NO FRICTION, NO TRACTION: Class Conscious Parties and Socialist Goals

David McReynolds has a long view of history, and at critical junctures in the history of the Socialist Party he has also been one of the indispensable comrades. If he and I do not view history from quite the same perspective, that is even a consequence of plural points of view. I’m not going to analyze his message (see below) line by line. My responses to David’s various points would be: Yes, No, and Maybe. All the points David raises are legitimate, and some are even strategic.

David’s critique of Ralph Nader is quite pointed, and I think quite correct. David placed a diagnostic finger upon a sore weakness in Nader’s public message: “Nader is impressed by what Western Europe has achieved in terms of free tuition, decent health care, better wages,vacation time, etc., but was not willing or able to link those achievements to the left parties, both socialist and communist.” David might have gone further in his critique — but after all, he wrote a brief and casual email, and the terrain may be familiar. I must add, however, that even if the campaigns of Nader, McReynolds and others had really cost Gore the election in 2000, that is the real risk and price of voting in any election worth the name. Any party gaining strength must be willing to lose, lose and lose, before winning a campaign. In times of rising reaction, a party of principle must also be willing to fight for a future majority.

In my view, Jill Stein was a far stronger candidate for the Green Party than Nader, not only because she was eloquent on subjects Nader barely acknowledged, but also because she was in earnest about building the base of the Green Party. Nader, on the contrary, was only in earnest about using the Green Party as a dispensable platform for Nader. The Green Party ended up paying a high price for the “drawing power” of Nader, and had better be cautious even when Nader shares a platform with Hawkins.

I do not agree with David about “the importance of the Obama campaign.” To be more precise, I do grant the importance of that campaign, but for a different set of reasons. Including the necessary disillusionment, for all thinking and class conscious people, with all hucksters of hope and change, of whatever ethnic, sexual or ideological identification. Indeed, what lessons will the democratic left keep in mind, after living through these years of the Obama administration? What have we learned from the vast extension of the surveillance state, for example, and from the growing global reach of drone wars?

Breaking the stratospheric “glass ceiling” of the White House should not become the last word in feminism if Hillary Clinton finally declares her candidacy. She already proved to be an eager imperialist as Secretary of State, and becoming Commander in Chief would only prove that a woman can do the job of state terrorism. Who really needs such proof? Have we so easily forgotten the splendid careers of Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir?

David states, though parenthetically, “I didn’t vote for Obama, though if I’d been in a swing state I would have.” I did not vote for Obama, and would not have done so even in a so-called “swing state.” Swing states are also an artifact of the given partisan system, and therefore of existing class rule. When voters swing in earnest against corporate candidates, then even those swing states will bring us nearer to a red republic. No significant social movement in history, nor any party representing such a movement, has ever advanced without both daring and prudence. Indeed, the better part of prudence is sometimes open rebellion.

As for the campaign of Howie Hawkins — hey, if I lived where my vote counted in that campaign, yes, I’d vote for Howie. That does not settle a wide range of questions related to party building and to party cross endorsements. If the Green Party can always count upon Socialists as spare change in their pockets, then Socialists will devalue our own currency accordingly.

Certainly the Green Party has a stronger electoral base than the Socialist Party at present. If that is the sum of our electoral “pragmatism,” however, then we may as well abandon any practical working goal of democratic socialism. Because the specific work of the Socialist Party also includes taking our own electoral campaigns seriously. In such campaigns, we must not be shy in asking Greens for their support in districts and campaigns where Socialist candidates have gained honest ground. No dogmatic prescription will guide us in all possible cases, of course. In some areas and campaigns, Green and Socialist candidates may not be in direct competition. Genuine pragmatism in such cases means honest public conversations about coalitions, and the candidate likeliest to win. In a healthy democracy, however, the day will come when Green candidates and Socialist candidates compete freely against each other, and against any corporate candidates as well.

The Green Party is an ecological party of social democracy, fine as far as that goes. The Greens, however, need a left wing within their party willing to push much harder, and Howie Hawkins is doing his best. To his credit!

The Socialist Party is an independent party of democratic socialism, pushing the other parties (including the Greens) from the outside, while pursuing our own path. Including our own electoral path. Of course, some of us have been members of both parties in the past, and we may yet be again.

There is a great deal of common sense and political wisdom in David’s brief message. Yet it is not too early to ask this question: What would the Green Party do with power, if a fair number of their candidates made it to Congress? Let us not say a dozen, but just a good half dozen. This is a much bigger question than determining the good will and talent of any single candidate, including Howie Hawkins.

