socialist movement

“This is not what I joined Socialist Alternative for.”

Today, more young adults think positively about socialism than do about capitalism. Sadly, socialism in general is lacking a public face. The one exception is Seattle city council member, Kshama Sawant, an open socialist. She’s the most prominent socialist in the United States. That’s why what she does and what her group, Socialist Alternative does, matters for the entire socialist movement. We carry below an open letter from a member of Socialist Alternative. The letter criticizes Kshama Sawant.

Letter from Socialist Alternative member

Last week I almost talked myself into attending a fundraiser for a local Democratic party political candidate. 

I almost justified this to myself, even though Socialist Alternative stands for breaking with the Two Parties of Big Business. I have been a dues paying member of SA Tacoma for 3 years. I am firmly and openly critical of the Democratic party to anyone who will listen. If I almost broke with those principles, I wonder how many other SA members/socialists/progressives were influenced by the latest move by Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant? How many other people will say, “well this democrat might help me with …… if I support their campaign,” “quietly attending their fundraiser as their friend won’t hurt anything,” “attending a fundraiser doesn’t mean I’m endorsing them.”

From “What We Stand For” in SA newspaper: “Unions and social movement organizations should stop funding and supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties and instead organize independent left wing, anti-corporate candidates and coalitions as a first step toward building a workers’ party.” 

Guess why I almost justified going to this democratic party candidate’s fundraiser?

A new political party recently started by some activists who I know. I was going to ask them what their orientation will be towards the Democratic Party. I am 99% sure of what their orientation will be, based on what I know about the people who created the new political party. 

But, then I thought, “do I really want to go there right now?” Do I really have a leg to stand on considering that Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant recently attended a fund raiser for one of Democratic party’s “progressive” gatekeepers? She was caught on camera defensively justifying it? I did watch the video myself, but it has since been removed from the internet. 

Kshama is in the leadership of Socialist Alternative and she is the most famous “socialist” in America. Several of my fellow marxists have said that Sawant and SA have become like European Social Democrats. SA is no longer acting like a revolutionary socialist organization in my opinion.

I sent Kshama a private message regarding my concerns. 

In the last few years I have had several political disagreements with Socialist Alternative. Nonetheless I have stayed in the organization because, despite the disagreements, SA seemed like the most viable left political party that had firm principles regarding the democratic party. 

Kshama attending King County Council Member Larry Gosset’s fundraiser and her defense of him is a significant breach of principle. It just continue’s the pattern that I have observed, of SA leadership spending more time and energy trying to appeal to middle class voters and build relationships with union leadership and democratic party leadership than they do on building a base among workers, youth and the poor. 

I know that Kshama is facing a fight to keep her seat on the city council. SA is thinking they must build coalitions with people like Gosset in order to do that. Three Democrats have announced they are running against Sawant. In my opinion it would be better to remain firm on the principle of not supporting Democratic candidates. SA could emphasize to Gossett’s supporters, “Look, Gossett should leave the democratic party if he really is so progressive. His party is running candidates against the only socialist, woman of color on the city council! “ 

Kshama Sawant is betraying our principles in an attempt to hold onto that city council seat. I have been told before by SA leadership that our political candidates are a reflection on our entire organization.

This is not what I joined SA for.

Oaklandsocialist adds:

Kshama Sawant’s support for Gossett is no accident. It flows directly from the reliance of her and Socialist Alternative on the union hierarchy – the union leadership, which is the representative of the liberal Democrats inside the unions.

 

Larry Gossett (second from right) endorsing fellow Democrat Bruce Harrell. He serves as a conduit into this corporate-controlled party.

Larry Gossett (second from right) endorsing fellow Democrat Bruce Harrell. He serves as a conduit into this corporate-controlled party.

 

Update:

Since writing this letter, its author left Socialist Alternative in frustration. It’s also significant that the leadership of Socialist Alternative has reportedly admitted (internally) that Sawant’s support for Gossett was a mistake. However, what they haven’t done is examine the cause of that mistake, and the result is that they have gone on to further similar mistakes, including de facto support for liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders and near-direct support for a series of liberal (and some not-so-liberal) candidates for Seattle City Council.

Some members of Socialist Alternative have been questioning this mistaken direction, but what’s needed is for that questioning to come out in the open in a systematic way.

For a more in-depth and more recent analysis of the politics of Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative, see this article.

Also, for more general coverage of the direction Kshama Sawant has taken, we have a series of articles here. We are not hostile to Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative; we supported her when she ran for office the first time. However, it is deeply disappointing to see the direction she has taken. We are also open to comments and disagreements. Anybody with questions should feel free to write us. Privacy guaranteed.

 

20 replies »

  1. Since Seattle city council members are nominally non-partisan, what makes Larry Gosset part of the Democratic Party? Couldn’t find much about his relationship with the Democratic Party via Google.

  2. Let’s not confuse the issue. Gossett is a registered Democrat who regularly endorses other Democrats. There’s even a photo of that in the article. Nobody, not even Sawant, is denying that. By raising whether he’s a Democrat or not, RDS is implicitly accepting that socialists should not be supporting them in the way Sawant did for Gossett.

    • “By raising whether he’s a Democrat or not, RDS is implicitly accepting that socialists should not be supporting them in the way Sawant did for Gossett.” Wrong again. I was questioning the premises of the allegations. Not the first or last time you’ve misrepresented my views. CWI trained you well, it seems.

      • Very few will be fooled as there is no reason to bring it up unless it’s seen as accepted that socialists should not be supporting Democrats. Otherwise it’s immaterial whether the “premise of the allegations” is true or not, since the political affiliation of Gossett wouldn’t matter one iota. His being a Democrat (or perhaps I should say his being “alleged” to be one) only matters if one does accept that socialists shouldn’t be supporting Democrats.

