[Marxism] Socialist Voice (Canada) criticizes Nader campaign

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Jun 15 02:38:26 MDT 2004

              S O C I A L I S T   V O I C E
 Debate and dialogue on issues before the workers movement

Number 8, June 14, 2004               <http://www.socialistvoice.com/>
www <http://www.socialistvoice.com/> .socialistvoice.com

SOCIALIST HISTORY WEBSITE: A new website, the Socialist History 
Project ( <http://www.socialisthistory.ca/> www.socialisthistory.ca),
has been launched to 
document the revolutionary socialist tradition in Canada. 
"We aim to publish three types of material," says project 
head Ian Angus. "First, statements, reports and articles on 
key political issues and trends, written by revolutionary 
socialists over the past century. Second, essays by 
historians about the revolutionary left. And third, 
reminiscences and memoirs by participants in the socialist 
movement. We think this material is important not just to 
historians and archivists, but to the new generation of 
radicalizing youth." The Socialist History Project, which 
has no ties to Socialist Voice or other political currents, 
is actively soliciting essays and reminiscences, as well as 
donations or loans of socialist periodicals, pamphlets, and 

                    *   *   *   *   *

By Roger Annis and John Riddell

A sharp discussion has broken out in the U.S. left over 
the presidential candidacy of Ralph Nader, who will be 
proposed for nomination by the Green Party at its June 
23-28 convention. A longtime campaigner against abuses 
of corporate power, Nader won 2.9 million votes (3%) as 
Green Party presidential candidate in the 2000 
elections, in what was the most effective challenge from 
a U.S. left-wing party in 80 years. 

Among those in the U.S. who consider themselves 
socialists, some favor supporting Democrat John Kerry, 
some are for a token Green Party campaign that avoids 
contesting "close states," some are for an energetic 
campaign for Nader, and some propose to run candidates 
on a socialist platform.

The antidemocratic characteristics of the U.S. 
capitalists' two-party system weigh heavily in this 
discussion. Nonetheless, it is helpful to see the Nader 
campaign in an international context, and in the 
framework of socialist principle.

In many countries, fierce governmental attacks on 
working people and social services have led many voters 
to fall away from the main governmental parties and seek 
alternatives--sometimes on the right, and more often with 
new political formations that identify either with 
socialism or (like the Greens) with ecological concerns.

In the current Canadian federal election campaign, for 
example, opinion polls show that support for each of the 
two dominant capitalist parties has dropped 
substantially. Support has risen for three strikingly 
dissimilar "alternatives": the social democratic New 
Democratic Party (NDP); the Green Party, which in Canada 
has a rightist program; and the Bloc Quebecois, a 
bourgeois party that advocates Quebec sovereignty. 


In several European countries, new groupings identified 
with socialism have gained influence. For example, the 
Scottish Socialist Party won 8% in recent elections; 
Trotskyist groups have won more than 5% of the national 
vote in France; and in Britain a left-wing electoral 
coalition called Respect won 5% in this month's 
municipal vote in London.

In most contexts, socialists would leave the purely 
bourgeois Green parties out of account and focus 
attention on parties identified with the working class 
and socialism. But in the U.S., where there is no 
tradition of broadly based working-class parties, 
Nader's supporters include many who view themselves as 

Yet most explanations of the need to support Nader make 
no reference to the class struggle that Marxists view as 
the driving force of politics. Instead, we hear that 
"the platform is progressive," or "it represents the 
Movement," or "it wins support from those fighting 
corporate power," or "it represents a break with the 
two-party system."


Nader's program incorporates many progressive demands 
that have been raised by anti-capitalist movements. Yet 
official platforms are a poor predictor of what parties 
claiming to represent socialism and working people will 
do if elected--as we know in Canada from the record of 
NDP governments. The goal of social-democratic parties 
like the NDP is to share in administering the capitalist 
state. When elected, they abandon their platform and act 
as loyal caregivers of this state, doing the necessary 
to keep it in healthy condition as an agency to repress 
and exploit working people.

Parties of anticapitalist protest may initially aim to 
follow a different course, but if they gain strength, 
they tend to be assimilated by the state that they set 
out to reform and to become buttresses of capitalist 
rule. Three factors come into play:

-- The party acquires an apparatus of well-paid staff 
   and elected officials with a stake in the existing 
   political system, and this bureaucracy gradually 
   takes control.
-- The party dilutes its program by giving political 
   support to bourgeois regimes in return for minor 
   reforms--in minority-government situations, for 
   example, or through governmental coalitions.
-- The party takes office, but finds itself the prisoner 
   of the surrounding capitalist state (ministries, 
   courts, the police and army, mechanisms of financial 
   control, all backed up by the capitalist media), and 
   is forced to abandon almost all of its program as the 
   price of "power."
This process, familiar to us in Canada through the 
history of the CCF/NDP, was more recently illustrated by 
the Green Party of Germany: launched with far-reaching 
goals, it is now a compliant coalition partner of the 
German Social Democrats.


