Ralph Nader: hard-working petty-bourgeois:
"Small is beautiful" is not an option in imperialist countries
On April 8th, MIM Notes asked the Nader campaign for an interview, attached at the bottom. As of April 24th, there has been no response from the Nader campaign, so here we will review his book and another from his general line of petty- bourgeois thinking by Leopold Kohr. Kohr's book came out in 1957, but it is at the root of recent "small is beautiful" thinking. A search of his name and "Green Party" at Google turns up 41 entries.
The petty-bourgeoisie is that class between the proletariat and the imperialists which traditionally included professionals that worked for themselves--doctors, lawyers, journalists and even priests. At a raw level, Nader is a lawyer and he is the only candidate for president who will oppose "tort reform," which is the movement of the productive sector industrialists against a faction of the unproductive sector called trial lawyers. The industrialists would like limits on how much consumers can sue them for, while Nader- type lawyers point out that there is nothing else in the capitalist system restraining the industrialists from harming customers for profit.
Organizations Ralph Nader started as a consumer advocate have served as launching pads for his presidential candidacy. In 2000 he took 2.7% of the vote and cost Gore the presidency while saving one Senate seat for Democrats in Washington.
What makes Ralph Nader so unusual is that he is a hard-driving petty-bourgeois. Most people from the traditional petty-bourgeoisie think they are doing rather well in the ordinary course of the year to do a walk-a-thon for (fill in the blank with AIDS, hunger, baby seals etc.) and a couple demonstrations against an excessive war. In contrast, Ralph Nader is reportedly threatening the Kerry campaign with havoc unless Democratic Party nominee Kerry actually opposes the war on Iraq--something Kerry will actually have more political room to appear to do after June 30th. For most of the petty-bourgeoisie using "freedom" to complain a couple times a year is self-satisfying. The difference is that Nader takes these complaints to the top, digs in and points out consequences to the imperialists for ignoring him.
The weakness in Nader's approach on the political level is that as Lenin explained, the traditional petty-bourgeoisie is allied with the imperialists. Most of Nader's would-be followers are uncomfortable with going to the imperialists and saying, "this is a stick up. . . so hand over your votes." Countless liberal Democratic dogs have stopped giving to charities, because Nader once worked for them or served as their publicity front--all because Nader cost Gore the White House in 2000.
Nader and the labor aristocracy
Coming from the Democratic Party, Nader sports the usual slogans about the degradation of the labor aristocracy in the united $tates that MIM has proved false for 18 years now and which people rebutted before MIM as well. Typical is "The majority of Americans have been falling behind, notwithstanding twenty years of economic growth: losing ground in real wages, losing ground in home mortgage payments, health care, and consumer debt."(Nader, p. 107)
It's not that the Amerikkkan labor aristocracy could not face a deteriorating economic situation. It's just that it has not happened yet since World War II as MIM most recently proved in MIM Notes 298. Thus for a strategic length of time, we at MIM are attacking the economic demands of the labor aristocracy, because it is tied to imperialism. After the labor aristocracy has faced some real devastation, we can talk about re-analyzing the class structure.
With his views, it's not surprising that Nader spent much of his time in 2000 chasing after labor bureaucrats for endorsements. United Autoworkers (UAW) president Steve Yokich flirted with Nader for example, and Nader won a number of smaller union endorsements in 2000 outright.
Along with the labor bureaucrat-chasing comes the territory of bashing GATT and NAFTA, which Nader does more than the Republicans and Democrats. Nader has no compunction about lashing other countries in the name of economic protectionism, in such a way that stirs up war sentiments among the labor aristocracy. Nonetheless, Nader also agrees with MIM that international treaties should be a focus of struggle to lift standards up globally. It's just that he talks about lifting up while also partitioning the world at the same time. The labor aristocracy he is catering to tends to demand higher tariffs to protect their high-paying jobs.
By the terms of NAFTA, the united $tates is supposed to allow Mexican truck drivers on u.$. roads. This has not really happened the way it was supposed to: "The Teamsters were very concerned with the NAFTA agreement to allow eight-dollar-a- day Mexican truck drivers in heavy, poorly maintained rigs to take their cargo throughout the fifty states."(Nader, p. 144)
Meanwhile, Nader admits that worker pension funds have $5 trillion in assets in the united $tates.(Nader, p. 150) He does not see that as bringing Amerikans into conflict with the world as MIM does, but rather as an opportunity for workers to operate capitalism. Nader even managed to work in a chant for "small and medium-sized businesses that practice their belief in sustainable economies"(Nader, p. 151) in his speeches.
