Interview: Howie Hawkins discusses Ecosocialism and the Green New Deal
By Andrew Green
I recently had the privilege of meeting with Green Party co-founder and 2020 presidential candidate Howie Hawkins on behalf of Done Waiting. Our discussion on green activism and the Party itself took us in many directions, ranging from the nascent Movement for A People’s Party to critiques of the Biden administration. The transcript below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Andrew Okay, so just starting off, what would you say, is your pitch for ecosocialism? Why should Americans embrace ecosocialism as the way forward?
Howie Hawkins Well, a capitalist economy is structured to grow endlessly. And you can’t balance it with nature, so we’re busting through these planetary boundaries. Everybody knows about climate change, ocean acidification, mass species extinctions. We’re consuming the planet. We’re cooking the planet. And so we need a system, we call it ecological socialism, where we can plan the major parts of the economy to meet everybody’s basic needs within ecological limits. So that’s the first thing. I mean, it’s just a matter of survival, really. Secondly, we have a growing and extreme inequality. And capitalism produces that because working people get a fixed wage, all the surplus value they create goes to the owners of these enterprises and they get richer and richer and we struggle to get by. And then there are two other big issues that we can’t solve under capitalism. One is peace.
The whole world is capitalist countries now and all their big companies get their military industrial complexes to try to protect their foreign interests. And so there’s conflict over cheap labor resources, markets, geopolitical military positions, and it leads to conflict and war. And with everybody nuclear armed, it could lead to nuclear annihilation. And then the last thing is, if we really want democracy, we can’t allow there to be a class of oligarchs whose concentrated wealth translates into concentrated political power. So even if we begin to reform things, they have the power. It’s campaign financing, it’s lobbyists, it’s their ability to invest or not, finance the government or not. That enables them to resist and roll back any progressive reforms. So we don’t really have political equality. We have a group of oligarchs, plutocrats, whatever you want to call them, that have much more power than the rest of us. So democracy needs socialism.
Andrew So right now we see people voting in self-titled Democratic socialists, people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others, who are with the Democratic Party, but are championing ideas like the Green New Deal.. Do you think it’s possible for people working within the Democratic Party to achieve things as big as the Green New Deal? And do you trust those people to go through with an actual Green New Deal that will transition us to renewable energy in an equitable manner by 2030?
Howie Hawkins Not the green New Deal. They’re not going to have an adequate climate program from the Democratic Party. They’re too tied to the vested interests, the fossil fuel industry, the nuclear industry, the auto industry, the real estate industry. So all those industries have a vested interest in doing what we’re doing with respect to energy. And just look what AOC did with the Green New Deal, you know, she took it from the Green Party. It was our signature issue in the 2010s. And she went there with Sunrise and they got a lot of attention in that sit-in in Pelosi’s office, which was great. And they were calling for a select committee on a green new deal that could put legislation straight onto the House floor. And Pelosi wasn’t having that. So AOC came back with Markey with this nonbinding resolution for a green new deal. Let’s just get a sense that people want to bring a new deal. But in that resolution, they totally diluted the content that the Green Party was talking about. They eliminated the ban on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure. We have to stop fossil fuels, we can’t expand it or we’ll be locked in for decades if we build out particularly national natural gas infrastructure and frack for the gas. They also dropped the phase out of nuclear power, which at best is an enormous waste of resources that could be put into renewable energy, and is an ever present danger of catastrophic accidents, a constant producer of wastes that have to be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years. And nuclear is not economically viable on its own. It has to be subsidized. So that’s a waste. We call for cuts in the military budget to help fund a Green New Deal. They drop that. And then they extended the deadline for zero emissions from 2030 to 2050. Except it’s not zero emissions now. It’s net zero. Which means. If we do afforestation to capture more carbon in the biosphere, it’s not drawing carbon out of the atmosphere, it’s countering fossil fuel burning, which we get now with Biden’s proposal for carbon capture and sequestration. You know, what they do when they sequester it now is they pump it into oil wells to get more oil out of those places where they drill. Also, their Green New Deal was killed by the Democrats. Pelosi never let them vote on it. McConnell wanted to vote on it because half the Democratic senators were running for president. And they said, “oh, this is a trick,” so they all voted present, except four of the Democrats voted no with the Republicans, and then Biden ran away from the “Green New Deal” phrase. So when you look at Biden’s climate plan, it’s a lot of vague statements. What few numbers they put out, like they’re going to retrofit five million buildings in four years or four million buildings in five years. Anyway, you do the math there, 120 million buildings in the country. It would take 150 years to retrofit those buildings for heat pumps and efficiency. So it’s not serious. So can you do it in the Democratic Party? I think with a Green New Deal, they proved no. Trump called climate change a hoax, but Biden acts as if it’s a hoax.
