On March 9, I had the opportunity to speak with Rich Whitney, representative for the Green Eco-Socialist Network, as well as Co-chair of the Green Party of Illinois and former candidate for the Governor of Illinois. Mr. Whitney spoke to the formation of the Green Eco-Socialist Network and working with the Solidarity Economy movement.
I asked Mr. Whitney about the statement on their website, which says:
SC: I’m wondering if you could explain to readers or outsiders, what main issues or weaknesses within the US Green Movement, leading up to this point, that the formation of the Network is seeking to address or respond to.
RW: “Well, I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a weakness, but just an opportunity to advance the ball, you might say. The Green Party, since its inception, globally, has always had been centered around the four pillars. And this is a good start, but then the question is how do you translate that into policy and how do you translate that into a concrete political program.”
“In my experience, there has always been a current within the Green Party that has recognized, some explicitly some implicitly, that really the fundamental problem we face is the capitalist social and economic system.”
“A few years ago, there was a current within the Green Party of the United States that successfully adopted an Eco-socialist plank in the national platform, which said that the Green Party of the United States supported transitioning to a new economic system that they could call a cooperative commonwealth, or they could call eco-socialism.”
“It was defined as a system that would be based on economic democracy and social control of the instruments of production, but at the same time, avoid the error of a command economy where the state is running everything, like the old Soviet Union, for example.”
“What would that be based upon? […] Democratic institutions owned and controlled by working people. Not a top-down, party-state hierarchy, but a bottom-up system of cooperative workplaces, that are run democratically by workers, who would then elect their supervisors, elect the administrators, etc.”
Rich Whitney highlights the questions that need to be asked to achieve this state that has existed in theory, but for which success on a mass scale represents new territory. The Green Eco-Socialist Network was formed to work on these next steps.
“Now I should probably add, even though the eco-socialist platform plank was adopted, not everybody in the Green Party agrees with it. There are some who believe that capitalism can be reformed in a way that would still satisfy the four pillars or the 10 key values. And there’s others that may not be persuaded one way or the other.”
“But […] even if you’re not convinced that capitalism has to go, that capitalism is a central problem—creating these institutions, like worker-owned cooperatives and community-owned agriculture and public banking, and all these other institutions that could help us get to that type of society—even if you think capitalism can be reformed, these are still good things. These are still in line with our values […].”
The role of political backing
“There’s a great deal of potential for us to work with an existing movement that’s already in place in the United States, which is broadly referred to as the Solidarity Economy movement. It is a pretty vibrant movement that has a lot of aspects to it. […] There are a lot of organizations that are already working on this project. Groups like the Democracy Collaborative, the Next System project, the Democracy at Work Institute, as well as the US Solidarity Economy network itself, that have been working on this for a number of years now, starting to build and trying to strengthen these institutions that I’ve described.”
“So there’s already a movement basis for the projects that we’re undertaking. And where I think the Green Eco-Socialist Network can play a very positive role, and hopefully the Green Party itself can play a positive role, is that there needs to be a political component to this movement.”
“Another reason why the political component is important, is in the area of resources. Worker owned co-ops, and community land trust and all these other institutions, they have to fight for their existence within the competitive environment of capitalism as it exists now, and it’s very difficult for them to go head to head against established corporations that have all the banking institutions behind them, etc.”
“But the one way in which we can level that playing field is to use the state, use the government. So, another reason why a political party is so important is,
“So that’s where we think that we have a role to play and it is our hope that we can transform the Green Party into being that instrument that can help us get there.”
SC: Thank you so much for that. Is there anything specific that motivated the timing of the formation of the Green Ecosocialist Network? From the information available on your online presence, it seems to have been sometime in July 2020. Anything specific that motivated that?
RW: “Yeah, it came out of a Green Party convention. Again, the platform flag was adopted in 2016. As of the 2017 convention, I had a conversation with David Cobb, who was our former presidential candidate back in 2004, and [co-coordinator] in the US Solidarity Economy Network today. And we just had a conversation about, ‘Hey, we ought to have this type of political expression within the Green Party’.”
“We organized a conference in Chicago in the fall of 2019 that we invited a number of Greens and other interested persons to. We got about, maybe 60, 70 people there. And after that conference, we started doing the groundwork for creating this new organization, which then officially launched the next year .”
SC: Given it is not uncommon for Greens, broadly speaking on a global level, to be centrist with the mantra of “neither left nor right but forward”, what kind of response have you received, if any, from the broader membership of the Green Party?
RW: “I think overall it’s been favorable. That mantra, ‘neither left or right but forward’, I don’t think that’s as popular as it once was. There are certainly still some Greens who would hew to that. And, the problem with a slogan like that is, until you get into the weeds and really talk specifics, what does that actually mean, right?”
