[Marxism] On Doug Henwood's Kerry endorsement

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 10 17:31:18 MDT 2004

Although Kerry endorsements from the radical movement have slowed down 
to a trickle, you can still find them. Right on the heels of Jeff 
Cohen's Commondreams piece, we now have Doug Henwood's article titled 
"Ralph 'n' stuff" in the latest newsletter Left Business Observer. In 
line with Cohen's offering, it consists mostly of attacks on Nader 
rather than a defense of Kerry, whom Henwood describes as a candidate 
requiring "a giant clothespin to enter a polling booth" on behalf of.
The criticisms fall into two categories. First, Nader is described as a 
kind of freebooter who uses the Green Party to advance his own personal 
ambitions every four years, but who is not committed to building 
permanent institutions based on popular power. Second, he attacks 
Nader's record both as a candidate and in his capacity as a "public 
citizen". Despite an obvious bias, Henwood's criticisms will have some 
impact on a left in the USA that regards George W. Bush as evil 
incarnate. Of course, whatever the failings Ralph Nader real or 
perceived, it beggars description to justify voting for the most 
reactionary Democratic Party candidate in over a century.

According to Henwood, Nader has a "deep conservative streak". Proof of 
this is the fact that he wrote an article attacking federally funded 
public housing in a libertarian journal called "The Freeman" in 1962. 
This supposedly was one of his first published articles. In fact Nader 
had an article that appeared in the 1959 American Socialist, co-edited 
by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman. It was an attack on the failings of 
American democracy in the electoral arena and called for legislative 
changes that would make it easier for 3rd parties to gain recognition. I 
invite the reader to figure out which article is more representative of 
Ralph Nader. (I might track down the article on public housing in order 
to see what Nader actually said, although I myself had said some pretty 
silly things 42 years ago.)
Henwood groups Nader with the Christian right and Bill Bennett because 
he supposedly "seems to lack a libido" and holds in contempt those who 
like theirs and consider them politically important. If Kerry is 
preferable to Nader on this score, evidently Henwood does not consider 
the rights of gay people "politically important". On his website, Nader 
states "that the only way to ensure full equal rights is to recognize 
same-sex marriage." By contrast, Kerry supports amending the 
Massachusetts Constitution to ban gay marriage. Go figure.
Another proof of Nader's conservative streak is that he favors 
litigation against corporations rather than government regulation. 
Apparently, according to Henwood, if you are not into government 
regulation, you betray an "individualist" approach rather than 
"collective political action". Somehow, this kind of litmus test seems 
rather one-sidedly applied. If government regulation is a good thing, 
then how can one vote for Kerry who has bragged openly about being a 
deficit hawk. If there has been one thing in the past 20 years that has 
gutted the power of government agencies to regulate polluters and other 
corporate malefactors, it has been votes to cut the budgets of OSHA, 
etc. Kerry has voted for every one of these bills, including the 1993 
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, the largest ever enacted.
All in all, it is a rather odd yardstick that Henwood applies to the 3 
candidates. By any objective measure, Nader is to the left of Kerry. But 
the problem it seems is that he might draw votes from Kerry and help 
Bush get elected. Although it might seem rather simple-minded to point 
this out, the main obstacle to Kerry getting elected is not Nader but 
Kerry himself. Looking back at the 2000 election, if Gore had won in his 
home state (Tennessee) and in Clinton's (Arkansas), he would have become 
president. When a candidate cannot line up votes in a state that he has 
represented in the Senate for more than a decade, you can't blame this 
on Ralph Nader.
Henwood is not happy with the relationship between Nader and the Greens, 
who are supposedly getting short shrift from Nader. My reading is 
somewhat different. If Nader has held the Greens at arm's length, it is 
because some of their leaders have failed to embrace the Nader candidacy 
early on. By insisting on a June convention and backing a "safe state" 
strategy, the Green Party has effectively reduced the power of the party 
to mount a serious challenge to Bush and his Democratic opponent. 
Although I wouldn't want to impute a motive, it seems that this might 
reflect withering under pressure from the middle-class left that Henwood 
himself speaks for. In other words, if Henwood wants to assign a blame 
for a certain disengagement between Nader and the Greens, he should look 
in the mirror.
Henwood holds up the Swedish Social Democracy as an example for the 
faltering Green Party. Instead of just running for office, the Swedes 
built cooperatives, social clubs, etc. This is about as superficial 
reading of the success of the Swedish social democracy as you are going 
to find. In fact, the main factor leading to their electoral victory was 
a general strike led by miners in 1931 that was commemorated in the 
great film "Adalen '31". Sooner or later, a social and economic crisis 
in the USA will propel the growth of independent class action here, both 
within and outside the electoral arena. I strongly suspect that the same 
people huckstering for Kerry today will find excuses in the future to 
stick with the lesser evil.
The reason for this is simple. Since the early 1970s American capitalism 
has been following a downward spiral due to irresolvable contradictions 
in the world economy. The reemergence of Japanese and German capitalism 
on a world scale has generated a need for the USA to become "leaner and 
meaner". With the introduction of China into the picture, the looming 
energy crisis and other deep-seated structural problems, it is 
*necessary* for the US ruling class to choose candidates that will 
attack the class interests of working people and to embark on 
imperialist adventures overseas to secure cheap commodities and 
lucrative markets. From now until the final showdown with this ruling 
class, you can be guaranteed that the Republican Party candidate for 
president will be somebody like George W. Bush or worse and not somebody 
like Nelson Rockefeller or some other centrist. By the same token, the 
Democrats will offer up some deficit hawk who is for a more "effective" 
US presence overseas. If the radical movement can't find a way to break 
out of this impasse, it will go the way of another movement that faced a 
similar situation--namely the German left of the Weimar Republic.

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