Freedom Socialist Party: Should Socialists Align with Greens and Liberals?

At a Capitol rally: progressive U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, whom Socialist Alternative is urging to run for president. Courtesy photo

From Elias Holtz in Freedom Socialist Newspaper:

In the November 2014 election season, voter participation hit a record low. This is more than just a mid-term slump. Voters are increasingly alienated from the two major parties. Only slightly more than a third of eligible voters participated nationally. And of the minority who are registered, a record 42 percent ditched the Democrats and Republicans to identify as independents. Clearly, more and more people are fed up with the status quo of ever falling wages and reduced social benefits. So, socialist groups should be poised to attract many who are looking for an alternative.

But how should socialists participate in elections? Despite the recent Seattle City Council win of open socialist Kshama Sawant, many groups (including Sawant’s own) think their best bet is to join with almost any liberal third party whenever possible — at the expense of their own message.

The Hawkins/Jones campaign. In New York State, Socialist Party’s Howie Hawkins and International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) Brian Jones teamed up to run for Governor and Lieutenant Governor on the Green Party ticket. Even though the platform was filled with socialist-inspired solutions, it was scrubbed free of an anti-capitalist analysis of the system. What resulted was a fundamentally flawed campaign.

For example, when Hawkins participated in a televised debate against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, he called himself a “progressive,” and spent his airtime on platform issues like education and fracking. But he left out the big picture of how the über rich run New York State. He didn’t call out Cuomo for his neo-liberal program of tax cuts for the rich and wage freezes for workers.

As Jones wrote in the journal Jacobin after the election, “Hawkins and I are both socialists, but this campaign didn’t emphasize the distinct contributions of socialism and socialist ideas. Instead it put forward, broadly speaking, an independent working-class agenda for reform.” What Jones and Hawkins don’t get is that there’s no such thing as an independent working-class agenda unless it clearly identifies the enemy of working people — capitalism.

What is wrong with the Democrats and Republicans is not fundamentally found in their platforms. The Democrats routinely ignore their progressive platform planks as soon as they are in office. The underlying problem is that both parties represent the interests of big business; The Republicans by arguing that what’s good for multinational corporations is good for everyone, and the Democrats bypretending to offer an alternative that is pro-labor, pro-environment, pro-women — fill in the blank — while actually delivering whatever big business wants.

Any third party that doesn’t make clear that the interests of workers are diametrically opposed to those of big business, is simply part of the problem. Without this guiding principle, if a third party ever wins at the ballot box, it instantly moves to sell out its program.

Any socialists who think otherwise need only look to recent history in Europe. In the United Kingdom, Greens in office joined with Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties to enact anti-worker budget cuts. German Greens joined coalitions with pro-capitalists to stall opposition to nuclear power, curtail civil liberties and support NATO bombings.

Hawkins’ soft-peddling of socialism was mandatory. To get with the Greens, you have to stick to their program, which is explicitly not anti-capitalist. This orientation showed in the Greens’ attempt to unite with the Working Families Party (WFP), which identifies as pro-labor. But WFP rebuffed them because it primarily endorses Democrats. It claims to stick to pro-labor candidates, but made a mockery of that assertion by endorsing Cuomo!

Both the Greens and WFP are reformists. They preach the gospel that capitalism can be reformed — against consistent evidence to the contrary. By running as Greens, Hawkins and Jones failed to offer the only real solution to ruling class politics as usual.

Bernie Sanders — not independent of the profit system. Socialist Alternative (SA) is pushing Bernie Sanders to run for President in 2016. Sanders is a long time senator from Vermont and an independent who identifies as a “democratic socialist.” At a forum on climate change in New York City in September 2014, Sawant (an SA leader) devoted much of her speech to pressing Sanders, who was the chair, to run.

Sanders replied that he’s not interested in an “educational campaign … where you only win 2 percent of the vote.” The National Journal clarified in November that Sanders is actually angling to be drafted to run under the Democrat banner. This is entirely consistent with his longtime cozy relationship with the party establishment.

He may make refreshing anti-Wall Street speeches, but his voting record speaks to his dedication to the pro-war status quo. He joined the 9-11 rush to back the war in Afghanistan, and while he voted against the invasion of Iraq that followed, he has voted repeatedly for war funding and military budgets. He supports Israel’s murderous bombings of Palestinians in Gaza. He is squarely on the side of the military profiteers on foreign policy.

Socialist Alternative’s eagerness to align with Sanders despite a track record that crosses class lines is nothing new. SA has a history of supporting Green and independent pro-capitalist candidates. All they ask is that the aspirant not be a Democrat — and not belong to another socialist group. This stance pits it against effectively promoting systemic change.

Past time for a socialist electoral alliance. Gallup polls show growing support for socialism, with 39 percent favoring it. This disenchantment with capitalism means there is huge potential to capture the interest of working-class Americans with an out and proud socialist campaign.

The way to build support for socialism at the polls is to create a clear socialist electoral alliance — where socialist parties and independents run candidates on a principled, anti-capitalist program. If groups like ISO and SA rose above their competitiveness to collaborate with other socialists, as the Freedom Socialist Party has advocated for years, a powerful coalition could be built that could get on the ballot and also mobilize people for protests, strikes and other drives.

