. Moreover, the ‘democratic’ element seems to favor anti-competition regulations in order to ‘save jobs.’

    As for the Jim Hightower quote, while quirky, it’s horribly misguided. Populists don’t try to fix cracks, they try to favor their majority. The tragedy of the commons is quite regular when populism is unhinged. Populism is two wolves and a lamb deciding what to eat for dinner.

  17. Deran

    The Peoples Party of the 1970s was a socialist party, not populist per se. The Peace and Freedom Party was affiliated with it.

    I think the national GP has too many problems to be worth revitalizing.

  18. Michael Cavlan


    Agreed. However, many former members of the GP are building and organizing.


  19. Mik Robertson

    There is a difference between and individual who engages in a business enterprise and a corporation. Once personal responsibility is limited by the act of incorporation, decisions get made differently.

    It used to be that corporation were regarded with great suspicion. They were chartered only for a specific purpose and a limited amount of time. They could not own property or hold stock in other corporations. Conservatism changed that in the 19th century.

    Now corporations have been granted the rights of people, they can own property and not only can they go on forever, the government will help them go on forever if they are big enough.

    That is a big, big problem, and it can only be addressed by asserting the rights of the individual.

  20. mdh

    @24 – The problem is this: a government is susceptible to the same corruption as a business. As larger businesses lose perspective and become more obsessed only with perpetuating their own power and profit, so too do governments. It is human nature. We cannot fight it.

    By denying to humans the fiat authority only granted by the title of “government”, however, we can limit the scope of harm that can be done. Hence, anarchism is the only way to build a peaceful and free society.

  21. Dave Schwab

    Erik –
    I agree that government has allied itself with big corporations for a long time. However, it’s not inevitable that any government will favor corporations. There are specific measures that can be taken – like public campaign financing and repeal of corporate personhood – that can limit the influence of business over government.

    While many pundits nowadays use ‘populism’ as a derogatory term for demagogic rabble-rousing, Jim Hightower uses it fully aware of populism as a distinct movement in American political history. When the farmers in the South and West were being squeezed by railroads and banks, they formed alliances that grew into political entities. They were thus able to pass regulations limiting the despotic power that corporations wielded over common people.

    Of the five national parties, I see only the Greens ready and willing to tackle the pernicious influence of corporations over our government. The challenge will be to avoid the fate of the Populist party, which was brought on by trying to deal with a major party from a weaker position. Dealing with other parties is part of politics, but it can only hurt the smaller party if they don’t enter the room as an equal player.

  22. Mik Robertson

    @30 People are susceptible to corruption, so anarchy doesn’t gain you anything except the lack of a way to enact the rule of law.

    The Libertarian Party is also there to establish the rights of the individual and the role of government to secure those rights. Only individuals have rights, not groups of people. It doesn’t matter if those groups are certain segments of society based on race, gender, religious or sexual preference etc. or a corporate entity.

    I think we would be more effective to work together in this area.

  23. Donald Raymond Lake

    “Michael Cavlan // May 26, 2009 at 11:22 am

    What a funny, cute little story.”

    The worst big town mayor since Jerry Springer is merely a media humor factoid? No wonder the country and culture is going to Hyades! Some sense of humor Mike!

  24. Michael Cavlan

    The cute little story angle is the idea of the Green party representing popular progressivism.

    The folks who actually did that were the Nader supporters and other GDIers. But they/we have been disenfranchised and/or driven out by people determined to do nothing and make a lot of noise doing it.

    It was in that context that I made my cute story comment. You can not build on the ideals of progressive popularism when you drive out the very folks who represent that.

    Oh well, as the Minnesota Green Party completely implodes over the attempt to un-endorse Cam Gordon, the GP Councilman in Minneapolis for his own endorsing of the Democratic Party mayor, amongst other things (oddly, this story is not covered in GP Watch, (oh yeah GP censorship) many of us are carrying on and organizing elsewhere.

    Carry on though. Please.

  25. Michael Cavlan

    Oh and for the record, the Minneapolis Mayor, endorsed by “Green” Cam Gordon (who faced no opposition in his race from the Dems, wow never happened before in Minneapolis history) is a real shit head.

    Rabidly anti-poor folks, pro-police, authorized the police to brutalize protesters during the RNC last year and a whole lot of other real neato stuff.

    Green pages or GP WAtch will never tough this little story.

  26. VAGreen

    “The folks who actually did that were the Nader supporters and other GDIers. But they/we have been disenfranchised and/or driven out by people determined to do nothing and make a lot of noise doing it.”

    What a total crock. When Greens like Phil Huckelberry wanted the National Party to focus on things like ballot access, Cavlan and his pals were staging one disruption on the National Committee after another. All the witch hunts for “Demo-Greens”, the attacks on smaller state parties instead of building them up, the inflation of submicroscopic arguments to intergalactic proportions, the slandering of our staff, etc.

    Cavlan and his pals did a number on the Green Party and then they turn around and complain about how ineffective it is. Amazing.

  27. Mik Robertson

    I can’t believe folks in the GP would act like that. In my area everybody is polite, nobody litters, and everyone drives the appropriate speed for any given set of road conditions. Wait, maybe that was a dream I had…

  28. VAGreen

    “The folks who actually did that were the Nader supporters and other GDIers. ”

    I want to emphasize that there are plenty of good folks in Greens for Democracy and Independence. It was a handful of Destructo-Greens who caused our problems on the National Committee.

