Why Won’t Ralph Nader Take on Capitalism?

Ralph Nader, for whom I proudly voted in both 1996 and 2000, has been trying to get people to protest Big Oil and Wall Street. Our problem, he would have us conclude, is the price of oil.

I’m sorry, but that’s demagogic, misleading balderdash. The price of oil is but a symptom of the real problem, which is the intractable addiction of our corporate capitalist overclass to peddling automobiles. Corporate capitalism means autos-über-alles, which means we will remain chained to increasingly expensive petroleum, the supply of which has recently passed its peak.

It saddens me to see Nader failing to live up to what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. Just when we need his help in trying to open U.S. transportation policy to democratic scrutiny and control, he chooses instead to imply that, if we’d just picket a few bad apples, everything would return to the cheap-gas good old days.

Of course, this failure has deep roots in Nader’s work. Take the case of Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that launched him to his well-deserved fame.

The book starts with Nader spotting a telling contradiction:

For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people… Unlike aviation, marine, or rail transportation, the highway system can inflict tremendous casualties and property damage without in the least affecting the viability of the system. Plane crashes, for example, jeopardize the attraction of flying for potential passengers and therefore strike at the heart of the air transport economy… The situation is different on the roads.

Something quite deep must keep cars from being scandalized, right? After all, Nader observes, if one is objective about it, “[t]he automobile tragedy is one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body.”

And at the outset of Unsafe, Nader seems poised to name and explain that deep something:

“A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology.”

What could “the power of economic interests” be other than corporate capitalism?

Yet, despite these bold opening statements, Unsafe at Any Speed never came close to connecting the required dots. After his introduction, Nader proceeded to present 298 pages of very detailed evidence that car-making corporations most definitely do not put human safety first in designing and selling their products. But, despite his own seeming recognition of the need to do so, nowhere in Unsafe does Nader relate the scandalous engineering decisions he documents to the ordinary business motives and imperatives of corporate investors. “Capitalism,” “class,” “investment,” “investors,” “profit,” “rich,” “wealthy” – none of these words appeared in the book’s index, and none were major conceptual elements of Nader’s renowned exposé.

Without a coherent explanation of corporate capitalism, however, Nader’s book, despite its shocking revelations, yielded a rather picayune understanding of both the depth of “the automobile tragedy” and the politics of its possible remedies.

Consider, for instance the way Nader finished this sentence:

“[T]he public has never been supplied the information nor offered the quality of competition to enable it to make effective demands through the marketplace and through government for…”

For… what? Nader did not call for a safe, non-polluting, and efficient transportation system. Instead, here’s all Nader put after that momentous “for”:

“a safe, non-polluting and efficient automobile that can be produced economically.”

Thus, the man who called autos-über-alles “one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body” ended up limiting himself to asking for better cars!

But could any conceivable autos-über-alles system ever really be “safe, non-polluting, and efficient”? Are better cars or cheaper gas really enough to solve our mounting problems? Can anybody really understand “why the automobile has remained the only transportation vehicle to escape being called to meaningful public account” and why “America is addicted to oil” without understanding the capitalist interests and imperatives involved? I think not.

Ralph, with all due respect, it’s high time to move your thinking into the twenty-first century. We

Michael Dawson is author of The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (2004). He is the publisher of the blog The Consumer Trap, which aims to expose capitalism, marketing and market totalitarianism. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

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  1. Gene Debs said on June 20th, 2008 at 6:44am #

    You mischaracterize Nader’s position. Sure, in Unsafe At Any Speed he calls for better, safer cars. But to suggest that he misses the point that “corporate capitalism” is the larger issue is simply fantastic. Maybe Nader can’t quite take credit as the original proponent of this critique, but he is certainly its modern embodiment. The whole reason Nader was forced to enter the electoral arena as a candidate for public office is that, as he says, corporations have not only hijacked the federal government – they are the federal government. For confirmation of the above, check out Nader’s writing in The Nader Reader, or more on point but harder to find, Corporate Power in America, a slim volume of essays on how to combat the subversion of democracy by corporate power, which Nader edited and to which he contributed his own insightful analysis – circa 1970-something.

  2. Doug Page said on June 20th, 2008 at 6:47am #

    I agree except to add that capitalists sell oil as well as autos. I wish that Ralph Nader would read and critically analyze my article in Dissident Voice on June 14 entitled: “Why is capitalism failing us?” If Ralph thinks that the modern mutation of capitalism is such a good thing, and not a cause of our troubles, let him explain why.
    Doug Page, Tucson, AZ

  3. Gene Debs said on June 20th, 2008 at 7:44am #

    You mischaracterize Nader’s position. Sure, in Unsafe At Any Speed, he calls for better, safer cars. But to suggest that he fails to grasp that “corporate capitalism” is the larger issue is simply fantastic. Nader quite literally wrote the book on that subject – 35 years ago. It’s called Corporate Power in America, and it’s filled with insightful analysis of how corporate power corrupts our democratic processes. Indeed, the very reason Nader now runs for office is that, after 40 years as our nation’s most effective consumer advocate, Washington has become “corporate-occupied territory.” Corporations don’t just control government, Nader says, they are the government. Look closer: Nader is making the case you wish he would make. Now go vote for him, and send those “corporate capitalists” a message.

