[fla-left] Interview w/David McReynolds, Socialist Party presidential (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at freenet.tlh.fl.us
Thu Mar 2 15:34:07 PST 2000

forwarded by Michael Hoover

> The Progressive Interview--February 2000
> David McReynolds
> "Minor candidates should have a fair crack at being heard, and not just at
> 2 A.M. on C-SPAN."
> A s the elections near and the media focus on the Republicans and
> Democrats, a hearty band of Socialists is offering an alternative.
> Heading the Socialist Party-USA's http://www.sp-usa.org/
> 2000 Presidential ticket is
> David McReynolds, who was on the staff of the War Resisters
> League from 1961 until his retirement in May 1999. McReynolds
> is no stranger to minor party runs. In 1968, he ran for Congress
> on the Peace and Freedom Party slate in New York City. And in
> 1980, he was the Socialist Party-USA's Presidential standard-bearer.
> A leader in many of the peace and social justice efforts of the last
> half century, McReynolds, sixty-nine, shows no signs of slowing down.
> At a dinner hosted in his honor by the War Resisters League this past
> spring, McReynolds took the opportunity to make a case from the left
> against the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
> "NATO's actions have protected no one," McReynolds said. "We have
> a war where you can choose your atrocities: men shot and women
> raped by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo, Serbs ambushed and shot
> by the KLA, or Serb children with their throats slit by the shrapnel
> of NATO bombs."
> In the NATO war against Kosovo, as in so many U.S. interventions,
> McReynolds said, the military-industrial complex overwhelmed
> civil society. But he held out hope for a world dedicated to peaceful
> priorities. "If ever there was a time for a peace movement prepared
> to strike at the military, root and branch, it is now, when the United
> States has no foreign enemies to threaten it, and when the chance might
> exist to create some legitimate international forms of peacekeeping that
> are not linked to U.S. or West European economic interests," he said.
> The day after McReynolds's speech, a "Draft McReynolds for President"
> movement began ("Without my consent, much less my knowledge,"
> he says). McReynolds had previously ruled out another quixotic
> Presidential race. "I'd done it once," he said.
> But a dinner meeting in June with several younger members of the
> Socialist Party began to make him rethink his earlier vow not to run
> again. In an e-mail to the Socialist Party's listserv in early August,
> he announced that while his conscience prevented him from being
> "drafted," as it had during the Korean War, he would volunteer to
> run again. His running mate is Mary Cal Hollis, who headed the
> Socialist ticket last time around.
> McReynolds says he seeks to revive the tradition of democratic
> socialism-"a radical but peaceful approach to social change, a
> tradition which champions social justice for all, with respect
> for the political and religious rights of all." He also wants to
> offer an alternative to the narrow debate offered by the two-party
> system on issues ranging from health care to foreign policy
> I spoke with him by phone in late December. The genial peacemaker
> reflected on his past, the upcoming campaign, and the future of the
> progressive movement.
> More information about McReynolds's campaign is available on-line at
> http://www.votesocialist.org.
> Q: How did you get involved with the socialist and peace movements,
> and who were some of your inspirations?
> David McReynolds: That goes back a long way-back to the 1940s.
> Part of it was probably a Freudian rebellion against my father,
> who was a lieutenant colonel in the Army/Air Force Reserve. I
> got involved in peace work in high school in the World Friendship
> Societies and moved on from there. l didn't approve of U.S. policy in
> China in 1947 to 1948 and in some ways had a pro-Communist view.
> I tended to blame the U.S. entirely for what had gone wrong, which
> wasn't that far from the truth. The key influences on my life would
> have been meeting Bayard Rustin [the civil rights activist] in 1949,
> the meetings with the Fellowship of Reconciliation staff on the West
> Coast, and hearing A.J. Muste [the peace activist] speak, as well as
> getting involved with a socialist club at UCLA. Those were compatible
> people, and I joined the Socialist Party in 1951.
> Q: What kinds of issues are you hoping to raise as a minor party candidate?
> McReynolds: One of the tragedies is that the things a Socialist candidate
> will say are things that really could be said by a compassionate and
> moderately insightful Republican. If I say we should have much greater
> mass transit in the major cities, that we should be able to rebuild the
> railroad system so that Amtrak actually connects all the small towns,
> that's a reasonable thing. It's not a radical proposal.
