It’s time to break from the two-party system!
The moment Ralph Nader announced his run for president, the entire political establishment unleashed a torrent of abuse and condemnation. Nader’s campaign has inspired a broad coalition opposing it, uniting in message and purpose the editors of The Nation magazine with the Wall Street Journal, the liberal intelligentsia with the strategists of Corporate America.
Political commentators of all stripes, feigning astonishment, have agreed upon one explanation for Nader’s decision to stand: his egomaniacal tendencies combined with irresponsible, anger-induced delusion. In reality, this campaign of character assassination reveals the potential mass appeal of Nader’s message should it penetrate into the mainstream dialogue. This coalition of Nader’s critics understands this threat to their two-party system, and they are hoping to preemptively crush his campaign.
Socialist Alternative strongly supports Ralph Nader’s decision to run an insurgent campaign against the Democrats and Republicans, as we did in 2000. We firmly believe Nader’s campaign will be the best way in the 2004 elections to forward the interests of workers, young people, women, people of color, LGBT people, the environment, and the anti-war movement.
Every Nader vote registers a protest and strikes a blow against the establishment and their two parties – the people who are responsible for the war in Iraq, the lack of healthcare, poverty, sexism, racism, and the millions rotting in hellholes called jails.
Nader is challenging the war in Iraq and corporate domination over our society. He is exposing the Democrats and Republicans for taking hundreds of millions of dollars from big business and ignoring the concerns of millions of ordinary people.
The Nader campaign will popularize radical demands among tens of millions of people that the Republicans and Democrats won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, such as:
- Public works programs to create millions of jobs
- A universal single-payer healthcare system
- Opposing the Iraq war and occupation
- Repealing the Patriot Act
- Same-sex marriage rights
- Repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the rich – a progressive tax system that makes bigbusiness and the rich pay
- An end to poverty in the U.S.
- Abolition of the death penalty
- An end to the war on drugs
- Expansion of workers’ rights and repealing the Taft-Hartley Act
- Rigorous environmental protection and a sustainable energy policy
There is no doubt that George Bush is a very real threat to workers and oppressed people in the U.S. and throughout the world. The Bush administration is the most right-wing administration in decades. We would love to see Bush and his right-wing, corporate agenda defeated. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party and John Kerry (their likely candidate) offer no real alternative to Bush.
John “I’ll Take on Special Interests” Kerry
Over his 20 years in the Senate, Kerry has proven he is a safe, reliable defender of big-business interests who will seek to maximize corporate profits at the expense of workers and the environment. In fact, John Kerry is the richest man in Congress, worth over $550 million! While he now poses as an opponent of “special interests,” he has taken millions from Corporate America.
Listening to Kerry now talk about “holding Bush accountable” for the Iraq war and criticize the Patriot Act, you would never know that he actually voted for the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, and wholeheartedly supported the “war on terrorism” and the war on Afghanistan.
A Kerry White House would continue the occupation of Iraq, possibly even sending in more U.S. troops to crush the Iraqi insurgency. In response to Republican attacks, he has bragged of his support for Bill Clinton’s destruction of welfare and has opposed same-sex marriage rights. According to the Washington Post, Kerry has already “rejected sweeping policy changes such as … moving too quickly to provide health coverage to every American,” and he opposes a single-payer healthcare system – the only way to achieve full medical coverage for all.
Kerry has been a firm supporter of “free-trade” deals such as NAFTA, the WTO, PNTR with China, and fast-track trade negotiation authority. He supported Clinton’s 1994 $33 billion crime bill that drastically expanded the use of the federal death penalty, aimed at hiring 100,000 new cops, and appropriated $10 billion for prison building.
Every time an election rolls around, we hear all sorts of talk from the Democrats about how they are the party of working people and social justice. While Kerry and the Democrats will say almost anything to get elected, what counts is what they actually do in office.
While it is entirely possible that Kerry will defeat Bush, the truth is, it is completely ruled out that Kerry or the Democrats will end corporate domination of society, the occupation of Iraq, racism, sexism, or the many other urgent problems that capitalism breeds.
Democrats Fail to Fight Bush
Despite all the propaganda from the “Anybody But Bush” Democrats, George Bush would never have been able to carry out his attacks without the active support of the Democratic Party. It was the Democrats in Congress who voted to support Bush’s “war on terrorism,” the war on Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, the Iraq war, and the $87 billion for the occupation of Iraq. Most Democrats voted for Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and “No Child Left Behind.” Sixteen Senate Democrats, including Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, voted for Bush’s “Partial Birth Abortion” Ban.
