jhurd_newparty: Re: The Nader campaign, part 1

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Jun 5 19:23:12 MDT 2000

Chris wrote:
>Again, I'm not the biggest supporter of Nader, but I fail to see that he
>deserves the kind of vitriol Mark is spewing below.  It makes me wonder
>if Mark has ever actually heard Nader speak.

Actually one of the best things about Nader is his stump speeches. If
everything was on that level, it would be a helluva campaign. Here is my
report from 1996, a bit more 'literary' than the sort of thing I write
nowadays but that's because I'm off the prozac.

A Ralph Nader Meeting

The longer one participates in left politics, the more things start to flow

On Thursday evening,, I went to a Ralph Nader meeting at the Ethical
Culture Society on Manhattan's Upper West Side sponsored by the Nation
Institute, the Learning Alliance and the Campaign for Peace and Democracy.

My mother's late guru Irving Levitas used to lecture there on Jewish
religion and history occasionally. He was an anarchist who lost much of his
hearing during the Spanish Civil War. Alan Wald, a like- minded Marxist
literary critic, cited him once in an article on Jewish anarchism.

I spot Avis at the Nader literature table. She is married to Elliot, an old
friend of mine from the Catskills who used to teach at Kent State in the
1970s. When I used to go out to SWP educational conferences (brainwashing
sessions) at Oberlin University in Ohio in August, Elliot would come by to
attend one or another discussion. His take on the SWP: smart people but

Avis used to live with Ron Wolin, a SWP comrade of mine from the 1970s when
I was assigned to the upper west side branch. Ron was a founder of the
Vietnam Veterans Against the War. After I got mugged in my apartment on the
upper west side, I went to stay with Ron for a week or so until I got my
head together.

One of the muggers had a pillow over my head and was saying, "This
motherfucker is going to die." I pushed the pillow back and cried out, "I
am a revolutionary. I sell the newspaper that Malcolm X used to tell people
to read". He relented and my life was spared.

Nader was preceded by a number of speakers on a panel, each of whom got ten
minutes. Nader was to get thirty.

One speaker was Arthur Cheliotes, the president of Local 1180 of the
Communications Workers Union in NY and a delegate to the Labor Party
Founding Convention. Arthur's vice-president is Ed Ott, a member of the
board of directors of the Brecht Forum in NY where I give my Internet

Local 1180 invited me to give the workshop to their women's committee which
is composed of 14 African-Americans and one Chinese woman. I was a big hit,
especially when I talked about the nipple-piercing page on the Web.

Last month I spoke on Local 1180's radio show with Alfredo Lopez, the guy
who designed the union's Web Page. We are speaking about the Internet.
Alfredo and I are perfectly in sync about politics and the Internet. I made
a mental note to myself that this is kind of person I want to have in any
political organization I belong to.

For all of Local 1180s leftish credentials, I am disappointed in Arthur's
talk. He announces his endorsement of Clinton, stating that it would be
"disastrous" if Dole won the presidency while the GOP retained control of
the Senate and House. His vision of a Labor Party is also a big let-down.
He seems to see it as a pressure group within the Democratic Party. The
role of the LP, he says, is to educate a backward union membership. Local
1180 members voted 40% for Republicans and 41% for Democrats. The clear
implication is that the role of the LP is to increase the Democratic Party

The next speaker is a black woman connected with the Campaign for a New
Tomorrow. She is an utterly conventionally looking woman in her late 40s
who is dressed like and looks exactly like the administrative workers who
were just on strike at Barnard and not a Angela Davis lookalike. She is
replacing Ron Daniels who had another last-minute commitment he had to
keep. Ron ran for president in 1992 on a third-party ticket. He was one of
the prime movers of the initiative for Independent Black Political Parties
in the 1970s, an idea that Malcom X and the SWP helped to foster. Nowadays,
the SWP is more interested in selling Malcom X literature than acting on
his ideas.

She surprises everybody by delivering a fiery speech denouncing "lesser
evil" politics and endorsing Nader. Cheliotes sinks deep into his chair.
Since it is a steel folding chair, this is no easy trick.

Next to speak was Joanne Landy of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, who
endorses Nader. The Campaign is a left social democratic formation that was
key in agitating around the need for "democracy" in the Soviet world. It
took up the cause of Soviet dissidents while protecting its left flank by
supporting human rights in Central America. The Campaign is rumored to be
getting huge handouts from George Soros, the billionaire investor who
started anticommunist foundations throughout Eastern Europe in the 1970s
and 1980s. Soros has also adopted Bard College, my alma mater, as one of
his pet causes. Bard College became a favorite of his after Leon Botstein,
the president of the college, awarded the chair of the Bard College
Decorative Arts Institute in NY after Cooper Union turned down a similar
proposal from her. Rich people disgust me.

The latest Nation Magazine, given out free in the lobby, has a full page ad
by Progressive Assets Management, a brokerage run by my old friend Peter
Camejo. I owe my political orientation to him, but haven't spoken to him
since the 1987 crash. He had me in stocks instead of cash due to negligence
on his part. I had decided to move to cash after an article in the Monthly
Review a month earlier had predicted a crash.

The last speaker before Nader is Micah Sifrey of the Nation, who, along
with ace journalist Marc Cooper, has just endorsed Nader in the pages of
the magazine. Sifrey appears to be in his early thirties with a buzz-cut
and goatee just like mine. I take to him instantly.

He gives an electrifying speech. While starting off by making the record
that a Nader vote is the only one that makes sense for progressives, he
then proceeds to castigate Nader for the next nine minutes for running an
uninspired, unprofessional and demoralizing campaign. Anybody with a brain
in his head can understand that Nader's problem is similar to Jackson's.
Both have tendrils into a funding base that is largely ruling-class
Democratic. Jackson deals with this by running a "radical" campaign as a
Democrat, while Nader compensates by hardly running at all. He doesn't want
to seem to attract attention. It is obvious that the Greens should have run
somebody more committed to the Left. Unfortunately, due to our weakness, we
have nobody now who can serve as our Lula. This will come.

Nader's speech is wonderful. The high-point is when he says that we are
saddled with powerful people running the country who are not content to be
super-rich. They want to be hyper-rich. He lashes out at Clinton who has
given the military 11 billion dollars more than it asked for but cuts back
programs for employee health and safety, etc. Costs too much, that's
Clinton's complaint.

The meeting testifies to the ineptness of the Nader campaign. There is no
pitch made from the stage for volunteer campaign workers. A few day later,
Avis calls to ask me if I would be willing to be able to pass out Nader
brochures at the big AFL-CIO teach-in next week at Columbia since this
meeting of thousands had not been able to recruit another volunteer besides
her. I explain to her that I am already committed to handing out Brecht
Forum brochures. Two of the major conveners of the teach-in are Columbia
professors Eric Foner and Manning Marable, who is also a leader of the
CofC. Foner is a frequent lecturer at the Brecht Forum. It pleases me to no
end to be on the same payroll as these guys rather than stockbrokers.

I leave the meeting at 9:30 immediately after Nader's speech. As I walk up
CPW I notice crowds of people on the sidewalk looking up into the sky. The
lunar eclipse has just started and there, clear despite some cloudy haze,
is a moon that has the bottom 1/3 blocked out by the shadow of our planet.
It is impressive.

Louis Proyect
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