The Left Green Network (1988-91)

In the 1980s in many countries, ecological, feminist, antinuclear, and other movements give rise to Green parties. In inspired by the then-radical German Greens, these “anti-party parties” were not yet entirely coopted by the mainstream; for several more years they would retained a degree of their original movement orientation. Late in the decade the U.S. Greens (founded in 1986) were still in flux, grappling with an existential question: would they would they remain a movement, or would they become a conventional political party? Influential members of the U.S. Greens were fixated on becoming a normalized party as a positive good and even on eventually running U.S. presidential candidates.

Photographer: Janet Biehl

Bookchin in the Pacific Northwest, 1988

In 1988, disturbed by this development, Murray Bookchin and Howie Hawkins collaborated to found the Left Green Network (LGN) as a radical alternative to U.S. Green liberals. Where the mainstream Greens wanted a conventional party, the LGN called for continuing the Greens as a decentralized movement. Where the mainstream Greens wanted to enter the existing system, the LGN rejected that system and called for replacing it with a confederation of democratic assemblies. Where mainstream Greens focused heavily on environmental issues, the LGN insisted that environmental issues were inseparable from social justice issues. Where mainstream Greens were entranced by eco-spirituality as a worldview, the LGN recognized naturalism and science as the rational basis for averting ecological ruin. And where mainstream Greens tended to blame “overpopulation” for ecological destruction, the LGN pinned the blame squarely on capitalism and the nation-state.

That summer of 1988, Hawkins and Bookchin drafted a “call” for the LGN, stating its purpose, and a set of principles based on social ecology and libertarian municipalism. They would use these documents as the basis for organizing an ecological, democratic, antiracist, feminist, multicultural, anticapitalist movement.

For a few years, thanks in great part to Hawkins’s energetic organizing, the network expanded, slowly gaining adherents among Green groups around North America. The LGN participated in the Wall Street Action of 1990, along with the affiliated Youth Greens. Left Greens worked with the Diné (Navajo) in New Mexico and Arizona to prevent uranium mining on their ancestral lands. They conducted educational workshops at the Nevada nuclear test site. The local group to which Bookchin and I belonged, the Burlington Greens, ran candidates for city council on a platform to decentralize city government and replace it with neighborhood assemblies; groups in Iowa and New Haven ran similar campaigns. The LGN published an organizing bulletin and a journal. It nurtured relations with Green leftists and ecologically oriented socialists internationally.

But in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the left declined quite precipitately, and many leftist groups simply disappeared. The Left Green Network lost momentum and gradually passed out of existence as well.

Howard Hawkins, c. 1987

Howard Hawkins, c. 1987

A period of reaction had set in. In the next decades, the ecological crisis would only worsen, and capitalism would become ever more consolidated.

Now, in 2015, calls for an egalitarian renewal of anticapitalist grassroots-democratic movements are once again being heard. Perhaps the time has come to take another look at the LGN’s founding documents. At the very least, as a programmatic formulation of Bookchin’s ideas (with influence by Hawkins), they constitute a historical record of this part of this important thinker’s political journey, Hence I am republishing them here. While some of their topical references are out of date, in many respects they seem prescient. Perhaps their basic structure will become relevant for organizing a similar movements today.

Call for a Left Green Network

The existing world system is based on an economic structure with a “grow-or-die” imperative that threatens to destroy life as we know it. Buttressed by militaristic nation-states organized to protect ruling elites, the present system—in both its capitalist and bureaucratic manifestations—is increasingly irrational. This irrationality is demonstrated not only by the continued and increasing oppression and dehumanization of people and their communities around the world, but by the vast destruction of the biosphere. It is manifested in Chernobyl and Bhopal, by toxics in food and contaminated water, by rainforest destruction and by acid rain, by the greenhouse effect and by ozone depletion, and recently by drought in the central United States and by the total inundation of the Ganges delta. The ruling elites’ answer to global starvation and the destruction of the very foundations of human life is war, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua. To global corporations and state managers, the critical problems are interest-rate levels and the “food glut.”

