MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 14

International Socialist Review, October–November 2000


Socialists and the Nader Campaign

From International Socialist Review, Issue 14, October–November 2000.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

RALPH NADER’s presidential campaign has the potential of breaking the two-party consensus that dominates American politics. It is already clear that whatever the final outcome of the elections – and Nader’s share of the vote in it – his campaign is already a success. It has helped shift politics to the left. It has raised class issues that were otherwise ignored or played down by mainstream politics. Nader’s campaign has played an important role in giving voice to those disgusted by “politics as usual” and has helped revive the left as a small but real force in the U.S.

The bigger Nader’s vote, the bigger the challenge to the two-party “duopoly,” as Nader calls it.

This is true in spite of the limits of the Nader campaign and Naders’ own political weaknesses. The most obvious of those is that the Nader campaign has made little effort to give organizational shape to the anti-two-party sentiment that exists across the country. The big Nader meetings that have packed halls in several cities are crucial to raising his profile, but more needs to be done to build active Nader committees. This could not only help bring thousands more into organized political activity but could also lay the basis for an oppositional current to continue to build after the elections. During Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid in 1988, active Rainbow Coalition committees built Jackson’s campaign across the country. But Jackson – fearing that they might become the focus of activity for a political alternative outside the Democratic Party – moved to shut them down.

Nader’s own opposition to the Democrats is not as sharp as it could be. On the one hand, he denounces the two party system and calls for building a movement against it, yet he also expresses hope that his campaign will improve the electoral chances for Congressional Democrats. He has also endorsed Democratic candidates for Senate races in New York, Vermont and Washington.

Nader has mounted an important challenge to the system – but at the same time believes that the system itself can be reformed – its worst excesses contained. Of course, there is some truth to that assertion. Poverty in the U.S. can be reduced without getting rid of capitalism – provided workers wage a fight over how the government surpluses are spent. Workers could improve their pay and working conditions massively by stepping up their challenges to corporate greed. But reforms that are won, as we know only too well in the last two decades, can also be taken away.

Nader’s opposition to big capital – to big business – is also accompanied by his support for small business. As he has often said, he is not an opponent of capitalism – but a reformer who has been shut out of the Beltway.

None of this is to detract from the significance or importance of his campaign. But it is to assert clearly what is the most important: The involvement of masses of people in politics is the only way to break the hold of the two parties of corporate America. Nader’s views still stand him head and shoulders above Al Gore and the Democrats. He is the only candidate with the courage to raise the questions that concern millions of ordinary people. To be sure, these questions that can be solved only by broad struggles of the sort that won unionization rights in the 1930s and civil rights in the 1960s. But if socialists and activists use Nader’s election bid to build a strong campaign on the campuses, communities, and in the unions, not only will we be able to maximize Nader’s vote, but we will have taken an important step toward rebuilding a fighting left wing – and yes, a socialist – movement in this country.

Finally, after November 7, thousands of activists who have helped build the Nader campaign will have to think seriously about where to put their energies in order to change society.

A broader and revitalized left, outside the limits of the two-party system, can make the transformation of society a concrete goal for the first time in generations. The Nader campaign does not have to end on November 8.

Last updated on 28 0ctober 2021