Rather than focusing on attacking Nader, who has consistently opposed Bush, why doesn’t the Democratic Party leadership worry about their own Senators, like Zell Miller (D-GA), who has endorsed Bush in 2004?
Contrary to the Democrats’ “Nader-elected-Bush” mantra, Bush never even won the 2000 election; Al Gore won the popular vote by over 540,000 votes. Far more concerned with protecting the legitimacy of the ruling class’s political system, Gore and the Democratic Party leadership refused to challenge the undemocratic Electoral College and actively stamped out attempts to organize mass protests against the Republicans’ racist theft of Florida’s election. When the Congressional Black Caucus appealed to the Senate to challenge the certification of the election results, not ONE Democratic Senator complied – not Kerry, not Edwards, not Wellstone, not Kennedy, not Feingold, not Boxer, etc.
Clinton and Gore Paved the Way for Bush
It was Clinton and Gore who paved the way for Bush, not Nader. During their eight years in power, Clinton and Gore ruthlessly attacked the living conditions and rights of the groups they claimed to represent – workers, people of color, women, environmentalists, and LGBT people. In disgust, half of eligible voters – 100 million people – refused to even vote in 2000.
They rammed through NAFTA and the WTO, destroyed welfare, and broke promises on universal healthcare, striker replacement laws, abortion, and gays in the military, to name a few. Clinton campaigned as being “tough on crime” and expanded the racist war on drugs. Under his watch, the prison population rose from 1.2 million in 1992 to 2 million in 2000. Clinton helped pave the way for Bush’s Patriot Act and the post-9/11 secret detentions of 1,200 Arabs and Muslims with his 1996 “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty” and “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility” Acts. These laws allowed for suspects to be detained indefinitely, charged, and convicted on the grounds of secret testimony that the defendant’s lawyer cannot challenge.
Clinton was the main enforcer of the genocidal sanctions on Iraq that killed more than 1 million Iraqis. He also carried out the brutal war against Yugoslavia and pushed through the $1.3 billion “Plan Colombia” aid package to the Colombian military.
Nor was Clinton averse to using violence for political gain, as when he bombed Sudan and Afghanistan and killed many innocent people to divert media attention away from his impending impeachment crisis.
And now we are told to vote for another Democrat rather than build an anti-corporate, anti-war independent challenge?
Howard Dean’s Rise and Fall
The recent Democratic primaries have shown yet again that the Democratic Party is a dead-end for progressives, anti-war activists, and workers. Howard Dean attracted significant support by challenging the Democratic Party leadership’s cowardly acquiescence to Bush and his war on Iraq, showing the potential for an anti-war, anti-establishment campaign. At the same time, he tried to downplay his 12-year record as Vermont Governor when he carried out neo-liberal policies.
Alarmed by the significant support he was gaining, the right-wing Party leadership and the corporate media combined to derail Dean’s campaign. Dean responded to these attacks by downplaying his populist, anti-war rhetoric and highlighting his fiscal conservatism to show that he was a “safe” candidate for big business, confirming the warnings that socialists made all along about the hollow nature of Dean’s radical-sounding, populist rhetoric.
Dean has since dropped out and pressed his supporters not to support Nader but to get behind the Democratic nominee. Dennis Kucinich has indicated he will eventually do the same. Kucinich already urged his supporters to back John Edwards in the Iowa caucuses where Kucinich did not receive 15% of the vote.
For Dean and Kucinich supporters, a clear choice is posed: fall in line behind the pro-war Corporate Kerry, or support the anti-war, anti-corporate Nader campaign.
Dean and Kucinich cling to the dream of pulling the Democratic Party to the left. But considering the Democratic Party’s leadership’s ferocious resistance to someone as limited as Dean, imagine their opposition to a truly radical, anti-war, working-class candidate!
Mass Movements, not Politicians, Change Society
History shows again and again that the Democratic and Republican parties are our enemies, not our friends. The only way workers and oppressed people have ever won significant reforms has been through mass struggle, which were won in spite of the resistance of these two parties. It was by building our own mass movements that we defeated Jim Crow apartheid, stopped the Vietnam War, and won the right of women to vote, abortion rights, the right to form a union, Social Security, etc.