  29. mdh

    @32 – I would say this: the power which government grants to a small number of very powerful individuals, power which it denies everyone else explicitly, is to great a power for any human being to wield. The danger lies primarily in the existence of that power at all, and the greater that power, the greater the danger.

    Government can only maintain its rule over us by having a monopoly on force. That is all that separates a government agent from me or you. It is what allows congressmen to make laws which affect us, but does not allow us to make laws which affect them.

    Government only works in a world wherein those in charge of it are somehow simply better human beings than the rest of us. They aren’t. They never have been and they never will be.

  30. Donald Raymond Lake

    Like I said:

    Libs: smaller government with out criticizing the worst agencies, like lethal military veterans [so called] care. Like they really do not want to make a difference.

    Libs: criticism of Social Security as a retirement plan with out a peep on nation wide high profile proposition[s] for privatization of such. Like they really do not want to make a difference.

    Greens: anti war with out reaching out to proven but not long term, ‘proven comfortable’, non traditional, non leftie organizations. Rebuffing and rejecting them left, right, and center. Like the really do not want to make a difference.

  31. Michael Cavlan

    VA Green

    I was speaking to Ronald Lake. Not to you.

    For the record. I have been done with you folks for a long time now.

    Too busy, working with people who are serious about building alternatives to the rotten, pro-war, corporate corrupted system.

    Bye Bye.


  32. Erik Geib


    I don’t mean to come across as sounding harsh, as that’s not my intent. I do, however, still disagree with your angle of approach on this matter and the subsequent commentary you have attached to it.

    I don’t intend to attack your position towards corporations, as even Adam Smith once opined that it was dangerous to detach profits from responsibility. I do, however, seek to dismantle some of the supporting comments you’ve made as if they’re a matter of fact when, in fact, they are not.

    You stated:
    “When the farmers in the South and West were being squeezed by railroads and banks, they formed alliances that grew into political entities. They were thus able to pass regulations limiting the despotic power that corporations wielded over common people.”

    While true that there was tension between railroads and banks, you are dismissive of the causes in what appears to be a selective interpretation of history.

    The railroads were more or less granted privileges by government that should not have been allowed (and would not have been allowed under a libertarian system). In fact, most railroads were subsidized by the government, which allowed for a great deal of centralization. They (the railroads) were also doing some unsavory business deals with Standard Oil, which is a side issue, but when news of this relationship broke the market ecosystem punished Standard Oil, as drillers stopped selling their product to them (allowing Rockefeller’s maneuvering to blow up in his face).

    Progressives seem to have a selective memory when it comes to the railroad, praising the ‘voice’ of the masses for rising up and calling for regulations that tamed their wicked practices. In actuality, it was the same government that enacted such regulations that allowed the railroad monopoly to develop in the first place.

    The ‘issue’ with the banks of which you speak is actually a reflection of the worst aspects of populism, and is a large part of my opposition to the early populist movement. What populists were seeking to do was trade in their silver certificates at the same value as a gold certificate which, in effect, is like calling 50 cents a dollar. Add a dash of Bryanesque grandstanding and you have the nasty beginning of mob-rule democracy.

    “The challenge will be to avoid the fate of the Populist party, which was brought on by trying to deal with a major party from a weaker position. Dealing with other parties is part of politics, but it can only hurt the smaller party if they don’t enter the room as an equal player.”

    My reading of history seems to be more in the direction that the populists actually overtook the Bourbons and, in capturing the Democratic Party, saw no need for a third party anymore. This is evidenced by Bryan’s 3-time selection for the nomination to the presidency.

    Granted, I know that Bryan was not the embodiment or only leader of the populist movement, nor do I seek to make the assumption that he was. But, it is worth noting that he was the most prominent of populists, and his (sad) victory over the Bourbons in the Democratic Party had much more to do with populists drifting in to the Democratic Party than any particular failure of the Populist Party itself.

    All that being said, I still tend to agree with you and Adam Smith concerning the detachment of profits from ownership. I’d actually like to see more criticism of corporations from libertarians, as I think much of the current criticism is lost on the mainstream public since it is attached to people generally of the far-left persuasion. Most ‘anti-corporation’ types (from what I’ve observed, but by no means am I assuming you’re among this group) seem to bash corporations while only proposing socialism as an alternative form of business. This isn’t necessarily fair, but it’s the perception. Just like many of the lesser-educated mainstream left-leaners seem to think what the Republicans advocate is free market economics, when it most certainly is not. Again, turning back to Adam Smith, the short-term interest of some capitalists is often the enemy of capitalism.

    A truly free market (one without corporations or socialist intervention) would be the fairest way to deal with many of these issues, but most people have been trained to either fear this idea or are too stuck in their overly-democratic use of ‘social democracy,’ be it for labor or corporate gains.

  33. russell cole

    To say that the populists of the last two decades of the nineteenth century possessed no political bearings is preposterous. they clearly had a platform that expressed themes that had the possibility to endure as lasting guiding principles for political, economic and social reforms. first, they were petty capitalistic: an ideology that promoted productive forces in the economy, such as labor and capitalism that was directly engaged in establishing additional modes of production. in opposition to productive forces in the economy, the populists identified parasitic, often moneyed forces that needed to be opposed. this accounts for the distrust of banking. Additionally, the populist institutions of antitrust and antimonopoly were intended to dismantled entrenched economic interests in order to clear room for innovation spurred by competition.

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