[Marxism] The ISO's "Socialist Worker" withholds support from Nader
Jose G. Perez
jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Sat May 29 20:43:55 MDT 2004
An editorial in the May 28 Socialist Worker, newspaper of the
International Socialist Organization, announces that, unlike in 2000,
they are not supporting Ralph Nader's campaign for President of the
United States in 2004, at least not at this time.
The position of the ISO is significant. They are probably the
largest organization on the revolutionary Left in the United States, and
have played a significant role in the antiwar movement, especially on
the campuses. They have a core of dedicated and hard working cadre,
mostly recruited out of the student milieus (which is true, I believe,
of the younger cadre of all left groups, they just have more). They have
attractive, professional publications and it is clear they can mobilize
significant resources, they are well-organized.
The editorial begins by recognizing the widespread echo Nader's
antiwar stance and denunciation of the two-party system has evoked among
working people: "MANY MORE people are considering a vote for Ralph Nader
as a protest against war and corporate control of Washington than anyone
would have guessed when Nader announced his independent presidential
campaign in February."
There is no question but that Nader's success so far has been
gratifying to advocates of independent political action. I think the
ISO's editorial correctly highlights that, whereas many people expected
a much-reduced Nader campaign this time, his appeal has proved stronger,
despite the ferocious barrage of denunciations as a "spoiler" he has had
to face from the bourgeois media and the bourgeois parties.
Unfortunately, the editorial then goes on to make a political
evaluation of the campaign that I think is mistaken.
"Naders recent moves--his acceptance of an endorsement by the
right-wing Reform Party USA and his all-too-friendly meeting with
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry--have done a disservice to
his supporters and severely undermined the case that he represents a
left-wing alternative to the Washington status quo....
"We cant recommend a vote for Nader at this time."
What troubled the Socialist Worker are the same things that
raised questions in the minds of other Nader supporters during the
second half of May, his acceptance of the Reform Party endorsement and
the stance he adopted towards Kerry at his recent meeting with the
Democrat, making nice-sounding noises like saying Kerry is "very
presidential" and not using the event to counterpose his own antiwar
stance to what is now essentially the single Bush-Kerry prowar policy of
But in evaluating these events, the Socialist Worker editorial
writers apparently failed to realize they didn't have as much
information to hand as they thought.
For example, they say that "Earlier this month, leaders of the
Reform Party--launched in 1992 as a vehicle for the presidential
campaign of millionaire Ross Perot and represented in the 2000 election
by far-right bigot Pat Buchanan--endorsed Nader and offered its spot on
the ballot in seven states."
This is true. However, my understanding is that the people now
in control of the Reform Party are not the Buchananites who dominated it
in 2000, but the anti-Buchanan wing of the group. And Nader also had the
support of a wing of the Perot movement in 2000, the "American Reform
Party," as well as a couple of lesser split-offs from the Perot
More fundamentally, in the confused morass of U.S. bourgeois
politics, this shouldn't be surprising. The resentment of working people
against the corporate elite and the rich is manipulated by *all*
bourgeois parties, not just the Democrats (contrary to what the
bourgeois press would have us believe). When a figure or movement
emerges that gives voice to the interests of working people --even if
unevenly and with limitations-- it seems to draw support "from across
the political spectrum," but what is really happening is a little
different. And that's true in this case.
Working people are recognizing in Nader's campaign an echo of
their own voice, and that includes not just those who had previously
been taken in by the mainstream parties but also those who had seen
through the Democrats and Republicans in some ways but then got suckered
in by the demagogy or nostrums of the fringe parties.
And having drawn people around with rhetoric like that they're
against the two major parties because those parties are controlled by
the rich and that the Reform Party stands up for the little guy, under
certain conditions (including, for example, internal disarray) an outfit
like this Reform Party will try to hang onto its base by endorsing
Should Nader have *rejected* this endorsement? There are
arguments pro and con.
The basic argument pro is that the base of this party like all
U.S. bourgeois parties is made up mostly of working people; the
endorsement helps Nader get a hearing.
On the other hand, it could misrepresent him politically. But
Nader is now a much more prominent part of U.S. political life than the
Reform Party. He has a life-long trajectory and record that define him;
people aren't likely to get confused about what he thinks or where he
stands if he accepts the endorsement. And the Reform Party has followers
precisely because of the demagogic stance they take against the two main
capitalist parties. Of course that's a fake. And although its followers
don't yet realize the nature of the Reform Party, they *will* learn more
about real opposition to bourgeois parties from Nader.
In addition, the Reform Party has some ballot lines. That has to
be a consideration. (Note, "a" consideration, one among many, not "the"
There is no indication that Nader at all compromised his
politics or agreed to keep silent on some issues in exchange for this
endorsement. This is where I believe the comrades of the ISO failed to
find the information they needed to make a proper assessment.
