Why we “Demand More!”

September 18, 2018

Howie Hawkins and Jia Lee, Green Party candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in New York, explain how their campaign is aiming to raise expectations that have been systematically lowered by the state’s Democratic Party leaders.

WHEN OUR Green Party campaign for governor and lieutenant governor of New York settled on the campaign slogan of Demand More! we had three points in mind.

First, we wanted to “raise our expectations,” as Ralph Nader always enjoins us to do. In New York, that means, first of all, clean government. Public corruption is rampant.

More than 50 state officials have been driven from office since 2000 for ethical or criminal violations. During Governor Cuomo’s most recent term, the Speaker of the Assembly, the leader of the Senate, two of Cuomo’s top aides and a slew of Cuomo campaign contributors who received lucrative state contracts have been convicted of a variety of bid-rigging, bribery, fraud and kickback charges.

The case of Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr. illustrates how deep and bipartisan the corruption and criminality of the power structure is.

Kelly pleaded guilty earlier this year to bribing Joe Percoco, Cuomo’s top aide and longtime campaign manager, to grease the wheels of permitting the giant Competitive Power Ventures fracked-gas power plant that will add 10 percent to New York state’s carbon footprint.

New York Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins speaks at a climate protest in Albany
New York Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins speaks at a climate protest in Albany (Howie Hawkins For Governor)

Kelly was national treasurer and national finance chairman of the Democratic Party at the time. He was in a lobbying firm with longtime Republican operative Charlie Black.

Peter Galbraith Kelly Sr., junior’s father, was also a top Democrat and a principal in this lobbying firm in the 1980s with Black, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater. The firm represented clients like dictators Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, right-wing Sens. Jesse Helms and Phil Gramm, and corporate interests like Bethlehem Steel and the Tobacco Institute.

Meanwhile, the junior Kelly was a principal architect in the Reagan administration of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), whose mission is to meddle in the internal affairs and politics of foreign countries by supplying funds, technical aid and training to centrist and rightist political parties, social movements, labor unions and media.

Kelly Jr. was a founder, treasurer and director of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the federally funded Democratic Party arm of the NED, whose Republican counterpart is the International Republican Institute.

That is how bipartisan corporate rule works. After all, the bombastic electioneering in the streets, the capitalists and their paid-for political representatives in both parties get together to do business in the suites.

SECOND, “DEMAND More!” means winning more reforms. The 2014 Green gubernatorial ticket of Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones won 5 percent of the vote, the most for an independent left party gubernatorial ticket in New York in a century.

Cuomo had wanted to roll up his vote in preparation for a presidential bid. Instead, his vote went down from 2010. He couldn’t take voters to his left for granted and now had to compete for the Green vote by adopting some of our demands, notably, the fracking ban and paid family leave, and partially moving toward others, like the $15 an hour minimum wage and tuition-free public college.

Topping our list of more reforms we can win this time around are single-payer health care, 100 percent clean energy by 2030, indexing a $20 minimum wage to inflation and productivity and progressive education reform — including a full opt-out from high-stakes testing, stopping charter school privatizations, integrating the most segregated public schools in the nation and full funding for all public schools, including tuition-free public colleges.

Third, “Demand More!” means more than piecemeal reforms; it means system change. We are campaigning for an eco-socialism that can achieve a high quality of life for all based on a sustainable environment.

We are saying that none of the particular reforms we can win are safe from roll back until we have the economic democracy of social ownership of the major means of production. Without that economic democracy, the wealth that capitalism concentrates in the hands of a few translates into concentrated political power.

That political power is expressed not only in campaign contributions, but more fundamentally in capitalists’ private control over productive assets and investment decisions. The capitalists can simply refuse to extend credit to a reform government and force it to concede. Witness the capitulation of SYRIZA in Greece in 2015 to the austerity demands of the “troika” of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Or remember what a red-faced Bill Clinton exclaimed in 1992 during his transition after winning election: “You mean to tell me that the success of the economic program and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?”

Robert Rubin, Clinton’s economic adviser from Goldman Sachs, had just explained to Clinton that his moderate reform program of middle-class tax cuts and spending on education and infrastructure had to be sacrificed to balanced-budget austerity in order to keep Wall Street happy and investing to get economy out of the Bush recession.

Our campaign is calling for expanded public ownership in several key sectors: energy, housing, broadband, health care and banking, with a state bank having a division devoted to developing worker cooperatives. We also call for a social wealth fund where the state would buy corporate stocks to progressively transform concentrated private wealth into public wealth in which every New Yorker would share in the returns.

We are holding a series of panels around New York City during the fall campaign on “Socialist Solutions to Pressing Problems” in conjunction with the International Socialist Organization and the Socialist Party USA. The panel topics include low wages, segregation, health care, education, housing, climate, Puerto Rico and Palestine.

NO SLOGAN satisfies everyone. Demand more? Some people have told us that they want to curtail wasteful consumption in the interests of the environment and discourage conspicuous consumption in the interests of social equality and solidarity.

To which we answer, the “more” we want is a socialist economy where needs and wants change in the context of planning for ecological sustainability, producing durable goods to reduce social costs, and distributing income equitably according to need for public goods and services and according to work performed, not asset ownership, in a private sector of cooperatives.

Encouraging planned obsolescence and status-seeking consumption makes sense under the capitalist logic of maximizing sales and profits, but not under the socialist logic of producing for use and environmental sustainability.

Others have objected that “More” is reformist. It was answer the foremost founder of conservative business unionism, Samuel Gompers, famously gave to the question: What does labor want?

Actually, the demand for more can be revolutionary. Hal Draper explained why in Marxism and Trade Unions, a talk he gave in 1970 to veterans of the civil rights and antiwar movements then moving into the labor movement. Draper said, “The struggle for more becomes revolutionary when it goes beyond the capabilities of the system to provide that ‘more’.”

Public jobs for the unemployed is incompatible with capitalists’ interest in having a large pool of unemployed people to weaken labor’s bargaining position and keep wages down. A system of universal public health care undermines the capitalists’ ability under the current system to keep their workers tethered to crappy jobs for fear of losing health coverage.

Big landlords and developers hate the very idea of providing enough quality public housing to provide affordable housing for all because it undermines these capitalists’ interest in keeping housing scarce and rents high. 100 percent clean energy by 2030 means the death of the giant fossil fuel corporations whose coal, oil, and gas reserves will become worthless stranded assets.

Business union leaders and the “realistic” incremental reformers typical of the Democratic Party talk about more, but they don’t really mean it. Draper noted that business unions “give up the struggle for more and settle for less” in order to keep union officials in business getting their members' dues. Democratic politicians settle for less because their corporate paymasters demand it.

Socialists fighting for reforms do really mean it — and we know we are going to have to go beyond immediate reforms to socialist system change in order to secure even the immediate reforms.

So we’re sticking with our slogan: Demand More!

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