  4. Max Shields said on June 20th, 2008 at 8:40am #

    Michael, while I agree with your focus (corporate capitalism) I think Nader has been railing against corporate capitalism.

    Nader is speaking of the results of predatory capitalism (primarily corporate). He’s made that clear over and over again.

    I’m not trying to apologize for anything Nader may or may not have said or written. He’s pretty consistent but perhaps has not reiterated with each speech or book what has become his common theme for decades.

    That said, capitalism (your title) is a bit misleading. All systems have a pathological side when taken to extremes. The extremes begin to define the norm. Behind capitalism and communism is a moral and ethical underpinning. Those were utterly corrupted by the largest practitioners USA and Soviet Union.

    Alternatives to capitalism as we know it, as it is practiced at large, will not abandon all things “capitalistic”. Marx never did. Capital is simply a tool of production and wealth. It is not an evil in and of itself.

    How we transform capital, access to land for starters, is the crux of our economic dilemma. I think Nader understands that; and frankly I don’t know of anyother mainstream pol that does.

  5. Erroll said on June 20th, 2008 at 10:35am #

    Max Shields at 8:40 am

    Intelligently stated and articulated. Progressives could do far worse than to vote for Ralph Nader, such as believing that Obama will somehow lead them to the Promised Land.

  6. bozhidar balkas said on June 20th, 2008 at 10:40am #

    if i remember correctly, nader has many times deplored corporate rule.
    the word “capitalism” may mean so much that no person wd come even close to explaining it.
    the best i can come up w. wd be to name “capiatalism” as all or most of our doings.
    and we just cannot condemn all of our affairs. i can condemn corporate or one-party rule in US. it seems to me that on major issues democrats do what repulicans do.
    health care, warfare, education, information r just 4 of the most important issues that, generally speaking, all politicos aggree on.
    dems differ from reps mostly on cosmetic changes and tactics.
    their strategy/telos is identical.
    extirpation/dispersal/herding of the indigenes was approbated by both parties. bombing of hironaga was also approved by one-party system.
    perhaps, nader c’ld have insisted and still can now insist that 5td k should not carry 100k; it should be the other way around.
    in a true two-, three-party system, surely s’mone wd have at s’m time demanded this in senate or the congress.
    and for all i know , maybe there was s’mone who did that in US politics. thank u

  7. steve conn said on June 20th, 2008 at 12:19pm #

    Here is a baseline question: if Nader has not evolved as the preeminent critic of corporate fascism (a word he has used as he watched the takeover of so-called regulatory agencies), why is his voice so feared by media as well as the major party candidate? Nader has lived and learned. His message and the positions he takes could win independent votes, but are viewed as radioactive. Also, unlike Obama, he is not for sale.

  8. Michael Dawson said on June 20th, 2008 at 12:49pm #

    Steve, I’m not saying Ralph is useless. Far from it.

    I’m just asking him to tell the truth about why things happen the way they do. He talks like it’s all just bad apples make corrupt bureaucratic decisions. The truth is that this system requires all the bad decisions, which are SOP in the effort to make the rich richer.

    He’s already very close to saying this. He just needs to jump the broom.

    P.S. “Lower gas prices” is just a stupid rallying cry.

  9. Michael Dawson said on June 20th, 2008 at 12:49pm #

    Steve, I’m not saying Ralph is useless. Far from it.

    I’m just asking him to tell the truth about why things happen the way they do. He talks like it’s all just bad apples making inexplicable corrupt bureaucratic decisions. The truth is that this system requires all the bad decisions, which are SOP in the effort to make the rich richer.

    He’s already very close to saying this. He just needs to jump the broom.

    P.S. “Lower gas prices” is just a stupid rallying cry.

  10. rosemarie jackowski said on June 20th, 2008 at 1:23pm #

    Maybe some would prefer that Nader be a screaming Socialist. I might like that – but he is, who he is.

    Nader is not perfect. He just happens to be, by far, the best candidate out there. He is our only hope and yes, I would stake my life on the fact that he cannot be bought.

  11. TShirt said on June 20th, 2008 at 1:29pm #


    I have to say that based on your quote regarding Unsafe At Any Speed, I have to disagree that Nader doesn’t make the connection. I think the evidence IS the connection. I think most readers can make that rather small leap in logic.

