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Problems Facing Any Third Party
by David McReynolds, 2000 Socialist Party Presidential Candidate
Let me try to suggest both areas where we will, as folks involved in "minor" parties, have disagreements, and areas where we should have working agreements. First, while there may emerge at some point a genuine coalition or confederation of forces that might constitute "An American Progressive Electoral Coalition"—ie., a Labor-type party in the US—that is not going to happen soon and Ralph Nader is not leading that move, even if he thinks he is.
Summary of the Nader Situation
He ran a very good campaign, worked very hard, and I sensed moved to the left as he ran. However he is a man shaped by legal struggles who somehow managed to avoid involvement in the civil rights and Vietnam movements. (This is not an attack on him—he did marvelous and important work on consumer issues—it is simply a note on his limits in terms of outreach to labor and the various communities of color). He is also not familiar with the democratic process. He has been making statements about the future of the Green Party, yet he belongs to neither faction and so far as I know has not consulted with either faction before making statements. My sense is that what we have is Nader and his own organization, and then the Green Party USA and the ASGP. Nader himself has historically been committed to court battles. But a serious new movement will also have to be committed to (I hope peaceful!) street actions, demonstrations, civil disobedience, etc. The system is not going to yield only to legal actions—though their importance is very great.
Since none of us will be elected…we should use the elections as an ideological "referendum" to present clear choices to the public.
Second, Areas of Disagreement
Again and again people on the edges of all of our movements say "why don't you all get together?" Just as Ralph Nader was urged late in the campaign to withdraw and support Gore, I was urged steadily by friends outside (and some inside) the Socialist party to withdraw and support Nader. It would not have been realistic or possible in either case. The folks who put Nader on the ballot would have been outraged if he had withdrawn. So would the people who put me on a number of ballots. Right now, when I do not believe there is a real progressive coalition, it is helpful to have the various groups use the elections as a referendum on their ideas on the national level. What direction do we want society to move in? Toward the general approach outlined by Nader? Toward a democratic socialist approach? Toward some other approach? In this context, it was very important that Joel Kovel challenged Nader "from the left" during the Green primaries. Elections are a good time to sort these ideas out. Since none of us will be elected, or even have much influence on the elections, we should use the elections as an ideological "referendum" to present clear choices to the public. That is really all the national campaigns can do.
Third, Areas of Cooperation
All of our groups, from the Workers World (Marxist-Leninist) at one end, to Howard Phillips' group at the other end, should be working together on the following two key issues. The first is ballot access, making it easier for any of us to gain access to the ballot. The second is a struggle for fair coverage by the media.
I am not sure we could all agree on various ballot reforms (such as instant run-off) but if we could, good. I believe from painful experience that while both the Libertarians and the Communist Party make honest partners, the Socialist Workers Party and Workers World will feel "tainted" by any public cooperation or "united front" which includes groups such as the Libertarians (and very possibly even the Greens or the Socialist Party). We have to accept that—we can't force a "united front" on these limited issues but we need to be truly open to one.
(A small reservation at this point, personal, but, I believe also shared widely in the Socialist Party and the Left. We would certainly work with the Reform Party (either or both factions) on the issues listed above, but many of us are extremely skeptical about Hagelin's offers to unite us all. The Natural Law Party is viewed by us as more of a cult than a serious movement. We were put off by seeing it first make a play for the Greens and then for the Reform Party. We would work with it on the issues listed above, but not on the areas listed below.)
There is another area where our people in the narrower range—Greens and Socialist Party folks, as well as the progressive and/or socialist groups out there—should try to cooperate now, without waiting for the creation of a grander "confederation" of forces. We should see if we can run a Green candidate with Socialist Party backing in one district, and a Socialist Party candidate with Green backing in another district. Or simply run an Independent candidate with labor, civil rights, and progressive backing—around which we can all rally. (In some few cases I have to warn that such candidates will even include members of the major parties—I would not be willing to go "gunning" for a member of New York's City Council simply for the fun of running an "official" radical candidate. All politics is local, much more than our national offices and national committees often realize.)
We should see if we can run a Green candidate with Socialist Party backing in one district, and a Socialist Party candidate with Green backing in another district.
The real struggle is not only ideological—what do we want, how do we propose to get it—but also how can we reconcile the impossibility of a serious national ticket (at this time) with the need for serious local tickets. I know I disappointed some members of my own party by refusing to play the game that I might win. The Greens probably felt a bit silly—surely—when they said in the beginning that Nader had a chance to win. He never did. And if he had won (or if, for that matter, I had won), what would have happened when the military is Republican, and the Congress is capitalist?
After writing this article I felt that I failed to give an indication of how important the Nader campaign was. Leaving aside the interesting situation where you have, to a great extent, a "leader" and a "movement" which aren't actually connected, the campaign was a powerful follow-on to Seattle and other protests. What Ralph Nader was able to generate was a powerful wave of protest carried into the electoral arena. Nothing that I wrote was meant to diminish the importance of the Nader/Green campaign.
Those who want information on the Socialist Party can write: Room 303, 339 Lafayette Street, NYC, New York 10012; see, on the web, http://www.votesocialist.org