A political force is needed to stop this destruction of the living earth, including humanity itself—a force organized locally and linked confederally up to the global level. Such a movement is already growing in many forms today—from Greens in Europe to communities of indigenous peoples fighting the destruction of their rainforest homes. As North American radicals, many of whom were involved in the New left of the ‘60s and the environmental movements of the ’70s, we see this emergence of the international Green movement as a major step toward creating an alternative to this destructive system.

In the United States, elements of such a new political force exist in the independent socialist and anarchist left; among Blacks and Latins for whom the promise of the Rainbow Coalition is not fulfilled; among Native American traditionalists; among feminists; in the gay and lesbian liberation movement; in the nonaligned peace movement; among workers resisting the corporate assault on living standards and fighting to control their work environments; among students and other young people facing a bleak future; in the growing Green movement; and among many people who are realizing for the first time that they are oppressed by this destructive system.

These groups now have an opportunity to converge into a force that can challenge the destruction of our humanity. We are calling for the formation of a Left Green Network in North America as a step toward that end.

1989 LGN founding meeting

At the founding meeting of the LGN, Ames, Iowa, 1989

Many of us have worked in the Green movement. We hold the concept of “Green” to be explicitly radical, inherently anti-capitalist, and completely wedded to the New Left’s commitment to participatory democracy. We believe the Green movement should carry forward the anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian themes of the New Left, while advancing a social-ecological perspective as the basis for new independent political movement.

We see the Left Green Network as an organized educational tendency for activists who share our perspectives within the left, within the Green movement, and within grassroots movements of resistance. We encourage U.S. participants in the Left Green Network to remain in—or join—the Green Committees of Correspondence, the principal nationwide Green political organization. But we also welcome participants from other Green and leftist organizations throughout North America, as well as unaffiliated Greens and leftists.

Independent leftists and Greens in the United States need to offer an alternative to the concerted efforts currently being made to steer radicals into the Democratic Party, a party whose purpose is to implement only those reforms necessary to reproduce the capitalist system and to smother those that would conflict with it. It is vital to begin providing a serious alternative for radicals who disclaim both the orthodoxies of the Old Left and the unprincipled compromises that come with seeking piecemeal forms through the Democratic Party in coalition with the corporate and military interests that dominate it. In the name of a ”lesser evil” policy, too many activists are supporting “progressive” capitalist politicians who are hardly distinguishable in substance from the “greater evil” supposedly being opposed.

This damaging trend has created a vacuum where once there was radicalism, making the rebirth of a New Left more important today than at any time since the ’60s. Such a movement must be capable of advancing principled, independent, and anti-capitalist position that addresses current realities and is unencumbered by support either for the western bloc’s corporate capitalism or the eastern bloc’s bureaucratic statism.

While so many activists have been disappearing to the Democratic Party, the U.S. Green movement has failed to live up to its promise. Often, the consensus-seeking process is abused to prevent debate on controversial questions, affirmation of majority positions, and decisions to act on them. An equation of accountable structures with hierarchy is fostering an irresponsible revolving membership and a tyranny of structurelessness. The radical potential of the Green movements is being compromised by tendencies that are fostering an anti-intellectual irrationalism, a proselytizing religiosity, and a liberal “tolerance” of an intolerant, mean-spirited Malthusianism.

Instead of advancing a coherent alternative to global destruction, the Greens are mired in a contradictory mix of orientations—peace, justice, and ecology activism along with nonpolitical mysticism and “deep ecological” misanthropy; independent leftism along with opportunistic liberalism and outright anti-leftism. Thus, in spite of the U.S. Greens’ claimed openness, the resulting absence of a clear commitment to a convergence of environmental movements with movements for economic justice, racial equality, women’s liberation, and other emancipatory movements is deeply offensive to activist Greens and many of the people they are trying to reach.

A New England affiliate of the LGN protests nukes

A New England affiliate of the LGN protests nukes

In this atmosphere of conciliation with the Democrats, on the one hand, and with anti-leftist mysticism on the other, we find it necessary to avow our commitment to the New Left tradition of a radical struggle for human emancipation. By forming a Left Green Network, we hope to advance a programmatically coherent leftist policy within the Green movement.

