The push to elect an ecosocialist leader of the federal Green Party signals a growing understanding that capitalism is the root cause of climate change. This is an encouraging development, and we hope this initiative succeeds.
We know the struggle to build a post-capitalist world is a long term project, even though catastrophic harms caused by climate change are happening right now. Many people all over the world are committed to building a sustainable world for us all. For a project so massive in scope, effective strategy is essential.
Because of the critical stakes at play, we need to consider seriously what gains can be made by a federal Green Party with an ecosocialist at the helm.
The Green Party is ideologically confused. While advocating for the preservation of our environment, the party’s establishment is pro-capitalist.
Ecosocialism is not the ideology of the party’s core leaders and staff. There is no organized ecosocialist current inside the Green Party working to build support to change this. Without such a base, how could ecosocialists wage a political fight in support of a left leader against a hostile old guard? Without strong internal support, an ecosocialist leader would face efforts to undermine efforts to push for radical policies.
The message to leftists to join the Green Party in order to elect Dimitri Lascaris or Meryam Haddad strongly echoes the same push to elect a left leader of the federal NDP in 2017. When Jagmeet Singh was elected the leftward push dissolved. Sincere leftists who joined up in the hope of electing a leader who shared their vision had nowhere to channel their political energy within the party.
Mobilizing people to elect a party leader is not the same as building real grassroots power in workplaces and communities. As soon as the election ends, progressive energy tends to melt away and the party establishmentremains in control. An ecosocialist leader would find themselves at the head of a party whose old guard is strongly opposed to them, without organized support at the base.
Even an ecosocialist Green Party holding office would still be a social democratic project – not socialism.
Social democracy and socialism are quite different things. It may seem like splitting hairs, but this is actually a crucial distinction to make. Trying to regulate capitalism is very different from breaking with capitalism and starting a transition towards an entirely different kind of society. Just calling the first project “ecosocialism” doesn’t change what it is.
Like the exciting campaigns of Jeremy Corbyn (UK) and Bernie Sanders (USA), an ecosocialist-led Green Party would still be a social democratic project. The campaigns of both Corbyn and Sanders, were extremely encouraging. The level of success they achieved took most of us by surprise. Both campaigns helped put a human face back on the term ‘socialism,’ which since the end of the Cold War had been thought of as a spent force. But the politics Corbyn and Sanders promoted were social democratic.
We believe that running ecosocialist candidates in elections can be a part of a sound strategy. But only insofar as it serves to build social movements, get the ecosocialist message out and to recruit as many people to the ecosocialist cause as possible. Even a successful ecosocialist candidate will be subsumed by the overwhelming forces of capital. This is the force that built Canada, and it still controls it. Capitalist power does not allow itself to be abolished through elections, or effectively tamed through regulation. Understanding this is a crucial difference between socialism and social democracy.
Green social democracy is an essentially electoral project. It intends to democratically assume control of the existing state power to enact progressive policies within a capitalist economy. Ecosocialism, on the other hand, requires the replacement of all existing capitalist institutions – private banks, the fossil fuel industry, private telecoms, the RCMP and local police forces. These structures need to replaced by radically democratic ones in our workplaces and neighbourhoods on a small scale – and our central governments and economies on the large scale.
Radical democracy means that our workplaces are controlled by those who work there and our communities are governed by those who live in them. It means sovereignty for Indigenous peoples. It empowers us to break the chains of all forms of oppression and capitalist exploitation. It means full economic and social participation for the entirety of the working class: the poor, the incarcerated, all migrants, all genders, all religions, all racialized people. It means the democratic stewardship of our shared planet so the Earth may continue to provide for our children, their children and all future generations. Michael Löwy expands on this in his essay, “Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future.”
Mass Movements Matter Most
While electing ecosocialists can help advance the ecosocialist project, there is no path forward to an ecosocialist future through elections alone. If electoral approaches are to be part of a winning strategy, that strategy must treat mass grassroots movements as the key to changing society.
Mass movements are needed to wrest reforms from whichever party administers capitalism, hold elected radicals accountable, and ultimately break the power of capital. The Green Party, however, remains married to electoralism. Unfortunately, the left candidates for Green leader haven’t questioned that. They’re proposing better policies but not a different strategy for changing society.
The broad based movement around climate change has shown itself capable of drawing in people across ideological lines. It’s developed a left wing committed to climate justice. The Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (MEJC) is an example of this. A political party committed to climate justice needs to be accountable to ordinary people. We should ask what the Green Party will do to build the climate justice movement.
Questions for ecosocialists
Regardless of who is elected leader of the Green Party, what happens next for ecosocialists? What happens to the people drawn to ecosocialism through this campaign? Will they disperse? Will they form new ecosocialist groups? Can the few ecosocialist groups that exist (Solidarity Winnipeg is one) provide a political home for some of the people ready to continue the day to day work of organizing and educating, regardless of whether their candidate wins or not?
Simply changing the leader of the Green Party won’t build grassroots power in our communities. This is the key to changing society. Networks of local groups made up of ordinary people, like MEJC, have the power to mobilize to effect lasting change. Let’s continue to build relationships of solidarity between like-minded people to challenge capitalist power in our workplaces and communities – locally, provincially and federally