"Naders left-wing platform is wholly opposed to the Reform
Partys on numerous issues--most prominently on immigration, where the
Reform Party calls for expelling all illegal immigrants, a position to
the right of George Bush," the editorial says. "Campaign organizers
privately assure supporters that Nader does disagree with the Reform
Party. But shamefully, Nader hasnt uttered a word of criticism in
If what the ISO comrades suggest were true, that Nader had, in
essence, bought the Reform endorsement by agreeing to not put forward
his long-standing opposition to the persecution of undocumented workers,
it would, indeed, be shameful, as these comrades say. But this isn't the
I just happened to catch Nader the weekend after the endorsement
on the Sunday CNN show "Late Edition." CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer
confronted Nader with the Reform Party's reactionary, anti-immigrant
platform. This was that part of their exchange.
* * *
BLITZER: The Reform Party, you're getting that -- you've received their
BLITZER: This is the party that Ross Perot ran on, as many of our
viewers, of course, remember. But in their platform, which was approved
October 10th, 2003, there are two issues that I think you won't agree
with. And I want to see how comfortable you'll feel running on their
A temporary freeze on all immigration, except for spouses and minor
children of U.S. citizens. And no national, state, or local government
assistance for education, Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid for
anyone not a legal alien or a U.S. citizen. Are you comfortable with
those two positions?
NADER: Well, I think we have to control our borders. I think our
policies in Mexico and Central America supporting dictatorships and
oligarchies are driving desperate people north. I think employers in
this country want these kinds of people, immigrants, in order to drive
down American wages and exploit them, because they can't fight back,
because they're not legal here.
But I would never take away the safety net that applies to all workers
in this country, fair labor standards, and you don't want to punish the
small children, in terms of denying them education.
BLITZER: So basically, you're comfortable, I guess, with some of those
NADER: No, I'm opposed to those positions.
* * *
I think Nader is being "too clever by half" --as the Brits say-- and
gives a verbal concession to the right wing that he shouldn't when he
says we need to "control our borders," even though the content he tries
to give it is the *opposite* of the capitalist agenda, he wants to end
the U.S. corporate rape of Latin America. And I think he could and
should say more against the persecution of undocumented workers, and say
it more forcefully.
But this is pretty much what he has been saying about this issue all
along. I don't see any sign here that he kept silent for the sake of the
Reform Party endorsement. And he wasn't even diplomatic, asked point
blank whether he supported the Reform Party's pet nostrum, he said
without ambiguity, "No, I'm opposed to those positions."
I've also heard --but did not see, and haven't looked for a transcript--
that Nader said similar things in an interview with the Fox news
So this CNN interview wasn't an exceptional, isolated event. Further
confirmation comes from a Washington Post political commentary column
the day after the endorsement was announced. It reported the response of
Nader spokesperson Kevin Zeese to the idea that Nader and the RPUSA
have nothing in common:
"Zeese said Nader disagrees with the Reform Party on some issues,
including immigration. But he said they agree on many others, such as
withdrawing troops from Iraq and cracking down on corporate crime."
On the other point the Socialist Worker raises, Nader's Kerry visit, I
think the Socialist Worker editorial is undoubtedly right on that event
itself, but treats it one sidedly, giving it too much weight. I think
the ISO's critique of that Nader initiative is shared pretty generally
by everyone who supports Nader from the Left.
I think the ISO's uninformed view about the Reform Party immigration
issue colored their evaluation of the Kerry event, magnifying it. I
think what they perceived was an overall right wing turn by Nader.
I don't think there is such a turn.
If that were true, we would not see Nader speaking out more and more
forcefully around the war, which he has made the central issue in his
campaign. And we would not see anything like what I just found as the
top item on Google News when I did a search for Nader:
* * *
"Breaking the Two-Party System" is the title of an address by
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader which is scheduled to be
delivered to a National Press Club luncheon on Thursday June 3.
More voices and more choices are needed in the November election, Nader
is expected to tell National Press Club members and their guests.
Nader's candidacy is centered around a plan for responsible withdrawal
On the domestic front Nader has described Washington, D.C., as
"corporate-occupied territory" and is seeking to "break the hold
corporate interests have over our government." Nader is putting cuts in
the bloated and redundant military budget at the forefront of his
candidacy. He urges putting "human needs first." Human needs includes a
single payer health care system, a living wage for all US workers, a new
energy paradigm that breaks the U.S. addiction to fossil and nuclear
energy by developing sustainable, clean energy sources and repealing the
notorious provisions of the Patriot Act.
