Monday, October 24, 2016

Red Cat, Green Bag

I guess the cat is out of the bag, or at least, the cat has stuck its head out of the bag and started meowing. A quick summary is that the Maine Green Independent Party (to date, the only minor party registered with the State of Maine, though it looks like the Libertarians will start winning their appeals soon) is now pissing itself in public. The only Green candidate in the entire state who braved Maine's ballot access requirements--more restrictive for minor parties than for unregistered independents--is Seth Baker. But the Democrat he is running against is Ben Chipman, a former Green with a reputation (in my opinion, mostly undeserved) for progressivism and a lot of personal friendships among the older cohorts of Portland Greens. And so you have recognized leaders of the state Green Party--including the state coordinator for the Jill Stein campaign--who are openly campaigning for a Democrat, against the only other member of their own party on the ballot in this state.

And these same people expect to be able to parry Democratic Party criticisms that "all the Greens do is run a presidential candidate every four years," even as they openly sabotage their non-presidential candidates.

I have been holding my tongue for months. I no longer see the tactical advisability of continued silence.

My ballot has already been cast. I did vote for Jill Stein, though largely at this point to be able to tell my 9-year-old daughter (who was seriously fangirling about Stein) that I had. Ancillary reasons include having that at the ready to piss off the many Hillary Clinton supporters in my life, and the fact that socialists in Maine didn't have our collective act together in time to get the Soltysik/Walker campaign recognized as a write-in candidacy by the Maine Secretary of State (let alone the far more onerous task of ballot access). Seth, to his credit, is keeping things positive--far more than I would if I were in his shoes--and thanks to young comrades like him, I expect the latter issue will not be a consideration the next time ballots come out. I don't live in his district, so unfortunately I could not vote for him.

My qualms about the Stein campaign, however, far predated the present situation. Some of them are organizational. Aside from the local situation, the fact that her national campaign coordinator is David Cobb--the milquetoast "safe states" candidate of 2004--was an early bad sign. But mostly, they are political. Some are matters of style that give a clue as to substance--the insistence, for example, on referring to the candidate as Dr. Jill Stein, which telegraphs an emphasis on middle-class respectability. But others are far more substantial. First there was the pivot to trying to capture the support of disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters, which went too far in soft-pedaling the analysis of the Democratic Party. (For example, going from saying "you can't have a revolutionary campaign in a counterrevolutionary party" to saying "it's hard to have a revolutionary campaign in a counterrevolutionary party.") But where Stein really screwed the pooch was on Syria.

It was in the cards from the moment Ajamu Baraka was announced as her running mate. Even before then, though, I had characterized, in private conversation, Stein's call for a Middle East-wide U.S. arms embargo as comparable to FDR's policies during the Spanish Civil War--preferable, in theory, to the current U.S. policy of arming Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Sisi regime in Egypt to the hilt, but fundamentally a recipe for counterrevolutionary slaughter, since there is no chance short of global thermonuclear war that Russia would abide by such an embargo and stop arming Assad. But I have to confess that I took my eye off the ball, and it was not until early October, when Syrian activists started calling out Stein, that I realized that her official position called for aiding the Assad government to recover control of the full territory of Syria. Unfortunately I can't link to that version of her statement, since it was deleted off the website in favor of a much briefer, formally pacifist version. This is not the only issue on which Stein's website has disappeared past positions down the proverbial memory hole, and that in itself is an example of poor political hygiene.

The point of this is not to blame Stein for the U.S. left's confusion regarding Syria. Stein is symptomatic, not causative. (The remainder of this paragraph is a slightly expanded version of a series of tweets that I posted on October 5th.) On some level one would expect her views on Middle Eastern politics to be bad; it's almost a miracle that they are not worse. She's a Jewish woman, older than my mom, younger than my mother-in-law. She lives in a very bourgeois milieu in suburban Boston. Then in the 2000s, she started radicalizing, driven largely by the health care issue. Demographically, one would expect her to be a PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine). And given the Green Party's history of taking pacifistic positions on the Israel/Palestine issue, that obscure the real power relations of ethnic cleansing and occupation under a veneer of false balance, she could very well have taken refuge in that sort of position. To the partial credit of the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party, one gets the sense that this was not how things played out, that her new lefty friends started telling her that a PEP position is indefensible. Again to Stein's credit (unlike my mom, who sticks fingers in her ears whenever I mention Palestinians) it seems she tried to learn. The problem is, in the Green Party, who is there to learn from? Stalinists without a political home; conspiracy theorists; kooks. (Baraka fits under these headings.) Even so, the sort of political education one can obtain from these people is useful up to a point. In the mid-2000s, the notion that the USA is the source of all evil was the beginning of wisdom. But only the beginning. But then in 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia set himself on fire. Previously impregnable regimes across the region of the Middle East and North Africa started looking shaky. This was not only a problem for the Green Party, but the entire U.S. left, who all got caught flat-footed. For the conspiracy theorist types, who entered the period with a crude classification of "puppet regimes" (those openly subservient to the U.S.) and "the Axis of Resistance" (those with a rhetorical patina of opposition to the U.S. and Israel, no matter how inconsistent), the refusal of popular uprisings to respect this dichotomy could mean only one thing: it's a CIA plot. And with political education from such people--who now cannot acknowledge in the face of growing evidence that U.S. policy serves to prop up the Assad regime, not take it down--it is therefore unsurprising that Jill Stein puts her foot in her mouth whenever she opines at length about the Middle East.

This is one issue of several. I would argue that the most important issue of all is climate change, and its threat to human survival. That at least is how I rationalize my own approach to the Green Party, which once upon a time I would have regarded as impossible to justify. The fact that several people who were attracted in 2012 and beyond by Stein's talk of a Green New Deal are now open in arguing for socialist solutions as a necessary alternative to capitalism provides me with further justification. But issues like Syria provide advance warning signs of how seriously individual leaders and political tendencies can be taken when they speak of "revolution." Just as some members of the Green Party limit their opposition to capitalist Democrats to the ones they dislike, and support those they like, too much of the U.S. left turned on the people of Syria when they dared show their distaste for a preferred ruler. As the candidacies of the two major parties show, U.S. imperialism--political and economic hegemony backed by military might--is the cornerstone of the capitalist stability in the U.S., constituting the one orthodoxy which no one, not even Bernie, dare question. U.S. imperialism will only be overthrown by revolutions that replace the interlocking system of capitalist states--sometimes puppets, sometimes "resistors," always repressive--under its control in key regions of the world. And to paraphrase Jill Stein herself, "you can't have a revolutionary party with a counterrevolutionary foreign policy."