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Archive for September, 2013

► Why I am not supporting Kshama Sawant [WQ2.13.09.25]

Posted by Ben Seattle on September 25, 2013

Originally posted September 10 here:

See also the repost of a related Counterpunch article (below) and my comments on the Counterpunch article (below that)

Why I am not supporting Kshama Sawant

We have a choice: promote illusions or build
the independent movement of the working class

The city council election campaign of Kshama Sawant has excited
a number of activists in the left.  Kshama has gotten over 20
thousand votes in the primary.  She has gotten the enthusiastic
support of Seattle’s hip and independent “Stranger” weekly as
well as a slew of trade unions.  She is a fighter for the common
man (and the common woman, and the common LGBT, and the common
person of color, etc.) against corporate politics-as-usual.  And
she may win this November against the candidate of big business,
Richard Conlin, and use this victory to bring a $15/hr minimum 
wage, affordable housing, and cheaper and better mass transit 
to Seattle.

At least, that is what it says in her campaign literature.

However, as an activist, I am also aware that we live in a 
class divided society and that, as a result, political campaigns
of this sort are often saturated with illusions.

So we must strive to take a sober view of the Kshama Sawant 
campaign, and sort out what parts of it are real and what parts
of it represent instead the kind of “politics as usual” to which 
this campaign is supposedly opposed.

It is true that Kshama’s campaign (much of her campaign material
and press coverage refers to her by her first name–and I will 
do the same here) represents something new in both local and
national politics.  Independent “socialist” candidates have made
countless attempts, over the decades, to run for office, with
much less success.  So we are witnessing something which in many
ways is new and different from what we have seen before.

But there are also elements of her campaign which represent a
very old story, one that the working class has witnessed many 

Working class activists must strive to understand every aspect
of the modern world, including campaigns such as this one.  This
short essay represents an effort to answer a few questions about
the Kshama Sawant campaign and, more than this, to make use of 
this campaign to shed a little light on the kind of society we
live in and the tasks of revolutionary-minded activists who may
sense, instinctively, that we need a movement that challenges the
rule of capital in a way that the Kshama Sawant campaign will 
never be able to do.

I will therefore pose (and attempt to answer) a number of 
questions in a few words.  If readers believe that my answers 
are wrong, or one-sided (or that my questions are wrong, etc.) 
I invite them to contribute their own questions and/or answers
to the comment space where this essay is posted at: xxx.

The Questions:

(1) Why is the Kshama Sawant campaign successful?  Is she
(and the Socialist Alternative organization which is behind 
this campaign) doing something different than other similar
people and/or trends have done in the past?  Or does the
success of her campaign represent something different about
the current period?

(2) What is the significance of the support that Kshama has 
gotten from the Stranger and the trade union bureaucrats?

(3) How much of a change would a victory for Kshama represent?
And, if a victory for Kshama would improve things–then why am 
I refusing to support her campaign?  Are there ways to support
this campaign that do not involve promoting the kinds of 
illusions that are associated with it?

(4) What kinds of practical alternatives are there for 
activists who would like to invest their life energy in 
projects likely to make a deeper and more fundamental 
contribution to the development of the revolutionary 
movement of the working class?

My Answers:

(1) The success of Kshama’s campaign represents something
different in the current period: the ruling class in this
country (ie: the biggest capitalists, the bourgeoisie) appears
to be experimenting with the practicality of making a major 
modification in their current two-party system.  The last 
time a change of this magnitude took place was in the 1930’s,
when the Democratic Party was created, in its modern form,
under Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) and the “New Deal” as 
(supposedly) the party of the working class and poor (ie: 
as the main party of liberal illusions).