"Communism . . . is considered non-aggressive in Yugoslavia."-- Kohr, 1957 (Kohr, p. 29)
In a few words, petty-bourgeois internationalism is "small is beautiful" equality of nations. There is really no such thing as petty-bourgeois internationalism, because its underlying economic basis is a mirage. Nonetheless, Kohr especially and Nader to a lesser extent try to convince us there is non-imperialist and non-proletarian internationalism.
In Nader's case, there is going to be a big stink about Iraq between him and Kerry. The proof that Nader is no real internationalist despite his Green "peace" image is Afghanistan. Here is how Nader would have handled 911: "Maybe another more focused approach by a multilateral corps of commandos, equipped with knowledge of language and tribal cultures and utilizing bribes and spies, may have worked better to bring those culpable to justice."(Nader, p. xiv) Thus Nader says he would have tried to find more international legitimacy for a more "multilateral" approach, presumably through the UN, to attack Afghanistan. This is what will allow Kerry to say there is no difference between Kerry and Nader in principle.
The confusing thing then is the rhetoric we hear from the Greens and Nader in particular. Here is what radio populist and Texan Jim Hightower said that Nader endorsed: "'It's time for us to get on the side of the impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world, rather than continuing to plant our flag alongside dictators, monarchists, corporatists and other elites that prosper on the misery of the increasingly angry Third World majority.'"(Nader, pp. xvii-xviii) This is the sort of statement that the left-wing of the traditional petty-bourgeoisie makes but without intention of sounding Maoist.
For how these Greens and petty-bourgeois populists intend to accomplish their goals, they imagine a "decentralized" economic and political world as the Green Party platform says. In other words, the petty-bourgeoisie harkens back to a mythical and idyllic settler past of "America," when every white individual seemed to count, because each could take his or her shotgun and join up with like-minded people to bring down a whole government.
In those "good 'ole days," the traditional petty- bourgeoisie imagines that there were no mega- corporations like there are today. Likewise there are no mega-governments supporting those mega- corporations in the Nader/Green/Libertarian fantasy. The fundamental reason it is difficult to engage these people in serious politics is that they revert to a political self-image of Amerika rooted in a settler-past that has not remotely existed for more than 100 years. It is like overweight people who look in the mirror every day, but forget their weight in reality and only think of themselves when they were younger and lighter.
"The trouble with corporate capitalism in the United States is that there is a lot of capital but very few capitalists"--Nader, p. 312.
"A good place to start is the Social Venture Network, which consciously strives to inject civic values as the framework for their successful midsize business."--Nader, p. 315
"Just how did the power of creeping corporatism over the past two hundred years take an artificial legal entity chartered by the state, called the corporation, and have it endowed with the rights of real human beings plus privileges and immunities denied human beings?"--Nader, p. 316
"Many full-time family farms cannot make a living in a market of giant buyer concentration and industrial agriculture."--Nader, p. 329
"A frown on his forehead may mean a cold winter for 165 million people. A word from his lips may stop trains and arrest the wheels of hundreds of industries. It may deprive us of gas and light. A single gesture of John L. Lewis or of any of a number of important labour leaders may spell catastrophe to the nation."--Kohr, p. 94
"Small is beautiful" does have a role to play in "appropriate technology" in the capitalist world existing and dominating the Third World. However, Nader focuses most of his material on the united $tates and Kohr all his material on Europe and the united $tates. In those places they speak of all the time, the economy has reached the mega- corporate stage that Lenin called "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism."
There is no progressive role for Green, Nader or Libertarian ideology to play in the imperialist countries. While it is inevitable that a proletarian-led movement will have petty- bourgeois currents such as that of the Greens, these petty-bourgeois currents are currently dominating the proletarian movement in all the majority-exploiter countries and they are in fact inclined to dangerous backward-looking solutions that cannot work economically.
There is a reason that industrial agriculture has taken over and the family farm is almost entirely gone. There is also a reason mega- corporations exist. If it were more profitable to respect Nader's backward-looking vision of democracy, the mega-corporations never would have formed. Kohr cited a study from 1919 that said profits declined with corporate size (Kohr,p. 169)--in which case we would not have seen corporate take-overs and we would have seen all the money made in spin-offs; hence, we would not have to hear Nader and Kohr complain about mega-corporations in books. Obviously no such thing happened and Kohr's statement is just another example of delusion.
