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"You Have to Start Working for Change Now"
An Interview with George Monbiot

by Alan Maass
September 28, 2004
First Published in Socialist Worker

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A majority of the left, both in the U.S. and around the world, has climbed on board the Anybody But Bush bandwagon. They say that four more years of George W. Bush represents a catastrophic threat, so opponents of war and injustice must hold their nose and vote for the "lesser evil," John Kerry--no matter how closely he positions himself to Bush. The voices of dissent--those who have stood up for the need to support a left-wing alternative to the corrupt two-party system--have been few.

One is George Monbiot, a leading figure in the global justice movement. Monbiot is a columnist for Britainís left-leaning Guardian newspaper and author of numerous books, including The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order. He talked to Socialist Workerís Alan Maass about why he calls for activists to challenge the pressure to vote for "the bad against the terrible"--and instead support Ralph Naderís independent presidential campaign.

Your analysis of the 2004 election starts from your belief that the political system in the U.S. is undemocratic and corrupt. Could you say why?

Itís A profoundly corrupt system, and itís been corrupted, very simply, by corporations and rich individuals. What they have done is to turn it from a democracy into a plutocracy, where the only candidates who stand a chance of election are those who do what the big money tells them to do.

If they donít do what the big money tells them to do, they wonít get the big money, and so they wonít be able to win a presidential election. Itís such an obvious corruption and termination of democracy that anyone who believes in the principle of democracy surely has to believe in the principle of getting the money out of politics.

It seems to me that the most straightforward and necessary reform in U.S. politics--and, for that matter, in the politics of many of the worldís nations--is to ban the private funding of candidates and parties. The funding for all candidates should be small, there should be a cap on it, and it should be provided by the state.

What do you say to people who agree with what you say about the problems of the political system, but think that this election is different--and that we have to defeat Bush before we can take up any other challenge?

One of the curious features of American politics is that the necessary reforms are always being deferred to the next presidential election. People agree--almost everyone you talk to who believes in democracy agrees that the system is bust, and it needs to be changed. But everyone seems to believe that it can be changed at some indefinite date in the future.

And whenever you come close to a presidential election, people say, "Well, the guy on the other side, the Republican candidate, is so bad that we have to vote Democrat to avoid the really terrible one from getting in." They donít like what the Democrats stand for. They donít like the fact that John Kerry, or whoever it might happen to be, stands for just a watered-down version of what the Republicans stands for, and for the perpetuation of this profoundly corrupt system.

But we have to vote for the bad guy, because otherwise the terrible guy will get in. Then you say to them, "So what are you going to do about this corrupt system?" And they say that will have to wait until the next election. And you say to them, "Well, thatís what you said at the last election." So it goes on. And the necessary political changes are constantly deferred into this indefinite future.

All my experiences as a political activist suggest to me that if you want change, you have to start working for that change now. Once you get into the mindset of postponing change or prevarication about change, then that change is postponed forever. You never get to that point where you say that now we have to act.

There is only one time for political action, and that time is now. If you intend to change a system, youíve got to start working on that system from where you are--not imagine that some future generation will do it on your behalf. That simply does not work in politics.

Iíve found that even on this side of the Atlantic, and even within the Guardian, people are very reluctant to say, "Vote for someone who you want to vote for, rather than just voting for the bad guy instead of the terrible guy." And there is this sense that Bush is almost a different species.

Now, thereís no question that Bush and particularly the people who surround him are extremely dangerous men. They have some extremely peculiar views about the world, and they have a completely distorted sense of reality when it comes to foreign policy. No question about that. But thereís also no doubt that what they represent is a trend in foreign policy which long, long predated them--and which Kerry seems determined to perpetuate.

There is a more left-wing case for the Anybody But Bush attitude which argues that the 2004 election is a referendum on Bush and his "war on terror," and if Bush is re-elected, people around the world will see it as the "American people" ratifying Bushís wars. How would you respond to this argument?

There is some truth in that. But this is about more than one man. This is about an entire political system. If Bush wasnít there doing what he is doing, someone very similar to Bush would be. Indeed, Kerry himself has said that if he were president, he would have invaded Iraq by now. Heís made it clear that he would still have given Bush the authority to go to war , even knowing what we know now.

You put all that together, and it becomes pretty clear to me that youíve got to vote for more than just getting rid of one candidate. You have to vote to change the system. Sure, I can see how people would respond with puzzlement to Bushís re-election, if thatís whatís going to happen.

But I can also see them regarding America as a deeply dangerous and unpleasant place if what happens is that the alternative candidate to Bush, Kerry, comes in and does exactly the same thing as Bush was doing during his presidency. Then theyíll think, "Well, itís not Bush, itís America thatís evil. Weíve got to attack America."

