“A Dictatorship of Money Over People”
Peter Camejo is the vice presidential running mate on Ralph Nader’s independent presidential ticket.
Camejo is a veteran of many struggles during almost half a century of political activism--from the civil rights movement in the U.S. South, to the union struggle, from the environmental movement to the fight for immigrant rights.
In 1976, he ran for president as a candidate of the Socialist Workers Party. Later, as a member of the Green Party, he ran for governor of California twice, in 2002 and last year’s recall election, winning 5 percent of the vote in 2002. He has won more votes than any Green Party candidate other than Nader himself.
Since accepting the vice presidential spot on the Nader ticket, Camejo has spoken out around the country--convincing crowds in the dozens and hundreds of the need for an alternative to the two-party system.
As the author of a book on the Civil War and Reconstruction period, Camejo often compares the Nader campaign to the efforts of abolitionists in the middle of the 19th century, faced with a choice between two evils: the Democratic Party, which represented the slave power, and the more liberal Whig Party, which nevertheless was pro-slavery. With the formation of the Liberty Party in 1840 and other parties in the years that followed, the abolitionists argued for building a third party that represented their beliefs.
With less than two weeks remaining in the campaign, Camejo talked to Socialist Worker’s Alan Maaas about Election 2004, and the importance of the Nader challenge.
Alan Maass: The corporate media talk about the “starkly different visions” of George Bush and John Kerry, and the sharp contrasts between the two. How do you see it?
Peter Camejo: That’s the biggest lie of the campaign, because the differences are only about implementation, not policy.
For instance, on Bush’s education policy, Kerry complains that it’s not fully funded. He doesn’t have an alternative plan. The teachers’ unions object very much to the testing mania of Bush’s policy, which is going to disorient our educational decisions, but Kerry says nothing about this. So they’re basically in agreement. They’re just talking about different implementation of the same policy.
That’s true about many of the key issues. The media say it’s in our hands--we make the decision on policy, when there’s no real fundamental policy difference between the two candidates. There are differences on some issues, but not on the fundamental policies of being pro-business and pro-war.
Kerry has been critical of Bush’s war on Iraq, but what’s the content of his criticisms?
He’s critical of the war in relationship to what Bush has done, not critical about the war happening.
In some ways, Kerry is actually more pro-war than Bush. He wants to send more troops overseas, and he implies at times that Bush isn’t decisive enough in killing Iraqis. In a way, what Kerry is saying is, “I’m experienced, I’ve killed Third World people in Vietnam, I’ll know how to do it.” And of course, the whole theme, he says that he can bring troops from other nations in to help suppress the Iraqi people.
Some supporters of Kerry apologize for his right-wing positions by arguing that he has to say these things to get elected, but once in office, he’ll be better.
All these Democrats are all praying that Kerry is lying. The peculiarity of this campaign is that the Democratic Party is in a complete and total crisis. Its ranks oppose what Kerry says and pray that he’s lying.
I think that the Democratic Party is going to go into a crisis after this election campaign because what the rank and file believes and what the leadership of the party is promoting is in such conflict. They’re trying to train their ranks to accept being pro-corporate and anti-labor and pro-war. But it’s very difficult for them, because the only argument they have is to stop Bush, and his success is the result of their capitulation.
To them, this is convincing. But it has to be, nevertheless, a conflict in the views of Democrats, when obviously they would prefer someone they agree with in power. So there’s bound to be a crisis, regardless of whether Bush or Kerry gets elected--though I think it’s starting to look more and more like the Democrats have given Bush a chance to win, even though the public was turning rapidly against him.
By agreeing to his premises, the Democrats have shored Bush up and given him a chance to continue in the White House. And the most guilty are the progressive Democrats--because they’ve spent their energy on preventing the criticism of Bush’s premises by Ralph Nader, or being silent about their own criticisms.
Whether it’s Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean or others, they’ve championed silence on the key issues that could undermine Bush’s policies--could undermine the credibility of Bush’s policies with the people. In that sense, I think they are the most responsible in allowing Bush to gain further support behind his administration.
What do you think this election campaign says about the two-party system?
Money controls both parties. The Republicans set the platform and the Democrats figure out how to get the people to accept it. And they can only get them to accept it by appearing to be worried about their concerns and their interests.
So the Democrats play the role of demanding modifications to the platform in order to get people to accept it. They play the role of cooption, demobilization and dispersion of protest movements and social forces that are independent of the corporate world. The Democratic Party is the key to the two-party system working.
In a way, what we live under is a dictatorship of money over the people--through a two-party system that gives the appearance that the people are making the decisions, when, in fact, the decisions are made through the power of money and corporate control.
Many of Nader’s best-known liberal supporters in 2000 have turned against him this year, and he’s bound to get a smaller number of votes--maybe much smaller. Still, how do you think people will look back on these campaigns?
I think Ralph Nader’s two races in 2000 and 2004--because the one in 1996 was just a token race--will be seen very much like the launching of the Liberty Party in 1840. It is the beginning of a voice that says we are no longer going to vote or support parties dominated by money that rule over and against the people. In the same manner, the Liberty Party said that we will no longer pick between two candidates who both support slavery--we will vote for candidates who are opposed to slavery.