What is more, what Nader calls "democracy" in fact never existed either. He ran in 2000 with a First Nations running mate. Surely he cannot mean that a country should kill off its First Nations and import a continent of slaves to get started. "Democracy" sucked then and sucks even worse now.
"Chapter Eleven 'But Will It Be Done?' No!"--entirety of Chapter 11 in Leopold Kohr's book Breakdown of Nations
"The dark ages of medieval times were even in their war aspects more advanced than our modern age with all its peace desires and its smug detractors of medieval backwardness."--Kohr, p. 80.
"Smallness is not only a convenience. It is the design of God." --Kohr, p. 96.
"'We are happy begging, and furthermore we are not used to work.'"-- Kohr, quoting Tibetans he defends against their joining China, p. 154
"Ninety percent of our intellectual miseries are due to the fact that almost everything in our lives has become an ism, an issue."--Kohr, p. 123
The petty-bourgeoisie is constantly threatened by the "collectivism" and "totalitarianism" of both the imperialists and the proletariat. It is prone to illusions about individuality, as if people can live on islands separate from each other and breathe separate air. Kohr even says that 90% of "issues" would disappear if we all learned to decentralize properly. Evidently relating to other people is too much burden for this sort of complacent petty-bourgeois which we so often find burdening our movements against war and pollution.
It's common to hear in the united $tates that proletarian ideology called communism is utopian. In actual fact, Marx outlined intermediate stages on the way to communism and there are now the examples of the dictatorship of the proletariat seen in the USSR under Lenin and Stalin and China under Mao. The petty-bourgeoisie may not have liked Stalin and Mao but they existed. In contrast, what Kohr is talking about and what the Greens are talking about in their "decentralization" platform plank for imperialist countries has never happened anywhere. Kohr had the decency to admit it in chapter 11.
The closest thing to Green paradise should have been Yugoslavia with its "local control" and lack of mega-corporations. Under Tito, Yugoslavia was against Stalin and supposedly against Western capitalism too. Yet it was Yugoslavia that broke down into at least four ethnicities just as Kohr advised all medium and great nations to do. (Yugoslavia would have been considered medium by Kohr.) Then Yugoslavia had the greatest bit of ethnic cleansing in recent history--all because "local control" and decentralization had contributed to unhealthy and unrealistic perceptions between neighbors living only a few miles apart. With such massive delusions, the petty-bourgeoisie is only too stupid and provincial to figure it out.
Kohr died in 1994, but there is no mention of Rwanda's genocidal violence that year by his followers who wrote forewords to the new edition of the 1957 original. Rwanda is another example of high-energy but small ethnicity slaughter.
It was the smallest u.$. states that voted for Bu$h and it was the cities that polled most consistently against the Afghan and Iraq wars. If Kohr wants to talk about urban crime rates,(Kohr, p. 54) he should not forget to count the mass murders carried out to thrill rural white yahoos and their imperialist brethren. Any Green should also know that city dwellers also use less gasoline.
In U.$. politics, Ralph Nader talks as if corporate power were a recent thing, with the tide turning in the late 1970s.(Nader, p. 22) He is most famous for his work on consumer safety, namely cars. His book Unsafe at Any Speed came out in 1965. He also championed air-bags. Nader concluded from his experience that "the system worked--government responded to an engaged citizenry, and the fatality rate declined from 5.6 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles in 1966 to 1.6 in 2000." (Nader, p. 19) His idea is that somehow government was still manageable enough in the 1960s and 1970s to have to face civic movements and adjust.
Today he talks about mega-corporations and their Washington lackeys as if they did not exist in the 1960s. He points out that "in about 90 percent of the 435 congressional districts, there is one-party rule. So choice is effectively denied to a vast majority of voters."(Nader, p. 9) Yet, that has been the case at least as far back as 1964 when 86% of the House won re-election.
These Nader/Kohr ideas are all utopian diversions of a class that is not the master of capitalism and not willing to support socialism. Stuck in-between, the petty-bourgeoisie evades and lives in a complacent world with a flattering self-image.
If there is capitalism allowed, there will be a surplus. That surplus will accumulate disproportionately in certain hands. Those business leaders will 1) hire their own states as in private armed guards wherever necessary; 2) bribe the state and corrupt it on behalf of rich people's interests ; 3) acquire other businesses and become larger. S/he who says "capitalism" also must inevitably say "mega-corporation."