Andrew So on that note, do you think it’s even possible to achieve such a significant transition into a green new deal purely through electoral means, even if that were the Green Party? Given your affiliation with the IWW and the Teamsters,do you think it’s the job of organized labor to build that power that will push us toward an ecosocialist future and toward things like the Green New Deal and energy sustainability?
Howie Hawkins Well, it’s both. We have to have reform within the labor movement, we have to get the left organizing there. My union, the Teamsters, they’re all down for these pipelines because there’s some jobs in it for them, even though there are a lot more jobs in renewables. But that’s not what’s on the table. So they go for what they can possibly get in the immediate future. But if you don’t put this into the elections and give people the opportunity to say this is what we want, you can do all the demonstrations you want, all the petitions you want, all the lobbying you want, but because you’re not threatening the vote of the Democrats, who you’re really lobbying, they can just ignore you, which is what we see now. The left in this last election, for the most part, completely lined up behind Biden, unconditionally. Made no demands. And now he’s stuffing his cabinet with deficit hawks, war hawks and, his climate people, we can go into it, but, you know, it’s pretty bleak when you look at the people he’s appointed and what they’ve done in the past with regard to climate.
Andrew In past writings, you’ve talked about the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and people like Bernie Sanders, echoing the sentiment of Bruce Dixon in calling them sheepdogs, building up the support of people who want progressive change, only to concede to people like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and push those progressive voters back into the fold of the Democratic Party to vote for neoliberal capitalists. Do you think, had Sanders won the primary in 2020, you would have endorsed him in the general election? Or do you think that even with a Sanders presidency, the administration would have still been held by the DNC and their interests?
Howie Hawkins Well, Sanders is not really a socialist, he’s an old fashioned liberal, a New Deal liberal. He wanted to tax the rich to fund social programs. You keep the rich with their concentrated wealth, and they’re going to fight you every step of the way and make things really hard. And then on foreign and military policy, he really didn’t want to address the American empire. So there would have been a reason for us to continue running to raise those issues. The problem was the grief we got from so-called socialists and progressives. These professors and pundits and podcasters. It was bad under Biden, and would have been worse under Sanders. We still would have made our case, but it would have been even tougher.
Howie Hawkins We need a left that has its own identity, its own platform, and is in opposition to the second most enthusiastic capitalist party, the Democratic Party, as well as the most enthusiastic capitalist party, the Republican Party. And the progressives, you know, they are making the Democrats look better than they really are. I think the balance of forces there was illustrated when AOC wanted to get on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which had an opening, and she let it be known. And so the corporate Democrats recruited Kathleen Rice, a very conservative Democrat from Long Island in New York. And the policy and steering committee, which is the leadership body of the House Democratic caucus, voted 46 to 13 and crushed AOC. So she’s not getting on that committee. That committee has jurisdiction over climate and health care policy, her big issues. So that shows you, you know, she’s a voice; they’ll let her talk, although they scold her for saying certain things, but she doesn’t have any power and neither do the progressive Democrats. They get to talk, but they don’t get to make decisions.
