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Synthesis/Regeneration 23   (Fall 2000)

Thinking Politically

Nader, the Greens, and the Socialist Party Campaign

by David McReynolds, Socialist Party

This is a short discussion stimulated by some requests that the Socialist Party end its Presidential campaign, and support Ralph Nader. In writing about the Greens—a group I respect and take seriously, and which has been much discussed within the Socialist Party (we have several members who are dual members, also active in the Greens), if I am critical it is because, having had it suggested I might withdraw in Nader's favor, clearly I need to explain the differences that prevent that.

First, let me say what I've said many times in campaigning—I am running against Gush and Bore, not against Nader. I'm running against corporate capitalism, not against the Greens. What are the differences between Nader and myself? Some are simply personal and should not matter. Nader is famously not accessible. Virtually nothing is known about his private life. My feeling is so what? He has a right to privacy. I am famously accessible, listed in the Manhattan phone book, easy to meet or interview. Perhaps too much is known about my private life. And again, so what? If one man's private life is an open book, and another man's life is closed, does it matter? We are looking for political differences, not personal ones. Each person will have their own quirks.

But when we come to politics, I am bothered by the interview Nader gave to Tim Russert. When asked if he supported a 50% cut in the military budget Nader said no, that was too much-perhaps 33%. That baffled me—the United States spends more on its military than all the nations combined which are listed on our "enemies list." Not just "more" but seven times their combined total. And this doesn't count our alliances with NATO, Australia, Japan, etc. So if I was in a debate that included Nader I'd ask him what was wrong with 50% cut! (And that 50% is meant only as "starters", not as the final cut).

I was more bothered by the evasiveness Nader showed on questions he didn't want to answer. Russert had to ask him three times-rephrasing the question until Nader had no choice but to answer it-about his view of gay and lesbian issues. In the end Nader said he felt Vermont had done the right thing in passing its recent law. The gay/lesbian issue isn't a huge deal-I don't spend a lot of time discussing it on the campaign trail, and it hasn't been of major interest to the audiences before whom I've spoken. Nader could simply have answered "I favor equal rights for everyone, gay, lesbian, or straight, just as every decent American favors equal of treatment regardless of race, creed, or religion ."

One Green said to me "well, we have to talk to Nader about how to handle these questions." What is there to talk about? After a lifetime in the public eye, testifying before committees, lecturing the public, Nader can't think on his feet? Of course he can! But is he truly at ease with the Green platform? Are the Greens running someone who is trying to put distance between himself and the Greens platform?

Again, a point others have made, process is involved here. Are they going to choose a candidate who may ignore their platform? To put it bluntly, which is more important, running a famous name to build the Greens, or running on a solid political platform to build a movement?

When I listened to Ralph Nader as I sat on the grass in Washington DC on April 16, hot, thirsty, and getting a terrible sunburn, I thought at first "why am I even running? This guy has integrity, he is saying the right things…" but then as he went on to try to finish his speech in the short time alloted, I realized why I'm running. Because while Nader is great on the corporate issues-he has forgotten more about the technical aspects than I will ever learn-he does not have a feel for the other broad issues of our time. He is for peace, but he hasn't made a serious issue of our Garrison State. He is against violence, but has no idea what the inside of jails and prisons look like. He is a decent and good man, but he has not been in touch with the fury and agony of the communities of color, or of the poor.

When Nader speaks against the corporations, what does he propose as a solution? This is perhaps the most serious question. If he proposes the social ownership of the basic means of production, and control by workers and community, then I should withdraw and ask the Socialist Party to end this campaign. But he has not said that. Like all corporate reformers, back to the beginning of the last century, he is for trust busting, for government interventions and regulations. If this hasn't worked for the last hundred years, why does he think it will work now?

Nader has put the consumer at the center of his political life, and America is better for what he has done. But the Socialist Party has put the working class at the center of our political analysis. We want more than a technical fix. We want a society which empowers working people and makes the entire process more democratic, from the way elections are held-through proportial representation-to the way decisions are made over what to produce and how it is to be produced. We are clear that the huge concentrations of capital in private hands must be ended.

One of those with whom I had a long talk with about the Greens, a man long and deeply active in the Greens (and who feels they are destined to emerge from this election as the major force among the "minor" parties, a point on which I incline to agree, though I do not believe they will garner 5% of the national vote), recognizes there are at least two serious problems. One being that the Nader campaign is being run by Nader's own people-not by the Greens. Second, when the election is over the Green Party USA, the more radical of the two Green parties, will have been eclipsed by the Association of State Green Parties, which is committed primarily to electoral work and is more conservative.

