Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ralph Nader and the State of the Left

As I was channel surfing late last night on TV, I came across a C-SPAN public affairs program that angered and depressed me.

Ralph Nader was being interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now at a gathering of a group that Nader had helped found. Goodman was interviewing Nader as if he were a pundit (Guru might be better) asking his opinions on American politics, the 2008 election, the Democratic candidates, and he was pontificating about all of them as if he were on another planet, contending that the Democrats and the Republicans both represent great "corporate interests" (which is of course true, but in itself no real answer to anything) attacking the corporations for their shifting capital to China, which, according to Chairman Ralph, had gone from "criminal Communism to criminal capitalism" and now wanted the jobs of American workers, and so on and so on.

Let me say that I voted and campaigned for Ralph Nader twice, both times against the advice of my friends and comrades inside and outside the CPUSA. I don't really regret my 1996 vote, but I consider my vote for Nader the worst mistake I ever made in any presidential election in my life (and I voted for that old cold warrior and liberal red-baiter Hubert Humphrey in 1968, with full knowledge of what he was, to keep a much worse red-baiter and cold warrior, Richard Nixon, from becoming president.)

I fully repudiated by disastrous mistake in voting for Nader and in 2004 through good works (writing and campaigning against him in CPUSA and left publications) have hopefully both learned from and made amends for that disaster.

But Nader hasn't. Asked about Al Gore, he said generally positive albeit condescending things about Gore's becoming an active citizen and important environmental figure while hinting that Gore might not continue to be so if he got the Democratic presidential nomination.

Nader also both mocked and condemned the Bush administration over and over again, but wasn't ready to take any responsibility for the three million Nader votes (including my own) that enabled Bush to steal the 2000 election (short of a military coup, it would have been impossible for Bush to become president in 2000 by stealing the election as he did.

The Nader vote directly cost Gore the electoral votes that would have made the whole Florida disaster completely unnecessary (while Gore didn't of course really carry Florida, the Nader vote in that state would have given Gore the state without any recount, although it would have been academic since he would have already won the election).

In 2004, Nader had virtually no support, except behind the scenes support from pro Bush elements that used his campaign against Kerry to help Bush (his vote was marginal and didn't swing the election, although Republican vote challenges and other "dirty tricks" may have in Ohio).

I fear that Ralph Nader, who had a long and distinguished record as an organizer and leader in progressive struggles in the 20th century, is becoming more and more of a negative force and very much of an anachronism in the 21st century.

Like many right-wingers whom he opposes, he holds everyone else, except himself, accountable for the disasters that the country faces today. While the Right hypocritically condemns "bureaucracy" and "big government" and pretends that we can go back to a utopian unregulated ruggedly individualistic "free market capitalism," Nader denounces "corporate power" (but not the capitalist system) the way 19th and early 20th century populists and pre-New Deal progressives did, contending that the trusts could be broken up, politics could be made honest, and government could act to establish an honest "free market capitalism" based on small producers,preventing monopoly from swallowing up the "winners" and even providing social welfare benefits for the "losers" in the " free market economy."

I still think that Nader is sincere in his views but his views represent a left version of the right-wing's utopian capitalism. Large corporations are institutions of the capitalist class in the epoch of mass production industrial capitalism (which, some theorists to the contrary, we are still in, even if more and more production is off shore).

Modern bureaucracies in the United States developed in the new corporations with the rapid industrialization that followed the Civil War (John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil was the significant and powerful of these) and then became the model for government.

Bureaucracies and for that matter corporations will have to continue under any system, but under a socialist system, they would be public, and their function would be to produce goods and services for the use of the general population, based on social needs. The profit that they would make would be secondary and the purpose of the profits would be to expand and make more efficient the production of goods and services based on use and social needs, not the profit of class of investors (and use and social need would not be calculated by an advertising world which convinces consumers to buy anything and everything in the belief that the products will make make them physically, morally, and even sexually happy and contented people).

Referring to the People's Republic of China, which experienced one of the great revolutions in human history and has now engaged in a complex transformation which those of us who are for socialism hope will hold to and eventually clearly advance on the socialist path, as a nation going from "criminal Communism" to "criminal capitalism" displays both Nader's arrogance and utopianism (and perhaps his desire to appeal to those workers and trade unionists who single out and blame China for the loss of jobs and everything else under the Sun in the global economy, as if these processes were not advancing mightily long before China choose its present mixed economy road).

China baiting is easy and always has been easy since red-baiters campaigned to isolate and destroy "Red China." On the left, attacking corporate power, even "corporate capitalism," (as if any other form of capitalism that would be fully capitalism in the modern world is possible, much less desirable) is also easy, much easier than analyzing capitalism as system, separating its essential content from its forms, and organizing to transform it into socialism, not a competitive small producer economy of Nader's hopes and dreams, which might be like the "micro brews" making beer for the contemporary yuppie market, or to be more sympathetic the small producers of health foods, and other valuable products that do co-exist in a limited way with the large corporations (although when they reach certain profit levels, the large companies either force them out or buy them out of the market).

Hopefully, Ralph Nader, whom I still respect for his major past accomplishments, will begin to look at the American political scene (one that he helped to create) with more humility and realize that he has got to stop sounding like a broken record (the corporations own the Democrats and Republicans and their is no difference even though Bush is especially bad and stupid) if he is to once more play a positive role in American life, a role that will advance labor and progressive forces rather than helping the Right divide and defeat those forces.

--Norman Markowitz


Anonymous said...


Are you well? It might be time to get a physical. Way too much rambling and so many contradictory statements. Please go see about your health and over all well being.

Joel said...

This kind of comment is likely to cause the blog admin. to set comments to "moderate." Please make a point rather than simply leave insulting remarks. At least have the gumption to leave your name, if you don't have a point.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is worried about my health. I am worried about his reading abilities. Blogs are supposed to be general off the cuff comments on what strikes you. Contradictions are a part of life. I voted for Nader twice. I am very sorry about second vote. Nader played a very good role in U.S. politics from the 1960s to the 1990s. He has played a bad role since and continues to do so.
Life isn't either/or anonymous. Reading our Blog should help you be less one dimensional.
Norman Markowitz
P.S. I do have to lose weight and have some lower back and digestive problems, but otherwise I am in good healthy. I hope you are also, anonymous, whoever you are

robertmcelwain said...

I too voted for Ralph, twice, 96 and 00. I watched a few minutes of Ralph and Amy yesterday on the computer, a friend had advised me that Ralph was on C-SPAN. But I just didn't have any interest in watching Ralph say the same old things. I may go back to watch him today with a little basis for critique. Thanks Norman, have appreciated what you've posted on other subjects (never ever watched Sopranos, but I now have a good feeling as to why I wasn't all that interested)....
rob mcelwain