Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
— Matthew 25:40
An injury to one is an injury to all.
The Green Party made great strides in the past election. In fact, on November 6, there were two elections. The first, obviously, was the Obama/Romney/Stein race. While Stein got trounced, her 424,789 votes nearly tripled the Greens 2008 total, a serious resurgence from what some thought a deadly slide into oblivion. More interesting, however, was the race among left-of-center independents, and in that one the Greens kicked some serious ass:
Alexander (SP) 3,939
In California, where Barr had the line of the venerable Peace and Freedom Party, Stein outpolled Barr 57,840 to 49,534, and in Florida a very weak Green Party still got 8,757 to the big celebrity’s 8,022 (McKinney got 2,791 there in 2008) (last figures I could get). The much-hyped Rocky Anderson was overwhelmed 11 to one, and the Socialist Party barely got on the map.
So while there were vigorous discussions over the relatively minor programmatic differences among the left independents, now that the smoke has cleared away, it is clear that for left-of-center electoral politics, the Green Party is it. But as a dying Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power goes great responsibility.”
In that regard, more important was the move in the Greens political direction to the economic front. Thus Jill Stein leads with calling for a WPA-style jobs program. Thus the nomination of Cheri Honkala, a leading anti-poverty activist and defender of the social safety net. Thus the Green platform backing this up with the demand for heavily taxing the rich, and gutting the defense budget.
There is a coherent package here:
Force government to create jobs
Defend and expand the safety net
Soak the rich
Gut the Pentagon
I would go farther. I would argue that the Green Party should campaign explicitly to build on the advances of 2012 and build an electoral base among the poor. And that the broader left should join in to support that effort.
Pardon my manners, but . . .
. . . I have to break the rules of polite progressivism. See, we’re all supposed to pursue “our thing,” and support everyone else doing “their thing,” and not try in vulgar Stalinist authoritarian crude and rude fashion to and not argue that our priorities are more important than anyone else’s. We’re all supposed to be a bunch of cool little Fonzies, cool in our acceptance of our collective impotence.
But suppose there ARE priorities, and the left as currently configured is collectively making a vast strategic error in not changing its priorities, in not making a strategic turn to organizing for and with the poor.
I argue for this not on grounds of human compassion, since that and a couple dollars will get you a cup of Starbucks. Would that it weren’t the case.
Nor do I join those who would mobilize the poor since they believe in a direct correlation between degree of oppression and revolutionary militance. The track record here is mixed at best.
Rather, we must organize the poor out of political necessity.
Why the poor? Why do I insist upon the particular cohesive package of jobs, safety net, tax the rich and gut the Pentagon? It flows as a direct counter to the Obamacrat strategy for crushing us all, once called the working class, now the better- but inaccurately-named 99%, the so-called middle class and the poor, to eliminate all resistance to unrestrained plutocracy just as the imperial system enters a prolonged stretch of financial/political crisis.
The Romney/Ryan plan was quite simple — mobilize the rich to crush the 47% as a brief prelude to crushing everyone else. Given that we are still ostensibly living in a democracy, and corporations still need folks to buy their goods, this was a bridge too far.
The Obamacrat plan, on the other hand, is a shade more subtle: set the poor and those of the working class who see themselves as middle class (a term I’ll allow to indulge popular terminology) against each other first. Destroy the poor, leaving the middle class thereby isolated and defenseless as they are next for the chopping block. It doesn’t have the decency to pose as a secret plan.
More specifically, the Obamacrats plan to pose as the heroic defenders of the middle class by championing keeping George Bush’s tax cuts only for the middle class. At the same time, “adjustments” are to be made to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, while a broad array of services are destroyed at the state and local level leaving no blood on Obama’s hands. Yes, these service cuts will also harm the middle class, but the congressional kabuki will probably be able to sell this — until the damage is done.
The poor are on their own, while the middle class lets them go down as the price for their own brief reprieve. This will work unless we can fight it. But how might this play out?
Return with us now . . .
. . . for a broad look at the unemployed organizing of the 1930’s. During the industrial union drives of the 1930’s led by the Communist Party, the CP set up two major organizations of the poor, the Unemployed Councils and the Sharecroppers Unions in the South.
The councils, uniting white and Black, defended their neighborhoods against evictions and defended the unions on the picket lines. From our enlightened 2012 perspective, this alliance union/unemployed alliance might seem obvious and natural, yet at the time it was anything but natural. Blacks were by-and-large excluded from the unions, or at best allowed to form separate locals. Unemployed Blacks were routinely employed as strikebreakers, easy enough under the circumstances. Outraged white workers rioted in major northern cities at different times, burning Black neighborhoods and killing hundreds.