    I disagree also that ” he would have us conclude, is the price of oil.” In my opinion, he is talking about the shady business practices surrounding oil profits and speculation. It is an example, and again, quite clear to me, of how much predatory corporate practices effects the quality of life of citizens. Huge profits for Exxon Mobile, while the middle class gets poorer and poorer.

    Every politician (as Nader effectively is right now) will inevitably let people down, and I don’t agree with everything Nader says. But I agree with quite a bit. On the issues most important to me, corporate greed and the encroachment on citizen rights and well-being, I have never heard anyone speak so consistently about it.

  12. bozhidar balkas said on June 20th, 2008 at 3:22pm #

    is nader Leftist/Rightist? i consider myself Leftist/Rightist. has nader declaled that no country has the right to attack another under any known circumstanece?
    if he hasn’t to date adopetd this desirable premise, will he in the near future?
    is he for collective punishment? or does he support ICC.
    ICC should be sole arbiter for arresting/ prosecutiting criminals or alleged crimninals, such as saddam, milosevic, sharon, suharto, bush/cheney/rice.
    ICC c’ld have also issued a ransom; say, 1bn, on saddam’s head.
    thus this wd have occluded collective punishment and invasion.
    i believe that he said that israel has no right to punish gazan civs.
    so, he also may condemn iraqi collective punishment.
    observers now know and have known even before invasion of iraq that bringing saddam to justice was a nono for US.
    it wanted the rearl estate.
    to do that, all laws had to be skirted. thank u

  13. Don Hawkins said on June 20th, 2008 at 7:33pm #

    How many times over the last few years have you heard that was a 100 year storm? Now with the Midwest flooding we went from 100 year to 500 year, wrong. When talking about storms now and to come 12,000 year storms. When the numbers come in at the end of this summer and then 2009 we will probably need to go back even further. Still time but cutting it close even if we start today or the first part of 09. For me the hard part is knowing what is the truth.

    It is clear, then, that wisdom is knowledge having to do with certain principles and causes. But now, since it is this knowledge that we are seeking, we must consider the following point: of what kind of principles and of what kind of causes is wisdom the knowledge? (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 340BC)

    Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist’s snobbishness. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

    Bob Dylan an old song now how did it go? Oh yes, “don’t listen to your leaders and watch your parking meters”. Shocking

  14. Chris Driscoll said on June 21st, 2008 at 9:03am #

    Dear Michael Dawson,

    Ralph Nader is the nation’s leading critic of Corporatism as it has evolved in the United States and of U.S.-led Corporate Globalism. As the only widely recognized Independent candidate for president, he is also the leading proponent of a reasonable alternative to corporate-political world domination with his proposal to shift political power to ‘we the people.’ This proposal to replace corporate fascism with democracy is not an empty slogan on Nader’s part, it is a proposal based on an in-depth analysis of the problems we face and the most effective solution.

    In a world where the United States, Great Britain, China and Sweden are called capitalist, the term has come to be more an obfuscation than an illumination. In fact, a more accurate label for the economic systems of the United States, Great Britain, Japan and the European Union is “Monopoly Enterprise System.” This hegemonic alliance, with the United States at its head, has displaced the capitalist market system (free enterprise) described by Adam Smith and Karl Marx in the 18th and 19th centuries, with a system that, through corporate control of governments and markets, has put a handful of giant, transnational commercial monopolies in power and done away with most free-market competition. As Steve Conn points out above, Nader describes the two-party dictatorship in our country as fascist corporatism and proposes genuine democracy as the solution.

    All economic systems incorporate socialist and capitalist elements: Cuba makes use of markets, the United States has government-owned railroads, power companies, insurance companies and hospitals: yet it’s important to focus on dominant elements in a national and global economy; in the U.S. and global economies, monopolies dominate. These monopolies hold no allegiance to any nation, they ship jobs to low-wage countries, shift trillions of dollars a day from place to place, wrecking national economies as they do so, and have rained ruin across the globe in their wake. They have a determined goal to bring under their control the countries they call ‘renegades,’ and they don’t mind murdering a million people at a time, as they have done in their effort to re-colonize Iraq, in their quest to bring every nation under their domination.

    Ralph Nader has been the most effective public figure for more than a generation at organizing the people’s fight back against this corporate mayhem. Michael, by focusing on the book Nader wrote at the beginning of his career more than 40 years ago, is it possible that you have missed everything else he did in the decades since?

    Whether you are a green, a socialist, a populist, a progressive or even a constitutional conservative, calling the United States ‘capitalist’ and questioning why Nader doesn’t “take on capitalist” only serves to divert the attention from where it is most needed: that is, mounting an effective fight back against the monopoly enterprise system that has stolen our democracy and made perpetual warfare and environmental destruction our cheif foriegn policy.

