The following article appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 72 (September 2004).

ISO: Endorsing the Lesser Imperialist

After equivocating for months, in mid-summer the International Socialist Organization (ISO) finally endorsed the “independent” presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. Although the ISO had supported Nader in 2000, this year they held back until the last minute (although some ISOers had joined the Nader camp earlier). For one thing, they had hoped to recruit from among the “Anybody but Bush” pro-Democratic Party milieu – making clear that people who planned on voting for Kerry could still join the ISO. For another, as their own press pointed out, Nader’s courting of right-wing support, including his nomination as the presidential candidate of the Reform Party, made it difficult to endorse him, even for a group that had already crossed the class line by backing this capitalist candidate in 2000.

But after Kerry made his blatant right turn after securing the Democratic nomination for President and after Nader had selected as his running mate Peter Camejo (a Green Party leader and “socially conscious” capitalist stockbroker), the ISO saw its opportunity. Denouncing the “Anybody but Bush” forces’ lesser-evilism, they jumped aboard the Nader bandwagon. Four years ago Nader had drawn crowds of thousands while this year it is only hundreds. But the ISO can now supply a significant fraction of Nader’s electoral machine. It is a big fish in a small pond.

Still, it is a capitalist pond. Nader is not opposed to capitalism and has repeatedly declared that he is out to save “corporate capitalism from itself”. His campaign is not based in the working class or on any working-class struggle. Moreover, Nader has adopted grossly anti-working-class policies that should shame and condemn any “socialist” involved in his campaign. Crossing the class line for Nader means swallowing – or covering up – some particularly reactionary positions.

Nader Not “Anti-War”

When the ISO finally joined the Nader campaign, it had a lot to say about what’s wrong with Kerry but apparently found it so difficult to find something right with Nader that it had to lie to do so! Socialist Worker’s August 6 editorial, “Bush vs. Bush Lite; Where’s the choice?” – the ISO’s first public endorsement – mentioned Nader as an afterthought: “We don’t have to accept a choice between George W. Bush and Kerry’s copycat policies. Nader and Camejo are giving a voice to the vast majority left out of this rotten political system – and their campaign deserves our support.” An accompanying article called Nader’s a “genuine anti-war candidacy.” But that was a lie, since Nader backed, although critically, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (as the ISO admitted at the time – see Socialist Worker, Oct. 19, 2001) while idiotically hoping it could be done peacefully.

As for Iraq, while Nader opposed the initial invasion, he certainly doesn’t want to see imperialism defeated there and so opposes an immediate end to the occupation. Instead, he advocates the replacement of the U.S. occupiers with U.N. forces (ignoring the fact that the U.S. is occupying Iraq with a U.N. mandate). Specifically, under Nader’s plan, U.S. forces and their civilian contractors would be able to stay in Iraq until mid-July 2005, when they would be replaced by this “neutral” United Nations force. He calls for “free and fair elections ... as soon as possible under international supervision” (USA Today, April 22) – thus keeping the imperialists in charge.

As one ISOer wrote in the May 7 issue of their paper, when the ISO was still mulling Nader over: “Socialists must be clear that a U.N. occupation is merely a fig leaf for U.S. imperialism. How can we be arguing this position with fellow activists while campaigning for someone who calls for a U.N. occupation?”

Nader, Buchanon Oppose Immigrants’ Rights

On other central issues, an April 9 Socialist Worker editorial had complained about Nader’s acceptance of the nomination of the right-wing Reform Party, which ran the racist nationalist Pat Buchanan for president in 2000:

Meanwhile, he [Nader] stays quiet about “social” issues, including the dominant question in U.S. politics today – the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Nader’s letter to “disgruntled conservatives” doesn’t even use the word Iraq. Nader is flirting with political forces that have reactionary positions on immigration, economic nationalism and more. If he wants to contribute to building a left in this country, he should be denouncing the politics of scapegoating and victim-blaming – yet Reform Party members have been made to feel comfortable within the Nader campaign.

While Nader is not an open racist like Buchanan, he flirts with such right-wing forces because he shares with them “reactionary positions on immigration, economic nationalism and more.” This comes through clearly in an interview with

Buchanan that made the front page of the latter’s American Conservative magazine (June 21). In the article appropriately entitled “Ralph Nader: Conservatively Speaking – The long-time progressive makes a pitch for the disenfranchised Right,” Buchanan asked Nader if he supports the proposal to offer amnesty to “illegals who have been in the country for five years and who have shown that they have jobs and can support themselves.” Nader responded:

This is very difficult because you are giving a green light to cross the border illegally. I don’t like the idea of legalization because then the question is how do you stop the next wave and the next?

This is trademark national chauvinism, and nothing new for Nader. Genuine anti-imperialists and anti-racists fight against all restrictions on immigration and for equal rights. The reason so many immigrants seek to cross the border is imperialism, which forces waves of economic and political refugees to flee their homelands.

But Nader is indifferent to the fate of the international working class. He goes so far as to criticize the AFL-CIO for changing its position on amnesty for illegal immigrants. He chastises the labor leadership for looking to organize illegal immigrants instead of fighting against amnesty, which he describes as a “wage-depressing” immigration policy. His chat with Buchanan is fully in keeping with the position he announced four years ago: immigrant workers would be allowed into the U.S. only for “a short period of time,” high-tech workers would be barred, and immigrants would be allowed in only to perform work “that Americans don’t want to do.” (Fresno Bee, Oct. 22, 2000.) As we noted in our pamphlet The Nader Hoax, this “progressive” is happy to have immigrants around as long as they’re only cleaning toilets.

