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Socialism recycled

National | The left swung the last presidential election, as Ralph Nader grabbed a crucial 3 percent of the vote. Led by high-decibel radicals like Michael Moore, the left is not only hot under the collar but hot on bestseller lists and at the box office. To find out about how leftists might affect this year's elections, WORLD visited the Green Party convention

Issue: "Kerry picks Edwards as VP," July 17, 2004

MILWAUKEE - The Green Party aspires to govern the United States of America, but the speaker's platform at its June 24-27 convention in Milwaukee did not display an American flag. Instead, at the left of the platform stood a flag depicting the planet Earth. At the right was a flag with red and white stripes-but instead of the field of stars, the broken cross of the '60s-era peace symbol.

Unlike what is usually seen at the Republican and Democratic conventions, the Greens wore few funny hats. Delegates included lots of aging women in peasant dresses, elderly men in tie-dye T-shirts, and younger men in suits with their long hair pulled back in ponytails. Whiffs of incense and marijuana hung in the air of the Hyatt Regency, the surprisingly posh convention hotel. Still, these delegates were intense, not boisterous, and celebrating as Democrats and Republicans are at their conventions. Instead of "spontaneous demonstrations" at the Green Party convention, the delegates shouted and heckled. Some did carry signs: "Profit from Marijuana Farms, not Oil," "Victory for the Insurgents in Iraq."

Outside the auditorium in the Midwest Center were tables with signs and pamphlets promoting an array of causes. The Socialists had a table, as did pro-Palestinian activists and a pro-marijuana interest group that recommended, "Vote Hemp."

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Close to 800 delegates showed up from 48 states. Whereas the major party conventions are big shows with a pre-determined outcome, the Greens were conducting more of an old-school political convention, where delegates actually thrash out policy and select a nominee not already decided by primary elections.

The Greens in their convention did what other parties do: They put together and ratified a platform (anti-war, pro-abortion, anti-corporation); held caucuses (the "lavender" Green caucus for gays, a brand-new black caucus); and delivered and listened to countless speeches ("America is the enemy of the peoples of the world!").

But for all of its nuttiness, the two major political parties took this unconventional convention very seriously. The big question was whether the delegates would endorse Ralph Nader, their nominee in the last election who this year is running as an independent. If the party were to endorse Mr. Nader, he could gain access to 22 state ballots where the Green Party has become a recognized political presence, possibly draining enough votes from John Kerry to reelect George W. Bush.

The contentious debate over whether to endorse Mr. Nader was also symptomatic of deeper issues, reflecting the direction and the strategy of the new American left.

The Greens, as a political movement, began in Australia in 1970 as an organization of anti-nuclear and environmental activists. The Green Party soon spread to Europe, where under the parliamentary system that favors small parties it soon became a potent political force. In Europe, Greens hold key legislative seats, mayoral and city council offices, and cabinet positions.

With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Greens have become an alternative "progressive" movement. With Marxism widely discredited, the Greens are offering a radical ideology based on environmentalism rather than conventionally socialist economics. While the European Greens are definitely leftists -- and would be indistinguishable from the socialist parties on many issues -- some major differences are clear.

European socialists have their base in labor unions. They resist closing aging factories. Greens, though, make environmentalist issues their priority. They favor closing factories that cause pollution, and urging workers to do something more environmentally correct.

In Europe, Green Parties are leading the opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning. But not because they are pro-life; they aren't. (Greens nearly always support abortion and other measures that would lower human populations.) Greens are enormously suspicious of technology, which in the Frankenstein-like case of making medicine from unborn children leads them to a position with which pro-lifers can agree.

But in the American Green Party platform, stem-cell research is not even mentioned. Lorna Salzman, who ran unsuccessfully for the Green presidential nomination, complained that "the U.S. Green Party is the only Green Party in the world that has not made environmental issues the center." She told reporters that the war in Iraq is less important than "the war on the Earth," and that in our environmental policies, "we are committing terrorism against ourselves." Environmentalism, she says, should be the basis for the social-justice issues. For American Greens, she implies, the reverse is the case: "Social justice" is the basis for environmental issues.

One prominent Green Party leader, Peter Camejo, does not disguise his Marxism: He calls himself a "watermelon," green on the outside, but red on the inside. Author of a pamphlet titled "How to Make a Revolution," Mr. Camejo says, "I have the same views I've always had in my life." In 1976, he was the presidential candidate for the Socialist Worker's Party, a Trotskyite organization committed to sparking a communist revolution in the United States. Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, called him one of the "10 most dangerous" people in the state.

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