* * *
This campaign press release I think demonstrates pretty convincingly
that, whatever it was Nader hoped he was doing with his Kerry meeting,
it did not mark a break from his fundamental opposition to the two-party
I think instead the Socialist Worker is correct in saying that the Kerry
visit was an attempt to deflect some of the heat around the "spoiler"
charge -- and also correct in saying that it isn't going to work. But I
don't believe it changes the fundamental character of the Nader campaign
as a campaign that points the way in the direction of independent
political action by working people in the electoral arena, and on that
basis merits support at this time.
In judging whether my opinion of the basic character of the campaign is
correct, bourgeois polls, despite all their limitations, can be a help.
I think it is of some significance that Nader's support is coming
disproportionately from sectors like Arab-Americans, the youth and the
more exploited layers of the working class.
The Washington Post has a useful feature --I wish other news outlets
that do polling would emulate it-- that allows readers to view some
demographic breakdowns of their polls. You can get results by candidate
and age group, by race, and by education (the closest thing they have to
a proxy for class).
In a recent poll I examined, Nader was getting 6% in the population as a
whole, but 12% among those under 30. He polled 9% among those with a
high school education or less, but only 3% among those who had at least
a College Degree. And contrary to what some people think --that Nader's
support is limited to "white liberals" -- he did just as well among
Blacks as he did among whites, tying George Bush with 6%. The thing I
did note about the Black figures is there was a total of 15%, including
Nader, "others" "none of the above" and "don't know," who would not have
voted for either the Democrats or Republicans. That shows Nader's
potential support among Blacks is much greater than what he has
achieved, and that this should probably be a major focus of his
campaign. In addition, a different poll among Arab-Americans showed
Nader with 20% in that community, not just, I don't think, because of
his family background but also because of his forthright opposition to
the Patriot Act and the persecution of immigrants.
These sort of poll numbers aren't terribly exact, the subsamples
involved are small. But I did check back in the Post to previous polls,
and while the numbers fluctuate a little, the pattern is consistent: he
has disproportionate support among the youth, the "less educated," and
has yet to fully tap the evident potential in the Black community. (The
Washington Post doesn't offer a break-out for Latinos).
This follows the pattern established in the Peter Camejo 2002 and 2003
gubernatorial races in California, in terms of age and class composition
of the support and beginning to tap the potential in the Black
I think it is important we look at Nader critically in class terms.
Often we use shorthand like "the left" -- this editorial does it, as
I've done countless times, too. But we should be conscious of the
ambiguities and inexactness involved in the term, because if we aren't
conscious, we're likely to make that "the left" the central axis of our
analysis rather than the working class, women, nationally oppressed
peoples, and so on.
The difference is between analyzing the interests and motions of social
layers, and an ideological reflection of those interests, which in the
case of the United States is very distorted.
Bourgeois politics in the United States has a spectrum described
conventionally as being from right to left; but the idea of a continuous
spectrum breaks down to a great degree when you start dealing with
working class politics. It may be convenient short hand because what's
called "liberalism" in the U.S. coincides in a number of positions with
those of the (real) left, but I think in a lot of other countries, and
especially in our hemisphere, the "left" starts where bourgeois parties
I think that distinction at bottom reflects the *lack* of any
significant independent expression of working people in the political
arena in the United States, and it may be important in evaluating
Because I think Nader is onto something when he says things like his
"independent" campaign appeals to voters "across the political
I think what he is reflecting there is a recognition --how conscious I'm
not sure-- that his kind of politics, which are in reality a reflection,
with whatever limitations, of the interests of a different class,
doesn't "fit" into the right-to-left spectrum because in the U.S., that
is a strictly bourgeois spectrum.
Concretely, we may be looking to Nader for signs of identification with
the traditional political discourse of the "left" fringe of U.S.
bourgeois politics and we may not find it.
We may find instead attempts to appropriate terms from all over the
bourgeois spectrum and give them a different class edge or content. Thus
he's talking, for example, about appealing to "conservatives" on the
basis of "fiscal responsibility" -- but what he is linking to that
phrase is ending the war, cutting Pentagon spending and restoring taxes
on corporations and the rich.
I think revolutionary socialists should pay close attention and be
open-minded about those kinds of experiments, and not take a superficial
approach that upon hearing Nader say "balancing the budget," immediately
assumes he's becoming a Reaganite.
Finally, a couple of words about terminology or choice of language which
I hope the ISO comrades will take in the friendly spirit in which they
The editorial at one point talks about "illegal aliens." Activists in
the Latino community reject this term, which is used to stigmatize part
of our community (and from a socialist point of view, our class) and
push forward a program that seeks to establish de jure discrimination
across all fields, from drivers licenses to education. Everyone in left,
progressive and working class circles should drop this "illegal alien"
term. It reduces people to their immigration status and "alien" is
entirely objectionable when the reality is that, overwhelmingly, those
crossing the border are the descendants of the original inhabitants of
this continent, not creatures from Mars.
More information about the Marxism