Andrew A number of Bernie Sanders campaign alums along with other people in the spectrum of the progressive left and populist left are creating what they call the People’s Party which champions policies including a vaguely defined Green New Deal Do you think this People’s Party is a productive use of organizational capital for the American left?
Howie Hawkins Well, right now, the Green Party is the only party that’s national and trying to build a mass party. PSL is a cadre organization. They’re a vanguard party, Marxist-Leninist, democratic centralism. They don’t want a mass party. I think they use their campaigns to recruit members and they’ve captured the Peace and Freedom ballot line in California, but they’re not doing mass organizing. Movement for People’s Party, They’ve been talking for five years. They had their online convention this summer. We talked with Nick Brana in the spring. He was not interested in working with us. When he was asked why we weren’t included in the convention, he said we’re too socialistic. And now they’re touting the run of Nina Turner as a Democrat. So are they really going to be independent? It takes a lot of work to organize at the grassroots. The Greens have that. I mean, I have a lot of criticisms of how we could be much better organizers. Like most of- well really all of the Left, we’re good at mobilizing the usual suspects, but we’re not good at organizing and going out and talking to people and listening and building relationships and relating what they tell us to what our platform is and being in communities where people know who we are and they know we’re fighting on issues and then they can trust us, that kind of mass organizing needs to be done to build a mass party. It has to be done community by community. You know, some people were saying, oh, you know, he should step aside for Jesse Ventura because he’s a celebrity, aside from his politics. Look, we ran Ralph Nader in 2000. You couldn’t have higher name recognition or a more positive reputation and favorability among American people as an accomplished reformer who fights for the people. Even then, in an election for an open seat after eight years of Clinton corporatism and Bush running as a compassionate conservative, not a scary Republican yet. Nader still only got 2.7 percent. Media blacked him out, he got attacked by the Democrats for being a spoiler, all that stuff, though, when it comes to presidential elections, the candidates, the message, the campaign execution matter much less than the larger political context and dynamic. I mean, this was a really tough year for us. “Anybody but Trump,” the whole center left was feeling that, and given a single member district plurality election system, that push to the lesser evil by people that are afraid of the greater evil makes it very difficult for third parties. So, you know, pushing for rank choice voting, which is spreading across the country, I think is a one way we can open up the possibilities for a Left party.
Andrew You talked about the need for organizing, and how that’s a struggle with the Green Party and third parties in general, do you have any plans for how you want to change the way your party works in the future, as far as organizing?
Howie Hawkins Well, some of our state parties are dues paying membership parties, but the National Party is not, and I think that’s a problem. We don’t have steady financing. We don’t represent living, breathing Greens. We represent state parties using proxies like “how many candidates did you run,” “how many registered voters you got” or “how many people signed petitions?” It’s a very complicated formula and it comes out with weird results. So you got weak parties getting high representation and strong parties getting lower representation. I think we just need to represent the members. So that would help with party democracy, party financing. So that’s one thing. I think what locals have to do is something called deep canvassing, and it needs to be year round, not just seasonal, where you go out and you figure out what parts of the city or town or county should be, what the Green Party, you know, what neighborhoods but are not. And you go out and talk to those people, you just listen mainly and have a conversation and they get to know you. You get to know them. You can relate what their concerns are to what you’re doing. But you got to be out there and also active between elections on issues that are concerned to these communities, and that’s how you build a party that is trusted by people. You know, the biggest bloc of voters is still the nonvoters. They tend to be working class and disproportionately people of color and young people. That’s the future of the Green Party. What we’re not going to get them by putting out a Facebook post saying, everybody show up here for a demonstration. You have to go out and talk to people and get to know them and have them get to know you.
Andrew I’ve seen people ostensibly on the left criticizing the dues paying model as being a barrier to entry for working class people or just extremely poor people, where even a small amount of money per month or per year is something that will make them hesitant to join or unable to join a party. What’s your take on that?