Nader Capitulates on Abortion Rights

In the same interview, when Buchanan asked his position on “partial-birth abortion,” Nader answered in the following dialogue:

Nader: I believe in choice. I don’t think government should tell women to have children or not to have children. I am also against feticide. If doctors think it is a fetus, that should be banned. It is a medical decision.

Buchanan: Between the woman and her doctor –

Nader: And whoever else, family, clergy.

First of all, as defenders of legal abortion know, the Partial-Birth Abortion Act signed by Bush in 2003 was a tactical move led by forces who want to criminalize abortion but understand that this must be done in stages. (Hence the overt emphasis on banning a particular late-term abortion procedure, not all abortions involving fetuses, as Nader would seem to have it.) For this very reason, there is a growing battle to overturn this Act, which will likely end up at the Supreme Court. There are many Democrats who go along with the general rollback of legal abortion rights, but even they make a point of calling for exceptions when the life of the woman is at risk. Nader is so quick to capitulate that he doesn’t even bother with such “details.” Secondly, by bringing in “whoever else, family, clergy,” Nader also capitulates to the right-wing demand for parental notification laws and other restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion. As we show in the article on page 16, the liberal demand for “choice” ignores the limited choices available to working-class and poor women under capitalism. But for Nader, “choice” does not even mean that the woman makes the decision on an abortion herself. The attitude of this “progressive” meshes with the contempt he expressed in his 1996 campaign, when he dismissed struggles for women’s and gay rights as “gonadal politics.”

Nader’s Left-Right “Alternative”

At one point in its flirtatious dance with the candidate before embracing him, an ISO writer commented, “Nader has launched a campaign that represents an alternative to what he rightly calls the two-party ‘duopoly’ in Washington. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been clear that he wants a left-wing alternative.”

No, he has been perfectly clear that he does not want a left alternative. Nader wants to play both sides of the fence, appealing to both left and right populism, lining up with both Camejo and Buchanan. In 2000, Nader ran as the candidate of the Green Party, a left capitalist outfit that some socialists tried to paint as a step forward for the working class. This year he is the candidate of the undisguisedly bourgeois Reform Party, and his program (much the same as four years ago) fits it well. He is for imperialism, even if it’s a “kinder, gentler” imperialism than that of Bush or Kerry; he is against immigrant rights and accommodates to the racist reasoning of his Buchananite allies.

Moreover, Nader is running not to lead a break from the capitalist Democrats but to try to force them to sound more militant so that they can win. An ISO leader wrote in the March 5 Socialist Worker that “Nader talked about helping the Democrats recapture the House of Representatives in key swing districts.” As Nader himself put it in a speech in March, “We are going to focus on defeating George Bush and showing the Democrats, if they’re smart enough to pick up on it, how to take apart George Bush.” That is, Nader believes that building support for himself is a way to get Kerry to talk left and disguise his real program.

For any organization claiming to be socialist (like the ISO, Solidarity, Socialist Alternative, etc.) to endorse this campaign is a shameful betrayal of the internationalist and anti-racist principles they allegedly stand for. The ISO opposes voting for the “lesser evil” Kerry, but they have chosen a somewhat lesser evil themselves – a pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist candidate with progressive pretensions whose program reeks with contempt for the most oppressed layers of the working class.

The Real Revolutionary Alternative

The reason genuine revolutionaries never support candidates of capitalist parties is that there is nothing more dangerous for the workers and oppressed than endorsing a class enemy. The idea of supporting even a lesser imperialist candidate in the U.S. is even more unspeakable.

What then is the socialist alternative? We want the working class to become conscious of itself and its power in society. Genuine revolutionaries understand that all political consciousness begins with recognition of the fundamental class division: the working class versus the ruling capitalist class. Success in the class struggle demands working-class independence from all capitalist parties and programs.

Marxist revolutionaries can use electoral campaigns to encourage working-class struggle and promote socialist consciousness among workers. But we always tell our fellow workers the truth: electoralism is no way forward for the working class. Serious social change has been achieved not by electing one capitalist candidate or another but rather by fighting the ruling class in the workplaces and the streets.

None of this can be learned from the “socialist” Naderites who show their absolute lack of confidence in the working class by their endorsement of this class-collaborationist campaign. The ISO campaigns for him shamefacedly, dodging or excusing his pro-imperialist, anti-woman and anti-immigrant positions while praising his break from the two-party “duopoly.” They feel desperately pressed to offer a pragmatic “solution” on November 2, even though any genuine Marxist knows that there is no electoral solution.

The great Russian revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky regarded reformism – and bourgeois liberalism all the more so – as counterrevolutionary. We in the League for the Revolutionary Party base our political work on Lenin’s conception of the vanguard revolutionary party, a disciplined association of the most class-conscious workers to present themselves as an alternative leadership of their class in open and uncompromising struggle against the reformist leaders.

In contrast, the ISO thinks it can promote reformist leaders like Nader today and outsmart them tomorrow by recruiting their supporters. This will supposedly help the socialist and working-class struggle. But all they are doing is giving a radical cover to capitalist reformism and diverting activists from the necessary tasks: fighting for mass struggles to defend the working class and oppressed from the capitalist attacks, and building the revolutionary party needed to lead such struggles to victory.