People on the Left-in Committees of Correspondence (CoC), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Solidarity, the Socialist Party (SP), etc. -tend to overestimate the actual strength and coherence of the Greens. Reports from California say they are very together there-but not very democratic. While in New York State they are very democratic but their degree of organization is "like Europe in the year 1000." For some months I was on the New York Green email list and can testify to three things. One, almost all on the list were good and decent souls. Two, their primary concern was over ballot issues and environmental issues-not foreign policy, race, prisons, economics, etc. Three, there was a small but bitter feud of an intensity of personal fury that surpassed anything I'd seen in the Socialist Party.

The Green tendency is to say everyone should join their party. But this leaves untouched the issue of why we might not want to do so. If our whole reason for being in politics is because of principles, and because of "process issues" (such as democracy) then why join the Greens, where the principles are uncertain, and process is clearly less important than running a man who might get them 5% of the national vote-and thus possibly the jackpot in electoral funds next time around.

The Greens cannot substitute themselves for a real new party.

We are now watching just what happens when a decent group-the Reform Party, which was white but not racist, well intentioned, not bitter-found a pot of gold and a ballot line. They face a take over from Patrick Buchanan. Nothing prepared them for this. Nothing is preparing the Greens-already, as noted before, split into two national factions-for what might happen if they got that 5 percent.

What does Nader himself want? It would be helpful if this could be spelled out. I've been extremely clear on what I want, everywhere I've gone, and in everything I write.

First, to put the issue of socialism back on the political agenda. Second, to bring more members into all democratic socialist groups, and I've named them in my talks-the SP, DSA, COC, Solidarity, etc.

And third, to put into political debate those issues the two major parties aren't facing: the military budget, abolishing the CIA, the prison/industrial complex, health care, ending the war on drugs, low income housing, improved mass transit, support for affirmative action, support for a woman's right of choice, gun control, a higher minimum wage, defense of labor's rights, etc.

It is fair to ask Ralph Nader what he wants out of this campaign-aside from teaching the Democrats to listen more closely when he chides them for corporate errors. And to ask him what are the list of issues he will push. On the basic issue of a "new party" I would say the worst time to talk about this is in the middle of a campaign. The best time to talk about it is the second week in November of the year of the election. To start then to build a coalition, a confederation, an alliance of groups which would have to include elements of the Greens, the Labor Party, the New Party, the various socialist groups I've named, and, more important, "sectors" which need such a party-communities of color, church groups, peace groups, student and academic groups, farm groups, etc. It will take enormous skill to build such an alliance, such a confederation, which might really be able to field a "united left" ticket in the year 2004.

The Greens cannot substitute themselves for a real new party. Neither-and I'm acutely aware of this-can the Socialist Party. Both the Socialists and the Greens are necessary parts of what has yet to be built. I am not bothered by the talk of a "Blue/Green Alliance," even if it suggests to me some kind of pond algae rather than a link between workers and environmentalists. But I do think a "Blue/Green Alliance" is, unwittingly, a slap in the face of those who are Brown, Black, Yellow, etc. and who will wonder why this rainbow appears so dreary, limited to two colors.

Finally, a point many seem to miss, until we have something such as the NDP in Canada, let's accept the fact that this country can use more than one minority party. It never occured to us in the Socialist Party, as the Greens began to organize, to say "Hey, no way, we have the patent on being the minor party." No, we said the more the merrier. We need a Libertarian Party, a Socialist Party, a Green Party-and someday, yes, we'd like to see a broad left party, a "Labor" Party type of party, but meantime we think someone has to put forward the issues around socialism, and we will do that.

...which is more important, running a famous name to build the Greens, or running on a solid political platform to build a movement?

It is not a bad thing to have both Nader and myself running. Neither of us will come close to winning. I am amused at those who say "Nader will get more votes-I'll support him." Why? Why not just support either Bush or Gore, because both of them will do even better than Nader! The saddest excuse for voting for Nader is that he will get more votes.

The reason to back Ralph Nader is that he is a good and decent man, thoughtful, committed to reforms within the existing system. He isn't for socialism. He isn't a radical. He is uncomfortable with what he has termed "gonadal politics." (I am never sure just what this comment meant-except possibly a desire on his part to stick to the agenda of corporate reform).

The reasons for supporting Mary Cal Hollis and myself are that we want a social revolution. We want socialism and the deep revolutionary extension of democracy, achieved through peaceful means. If you want reform, vote Green. If you want to go beyond reform, vote Socialist. And meanwhile, even as Nader and I campaign, our targets are not each other-but a racist, violent, and corrupt corporate system which oppresses all of us. The points both of us raise are important and should be heard. Let us cooperate in making sure that the debates are opened to all minor parties, both red and green.

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