In writing this, it was difficult to add to a similar article I wrote on the US election for the Weekly Worker, . The only political difference this time round was the explicit support expressed for the Socialist Party USA. This group got a cursory mention in my earlier piece, which in turn had attracted a letter from SPUSA comrade Ben Burgis urging me to take the group more seriously. Some extra research, and a couple more emails exchanged with Ben, and I was persuaded that there was no reason not to support them.
In a curious footnote, I received an angry email from a member of the Socialist Party accusing me of maligning their US sister group Socialist Alternative, or 'SALT', by accusing them of uncritical support for Nader. It was one of many threads that got dropped when I left active politics a couple of weeks later. I had meant to reply not with an argument, but with a simple link to the SALT web page from which I had judged their politics: no other words were necessary. Their support was not merely uncritical, it was gushing, and I can only imagine the comrade in question hadn't read it. I have lost his address, but should he ever read this I should be more than happy to pick the matter up, if rather belatedly!
Click here to download Red Star 2 in PDF format.
A truly great electoral battle deserves a truly great political commentator, but we're stuck with the 2004 US presidential election and are therefore recommending Woody Allen:
"More than any other time in our history, mankind stands at a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us hope we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
That he wasn't writing about the election is merely testament to his prescience.
The job of most powerful sentient being on the planet is open once again. To anyone who contests the socialist argument that true democracy is impossible under capitalism and the consequent power of a ruling class, we might point out that the currently elected holder of this office is the Republican George W Bush. His challenger is Democrat John Kerry. The first step in understanding the presidential election is telling them apart, so the Red Star has developed this handy guide:
1. George W Bush is the silver haired, suited figure, surrounded by acres of red, white and blue bunting, in the pocket of the US corporations and defending the occupation of Iraq.
2. So is Kerry.
There is a difference, of course, in the fact that Bush was the president who actually ordered the invasion, and for this murderous policy much of the US left and anti-war movement is itching to see him defeated: not to mention sent alone, without armed protection, and if possible naked, into some quiet corner of Baghdad to discuss the outcome of his policy with those he bombed into freedom to live under military occupation. Who can blame them? The truth is, if Bush is kicked out of office by the American people, I'll happily sink a few beers with my comrades in satisfaction.
However, there are dangers in personalising politics in this way. After all Bush is, and let's be fair to the man, an idiot. If US foreign policy was truly his own initiative, sheer geographic ignorance might have limited it to somewhat unexpected military action against Narnia. Identifying the war with his presidency (and indeed the premiership of Tony Blair, as the British Stop the War Coalition has increasingly done) neglects its true cause.
Wars are fought to establish the control of powerful capitalist states over weaker states. That control, in turn, ensures access to foreign markets, and the supply of foreign resources, to the corporate ruling classes of the dominant states. In the days of the British Empire, military conquest paved the way for economic exploitation. In modern times, US power has been largely asserted through economic dominance and merely the implied threat posed by the sheer size and capacity of the US military: but where that military threat has been insufficient to maintain American power, military action has replaced it. In some ways, the Iraq war is a return to an older colonialist model: but the action of capitalism abroad, imperialism, remains constant, whatever the mechanism.
A surprisingly frank exposition of this policy can be found at the website of the Project for a New American Century: www.newamericancentury.org. There you can read a document called Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century. This argues "...the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. [Our emphasis] The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of the past century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership." A crank right wing think tank? The PNAC was established in 1997 and counts Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz as former members.
Kerry is not about to challenge the "fundamental interests" highlighted by the PNAC. He knows he need merely stand one millimetre to the left of Bush to win the votes of those who have no other choice. Bush and Kerry, the only candidates who stand any chance of election, are creatures of corporate America. Kerry will not withdraw US forces from Iraq, or hesitate to use them elsewhere. His kinder politics manifest themselves only in a marginally less violent rhetoric: but softer words cover the same policy.
If support for Kerry can be understood on the grounds that he might, at least, achieve a symbolic defeat for Bush, support for the leading 'third candidate' (all candidates in US elections other than those of the main parties are, somewhat illogically, third candidates) cannot. So what can we say to the comrades of Socialist Alternative, the US sister group to the Socialist Party in Britain, who are enthusiastically and uncritically campaigning for Ralph Nader? Nader has previously stood as a candidate for the Greens, and is now standing as an independent. He wishes to withdraw US troops from Iraq, but only to replace them with UN troops: Iraqis would notice little change except in the colour of the berets. Why compromise socialist politics in support of a liberal candidate who stands no chance of being elected, and would achieve little if he were? Sell your soul if you must, but get a return. I now offer a compliment so weak it would fail to win a smile from even a US presidential nominee: perhaps the best that can be said for Nader is that his liberal domestic policy is preferable to Bush's - but then, whose isn't?
Three parties with 'socialist' in their name are standing presidential candidates: the 'Castroite' Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Equality Party (sister to the British party of the same name, one product of the explosive splits in the old and infamous Workers Revolutionary Party), and the Socialist Party USA. Of these, only the SPUSA offers any prospect of leadership towards the mass party of labour American workers need.
It is descended from the Socialist Party of America, for which Eugene Debs stood as a presidential candidate early last century, in 1920 winning a creditable 919,799 votes. Originally a Democrat and union activist, he became president of the American Railway Union in 1893, and was imprisoned for 'contempt of court' during a strike the next year. He became a socialist, and founded first the Social Democratic Party, and then split from that to form the SPA.
His name is honoured by the Debs Tendency, a revolutionary socialist faction formed last year within the SPUSA. They call for the formation of a "single, unified multi-tendency revolutionary democratic socialist party", and publish an excellent summary of their politics in the form of 19 "Points of Unity" - which we strongly endorse - on their website (www.debstendency.org) and in their recently launched paper, Appeal to Reason.
The SPUSA presidential candidate in 2004 is Walt Brown, though he only appears on the ballot in a small minority of states. To those American readers who are offered a chance to vote for him, we urge you to do so. To those who aren't, we urge you to vote for him anyway. It'll spoil your ballot, but no more than any other vote would.