Review of The struggle for Independent Politics in the United States

Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate, edited by Howie Hawkins. Haymarket (2006).

Did the last presidential election campaign in the United States represent the nadir of Ralph Nader’s long and remarkable public life? Or, was it instead the rottenness of the two-corporate party system that hit new lows in the run-up to the 2004 election?

The ugly spectacle of Campaign 2004 is the topic of Howie Hawkins’s Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate. Hawkins, a long-time labour and social justice activist, comes down strongly in favour of the Nader-Peter Camejo campaign, which ran in spite of an official “safe states” strategy adopted by the Green Party under nominal presidential candidate David Cobb.

Independent Politics includes contributions from leaders of both sides of this acrimonious debate, one that dominated discussion amongst much of the Left in the United States throughout 2004. The likes of Norman Solomon, Cobb and renown peace activist Medea Benjamin defend the “Anybody But Bush” strategy, only advocating Green votes in safe states, while Camejo, Nader, Jeffrey St. Clair and others explain why they believe in running a full-scale third-party campaign.

Hawkins’s book is a useful reminder of the corruption and predominance of corporate, militarist interests inherent in the Democratic Party. It helps to understand the dynamics already underway in the preliminary jockeying for the 2008 presidential race. John Edwards and Barack Obama are, to some extent, positional themselves as the “anti-war” candidates to the left of Hilary Clinton, and yet both Obama and Edwards have been unequivocal in their support of Israeli aggression and occupation. With precious few exceptions, in fact, “anti-war” Democrats in Congress and the Senate frame their calls for troop withdrawal from Iraq in terms of shoring up the interests of the U.S. Empire, in many cases calling for a massive redeployment to Afghanistan.

Back in 2004, a significant segment of the anti-war movement subordinated itself to the interests of Kerry, even though the Democratic candidate was running an aggressively pro-war campaign. The aristocratic, charisma-deprived Kerry began his war for the White House by “reporting for duty” at the party’s 2004 convention, which was a veritable pro-war rally. Al Sharpton’s thundering, way-over-time speech – “Bring the troops home, and send Bush back to Texas!” – was a wonderful exception to the Kerry rules, along with Dennis Kucinich’s quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination.

For the Left in the United States that can’t, and won’t, stomach working in the Democratic Party, the Green Party is the most significant independent electoral force. In addition to community activists and environmentalists, the Greens tent includes a number of former members of socialist and Marxist formations. Camejo is a notable example, having once been the presidential candidate of the US Socialist Workers Party, a group that long ago reduced itself to sectarian irrelevance.

Camejo and Hawkins, especially, make a convincing case for building the Green Party as a vehicle for both advancing the cause of diverse social movements and independent working class political action, in opposition to the official US labour movement’s overwhelming orientation to the Democratic Party.

For those of us in Canada, Independent Politics evokes a haunting Phil Ochs lyric, ‘There but for fortune, go you or I’. Even as powerful forces within labour and the NDP push for a more Blairist, Democratic Party approach, the tradition of independent politics – of a “labour party” in the traditional sense of being free of all corporate money and control – has not been wiped out completely.

Even though many veterans of the Left in Canada may feel like we’re at a bit of nadir ourselves, we can be thankful that our forces are not as dispersed and marginal as those in the United States. And we can take heart from those who, faced with bluster and opprobrium from liberals and even from myriad “progressives”, continue to struggle for a genuinely independent Left in the belly of the US beast.

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