We take this step in a constructive spirit. We want to persuade others of our views, while functioning in a manner completely open and transparent to the movement at large, and by scrupulously abiding by the democratic processes of broader organizations. By organizing the Left Green Network, we hope to reach out to other currents of the independent left and to popular movements for peace, justice, and the environment. We want to greatly enhance the vitality, social diversity, and political coherence of the North American Green movement.

While we favor the appropriate use of consensus process by tightly knit local groups if they so choose, we oppose its abuse in newly forming groups and in large, diverse regional and national meetings. Nor are we opposed to a “spirituality” that means mutual care, respect, and a sense of community to nurture the human spirit and sustain us for political struggle. We want to foster an ecological sensibility that rests on a healthy naturalism with a sense of wonder and respect for natural evolution, and a sense of experiential communion with nature—not a supernaturalism that promotes the separation of humanity from nature and that ultimately justifies domination and hierarchy.

We do not believe that humanity’s present collision course with nature is inevitable, nor that reason excludes intuition and emotion, nor, above all, that the ecological crisis can be separated from the social crisis and dehumanization and spiritual impoverishment from oppression and material impoverishment. Green politics, therefore, are left politics—and are incompatible with the competition, alienation, exploitation, and endless accumulation that characterize capitalism.

Protesting nukes in New Hampshire

Protesting in New Hampshire

We wish to establish organizational forms for the Left Green Network that embody the Green principle of social responsibility, as well as that of grassroots democracy. Accordingly, we plan to develop an educational and organizational literature that will advance our views, including an organizing bulletin and a discussion journal for in-depth theoretical analysis. We plan to organize Left Green conferences to exchange views and set our policies; to participate in others’ conferences by sponsoring workshops, co-sponsoring forums, and the like; to develop international ties; and to promote political action in pursuit of Left Green goals. We will have a clearly defined membership with voting rights, a realistic common commitment to finance the Left Green Network, and local, regional, national, and continental organizational forms based on a confederal system of association. We call for accountability at every level of organization and in every kind of structure—both in the Left Green Network and in the other groups of which we are a part. We will seek consensus on decisions, but when differences cannot be ironed out in discussion, the majority will have the right to take and implement decisions, while the minority will have the rights to abstain from implementation and to publicly dissent.

The appended draft proposal for a Left Green body of principles provides a philosophical framework the Left Green Network based on social-ecological, anti-capitalist, independent politics. It is put forth not as a dogma but as a first step toward the ultimate creation of a Left Green program. It calls for democracy based on equality and solidarity, instead of political rule based on economic power; for social justice as a necessary part of an ecologically sustainable society; for economic justice and material well-being as a necessary part of caring for the world of life as a whole, rather than regarding nature as a resource to be raped for the sake of a “grow-or-die” capitalist economy; and for the harmonization of human with human—the elimination of violence and domination in all its forms—as a necessary part of harmonizing society with nature.

We call upon activists who share these principles to join us in building the Left Green Network in North America within the Green movement and the independent left.

 

Principles of the Left Green Network

[August 13,1988]

1. Ecological Humanism

Left Greens stand for the creation of a society of human liberty, equality, and solidarity in ecological harmony with nature. We seek to realize the highest democratic and libertarian ideals of the American Revolution and to create the social conditions for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We share the Revolution’s humanistic premise: that all humans are endowed by nature with the capacity for reason, empathy, and free choice and therefore have a natural right to democratic self-government and to basic freedoms, as well as economic rights.

The humanism that the Left Greens stand for, however, is an ecological humanism. We reject the antinaturalism of traditional humanisms that have sought to create a social “realm of freedom” by means of dominating a natural “realm of necessity.” We also reject the antihumanism of ecophilosophies that, in reaction to the destruction of the environment, seek to protect nature by constricting human freedom.