The Liberty Party had a much smaller vote than Nader got--even percentage-wise. Their total vote was 7,000 in their first race. But everyone traces the end of slavery to the appearance of the Liberty Party--as the break that began to create a current that would fight for control of the government to end slavery. It created a crisis for the currents that were still inside the Democratic Party. Many of them later joined with the Liberty abolitionists in the creation of the Free Soil Party and other formations, leading to the Republican Party.
Nader’s break is the beginning of the idea that we should organize political forces to demand that the people take over the government, and not leave it in the hands of money. I think Nader’s name will be remembered for a long time as a force for democracy and for the rights of the people. And the people involved in lesser-evil campaigning--those who opposed his running--their names will be forgotten in history.
No one can remember the names of the Whigs who told the abolitionists not to launch a third party. No one can name a single name among the people who were against the abolitionists, or remember any of the articles or anything that was printed against them. All they remember is the abolitionists.
It’s the same for the National Woman’s Party organizing for the right to vote--when it said it wouldn’t support candidates who belong to a party that opposes the right of women to vote. The conservative wing of the suffragettes opposed them, and said they couldn’t do this--that they would help the Republicans and hurt the Democrats.
But absolutely no one remembers those arguments. What people remember is the courage of the suffragettes who led the National Woman’s Party. Nader will be remembered in the same way.
The Nader-Camejo campaign has been accused of being used by the Republicans--in Nation columnist Eric Alterman’s words, as “Bush’s useful idiot”--and even accepting support from the Republicans. How do you respond to this charge?
It’s not true. We have received $111,000 from registered Republicans, and most of this money has come from Republicans who we know to be supporters--either Arab Americans or Muslims, or people like Robert Monks who have for a long time been very supportive of Ralph Nader’s work.
Who has received money from pro-Bush forces in large amounts is John Kerry--who’s received over $10 million.
This is a lie made up to not talk about the issues. The Democrats find it very difficult to tell their supporters not to vote for Nader--not to vote for a candidate who’s against the war. He’s against the PATRIOT Act, he’s for the Kyoto protocol, he’s for the World Court, he’s against the Taft-Hartley anti-union laws.
They can’t argue the issues, so they make up a lie that Nader is supported by the Republican Party as a way not to talk about the issues--about the debate on what they stand for versus what Nader stands for.
There are a number of people who plan on voting for Kerry who would say that they agree with just about everything you’ve been saying. But just this one election, they say, we should make an exception, in order to get rid of Bush. What would you say to these people?
That decision and that point of view is what makes Bush possible. That is what makes it possible for a tiny minority in America to rule over the majority. It is the capitulation and the unwillingness to resist when a dictatorship exists.
This is a political dictatorship. And those who refuse to resist--who say that we should accept it and capitulate to it--prolong it and allow it to consolidate and exist. Therefore, they are guaranteeing the continuation of the policies that they claim they’re against. Actually, they act as the final line of defense.
In that sense, the Nation magazine, Moveon.org and all of these people become the great defenders of Corporate America and of Bush’s policies throughout the world, in that they stand on the front lines against those who want to resist them in all their forms.
They try to deny it, but the evidence is so overwhelming. Demonstrations cease during presidential years. The Sierra Club, the unions--they all join the campaign to assure the continuation of the two-party system. They continue to support the Democrats, no matter how much the Democrats support the Republicans.
This year, it’s reached an absolute extreme--in which a candidate who gave Bush 18 standing ovations in January and who voted for everything Bush asked for is now presented as the candidate that the Nation and the others call on people to vote for.
Regardless of who wins, what are the next steps for progressives?
There’s a great contradiction in America between the success of our economy and what the average family has received. For 90 percent, they have received nothing--no gain in their income at all for 30 years.
If there’s a downturn now--if the rising price of oil slows the world economy, if interest rates and inflation come back, and the life savings of working people, which are now in the equity of their homes, disappear--there could be a major social crisis. A political crisis could develop in America and alternative voices could suddenly explode.
I believe that no matter what the pace of change is, there will be more signs of this contradiction--this unstable political framework that exists in America. We will see more of a crisis develop, especially inside the Democratic Party and among those who are trying to develop a resistance.
This election was a turning point in that it tested everyone who calls themselves a progressive. Even though, numerically, it’s small, the resistance that exists in every city, every town and university and factory--that resistance has been defined by our campaign. And what I would call the social democratic current and liberal current--the Nation, Mother Jones, Moveon.org, Democratic Socialists of America--utterly and totally failed the test and capitulated.
For the youth and those who begin to radicalize if a new crisis develops, this current will have burnt themselves and won’t be able to stand before that radicalization and claim the mantle of leadership. They have shown that they are capitulationist and corrupt--that they are willing to accept voting for war, against civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, against labor. They have no integrity in their so-called stance for progressive politics.
I think this is a turning point in the history of the left in America, and it will be a determining point in defining future struggles--just as the founding of the Liberty Party was in 1840.
Alan Maass write for Socialist Worker. This article first appeared on the SW website (http://socialistworker.org/).
Other Articles by Alan Maass
A Fake Choice:
Behind Bush and Kerry’s Narrow Debate