Re: [sixties-l] To Nader or not to Nader/Sixties errors

From: Marty Jezer (
Date: 11/01/00

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    Leaving aside the Gore-Nader debate, Peter Levy provides evidence of the
    strategic mistakes the new left made beginning in 1968. Not only did we have no
    electoral strategy, but we were blind to any opportunity for meaningful reform,
    including ending the war.
    Coming out of the radical pacifist movement, and as a member of the editorial
    staff of Liberation (edited by Dave Dellinger with Barbara Deming, Sid Lens,
    Paul Goodman and
    Stsughton Lynd  --and all star editorial board, if there ever was one), I was
    prone to the idea that change happens in the street, and that electoral
    politics don't count.  
    Radical pacifism contributed many things to the sixties movement, but its
    emphasis on direct action and dismissal of elections was wrong.  Influential
    AND wrong. Direct action is essential for getting issues into the news, for
    movement building, manifesting (but not wielding), rallying the troops. But
    without an electoral component it goes nowhere and, worse, builds frustration
    within the movement. Seeing our activism going nowhere, having no influence in
    the arenas where policy and laws are made, we got frustrated. We raised the
    ante of direct action without addressing our lack of electoral strategy.  This
    was one of the decisive mistakes of the 1960s.  Miltance for its own sake is a
    It should be noted that many who sat out the 1968 rallied for McGovern in 72.
    Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies did their most creative organizing in Miami Beach
    for the 1972 Democratic convention.  (As Casey Stengel said, "you can look it
    up": in by book Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel, pp:235-240).
    After 68, SDS began its process of disintegration. I remember Carl Davidson
    coming to NYC and meeting with some of us in The Resistance -- trying to find
    someway we could support each other. Shortly thereafter, he (and others in the
    national office) turned towards the kind of rhetorical militance that led to
    the Weathermen. One of their mistakes was the idea that Nixon's repression
    would "heighten the contradictions" and bring us closer to revolution. I hear
    this now with some of the Nader kids.  In this country change happens, i.e.,
    the left thrives, during times of heightened expectation -- and also affluence,
    when you can be an activist full-time and not have to worry about a job. We're
    a soft society with many private diversions. When repression comes those
    diversions start looking good.  Repression during the Vietnam Era was fairly
    mild (by comparison with what happens to dissenters in other countries), yet it
    did us in. 
    Let us have no illusions that Seattle was anything more than the first dim sign
    of a potential movement around corporate, environmental, and trade issues. 
    We're not close to a revolutionary situation (if that's what we want), much
    less a radical moment. Our numbers are few and we're very much white.  We know
    vaguely what we're against but not what we want (in any terms concrete enough
    to convince the nation). Nader represents, at best, a small first sign of a new
    awakening. Rhetoric aside, he is essentially a good New Deal progressive
    Democrat (and that's not at all bad), no different from Democrats like Paul
    Wellstone and Jesse Jackson and others like them voting for Gore.  Let's not
    get carried way with the illusion that Nader's elections means anything more
    than getting a small amount of public financing in 2004 -- which, frankly
    speaking, we may, ala the Reform Party, be too divided to use.
    Marty Jezer
    At 09:23 AM 10/31/2000 -0500, you wrote:
    >Todd begins his analysis of whether or not to Nader or not by suggesting
    >we should look at what the legacy of the sixties tell us.  It is
    >important to remember that by in large the New Left opposed "mainstream"
    >electoral politics.  Even before Eugene McCarthy scored his upset
    >victory in the Democratic primaries, Paul Buhle reasoned that McCarthy's
    >campaign was a waste of time at best and a "positive detriment to the
    >process of ideological clarification" at worst.  SDS stuck to its
    >strategy of bringing the war home even after McCarthy strung together
    >several "victories" in the primary.  Terming electoral politics
    >"bourgeois" SDS's national office maintained its opposition to all
    >Democratic candidates throughout 1968.  On another occassion, one-time
    >SDS leader Carl Davidson welcomed George Wallace's third party candidacy
    >on the grounds that Wallace would help bring down the two parties and
    >the left would outcompete the Alabama governor for the support of the
    >working class.  In 1972, many new leftists adopted the same reasoning. 
    >The Guardian  argued that "No fundamental change in the nature of
    >imperialism or of the state apparatus are in the offing as the result of
    >the contest between Richard Nixon and Geoge McGovern."  Dave Dellinger
    >called for build an enlightened, responsible people's movement," rather
    >than endorsing McGovern.  Of course, other new leftists challenged this
    >strategy, some on the grounds that too much was at stake and others on
    >the grounds that little evidence existed to suggest that Dellinger's
    >strategy was working.  Paul Cowan, for instance, inquired, "What mass
    >extra-legal parlimentary struggles are you referring to?"  
