We Need a New Party
If the 2004 elections highlight anything, it is the need for a new political party to represent the millions rather than the millionaires.
While 40% (and growing) of the country wants a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Bush and Kerry are committed to maintaining the U.S. occupation. While 80% want universal healthcare as a basic right, Bush and Kerry want to maintain the failed for-profit healthcare system. Rather than promising massive federal public works programs to rebuild our collapsing cities and education system, George Bush’s nominal “opponent” John Kerry calls for tax cuts to big business!
Clearly, the interests of the vast majority are being shut out – while the filthy rich are endlessly pampered by the two parties of the status quo.
On the other hand, Ralph Nader’s insurgent campaign against the Democans and Republicrats is bringing up issues Bush and Kerry won’t touch with a ten foot pole. Regardless of the final vote Nader receives, the support he has gathered despite the difficult “Anybody But Bush” political climate has demonstrated that there is an important minority who are looking for a left-wing, anti-war independent political alternative.
This poses a key question for the Nader campaign: how can we build on the important start that Nader’s 2004 campaign represents to continue the struggle for an anti-corporate, pro-worker independent political alternative following the November 2 election?
Socialist Alternative believes that the best way forward would be for Ralph Nader to convene and energetically build a conference following the elections to bring together his supporters among the Greens, the labor movement, anti-war activists, socialists, students, and others including people who may have supported Kerry but agree there is a need for an alternative, to discuss how to prepare the ground for the formation of a broad-based anti-war, pro-worker political party independent of big business.
Space for a New Party Will Grow
The potential support for such a party will grow in the next period. The bulk of Kerry’s support comes from a desperation to see Bush defeated, despite widespread skepticism or even outright hostility towards Kerry.
If Kerry wins, tens of millions who voted for Kerry will be rapidly disillusioned as he maintains the brutal occupation of Iraq and attempts to carry out further attacks on workers’ standard of living. If Kerry fails to defeat Bush, there will also be increased openness to building a left political alternative as the Democrats’ failure to effectively fight the right-wing Bush agenda will be further exposed.
The war in Iraq and the crisis of U.S. capitalism means that the next period will be one of deep convulsions in U.S. society. The ruling class will attempt to make workers pay for the crisis of their system, inevitably provoking mass struggles of workers. These events and experiences will hammer home the need to break with both parties of big business and for workers to build their own political party.
Furthermore, if a new party were to achieve real growth and momentum, it could begin to draw sections of the most impoverished and politically alienated half of the U.S. population which currently does not vote. There is a huge political space in U.S. society that only an alternative party which truly fights for working people’s interests can fill.
While conditions exist for the formation of a new party, political leadership is needed in order to make this happen. Nader, more than anyone else at this point, has the authority to grab the initiative and take concrete steps towards filling the political vacuum that exits on the left.
The Nader campaign has mobilized an important layer of activists and support. Millions are following his campaign and considering voting for his ticket, especially young people, the poor, and people of color. In addition, significant sections of the anti-war movement, which will only grow in the coming period, have gravitated towards Nader.
A bringing together of those organized around or potentially supportive of Nader’s campaign could form a campaigning organization which could begin to bring together the forces needed to launch a new political party. This would be a good start to build upon. By standing in local and national elections on a radical anti-corporate, anti-war program and energetically appealing to the social movements, the working class, and the poor, tens of thousands could be brought into such a formation in the space of a few years. By taking such steps we would be in a much stronger position to mount a challenge in the 2008 presidential elections and beyond.
Nader’s Mistake in 2000
Unfortunately, there is no evidence at this stage that Nader will move in this direction. Nader was also in an excellent position to call for the formation of a new party in 2000, but sadly he retreated back into single-issue campaigns and away from the movement for a broad political alternative. As Socialist Alternative warned at the time, this allowed the potential that was built around Nader’s historic 2000 campaign to dissipate.
While it is true that an important section of Nader’s 2000 supporters joined the Green Party, his campaign brought together a much larger social base. Unions, civil rights activists, immigrant organizations, students, and other sections of society far beyond the Greens’ middle-class base endorsed and actively campaigned for Nader.
Two national unions and numerous union locals endorsed Nader in 2000, when Clinton’s betrayals were still fresh in workers’ minds. This shows there is openness to political alternatives among the organized working class. There is real potential for even a small left party to establish roots in our communities and sections of the labor movement, if it is seen as playing a leading role in workplace and community struggles.
If Nader had taken the initiative to form a new party in 2000, it could have built itself out of the huge struggles of the last four years. Nader could have fought against Bush’s racist theft of the elections, exposing the Democrats’ capitulations. A broad left-wing party could have played a leading role in and fought for the political allegiance of the anti-war protests, the labor struggles, the million-strong abortion rights march, the campaigns in defense of civil liberties, and numerous other struggles that have occurred throughout Bush’s tenure.
Taking such steps would have also worked to hold together and build upon the layer of tens of thousands who actively campaigned for Nader in 2000. Along with the more difficult “Anybody But Bush” mood in 2004, Nader’s retreat following the 2000 election is one of the reasons why his 2004 campaign has a thin layer of activists, which has contributed to Nader’s difficulties in getting on the ballot.
It is important that these lessons be discussed and debated within the Nader campaign so we can learn from previous experience build the strongest possible movement.
Socialist Alternative believes workers and oppressed people need to break from the big business Democratic Party and build a mass party of workers with a clear anti-capitalist program. This struggle needs to continue after the November elections. We appeal to you to join us and help campaign for this idea.
Justice #40, September-October 2004