    In the spirit of “Grand Coalition,” Nader offers all of us who see the Monopoly Enterprise System as the major threat to world peace and prosperity an opportunity to craft an effective, unified opposition.

    If you understand the threat and the way forward, check out http://www.votenader.org and join our “Shift the Power” campaign for president, the Nader/Gonzalez Campaign.

    Sincerely, Chris Driscoll, Takoma Park, MD

  15. Michael Dawson said on June 21st, 2008 at 9:49am #

    I couldn’t disagree more with Chris Driscoll, despite my deep respect for Ralph Nader.

    Everybody knows what capitalism is. It is putting private profit making at the top of the socio-political agenda. It is letting business priorities come first.

    Everybody also knows that, whatever Sweden might be, the USA is capitalist. We remain the epicenter and gendarme of corporate capitalism. That’s just a plain and obvious fact.

    To deny this, particularly in favor of hokey double-talk like “Monopoly Enterprise System” is to insult ordinary people’s inetlligence. People need real choices truthfully explained, not recycled attempts to keep Ralph’s legacy and ego alive. It is not 1965 any more.

    Calling for lower gas prices is harmful, not helpful, unless it is a subordinate part of a plan to alter our transportation system by challenging the capitalist interests who perpetuated it and have always been its primary beneficiaries.

    Peak Oil is real, and cars and petroleum are the lifeblood of capitalism. The danger of economic, agricultural, and military disasters are all growing by the day, because nobody is telling the truth about how late in the capitalist day we are. “Cheaper gas” would be nice, but it doesn’t scratch the real issues at hand.

    Is Ralph tough enough to tell the truth? Or is he simply trying to collect a couple million votes?

  16. dan e said on June 21st, 2008 at 4:19pm #

    IMHO Michael Dawson makes some good points vs Chris D. who along with Ralph Nader just doesn’t quite get it.

    The basic contradiction in all forms of Capitalist society, be they Zionized or not, Confucianized or not, theocratic or not, is the same: production is a social activity, but appropriation remains a Private Affair.

    I have a lot of problems with components of the ANSWER Coalition, PSL, FPA and others, but at least they recognize these basic features of Capitalism as flowing from the inherent contradictions arising from profit-motivated Commodity Production.

    Petras has explained this part of it best I think. Dunno if he’d agree my take onehundred pct, but to me currently hegemonic Ziocon Militarist fraction of Ruling Class is pursuing a Grand Strategy which is not consistent with best interests of Capitalist class as a whole; that is, present state of State Apparatus is an anomaly.
    Which makes it hard for a lot of highly educated types to grasp the reality, because it goes against all they have learned from all those great thinkers.

    Okay, let’s all genuflect in the direction of the Dogma Of Your Choice:) But I’ll say this for the dogmatists: at least they took time/effort to TRY to educate themselves to something besides the assumptions they learned in Sunday School. Which is more than I can say for Nader or/and most “Greens”.

    Of course Lincoln Freed The Slaves, right? Wonder what is the precise number of persons under control of public institutions in the USA, who daily perform coerced unpaid labor.

    Round & round we go, not that I think any of my drivel will affect anything one way or another, but the PC is in here with the Swamp Cooler so it’s the best spot in the house.

    Go Hizbollah! Viva Nazrallah!

  17. Max Shields said on June 21st, 2008 at 4:19pm #

    Michael Dawson,

    I think you are charging at windmills. You are demanding that Ralph Nader be the voice for anti-capitalist movement. First, Nader is running and I will support his run to the extent national politics has any meaning at all. But really, he is not the voice of a school of thought, a practitioner of economic systems. He is a man who takes a look at the landscape and says this is immoral and charges ahead.

    He is not anti-business. Business and commerce are not evil to Ralph (nor to me). There is a cancerous capitalism that comes from the growth obsessed corporate structure and the governance that propels it as a preditor through the nation and beyond. He rightly identifies and mercilously attacks it. Who else is?

    If Ralph has indicated he is for the continued use of fossil as the major source of energy, I would need much clearer references than what you have provided, Michael. But to ask Nader who has been regularly kicked in the “balls” and comes back time and again (imperfect to be sure, but the man is in his seventies) if he is “tough enough to tell the truth?” is pretty damn galling; and it raises questions why you even chose this topic to begin with.

    F*)ck Obama or McCain will be running the Empire. Not Ralph Nader. We’re lucky he’s still with us.