Howie Hawkins Well, if somebody is totally destitute, you can give them a hardship waiver, but that argument I’ve heard in the Green Party from the professionals, not the working class people. You know, the idea of a dues paying membership party was an invention of the left, of the working class parties in Europe. And then when we had a Socialist Party back, you know, from the turn of the nineteen hundreds. Working people, poor working people, they go to church and tithe. If they’re in welfare rights organizations, they pay monthly dues. One of the biggest anti-poverty groups, they got destroyed under Obama because they got conned by Project Veritas, this right wing disinformation operation, but they had five dollars a month membership. That was the National Welfare Rights Organization’s dues back in the 80s. That’s about 15, 20 dollars a month now, probably. So if you’re not serious enough to put down some money, you’re really not serious and you probably shouldn’t be in the party making decisions because you’re in and out. You’re casual. We need serious people and we need money. You know, we should not rely on volunteers because then it’s the middle class people and retired people that do all the work. The working people are like, “well I can’t do all this because I have a family to raise and a timeclock to punch.”
If you want a party that working class people can be a part of, you have to have a staff to support the work so you’re not relying on working class volunteers that really don’t have the time for it. Otherwise you defer to the more upscale people, and then you wonder why you don’t have a base in the working class and people of color and all that, it’s because of your structure. So a dues paying membership party, you know, if you’re a working person and you’re very busy, you got kids, you may not have a lot of time, but if you like what it’s saying, you know, you can pay five, ten, fifteen dollars a month. And then when you do have time to come out to activities, that’s reasonable. And it’s also serious; if something’s free, it’s probably not worth very much. So there are a lot of arguments for having a dues paying membership. The idea that it’s a barrier, I think is just B.S. It’s not a barrier. It’s actually saying, “you’re important and your contributions are important and this is a good cause and we want you to be part of it.”
Andrew Do you think that the Green Party itself, and the ecosocialist movement in general will see significant growth over the course of the next four years, with the Biden administration? What do you see as the role of the Green Party under a Biden administration?
Howie Hawkins Well, there’s a potential for growth because I think Biden is going to disappoint a lot of progressives and self-styled socialists. The Green Party needs to be in a position to bring those people in.
Howie Hawkins But that comes back to organizing. And really, it’s got to be community by community. I mean, our locals have to start becoming organizers. They have to have a strategic plan. And from what I saw during this campaign, very few locals do, they’ve sort of got the people that have been attracted mainly through social media. Most Greens are really pissed off former Democrats who realized the Democrats are on the wrong side. Whether it was the Iraq War, the Keystone pipeline, police brutality, or affordable housing, they finally come to the conclusion that we’re fighting the Democrats before we even get to the Republicans, we need something else.
Andrew I know you’ve run for governor of New York several times and you just did the presidency in 2020. Are you planning on running for office again in the future?
Howie Hawkins I have no plans. We rolled over our campaign committee with the FEC because we got things to do to wrap up the last campaign. And we also want to continue to the extent we can to help local green parties become organizing parties and where their local elections where we could help or give advice, we want to do that. There may be issue campaigns. I think there was a real lack on the part of the whole damn left during the last year when Trump totally blew the covid thing right. The left should have linked that to the Black Lives Matter uprising and had a campaign. Biden didn’t even pick it up and he had the platform. But those links were not made. And, you know, Angela and I talked about it, but we didn’t have the capacity, and we were kind of pariahs to most of the liberal left. They’d say, “oh, if you vote Green, you’re voting for Trump.” Which, of course, is not true. There’s a different column for the Green Party, that vote doesn’t go to Trump. And it’s a statement. It’s another way of voting against Trump. But people got all emotional and weren’t thinking straight. I think Trump scared a lot of people stupid. And I think the Democrats paid the price for that, because they ran a campaign like Hillary Clinton ran her campaign. They were economically tone deaf to the tens of millions of people that were being economically ruined in this coronavirus crisis.