The proletariat also has its perspective, created by these mega-corporations. The proletariat does not reject centralizing technology and communications that actually brings the proletariat together. Nor does the proletariat have any interest in divvying up capitalists into small and medium businesses so that they can remerge again--justifying wars all along the way as a form of business competition.
What the petty-bourgeoisie seeks goes against the interests of the other classes. It fantasizes about some third option that does not exist. The realities of class and national struggle stem from the situation of economic surplus in society. Thousands of years ago, small economic and political units could not scrape together the economic surplus to support an armed force to attack another tribe. By the time such a force travelled to the other tribe and found its members, it might be out of food supplies already. In such a low-surplus situation, staying alive was a full-time job. If some tribes did accumulate a little surplus, they could go make war on other tribes, but the gains would not be that great, again because what was possible to steal depended on the economic level of the tribes being warred upon. In such a situation of low-surplus, large corporations and states do not arise! If all such tribes mystically signed a piece of paper saying they were united in one administration across thousands of miles it would not have mattered: they would not be able to mass an army to go attack somebody. So Kohr misses the actual economic root cause of great power malevolence.
Contrary to Kohr, it is not the size of the states as administrative units that determines the facts of war. It is the economic surplus available determining administrative size and thus the war situation. The proof of this is that Al Qaeda and similar organizations have no state size at all, but they do have access to resources and they can thus carry out wars at great distances considered inconceivable by medieval rulers and still inconceivable to some small states.
It is also that economic surplus that makes wars among existing small states today more deadly than ever. May we remind the Greens of only Croats, Serbs and Albanians in just one example? Fascist ideology is alive, well and practiced in ex-Yugoslavia, thank you Greens, and in no small part because of illusions spread by you and your ideological forebears. Contrary to Green theory, it was the breakdown of their beloved Yugoslavia into smaller pieces that saw all the violence break out. That war also had a lot to do with popular perceptions of economic surplus.
Today there is no choice but for large economic and political organizations, especially under capitalism. Kohr is correct obviously and in a tautological way, that we have found no CEOs, no managers and no dictators mentally capable of uniting the world, because such a task is immense. Kohr's followers are pointing to how digital technology has helped people communicate, but we are in fact running out of time for the people to come up with ways to centralize in ways easily perceptible to the limited humyn mind. MIM does not question that there is a huge challenge in front of us as a species. That does not mean that wasting time on petty-bourgeois dreams has any possibility of contributing to global peace.
The capitalists have found it pays to have these large organizations and support states that protect their global interests. Those states in turn have to be large and can be large because of the surplus of food, shelter and clothing under capitalism. Not everyone has to work directly on the necessity commodities of life: some people can form the parasitic strata of the state itself, including armed forces and guards who do nothing else but serve political goals.
Ultimately, it is the economic surplus in society--and not even the particular types of companies that form--that is at the root of larger economic and state organizations. Unless the petty-bourgeoisie can find a way to make the whole world less productive and stay within those bounds, there is no hope to turn-back-the-clock to earlier economic times and smaller nation-states. If the petty-bourgeoisie should decide to deal with that reality, instead of spreading massive delusions that only speed up the urgency of war and fascism, the proletariat is waiting for new allies.
Nader campaign ignores interview request from MIM Notes
Dear Ralph Nader or His Official Campaign Spokespeople:
We are writing to you from MIM Notes an independent newspaper of the Maoist Internationalist Movement. We seek your written or spoken answers for interview questions that can be answered by Ralph Nader or spokespeople. You can send us back a written message or an .mp3 to place on our website.
Our website garners over 50,000 people a month and we estimate that several hundred people will read our interview of Nader or his official spokespeople each month. Your interview reply will go on our web page uncut and unedited, but we will reserve the right to rebut anything we believe to be wrong.
We propose to interview you in three parts: 1) prisons 2) international trade 3) the nature of capitalism. If you complete any part, please send it along to our web page minister, [email protected]
1. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans talk about the fact that the united $tates is the world's leading prison-state per capita. Yet, we notice even in your book you speak of a "free" country in the united $tates. What is your explanation for how this state of affairs came about that the united $tates is the leading prison-state?
2. We notice that your "issues" section of the web page opposes the "war on drugs." Were you aware that if the united $tates released every single drug offender from prison, the united $tates would still be the world's second-leading prison-state percentage-wise? Is there anything else you can see doing to resolve this situation besides your position on the "war on drugs"?