Thatís surely the conclusion that people will draw. If they can blame the invasion of Iraq on one man, then they can say that itís not Americans in general who are the problem. But if the Americans change their president, and the political system still does exactly the same as it was doing before, then their conclusion very obviously is that the problem lies with Americans and with America.

I donít want people to conclude that. I want people to conclude that there is a political problem that is not caused by the people in America--itís caused by the capture of democracy. But in order for that to happen--in order for Americans to prove that to the rest of the world--they have to institute a different system.

Ralph Nader has suffered all kinds of slanders during this election campaign, including some of his supporters from 2000 denouncing him as an egoist who doesnít care about the development of the movement for change. Whatís your view of Nader?

He's not a perfect human being. If anyoneís trying to become president, well, thereís got to be a bit of ego in there. I donít believe that heís as pure as the driven snow. What I do believe is that heís a hell of a lot better than the other guys, and that he actually believes in the positions that he takes.

Thatís a rare thing these days in politics. Normally, a partyís candidate simply does what is politically convenient, and what he is effectively forced to do by his party structure. Nader has the advantage that he doesnít have a party structure. He isnít under anyoneís thumb, and he can determine where he stands for himself.

He has stuck to what he believes. You can question his methods, and I can question some of his positions--I donít agree with everything that he stands for, though I think a lot of what he stands for has a good deal of sense in it. But you canít question his political courage. Heís a man of conviction, whoís stuck to those convictions.

Hereís a man whoís even taken on the Anti-Defamation League. I donít know U.S. politics as well as I should, but I canít think of a single other prominent U.S. political figure whoís been brave enough to take on the Anti-Defamation League--and say that itís wrong for everyone who criticizes Israeli policy to be branded as an anti-Semite.

Some people on the left believe thereís nothing to be gained from electoral politics, and that we should focus all our efforts on grassroots organizing. What do you think?

We can't turn our backs on the electoral process. I think itís a false dichotomy when you say that either youíre going to vote and take part in this corrupt electoral process, or youíre going to stand against it. Weíve got to do both. Youíve got to fight within the structures the system gives you, and fight the structures.

It seems to me that when a candidate does come plainly from the left, as Nader does--and that is a rare thing in U.S. politics--then those who support the same policy areas that he supports should be fighting for him. They should not be fighting against him, and they should not be spending their time bad-mouthing him and spreading stories--many of which are completely false--about him in order to do him down, and to bring in someone who is no better than Bush Lite.

The bad or the terrible?

From George Monbiotís Guardian column on the U.S. presidential election, titled "The bad or the terrible?":

A VOTE for Kerry is not just a vote against George Bush. It is a vote for the survival of the system which made Bush happen. I'm not an unhesitating fan of Ralph Nader's--I believe that some of his positions on trade, for example, are wrong--but no one could deny that he possesses courage...

He won't be elected in November, of course, but that's not the point. The point is that if you want to change a system, you have to start now, rather than in some endlessly deferred future. And the better Nader does, the faster the campaign for change will grow.

The Nation claims that Nader would have "a far more productive impact" as "a public citizen fighting for open debates and rallying voters to support progressive Democrats." But what possible incentive would the Democrats have to listen to him? He has influence over these cowering creatures only while they are afraid that he might take their votes.

None of this is to suggest that there is no difference between Kerry and Bush...The question is whether this difference is sufficient to justify the abandonment of the only current electoral attempt to democratize the U.S. political system.

I don't believe it is. Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic are asking American voters to sacrifice liberty for security, and democracy for expediency. The voters should ignore them.

Alan Maass write for Socialist Worker. This article first appeared on the SW website (

Other Articles by Alan Maass

* Neither Kerryís Critics Nor Supporters Will Talk About the Real Vietnam
* The Green Partyís Step Backward
* Sex, Lies and Bill Clintonís Book
* Corporate Americaís CEO Pay Heist
* Why John Kerry Doesnít Deserve Your Support
* A Challenge to the Politics of "Lesser Evilism"
* Saved from Execution, But Still on Death Row: We Wonít Let Kevin Cooper Die

Other Recent Articles by George Monbiot

* Living With the Age of Entropy
* War x 4
* Empire of Denial
* Just Fade Away
* Born Yesterday
* Waging War with the Virgin Soldiers
* The Fossil Fools
* Apocalypse Please
* The Bones of the Saint
* Jump on our Bandwagon
* The British Threat
* Charter to Intervene
* Low Hanging Fruit: The Superstores are Mopping Up the Last Pockets of Resistance
* Seeds of Distraction
* Extreme Measures
* The Sleaze Behind Our Science
* Natural Aesthetes: Wildlife is Wonderful, We Donít Need Any Other Excuse to Protect It
* Invasion of the Entryists