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Whatever Happened to the Last Radical in Berkeley to Take Off His Tie?

by LENNI BRENNER

 

Ralph Nader’s liberal opponents call him an egomaniac. Unfortunately for that argument, the media takes him seriously, giving him significant coverage. And so do the Democratic and Republican hacks. The Democrats are using every trick, legal and beyond, to keep him off state ballots, while the GOP is suddenly converted to opening them to such independents. The Democrats are in a pit of their own digging. Kerry’s clear strategy is to keep the loyalty of his party’s hawks. He calls for more troops in Iraq and panders to Zionism’s ultra-right. But that risks a significant number of antiwar activists, presently frightened at the thought of another Bush administration, realizing that no one can take them seriously if they preach peace and then vote for a candidate who talks about staying in Iraq for the duration and denounces a 14 to 1 International Court of Justice decision condemning Sharon’s wall.

Already some antiwar liberals are trying to run with the fox and hunt with the hounds. Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn want us to vote for Kerry in contested states, and for Nader in states ‘safe’ for Kerry or Bush. They want Kerry to know that he faces numerically significant opposition if and when he replaces Bush’s fanaticism with his rational imperialism. But if Kerry is so criminal that Chomsky, in safe Massachusetts, can’t swallow voting for him, even as a lesser evil, wherein does he get off telling people in Florida that it is mandatory to vote for a rogue?

It will come as a shock to liberals, but, come November, there will be no ‘against Bush’ lever in any polling booth in the US of A. You must vote for a candidate. And for only 1 candidate for 1 office, not an unreasonable ratio. So which candidate are Chomsky and Zinn for? For Kerry? How can that be? They will vote for Nader. For Nader? They tell people to vote for Kerry where it counts. Their double-gaited electoral stance reveals a stark truth: They are anti-imperialist intellectuals without an anti-imperialist party of their own. Indeed, such liberals signal Kerry, yet again, that he doesn’t have to take them seriously.

Wool sellers know wool buyers. Dealing with everyone from Arabs to Zionists has taught Kerry and the Democratic establishment to ask themselves a basic question re everyone: If we don’t give the beggars what they want, what will they do to hurt us? And what will these “crackpot realist” liberals do to hurt him? They still call for votes for him where he needs their support on election day. That’s all that matters to him. Even the sparrows know that he doesn’t have to give these folks a damned thing.

Nader contributes to antiwar voters’ confusion. He frequently impresses the media as the one truth-teller in the race, equally hard on both capitalist parties. Then up pops Kerry’s best advisor in Kerry’s campaign against Bush. Nader gave an interview to Pat Buchanan. “The subservience of our congressional and White House puppets to Israeli military policy has been consistent. Both parties concede their independent judgment to the pro-Israel lobbies in this country because they perceive them as determining the margin in some state elections and as sources of funding”.

Nader told Washington’s National Press Club that “This city is composed of people who know a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and they keep private their concerns, and they make these public statements that are like ditto statements. You know the pattern; many of you have seen it again and again”. Then he whirled around and sent an open letter, urging Kerry to choose John Edwards as his VP. In effect, Nader certified the ex-trial lawyer as a consumer-champion, committed on principle to their right to sue corporations harming them. Nader is incorrect in calling the bipartisan Washington establishment “puppets” of Israel. To a certainty, they take Zionist bribes, AKA campaign contributions, speakers fees, jobs for the family with Zionist-run organizations, etc. But Zionist lucre only helps explain US policy re the Middle East. Bush, Kerry and Edwards oppose Castro and Chavez for broader American imperialist reasons.

However there is no doubt that bipartisan support for Israel is worthy of Nader’s contempt. It is a bastion of ethnic and religious legal inequality. Given Democratic crimes re the Middle East, alone, Nader is pathetic in aiding Kerry. Edwards may be for all kinds of wonderful things for consumers, but the 7/9 issue of New York’s Forward reminded us that “Edwards scored high marks among pro-Israel Democrats for his forceful anti-terror language in the Iowa debates. The North Carolinian … tried to leverage that support into a bid for hawkish Jewish voters in the March 2 New York primary, his last stand against Kerry”.