  18. dan e said on June 21st, 2008 at 4:41pm #

    Haha, Max comes clean: he’s for Capitalism:) Nothing wrong with a little exploitation of persons we’ve previously separated from access to their previous means of production/survival, as long as it doesn’t offend Max’s tender sensibilities. I bet he owns Rental Property:)

    Why is it that I find myself reading/trolling on this website, infected as it is with all these Krypto Rethuglicans? aka “Libertarians”?

    Well, actually most of the published articles are very good. But why does it attract so many time-wasters, who respond to every interesting article by trying to drag it back into their 19th Century assumptions?

  19. anthony innes said on June 21st, 2008 at 10:49pm #

    Nader bashing and drivel about capitalism /commie /socialist ratbag hair splitting has allowed the current congress to destroy the financial underpinning of the USA . Nader along with Ron Paul are among the few candidates who have stood for anything .
    Any society without rule of Law and delivering some modicum of Justice is headed for the bin . The USA Dollar is finished if the Banksta stooges are not hauled before the courts and impeached. Truth ,Transparency and accountability of Government : Citizens of the USA need to focus .

  20. evie said on June 22nd, 2008 at 8:48am #

    Why would Ralphie rail against the “capitalist system” as it has worked very, very well for him these last 40 years.

    And, where’s the gratitude? Thanks to Nader we have OSHA and EPA. Do we not have cleaner and safer work environs, cleaner and safer air to breathe and water to drink and pristine landfills? Are our automobiles not of better quality and safer? (Asked with tongue in cheek.)

    Lucky he still with us Max? Why? Has he been a threat to the “system” or the status quo? Or is he just the sanctioned “left” cheek on the ruling class ass.

  21. Michael Dawson said on June 22nd, 2008 at 10:11am #

    Evie, as I’ve said in all my posts, I greatly respect and appreciate what Nader has done. I’m merely asking him to update it to match our present times. And Ralph is a politician and an intentional national leader, so it’s not my job to be fawningly grateful. Nor is it his to seek gratitude.

    Max, what is galling about asking Ralph to speak the truth about power? You seem to be saying he’s earned a pass on that expectation, even though it’s his calling card and stated reason for seeking the Presidency again.

    I’m asking Ralph to talk about why the overclass can’t tolerate serious, adequate transportation reform. I’m asking him to acknowledge our severe energy crisis. I’m asking him to stop implying that cheap gas is an adequate solution, even if it’s possible.

    And by the way, none of this has to do with either socialist railing or tolerance for small business. It has to do with creating the basis for popular organizing and resistance and democracy. I’m not asking Nader to act like Lenin. Hell, I don’t even like Lenin, who was an over-rated theorist and a friend of Stalin. I’m simply asking Ralph to add some depth and urgency and realism to his existing efforts to explain and politicize the corporate system.

    Cheaper gas and better cars will not get us through this make-or-break century…

  22. Michael Dawson said on June 22nd, 2008 at 10:13am #

    Evie, as I’ve said in all my posts, I greatly respect and appreciate what Nader has done. I’m merely asking him to update it to match our present times. And Ralph is a politician and an intentional national leader, so it’s not my job to be fawningly grateful. Nor is it his to seek gratitude.

    Max, what is galling about asking Ralph to speak the truth about power? You seem to be saying he’s earned a pass on that expectation, even though it’s his calling card and stated reason for seeking the Presidency again.

    I’m asking Ralph to talk about why the overclass can’t tolerate serious, adequate transportation reform. I’m asking him to acknowledge our severe energy crisis. I’m asking him to stop implying that cheap gas is an adequate solution, even if it’s possible.

    And by the way, none of this has to do with either socialist railing or intolerance for all forms and kinds of businesses. It has to do with creating the basis for popular organizing and resistance and democracy. I’m not asking Nader to act like Lenin. Hell, I don’t even like Lenin, who was both an over-rated theorist and a good friend of Stalin. I’m simply asking Ralph to add some depth and urgency and _realism_ to his existing efforts to explain and politicize the corporate system.

    Cheaper gas and better cars will not get us through this make-or-break century…

  23. Brandy Baker said on June 22nd, 2008 at 10:29am #

    Hi Michael,
    I do agree that , as you say, “hokey double talk”,to try to muffle anti-capitalist critique, is silly. But with all due respect Michael, I fear that you are being a little ultra-left in your analysis. Creating a movement (that would actually stick) against gas prices would actually be a healthy sign. Get people to show up first, then point out the bigger picture. You critiques of Nader remind me of those scary Sparks some of us encountered in NYC a few years back. They showed up at an ISO conference and kept interrupting the meeting about Nader 04 run saying, “Ralph Nader is a member of the bourgeiose.” Of course, you come off much saner and more knowledgeable.