Our ability to resist the ruling class’s attacks and advance our own agenda lies solely in the independent organization, consciousness, and fighting capacity of workers and the oppressed. The strategy of supporting the “lesser-evil” Democrats has again and again led to the weakening and destruction of social movements – which are the only way to win real gains. Lesser-evilism restricts movements to demanding only what is acceptable to the Democratic Party and its big business backers, leaving our movements incapable of telling people the truth and fighting consistently for our interests.
A classic example of this occurred in 1996 when Clinton launched his savage assault on the poor, especially women of color, with his welfare “reform.” Since it was a presidential election year, the leaders of the labor, women’s, and civil rights organizations refused to organize any serious resistance to this attack, under the theory that protests would hurt Clinton when the top priority was to re-elect him.
The logic of supporting Kerry and the Democrats in 2004 will pressure the anti-war movement not to call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops or repealing the Patriot Act in order to avoid “embarrassing our friend” John Kerry. The same will go for organizing for universal national healthcare, same-sex marriage rights, or public works programs to create jobs.
The Endless Cycle of Lesser-Evilism
Many on the liberal left, such as The Nation magazine, argue that Nader should not run in this one special election. However, many of these same forces also opposed Nader’s run in 2000 and supported Gore. In reality, these same tired lesser-evil arguments were made in 1996, 1992, and all the way back to the 1930s.
These lesser-evilists need to answer the question: when should workers and young people break from the Democratic Party? If Kerry is elected in 2004, we will be told we need to vote for Kerry in 2008 in order to keep the “greater-evil” Republicans out. In fact, it will be the continuation of the occupation of Iraq and attacks on workers by a Kerry administration that will provoke a massive backlash, paving the way for Bush III in 2008 unless an anti-war, progressive political alternative is built. If we must back the Democrats in 2008, what about 2012? 2016? Maybe 3016?
John Kerry and company may not mind waiting that long, but for the majority of Americans who face mounting debt, crumbling schools, a healthcare crisis, an ecological catastrophe, endless war, and a racist criminal injustice system – we can not afford to wait that long!
As long as we stay locked into the endless cycle of lesser-evilism, we will never get anywhere. Big business will continue to control politics and set the terms of debate, while workers’ interests will be ignored.
The best way we can defend our interests and win the most concessions this presidential election is by voting for Nader and building a powerful movement that will bring pressure to bear on whichever corporate representative is in power after November 2. The larger Nader’s vote and the larger the movements from below, the more it will shake up the system, force the two parties and their corporate masters to address our demands and make concessions, and further embolden people to fight back.
Prospects for Nader in 2004
Nader’s campaign will give voice to young people, anti-war activists, and workers who are dissatisfied with choosing between Bush and Kerry – a radical minority who have broken from the Democrats or are moving in that direction. Rather than being left isolated, Nader’s campaign will provide a candidate for this layer to campaign around.
Despite the Democratic Party’s and the media’s constant exaggerations that there is no support for Nader in 2004, 23% of Americans want Nader to run again; 65% want him included in the presidential debates; and 52% rejected the idea that Nader’s 2000 run cost Gore the presidency (USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, 10/22/03). A February 20, 2004 Fox News poll showed Nader getting 4% of the vote in a race with Bush and Kerry.
However, because of the strong “Anybody But Bush” mood, if the election remains close between Bush and Kerry, Nader will face a more difficult political climate than in 2000 and may get fewer votes this time.
Nonetheless, it would be a profound mistake for activists to support Kerry just because of the immediate “Anybody But Bush” mood. It is crucial that we warn workers about the true character of the Democrats in order to prepare them in advance for future attacks the Democrats will unleash. Activists will only discredit themselves in the long run by associating with the Democratic Party – a party of war, racism, and poverty.
The importance of the Nader campaign can be far greater than the exact number of votes Nader receives. The Nader campaign can win the sympathy of millions who will generally agree with Nader but still feel it’s necessary to vote for the “lesser evil” to keep Bush out. This will plant the seeds of the idea of breaking from the Democrats in the minds of millions who will begin to draw this conclusion in the next period as giant events convulse U.S. society and shake up workers’ consciousness.
If Kerry is elected, there will be a groundswell of anger as Kerry continues (or deepens) the occupation of Iraq at the cost of more U.S. and Iraqi deaths and billions of dollars, while attacking workers and social services that the deep capitalist economic crisis will compel him to carry out. Disillusioned with the failure of the Democrats to provide any serious improvement in their lives, big sections of the working class would be open to breaking from the Democrats and voting for an independent, progressive political alternative.