The pro-Democratic weekly is being delicate. Hawks are significant numerically among Brooklyn’s Orthodox. Their votes are important, but they are also a prime source of the “funding” Nader referred to. The 3/15/96 Forward put it more candidly: “Once upon a time, Orthodox Jews were looked upon as exotic creatures in the political whirl. Candidates went to visit local rebbes for blessings, treating the event like a little adventure. Now, thanks to fund-raisers such as Milton Balkany and Noach Dear, who have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the GOP and the Democratic Party respectively, the Orthodox community is seen as a money tree”.

Edwards voted to authorize the Iraq invasion. Whatever money he got for ordinary Americans in the courts, it can’t buy him forgiveness for authorizing Bush to commit murder on the battlefield.

Moreover, Nader is running as an individual, but Edwards isn’t. He is a leader of a party with a record re the Middle East. In 1948, the patronage of Harry Truman was essential for the creation of Israel. Carter supported the Shah of Iran’s torture regime to the bitter end and then gave him asylum. He started the military patronage of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan and 9/11 was the ultimate blowback of his crime. Clinton kept 10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia, defending the male chauvinist absolute monarchy. Additionally, Edwards’ party shares responsibility for Republican administrations’ crimes in the ME and elsewhere, via its control of houses of congress under GOP Presidents.

Edwards has been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for three and a half years. Whoever quarterbacks Washington’s imperial team, congressional intelligence committees are its tackles and guards. A really good trial lawyer wouldn’t have too much trouble convincing a jury that a senator who voted to unleash a politically rabid pitbull committed a felony. Nader didn’t authorize Bush to go to war. Kerry and Edwards did. But his endorsement of a senator who did obliges us to be his critical supporters. Nader was famous during the Vietnam war era for exposure of the automobile industry’s safety record. But I don’t recall him ever organizing against that war or subsequent wars.

Simply put, Nader’s activist career has been as a reformer. As with most reformers, domestic issues are his priority. He is used to working with Democratic liberals in congress and elsewhere. When he talks about getting the troops out of Iraq “in six months”, he is trying to convince those famously reasonable folks that Kerry needs to adopt his reasonable 6 months program to beat Bush. Given his advise to Kerry re Edwards, there is a worst-case scenario possibility. If a situation arose, just before the election, where pollsters showed that the potential vote for him was going to be the decisive factor, Nader could deal with Kerry per Chomsky and Zinn’s strategy. But, more likely, Kerry will save Nader from disgrace by constantly exposing himself as reactionary.

There is another factor that can move Nader to the left, internationally.

Pete Camejo, his vice-presidential running mate, for all his nonsense about Edwards, was a major leader of the 60s antiwar movement. He was prominent in the Young Socialist Alliance, and the Socialist Workers Party, at that time avowedly Trotskyist. With time, the SWP became the little wheel that made the big wheel of the Vietnam antiwar movement go round. There were lessons to be learned from that experience. Hopefully Pete can advance Nader’s education in this regard.

If you look at the NY Times of the day, you find little on the SWP. But if you ask people deeply involved in organizing the largest demos, they will testify to the truth of my statements. Indeed, from 1985 until his death, I worked with Kwame Ture, historically known by his birth name, Stokely Carmichael. He was 2nd only to King as a Black civil rights leader, and certainly he was its greatest organizer. He evaluated them in 1 of our discussions: “I know that by the end of the war the SWP was the dominant factor in the antiwar movement. But they never provided its emotion. But The SWP had only ca. 400 members in the early 60s. The party understood that it had to work with antiwar Democrats, pacifists, Stalinists and union bureaucrats if it was to build a movement with the numbers required to stop the war.”

While it criticized antiwar Democrats in its weekly, which few outside its ranks read, its peace group, the National Peace Action Coalition, never did. In the interest of unity, NPAC went no further than making sure that the giant demos didn’t adapt to the liberals’ Democratic electoral orientation.