    I would also like to add that government-run enterprises like railroads, power companies, and hospitals (don’t know why insurance companies and power companies are listed as they are now mostly private in US) are not in any way socialism within capitalism as was alleged above. They are examples of mild social democracy. Single payer health care would be a greater example of mild social democracy, but this country does not have a social democratic history like UK, France, Sweden, and to a lesser extent, Canada, among other countries.

    Also, Cuba is not a truly socialist country, and it is alarming to see it used as an example of such. It is a top-down bureaucracy/dictatorship. Socialism is one of the most misused words in the English language and applying it to Cuba, China, USSR, or even Venuzuela is not accurate. True socialism, the means of production ran by those who actually produce it and to have all run democratically, has never been born.

    Michael, I don’t disagree with your analysis of what is wrong with the system, but let’s hope that high gas prices will get people to show up so that we can have a participatory democracy. WE have to crawl before we can walk.

  24. Michael Dawson said on June 22nd, 2008 at 10:51am #

    Thanks for the feedback, Brandy. I despise ultra-leftism in all its forms. And I also think excessive appeal to the word “capitalism” is also often a cop-out. But so is studiously avoiding it.

    As to movement formation, that the real issue, as you say. personally speaking I tend to disagree with you about taking baby steps, but I’m also not sure cheap gas is even a baby step in the right direction.

    When the Montgomery Bus Boycott touched off the Civil Rights Movement, nobody was under any illusion that they were just trying to make it easier to get around town in Montgomery. They were attacking segregation, and they said so in the clearest, boldest terms. If it has just been about using the bus, they could have started a black-run bus line.

    And the cheap gas call is going to confuse people more than it clarifies things. It will also draw in a raft of disruptive, reactionary kooks.

    I don’t know a single case of a successful social movement that pulled off a bait-and-switch strategy with its own members. Its next to impossible to form a successful social movement. I think it’s _completely_ impossible to do so if the failure is built in from the start.

    And, again, it is far from clear that cheaper oil is even possible. Not all speculation is irrational. Even a nationalized energy industry would probably be buying and stockpiling oil now at high prices, based on the likelihood that future prices will be even higher, due to booming global demand and peaking supplies — neither of which Nader mentions.

    And finally, here’s another question for Ralph: Why is he running for President rather than starting a social movement for economic democracy? He’d undoubtedly say the former leads to the latter. But he has always disappeared after his runs, even in 2000, when we desperately needed him to attack the Electoral College.

  25. dan e said on June 22nd, 2008 at 11:44am #

    Yes, why doesn’t Nader concentrate on creating a Social Movement that will survive after November? That’s a good q.

  26. Al said on June 22nd, 2008 at 12:40pm #

    Nader is not perfect, but he’s the best presidential candidate we’ve got. Just imagine Nader in the White House for 8 years. & imagine the Congress giving him a blank check like they gave chimpinchief. America will definitely change for the better.

  27. Max Shields said on June 22nd, 2008 at 1:43pm #


    I don’t think anyone is above reproach. In fact in defending anyone you always run the risk of that person saying something or doing something you simply cannot agree with. But, I also think that in the scheme of things, that is the total picture, Nader has been the greatest ally to American workers and those without a voice of the mid-20th and now early 21st Century. This in no way discounts the late 19th Century and early 20th Century voices such as Eugene Debbs and many others. Nor is it meant to lessen the likes of Ceasar Chavez.

    But I can think of no other American who has so completely and utterly made this mission his passionate life’s work a force for the non-elite against the massive predatory corporate capitalists. The man bares his soul.

    He is very imperfect. We can disagree with the effectiveness of his political tactics. And he has pissed people off that I recognize as comrades in our efforts to transform this ugly empire. But he is not going to be running his country. Extremely well read and piercingly bright, he is not a scholar nor a coy pol. There are many things Nader is not. His is not – and this is a major issue – a movement leader. What Nader calls for takes more than one persons voice. But that is not a personal fault; it’s simply an unmet need.

    I think, Nader, with all his focus and doggedness has grown in many ways over the years. His understanding of economics in terms of human relationships is much more subtle and therefore he may not be as quick to yell – up with socialism, down with capitalism as if there are easy dichotomies to separate.

    As I said, given where we are, the real issue, I think, is with the duopoly and the fascism it brings. Not the short comings of one man who’s given his all.

  28. Michael Dawson said on June 22nd, 2008 at 1:59pm #

    I would love to have Nader as President. of course. Nothing I am writing is against that. Of course, it ain’t gonna happen, either…

    It’s fascinating that he’s willing to toss around the word “fascism,” but won’t touch “capitalism.”

    The USA is a mess, but it is not fascist, and corporate capitalism is not fascism, either.

    And what percentage of Americans will listen to somebody talk about non-existent “fascism”? It’s a lot lower than will listen to honest explanations of how capitalism works.