> If I say that the banking and credit industries should be nationalized,
> that's not really so radical. Many countries have that already.
> If I say that transportation and communications should be nationalized,
> that's not so profoundly radical.
> If I say there ought to be a program for low-income housing, that's quite
> reasonable.
> If I say there ought to be a health care program for every American with
> no exceptions-you just walk into the hospital or visit the doctor and say,
> "I'm sick"-most countries have that already. It's a rational thing.
> And if I say that marijuana ought to be decriminalized or that heroin
> ought to be treated as a medical problem, most experts in the field agree
> with that.
> If I say the prison population is an appalling crime against the American
> public, and we're going to pay for it in the long run, and we ought to have
> some alternative, most prison wardens agree with that.
> If I say the military budget should be cut by 50 percent, the Center for
> Defense Information may not take that figure, but they'll take something
> pretty close to it-and they're run by military people.
> That's the sad part: All the things that we will be saying on immediate
> issues are things that should be said by one of the two major parties
> and won't be.
> On the longer-range things-that workers need to have much more direct
> control of their conditions and the product and how it's produced and
> distributed-that's a socialist position neither major party can advocate.
> I'll certainly raise that and try to win people over to the concept of
> democratic socialism, but the immediate demands are things that should
> be on the table and aren't.
> I'm not saying anything really radical, except to jokingly advocate a
> maximum wage where the most you can make is four times the lowest
> wage in the industry The point I'm trying to make is it's outrageous
> that we have "working poor" in this country. Anyone who's working
> should not be poor. The minimum wage should be raised radically. The
> idea of accepting working poor in a country this rich is terrible.
> Q: It doesn't seem like much of what progressives or socialists want to
> accomplish could be done without a pretty thorough overhaul of the
> campaign finance system. What do you think should be done?
> McReynolds: I think there ought to be absolute limits on what can be
> given by corporations to any campaign. There ought to be strict limits
> on what can be given by individuals. There should be much wider public
> access to radio and television, free of charge, to the candidates. If you
> want to be really rigid and say the minor candidates shouldn't have the
> same amount, there's some logic to that. You can't ask that a Socialist
> candidate have the same air time as a Bill Bradley. But you have a right
> to say that minor party candidates should have a fair crack at being
> heard, and not just at 2 A.M. on C-SPAN.
> However, there's never really going to be a way to clean up campaign
> funding as long as you have massive amounts of money in private hands.
> If you look at the present situation, you know that it arose precisely out
> of an effort to "reform" the system. It failed. So as long as you have
> billions
> of dollars in private hands seeking a way to influence policy, you're going
> to have this. The idea that the tobacco industry, which is a murderous
> industry, has any money of any kind to spend on lobbying is stunning
> to me. It's like someone lobbying for killing children, and there's
> something really wrong with the willingness to accept the right of
> the corporate structure to lobby at all. In the long run, the socialist
> approach would say, "Look, there aren't going to be massive
> concentrations of money in private hands." Realistically, you cannot
> police huge amounts of money that are floating around trying to find
> ways to influence policy.
> Q: What do you say to progressives who argue that by joining the race, you're
> lessening the chances of a Democratic victory and handing the election to
> whomever the Republican nominee happens to be?
> McReynolds: I think this a wonderful year to run a minor party
> campaign because there really is not enough difference between the two major
> party candidates. So this is an ideal race to say,"You have an option-you
> don't
> have to vote for one of the two."
> Privately, I think that Gore probably has the campaign sewn up. You don't
> throw a party in power out during a time of prosperity. It just never happens.
> So unless there's a huge crash in the next month or two, people have made up
> their minds very early in the year, primarily on the basis of the economy,
> and it won't change much. My bet is a Democratic victory. This is abetted by
> the fact that the Reform Party is going to run someone. If they run Pat
> Buchanan,
> that's going to drain more votes from the Republicans. That makes it even
> harder
> to argue that the Democrats are going to lose.
> Q: Do you think SenatQr Bradley presents much of an alternative to Gore?