Students for a Democratic Society was the 1st group to successfully call a national antiwar demo. But rival factions within diverted it away from a prime focus on the war. Pacifists, the Communist Party and the SWP replaced SDS as the movement work horses. In 1968, liberals backed Gene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy in the primaries against Hubert Humphrey and called for “negotiations now” with the Viet Cong. The SWP understood that Washington had no right to negotiate anything. Its slogan was “out now!” When they would unite for a demo with peace coalitions influenced by the Communist Party, which was in the Democratic Party, they made sure that the demo didn’t endorse either slogan, but allowed individual speakers to do so.

The problem with the pacifists’ was their strategy of sit-downs and arrests.

Some of their demos got enormous publicity. But they would attract 50,000, while NPAC-sponsored demos pulled in hundreds of thousands. The CP tended not to like demos in the autumn of election years, national or local, preferring to support anybody-but-Nixon Democrats. The CP had strong influence in several unions which did likewise. NPAC demonstrated during election seasons, with the pacifists and new elements like the Black Panthers, California’s Peace and Freedom Party and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Soon the YSA surpassed the CP’s youth on the campuses.

The SWP also made union involvement a crucial priority and built up its own clientele among union bureaucrats. Eventually even the CP’s unions realized that NPAC was best at building the giant peaceful demos their members wanted.I vividly remember a 1971 planning meet. The CP wanted to support a Sunday Washington demo with sit-downs. The SWP favored a peaceful Saturday demo. Suddenly a CP union leader got up and declared that he had to go for the SWP proposal. His workers preferred Saturday because they didn’t want to get arrested, and they wanted to get back to their home town on Saturday nite so they could rest on Sunday for work Monday morning. The result was that the Saturday, April 24, 1971 demos were the biggest in US history, 500,000 in DC and 300,000 in SF.

The problem with the SWP’s strategy was that few people learned any deep lessons from the success of the movement. Most came to the marches as Democrats, heard a lot of Democrats, Black nationalists, pacifists, an occasional SWP speaker, and walked away with the same ideology they came with. When America’s direct military’s involvement in the war ended in 1973, and the body bags stopped coming home, the hundreds of thousands went back to their tents.

The SWP focused on organizing giant lowest common denominator demos, at the expense of educating marchers, because it feared that pumping up the ideological tone of the movement would cause splits. Certainly the union bureaucrats and liberal Democrats would have walked away if the movement’s ranks were educated to understand that the Democrats and Republicans jointly murdered over a million Vietnamese, in defense of capitalism.

Such an educational process would have had to have been carefully constructed to win over the ranks, so that the piecards and liberals would leave in isolation. The negative side of the SWP strategy was clearly apparent in the late 70s, when the SWP organized a movement against the Shah and US patronage of him, a cause as worthy as getting the US out of Vietnam. The union hacks weren’t interested and the SWP was only able to attract a few thousand marchers, American students, committed older radicals and Iranian students.

The SWP’s cautious approach in the 60s produced some absurdities. The party’s older leaders went thru the 30s, when workers would ‘dress up,’ in imitation of the rich for May Day demonstrations. So Pete and its other public speakers always wore suits, white shirts and ties. This went on, he told me in 1968, until they realized that young people, who wore jeans and never put on a tie if they could avoid it, began to wonder about them. In the SF Bay Area, SWP leaders and plainclothes cops were the only ones at demos who still dressed in the traditional bourgeois ‘respectable’ fashion.

The party forbade smoking marijuana. They legitimately worried that the FBI would plant it in their halls and then raid them. But again they looked strange as millions of youths took up the herb. While some members would discreetly sneak off to enjoy a puff or 2, Pete told me that he was probably the only radical under 40 in Berkeley who hadn’t smoked it. Their ‘up tight’ social conservatism was the basis of Stokely’s apt remark about their never providing the emotions of the movement. I would add neither the ideology nor the emotion.

Eventually the SWP disintegrated intellectually. Pete was its presidential candidate in 1976 but left it some time afterwards. Others walked out individually or in groups, or were expelled after it officially abandoned its historic Trotskyist ideology. It still exists and is running a presidential candidate, but it has led no movements nor played a significant role in them since the 70s.

It is a bare presence in today’s left.

I’m not familiar with the issues involved in Camejo’s leaving the SWP, nor have I followed his evolution into a progressive stock broker and Green activist.