Left Greens oppose all forms of domination, of both human and nonhuman nature, and believe that human liberation and ecological harmony are inextricably connected. We call for a reharmonization of humanity with nature on the basis of a new harmonization of human with human. We seek a social and ecological ethics for a society in which each individual is free to reach his or her full potential; free, egalitarian, nonhierarchical society of self-governing communities that are humanly scaled, bioregionally integrated, and cooperatively confederated; a society that is a partner with the rest of nature.

2. Social Ecology

Humanity has reached a point in history where the boldest concepts of utopia are possible, yet we remain mired in the legacy of domination, and even the very survival of humanity is now in question. The ecological provision of material security for every human being is readily achievable, yet we remain trapped in a social megamachine that pits humans against each other and that devours both people and nature for its own purposes.

Left Greens are social ecologists. We root the ecological crisis in its systemic social causes—capitalism in particular and hierarchy and domination in general. The present competitive society’s war on the natural world is an extension of the war of each against all that it fosters among humans—as well as a war of each against his or her own nature. Left Greens oppose the misanthropic orientations that blame human nature, human rationality, or “overpopulation” for the ecological crisis. We believe that a radical transformation of this society is not only possible but imperative for survival as well as to continue natural and social evolution.

Human liberation and the protection of nonhuman life are not merely compatible—both are necessary. The Left Greens seek to unite social and environmental movements in order to change society. As social ecologists, we stand with every struggle for human freedom, equality, and solidarity, for the liberation of women, people of color, gays and lesbians, working people, young people, old people, peoples dominated by foreign powers, and ordinary people in all walks of life who are weighed down by the institutions and culture of domination.

Left Greens also stand with every struggle for the protection of nonhuman life. As social ecologists, we embrace the conservation of species diversity, habitats, and ecosystems and the expansion of wilderness areas. We call for ecotechnologies based on renewable, organic, and nontoxic materials, energy sources, and production processes that harmonize community-controlled economies with the ecology of their bioregions.

3. Racial Equality

Left Greens oppose any compromise with racism in any form. We support affirmative action to create substantive equality and every effort of racially oppressed groups to achieve community empowerment and self-determination. We seek to help an independent “rainbow” movement develop from below in which independent community-based organizations in all of North America’s diverse ethnic and social communities join together on the basis of substantive equality, mutual aid, and grassroots control of the movement.

4. Social Ecofeminism

Left Greens are committed to the liberation of women, to their basic reproductive rights as well as to their full participation all realms of social life. We believe in a social ecofeminism that seeks to understand and uproot the social origins of patricentric structures of domination. Unlike other ecofeminisms that accept patriarchal myths and cultural definitions of women as more” natural” than men and as existing outside culture, social ecofeminism regards women as cultural beings, as well as biological beings, and seeks to understand and change the social realities of the relationships between women, men, the political realm, the domestic realm, and all of these to nature.

5. Gay and Lesbian Liberation

Left Greens demand the sexual and social emancipation of people of all sexual preferences. We support every effort by lesbians and gay men to achieve substantive equality and civil rights in all areas, such as jobs, housing, and child custody, as well as anti-AIDS funding. We recognize that lesbians and gay men are demanding not only their own freedom and dignity but that of all people, for as long as sexuality is not free, people are doomed to thwart their most basic desires for love, pleasure, and creativity.

6. Grassroots Democracy

A society in which human beings cooperatively control their own destinies must be the product of the self-activity of a popular majority of the people. Because this kind of society cannot, by its very nature, be legislated from the top down, Left Greens do not want to get elected into the existing power structure. Rather, we want to restructure political institutions along lines that will replace the centralized state with a confederal participatory democracy. Our goal is base democracy, in which public policy at all jurisdictional scales is determined by community assemblies, such as town meetings, that are open to all citizens. Confederations of these community assemblies will coordinate public policy from below. Representatives to the larger scales of confederal self-government will receive ongoing instructions from the base assemblies and will be subject to immediate recall by the base.

