[Marxism] Nader, ISO, the Left and the Greens

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at comcast.net
Mon May 31 06:32:52 MDT 2004

Frontlines newspaper takes my party, and any other party which doesn't
support Ralph Nader, to task:

> Nader ... represents the vehicle, particularly among the youth and some
layers of the working class, to break with the bipartisan political regime.
And let's face it: without the political regime demise, all talk of real
mass-based left politics in the US is just that... talk.
> It is the interests of the mass movement as a WHOLE -- not the selfish and
narrow interests of small groups -- what should determine the politics of
the socialist left in the US.  [...]

> It is easy for a socialist to criticize this or that position taken by
Nader in a number of issues.  And socialists should criticize whatever they
find wrong int he campaign.  But the overwhelming factor in the program of
the Nader campaign is that it represents the vehicle to break with
imperialist bourgeois politics and its bipartisan political regime.
> Finding the small print and blowing it out of proportion to justify
abstentionism in the fight against bipartisanship-- and whether a socialist
group runs its own Presidential ticket or abstain altogether -- is
abstaining from that central fight of today.

Well, here are some reactions:

(1) I have real problems with this elevation of "the bipartisan political
regime" as a political target.  I understand when someone talks about
fighting racism or sexism within the working class, but I don't understand
when someone talks about fighting "bipartisanism."  I don't think the
workers and oppressed go around thinking, "It is wrong to vote for anyone
but a Democrat or a Republican."  I think they go around thinking, "(a)
Nobody but a Democrat or a Republican can get elected, and (b) therefore
only voting for a Democrat or a Republican makes practical sense."  (a) is
not an illusion, it is truth.  (b) is not so much "bipartisanism" as
"pragmatism", overconcern for what is "realistic" and "practical" in the
short term and insufficient consideration for class interests and ideology.
Which, by the way, I think also characterizes "Frontlines newspaper's" whole
argument that joining the Nader campaign is the only realistic thing to do!

Anyway, I think the Perot candidacies of 1992 and 1996 are evidence that not
everyone is so "pragmatic" that they will only vote for Republicans and
Democrats!  One of the problems that we have in the U.S. is that the "left"
is so much more "pragmatic" than the right!  Right-wingers will go out and
vote their conscience unashamedly, when they think that God has told them
what to do and so on.  Left-wingers get beaten into submission.  By the way,
I disagree with "Frontlines'" assertion that most of the left will be for
Nader.  It depends on what you are willing to call "the left", I suppose,
but I would say that most of "the left" will be for Kerry.

(2) This means that I disagree with "Frontlines newspaper" about what the
priorities are.  "Frontlines" says that first we have to break the
"bipartisan regime", that is, we have to convince the workers that they can
vote for third parties, and only then can we talk about socialism.  I say
that if we convince the workers that they should organize on a class basis
and be socialists, and give the bourgeois elections their proper evaluation,
then they will be excited about voting for socialist parties and otherwise
building them, and the supposed "bipartisan regime" will be seen not to be
an obstacle.  Is it going to be a long hard slog to win the workers in the
US over to socialism?  Absolutely!!  All the more reason to get started with
it today!

(3) I can't speak for the ISO, but my own "problem" with the Nader campaign
has nothing to do with his day-to-day tactics and pronouncements and "small
print".  It is the whole thing.  In the first place, it's not socialist.  In
the second place, the economic program is basically about protecting small
businesses.  This means that it is a fundamentally unrealistic and
unrealizable program.  In the third place, it is a movement around a person
rather than around a party or a political document.  If Nader gets hit by a
truck tomorrow, god forbid, what happens to the whole enterprise?  I could
go on, but I think I've made the point.  Of course it's a positive
development when people move from the Kerry camp into the Nader camp, I'm
not saying otherwise.  But it's also a positive development when workers,
who were previously for Bush on the grounds of patriotic false
consciousness, racism, sexism, anti-LGBT bigotry, and the like, move into
the Kerry camp.  The latter doesn't oblige me to be in the Kerry camp to
greet them, and the former doesn't oblige me to be in the Nader camp.

(4) There is no "mass movement as a whole", so appeals to the interests of
the "mass movement as a whole" don't work.  This is not Marxist language.

(5) Nader is not going to get elected.  Everyone knows this.  Therefore the
Nader campaign is basically a propaganda campaign, sort of like a big
demonstration or series of demonstrations against the Republicans and
Democrats combined.  I don't think "Frontlines newspaper" would dissent from
this characterization.

So let me make an argument based on analogy with other kinds of
demonstrations and propaganda campaigns.  Suppose there was going to be a
big demonstration against the war in Iraq, organized by some force with
whose politics we differ sharply, and with slogans which we consider to be
misleading, like "UN in, US out!" or something.  (I am making this up just
for the purpose of this illustration.)  What would our attitude be towards
it?  We would not ignore it.  We would probably send people to the
demonstration, to assess it and meet people and spread more adequate ideas.

But suppose someone came to us and told us, "There is going to be a whole
series of these demonstrations over the next six months.  Your party must
join the force that is staging these demonstrations.  You will not have any
input into the slogans or tone of these demonstrations.  Also you cannot
organize any of your own demonstrations against the Iraq war during this
six-month period, or raise your own demands in some other forum.  It is six
months of 'UN in, US out' for you.  You must do this because the 'UN in, US
out' campaign is 'the vehicle to break with the militarist regime'.  If you
refuse these conditions, you are ignoring the needs of the 'movement as a
whole', pursuing your own small group's narrow and selfish interests, and
objectively abstaining from the fight against the war."

Well, of course we would reject such a demand.  We would point out that (a)
we are not 'abstaining from the fight against the war' just because we don't
take responsibility for a particular demonstration with the program of which
we disagree; (b) we are in any case supporting many other demonstrations
against the war which have broader programs with which we don't disagree,
and these other demonstrations are also 'vehicles to break with the
militarist regime' (there is not only one);  (c) this is like asking us to
cease to exist with our own politics for too long a period to consider under
any circumstances.

I hope the point of this analogy is clear.  We are indeed trying to expose
the nature of the Republicans and Democrats, but the Nader campaign is not
the only vehicle for this.  An independent socialist campaign is another
such vehicle.  The demonstrations against the Democratic and Republican
conventions are another such vehicle.  Everything that we publish in our
press and media about the Democrats and Republicans are another such
vehicle.  It is not true that the only 'vehicle' for attacking the two major
parties of the ruling class is to spend the period from now to November
working in a propaganda campaign whose program we do not really support!

Now let me turn this analogy around the other way.  Suppose some group were
to organize a big rally with the ACTUAL broad slogan of "Break with the
Republicans and Democrats!" and were to invite representatives of the Nader
campaign, of the Parker/Gutierrez campaign, of Peace and Freedom which is
running Leonard Peltier, and so on, to present our views in a common
setting.  Obviously we would have no political reason to abstain from that,
just as we have not abstained from anti-war demonstrations that have brought
together forces over a wide spectrum.  See the distinction?

There, I'm done spamming the list for the day on this topic, no matter what
people say :-)

Lou Paulsen
member, WWP, Chicago

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