“Socialist” Foot Soldiers
By Moises Delgado
They chant, “Don’t be a hater, Vote for Nader!” They advertise him as “the antiwar candidate” and “the only serious left-wing alternative in Election 2004.” That’s the claim by the main Nader support group at CUNY: the International Socialist Organization (ISO).
Antiwar? They admit he “does not call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces” from Iraq. Left-wing? Nader “accept[ed] the right-wing, anti-immigrant Reform Party’s endorsement.” Alternative? He met with John Kerry to “give his advice” to the Democratic contender and hopes his candidacy will “help” the Democrats.
While proclaiming “Vote for Nader/Camejo,” the ISO admits all this in their newspaper (Socialist Worker, 24 September). Yet it says: “The campaign of Ralph Nader and running mate Peter Camejo attempts to raise the bar on what we should expect from political candidates.” These are “socialists” who sound like a patriotic civics class.
In reality, this is the opposite of what socialist politics stands for. Supporting capitalist candidates is what Marxists call class collaboration. Revolutionaries fight to free the workers and oppressed from illusions in bourgeois politicians of every kind.
We are often asked the differences between us and other groups that say they’re leftists. This is a very clear example.
Marxists fight to build a revolutionary workers party. Only a socialist revolution can get rid of war, racism and poverty. Reformists spread illusions. In particular, they spread the illusion that capitalist politicians and the state apparatus they administer can be pressured into serving the oppressed. For the ISO today (as well as Socialist Alternative and some other groups), this means being public relations people for Ralph Nader. But Nader is an anti-immigrant millionaire who proudly states his support for capitalism. So the ISO & Co. have to engage in false advertising.
Helping Nader Pressure the Democrats
Reformism comes in many shades, but one thing all its varieties have in common is that they orbit around the Democratic Party. The Democrats are one of two parties, the Republicans are the other, through which the American ruling class runs its government. The Democratic Party generally receives the support of labor and, even though it was the slave owners’ party, of most black voters.
This goes back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition of the 1930s. Big struggles during the Great Depression made the ruling class fear a revolution like the one V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky led in Russia in 1917. With the aid of the union bureaucracy, the Democrat FDR tightened control over labor while enacting a number of social programs like unemployment compensation and Social Security.
What is crucial to understanding the collaborationist “left” in America is that its predominant ideology, liberal reformism, has been manifested through the vehicle the ruling class historically allowed it: the Democratic Party. In Europe reformist organizations enjoy a certain degree of political life through a social-democratic union bureaucracy. But in the U.S., social democrats find that reformism is a field monopolized by the Democratic Party’s hold on labor. Today, reformists are upset and frightened because old-line liberalism has lost its influence in the Democratic Party.
That’s where Nader comes in. He entered as a political factor when traditional liberals were losing control of the Democratic Party to Bill Clinton and his Democratic Leadership Council. This was in line with the “New World Order” proclaimed by the American ruling class in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nader appealed to disenchanted liberals who felt abused by Clinton and Gore. He proclaimed that his goal was to pressure and push the Democrats.
Today, “Nader believes his campaign can help Kerry,” as a headline in the Seattle Times (1 April) noted. Just look at his web site, votefornader.org. He writes: “the Democrats need to be shown in the field how to appeal to the millions of voters whom they have turned their back on” (like those who “are against abortion”!). This will help them “defeat Bush and the Republicans” and “restore the House and/or Senate to the Democrats,” Nader vows.
In the same “Dear Anybody But Bush Liberal Democrats” letter (30 March), Nader asks them to consider “how many more votes the Democratic nominee will receive” by being “pressed to appeal more forcefully to the interests of the people” and seeing the “effective modes and critiques he can pick up from the independent candidate.” Of his 2000 race, he writes that “pushing Gore to more populist rhetoric allowed Gore to get many more voters.”
Ask Nader’s supposedly socialist cheering squad this: If Nader really opposed the Democrats, would he help them choose their ticket? In June Nader wrote to Kerry: “I want to urge you to select Senator John Edwards as your vice presidential candidate.” Nader got his wish. Pro-war, pro-Patriot Act Kerry chose pro-war Edwards, who not only voted for the Patriot Act but helped design it.
