[Marxism] Brenner on Nader, Camejo and the SWP: good article
mikedf at mail.amnh.org
Sun Jul 18 09:33:18 MDT 2004
Weekend Edition July 17 / 18, 2004
When Cattle Unite, Lions Go Hungry
Whatever Happened to the Last Radical in Berkeley to Take Off His Tie?
By LENNI BRENNER
Ralph Nader's liberal opponents call him an egomaniac. Unfortunately for
that argument, the media takes him seriously, giving him significant
coverage. And so do the Democratic and Republican hacks. The Democrats are
using every trick, legal and beyond, to keep him off state ballots, while
the GOP is suddenly converted to opening them to such independents. The
Democrats are in a pit of their own digging. Kerry's clear strategy is to
keep the loyalty of his party's hawks. He calls for more troops in Iraq and
panders to Zionism's ultra-right. But that risks a significant number of
antiwar activists, presently frightened at the thought of another Bush
administration, realizing that no one can take them seriously if they
preach peace and then vote for a candidate who talks about staying in Iraq
for the duration and denounces a 14 to 1 International Court of Justice
decision condemning Sharon's wall.
Already some antiwar liberals are trying to run with the fox and hunt with
the hounds. Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn want us to vote for Kerry in
contested states, and for Nader in states 'safe' for Kerry or Bush. They
want Kerry to know that he faces numerically significant opposition if and
when he replaces Bush's fanaticism with his rational imperialism. But if
Kerry is so criminal that Chomsky, in safe Massachusetts, can't swallow
voting for him, even as a lesser evil, wherein does he get off telling
people in Florida that it is mandatory to vote for a rogue?
It will come as a shock to liberals, but, come November, there will be no
'against Bush' lever in any polling booth in the US of A. You must vote for
a candidate. And for only 1 candidate for 1 office, not an unreasonable
ratio. So which candidate are Chomsky and Zinn for? For Kerry? How can that
be? They will vote for Nader. For Nader? They tell people to vote for Kerry
where it counts. Their double-gaited electoral stance reveals a stark
truth: They are anti-imperialist intellectuals without an anti-imperialist
party of their own. Indeed, such liberals signal Kerry, yet again, that he
doesn't have to take them seriously.
Wool sellers know wool buyers. Dealing with everyone from Arabs to Zionists
has taught Kerry and the Democratic establishment to ask themselves a basic
question re everyone: If we don't give the beggars what they want, what
will they do to hurt us? And what will these "crackpot realist" liberals do
to hurt him? They still call for votes for him where he needs their support
on election day. That's all that matters to him. Even the sparrows know
that he doesn't have to give these folks a damned thing.
Nader contributes to antiwar voters' confusion. He frequently impresses the
media as the one truth-teller in the race, equally hard on both capitalist
parties. Then up pops Kerry's best advisor in Kerry's campaign against
Bush. Nader gave an interview to Pat Buchanan. "The subservience of our
congressional and White House puppets to Israeli military policy has been
consistent. Both parties concede their independent judgment to the
pro-Israel lobbies in this country because they perceive them as
determining the margin in some state elections and as sources of funding".
Nader told Washington's National Press Club that "This city is composed of
people who know a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and they keep
private their concerns, and they make these public statements that are like
ditto statements. You know the pattern; many of you have seen it again and
again". Then he whirled around and sent an open letter, urging Kerry to
choose John Edwards as his VP. In effect, Nader certified the ex-trial
lawyer as a consumer-champion, committed on principle to their right to sue
corporations harming them. Nader is incorrect in calling the bipartisan
Washington establishment "puppets" of Israel. To a certainty, they take
Zionist bribes, AKA campaign contributions, speakers fees, jobs for the
family with Zionist-run organizations, etc. But Zionist lucre only helps
explain US policy re the Middle East. Bush, Kerry and Edwards oppose Castro
and Chavez for broader American imperialist reasons.
However there is no doubt that bipartisan support for Israel is worthy of
Nader's contempt. It is a bastion of ethnic and religious legal inequality.
Given Democratic crimes re the Middle East, alone, Nader is pathetic in
aiding Kerry. Edwards may be for all kinds of wonderful things for
consumers, but the 7/9 issue of New York's Forward reminded us that
"Edwards scored high marks among pro-Israel Democrats for his forceful
anti-terror language in the Iowa debates. The North Carolinian ... tried to
leverage that support into a bid for hawkish Jewish voters in the March 2
New York primary, his last stand against Kerry".
