This is the first part of a two-part article about the Howie Hawkins/ Angela Walker campaign. Hawkins is the Green Party candidate who I have decided to vote for in the 2020 presidential election. This first part, lists some of the criticisms I have of his campaign. The second part is a general defense of my decision to vote for a third party candidate in an election as serious as this one. As much as I support Howie Hawkins for President, I find some of his slogans to be problematic. The following is a list of criticisms I have of the campaign thus far, which are purely in regards to slogans and rhetoric.
A “Green New Deal” or an “Ecosocialist Green New Deal”?
Howie was one of the first people to propose a Green New Deal (GND), and it need not be said that it has lost some of its radicalism as it has been co-opted by the Democratic Party. That said, I do feel that a discussion on the issue at the national level is absolutely crucial, and that even the passing the minority wing Democratic Party’s bastardized version would be an enormous step forward.
The Republican Party and the majority corporate wing of the Democratic Party have succeeded in demonizing, vilifying, and politicizing the proposal for a Green New Deal in every possible way. Passing a Green New Deal with bipartisan support is already hard enough as it is. The mainstream corporate media quite intentionally doesn’t talk about what the GND actually is but about whether or not this or that party will support it, or whether or not this or that candidate will support it. This is a form of tactical framing that distracts from the concrete policy issues at hand, Vox actually published a video on this which I recommend watching. It is a form of mass manipulation designed to get ordinary people to not think about these issues.
The conservative right consistency red-baits the issue, making absurd and outlandish claims about what the GND is and what it stands for. In my mind amending its name by calling it an “ecosocialist” Green New Deal only serves to further widen the ill-informed partisan divide on this issue. While it could actually help to pass a DNC-backed version by proposing something even more radical, I am actually inclined to think using the term “ecosocialist” is counterproductive, especially to a presidential campaign much less a piece of legislation.
My H20 (Howie 2020) shirt has garnered malicious stares from local citizens, no doubt for the word “Ecosocialist” which precedes “Green New Deal”. I regret this because if the slogan was merely “For a Green New Deal” I feel it would be much easier to break the ice and have a decent conversation with such individuals. Sadly every item for sale on the campaign store has this slogan on it, from yard signs to coffee mugs. Many of the people who see these items don’t like either candidate, and would potentially actually vote for Hawkins were it not for this word. They coulf have perhaps looked up the candidate, learned what Howie actually means by “ecosocialist”, end ended up supporting him anyways. But many simply see that word, and recoil.
The name of this blog is Red Liberty and I am a proud member of the Green Party. It need not be said that I fully support ecosocialist politics, but I am just hesitant on the use of this slogan. Most Americans don’t know what “socialism” is. Even those who claim to be socialists often don’t know what the word means. We are socialists in the sense that Murray Bookchin, Rosa Luxemburg, John Stuart Mill, or George Orwell were socialists. We are not Stalinists, we are not advocates of an authoritarian, much less totalitarian social system. We want to empower communities precisely because we distrust corporations and big governments. The last thing we want is a “big state”.
The word “socialism” unfortunately is uselessly ambiguous when heard by the masses who think only of cliches, such as those of Venezuela. There is a time and a place for using the word. A blog such as my own? Of course my slogan is “Socialism or Barbarism, Liberty or Death”, and I think that slogan itself nullifies some of the misconceptions some people have of the word. But still, this is a blog we are talking about here. But the slogan of a candidate running for President of the United States? I am not saying Howie should drop the term “ecosocialist” or “socialist”, on the contrary I do support it. What I am saying however is that his campaign slogan should be “For a Green New Deal” rather than “For An Ecosocialist Green New Deal”. He should mention socialism and ecosocialism in brochures, pamphlets, and articles that explain precisely what he means by the term. That is my opinion.
Emphasizing Workers and the Working Class, To What Extent is it Needed?