        If you have a problem with the concept itself (that socialists shouldn’t be supporting Democrats) than you should argue that point rather than the largely immaterial one (since he is, you know, well known to be a Democrat) of which political party Gossett belongs to, because that does imply it matters.

      • Wrong, OldFatGuy.

        The question of whether or not Gossett is a Democrat and what exactly constitutes a Democrat in general gets to the very peculiar nature of political parties in the United States which do not have party programs, central committees, or any type of binding discipline unlike in Europe. If you want to break the Democratic Party (as I do), you must first understand it. Otherwise, you can’t really begin developing a viable strategy to engineer its dissolution. Simply shouting at people and the unions to ‘break with the Democratic Party!!1!’ or insisting that ‘socialists should have nothing to do with the Democratic Party as a matter of principle’ hasn’t worked strategically and never will.

      • Of course the two main political parties in the US are structured differently from those in Europe and elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they don’t exert control over their representatives, though. I once talked with a former operative in the Democrats. He described to me how the leadership pressures and controls all elected Democratic officials – by giving them access to (or denying) funding, by placing their representatives on the staff of the elected officials, etc. The other point is that the US working class will have to form its own party, and close to 100 years of supporting “some” Democrats has shown that it can’t be done that way. Even Socialist Alternative would formally agree with that. Now the trick is to put that into practice.

      • “Of course the two main political parties in the US are structured differently from those in Europe and elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they don’t exert control over their representatives, though. I once talked with a former operative in the Democrats. He described to me how the leadership pressures and controls all elected Democratic officials – by giving them access to (or denying) funding, by placing their representatives on the staff of the elected officials, etc.” Right, but just as types of bourgeois states (fascist versus democratic) mean different things for the class struggle, so too do different party/electoral structures and mechanisms impose different strategic and tactical necessities on socialists.

        What is wrong with raising funds for a Democrat (in this case, Gossett) who endorses a revolutionary socialist against ‘fellow’ Democratic candidates when said Democrat (again, Gossett) is in danger of being defeated by an anti-socialist Democrat? How does preventing the defeat of a pro-Sawant Democrat impede the process of breaking working people’s allegiance to the Democratic Party?

      • You (RDS) are very good at deflecting, redirecting, and just overall attempting to confuse/conflate issues. Perhaps that’s why you do what you do????

        The issue(s) in this blog post revolve around a concerned socialist’s open letter to SA regarding a specific supposed socialist candidate’s attending a known Democratic candidate’s (Gossett) fundraiser and her concerns regarding such actions.

        Your response was simply to imply that maybe Gossett wasn’t really a Democrat by asking “what makes Larry Gossett part of the Democratic Party?” Such a concise, specific question implies that somehow whether or not Gossett is indeed a Democrat matters regarding the other points raised in the open letter.

        If you wanted to make the point that “Simply shouting at people and the unions to ‘break with the Democratic Party!!1!’ or insisting that ‘socialists should have nothing to do with the Democratic Party as a matter of principle’ hasn’t worked strategically and never will.” then you could have simply said that.

        But you didn’t. You CHOSE instead to try and muddy the waters by questioning whether Gossett really was a Democrat. By choosing to question whether Gossett was a Democrat rather than choosing to point out that “insisting that socialists should have nothing to do with the Democratic Party as a matter of principle hasn’t worked strategically and never will’ implies that there is some merit to the argument that a socialist supporting a Democrat is wrong.

        And for the record, let me let you in on a secret as to what has never worked and never will. And that is supporting Democrats and expecting Socialist outcomes. The entire reason for the Democratic Party’s existence is to water down/move to the right/stop/delay real progress for workers. Those who believe otherwise are either ignorant of the facts and history, stupid, or have an agenda.

      • No one here is expecting a socialist Seattle by helping a pro-socialist Democrat beat an anti-socialist Democrat in a primary.

      • Not even Sawant and Socialist Alternative would agree with “RDS”. They, too, formally oppose supporting any Democrats, including the liberals. The issue is whether or not they violated what they claim to hold to. It seems that “RDS” agrees with us that they did.

  3. Thanks to the anonymous commentator for drawing our attention to this article. This blog site advocated voting for Sawant and was extremely enthusiastic when she was elected. We still consider her to be a workers’ representative in a US political scene that is almost 100% controlled by Corporate America. Her appearance at the Gossett fundraiser, in and of itself, is not the key question. The key issue in our opinion is what the author of the letter – a member of Socialist Alternative – described: “the pattern that I have observed, of SA leadership spending more time and energy trying to appeal to middle class voters and build relationships with union leadership and democratic party leadership than they do on building a base among workers, youth and the poor.” Almost none of those who criticized that letter have even tried to respond to this point. It is connected with a view that we disagree with – that the main role of a workers’ representative and a socialist in elective office is to produce reforms. Of course, socialists should fight for reforms, but the main point is to use their office to help build the movement, to help impel a layer of workers and youth into political activity. The orientation of Sawant and Socialist Alternative towards the union leadership inhibits this. Of course, we would not expect anything different from Counter Punch, which has a similar orientation. We will be asking Counter Punch to allow us the courtesy of a reply.

    • I’m not sure how tough a campaign she faces. She has a positive approval rating from a large percentage of voters in her district, but also a high disapproval rating. It also seems that at least a wing of the Democratic establishment is pretty set on getting her out. One problem that may develop is that it seems that some on the socialist left who campaigned for her the last time will not do so this time because of their disagreements with a lot of the approach of Socialist Alternative, including their exclusionary approach in a lot of ways.

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