The pro-Democratic weekly is being delicate. Hawks are significant
numerically among Brooklyn's Orthodox. Their votes are important, but they
are also a prime source of the "funding" Nader referred to. The 3/15/96
Forward put it more candidly: "Once upon a time, Orthodox Jews were looked
upon as exotic creatures in the political whirl. Candidates went to visit
local rebbes for blessings, treating the event like a little adventure.
Now, thanks to fund-raisers such as Milton Balkany and Noach Dear, who have
pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the GOP and the Democratic
Party respectively, the Orthodox community is seen as a money tree".
Edwards voted to authorize the Iraq invasion. Whatever money he got for
ordinary Americans in the courts, it can't buy him forgiveness for
authorizing Bush to commit murder on the battlefield.
Moreover, Nader is running as an individual, but Edwards isn't. He is a
leader of a party with a record re the Middle East. In 1948, the patronage
of Harry Truman was essential for the creation of Israel. Carter supported
the Shah of Iran's torture regime to the bitter end and then gave him
asylum. He started the military patronage of Islamic fundamentalism in
Afghanistan and 9/11 was the ultimate blowback of his crime. Clinton kept
10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia, defending the male chauvinist absolute
monarchy. Additionally, Edwards' party shares responsibility for Republican
administrations' crimes in the ME and elsewhere, via its control of houses
of congress under GOP Presidents.
Edwards has been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for three
and a half years. Whoever quarterbacks Washington's imperial team,
congressional intelligence committees are its tackles and guards. A really
good trial lawyer wouldn't have too much trouble convincing a jury that a
senator who voted to unleash a politically rabid pitbull committed a
felony. Nader didn't authorize Bush to go to war. Kerry and Edwards did.
But his endorsement of a senator who did obliges us to be his critical
supporters. Nader was famous during the Vietnam war era for exposure of the
automobile industry's safety record. But I don't recall him ever organizing
against that war or subsequent wars.
Simply put, Nader's activist career has been as a reformer. As with most
reformers, domestic issues are his priority. He is used to working with
Democratic liberals in congress and elsewhere. When he talks about getting
the troops out of Iraq "in six months", he is trying to convince those
famously reasonable folks that Kerry needs to adopt his reasonable 6 months
program to beat Bush. Given his advise to Kerry re Edwards, there is a
worst-case scenario possibility. If a situation arose, just before the
election, where pollsters showed that the potential vote for him was going
to be the decisive factor, Nader could deal with Kerry per Chomsky and
Zinn's strategy. But, more likely, Kerry will save Nader from disgrace by
constantly exposing himself as reactionary.
There is another factor that can move Nader to the left, internationally.
Pete Camejo, his vice-presidential running mate, for all his nonsense about
Edwards, was a major leader of the 60s antiwar movement. He was prominent
in the Young Socialist Alliance, and the Socialist Workers Party, at that
time avowedly Trotskyist. With time, the SWP became the little wheel that
made the big wheel of the Vietnam antiwar movement go round. There were
lessons to be learned from that experience. Hopefully Pete can advance
Nader's education in this regard.
If you look at the NY Times of the day, you find little on the SWP. But if
you ask people deeply involved in organizing the largest demos, they will
testify to the truth of my statements. Indeed, from 1985 until his death, I
worked with Kwame Ture, historically known by his birth name, Stokely
Carmichael. He was 2nd only to King as a Black civil rights leader, and
certainly he was its greatest organizer. He evaluated them in 1 of our
discussions: "I know that by the end of the war the SWP was the dominant
factor in the antiwar movement. But they never provided its emotion. But
The SWP had only ca. 400 members in the early 60s. The party understood
that it had to work with antiwar Democrats, pacifists, Stalinists and union
bureaucrats if it was to build a movement with the numbers required to stop
While it criticized antiwar Democrats in its weekly, which few outside its
ranks read, its peace group, the National Peace Action Coalition, never
did. In the interest of unity, NPAC went no further than making sure that
the giant demos didn't adapt to the liberals' Democratic electoral
Students for a Democratic Society was the 1st group to successfully call a
national antiwar demo. But rival factions within diverted it away from a
prime focus on the war. Pacifists, the Communist Party and the SWP replaced
SDS as the movement work horses. In 1968, liberals backed Gene McCarthy or
Bobby Kennedy in the primaries against Hubert Humphrey and called for
"negotiations now" with the Viet Cong. The SWP understood that Washington
had no right to negotiate anything. Its slogan was "out now!" When they
would unite for a demo with peace coalitions influenced by the Communist
Party, which was in the Democratic Party, they made sure that the demo
didn't endorse either slogan, but allowed individual speakers to do so.
