Nader's Liberal view of State

Brian James hillbily at
Sat Nov 4 18:14:22 MST 2000

Green Party presidential candidate at the University of Michigan

For what social forces does Ralph Nader speak?

By Jerry White
2 November 2000

Full article at:

[....] As for an analysis of the roots of the two-party monopoly and a
perspective for opposing it, Nader's remarks at the University of
Michigan revolved around three major themes: the role of the state, the
impact of globalization, and the viability of national reformism in
general and the AFL-CIO trade unions in particular.

In relation to the state, Nader suggested that it was essentially a
neutral body that could be pressured by citizen-based “grass roots”
movements to keep corporate interests in check. He spoke of his campaign
as an “authentic political movement” linked to a “civic movement” of
citizen groups fighting poverty, environmental damage, low wages and the
decay of mass transit. Such a movement was necessary, he said, “because
the political arena is now dominated by two corrupt parties that are
increasingly freezing out citizens groups in Washington and around the
country from having a chance to shape public policy for a more just
society and world.”

Nader said his campaign was a “drive against the corporate extremists
who have corrupted our government.” It was aimed at restoring “the
sovereignty of the people” over “the sovereignty of the corporations.”
Throughout, Nader advanced the notion that an active and involved
citizenry could win “our government” to its side, without overturning
the present economic order.

In arguing for the viability of this perspective, Nader referred to the
past. He spoke of the Populists, the opponents of child labor, women
suffragettes, sit-down strikers and civil rights activists. With these
struggles, he declared, America said “too bad for your corporate
profits, if you are going to make children work in the factories. Too
bad to you banks and railroads, if you are going to charge high interest
and freight rates and hurt the small farmers and all those who made up
the great Populist Movement. And too bad to you auto companies, if you
are going to prohibit workers from joining unions and fighting for their rights.”

This version of history, however, is very far from the truth. It is a
grotesque distortion and oversimplification, meant to back up the notion
of the state as an essentially neutral body by contrasting to the
corrupt present a mythical past.

In the first place, even in periods of social reform, including the New
Deal of the 1930s, the state remained at bottom an instrument of the
most powerful corporate and financial interests. It was never
independent of them. It functioned then, as always, to defend the
essential interests of the ruling elite, above all, its ownership and
control of the means of production. It did so in that period, in part,
by means of social reforms.

Precisely because the state remained, as it must under the profit
system, an instrument of the dominant economic interests, the reforms
initiated by Roosevelt in the 1930s and Johnson in the 1960s remained
partial and stunted, not even reaching the level of the social benefits
enacted by Western European governments after World War II. Most of
these social programs have, moreover, proven to be temporary.

Secondly, the social gains associated with movements such as the CIO
unions in the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s
were not the product, as Nader suggests, of benevolent governments. They
were the result of mass struggles involving millions of working people,
in many cases led by socialists, which posed to the ruling elite the
question: to be or not to be. Under conditions of massive pressure from
below, the most astute capitalist politicians, including Roosevelt,
understood that it was necessary to make certain concessions to the
working class and other oppressed social layers to save the profit
system from the threat of social revolution.

Liberal defenders of capitalism have always pointed to periods of
reforms as a refutation of the Marxist conception of the state as the
instrument within class society of the economically dominant class. But
even in periods of social reform, the essential character of the state
has been demonstrated in the form of violent repression against the
working class whenever the ruling elite's basic interests were endangered.

There was no lack of such instances under Roosevelt, including the
bloody Memorial Day Massacre of striking steelworkers in 1937. The
postwar period witnessed the repression of the civil rights movement and
the violent reaction to the urban riots and antiwar movement, to mention
but a few examples. The same is true for the more recent period, as the
postwar economic boom unraveled and both parties shifted to a direct
offensive against the working class, starting with Carter and Reagan and
continuing into the present. This involved government backing for the
union-busting campaign of the 1980s and 1990s, including the firing of
the PATCO air traffic controllers, the use of state troopers and company
goons to break strikes, and the revival of labor frame-ups and
picket-line killings .

Nor is the domination of big business over the government and the two
political parties something new, as Nader suggests. It has been an
essential feature of American politics for more than a century. If in
the US this monopoly operates more nakedly than in other countries, it
is because the American workers movement never took the elemental step
of building its own political party.

Nader's denial of the class character of the capitalist state has
reactionary implications for the policies he advocates. While calling
for a reduction in US military spending, Nader defends the claim that
the military exists to defend the interests of the American people, not
US imperialism.

The US Green Party platform takes a similar line, declaring that the US
“must maintain a viable American military force, prudent foreign policy
doctrines, and readiness strategies that take into account real, not
hollow or imagined threats to our people, our democratic institutions
and US interests.” Based on this same outlook, the “pacifist” Green
Party in Germany, which participates in a coalition government, has
adopted an openly pro-imperialist policy and supported NATO's war
against Yugoslavia.

Nader advances similar views in relation to the police and the courts,
claiming they are part of “our government,” not the instruments of class
oppression. In Ann Arbor, Nader complained that police brutality and
scandals were “bringing disrepute on law enforcement and the police
force.” He continued, “If we are ever to have a nation under law, we
have to have public respect for the law enforcement people in our country.”

Full article at:

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