While Socialist Alternative welcomes Nader’s presidential campaign as a way to build a movement to expose and challenge the two-party system, there are also a range of political views among those who support him. For our part, we do not want to see a "reformed" Democratic Party or simply more "choices" within the framework of corporate politics. Rather, we want to see the creation of a new political party in America based on the interests of workers, young people and the poor that will defend the millions against the millionaires. The Nader campaign could help prepare the way for such a party by encouraging other independent, left-wing, anti-war and working class candidates to stand.
Building the Nader Campaign
The approach the Nader campaign takes towards the occupation of Iraq will be decisive in determining how much support Nader receives. Socialist Alternative believes it is absolutely essential that the Nader campaign boldly call for “Bringing the Troops Home Now,” “Ending the Occupation,” and “Money for Jobs, Healthcare, and Education, not War and Occupation.”
Last year’s anti-war protests were the largest movement in the U.S. in a generation. As the occupation drags on and U.S. casualties and costs rise, opposition to the occupation will grow. As this develops, tens of millions of soldiers, young people, and workers will increasingly demand that the U.S. troops be brought home. This will lead to the re-emergence of a massive anti-war movement, possibly reaching the size of last year’s movement or even the enormous anti-Vietnam War movement.
It is vital that the Nader campaign positions itself as the “Bring the Troops Home Now!” campaign and places itself at the forefront of the anti-war movement. This will stand in sharp contrast to both corporate parties, who will not withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and will quite possibly be compelled to send more troops to crush the Iraqi resistance.
Socialists stand for an immediate end to the occupation and for the democratic right of the Iraqi people to determine their own fate. Although many in the anti-war movement, including Nader, look to the UN as a “humane” alternative to the U.S. occupation, a sober examination of the UN’s history and structure reveals that it actually provides a cloak of legitimacy for the U.S. and the other major imperialist countries. A transfer of power from the U.S. to the UN would only mean that Iraq would be controlled by an alliance of the big powers, not the Iraqi people.
Activists supporting Nader should fight to build a mass movement from below to defeat Bush and big business by linking the Nader campaign together with mass protests and strikes. Specifically, we should help build for strikes like the California grocery strike, the March 20 protests against the occupation, the April 25 demonstration to defend women’s abortion rights, and the protests against the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer – none of which the Democrats are doing.
It is out of the millions who will be at these protests and others that the bedrock supporters of the Nader campaign can be found. Nader should speak at these rallies and urge his supporters to organize high-profile contingents to spread our message that the two corporate parties do not support these movements’ demands.
It is also essential that the Nader campaign actively take up the crucial issues of concern to women, people of color, and LGBT people – the most oppressed sections of society. It is among these groups that anger at Bush’s right-wing agenda runs deepest. The Nader campaign should highlight defending women’s abortion rights, building for the April 25 demonstration, unconditional and immediate amnesty for all undocumented immigrants (Papers for All), and an end to police brutality. If Nader does not adopt such an approach, the potential support for his campaign will be significantly reduced, and the Democrats would have an open field to win the support of women, people of color, and LGBT people.
Time to Take a Stand
In 1908, union leader and Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs replied to a heckler who shouted that a Socialist vote was a wasted vote: “That’s right. Don’t vote for freedom – you might not get it. Vote for slavery – you have a cinch on that.”
A vote for Nader is NOT a vote for Bush – it’s a vote for radical change. John Kerry and the Democrats do not own anybody’s vote, nor are they entitled to it. Ralph Nader is not a “spoiler” – it’s Bush and Kerry who have already spoiled way too many lives.
The ruling class is so scared of a real debate that they are conspiring to keep Nader off the ballot and out of the presidential debates. Doesn’t this spoil a democratic “free and fair” election, where people can hear all points of view and decide for themselves who to vote for?
While the Nader campaign will only win the votes of a minority in 2004, it is necessary to take a stand and start somewhere in our fight to break free from the trap of big business politics.
But our struggle is about more than just casting a vote on November 2. We need to build a movement that fights beyond the election that aims to address the root causes of society’s problems. As socialists, we are fighting to build a movement to overturn this whole rotten capitalist system that breeds war, corporate rule, poverty, racism, sexism, and environmental destruction. Join us in the fight for system change!
Statement by Socialist Alternative, US section of the cwi, February 25, 2004