Kshama Sawant Campaign is No Way to Victory

I will simply begin this piece with a quote from an article published yesterday in The Stranger:

“The truth is, despite her ‘Socialist Alternative’ label and her unapologetically lefty perspective, there is nothing particularly radical when it comes to the core of Sawant’s councilmanic agenda. Sawant was advocating for a $15-an-hour minimum wage a year ago, back before it was cool, before it was widely embraced by mainstream Democrats like US representative Adam Smith. As for the rest of her platform, at the risk of offending her, it is reasonable to say that on transit expansion, on building more affordable housing, on taxing the rich, on blocking coal trains, on expanding paid sick leave, on increasing civilian oversight of the police, and on many other issues, most of Sawant’s policy positions fit comfortably within the mainstream of Seattle’s progressive values.

You can read the rest of that article here: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the-case-for-kshama-sawant/Content?oid=17825832

The Stranger is known for endorsing Democrats in local elections, but Kshama Sawant seems to be the exception. Since Sawant grabbed 35% of the vote in the August primary, The Stranger has published several articles on why Sawant’s campaign is good for working people in Seattle. However, the writers make it a point to note that Kshama Sawant’s campaign promises are nothing out of the ordinary. They insist, over and over again, that her demands are perfectly in lockstep with the mainstream of Seattle’s “progressive values”.

What’s interesting about this is that Sawant wants workers to believe that her campaign represents a break from the Democratic Party. Her entire appeal has been based around the idea that the Democrats sell workers short, don’t demand enough, refuse to fight for better living standards for the working class, and that Sawant has the guts that the Democrats lack. This is why the focal point of the campaign has been to advocate a $15 minimum wage.

Please note that I do not oppose a higher minimum wage. Nor do I oppose encouraging workers to break from the Democratic Party. However, I cannot support Kshama Sawant’s campaign, because it is built upon the same illusions as any progressive Democratic candidate. There are multiple issues I have with a self-described “socialist” running a campaign for city council.

1. Gives workers false ideas about the electoral system.
While the campaign may have wonderful intentions, and offers reforms that could improve the lives of workers, it sets a precedent for those struggling for a better world. It promotes the idea that the electoral system is where this struggle can take place. This is the illusion that must be destroyed. Workers should not be subjected to begging for representatives to help them in a system where “democracy” is actually a managed popularity contest controlled by big business. By engaging in an electoral campaign, Sawant is actually perpetuating the illusion that the political system is truly democratic and that workers have the same leverage as business owners. Sawant would have workers believe that if they elect her, she will fight for better living standards on their behalf. That is, after all, what all politicians would have workers believe. The reason this doesn’t ever seem to happen is because in a political structure designed to operate in the interests of business, any politician who offers the slightest opposition to those interests is either corrupted by the system or simply not re-elected. Sawant’s ability to have any practical effect on Seattle’s public policy would be very limited. Only the working class themselves can organize and struggle for radical change, and that struggle must be independent of any political party or campaign.

2. Sawant’s demands fail to distinguish her from the Democratic Party.
The key demand the Sawant campaign has centered around is the $15 minimum wage. It seems to be a reasonable proposal, but the reasons why Sawant wants to raise the minimum wage are a bit revealing. On the campaign website, www.votesawant.org, there are multiple links to articles supporting Sawant’s $15 an hour proposal. One of those links leads to a Bloomberg article, published June 19, titled “The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage”.  This is very concerning, because Sawant is perpetuating yet another illusion; the illusion that struggle should take place only when workers and capitalists have unified interests. This is the same illusion that the Democratic Party represents. They support unions, as long as said unions stay within reasonable boundaries of what the bosses want. They support raising wages, as long as it might help the bottom line of some business.  If Kshama Sawant really wants to distinguish her campaign from the Democrats, then she shouldn’t be appealing to small-time capitalists who make the case for a higher wage, but instead she should be going to workers and asking them to voice their concerns. It’s also important to note that the Democratic Party has already shown their willingness to raise the minimum wage this year. Democrats in congress proposed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which is not far from Kshama Sawant’s proposal for Seattle when calculated by percentage increase.