    P.S. I think Cynthia McKinney is saying more relevant stuff than Ralph now is…

  29. dan e said on June 22nd, 2008 at 2:22pm #

    To dismiss the Cuban Revolution as nothing but a “top-down bureacracy”, “a dictatorship” not only misses the main pt but veers v. close to outright racism in my opinion.

    Not that deep criticisms of the Cubano leadership such as those offered recently by longtime friend of the Cuban Revolution Jas Petras are not without foundation, but let’s keep things in focus: a Slave Rebellion is not a Dinner Party. The fundamental fact re the Cubano regime is Cuba remains free of its erstwhile Yanqui slavemasters.

    But what else can you expect from these vacillating P-B’s? One minute they oppose imperialist aggression, the next they’re echoing imperialist propaganda. Bunch a goddam Cold War Liberals. Which is why most downtoearth grassroots folks stayed home from all these Vigils: one minute these honchae want yr support, the next they want you to swallow a bunch of that Solidarnosc jive. Bunch of rats to whom all attempts to create a society not dominated by “business” are to be denounced. Because these folks are primarily Business People, Employers wary of letting the Labor Force get too powerful, whether in Cuba or presentday US. But Nader can be trusted, these P-Bs say: after all, he’s a millionaire too, a fellow Employer so won’t go too far.

    Dedicated to the memory of Salvador Allende’s ideal of Democracy,


  30. Max Shields said on June 22nd, 2008 at 3:23pm #

    Michael, Maybe Cynthia is laying out a more cogent and timely message.

    The truth is that regardless of the message, there is no political savior or solution. This is an empire which must (and will, and I think it has begun) unravel.

    For sure we are beyond Nader, and I think McKinney as well, regardless of how much they speak truth to power. There are mighty forces which will not simply roll over. Dan e you can call who ever you want whatever you want but as Dr. King said, we may have come over on different boats, but we’re in the same one now.

    We are even beyond the greatest movement leader this country has known (certainly in my life) Dr. King. But in the end, it is Empire that has had its way. That will end but we must wade through the grotesqueness that is the duopoly’s fascistic framework – 2008 elections.

    It’s all about local, the rest is just one gigantic gall stone.

  31. Brandy Baker said on June 22nd, 2008 at 7:05pm #

    “….veers v. close to outright racism in my opinion.

    And your “opinion” is wrong. Do not make such statements with no evidence to back it up.

  32. Brandy Baker said on June 22nd, 2008 at 7:26pm #

    Thanks for your reply. You bring up some good points that I’ll consider, but I don’t see a movement for cheaper gas prices as a “bait & switch.”

    First of all, we cannot will movements into existence, movements happen when many people are fed up with the system, but are politically in different places with different outlooks. Consciousness in any movement is a really mixed bag; people are going to know that gas is high because the system is screwing them, but the deatikls of why would vary form individual to individual. Your assertion that “pulling a bait & switch” would mean that a few have total control over the movement and can dictate what that movement means. A movement to lower gas prices would have many people with many ideas drawing different conclusions, and some of those conclusions lead to confusion. Various individuals and factions would debate such points on websites like this (look at the variety of anti-war articles that have appeared here in the past week and a half with different perspectives). That would be the case with a movement against gas prices. What effect it would have I do not know; I have no crystal ball.

    About the civil rights movement: your example is a good one, but people would not only be rallying to get the prices down, but most would be angry enough to say, “You oil companies are not going to screw us.” Yes, the civil rights movement did the bus boycott to achieve integration, all were clear on that (and there was much mixed consciousness there as well, hence the extreme infighting), but despite the mixed consciousness over any current movement against big oil, most people would see this movement as a push back against the haves.

    Finally, all movements attract kooks. Thanks again.


  33. Myles Hoenig said on June 22nd, 2008 at 7:33pm #

    Why should the left be skittish about confronting Castro?
    Is he a paragon of socialist idealism? Maybe his policies are, or have been, but there’s a lot to criticize without falling into right wing foaming at the mouth diatribes.
    Cuba has one of the best health care and educational systems in all the developing countries. But can one deny that opposition to the one party state gets you off with a slap on the wrist?

    I hate it when countries, leaders, etc., blame others for their own failings. Yes, the US has committed atrocious crimes regarding the 40+ year blockade. But all of Cuba’s problems cannot be laid on the back on Uncle Sam alone. Sorry, but Fidel needs to accept some responsibility as well. If one is to be a one party dictatorship for more than 40 years, one is going to be dirty. Tell me of a Democratic Republic that changes administration every 4 years or so (those with real representation) that isn’t dirty itself? Name me ANY government that isn’t dirty!

    Attacking a one-party dictatorship is not racist. I don’t know how anyone could make such a charge.