    >       There are many different reasons to vote for Nader or Gore in this
    >election, but as I see it, the experience of the sixties suggests that
    >third party or independent politics produces few results (and this is
    >said by someone who did not vote for a "mainstream" candidate until he
    >was in his late thirties).  Dellinger's "people's movement" did not
    >deveop after McGovern's defeat.  On the contrary, the right took
    >advantage of the opening to attain political power, maintaining control
    >of the White House for nearly a generation.  Perhaps Gore is more
    >conservative than McGovern or McCarthy, but the same can be said for
    >George Bush and the GOP leaders in congress, who are more conservative
    >that Nixon and Ford.   After all neither of them vowed to repeal the
    >inheritance tax, the most progressive form of taxation on the books, or
    >to privatize social security, the embodiment of the New Deal. What I
    >find most amazing about the pro-Nader people is their refusal to
    >consider what might happen if conservative Republicans control all three
    >branches of government.  Do they think that a Republican controlled
    >congress, Republican president and Republican court are going to pass
    >campaign finance reform? Enact pro-labor and environmental laws?  Last
    >night I heard Nader support repealing the Taft-Hartley Act.  How does he
    >suppose he is going to do this with Republicans in control of all three
    >branches of government? Chances are instead the National Labor Relations
    >Act will be decimated, along with Social Security, all forms of
    >progressive taxation, not to mention Roe v. Wade and much environmental
    >protection.  I agree with many on the left that we need to keep the
    >pressure on Gore, but that can be done most effectively via political
    >protests in the streets, not at the ballot box, as was the case in the
    >Peter B. Levy
    >Dept. of History
    >York College
    >TODD JONES wrote:
    >> Dear List members
    >> I thought it would be useful if some of the discussion on this list in
    >> this last week were on what the legacy of the sixties should tell us about
    >> whether or not to vote for Nader.
    >> For myself, I am leaning strongly against voting for Nader.  Here is my
    >> thinking so far:
    >> 1. There is no doubt that voting for Nader would help George Bush get
    >> elected.  In Washington, Oregon, and California Bush has a real chance of
    >> winning, largely because of Nader's support.
    >> 2. A Bush Presidency would have tremendous costs, and cause a lot of
    >> damage to things progressives hold dear.
    >>    Polluters would write major environmental bills.
    >>    Gun violence legislation would stop.
    >>    Progressive health care legislation would stop
    >>    There would be oil drilling in wilderness areas
    >>    Right wing judges would dominate the supreme court....etc.
    >> It's fair to say that many lives would be lost because of Bush's policies
    >> 3. At the same time,  strong support for Nader, and a Bush win might be of
    >> some help to the progressive movement.
    >>    A. A strong showing for Nader shows people how many progressives there
    >> are.
    >>    B. A Bush White House would energize people in the progressive movement
    >> and help Unite them.
    >> 4. The main question then, is whether the gains that would be made by the
    >> progressive movement are enough to offset the costs of a Bush presidency.
    >> And I don't see the evidence that it would.  The progressive movement,
    >> however large, can't be much more than a minor annoyance to corporate
    >> forces unless it is willing to make alliances with the Democratic party --
    >> a group far less virtuous than progressives would like them to be, but a
    >> group that is willing to listen to progressives AND is in a position of
    >> political power that enables them to actually do something that can help
    >> people.
    >> I think one of the important lessons of the sixties is that an unallied
    >> "pure" independent progressive party can help the people in the movement
    >> feel virtuous, but it does little good beyond that.  What did the Peace
    >> and Freedom Party, the Progressive Labor Party, or the Liberal Party every
    >> accomplish?
    >> Actually,  let me qualify that -- such groups can certainly accomplish a
    >> lot.  Protest and dissent can help put pressure on people.  To help change
    >> hearts and minds and all kinds of tactics may be useful. But the question
    >> I am considering here concerns voting.  Voting is one of the tools in our
    >> arsenal.  How can progressives  best use the VOTING tool to help the
    >> causes they hold dear.
    >> One of the most direct way to help the least well-off people in society is
    >> by passing legislation that protects them.    Such legislation will never
    >> be pass unless progressives use their power, not just to condemn loudly,
    >> but to help elect representatives that share some of their agenda.
    >> So, as far as I can see, a Bush win would be horribly costly. And even if
    >> voting for Nader helps the progressive movement grow, a larger progressive
    >> movement can do little unless its willing to make alliances with
    >> Democrats.   But if the way progressives can help people is by helping
    >> Democrats get elected, then the time to start is now, by  voting for Gore.
    >> I'm interested in hearing others' thoughts.
    >>                                                         Todd Jones
    Marty Jezer * 22 Prospect Street * Brattleboro, Vermont 05301 *  website:
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