WHAT DO SOCIALISTS SAY?
By Eric Ruder | September 17, 2004 | Page 7
FOR MANY people who agree with Ralph Nader on the issues, there's still a nagging doubt about whether a vote for his independent presidential campaign is wasted. After all, Nader can't win the 2004 election. And if he can't win right now, goes the argument, why vote for him? More to the point, why not vote for John Kerry, as a short-term measure that would at least get George Bush off our necks for the next four years?
John Kerry may support the occupation of Iraq and Israel's occupation of Palestine. He may have voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. But since Nader won't beat Bush or Kerry, doesn't it make sense to vote for the "lesser evil" Democrat and then start protesting the day after the elections?
Our answer is no--whether the question is looked at in the short term or the long term. To begin with, progressive support for John Kerry--and the complicity of many leading left voices in the Democrats' all-out war on Nader--is doing damage right now to the left.
The antiwar movement, for example, hasn't been strengthened by standing up for a pro-war candidate like Kerry. In fact, the opposite is true. Thus, even last spring, when the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal came to light, much of the antiwar movement was already focused on the election. This has meant that there have been no national demonstrations or other high-profile events organized to give expression to the growing opposition and questioning of the war.
Beyond this, for the tens of thousands of people most committed to opposing the U.S. war on Iraq--the core of activists responsible for organizing last year's enormous demonstrations before the invasion--supporting a candidate who voted to authorize the invasion and who wants to continue the occupation is bound to degrade any sense of purpose or conviction that grassroots organizing is key to stopping Washington's wars.
At a time when the U.S. occupation of Iraq is suffering some of its greatest setbacks at the hands of the Iraqi resistance, there has been no visible expression of solidarity with or support for with the Iraqis--no swelling of the antiwar movement as it becomes increasingly clear that the U.S. is facing a crisis.
The tragedy is that without direct pressure from protests, Washington's war makers can make all sorts of blunders without paying a price. And so they will continue to get away with their war crimes in the future.
Beyond this, in the long run, a vote for Nader is important in endorsing the project of building a principled left-wing political alternative, including in the electoral arena. A left that doesn't bend to the Democrats--the greatest weakness of the U.S. left, not only today, but historically--won't just appear out of nowhere one day.
It has to be created--and every election that goes by without starting the process only pushes that day further into the future. Today, high-profile progressive figures like Global Exchange cofounder Medea Benjamin and left-wing columnist Norman Soloman are using their credibility to undermine Nader's campaign and corral left-wing support for Kerry. This despite the fact that Kerry is the most right-wing Democratic presidential candidate in decades.
As Joaquín Bustelo, a socialist and member of the Avocado Education Project, writes, "There are many Democratic Party candidates tons more attractive and progressive than the pro-war multibillionaire John Kerry. And if it is okay to vote even for a Kerry, why not for the rest?" In other words, those who argue for abandoning Nader for Kerry--even if they claim that the need to defeat Bush constitutes a special circumstance that only applies in 2004--are setting the stage for the left to cave to "lesser evilism" in future elections.
As the size and influence of a left-wing alternative grows and poses an even more serious threat to the Democrats, there will be even more, not less, pressure to cave. Voting for Nader today--fully recognizing that he can't win--establishes the principle of wanting better than the "lesser evil" Democrats.
Organizing a base of support for a political alternative to the two parties of Corporate America isn't an extra add-on, but a necessary and critical step in the development of the U.S. left. If we ever want to put an end to the ability of the Democratic Party to derail the project of building social movements and struggles from below--the real hope for winning social change--we have to begin the process now.
That's why the old saying of Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs--"I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don't want and get it"--is more relevant than ever.