> McReynolds: No, I don't think there really is any alternative. What I'm
> looking
> at is not the individual-what's wrong with Al Gore or Bill Bradley-but the
> forces behind these people. To a great extent, this election has been
> bought and
> paid for by huge corporate forces, certainly with George W. Bush and Al Gore.
> The only thing you can say about Bradley is that he's for reform of campaign
> spending. But I don't really see much more to Bradley because there's no real
> militant force in the country to push him. I find him maybe a little more
> interesting because he's an outsider, but this is not a George McGovern
> challenging the party's central committees.
> Q: What's your take on the Clinton Administration?
> McReynolds: I think the tragedy of the Clinton Administration is not so much
> with Clinton as with the liberals who have supported him. Had they organized
> in the streets before the election-the kind of actions that you saw in Seattle
> against the World Trade Organization-it might have made a dlfference.
> But instead, they had really given him a blank check, and with a blank check
> from the left and a willingness to move toward the center-right, the Clinton
> Administration was very successful in carrying out the Republican agenda
> on welfare and just generally.
> I think it's easy to forget, because Clinton is very charismatic and very
> appealing, that he came out of the Democratic Leadership Council, and so
> did Al Gore. That's a conservative group. It's not the left wing of the
> Democratic Party. Parts of Clinton's accomplishments have not necessarily
> been bad- maintaining low inflation, the fact that we have achieved fairly
> high employment-these are to his credit. But on foreign policy, he's been
> an unmitigated disaster, particularly the expansion of NATO, which was
> done primarily because there was a lot of money to be made by the arms
> makers. They were the biggest lobbyists for the NATO expansion.
> Q: What is the Socialist Party's position on foreign policy?
> McReynolds: I suppose we have something in common with Pat Buchanan in
> that we are opposed to intervening in other countries' affairs. What we are
> lacking is some kind of international United Nations police force, which
> would be much trickier than we think. It needs to be a police force that
> is not carrying AK-47s as much as it is carrying nonlethal means of
> crowd control and is trained in medical care.
> The tragedy in Kosovo is that while the United States and NATO have
> taken it over, we have shown no interest in protecting the Serb
> minority which is being driven out. People have accepted that, and
> I think that's as appalling as the Serbs' ethnic cleansing in the first
> place. We really are not prepared for peacekeeping.
> There are a lot of skills that go into running a police force, and the
> most effective police forces are not necessarily the most heavily
> armed. There are lots of tricks for keeping crowds under moderate
> control, and we haven't succeeded.
> Some things would be fairly easy: We ought to end the embargoes of Iraq,
> Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Libya because they're not working. The
> sanctions on South Africa were different-they were called for by the
> people in South Africa.
> But there's no such pressure within Cuba or North Korea. All we've done
> there is unify those countries' political leadership because they point to
> the U.S. and blame us for whatever's wrong.
> Second, dissolve NATO. We have no business having NATO. We're not a
> European power. I would put much more energy into the United Nations,
> paying our dues and trying to rebuild the diplomatic structures of the U.N.
> We have to learn what diplomacy is like if you diminish your "big stick"
> and have a dialogue. Part of our foreign policy is a sharp diminishing of
> American military power. America's military budget now is seven times
> the total military budgets of all of the countries which we consider
> potential enemies. And we are not threatened-you can't invade this
> country. So I think our present military posture is a very erratic
> one which is primarily designed to protect our economic interests.
> Q: What was your reaction to the WTO protests in Seattle? Do you think
> this was the start of something bigger?
> McReynolds: I think it was a major event. Labor is furious that jobs are
> going to be shipped overseas. When Clinton says we should have free trade,
> that would be fine if labor also was free to move where the higher wages are.
> But, in fact, most countries have sharp restrictions on the mobility of labor.
> So just because wages are high in Scandinavia doesn't mean that American
> workers can go there-assuming they want to.
> The trick has always been that capital is fluid, and much more so this
> century where you send an e-mail transaction and you've shifted billions
> from an account in New York to an account in Thailand. But you can't shift
> workers. The money will go where the wages are cheap, but the workers
> can't do the same thing. The answer to that is, in part, international
> unionization.
