The Nader Campaign in the U.S. Elections
By Roger Annis and John Riddell
This article was completed before the Green Party Convention rejected the nomination of Ralph Nader as its presidential candidate. The authors also were unaware at the time this article was published on their website and sent to Socialist Viewpoint, that Nader would choose Peter Camejo as his running mate. The Editors
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 percent) 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 alternativessometimes 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 Quebeçois, a bourgeois party that advocates Quebec sovereignty.
New Electoral Alternatives
In several European countries, new groupings identified with socialism have gained influence. For example, the Scottish Socialist Party won 8 percent in recent elections; Trotskyist groups have won more than 5 percent of the national vote in France; and in Britain a left-wing electoral coalition called Respect won 5 percent in this months 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, Naders supporters include many who view themselves as Marxists.
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.
Naders 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 electedas 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 anti-capitalist 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 reformsin 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 (Canadian Commonwealth Federation/New Democratic Party), 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. (www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th- congress/tactics.htm)
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 Quebeçois 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.
Assessing the Nader Campaign
In the United States, the Democratic Party is presently furious against Nader for his decision to run, blaming him for George Bushs 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 Naders 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 Naders 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 the United States. In no sense does it identify with the interests of working people.
Such a campaign diverts forces away from antiwar and other anti-capitalist struggles into a project to patch up the system of capitalist rule.
Working-Class Political Action
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. Naders campaign fits that patternand in fact it is utilizing the ballot status of Perots Reform Party. Many statements by Nader suggest an orientation to reform the Democratic Party. (See http://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 order.
Socialist Voice (Canada), June 14, 2004
Socialist Voice is an on-line journal oriented to the workers movement and encourages debate and dialogue on issues before the workers movement. It can be accessed on the Internet at www.socialistvoice.com.