The Battle to Break the Bi-Partisan System
Blocked out of the major media, yet still with growing public support, Nader’s presidential campaign keeps forcing its way to the surface with calls from the public on radio talk shows, op-ed pieces in newspapers and, most interestingly, onto the letters to the editor pages of local newspapers.
By the hundreds, support groups keep emerging at the local level. The Nader campaign has received support from individuals on 350 college campuses and over 1,000 students have e-mailed the Nader headquarters to say they want to get involved as organizers. Deep dissatisfaction with the two-party system is being channeled into pro-Nader sentiment.
Unions not affiliated to the AFL-CIO, like the United Electrical Workers and The California Nurses Association, have endorsed Nader. Local chapters of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (second largest union in the AFL-CIO) and other locals did as well. Bureaucratic arm-twisting and curtailment of internal debate on the elections and the candidates by John Sweeney and other AFL-CIO labor tops has prevented hundreds of other endorsements. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of union activists and members are already behind Nader’s campaign. Even the UAW and the Teamsters were forced to demagogically flirt with a Nader endorsement in order to appease thousands of their members who are sympathetic to a break with the Democrats. Other unions, like the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are still considering a formal endorsement.
Prestigious African American leaders like Manning Marable, liberal personalities like Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Warren Beatty, Michael Moore, John Hightower, and others have also been swept into the campaign. This is not so much a conscious policy of their breaking with the bipartisan system, but rather the perception that this is a BIG movement and that they should be sharing the spotlight.
In most unions, environmental, LGBT and community organizations across the country, there are clusters of supporters of the independent campaign and in some of them, their leaders have been under tremendous pressure to discuss Nader’s presidential bid. That’s what prompted Gore’s Democratic Party National Convention shift to themes that were first raised by Nader. Nader’s themes were pro-working class, environmentalist, pro-universal health care, and for a fairer distribution of wealth. Gore’s move was prompted out of concern for being upstaged by the insurgent challenger from the left. Of course Gore’s speech would not change one iota the right wing course adopted by the “New Democrats” over the last 10 years. They just fear Nader’s winning one vote from them during the first rounds of the election.
Major Assault on the Bi-Partisan Elections Lock
The Nader campaign is starting to turn voter anger and apathy into a fledgling political movement. The process is still in its earliest stages. Already, he has the support of 10% of West Coast voters and 5% nationwide, if you trust biased and unreliable polls. More importantly, in the first leg of the campaign, over 200,000 people have attended Nader’s public campaign meetings and participated in demonstrations on different issues wearing his buttons, demanding his inclusion in debates, and publicly proclaiming their support for his campaign. This is a genuine mass movement, a political expression of the demonstrations initiated in Seattle against the WTO, and continued since in Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
At present Nader is on the ballot in 38 states and is planning to reach at least 45 by October. His first TV ads have just begun to be aired. He has already raised two million dollars and is pledging to raise at least 5 million more. This will be sufficient for his campaign to reach most voters. Over 40% of all voters already know he is running. According to Democratic Party pollsters – no friends of Nader – 71% of all those consulted told them that they are closer to Nader’s policies than those of Gore or Bush. 78% have a higher opinion of Nader than they do of the two candidates of the bipartisan system.
Nader, correctly, has rejected the siren voices that call him a “spoiler” and declared that “you can’t spoil a system that is already spoiled.” He also countered the criticisms in the same direction uttered by AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney and Teamster head Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. by declaring that he is fundamentally “appealing to the rank and file members of the unions” for their support by raising “issues that are important to them.”
Socialist Alternative and the Nader Campaign
We agree with Ralph Nader on a number of issues and we energetically campaign for those agreements. These include the need for a universal health care system, the elimination of corporate funded and oriented politics, exposure of corporate abuse of public lands and institutions like public schools and universities, defense of the environment from corporate abuse, raising the minimum wage to ten dollars an hour, repealing the anti-union Taft-Hartley law, abolition of the death penalty, defense of a woman’s right to choose, and defense of a civil union for gays and lesbians. By speaking out strongly on some of these issues, Nader is educating millions of US residents and creating the basis for a new political movement. He is bringing millions of people into left politics for the first time. He is beginning to offer an alternative to the politics of tweedle dum and tweedle dee. He is also a threat to the bipartisan system, without the destruction of which, left wing politics in the US will remain marginal.