After all, Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the lone avowed socialist in Congress, though he ran as an Independent. Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, and indeed joins Elizabeth Warren and Robert Reich in making appeals for three dollar donations in almost daily MoveOn emails. Yes, I get those emails, and it seems MoveOn has a political consultant insisting that the pitch is psychologically perfect at three bucks, not five. Well,  Elizabeth, Bernie and Robert all got the memo. Week after week, they ask for three buck donations, otherwise they predict Apocalypse. A prediction career Democrats (and their supporters) make in every mid-term and presidential election. Indeed, we may be approaching apocalyptic changes, but the climate of opinion does not approach enlightenment when Democrats and Republicans keep each other in business.

In Germany, where a Green / Red alliance is an ongoing practical political venture, both the Greens and Social Democrats have a longer history and a much bigger electoral base. Even in those more fortunate conditions, however, the Social Democrats became an arm of corporate management, and indeed junior partners in imperial policies. And the German Greens became the junior partners of those junior partners.

Only resolute opposition to militarism from the great majority of workers can stop war and empire. Likewise, the aim of councils of workers cannot end with strikes against business as usual, but must advancer into occupation and appropriation of the means of production, distribution and transportation.

Even if the goal of socialism remains over the horizon, we must chart our course accordingly. The question can be posed in plain language, and without the more antique “dialectical” formulas: What possible connection could the goal of socialism have to our ordinary electoral work? Even in such campaigns, we have to be serious about building the electoral base of our party, while raising demands that press against the boundaries of capitalist “law and order.” We do not advise lawlessness, no more than we urge our comrades to jump into open graves. We always prefer non-violent responses to the provocations of the ruling class. And yet we have no right to be political romantics: in class struggles, the ruling class also gets a “vote” regarding violence.

In class struggles, as in ordinary laws of motion, there is an elementary rule: No friction, no traction.

Not one cent and not one vote for the parties of war and empire!




From: David McReynolds
Subject: Ralph Nader (and the Greens)
Published with permission from David McReynolds.

I had friends over last night (Friday) so didn’t wake up until 1 — and was due uptown for a rally for Howie Hawkins and other Greens running for office in New York State. Ralph Nader was the invited speaker to help bring in the crowd.

Rolling out of bed on East Fourth St., I got my clothes on, skipped coffee, got to the LexingtonLine (now called the #6) and got up to the church at 79th St. just after 2 p.m..

Howie was fine, he made an excellent speech and urged a sense of left unity and urged others to use the Green ticket. That is a topic for another time. Along with other SP members in NY, I’m backing Howie, though for reasons I don’t quite comprehend, the SP NC held off from endorsing him.

Nader, however, is the topic here. I feel I should let go of some of my hard feelings. He did NOT cause Gore to lose in 2000 (neither did I nor the other two minor party candidates on the Florida ballot — if Gore had called for a recount of the whole state vote he would have won). He could also have mobilized people in a citizen’s demand in Washington DC that the Supreme Court back down.

I have a lot more questions about Nader not grasping, in 2008, the importance of the Obama campaign (I didn’t vote for Obama, though if I’d been in a swing state I would have). It wasn’t just the Iraq War on the ballot but the question of a black running for President and what his victory would mean both to blacks and to whites — in short, to the country.

But listening to Nader once again, I was impressed with what he had achieved in his life, the victories for consumers ranging from General Motors to a dozen other great victories over the corporate structure.

However, what I don’t think Nader has ever grasped is that there is no basic reason why the old Soviet Union, or China today, or Cuba, would really object to his campaigns — since none of them ever once raised basic questions about the existing social and economic order. All the reforms were possible within the framework of the American economic and military structure. Granted that we (the US socialist left, divided and confused as it is) don’t know how to achieve a shift in the pattern of great wealth controlling the means of production, we do know that is a crucial issue — that it is capitalism, and not just this or that consumer horror, which has to be tackled. That —  and something much of the Left has never grasped — the military/industrial structure must be taken apart.

So I think Nader has lived a good and productive life, achieving a great deal that is desperately important — but he has never really managed to make himself part of a movement for deeper change.

Howie Hawkins has done that, and we need to keep attention on that basic issue even as we must relate to daily struggles. Nader is impressed by what Western Europe has achieved in terms of free tuition, decent health care, better wages,vacation time, etc., but was not willing or able to link those achievements to the left parties, both socialist and communist.

David McReynolds


Scott Tucker

Scott Tucker is a writer and a democratic socialist. His book of essays, “The Queer Question: Essays on Desire and Democracy,” was published by South End Press in 1997. He met Larry Gross in 1975, and they both now live in Los Angeles.

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