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US elections

Time to break the two-party system

This is an edited version of the statement issued on February 25 by Socialist Alternative following Nader’s declaration that he will be running for president. The full text can be found at


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 the editors of The Nation magazine with the Wall Street Journal, the liberal intelligentsia with the strategists of Corporate America. Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in the USA, explain why they are supporting Nader’s stand.

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. Nader’s critics understand this threat to their two-party system, and they are hoping to pre-emptively crush his campaign.

Socialist Alternative strongly supports Ralph Nader’s decision to run 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. These include 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 in favour of a progressive tax system that makes big business and the rich pay; an end to poverty in the US; abolition of the death penalty; an end to the war on drugs; an expansion of workers’ rights and repealing the Taft-Hartley Act; and 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 US and throughout the world. Bush heads 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 offer no real alternative to Bush.

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 $550m! 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 US 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 the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China, and fast-track trade negotiation authority.

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 $87bn for the occupation of Iraq. Most Democrats voted for Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and the so-called No Child Left Behind education ‘reforms’. 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 (Democrat-Georgia), 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.

It was Clinton and Gore, moreover, 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.

Clinton was the main enforcer of the sanctions on Iraq that killed more than one million Iraqis. He also carried out the brutal war against Yugoslavia and pushed through the $1.3bn ‘Plan Colombia’ aid package to the Colombian military. And now we are told to vote for another Democrat rather than build an anti-corporate, anti-war independent challenge?

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.

Many on the liberal left 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? We cannot 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 2 November.

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 constant media refrain 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, 22 October, 2003). A February 20 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 the 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 US 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 US and Iraqi deaths and billions of dollars, while attacking workers and social services. 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.

Building the Nader campaign

WHILE SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE welcomes Nader’s presidential campaign, 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 the United States 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.

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 calls for ‘Bringing the Troops Home Now’, ‘Ending the Occupation’, and ‘Money for Jobs, Healthcare, and Education, not War and Occupation’.

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 US 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 US occupation, a sober examination of the UN’s history and structure reveals that it actually provides a cloak of legitimacy for the US and the other major imperialist countries. A transfer of power from the US 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.

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. 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!


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