Should Socialists Vote for Nader?
By Carole Seligman
Peter Camejo, Ralph Naders Vice Presidential running mate, made an impassioned plea at their campaign rally July 16 for the San Francisco audience not to vote for what we dont want in the November 2004 presidential election. Thats good advice. I think it came originally from Eugene V. Debs, the socialist labor hero who ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket from 1900 to 1920 and was jailed for his opposition to the First World War. Debs said it was better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you dont want, and get it.
Many socialists in the audience that night and around the country are supporting the Nader-Camejo ticket. Some of them fondly remember Camejo as a fiery socialist agitator during the 1960s and 70s when he was a leader and spokesman for the Socialist Workers Party. Nader and Camejo are both respected for their opposition to the rule of corporations in American government.
Camejo and Nader both laid out the arguments against voting for the Democratic Partys Kerry-Edwards ticket on the grounds that, based on Kerrys and Edwards voting records in the Senate, their campaign is pro-war, pro-Patriot Act, anti-civil liberties, anti-environment, anti-immigrant, and even anti-choice (Kerry having pledged to support the nominations of anti-abortion judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade!).
Nader makes a good critique of the two-party shell game that is American politics. And, while I support the democratic right of the Nader-Camejo campaign to be on the ballot, I would argue that Nader and Camejo are not a good choice.
Socialists recognize that politics, political parties, and electoral campaigns, even American politics, represent the interests of social classes. The Democratic and Republican parties are in business for one big reason: to advance the rule of capital over every aspect of American (and world) society. These are ruling class political parties who operate on behalf of those who own and control all of American wealth, industry, and institutions of American society. The Democrats and the Republicans represent the corporations of the military-industrial complex, the exploiters and the polluters. They are the ones who profit from the desperate needs of the people.
On the other hand, the working people who constitute the overwhelming majority of the people have no political party of their own. They have no instrument to fight for their interests in the American political scene. And, even the working class institutions that do exist such as unions and other working class organizations, are almost entirely linked to the bosses political parties! So leaders of huge working class organizations such as the National Education Association, the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union and the International Longshore Workers Union, all support the Democrats, even though many of the bosses who exploit the workers in these unions also support and fund the same candidates, as well as supporting the Republicans.
Both Democrats and Republicans represent the same ruling class whose drive for profits takes the country to war, to occupation with military bases throughout the world. Their actions in the White House, in both houses of Congress, and in the judicial system all aim to oil the gears of the private profit system at the expense of working people.
But does Nader really represent something fundamentally different than Kerry and Bush? Not at all!
Nader and Camejo try to represent their views as radically different than the Democrats and the Republicans. And they did march against the war and oppose the Patriot Act. We know they support protecting the environment against the worst ravages of the unbridled profit system. The antiwar statements made at the Nader-Camejo campaign rally in San Francisco got the best response from the crowd. Clearly, the audience consisted almost entirely of people who had protested the war before it started and afterwards, and are still strongly opposed to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, as the preceding article in this magazine, The Nader Campaign, shows, Naders position on the war is deeply flawed. According to his Vote Nader website Nader supports a UN occupation of Iraqthe organization under whose auspices the first Gulf War against Iraq was carried out! And his position on ending the occupation is not a straightforward position for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops and mercenaries, which is the only genuine solution for ending the violence and assuring the Iraqi peoples right to self-determination.
But the main problem with the Nader-Camejo campaign is that they do not oppose the capitalist system itself. And that leads them toward taking a false position on the war and many other important questions. While they campaign for important reforms such as a universal healthcare system, drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, reforms in the electoral system that deprive minorities access to the ballot, and more, they offer no real alternative for winning these reforms, because at heart they both support the continuation of the capitalist system while seeking to eliminate its worst excesses. But the existence of capitalism depends on the impoverishment of the working class. It depends on making war to secure resources and preparing for war by diverting huge proportions of societal wealth into armaments, bases, and standing armies. Working people have no interest in perpetuating this system.
When Nader announced that Peter Camejo would be his vice-presidential running mate, he assured the media that Camejo, as an experienced, knowledgeable stockbroker, would keep his campaign within the bounds of capitalism. Nader, who is openly pro-capitalist, had to assure the media that his and his running-mates pro-capitalist position shouldnt be doubted even though Camejo had once been a Socialist Workers Party candidate for President in 1976. In 1968, Governor of California, Ronald Reagan had a special enmity for Camejo, which endeared him to the antiwar masses.
The vast majority of Americans, the people who work for a living by producing all the goods and providing all the services society needs, have no political representatives and no candidates in the running (with the exception of some small local protest campaigns). Until this situation changes and a working class political party gets organized, elections will not offer any alternative to the unbridled rule of capital over our lives.
The Nader-Camejo campaign doesnt offer a real alternative because it cant and wont break from the capitalist politics that rule. Nader and Camejo consciously seek to reform capitalism, not end it. While they oppose what they explain as the excesses of capitalismits imperialist wars, its globalization policies, which are causing such poverty and oppression around the worldthey propose reforms to ease the suffering, but no real solutions. At the Nader-Camejo meeting the day-to-day issues facing working people were not even addressed. The problem with the Nader-Camejo campaign is that its politics are capitalist-lite.
Working people can cast a vote that means something by voting for any of the socialist candidates for President and Vice President. Socialist candidates are being fielded by the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers World Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and other small political parties. This is a protest vote, for sure. These candidates have no chance of winning, any more than Nader or Camejo do. But, it is a more meaningful and intelligent protest to vote Socialist than to vote for any capitalist campaign.
It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you do not want, and get it!