3. The campaign’s secondary demands are unattainable.
The Sawant campaign also has a list of other goals on the campaign website. Some of those include the following:
* End corporate welfare. Tax freeloading corporations. Reduce the unfair tax burden on small businesses, homeowners & workers.
* End homelessness in Seattle. Fully fund services for the disabled, veterans, seniors, & families in crisis.
* Unionize Amazon, Starbucks & low-paid service workers.

It’s a bit unclear what Sawant’s plan of action is to end corporate welfare and homelessness. Such broad language really calls into question the sincerity and honesty of the campaign. Does Sawant truly believe that a lone socialist in the Seattle city council will be able to end corporate welfare and homelessness? As an economic professor, she must understand herself that such problems stem from neoliberal capitalism and its inherent contradictions. Unionizing Amazon and Starbucks is a wonderful and novel idea, but as much as I hate to quote The Stranger article again, I feel it’s necessary:

“Sure, if you really push her on the subject, she’ll make a cogent economic argument for, say, collectivizing Amazon, so I guess there’s that. But she’s not running on it, and she freely acknowledges that it’s not going to happen, so it’s not like ‘seizing control of the means of production’ makes Sawant’s list of legislative priorities.”

Now that is telling! The Stranger seems to come right out and say it. Sawant’s campaign represents nothing new. She’s not particularly concerned with the cause of socialism, which would give workers real power in the workplace and political system; rather, she is concerned with mild reforms which even she admits are not likely to happen.

So what is the Sawant campaign all about? It’s about class collaborationism, or cooperating with the class enemy in order to advance the agenda of the Socialist Alternative. This is not the way forward for working people in Seattle. Workers deserve much better than what the existing political forces have to offer. Kshama Sawant’s reforms will mean very little in a rigged system that can adapt very easily to such changes. The precedent should be set for workers by workers. That means independent from any political party, organization, or campaign.

While this campaign may represent well-intended reformism, it does not represent socialism. We are now in the fifth year of the Great Recession. Workers are continuing to face layoffs due to austerity, their wages continue to stagnate, and they are becoming more unable to meet their basic needs. This is the time for a viable alternative to capitalism to be offered to them. This is not the time to encourage them to participate in a business-oriented political system that only serves the ruling-class. It’s time for workers to unite and organize in Seattle and elsewhere to bring about a better life for themselves and their families.

– EJ Jones


7 thoughts on “Kshama Sawant Campaign is No Way to Victory

  1. Classic wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m assuming she considers herself a democratic socialist which sounds good but if it yeilds no benefits of actual socialism the term rings rather hollow. Nice blog.

  2. Pingback: Three Seattle independent activists articulate their reasons against supporting Kshama Sawant: | The Struggle for Unified Theory

  3. Pingback: ► Joint Statement – We Need An Alternative To Socialism-On-A-Leash [WQ2.13.11.01] « The War for Quadrant Two

  4. Hey, read your piece “No Way to Victory”. Picked it up at Sawant’s victory event this afternoon.
    You bring up some issues that have been on my mind also. Endorsement by “The Stranger”, which I consider a ridiculous cynical rag designed to promote apathy and neuroticism. And I don’t have much faith in our electoral system, I would say a lifeless dead end. Kshama, I think, all and all, not a bad person, but today she referred to Noam Chomsky in passing, that drew my attention a bit, I consider him a Left Gatekeeper. Especially on the events of 9-11.

    Your right I believe regarding the minimum wage issue, definitely a Democratic Party issue or should be. Sawant’s “Tax the Rich” sounded good, collectivizing Amazon and ending homelessness is a pretty far stretch. And obviously would take a lot more than any city council could achieve. But I would have to say I was renewed by the energy in the room, something I call Zuccotti effect. Just a comfort felt by being around people who truly care about other people and want something much much better for all.

    We’ll see how it works out with Kshama, working within the system. I’m not that keen on that approach myself. But maybe it will spark another, more radical, reaction from other quarters.

    An interesting thing happened, I thought, today at the Sawant event. During a pretty funny fundraising segment, an older gentleman confessed to being a greedy 1%er and apologized to everyone and gave $700… It was heart felt…

    Thanks from putting your words out, a very important discussion. Especially in these very strange and treacherous times…


  5. Pingback: [SUT.13.10.30] Joint Statement on Sawant | The Struggle for Unified Theory

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