Thus it fell to the communists to bring about the labor/Black alliance. How? Why? A variety of reasons. First, master strategy aside, communists had certain principles about working class solidarity and the rights of man. Secondly, they were committed politically to uniting the working class across narrow sector boundaries, a logical extension of the move towards industrial unionism over craft unionism. The CP left wing envisioned the unemployed as a radical, independent fighting force. On a practical level that appealed to the CP center, the unions simply needed the community support. The organizers didn’t eliminate racism and then organize the poor. Rather, organizing the poor was a major component in at least reducing racism.
But as the CP plunged deeper into the Popular Front with Roosevelt, and as industrial unionism won major victories, the Unemployed Councils and the Sharecroppers Unions were shut down. The communist vision was replaced by a more narrowly self-interested trade union vision. (You get what you organize.) The pundits of the 50’s crowed that communism had no appeal to Americans because all we Americans are middle class.
Fast forward to 2012
A few points can be drawn from the experience of the 30’s. First, there is no natural affinity between the poor and the middle class. In fact, the Obamacrat strategy depends on tension between the two. However, there are practical reasons for this alliance.
- Poor and middle class share a common enemy – the rich.
- They have a practical common interest in defending and strengthening the safety net.
- They have a practical common interest in a federal jobs program, as mass unemployment drives down wages and conditions for everyone.
- They have a practical common interest in getting the rich to pay for it.
But how is this alliance to be made concrete?
In the 1930’s, all strategy centered on organizing at the point of production, shutting it down, or threatening to shut it down. As Mine Workers president John Lewis put it, “You can’t dig coal with bayonets!” The picket line was the joint activity, coupled with support for FDR and the New Deal.
Today, the picket line is not the primary arena of struggle, and there is no FDR to get behind. The available nexus is the electoral arena. I know there have been long discussions of the merits of electoral politics as the road to revolution or working class empowerment, or whatever. I am not here passing judgment on that one way or the other.
However, on a tactical level, electoral politics provides a legitimate, structured framework within which we can organize, and at the least get out our message. For now, I’ll settle for that.
And if you ARE serious about electoral politics, then the Green Party is the way to go. (See the numbers at the beginning of this piece.)
If the lesser parties can form principled alliances with the Greens, that’s all to the good. Certainly at the local level. But on the national level, it’s all Green. Still, there are folks who sincerely wonder if the Greens are up to the task. That is not to be lightly dismissed.
I have heard a variety of complaints about the Greens, mostly pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, some carping about the name, other attacks that are frankly subtle or not subtle attacks on the notion of independent politics in general. (Or electoral politics in general – if you eschew electoral politics, work with Occupy and we’ll meet on the barricades.) There are issues over when and if to ally with Democrats, whether to run hard in presidential battleground states. Issues of being unable to even contact the party, faulty addresses and non-functioning phone numbers for state parties.
But there is a fundamental organizational problem. In my neck of the woods, West Central Florida, there are some really good people around. But the Florida party is set up as a federation of county organizations. And my sense is that the national party is likewise a federation of state parties. Yet the party’s natural strength is not its ability to run superior candidates for dogcatcher who are really good at catching dogs, but its offering big and serious solutions to big problems like jobs, poverty and war.
(for a proposal I drafted for the Florida Green Party, see Revolution in the Evolution.)
The Green Party arouses the most interest when running a national campaign. Local races can be run to build toward this, but local races don’t necessarily do so. And those trolls who argue that the Greens should stay out of the national arena UNTIL they have won, yes outright won, scads of local races are just offering their version of the carny barker’s “Go away son, you bother me!”
Congressional races are 2014, a natural for the Green call for jobs. The question is, how can we use 2013 to build toward that? We need help. For better or worse, the Green Party stands at a critical historical juncture: the continuation of the economic crisis and the war on both the poor and the so-called middle class, and the Democrats abandoning any pretense of fighting for what has traditionally been their base.
Fighting for the poor is a strategic necessity, not just a liberal good deed. It is also an unnatural act if it to be ultimately sustainable. In the 1930’s, the organizers had a world vision and strategy that drove them. From the most doctrinaire party cadre to the ordinary Joe or Jane on the assembly line, there was some notion of working class empowerment that drove them forward against the goons and the ginks and the company finks. We don’t have that, a subject for future writing.
For now, I’ll end with the lament of the German middle class stunned and overwhelmed by the rise of Nazism:
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.