[Marxism] Brenner on Nader, Camejo and the SWP: good article

Mike Friedman 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?

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 
the war."

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 
Avocado Declaration:

"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 
and failures.

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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