The Democrats didn’t offer anything. Trump is out there saying he’ll reopen the economy, that’s all people heard. So he actually got a lot of votes. He got more votes from Black people, Asian people, Latino people and women. The only people he lost votes from were white men who I think figured he’d been lying to them for four years, you know, it was eight percent flipped. The Democrats had no message that appealed to people. Clinton’s slogan was “stronger together” Biden’s slogan is “Unite the Divided Nation”. And if you’re worried about getting your job back or your business reopened or getting evicted or putting food on the table, and Trump is saying “we’re going to get the economy going again,” at least he’s speaking to what you were worried about.
Unfortunately, too many people believed — because all he was doing was just pandering. He was just making false promises and boasting about things he hadn’t done, but most people don’t dig beyond what they hear, so he ended up getting 11 million more votes. The Democrats didn’t take back the Senate, lost seats in the House, lost chambers in state legislatures. So now 30 of the states are controlled by Republicans. They’ll do the redistricting, which will overrepresent them in state legislatures and Congress through the next decade. The total disaster for the Democrats and unfortunately, the progressives enabled that by lining up unconditionally behind Biden, making no criticism and not even speaking for themselves, making national demands that would have affected Biden without directly criticizing them. They just said, “we’re all in for Biden.” You know, it was all about Trump. And Trump is just one guy, but that seventy four million votes. That’s more than one guy. We’ve got a problem here.
Andrew So in the past, you’ve talked about the coronavirus and how that was mishandled, and in many ways continues to be mishandled, and misrepresented in a way that is harming people, especially those on the margins of society and working class people in general. How do you think that the coronavirus pandemic will impact the future of American politics?
Howie Hawkins Well, the most marginalized working class people were affected the worst, but there’s also a large part of middle class small business people. You know, restaurant owners, the people that manage property, small landlords. And the Democrats didn’t offer them anything, they got pushed into Trump’s corner because at least he was talking about reopening the economy and that is the mass base for the far right Republicans. But I don’t think those people should be written off. You know, we should have had a program. Ilhan Omar, for example, had a great housing bill. It was called the Cancel Rent and Mortgage Act. But it wasn’t just saying, “if you can’t pay, you don’t have to pay.” It was saying the federal government would make up the difference. So small landlords and all the small businesses that service property and community banks and credit unions, that whole sector would have had the cash flow so they could all stay in business and keep their people employed. And it didn’t make it into that Heroes Act. It didn’t get close because the corporate Democrats run the program. The country is about sixty-two percent or so working class and about a third middle class, which is a whole lot of different classes. You’ve got the small business class, people that are self-employed. You’ve got professionals, some of whom are scientific, technical people, some of whom are in the caring professions, teaching, nursing and so on. All those different sectors of these middle classes have different political tendencies. If the left doesn’t have a program and doesn’t speak to their concerns, we’re leaving them to the right, and the right’s answer to that is “your problem is immigrants. Your problem is ethnic minorities. Your problem is the hoax of the coronavirus or the hoax of the climate” and all these conspiracy delusions that the far right promotes. And so there becomes an irrationalism. And the Democrats don’t even try to talk some sense and have some appealing programs for these people. So all I’m saying is, in the aftermath of covid, we have to speak to the middle classes as well as the working classes. Now what we need is a Green New Deal. We need immediate relief: cash, rent, and mortgage protection, eviction moratorium, enhanced access to food through SNAP and other programs. And for the duration of the emergency, which we’re still in, that needs to be provided, but to get the economy going again, we need those. The Green New Deal is a massive public investment program in a whole new system of production that doesn’t emit carbon. Not just in the power sector, but manufacturing, agriculture, buildings, and transportation. It’s basically rebuilding our productive systems. And that’s a massive investment, it will create massive employment. In our Green New Deal budget, it was thirty eight million jobs, new jobs. Which is more than what we actually need at the moment. I mean, the bottleneck is having enough people to do the work in the time frame it needs to be done to avert a real climate catastrophe. So I think coming out of the covid depression and the chronic stagnation that capitalism is in, it’s in a situation of overproduction. So there’s not any incentive to build new means of production. So when we give tax breaks to the rich, they don’t build new factories and offices and so forth. They invest in financial assets, stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate. They just further rearrange and further concentrate who owns the productive assets we already have. So that kind of trickle down economics, which the Democrats have promoted as much as the Republicans, maybe a little less enthusiastically in terms of tax cuts, is going to be a problem and we’ll have to see what the Biden administration does. They know they have to do some public investment, but when they talk about infrastructure, it’s public-private partnerships, which means the public pays the private sector to do it with subsidies and tax breaks. And when you get the tax breaks, you can finagle your way to get tax breaks without actually making the kind of investments that are needed, and it’s more expensive than direct public provision of those things. I think we’re going to get some gestures from the Biden administration, but it’s going to be far short of what’s needed.