“And so I suppose you could even say that what we’re doing is forward, but we certainly draw a lot from the ‘traditional radical left’, ‘the Marxist left’, whatever you want to call it. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of avoiding any kind of dogmatism. It’s not like, well Marx said this, so that’s the Bible and we’re going to follow it. Nothing like that is going on in this organization.”
“But at the same time, we recognize that what we’re doing, and trying to overthrow capitalism, and the analysis of capitalism that came from the Marxist left over many, many decades, still has a lot of validity.”
“So, I personally would identify with the left, properly understood. Part of the problem is these days, the corporate media calls the Democratic Party the left, right? It calls Joe Biden the left for heaven’s sakes, you know, so there’s a lot of this confusion going on.”
“You go back to the collectives in Spain during the 1930s that flourished for a while and things like that, you can point to certain historical moments that show the promise of this kind of real Socialism or Eco-Socialism, but it’s never really had a chance to take hold, in the way that we’re trying to achieve now.”
SC: Thank you. Candidates from the Green Party such as Howie Hawkins were one of the earliest proponents of the Eco-socialist Green New Deal. The Democrats have since proposed versions of the Green New Deal that have kind of garnered more attention at the national level and beyond. And more recently discourse of a just green recovery from COVID-19 is being normalized in the political sphere. So how is the Network responding to these opportunities of political possibility?
RW: “Well, of course the Green New Deal (*not to be confused with the Democratic Party’s Green New Deal) has always been kind of a political football for years and actually goes back before Hawkins’ campaign. I actually used it in my campaign for Governor [of Illinois] in 2010, as did Howie Hawkins in his campaign for governor in New York around the same time, and then Jill Stein and her two runs for president also used the Green New Deal.”
“Maybe there’s a few Democrats who support that, but I haven’t seen that really been being emphasized in their versions of the Green New Deal. And that’s just one example.”
“Howie Hawkins’ plan overall — number one, it’s very detailed — he had a completely laid-out budget for it, and just the amount of resources going into it would be far greater than even the most ambitious of the Democratic Party proposals.”
“This gets into what I was talking about earlier, with the need to use state resources to strengthen the Solidarity Economy movement. That’s something where I think the Green Eco-Socialists are emphasizing, even to a greater degree than Howie Hawkins is.”
Rich Whitney explains the Green New Deal acting as a massive transfer of wealth from the ruling class to the working class through the medium of the state. Tax revenue and other resources are redirected into projects necessary to save us from the climate crisis, lift people out of poverty, improve educational opportunity and health care and more.
“So in other words, when there is competition for contracts [for projects], we would insist that worker-owned cooperatives be given preference. Or that the resources would flow into institutions like community land trusts so that the communities are empowered, and they’re able to use those financial resources to strengthen their self-sufficiency and resiliency, and all the other good things that we know have to happen if we’re going to avert an even bigger climate catastrophe that we’re already in the process of having.”
“And I’m not saying that Howie [Hawkins] would disagree with that, I don’t think he does, I’m just saying that this is something, that the Green Eco-Socialist Network would emphasize.”
SC: Thank you. What are some upcoming initiatives on your agenda, or any events for people to connect with the Network and get involved?
RW: “We’re working with a number of different organizations in the Solidarity Economy movement broadly. There’s ongoing conferences and discussions, we’re collaborating with some of these organizations that I mentioned to try to sharpen our ideas, as far as what a political program should look like.”
“For example, one of the things that I have a particular interest in is universal basic income. There’s an existing movement for it, the timeliness of it I think is pretty important since this would certainly help people survive during the pandemic. And so that’s one of the things that I personally am working on researching, with the idea that that would be one component of a political program. Another component of a political program would be support for public banking, which would also help enrich communities. So we are having communications with those groups.”
The network is organizing by hosting public meetings (See the GEN’s Facebook webinar: Why capitalism is the problem).
“I just learned today that we just got our own YouTube channel. […] So it’s a combination of public education, trying to reach the public with our message. It’s partly a project of networking with the existing organizations that are doing this work in the Solidarity Economy movement.”
“And finally, working within the Green Party to try to convince and persuade more and more Greens that, yes this is something that we need to try to become, so it’s really working on all of those fronts.”
“I’m very active in the peace movement among other things, but even there, that’s another intersection that I think also needs to be part of the movement for Eco-socialism, because if we can stop the colossal waste of, what is it — I think we spent about six and a half trillion dollars on the post-9/11 wars so far — those kinds of resources can and should be put to work actually helping people around the world, and helping do the things we need to do at home as well. So that’s also an important part of the struggle in my view.”
To find out more about the Green Eco-Socialist Network in the United States:
The US Solidarity Economy Network: