Nader and working class

Workers World, Chicago Bureau wwchi at
Sat Oct 28 12:06:21 MDT 2000

Dayne Goodwin wrote:

> Isn't it great how the Ralph Nader Green Party presidential
>campaign is challenging, exposing and maybe even disrupting the capitalist
>two-party political system?

>Class-conscious Marxists have a wonderful
>opportunity to participate in a mass anti-establishment, anti-corporate
>populist ferment that is attracting hundreds of thousands of young people.
>This growing movement which was manifest in the Seattle demonstrations
>against capitalist globalization is creating favorable terrain for those
>who are working to develop working class consciousness.  Revolutionary
>socialists in the Labor Party milieu are among those making the most of
>this revolutionary opportunity with the development of Labor for Nader

> In this dimension of challenging the capitalist two-party
>political system and fostering anti-capitalist class consciousness, the
>Green Party Nader campaign is more politically advanced than the electoral
>positions of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Communist Party

[Certainly true - LP]

>The Green Party Nader campaign is more useful to actually building
>mass working class consciousness than the explicitly socialist campaign of
>the tiny Socialist Party or the token revolutionary socialist campaigns of
>the comparably small Workers World Party and Socialist Workers Party.

>.............. in terms of the national U.S.
>electoral political scene that is now getting attention from millions of
>working people, I think that the Nader campaign is the most useful place
>to apply our time and energy.
> Dayne Goodwin

This post raises several questions which unfortunately are often treated as
a single question, so let's try and separate them and go through them one by

(a) Is the Nader campaign having a progressive effect?

I think it clearly is.  It's a progressive campaign overall.  The rallies
are progressive rallies.  Anything that breaks up the Bush/Gore Demubplican
monopoly on people's minds is progressive.  Progressive issues are raised at
and around the rallies.  Of course it's not -completely- progressive, and
there are contradictions involved in it, and to some degree it is trying to
pull people BACK from the militance of the anti-globalization movement, but
actually you can see some instances where the activists are apparently
moving the Nader campaign leftward.  Overall, it's progressive.

(b) Is it having MORE of a progressive effect than the "token revolutionary
socialist campaign" of Workers World Party (or other such efforts)?

I don't know how to measure "progressive effect", but suppose you were to
try to do it by multiplying the number of people that a campaign reaches by
the distance that it moves them?  Well, ours is a small revolutionary
campaign.  It's not a "token" campaign at all, it's the biggest and best
campaign we can manage consistent with our other responsibilities, but we
ARE small, so it's a small campaign, in comparison with the Nader campaign
at any rate.  They have more people, more money, more "respectability", more
media capability, more celebrities.  They have Michael Moore, who is an
asset to any campaign.  So even though they are a lot more moderate and less
politically ambitious than we are, they are reaching more people, so maybe
they are having "more progressive effect," although I will argue that such a
measure is misleading, as you will see.

(c) Then doesn't this mean that the Nader campaign is "the most useful place
to apply our time and energy"?


Let me make an analogy.  Suppose that, in the current atmosphere of
anti-Palestinian frenzy, we are organizing a public meeting in support of
the Palestinian struggle.  Then we hear that some ministers and academics
are going to organize a large moderate "rally for reconciliation in the
Middle East" which will "deplore violence" and which will be critical of the
"degree of force" used by the Israeli army.  It turns out that they have a
lot more people and funds than we do, they get a lot of publicity, and it
looks as if it's going to be a big rally.  And a lot of people on our
contact list are going to attend.  So: (a) is it progressive?  In the
present context, I concede that anything which pulls people away from a
knee-jerk anti-Palestinian attitude is progressive (on balance).  (b) Is it
going to have more of a progressive effect than our own rally?  Maybe, on
the same principle as above: it might be that they will reach a lot of
people and move them all a little bit.  (c) Does that mean that we shouldn't
have our own meeting at all, that we should scrap our efforts to organize
for it, that we should stop leafleting for our own meeting and start
leafleting for their meeting?  Of course not.  It is NECESSARY to get out an
anti-imperialist line on Palestine.  It is necessary to have a place where
people stand up in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.  We can't throw
that away just in order to swell the ranks of a liberal rally by some
undefinable fraction.  If liberals build a liberal meeting, you can hardly
get mad at them - it's the best they can do.  But if revolutionaries stop
building revolutionary meetings, which ONLY they can and will do, and spend
their time building liberal meetings, apologizing for their shortcomings all
the while, they are abandoning their real responsibility.

And it's the same way with campaigns in the bourgeois presidential
elections!!  Left presidential election campaigns are demonstrations.  They
are educational campaigns.  They are political mobilizations.  They are NOT
serious bids for power, because that isn't how power is awarded under the
dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.  The Nader forces, who are not
working-class revolutionaries, but radical petty-bourgeois (mostly), are
conducting an educational campaign about economics and politics which, on
balance, is progressive.  Fine.  We hope they keep it up.  We are glad they
are not getting intimidated by the Gore forces (included the horribly
misguided CP) and we applaud them for not giving up.  But does that mean
that there is something wrong with us Marxists conducting our OWN
educational and agitational campaign, which is actually socialist?  which
actually talks about eliminating capitalism and not merely 'limiting' it, as
the Nader campaign unrealistically does?  Nader presents a left-liberal
alternative to Gore and Bush, but what's so bad about us presenting a
socialist alternative to the Nader line?

The process by which class consciousness develops is a broad and complex
one, and some of those steps do not have to be managed by revolutionaries.
If workers are drawn from mental dependence on the Democrats, by the Nader
campaign, to a point where they are willing to look more directly at their
class interests, that is a good thing.  Call that "step 1."  It seems to me
that there are plenty of left-liberals and Greens to handle "step 1" quite
adequately.  Furthermore there are a lot of people, including disaffected
youth and members of the oppressed communities, who have already gotten this
far.  Then, if we can meet these people and inform them about the need to
fight against racism, imperialist war, bigotry against lesbians, gays, bi
and trans people, and the other crimes of capitalism, and capitalism in
general, and for socialism, it seems to me that this is also a good thing.
Call that "steps 2 and 3".  However, the Nader forces cannot be relied upon
for this; we socialists have to do it.  But is it not a bad distribution of
labor if we socialists all run off to help the left-liberals with step 1,
neglecting the other steps entirely?  In another thread, someone wrote that
we have to work for Nader because "there is no vanguard party."  Well, the
downside of that is that there will never BE a vanguard party if we don't
get busy and win some people over to socialism.  Which is the whole point of
our own campaign.

(d) But isn't it important to participate in "the growing movement which was
manifested in the Seattle demonstrations" and move it toward working-class

Yes.  Of course.  And we do.  In the streets.  In the demonstrations against
globalization, to free Mumia, to fight racism and police brutality, and in a
host of other mobilizations.  Remember, though, that I said that the Nader
campaign has its contradictions?  One of those contradictions is that it is
trying to rely on and use the energy of that movement, but it is actually
attempting to pull them back into pragmatic illusions about electoral
politics.  I mean, let's look at it judiciously.  When a union worker, who
has hitherto felt as if he or she has had no choice but to push for the
Democratic imperialist of the day, now throws down the Gore sign and picks
up a Nader sign, this is a step forward.  But if a young militant from the
streets of Seattle, who has been talking about utterly destroying the
capitalist system, is induced to abandon what he or she has been doing and
pick up a stack of Nader leaflets and hand them out, this is a step
backward.  Fortunately, I don't think this process has happened very much!

(e) But do you want to just ignore the people who have come around the Nader

Of course not.  Some of them are very good people.  Many of them are young,
new to the movement, and open to new ideas.  And we can have very good and
fruitful conversations with them, as long as we aren't saddled with the
responsibility of being part of the infrastructure of the Nader campaign!
Here is the interesting thing that happens when we go to Nader rallies with
our socialist literature.  We get two sets of reactions.  The experienced
socialists who have joined with the Nader campaign try to steer people away
from us, are hostile toward us, consider us to be ultraleft sectarians,
enemies, wreckers and splitters, etc., won't talk to us even though they've
known us for years, and generally treat us in the same way that Gore
staffers would at a Gore rally, or anti-communist union bureaucrats at a
large union meeting.  Meanwhile, the youth, the people who are new to the
movement, the people who are NOT (yet) "socialists", read our leaflets, are
friendly, don't see us as the enemy, are often interested in discussing the
issues that are raised in our material, and so on.

Three days ago, while building for a meeting featuring our presidential
candidate, I handed out 400 leaflets in an hour at a multinational street
corner near a university and an el stop.  The headline on the leaflet was
"Fight Capitalism!" and the largest subhead was "Solidarity with Palestine!
No U.S. Aid to Israel!" and then there was a list of our electoral demands.
I got maybe the best reception for leaflets I have seen in years.  Young
people in particular would approach, read the headline with interest, and
take the leaflet.  Even more interesting were the people who would do a long
double-take.  They would approach, shake their heads automatically, prepared
to turn down any leaflet, and move on.  Meanwhile, however, you could see
the mind at work: "What did that say?  Did that really say 'fight
capitalism?'  How can such a thing be?"  And then he or she would turn
around and take the leaflet anyway.  I was "blindsided" by several people:
I would hear a voice behind me, and someone whom I had "missed", who had
read the headline over my shoulder, would ask for a leaflet.  People who
have handed out a lot of leaflets know what I'm talking about here.  This is
what we are getting out of the campaign, and what we would have to give up
if we tried to reshape ourselves into Nader canvassers.

Lou Paulsen
Workers World, Chicago
There are some very good articles on our website on the Nader campaign - go
to and search using 'Nader' as the keyword

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