Andrew As of right now, the Biden administration has talked about the two thousand dollar payments and those small placations. But it seems like they’re not really wanting to address precarity on the scale that we’re seeing. Do you think that means people go to the Republican Party because they have at least some economic rhetoric of what to offer those people? What do you think happens to that huge bloc of voters in the working class and middle class if the Democrats can’t address their concerns or fail to address their concerns?
Howie Hawkins Yes, some will go to the Republicans, particularly middle class people who vote more. Working class people, if the Greens aren’t there to organize them and pick them up, they’re going to abstain like they have traditionally. They feel both parties don’t know them, don’t care about them, don’t know what their issues are, so why even bother? It’s kind of painful when you feel powerless to even get engaged in politics because you think you can’t make a difference. It’s not true, but that’s the way people feel. It’s why we need a left. It’s an organizing left. Not just the posturing left. And that’s, I think, the big task for the left. We have to get off our butts, off online, and go out and talk to people. Have regular meetings, educational meetings, activities, local struggles, because that’s where you can bring people in and make a difference and show you can make a difference. You know, to make demands on the Biden administration, especially given the way this election went down, where the progressives just totally supported Biden, Biden feels like he can take them for granted because they vote for him anyway. No matter what he does.
I can see in a swing state. I understand why people would vote for Biden. But to silence your voice, and not make any demands on him and spend your time attacking the Green Party, which is trying to raise these demands, that is a problem because it basically disappeared the left. Which had no voice in this election, aside from our social media, I mean, we were totally blanked out not just in the corporate media, but the so-called progressive media, so-called independent media. You know, we were pariahs to them, they didn’t want us.
In the past, they’ve said “we’ll vote green in the safe states.” You know, to show you’re out there and that option is there this time, instead of a safe state strategy, all these, pundits, professors, prominent personalities on the left, they had a no state strategy. They said we have to run up the vote to stop a coup.
Andrew Do you have any advice for the newly emerging leftist movement among college students and youth throughout this country in bringing about a better future?
Howie Hawkins Well, you need to be part of organizations and not just in your Internet silos. And you need to be part of a party, the Green Party, because what a party does is bring together the single issues and the different constituencies into a common program. I mean, most of progressive activism is now led by nonprofits which are not democratic. They have boards, they hire staff, which basically sends out over the Internet what they’re going to do, and rank-and-file people have no say in that. And behind those nonprofits are rich people. Billionaires like Steier, Soros, and Lewis. They’re Democratic Party people, they’re capitalists. So they circumscribe what the non-profits can do, because if the non-profits get too radical for them, they’re not going to get funded. Whereas funding a membership party. means the party can contest elections, it can be active on the issues, and it brings together the different constituencies, that’s what’s missing in the left in the United States.
Andrew Do you have anywhere you want to direct our readership if they want further information on your platform?
Howie Hawkins Well, we covered a lot. I would just say the website, howiehawkins.us. It has a lot of written material. I think it’s a little hard to navigate, but, with a little work, you can find what you’re looking for.