1. We saw you on Bill Maher's TV show recently bashing international trade agreements. Your web page mentions "pulling up" standards. Yet 21 out of 23 of your "issues" are U.$. issues. Is not the point really not to bash GATT, WTO etc. but to call for international work standards in terms of a global minimum wage, global child care regulations and global workplace safety? Can you expand on how you see standards rising? Is it really possible with just a u.$.-centered approach?
2. Are you not afraid that without a bottom-up international approach, you will be inflaming chauvinist anti-immigrant and pro-war sentiments against other countries when you talk about NAFTA, WTO and China?
III. Decentralized capitalism
1. We read your book and see you believe that it is possible to have a capitalism of smaller economic entities instead of giant corporations. Can you point to any society in the world that does what you are talking about? In what country if any does your vision of democracy succeed in regulating capitalism, so that it does not get to the stage of corporate power we see today? How would you rebut us followers of Marx and Lenin who see the concentration of corporate power as inevitable under capitalism?
2. Do not corporations amass concentrated power in the pursuit of profits? If the world is not composed of the small businesses accountable to people that you advocate, is it not because such companies are not profitable? How would these corporations come to exist as they are if they were not profitable?
We thank you for your reply to these issues and any other challenges you would like specifically to throw the way of communists or followers of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao in particular.
We had planned on follow-up questions about whether he was planning on trading his candidacy for some Democratic Party concessions on judges etc. However, we received no reply from the Nader campaign.
Some notes on Nader's political acuity
As a hard-working but famous and more mainstream activist, Ralph Nader has experienced a small fraction of what communist activists face on a day to day basis. Somehow the State of Massachusetts believed its police had the legal right to arrest him for talking to the press at a presidential debate in 2000 for example. This goes on daily in political activity, but with the only difference that Nader is more famous than most people.
Nader was on public property, and even so, he had a pass and obvious reason for his presence and the state cops still told him he had to leave. It goes to show that some bureaucrats in charge of the police do believe that they own the public's property and can decide what goes on politically on that property. That is directly counter to the principle in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
This again goes to the self-image of Amerika. Amerikans who never use their supposed rights to organize and speak out against the two parties of the mega-corporations do not know what Ralph Nader and MIM know about reality. Amerikans who do not try it out seriously are apt to either believe what they learned in civics classes in elementary school or fail to apply principle to concrete situations.
Ralph Nader is also very helpful to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that might otherwise be more naive. "Long, long ago, politicians realized this. Show me a politician who does not flatter the people and I'll show you one who is out of a job. It comes with the territory and has many faces. Violate this tradition and the press will pounce."(Nader, p. 55) As far as MIM is concerned, Nader has stumbled on a great reason for having only one party. When we meet with doctors, we expect to gain knowledge of our health and what to do to improve it; when we meet with teachers, we need to learn where we stand in our educational progress, but somehow when we meet with politicians Amerikans do not want to learn about political things except for the politicians' knowledge of why the babies in our neighborhood are especially most kissable and our hands most worthy of shaking.
One thing we disagree with Nader on also stems from a fundamentally correct analysis. Nader said he felt compelled to run to give the press something to cover in terms of the "horse-race."(Nader, p. 140) He is referring to the fact that the media does not like to cover political issues in themselves, but more candidates and persynalities in power. Later he quotes Chomsky to the effect that soundbytes coverage for television news favors the status quo, because it is never in depth enough to amount to any real political understanding.(Nader, p. 148)
For Nader, running for president was an option. In contrast, we believe in running our own media. That's one difference. If Nader does succeed it will because of various non-profit media operations that arose to support him.
In contrast, Nader sees his strategy as tapping into free media, a mistake underlying many stunts that progressive people pull to get attention. "No matter how long or extensively you campaign in every state of the union, no matter how large your audiences become, you cannot reach in direct personal communication even 1 percent of the eligible voters. In essence, you don't run for president directly; you ask the media to run you for president, or if you have the money, you also pay the media for exposure. . . . Since the media controls access 99 percent-plus of your audience, it is not shocking that 99 percent of most candidates' strategies is born and bred for media play."(Nader, p. 155) It is true that currently politicians must manipulate perceptions. However, it is not true that the people themselves can move forward with such bad information as flows from perception manipulation. When progressives cater to the mega-corporate media, they gain nothing.