In a city where billionaires cast long shadows, Kshama Sawant provides a much-needed socialist counterpoint at City Hall.
Sawant first won her council seat in 2013, running as a candidate for Socialist Alternative (SA), and riding the wave of labor upsurge for $15 an hour. Before her campaign caught wind, FSP was the first organization to rally labor endorsements for her openly socialist ticket.
This August, FSP is again offering critical support to SA’s efforts, and urges voters to cast their ballots for Sawant in her bid for a second term.
In her first term, Sawant helped shake up City Hall by opening the doors to protesters demanding higher pay, an end to police brutality, and an end to soaring rent hikes for residents of Seattle Public Housing. Sawant spoke as a principled and lone voice against the city’s new police chief, and in challenging regressive rate structures for City Light. Now, her calls for rent control and taxing the rich are infuriating Seattle’s Democratic Party machine and business interests. Because these vital issues resonate with city voters, the powers-that-be are attacking her style and socialist affiliations instead.
The anti-socialist baiting is a telling sign that Sawant is hitting the mark. She deserves unequivocal support against these attacks, as well as a return to office.
Socialist Alternative’s track record and electoral strategies are not, however, without serious problems of opportunism and sectarianism.
Sawant sends mixed messages when she opposes regressive taxes and then votes for measures that heap more property and sales taxes on working-class people. While such taxes fund vital programs, SA is allowing the establishment to blackmail it into support. These taxes are driving ordinary people out of the city, and giving billionaires a free ride.
On building principled Left electoral collaboration, SA is in a position to lead. Instead, the party refuses to collaborate with other socialist parties and promotes “leftish” candidates it considers viable. Its newest low includes a cynical courtship of followers of Democrat Party contender Bernie Sanders, despite his repeated votes in Congress to renew U.S. military funding.
In putting pragmatism and popularity over program, SA ignores the lessons of Sawant’s victory in 2013 as an open socialist. It showed that working people are thirsty for systemic change. Any Left party in the U.S. that thinks it can go it alone against the capitalist state is doomed to failure. Only by working together to unify the working class will the Left win a socialist world. United Left electoral slates are a good place to start.
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