Such a coalition could explain that socialism is the only way to deliver shared abundance and solve the social problems that the super rich ignore. It could be the first step to creating a real party of the 99 percent that not only criticizes capitalism, but contends to replace it — that not only speaks truth to power, but prepares to take it.

18 thoughts on “Freedom Socialist Party: Should Socialists Align with Greens and Liberals?

  1. Dave Terry

    They can call themselves, The Watermelon Party:
    Green on the outside and Red on the inside!

  2. Martin Passoli

    So, this fringe Marxist sectlet criticizes other, larger and more successful Marxist sectlets for making coalitions with Greens and independent progressives and for not making coalitions with them (the smaller, more fringe sectlet). Got it.

  3. Deran

    I wonder if this is a side comment about something I’ve heard a few mentions of over the last few weeks. Another socialist secrlette, Solidarity, is sponsoring a gathering in Chicago in April 2015. Independent Political Action Conference. At this meeting, from the rumors and asides I’ve seen, suggest that this IPAC will be an effort among various socialist groups to create an electoral alliance. But it is a meeting of organizations, and not a mass assembly. I honestly have no idea who wil be attending. Solidarity, I assume. The Freedom Socialist Party? California’s Peace and Freedom Party? Maybe Socialist Alternative, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Aprty USA (?). I know there is a nonsectarian network, Campaign for a United Socialist Party, who are enthusiastic, but not invited. So I think this Chicago meeting is for the “major” minor socialist groups only? I have no idea if the national Greens are involved or invited? I doubt it, as the Greens are not socialist. There are socialists involved in the GP in the US, but as this article says they are explicitly not socialist.

    If I can find out anything more I will post it to the Open Thread.

  4. Martin Passoli

    Honestly, I have a hard time believing the egos, ideological nitpicking, turf battles and petty hatreds will be resolved in favor of any successful effort to join forces or combine under one banner.

  5. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    It seems to me that if you are running an electoral campaign, then you have some kind of “reform” agenda. Whether or not Greens believe capitalism can be reformed, they can hardly be criticized for running on a platform of reforms. Any socialist party campaign would also consist of reforms. Yet we consistently see sectlets that don’t run candidates criticizing those sectlets that do as reformists.

    Ultimately, most of the criticisms in the above article are semantics. If the Greens did self-identify as ‘socialist’, the Freedom Socialist Party would probably argue they are not socialist due to this or that reason.

    Politics is the art of the possible. It demands practical, pragmatic modes of reasoning and action. It should be judged on the basis of consequences, rather than moral and/or ideological purity. Prefigurative ethics has a place, but even ethical values should be judged on the basis of their consequences in real life.

  6. Jed Ziggler Post author

    For the record, the FSP does field candidates, though not with any regularity. In 2012 they ran Stephen Durham for president as a write-in, their first presidential campaign. I believe Mr. Durham was the first openly gay presidential candidate, unless anyone has information to contradict that.

  7. Deran

    Obviously, unless they’re Maoists talking about violent revolution, socialists have reforms in mind. The major difference between socialists and Greens is that the reforms are the extent of the Greens platform. Socialists see reforms as short and medium term, anti-capitalism, socialism being the medium and longer term goals.

    So your argument holds no water. Look at Kshama Sawant (I’m no fan of the Socialist Alternative group), she got elected around a $15 an hour minimum wage, and now she is starting her re-election around housing. And she is using those issues both to improve the immiediate lives of people, AND to broach a deeper criticism of capitalism and propose an alternative to capitalism. Whereas the Greens see those reforms as the be all and end all. For the Greens reforms are the full measure of their plans. Thus the difference between Greens and socialists, and the difference in how socialists and Greens campaign.

  8. Green Party Voter

    The Green Party has ballot status across the United States. The Green Party has local, state, and federal candidates running year after year. The Green Party is one of only four truly national political parties in the U.S. This is real american politics 2015.. Not theory. That Green Party group of elected office holders across the country, veteran Green Party petitioners, campaigners is matched by no other – non corporate financed party in the USA. So if Bernie Sanders wants to run outside the two corporate parties, Bernie Sanders with run Green Party. Or he will waste his time, energy, and money. Any one who wants a serious alternative to the corporate plutocrats – has the positive impact full Green Party alternative. The Green Party will grow.

    Otherwise…it’s just howling at the moon…Go Green Party for a real, lasting positive impact.
    Watch Green Party Green TV

  9. paulie

    Obviously, unless they’re Maoists talking about violent revolution, socialists have reforms in mind.

    There’s other Marxists besides Maoists who support violent revolution rather than electoral politics, and some groups that favor violent revolution also engage in electoral politics as an additional venue to spread propaganda and gain members even if they don’t trust the election system or believe electoral victory is possible. But I think the distinction they are trying to draw by referring to reform is that they would outright nationalize major industries whereas Greens and Sanders would just introduce additional regulations while leaving most ownership at least nominally private.

