A balance sheet on Nader’s campaign

SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE members participated in the Nader/Camejo 2004 election campaign, giving critical support to Nader’s anti-war, anti-corporate, pro-health care, pro-worker agenda.
They helped organise election meetings while calling for socialist policies for the working class and the building of a new party of the left as a political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

AFTER JOHN Kerry’s devastating defeat and Ralph Nader’s low vote, Nader supporters can expect to be handed plenty of ‘death certificates’, composed by bitter Democratic Party hacks looking for someone else to blame for their failed strategy.

Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative USA

It’s true that Nader and Camejo received only 400,000 votes, less than 0.5%. On the face of it, this compares very poorly to the 2.7 million votes Nader received in the 2000 elections, and appears to give credence to the argument that the potential for building a left political alternative in the US has been eclipsed.

But the final vote for Nader and Camejo was never going to be the key measure of the campaign’s success or its historic significance. Socialist Alternative explained from the outset that, in the context of the overwhelming “Anybody But Bush” mood and a close election between Bush and Kerry, Nader’s vote would be tightly squeezed.

Building on the success of his 2000 run, Nader’s 2004 candidacy forced a widespread discussion on the corporate character of the Democratic Party and the need to build a political alternative standing up for the millions against the millionaires, planting seeds for future developments.

The war on Nader

The most striking confirmation of Nader’s broad appeal was given by the Democratic Party itself and its allied organisations. Huge sums were diverted from the fight to unseat Bush toward an all-out war on the Nader campaign, illustrating that the Kerry campaign fully appreciated the potential mass appeal of Nader’s anti-war, anti-corporate message had it been allowed to penetrate into the mainstream political dialogue.

Thousands of TV, radio and print advertisements were purchased to slander Nader and his supporters. Anti-Nader websites sprang up and mass spamming of potential Nader supporters was organised. An atmosphere of intimidation was consciously created. Ridiculously, Nader was widely accused of receiving most of his money and support from pro-Bush forces!

Most scandalous of all, the Kerry campaign hired thousands of lawyers to keep Nader off the ballot. This effort to disenfranchise Nader voters, alongside the pre-existing anti-democratic hurdles to ballot access, meant Nader was only on the ballot in 34 states and Washington DC. Being kept off the ballot in 16 states, including California and Massachusetts, was a major factor depressing Nader’s vote.

Historic Significance

HOWEVER, THE small vote for Nader does not mitigate the important impact the campaign had on the general electoral debate and on the left. Millions of Kerry supporters considered voting for Nader, and wrestled with the questions his campaign brought up.

Discussions over the corporate character of the Democratic Party, the undemocratic electoral system, and the need for political representation for ordinary people, among other issues, would have barely registered in the popular consciousness had Nader not run.

Regardless of what the small activist base built around Nader does in the next period, the ideas popularised and the example set by the campaign will undoubtedly contribute to future attempts to build a left-wing, working class party in the future.

The development of a self-conscious and organised left-wing within the Green Party, based around the idea of clear independence from the Democrats, would not have crystallised had Nader not run.

Mistakes and lessons

AFTER HIS 2000 campaign, and again this year, Socialist Alternative called on Nader to convene and energetically build for a conference to discuss and lay plans toward forming a broad-based, anti-war, pro-worker political party.

Nader’s failure flows from his lack of a class approach and his acceptance of capitalism. Instead his main slogan on this question was “more choices and more voices.” Despite the generally left-wing character of his campaign, Nader’s agenda is to force open the political arena for “third parties” in general, and to push the Democrats to the left.

This mistaken approach was revealed most clearly in his acceptance of the Reform Party ballot lines and his coalition with the Independence Party in New York. Neither of these formations offers anything to the struggles of working people.

Major social upheavals and movements are inevitable in the years ahead. The occupation of Iraq, the deepening economic crisis, and the ferocious attacks of the far-right will force workers, oppressed communities, and young people to organise a fight-back.

On this basis, the question of forming an anti-corporate, anti-war, working class political challenge to the two parties of big business will arise again and again. Viewed historically, Nader’s campaign has played a pioneering role.

The debate on the Left

IN THE 2000 elections Nader’s campaign rose on the high tide of the anti-globalisation movement, and a host of progressive celebrities jumped onto the bandwagon.

Roger Shrives

In contrast, Nader’s 2004 run was built on the ebb of the anti-war movement, and with most middle-class progressives feeling scared and demoralised after four years of Bush’s assaults, they were successfully bullied into the comforts of “unity” behind Kerry.

But it’s periods like this one, when radicalism is not so fashionable, that every political tendency shows its true colours. With almost no exceptions, the “official” representatives of the US left fell into line behind Kerry, using their political influence to attack Nader.

Moore opportunism

Michael Moore, among Nader’s most prominent supporters in 2000, toured the country in September and October, holding mass rallies to bolster Kerry’s tepid support among young people and progressives.

In a sad display of political opportunism, Moore did the dirty work for the Democrats. Falling into the classic trap of ‘lesser-evilism’, Moore told fairy tales about Kerry’s progressive credentials and continually implied he would bring the troops home from Iraq.

The Green Party also came under massive pressure to deny Nader their ballot lines. In what many considered a rigged convention in June, the Greens capitulated and endorsed David Cobb who ran a purely symbolic “safe states” campaign that posed no threat to Kerry.

However, the party is split down the middle on the issue, with half mobilised around Peter Camejo’s Greens for Nader grouping. This election provoked the inevitable split in the Greens between those who see the party mainly as a pressure group on the Democrats and those fighting for complete independence from both corporate parties.

Prominent intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn also urged a vote for Kerry in swing states. Chomsky dismissed the election as “a marginal affair”. Chomsky’s call to essentially ignore the elections amounts to a contemptuous dismissal of the millions of ordinary people who have illusions in capitalist democracy.

The central justification for the Nader campaign, in fact, was that it gave voice, within the white heat of the electoral battle, to the demands of working people and their social movements.