7. Cooperative Commonwealth

The Left Greens seek to bring the economy under the control of the grassroots democracy. We call for a cooperative commonwealth—a fundamental alternative both the private-corporate-market system of the West and the state-bureaucratic-command system of the East. The world economy today, under both corporate capitalism and state-“socialism,” is an interconnected system based on the exploitation of the many. Its goal is not to meet human needs in harmony with nature, but the investment of capital to create more capital in order to satisfy the profit and power motives of the elite few that control the means of production and militaristic nation-states. Endless growth-for growth’s-sake is thus structured into this economic system, making it deadly to the planetary biosphere. It is inherently anti-human and anti-ecological.

The LGN at the Wall Street Action, 1990 (note the banner in the upper left)

The LGN at the Wall Street Action, 1990 (note the banner in the upper left)

It degrades social and moral bonds into depersonalized, amoral market and bureaucratic relationships. It calls upon the basest of human attributes to motivate economic activity. To attempt to humanize and ecologize this system is like asking a plant to stop photosynthesizing.

Society’s common wealth—the land and natural resources; the banks and the material infrastructure of production—is the creation of natural evolution and the labor of millions, not of the ruling elites that now control most of it. As our common heritage, Left Greens believe that this social wealth should be held in common and used cooperatively or the common good of people and their ecological context.

In a cooperative commonwealth, people democratically and cooperatively own and control their economy. Global corporations and centralized state enterprises should be broken up and replaced by individual and family enterprises, cooperatives, and decentralized publicly owned enterprises. Basic industries and services would be socialized through municipalization into community ownership and control, not nationalized into bureaucracy. Confederations of communities would own larger facilities regionally, and confederations of regions would coordinate the economy from below at still larger jurisdictional scales.

This kind of democratized economic system will uncouple the exploitative growth dynamic of today’s economic megamachine and make possible an ecological economy in dynamic equilibrium with the environment. It will empower people to define their own needs and then produce what is needed to satisfy them in harmony with nature. It will enable society to replace the growth-oriented exploitative economy that blindly devours the environment with a need-oriented moral economy that consciously establishes a dynamic equilibrium with the biosphere.

8. Human Rights

Left Greens envision a world where each individual is free to develop his or her full potential because each individual enjoys basic political, economic, and individual human rights. Left Greens make no compromises in the defense of civil liberties. But formal civil liberties are undermined as effectively by the burdens of economic deprivation as they are by overt political repression. Left Greens therefore call for the creation of a moral economy that ensures that every person’s basic material needs are met as a human right. We call for a guaranteed income sufficient to support decent standard of living and for a just distribution of available work for all willing and able. We demand shorter work weeks and call for the free provision, under community control, of education, health care, public transportation, and other basic goods and services. These social responsibilities would be funded through steeply progressive taxation, revenues from public enterprises, and voluntary contributions to public funds.

9. Non-Aligned Internationalism

Left Greens support human rights according to one universal criterion—freedom—without regard for national boundaries or the military blocs of the Cold War. They actively solidarize with nonaligned peace, ecology, democracy, worker, feminist, anti-racist, anti-militarist, and anti-imperialist movements in every country—East bloc, West bloc, Third World.

Janet Biehl prepares for a Burlington Greens action, c. 1989

Janet Biehl prepares for a Burlington Greens action, c. 1989

They envision a world without borders, a world of decentralized regions composed of confederations of self-governing communities.

Left Greens demand that every nuclear power initiate immediate unilateral nuclear disarmament and conversion to nonprovocative, home-based defense based on both voluntary conventionally-armed militia and nonviolent social defense. These forms of defense should be strictly accountable to civilian authority. Left Greens demand that every country recall all armed forces from stations abroad and use the savings from military spending for social and ecological reconstruction. Only such measures can create the just, democratic, and ecologically sustainable conditions necessary for a durable peace.