Last spring, some young ISO members were perturbed at the idea of backing Nader again, as their group did last time around, in 2000. For a while the ISO couldn’t make up its mind. Asking “Is Nader offering a left alternative?” it said he “gave a dying right-wing organization a breath of life” by accepting the Reform Party endorsement. It criticized his “all-too-friendly meeting” with Kerry, saying this did “a disservice to his supporters and severely undermined the case that he presents a left-wing alternative” (Socialist Worker, 28 May). But after some waffling, the ISO decided to tag along with Ralph again. They figured his loss of support actually gave them an opening to be the biggest Nader’s Raiders on campus. If students didn’t have illusions in Nader, they would try to create them.
As reformists, they actually share the outlook of pressuring the Democrats. In the same article, the ISO wrote that “Nader’s kid-gloves treatment is letting Kerry off the hook.... Rather than push Kerry on the most important issue in U.S. [Iraq], Nader didn’t pursue it” in his meeting with the Democratic nominee. What kind of heavyweight stylings would the ISO have in mind? Last April the ISO got a chance to show everyone: Kerry visited City College and the ISO unfurled a banner reading “Kerry Take A Stand: Bring the Troops Home Now.” Take a stand? Kerry stands 100 percent with the American capitalist ruling class (which he is part of) whose army is occupying and killing the people of Iraq. He is for sending 40,000 more troops to do this dirty work. The ISO’s pathetic banner showed their politics are the opposite of class opposition to imperialist politicians.
Pressuring the imperialists to be for “peace” is the name of the game for the ISO. Last semester they circulated a petition calling on the “Members of the United States Congress” to “embrace international law” and “promote a new approach that will accelerate the movement toward peace, self-determination and security for Iraq.” In other words, they asked the imperialist wolves to dress in more sheep-like clothing. When the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal broke, the Hunter ISO asked students to sign a call for Donald Rumsfeld to resign. This meant helping Democrats try to fool people into thinking it was the work of “one bad apple” rather than the barbaric system of capitalist imperialism.
Like their support to Nader, ISOers justify this as “finding ways to talk to people where they’re at.” In reality it means reinforcing liberal bourgeois ideology. You couldn’t ask for clearer examples of what Marx and Lenin called opportunism.
Asking for capitalism to change its “priorities” is the essence of slogans raised by the ISO (and other reformists like the moribund Student Liberation Action Movement). Their all-purpose one is “Money for ___ not for war”: you just fill in the blank with “jobs,” “schools,” “books” or whatever you think appeals most to the given crowd. This reflects the outlook of social-patriotism, which says murdering Iraqis is just too expensive – instead of the internationalist position for the defeat of the imperialists and militant defense of those they target for aggression.
The ISO cannot be anti-imperialist because it was born of support to U.S. (and British) imperialism, going back to its guru Tony Cliff. Cliff was the social democrat who broke from Trotskyism half a century ago in order to denounce defense of North Korea, China and the Soviet Union during the imperialists’ Korean War, which killed millions in a drive for counterrevolution. He justified this with a hocus-pocus theory that the USSR, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state whose destruction was the key goal of the capitalists’ Cold War, was really “state capitalist.”
In Cold War II during the 1980s, Cliff and his followers supported the CIA’s “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan. These were the woman-killing feudalists against whom we revolutionaries said “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” When George Bush I’s man Boris Yeltsin led capitalist counterrevolution to destroy the USSR, the ISO said: “Communism has collapsed.... It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker, 31 August 1991). This is what Trotskyists call “State Department socialism.” Rejoicing is what the U.S. imperialists were doing as they proclaimed the supposed “death of communism” and a U.S.-dictated New World Order born in the first Operation Desert Slaughter.
Thus it is no accident for the ISO that “their” candidate Nader wraps himself in the American flag. Last Fourth of July he wrote “The Repudiation of Patriotism by US Multinational Corporations,” in which he says they should be “pledging allegiance...to the flag and Republic for which it stands.” In a “Dear Conservatives” letter fishing for more support from right-wingers, he wrote: “Our country’s local, state and national sovereignties are important to conservative Republicans” who want withdrawal from “autocratic systems of international governance that pull America down.”