  34. Brandy Baker said on June 22nd, 2008 at 7:43pm #

    Thanks Myles, in some ways, Cubans do have it better than we do (free healthcare, education, and the people are all around happier than we are for the most part), and my criticisms of Castro’s top-down style has nothing to do with the righteous overthrow of the Batista government.

    You can like Castro’s reforms, applaud his willingness not to take shit form the US (or very little, the US does have a Guatanamo in Cuba and Castro’s smart enough to know that he can’t chase them out), but that does not mean that Castro is free from criticism or that it is “racist” to criticize his dictatorship or “pro-imperialist” to do so.

  35. Michael Dawson said on June 22nd, 2008 at 8:00pm #

    I agree, Brandy, that all movements attract kooks, and need to tolerate them. Heck, kooks have the same rights as everybody else.

    But why do you imagine that a movement for cheaper gas could turn into a movement for the kinds of deep, radical transportation and urban reforms we need? To name a very close comparison case: I’m sure that, in 1965, Ralph thought his push for auto safety would lead to that kind of movement, too, and that he wouldn’t have to talk deeper and more radically.

    The last 42 years show he was deeply wrong about that assumption. Movements need to start by making big, honest demands and then fighting toward them in steps. The goal has to precede and lead the steps.

    More examples: You don’t get socialism or even social democracy by fighting for better wages, or single-payer by rallying behind managed care. You have to name what you want, then choose and explain your steps forward.

    Nader has this backwards, IMHO. I think his model of suggestive reforms asked for in lowest-common-denominator terms is a serious failure, as he himself might conclude from the fact that he is now protesting the very NHTSA he helped bring forth. Small, sheepish, unclear demands produce small, isolated changes.

    MLK’s very first speech on the bus boycott was quite radical, and concluded by saying black Montgomerians were setting out to change the whole society.

  36. Max Shields said on June 23rd, 2008 at 6:19am #


    I don’t disgree with you. Nader doesn’t represent the kind of change you’re talking about. He comes out of the cold war era. He was a Democrat turned Green/Independent.

    But my point is he is what he is and I don’t think it helps to use him as a “whipping boy” for deep social and economic justice and change; i.e., the kind you are talking about.

    MLK was not a political leader but a great articulator of social, racial, class injustices and the perpetation of US Empire throughout the world.

    We agree on what Nader has done. He is not the movement leader for the transformation or revolution which must take place as the Empire unravels.

    As to this interesting point about Castro; progressive/left have always counteracted American propaganda with a heavy does of “blind eye”.
    But I think, given the history of US gunboat diplomacy, particularly given the results in Chile when a democratically elected Allende was assassinated (and this is but one of many examples), there is more than simply an embargo to support the continued reign of one man in Cuba. Symbiotic relationships are natural occurances; and Cuba is no different.

    For sure, a critique about the top-down government should be presented in its full context. We see in Venezuela and Bolivia (and elsewhere), due in part to US preoccupation in the ME) a move toward democratic and decentralized governance in workers’ cooperatives and the like. It is very difficult to transform what is. I would like to see Chavez’s role diminished. Still the right-wing, the Venezuelian media and US insurgents are ever present. It creates a formidable dilemma.

    For me, US manifest destiny, the Monroe Doctrine and US Empire, particularly in South America has done much to shape the political atmospher in Latin America.

    Empire’s Workshop by Greg Gandin is a good read on this.

  37. siamdave said on June 23rd, 2008 at 9:25am #

    – we’re not shy about criticism of capitalism on Green Island http://www.rudemacedon.ca/greenisland.html .

  38. tim Matthews said on June 23rd, 2008 at 12:25pm #

    I’ve said it before,
    Look, if you want to see a REAL difference in the ways and direction this country
    influences the world at large, then vote a candidate that you can conscientiously support. I can’t find many people that ethically disagree with Nader, and he’s never lied, waffled, or changed his views to suit the status quo. I’m tired of the bickering amongst a divided, distracted, and diverted populace. The present corporate strategy seems to be, “Let the people argue, we’ll do what we want while they’re distracted.” Our government professes belief in freedom, democracy, a responsible and responsive constituency as well as a government, and I see no evidence of that. The lack of meaningful participation by the populace shows in the acts of leadership, both parties, the reactionary behavior by this administration, and the lukewarm non-binding behavior by the democratically controlled, (ha, ha), congress. We as a people, should display a society that believes in and promotes fairness and justice in this country as an example for other governments to emulate. Let us
    throw the corporate minions out of THE PEOPLES’ GOVERNMENT, and return
    POWER to the PEOPLE. After all,isn’t the definition of democracy a government of, by, and for THE PEOPLE?
    I seek to blame no one, just my thoughts of what we’ve forgotten, what we’ve neglected, and why I support Nader.