This degeneration is inevitable among parties that do 
not chart a course to lead the working class to power. 
The alternative is that long advocated by Marxists, 
namely, the struggle for a workers government. The 
Fourth Congress (1922) of the Communist International 
described such a government in these terms: 

"The most elementary tasks of a workers' government must 
be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-
revolutionary organizations, bringing control over 
production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the 
propertied classes, and break the resistance of the 
counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

"Such a workers' government is possible only if it is 
born out of the struggle of the masses and is supported 
by combative workers' organizations formed by the most 
oppressed sections of workers at grassroots level." 

Contesting elections is part of this strategy, but it is 
the struggle for workers' power in the streets and the 
workplaces that is decisive. 

This perspective provides the essential criterion on 
which to judge electoral initiatives: Do they in some 
way advance the struggle for a workers government? In 
Canada, this cannot be said of the Bloc Quebecois or the 
Greens. On the other hand, the NDP, despite its pro-
capitalist program, embodies the notion that trade 
unions should fight for political power, and this 
provides a principled basis to give it critical support 
in the June 28 Canadian elections.


In the United States, the Democratic Party is presently 
furious against Nader for his decision to run, blaming 
him for George Bush's narrow victory in 2000 and warning 
of a similar outcome this year. Their efforts to block 
his candidacy have had an impact in the Green Party, 
where many favor abstention or not running in "close 
states" like Florida. It is far from clear whether Nader 
can win the Greens nomination.

These efforts to block an independent campaign and boost 
the Democratic Party candidacy of John Kerry are 
reactionary. The threat that working people face today 
is not the reelection of George Bush, but continued 
dominance of corporate power as a whole. That power is 
represented by both the dominant U.S. parties. Moreover, 
the whole gamut of electoral mechanisms to exclude 
minority parties and herd voters into the Republican-
Democratic camp is anti-democratic to the core. 

Whether Nader's candidacy is worthy of support is 
another question. He has won some backing as an "antiwar 
candidate." But his published program tells another 
story. (See http://www.votenader.org/issues/) Nader 
warns that U.S. policy in Iraq has "diminished U.S. 
security ... from the Islamic world" and has involved 
spending $155 billion "when critical needs are not being 
met at home." He calls for replacing U.S. forces in Iraq 
"with a UN peacekeeping force, prompt supervised 
elections, and humanitarian assistance." 

This is not an antiwar position. His proposal would 
continue the occupation of Iraq and the violation of its 
Iraqi sovereignty under the flag of the United Nations, 
which has acted as a pliant tool of the U.S.-led assault 
on Iraq for the last 14 years. 

The balance of Nader's program contains many progressive 
notions, like "education for everyone" and "end poverty 
in the United States," but fails to target the mechanism 
of corporate power that generates and imposes poverty, 
oppression, and ignorance. The entire program is posed 
in the reactionary framework of the national interests 
of United States. In no sense does it identify with the 
interests of working people. 

Such a campaign diverts forces away from antiwar and 
other anticapitalist struggles into a project to patch 
up the system of capitalist rule. 


Nor is it sufficient to argue that a third-party effort 
like that of Nader is justified because it will help 
break the reactionary grip of the twin parties of 
corporate power. 

Major third-party campaigns in U.S. politics in recent 
decades, such as the right-wing candidacy of H. Ross 
Perot, have represented attempts to adjust the two-party 
mechanism and have been readily reabsorbed by the 
dominant parties. Nader's campaign fits that pattern--and 
in fact it is utilizing the ballot status of Perot's 
Reform Party. Many statements by Nader suggest an 
orientation to reform the Democratic Party. (See 
www.geocities.com/mnsocialist/nader.html) And 
even if the capitalists' antidemocratic two-party 
structure should break down, they are well able to rule 
through a multiparty parliamentary structure similar to 
those of continental Europe, Japan, and Australia. 

What is needed to challenge their power is a party with 
a different class foundation, one rooted in the 
struggles of working people. Building such a party is 
today the common task of all who seek an alternative to 
the misery and exploitation of the present capitalist 

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