The problem with the pacifists' was their strategy of sit-downs and arrests.
Some of their demos got enormous publicity. But they would attract 50,000,
while NPAC-sponsored demos pulled in hundreds of thousands. The CP tended
not to like demos in the autumn of election years, national or local,
preferring to support anybody-but-Nixon Democrats. The CP had strong
influence in several unions which did likewise. NPAC demonstrated during
election seasons, with the pacifists and new elements like the Black
Panthers, California's Peace and Freedom Party and the Vietnam Veterans
Against the War. Soon the YSA surpassed the CP's youth on the campuses.
The SWP also made union involvement a crucial priority and built up its own
clientele among union bureaucrats. Eventually even the CP's unions realized
that NPAC was best at building the giant peaceful demos their members
wanted.I vividly remember a 1971 planning meet. The CP wanted to support a
Sunday Washington demo with sit-downs. The SWP favored a peaceful Saturday
demo. Suddenly a CP union leader got up and declared that he had to go for
the SWP proposal. His workers preferred Saturday because they didn't want
to get arrested, and they wanted to get back to their home town on Saturday
nite so they could rest on Sunday for work Monday morning. The result was
that the Saturday, April 24, 1971 demos were the biggest in US history,
500,000 in DC and 300,000 in SF.
The problem with the SWP's strategy was that few people learned any deep
lessons from the success of the movement. Most came to the marches as
Democrats, heard a lot of Democrats, Black nationalists, pacifists, an
occasional SWP speaker, and walked away with the same ideology they came
with. When America's direct military's involvement in the war ended in
1973, and the body bags stopped coming home, the hundreds of thousands went
back to their tents.
The SWP focused on organizing giant lowest common denominator demos, at the
expense of educating marchers, because it feared that pumping up the
ideological tone of the movement would cause splits. Certainly the union
bureaucrats and liberal Democrats would have walked away if the movement's
ranks were educated to understand that the Democrats and Republicans
jointly murdered over a million Vietnamese, in defense of capitalism.
Such an educational process would have had to have been carefully
constructed to win over the ranks, so that the piecards and liberals would
leave in isolation. The negative side of the SWP strategy was clearly
apparent in the late 70s, when the SWP organized a movement against the
Shah and US patronage of him, a cause as worthy as getting the US out of
Vietnam. The union hacks weren't interested and the SWP was only able to
attract a few thousand marchers, American students, committed older
radicals and Iranian students.
The SWP's cautious approach in the 60s produced some absurdities. The
party's older leaders went thru the 30s, when workers would 'dress up,' in
imitation of the rich for May Day demonstrations. So Pete and its other
public speakers always wore suits, white shirts and ties. This went on, he
told me in 1968, until they realized that young people, who wore jeans and
never put on a tie if they could avoid it, began to wonder about them. In
the SF Bay Area, SWP leaders and plainclothes cops were the only ones at
demos who still dressed in the traditional bourgeois 'respectable' fashion.
The party forbade smoking marijuana. They legitimately worried that the FBI
would plant it in their halls and then raid them. But again they looked
strange as millions of youths took up the herb. While some members would
discreetly sneak off to enjoy a puff or 2, Pete told me that he was
probably the only radical under 40 in Berkeley who hadn't smoked it. Their
'up tight' social conservatism was the basis of Stokely's apt remark about
their never providing the emotions of the movement. I would add neither the
ideology nor the emotion.
Eventually the SWP disintegrated intellectually. Pete was its presidential
candidate in 1976 but left it some time afterwards. Others walked out
individually or in groups, or were expelled after it officially abandoned
its historic Trotskyist ideology. It still exists and is running a
presidential candidate, but it has led no movements nor played a
significant role in them since the 70s.
It is a bare presence in today's left.