> More than lOO years ago, Marx pointed out that the nature of capitalism is to
> destroy all national barriers and to create a revolution in how we live. The
> mobility of capital and the way it destroys old forms of culture is not new,
> but it's become so speeded up that people are frightened by it and feel
> they're
> losing control. The other part of Seattle was a reaction to the fact that
> everything
> seems to be for sale, and a lot of the kids are really tired of this.
> Q: Do you foresee more organizing on a scale like that in Seattle?
> McReynolds: Yes, that's occurring right now across the country. Seattle
> was the result of a lot of organizing, and I think it's going to continue.
> Seattle
> was a wonderful victory but not really one we predicted.
> Q: Will such organizing and activism put the people's agenda on the media's
> radar screen?
> McReynolds: Because the media is so controlled by the large corporate
> structure,
> it's very hard to get an alternative view out to people. It ends up being
> dismissed
> as sort of a crackpot view or a conspiracy theory view.
> One of the things Socialists would like to see is the idea of setting up
> something
> similar to the BBC-something much better than NPR-a network which did not
> have any corporate sponsors, where you wouldn't have anyone saying, "Exxon is
> proud to bring you this...."
> Q: The recent Vermont Supreme Court decision on gay marriage caught a lot
> of people by surprise. Do you think the country is ready for gay marriage?
> McReynolds: I think the country is already ready for gay rights, and to a
> great
> extent we have gay rights, depending on where you're living. But I certainly
> favor whatever legislation is going to speed up the right of people to live
> according to their own sexual orientation.
> I'm neutral on the question of gay marriage. I'm homosexual, but I really
> don't think I would want to have a marriage in a church or synagogue if I had
> a partner. That doesn't appeal to me somehow. But if you want to get married,
> fine. I don't have a problem with that.
> Q: How has being gay affected your politics?
> McReynolds: Being gay had no impact at all on my political outlook except
> that all homosexuals are aware of being "outside," so, in the same way that
> blacks look at America from "outside" and thus see it a bit differently, gays,
> who've been subject to much less oppression, see with a kind of double vislon.
> I've rarely encountered hatred for being an "out gay man," but on the other
> hand, I don't really make a huge point of this. I never hide it; I usually
> bring
> it up in a gentle way, but I don't wear purple pants and a pansy in my hair,
> and I know very few homosexuals who do!
> My sense of sexual freedom leads me to understand better that Marx doesn't
> solve all problems and that homosexuality isn't a bourgeois disease that will
> vanish when capitalism does. Most of my life has been spent "inside" the
> movement, a movement which is built around a certain respect for privacy
> (I'm thinking of the pacifist, not the socialist, movement), and a great
> respect for difference. Had I grown up in the Communist or Trotskyist
> movements, I would indeed have suffered a good deal of repression.
> Q: When did you come out?
> McReynolds: I came out publicly in l969 in WIN magazine, but I came out
> to myself and to my friends in May of 1949 and was in every sense "out"
> except for a public statement, which, I felt, would have hurt the movement
> had I made it.
> Q: Are you optimistic about the future?
> McReynolds: That's difficult to say, because l don't have much luck in
> predicting the future. I think we're going to have a continuing push
> toward the cyber-revolution. I think the environment is the biggest
> challenge we face-the fact that the planet is warming, that we're using
> up our raw materials and polluting the planet in ways that may be very
> hard to remedy. We are overpopulated, with more and more people living
> on less and less land. We're going to see a crunch on things like food and
> agriculture. Those are the things I would worry about, as well as making
> sure that everyone in the world is able to get to bed without being hungry
> What makes me optimistic is that it's possible to do those things. What
> makes me pessimistic is that I don't think they're going to be done as long
> as the means of production remain in private hands.
> I don't take a sinister view of corporations. They're just mechanisms.
> They must produce the greatest profit they can. The corporation isn't
> planning to do evil. But if a corporation spends too much money funding
> homeless shelters or doing AIDS work, the stockholders are going to say,
> "Can you explain why 1 percent of the profits were spent on this?" I'd
> like a board of directors that is not going to do that, and that's what giving
> workers the vote would be.
> But I think the shift to anything approaching socialism is a long way
> off. American culture is dedicated to the idea of the individual, and
> changing that is going to be hard.
> Donald White is a freelance wnter in Charlotte, North Carolina. He
> wrote "Progressive Takes the Offensive" in the November 1998 issue.

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