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government | imperialism & war | political theory selection 2004

"You have to start working on change now"

Nader is the choice
George Monbiot on the elections:

"You have to start working for change now"

September 24, 2004

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 Britain's 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 Worker's ALAN MAASS about why he calls for activists to challenge the pressure to vote for "the bad against the terrible"--and instead support Ralph Nader's independent presidential campaign.

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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?

IT'S A profoundly corrupt system, and it's 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 don't do what the big money tells them to do, they won't get the big money, and so they won't be able to win a presidential election. It's 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 world's 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 don't like what the Democrats stand for. They don't 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, that's 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, you've 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.

I've 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, there's 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 there's 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 Bush's 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 wasn't 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. He's 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 you've 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 Bush's re-election, if that's what's 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 they'll think, "Well, it's not Bush, it's America that's evil. We've got to attack America."

That's surely the conclusion that people will draw. If they can blame the invasion of Iraq on one man, then they can say that it's 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 don't 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--it's 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 doesn't care about the development of the movement for change. What's your view of Nader?

HE'S NOT a perfect human being. If anyone's trying to become president, well, there's got to be a bit of ego in there. I don't believe that he's as pure as the driven snow. What I do believe is that he's a hell of a lot better than the other guys, and that he actually believes in the positions that he takes.

That's a rare thing these days in politics. Normally, a party's 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 doesn't have a party structure. He isn't under anyone's 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 don't 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 can't question his political courage. He's a man of conviction, who's stuck to those convictions.

Here's a man who's even taken on the Anti-Defamation League. I don't know U.S. politics as well as I should, but I can't think of a single other prominent U.S. political figure who's been brave enough to take on the Anti-Defamation League--and say that it's wrong for everyone who criticizes Israeli policy to be branded as an anti-Semite.

SOME PEOPLE on the left believe there's 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 it's a false dichotomy when you say that either you're going to vote and take part in this corrupt electoral process, or you're going to stand against it. We've got to do both. You've 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 Monbiot's 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.



some good points 22.Sep.2004 23:04


I agree that it is important to consider what the world will think of us with Kerry running the war on Iraq for 4 years. However, to be fair, to my knowledge, Kerry has never said he would have invaded as president only that he "might have" invaded if president. But if anyone knows differently I would be interested.

I Agree In The Most Part 23.Sep.2004 12:52

Mistletoe Angel

I believe George makes some very fine and bold points here.

I agree with the motto, "You have to start working on change now". I agree this two-party system is corrupt and we must reform it, beginning with enforcing an ITC ballot. I agree with the banning of private funding in the election campaign process and instead allowing the public to do the funding, where even there there must be a cap. And I also agree that, sadly, reforms seem to often be side-lined for a future election.

Where I begin disagreeing with George is how the change process should be worked out. No matter how well Nader preforms, he won't be elected, and George agrees with that fact.

Another thing is how he categorizes Bush and Kerry as "the terrible and bad" respectively. Bush and Bush Lite. It shows that, without a doubt, he thinks both candidates are greatly flawed, but the fact is there is a distinction. He has already admitted Nader cannot win the election, and also that Bush is "terrible" whereas Kerry is "bad". Thus, if encouraging as many as possible to vote Nader, the "terrible" will be in the seat, which is more bad than having "bad" in office.

Thirdly, George understands and recognizes the fear that if Bush is re-elected, the world will have the impression all Americans in general are for Bush's wars. He admits "there is some truth to that." Plus, what he says about Kerry is misleading. Bush had ousting Saddam Hussein on his mind since the very first day he was put into the White House by the U.S Supreme Court. He wanted revenge for his dad, who failed to getting him out the first time around. Kerry, on the other hand, I'm certain, would never have thought Iraq was involved from the beginning. He may have attacked where al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan had he been in Bush's place after September 11th, but I am convinced this would be a significantly different situation than in comparison to Bush on the same podium. I understand Kerry originally voted for the resolution and allowing authority, but his criticism on Kerry and Iraq is unfair, for the mentality would be significanty different.

With that third point said, he acknowledges besides that if Kerry is elected and does the same thing as Bush and the world see America as the enemy, the fact is he ALSO believes a Bush re-election would give the world the same impression that America in general is with the war-monger, thus painting us as the enemy, whether you're a pacifist or not.

George makes good points, but his argument has several huge moth-holes.

Noah Eaton