I'm not familiar with the issues involved in Camejo's leaving the SWP, nor
have I followed his evolution into a progressive stock broker and Green
But it extraordinary that he is now such an important figure on the left
end of America's political spectrum. The last radical in Berkeley to take
off his tie, absolutely the last to smoke a joint, yet he is certainly
representative of the best of that era. Pete was a prime figure in the SWP
and, for all his personality quirks, and its mistakes, it provided the
practical ecumenical leadership of the antiwar movement.
Instead of praising Kerry's crime-partner, Nader would do better to heed
his colleague on his own ticket. Earlier this year Camejo initiated The
"We do not believe it is possible to defeat the 'greater' evil by
supporting a shamefaced version of the same evil. We believe it is
precisely by openly and sharply confronting the two major parties that the
policies of the corporate interests these parties represent can be set back
and defeated .... A resolution was passed in March of 2003 calling for
'Unequivocal Support' to George Bush for the war in Iraq. It had the full
support of the Democratic Party leadership. Even Democratic 'doves' like
Kucinich would not vote against the resolution. Only a handful (11) of
congressional representatives voted against the motion for 'unequivocal
support' to George Bush .... In no case did the Democratic Party as an
institution support, call for, or help mobilize popular forces for peace
and respecting international law. Yet large numbers of its rank and file
and many lower level elected officials against their party participated and
promoted antiwar protests .... The Democratic Party has unleashed a
campaign to divide and conquer those opposed to the pro-war policies. On
one hand it tries to appear sympathetic to antiwar sentiment while on the
other it tries to silence voices opposed to Bush's policies ....
"Opposition is rising against Bush. The overwhelming majority of the world
is against Bush's war policies. The resistance to the occupation in Iraq
and Afghanistan, and the inability of the US media and government to
prevent the world from hearing the truth about these events, is weakening
Bush's standing. The corporate interests and their media apparently want to
make a great effort to get Bush elected, but if this becomes too difficult,
the Democratic Party will be prepared to appear as an 'opposition' that
will continue the essence of Bush's policy with new justifications,
modifications and adjusted forms .
"The only force that could upset the general direction set by the
bipartisan policies voted over the last few years would be a destabilizing
mass development inside the United States along with world public opinion.
This occurred during the war in Vietnam and forced a reversal of US policy
.... The rise of a large, uncontrollable opposition within the United
States and around the world became a critical brake on the pro-war
policies. An entire generation was starting to deeply question the
direction of the United States in world affairs.
"The Democrats and Republicans, reflecting the opinion of the major
corporate leaders and strategists, decided they had no choice but to pull
back and concede military defeat in Vietnam because the developing division
in U.S. society threatened to result in the emergence of a massive
independent political force". (www.AvocadoEducationProject.org)
A suggestion to Nader: As 1 of your prime goals is to educate the broad
public, and the media doesn't expect you to be expert on all things below
the sun, where ever appropriate, refer them to Pete when they ask you
questions about foreign policy and militarism. That will impress the press,
put pressure on both ends of the bipartisan hustle, and increase your vote
in all 50 states.
It is to be understood that my critique of Nader and Camejo is within a
matrix of congratulations to them for taking independence from the
Democratic Party as far as they have. We who have believed that a mass
socialist party is necessary for profound egalitarian change in America,
have not produced anything resembling such a feat. There are several
socialist groups running competing presidential candidates, but none of
them is known to the broad public. As far as it is concerned, Nader and
Camejo are the lefts in the race, and if it learns anything of enduring
importance about politics in 2004, it will be by observing their successes
Beyond that, all of the above elements should agree to start discussions
immediately after the election, on how to build an independent party "of
the people, by the people and for the people". Nader's problems getting on
the ballot in many states confirms a great truth: One guy, not even one
famous for his integrity, can't beat the devil on his own. A principled
party, an electoral coalition, call it what you will, is the mandatory
requirement for success in the long run in a world inhabited only by
winners and losers.
Lenni Brenner is the editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the
Nazis and a contributor to Alex Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's new
CounterPunch collection Serpents in the Garden: Encounters with Culture and
Sex, where he recounts his personal role in 1961 in liberating Dylan from
the arftistic and political blind alley of petit-bourgeois boll-weevilism.
He can be reached at BrennerL21 at aol.com.
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