However Socialist Alternative is also raising further questions for the fledgling mass movement and those who are attracted to left politics thanks to the impact of the Nader campaign. We have to pose the question: Around what social class will an alternative be built?
Is it around the capitalist class and the profit motive inherent in capitalism, even if this is disguised as “humanitarian” or “consensual” and “inclusive” capitalism? Or is it around the working class and the oppressed? Nader and the Green Party will support the first option – although, without the support of the capitalist political parties. Socialist Alternative will support the second.
A survey in 1995 showed that 17 companies control 75% of all media outlets. 500 huge corporations control 70-80% of the economy. The inherent logic of the system is for bigger corporations to gobble up smaller corporations. Socialists argue that this can only be made beneficial for mankind by bringing these huge corporations under public ownership and under the democratic control of workers and consumers, implementing a democratic plan of production and distribution involving the whole population.
Class “Consensus” or Class Struggle
Neither Nader nor the Green Party put forward a class alternative or deal with the need to build an alternative to the capitalist system. They have confidence that the present system can be reformed to fit the needs of everyone by reaching “consensus” among the classes. This position completely ignores the antagonistic interests between the owners of factories, financial institutions and agricultural lands on one side and the workers and oppressed on the other.
From the above differences flows yet another one. What kind of organization do we need to build in order to effect social, economic and political change in the US and internationally? Since the Green Party and Nader expect to be able to reform the system, not replace it, they choose as a vehicle the Green Party, a middle class organization that promotes “smaller capitalism is better capitalism” and in which decisions are taken in the same form that they propose to be taken in society: by consensus. If consensus shows their blueprint of a future society, it has one significant inherent contradiction. Following the Green/Nader logic to its full consequences, the capitalists will never reach consensus on planning their own demise or sacrificing their profit margin. They’ll block consensus (on a principle basis!) on that no doubt, with force of arms if necessary.
Consensus inside the Green Party also leads to the lowest common denominator in policy, program and action since there is no way that reformers, spiritualists, hippies, one-issue environmentalists, and “smaller” capitalism promoters could agree on a common course of action beyond that of the most conservative elements among themselves. These conservative elements would “block” more radical proposals at all cost.
Socialist Alternative, on the other hand, consistent with what we see as an alternative to capitalism based on the democratic control of the working class and the oppressed, is calling for the formation of a mass working class party based on the unions and organizations of the oppressed. That’s why, during this electoral campaign, and beyond, we are calling for Nader to convene a national conference of unions, labor activists, people of color and other oppressed to discuss the formation of such an organization. It would have to be organized democratically and one in which decisions are taken through open debate and democratic votes and leadership is elected by the members on a regular basis.
Broaden the Campaign, Raise Social Issues, Outreach to People of Color
Socialist Alternative, consistent with its program, is struggling to broaden and build the Nader campaign into areas in which the traditional Greens have shown no interest or ability to influence – also consistent with their political program. We are talking here of the labor unions – in which Greens traditionally do not work – communities of color, particularly African Americans, Latinos and Asians and immigrants – support for which among Greens is tenuous in many areas. That’s why, from the beginning, we proposed within the framework of the Nader campaign, that it to raise fundamental social issues of workers and oppressed like building democratic and militant caucuses in the unions to recover them as tools of the working class for struggle and break out of the straightjacket of the Democrats; the immediate abolition of the death penalty; the call for an unconditional and immediate amnesty for all undocumented immigrants (Papers for All), and the end of police brutality that predominantly affects communities of color.
We, at Socialist Alternative, have put forward concrete programmatic demands which will help link the Nader campaign to the wider working class to enable the Nader campaign to expand its reach and increase its strength. At present Nader is shying away from campaigning strongly on many important social issues. This includes demands that will draw toward it the most oppressed sections of the working class who are not presently involved in the campaign. At the same time, those demands and that outreach will immediately put on the agenda the way to advance to the next step in building the mass movement and building an organization to represent its interests in political terms.
Justice #21, September-October 2000