on Howie Hawkins
Issue 43 of Green Horizon Magazine contains an article about the Green Party’s 2020 presidential candidate:
On Howie Hawkins
By Steve Welzer
First, let me put in a good word for this hard-working lifelong activist: He’s been a consistently effective Green Party candidate.
SEEN BEING GREEN
Sometimes we have to step back and notice “the gestalt of it all.” People generally don’t pay all so much detailed attention to most phenomena that pass by on the cultural news feed. For example: The Greens go to great lengths to try to communicate that their program and their praxis encompass justice, economic, diversity and many more issues, yet most of the populace and press continue to think of them as predominantly environmentalist. Another example: The book, The Greening of America, happened to contain many questionable propositions — like the somewhat whimsical “Consciousness III.” Wikipedia says: “It mixed sociological analysis with panegyrics to rock music, cannabis, and blue jeans, arguing that these fashions embodied a fundamental social shift.” So there was lots of screwball stuff in there. Nonetheless, what probably mattered more than anything else about the book is the fact that it got the “greening” idea into the popular consciousness. That idea was, no doubt, interpreted in all kinds of ways, but one way was a valid and significant ecological orientation to the problems of our times. “Greening” became a positive notion that helped prepare the ground for our own movement.
Similarly, many voters, if asked, could not describe much detail about Howie Hawkins’ political perspective. Of those who even noticed his alternative and somewhat marginal presidential campaign last year, most probably just absorbed that: (a) he’s been a regular Green Party candidate, and (b) he espouses a left-wing critique of the current system. Likely few studied the campaign’s literature or web site to a degree that they could relate the difference between Howie’s ecosocialist Green New Deal and AOC’s liberal version.
Howie works hard to try to convey that difference. And to be visible. To the extent that he’s successful at the latter objective what does it amount to? Voters might notice him on the ballot as a Green, might see his campaign lawn signs with the Green logo, might hear him on the radio saying something-or-other about the Green Party. My point is that the overarching memes of “Green Party,” “Green politics,” “environmental issues,” and “independent politics” tend to be the take-aways for most voters. On that basis I believe the party’s visibility is advanced by Howie’s energetic campaigns.
Readers of this magazine might have nits to pick about the details of his orientation (as I will, myself, below), but we should keep in mind that the fine points of such discussions rarely register for most of the public-at-large. Only a tiny segment of the broad electorate gives his campaigns enough attention to formulate a consideration on more than a superficial level. The same holds for most Green campaigns. That’s why excessive vetting of candidates can be counterproductive for alternative parties. They shouldn’t worry all so much about ideological and programmatic purity. Wherever there’s general agreement and enthusiasm for party building, encourage members to run for office! “Being seen being Green” is something Howie Hawkins has understood. The result is that — to his credit and to our benefit — Howie has, over many years, relatively speaking, run some of the most successful Green Party campaigns.
NOW MY COMPLAINT
Those of us with a commitment to social change movement building do pay close attention to the details. And when it comes to a specific “issue” that I, personally, care about a great deal, the orientation of HH’s campaigns is concerning. That orientation does not advance what I consider to be, from an activist standpoint, one of the most important objectives of the times we live in: to transition the left “from Red to Green.”
I came in to the Green politics movement over thirty years ago after reading Howie’s tract: “Toward a New Politics.” As I’ve followed his self-produced movement and campaign literature through the years, I’ve noticed what I consider to be a retrograde shift. His 1989 document asserted: “Greens seek to build an independent political movement of the people.” Now he says what we need to do is “build a working-class party.”
When I challenged him about the “working-class” orientation, he responded: “That’s where the votes are” — as if to say: “Well, that sociological strata is numerous.” But the truth is that he frames it in the way that the Socialist Party does: “The working class is in a key and central position to fight back against the ruling capitalist class and its power. The working class is the major force worldwide that can lead the way to a socialist future.” (https://www.socialistpartyusa.net/principles-points-of-agreement) This is an expression of Marx’s formulation of the “class-for-itself” as the primary agency of “next-higher-stage-of-history” social change. I think it’s mythological.
I think Howie should have kept in mind what his 1980s mentor, Murray Bookchin, pointed out in a booklet titled Listen, Marxist!: “. . . to infect the movement of our time with ‘workerism’ is reactionary to the core . . . to barge in with the worn recipes of Marxism, to babble about the ‘role of the working class,’ amounts to a subversion of the present and the future by the past.”
And, anyway, that’s not “where the votes are.”
WAGE EARNERS ARE OPPRESSED AND PREOCCUPIED
Oppression, such as generally is the experience of wage-labor, doesn’t usually engender enlightenment; it more often breeds despair, resignation, passivity, or pathology. Despite that, the left has tended to suffer from the delusion that the forces of history will galvanize the working class into “gaining consciousness.” That paradigm of social change just doesn’t correspond to reality. Creative advocates of change — who can emanate from any class, vide Edward Goldsmith — want to liberate us all from a society which fosters inequality, class division, exploitation, and oppressions like wage labor. The workers themselves, of our time, under capitalism, generally are preoccupied with getting by.
When you can’t see a viable pathway toward alleviation of your hardship, the dissatisfaction tends to turn inward resulting in depression or numbing-type assuagements and distractions. When it turns outward it may not be highly conscious or discerning. For example: After reunification of the country in 1990 the populace of the former East Germany was subordinate and resentful. At first they clung to their identification with the former Communist Party (which had been renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism). That seemed to indicate a leftist inclination, but it actually reflected an obstinate recalcitrance. Recently their recalcitrance and resentment has been expressed via support for the far-right party called Alternative for Germany. This is similar to the pathological support for Trumpism among some American “salt of the earth” workers who — understandably, in a similar way — have felt alienated, subordinate and resentful.
The Marxist left tries hard not to see this. With a different kind of “woke” they would remove their rose-colored (Red paradigm) glasses and acknowledge how misguided their theory has been in regard to the “historic mission of the working class.”
Liberating us all from the industrial wage-labor system makes sense as an aspirational element of the project to green our society. That’s one among many arguments for transitioning the left from Red to Green.
TOWARD A REALLY NEW POLITICS
Approaching 70, Howie Hawkins can take satisfaction from the fact that his efforts, along with those of his co-thinkers, have helped to motivate the Greens to go on record as being explicitly anti-capitalist. For that I’m glad. However, he and they seem almost clueless about the reconsiderations that have taken place among neo-leftists over the last several decades concluding that we should be talking about a different kind of post-capitalist vision. For that I’m not glad. So my support for Howie Hawkins only goes half-way.
The guy is intelligent and talented. But, like his SPUSA comrades, he continues to be mesmerized by dreams of the working class in motion and the proletariat rising up. My hope is that his thinking will finally evolve. My concern is that it won’t — and so his influence, ultimately, could drag us backward.