Many of my criticisms here come from Murray Bookchin’s own criticisms of the socialist movement. Howie Hawkins and Murray Bookchin actually knew one another and in at least one instance co-authored a book, if I recall. I merely feel that one of Bookchin’s biggest critiques of modern socialism falls on deaf ears as far as the Hawkins campaign is concerned. I am of course referring to an over-emphasis on class and more specifically on the working class or proletariat.
Howie commonly invokes the word “worker” and as someone with a Marxist background I appreciate the significance of this but think for the modern day Howie, like most modern socialists, takes it a little too far. I think Bookchin’s critiques of an overemphasis of purely class based social analyses are accurate. I am among the first to support workers rights and workers emancipation, however I think beyond a certain point it becomes problematic given the changes in class relations and class consciousness that have taken place in our country since the 1930’s. Back then it made sense to “working-classize” radical politics to such extremes. Working class politics were already radical on their own. But the workers movement is no where near as radical today as it once was, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think it ever will be again. This is the argument Bookchin makes.
To overuse such terminology kindles a kind of superstitious reverence some socialists have for “workers” and stereotypical notions of a working class capable of saving us when the reality is no such actually working class “proletarian element” today exists with such a capacity. Our appeal must be broader than that. While anti-bourgeois it must captivate ordinary working people as they see themselves, not as they are conceived of in the minds of Marxist theoreticians with outdated conceptions not only of how society today functions but also of how capitalism could possibly end. There certainly is still need for working class political struggle and I think Sanders strikes the right balance. It must be a part of the general program and not its defining characteristic. It becomes counterproductive when one takes on such language to excess as I feel Howie often does. The worker no longer sees himself as an oppressed proletarian but as an almost classless common man, a citizen of sorts. He sees that there are super-rich oligarchs in the world and knows he is not one of them, but he does not see himself as a proletarian but as a member of the community, as a free individual and as a citizen. It is to such conceptions that we must appeal to on the local and municipal level.
In invoking the figure of Murray Bookchin in my critique am not saying as he probably would have, that Howie shouldn’t run for national office, on the contrary I think that he should. I do not mean merely to garner support but with every intention to win. I am much more of a republican (and I mean that in the classical sense of the term) than Bookchin was, even if I do consider myself a Communalist and a follower of Bookchin (See my ‘A Leftist Defense of the American Project’).
Some Final Thoughts
I supported Hawkins before he was even the elected candidate of the Green Party. I merely think he should be aware of his constituency, the broad masses he is appealing to, that they are far greater than socialist intellectuals or greens such as myself. If he is to win this constituency must be much wider than those who already identify as leftists, or as greens, or with those already to the left of the Democratic Party today. Our politics aims to empower the disenfranchised and to preserve the prerequisites to all human prosperity and existence for future generations. We aim to empower even those who not seeing the truth then, voted for Trump in 2016 and suffered as a result of it. It must be made clear that our politics aims to empower individuals and communities, to give the community power over both corporations who exploit it and the state which oppresses it. We have to appeal for the support of the former— even current Republicans in the country and the former— even current Democrats in the city, not alienate them.
Most people who will end up voting for Joe Biden will do so out of disgust for Trump. Even many of those who vote for Trump will do so only because they care about abortion, or guns, or because they have a particular disdain for corporate democrats. I think those people should vote for Hawins, or Jo Jorgensen (the Libertarian Party candidate), or whoever actually embodies the ideals they want to see embodied in society. How many people look at Trump or Biden and say “yes he represents what I stand for, a moral leader”? Even if they don’t end up voting their conscience, I want them to hear such candidates on the national debate stage, and if not there then online or in their communities. I don’t want them to just see “ecosocialist”, think of Venezuela, and turn away. I don’t want them to just hear “workers”, and being actual proletarians in the Marxist sense of the word think “oh that isn’t me”, and turn away.
I want it to be said again that my criticisms here are not out of disdain or malice. I will be voting for Howie and Walker in November and I encourage everyone I know to do the same. I have every confidence in their ability to lead this nation, should they, beyond all expectations, manage to win the election. Let us hope.