    So if Bernie Sanders wants to run outside the two corporate parties

    I don’t think he does.

    The Green Party has ballot status across the United States. ………Watch Green Party Green TV

    You as well as our regular readers know these are two unrelated Green Parties. The national Green Party wants nothing to do with your Independent Green Party of Virginia.

  10. Gene Berkman

    The Freedom Socialist Party split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1964, and calls itself “Trotskyist Feminist” but in the 1960s an d1970s FSP was Trotskyist/Maoist, seeing Maoism as the continuation of The Permanent Revolution.

    Despite revoutionary rhetoric, FSP has backed candidates of other socialist parties in various elections, including the Socialist Workers Party candidates in 1964, Peace & Freedom Party candidates since 1968 and other candidates who are openly socialist. But the Freedom Socialist Party criticized other socialist groups for backing Ralph Nader because Nader is not a socialist.

  11. Andy Craig

    Hospers wasn’t exactly “in the closet” in 1972- it was no secret to the delegate who nominated him- but it wasn’t quite what we’d recognize as “openly gay” today, either (understandable, since that modern dichotomy was still in its infancy) in that he didn’t publicly mention or campaign on it (though he did advocate gay rights).

    Still, I count it as “the first Electoral Vote for an undisputed gay man.” – who was later more openly so (otherwise we probably wouldn’t be talking about it).

  12. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    “So your argument holds no water. Look at Kshama Sawant (I’m no fan of the Socialist Alternative group), she got elected around a $15 an hour minimum wage, and now she is starting her re-election around housing. And she is using those issues both to improve the immiediate lives of people, AND to broach a deeper criticism of capitalism and propose an alternative to capitalism. Whereas the Greens see those reforms as the be all and end all. For the Greens reforms are the full measure of their plans. Thus the difference between Greens and socialists, and the difference in how socialists and Greens campaign.”

    First off, imo there is little or no difference between Greens/Socialists on means/ends questions in electoral politics. Both Greens and Socialists see politics as a means to an end and both desire deeper reforms then just the ones they run on. It’s the same with any 3rd party, unless its running from the mushy middle (which is very rare). Seriously, what is the basis for the claim that “reforms are the full measure of their plans”?

    In fact, Sawant is routinely criticized as a social democrat by sectarian radical socialists. The 15$ minimum wage is not a socialist demand. It is a social democratic, reformist one. Sawant understands (as Greens do) that such reformist demands are not an end in itself, but a means of building a radical movement. Yet sectarian socialists attack Socialist Alternative for promoting social democratic politics as if it was ‘socialist’.

    The bottom line is there is very little practical difference between Sawant and Hawkins/Jones. The main difference between the 2 is Socialist Alternative actively promotes M/Lism–an ideology that most people associate with totalitarian police states. And sometimes that really is the criteria that sectarian socialists have in mind–if it doesn’t mesh with the proclamations of their particular Marxist cult, then it isn’t ‘socialism’. What this amounts to is 1) religious/cultish reasoning about politics 2) useless debates about semantics and 3) ultimately political indifferentism.

    If you approve of Sawant and Socialist Alternative’s reformist tactics, then it seems to me merely a semantic dance to condemn the Greens for doing the same thing.

  13. Deran

    I have no idea what you are talking about as far as the US Green Party having deeper end goals? I can only go by what the national Party’s platform says.

    One last time; Sawant’s use of the $15 minimum wage was BOTH a short term reform to benefit people in the short term, AND a tactic to present deeper critique of capitalism, with the stated end goal of socialists being socialism. Not reformed or “humanized” capitalism.

    I think the Hawkins/Jones campaign is an excllent example of the failure of the Greens. Both Hawkins and Jones claim to be socialists, but when campaigning they only tried to talk about being progressivists. And while they got some anti-Cuomo protest votes, they did not make a major impact on politics in NYS. Other than the governor’s race, the reformist Working Families Party did better than ever. So the notion that socialists, [playing at being progressivists could break the grip of the reformists of the Working Families Party was a total failure.

    I’ve voted Green when that was my non Dem Rep option, and I worked for Nader in 96 and 00, so I am not opposed to the Greens. But I am a socialist, and I think the recent Great Recession has made an opening for a more radical critique of capitalism than the Green Party is capable of.

  14. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    If you have principled issues with the platform, that’s fair enough. When I read it, I’m often surprised by how radical it is. When I have time later perhaps I’ll quote some of the economic platforms.

    As far as Hawkins/Jones, wasn’t that pretty much the most successful 3rd party campaign in 2014? As far as votes go.

    As far as appealing to ‘progressives’, the media culture shapes the consciousness of the vast majority of Americans so you gotta work with that reality. Many of these progressives (essentially social democratic minded leftists) associate socialism with totalitarianism and that’s a particular liability for Jones as he himself is associated with an M/L organization. From what I’ve read, Hawkins/Jones was a (relative) success because they took a pragmatic approach and worked hard to reach alot of people.

    I think the majority of Greens believe in Nader’s mantra that “building the party”, as in, buiding an independent movement and educating people, is the main goal of Green activism, rather than electing candidates or enacting the platform.

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