But it extraordinary that he is now such an important figure on the left end of America’s political spectrum. The last radical in Berkeley to take off his tie, absolutely the last to smoke a joint, yet he is certainly representative of the best of that era. Pete was a prime figure in the SWP and, for all his personality quirks, and its mistakes, it provided the practical ecumenical leadership of the antiwar movement.

Instead of praising Kerry’s crime-partner, Nader would do better to heed his colleague on his own ticket. Earlier this year Camejo initiated The Avocado Declaration:

“We do not believe it is possible to defeat the ‘greater’ evil by supporting a shamefaced version of the same evil. We believe it is precisely by openly and sharply confronting the two major parties that the policies of the corporate interests these parties represent can be set back and defeated …. A resolution was passed in March of 2003 calling for ‘Unequivocal Support’ to George Bush for the war in Iraq. It had the full support of the Democratic Party leadership. Even Democratic ‘doves’ like Kucinich would not vote against the resolution. Only a handful (11) of congressional representatives voted against the motion for ‘unequivocal support’ to George Bush …. In no case did the Democratic Party as an institution support, call for, or help mobilize popular forces for peace and respecting international law. Yet large numbers of its rank and file and many lower level elected officials against their party participated and promoted antiwar protests …. The Democratic Party has unleashed a campaign to divide and conquer those opposed to the pro-war policies. On one hand it tries to appear sympathetic to antiwar sentiment while on the other it tries to silence voices opposed to Bush’s policies ….

“Opposition is rising against Bush. The overwhelming majority of the world is against Bush’s war policies. The resistance to the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inability of the US media and government to prevent the world from hearing the truth about these events, is weakening Bush’s standing. The corporate interests and their media apparently want to make a great effort to get Bush elected, but if this becomes too difficult, the Democratic Party will be prepared to appear as an ‘opposition’ that will continue the essence of Bush’s policy with new justifications, modifications and adjusted forms .

“The only force that could upset the general direction set by the bipartisan policies voted over the last few years would be a destabilizing mass development inside the United States along with world public opinion. This occurred during the war in Vietnam and forced a reversal of US policy …. The rise of a large, uncontrollable opposition within the United States and around the world became a critical brake on the pro-war policies. An entire generation was starting to deeply question the direction of the United States in world affairs.

“The Democrats and Republicans, reflecting the opinion of the major corporate leaders and strategists, decided they had no choice but to pull back and concede military defeat in Vietnam because the developing division in U.S. society threatened to result in the emergence of a massive independent political force”. (www.AvocadoEducationProject.org)

A suggestion to Nader: As 1 of your prime goals is to educate the broad public, and the media doesn’t expect you to be expert on all things below the sun, where ever appropriate, refer them to Pete when they ask you questions about foreign policy and militarism. That will impress the press, put pressure on both ends of the bipartisan hustle, and increase your vote in all 50 states.

It is to be understood that my critique of Nader and Camejo is within a matrix of congratulations to them for taking independence from the Democratic Party as far as they have. We who have believed that a mass socialist party is necessary for profound egalitarian change in America, have not produced anything resembling such a feat. There are several socialist groups running competing presidential candidates, but none of them is known to the broad public. As far as it is concerned, Nader and Camejo are the lefts in the race, and if it learns anything of enduring importance about politics in 2004, it will be by observing their successes and failures.

Beyond that, all of the above elements should agree to start discussions immediately after the election, on how to build an independent party “of the people, by the people and for the people”. Nader’s problems getting on the ballot in many states confirms a great truth: One guy, not even one famous for his integrity, can’t beat the devil on his own. A principled party, an electoral coalition, call it what you will, is the mandatory requirement for success in the long run in a world inhabited only by winners and losers.

LENNI BRENNER is the editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis and a contributor to Alex Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair’s new CounterPunch collection Serpents in the Garden: Encounters with Culture and Sex, where he recounts his personal role in 1961 in liberating Dylan from the arftistic and political blind alley of petit-bourgeois boll-weevilism. He can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.

 

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Lenni Brenner is the author of Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators. He can be contacted at BrennerL21@aol.com.

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