This is the context for Nader’s rants against “illegal” immigration, which we discuss in the front-page article of this issue of Revolution. Oh yes, for slave-labor work “that Americans don’t want to do,” Nader is willing to have a bracero-type system of “work permits for people who come in and do work for short periods of time” (Fresno Bee, 22 October 2000). This chauvinist stance means “let” some immigrants do the most dangerous, dirty jobs, so long as they don’t stay or get any rights. Against this, we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
Nader makes clear that his “anti-corporatism” (endlessly praised by the ISO, Socialist Alternative, et al.) is just a different recipe for defending American capitalism. During the 2000 campaign he said, “I think big corporations are destroying capitalism” (CNN’s Talk Back Live, 5 July 2000). Playing the populist card, he appeals to “small” capitalists’ utopian dream of going back to an era where they were not so completely dominated by monopoly and finance capital. Yet, as Lenin pointed out in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), this domination is characteristic of the capitalist system in its final, decaying phase.
The outlook of xenophobic “small” capitalists feeling squeezed by the “big guys” has frequently been the fuel of right-wing movements, so it is not surprising or contradictory that Nader gained support from the fascistic Pat Buchanan and the Reform Party.
For Revolutionary Politics, Not the Bourgeois Electoral Circus!
The ISO and other reformists are fond of talking about an “alternative,” appealing to those who would like a more “progressive” leadership of the Democratic Party. Their role is to sucker young people back into the shell game of capitalist electoral politics. For Marxists, it is not a matter of picking between ruling-class “lesser evils,” but building a revolutionary party that tells the truth. The truth is that all bourgeois politicians are our enemies. The truth is that capitalism cannot be reformed. We need a revolution, a socialist revolution centered on the working class.
Our politics are class politics. We fight to organize the working class and all the oppressed. It is the international proletariat that has the social power and class interest to do away with every kind of exploitation and oppression.
Because of the class they represent, ruling-class politicians of every stripe are the enemies of full citizenship rights for immigrants, of a genuine fight for black liberation and women’s emancipation, of the struggle to defeat U.S. imperialism. For this reason they are the enemies of young people who want to change the world instead of trying to find a place in the capitalist electoral circus as illusion-peddlers for the bourgeoisie.
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The following comments on the Nader campaign were made by comrade Abram at the Hunter Internationalist Club forum on September 30.
It’s unlikely that people coming to a meeting like this would vote for George Bush. Some might be thinking about voting for Kerry. But many would agree Democrats and Republicans are two heads of the same beast. It’s more likely they would want to know what Marxist revolutionaries have to say about Nader. Especially here at Hunter College, where Nader is being pushed, by people who claim to be leftists, as a supposed antiwar candidate. But Nader supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and on Iraq what he calls for is – and this only after six months – a “smart withdrawal” of U.S. troops and establishment of an “international” imperialist occupation.
The fact that the U.S. has only two parties which most people consider voting for most of the time is a historical peculiarity of this country. It has a lot to do with the racial/ethnic division of the working class by the bourgeoisie and the specific history of ruling-class politics here. Most capitalist countries have a series of flavors of ruling-class candidate so you can choose who’s going to rob, cheat, lie, oppress and kill you.
But there is a whole history in the U.S. of bourgeois third parties. What we mean by bourgeois is parties that, in their program and the class they represent, defend the interests of the capitalist class. For decades, third parties arose as supposed alternatives to the Republicrat – Republican and Democrat – duopoly. Among them was the so-called Progressive Party of one Teddy Roosevelt, the quintessential colonialist who subjugated the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Panama, Guam.... In the ’20s there was the La Follette “Farmer-Labor” candidacy. In 1948, the “peace” candidacy of Henry Wallace, FDR’s former vice president. The Stalinists pushed Wallace like the ISO (all proportions guarded) pushes Nader today. These third parties serve to channel discontent back into the capitalist electoral system. Rather than a step towards a workers party, they are one more obstacle to building one.
On a range of positions Nader is not to the left of classic Democratic Party liberalism. What kind of supposed left-leaning candidate would be endorsed by Pat Buchanan, who thinks Hitler fascism was not so bad?
Nader states explicitly that his starting point is how best to defend the interests of the U.S., in other words of U.S. capitalism in the world today. The explicit anti-immigrant chauvinism spewed out by Nader comes from his defense of “small” capitalists against “big” ones. He even rails against giving visas to “Third World software programmers.” His program is directed against many of the people our program is directed towards, who are on the receiving end of racism and imperialist oppression. ■
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