10. Independent Politics

Grassroots movements for fundamental change need an independent political vehicle. The Democratic Party has been the graveyard for every popular movement for fundamental change in the United States, from the early workers’ parties and the populist movement of the nineteenth century to the labor movement of the 1930s and, increasingly, the new social movements since the 1960s. Left Greens reject the dependent politics of lobbying and compromising inside the establishment parties, the Democrats and Republicans, which are dominated by the vested interests connected to big business and the military. We oppose any support for their candidates, including “progressive” Democrats who run against more moderate elements of the party establishment. Instead, Left Greens seek independent organization and action outside ruling-class structures. We support Greens who run on an independent Green ballot line as mandated and recallable representatives who are fully accountable to the program and membership of the Green political organization. Left Greens cooperate with and seek to develop unity with other independent political organizations on the basis of compatible political principles

11. Direct Action

Voting is not enough. Global corporations hold a private economic veto over public policy through threats of disinvestment. The bureaucratic and military structures of the stale can veto radical legislative initiatives through bureaucratic inertia and, as a last resort, military repression. Broad, popular direct action is thus needed to counter private corporate power, bureaucratic inertia, and ultimately violent repression by the military. Movements from below are the basis for Green political organization. Left Greens help build independent direct action movements that can lay the basis for an independent electoral alternative. Left Green direct action takes many forms: from nonviolent resistance to existing abuses to reconstructive action to build alternatives. The Left Greens call for extending the extra-parliamentary movement into electoral/legislative arenas, not for the purpose of getting into the existing power structure, but to restructure that power fundamentally. We seek to create direct action in its highest form—direct democracy.

Left Greens do not limit their goals to the “left wing of the possible.” We aim to change what is possible. We refuse to compromise our program in order to achieve short-term “influence” inside the establishment. Capitalism and hierarchical society generally cannot be transformed incrementally from the top down. Although Left Greens may enter legislatures to advance their program, they refuse the formal executive power of government until the majority of people not only vote for a program of basic social change but are ready to take direct action to ensure that the program is implemented

12. Radical Municipalism

Left Greens “think globally” to understand the large-scale social forces that must be transformed, while we “act locally” to create a local framework through which grassroots people can participate directly in democratic transformation. For Left Greens, community empowerment does not mean electing better representatives to govern us, but literally the empowerment of every community to practice self-government.

Left Greens call for a radical municipalist strategy that will run independent Green candidates in cities and towns across the continent on a program of building up a popular counterpower based on movements from below, on democratizing municipalities, and on creating municipal confederations that bring increasing political and economic power under community control. We hold that community empowerment must be created throughout the land in order to build up a dual power in society that can initially resist and ultimately replace nation-states and global corporations.

13. Strategic Nonviolence

Left Greens are committed to a strategy of nonviolent revolution, but we affirm the right of self-defense. We practice critical solidarity with legitimate freedom struggles, although we may not agree with every tactic or programmatic goal of such movements. Left Greens work toward a society in which political disputes are solved nonviolently. We understand that this is not currently the case, and that the central reason for this fact is the existence of social hierarchies based on racial domination, patriarchal authority, class exploitation, and an unjust world order maintained by militarist in nation-states. The inevitable instances of violence arising from the conflicts between these structures and their subjects are to be blamed on the structures of domination, not on those who resist domination. Such structural violence will be eliminated only by the elimination of these structures of domination.

14. Democratic Decentralism

Left Greens believe in democratic decentralism. On organizational forms demand strict accountability of representatives, spokespeople, candidates, and elected officials to policies set by the membership. At the same time, we believe in pluralism among the membership, including the freedom to dissent and full ongoing discussion of all positions taken by the organization. Outside of the binding agreements on the Principles and Bylaws that constitute conditions for membership, members are free to abstain from the implementation of majority decisions with which they disagree and to publicly dissent from them. Although Left Green representatives, spokespeople, candidates, and elected officials are required to act in a manner consistent with imperative mandates from the membership, they are free to publicly express their own dissenting views when they differ from such mandates. Left Greens believe in seeking to arrive at decisions by consensus if possible. But when differences exist, majorities should be accorded the right to make decisions in the name of the organization. Minorities remain free to abstain from the implementation of majority decisions with which they disagree and to publicly dissent from them.

 

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