The basis for the coming change in the current period (and
the decades ahead) was spelled out by former New York 
Times journalist (and mouthpiece of the liberal wing of the Occupy
movement) Chris Hedges, who noted that, with the rightward 
drift of the Democratic Party following the collapse of the 
Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, a political vacume was 
opening up in the political system of the ruling class–and 
there was now room for a new party of liberal illusions to 
occupy the position that had been held by the Democratic Party
which, over the years, was steadily becoming the new Republican

Chris Hedges, of course, became well-known for calling the
militant wing of the Occupy movement a “cancer”.  We must
recognize, soberly, that from the perspective of the ruling
bourgeoisie in this country, the assessment of Hedges was
completely correct.  The militant core of the Occupy movement
was liquidated and dispersed with a combination of political
manuever by the established liberal-labor institutions (ie:
“progressive” newspapers like the Stranger and “progressive
opinion leaders” and the trade union bureaucrats and 
non-profits) backed up by force from the police and the 
national “anti-terrorism” task force.

The entire _reason_ that the ruling bourgeoisie needs a new
party of liberal illusions (ie: and is experimenting with
the development of such a party at this time) is to have a
political counterweight (ie: with the kind of credibility that
the Democratic Party has been steadily losing) that can help
prevent the re-emergence of a militant movement with the 
class independent politics that was the core of Occupy.  

The ruling bourgeoisie in the U.S. does not want a
recurrence of this “cancer” as it deepens austerity
and increases the misery of the masses and it is
prepared to pay the cost (ie: to allow the development
of a new party of liberal illusions) in order to prevent
this recurrence.

(2) The support the Kshama Sawant campaign is receiving from
a host of liberal institutions and trade union bureaucrats
represents something of a “green light” from the local 
bourgeoisie.  Of particular note here is the support from
“The Stranger”, which rabidly attacked the militant wing of 
the Occupy movement for refusing to take orders from the
trade union bureaucrats and other “professionals”.  Kshama’s
campaign represents the Stranger’s brand of “safe and responsible”
socialism.  It is safe and responsible because, even though it
may mouth off against “corporate politics” on occasion–it is 
firmly on a leash–and this leash can be either extended or 
withdrawn per the needs, at any given time, of the local ruling 
class to either (a) play with the movement or (b) pour cold water 
on the movement.

The Stranger emerged in Seattle as an “outsider” publication
(ie: hence the name of the publication) but has shown itself
to be the ultimate insider institution, as an integrated part
of the Democratic Party machine and aspiring “kingmaker” in 
local politics.

It is the support from liberal institutions such as the Stranger,
as well as from the trade union bureaucrats, that define the nature
of the Kshama campaign and the limits of what it can do. 
Sawant herself, and the naive activists who are the backbone of 
her campaign, tend to have good-natured, liberal politics which
they like to call “socialism”.  Generally, the majority of them
do not understand that, as long as they are guided by their
current politics, their work and their efforts are, and always 
will be, on a leash.

(3) A victory for the Kshama campaign this November (or even
a close vote) would be significant in local politics because
it would have a large effect on the thinking of many activists
and many people who are not activists.  Even the _appearance_
of a political campaign based on the needs of the working class
and oppressed and the _appearance_ of a campaign directly opposed 
to corporate politics–would tend to awaken a section of the 
population to political life.

For this reason, the local bourgeoisie (which much prefers that
as large as possible a section of the population is completely
asleep politically) is generally relunctant to want to see a 
campaign like that of Kshama Sawant succeed.  However, as noted
above, this is part of the risk the bourgeoisie must accept if 
it is to give permission for the emergence of a third party.

And this is also why the bourgeoisie is likely to play this out 
as slowly as possible.  The bourgeoisie may experiment a bit 
here and there–but will only go full steam ahead with a third 
party of liberal illusions when it becomes clear that a critical
mass of working class activists are making steady progress in 
the creation of a genuinely independent party that is, from the 
perspective of the bourgeoisie, completely out of control.  It
is the need of the ruling bourgeoisie to make it appear that a
genuinely independent party is not needed (or that such an
party already exists–or can be created by “pushing another party
to the left”) that, more than anything, will force our class
enemy to give permission for the creation of a new party of
liberal illusions.

(4) And this last point helps revolutionary minded activists
understand how we can help to push this entire process forward.

We understand that the development of a new party of liberal
illusions will help awaken broad sections of the population to 
political life.  We oppose the illusions, but we recognize that
having people awaken to political life is good.

And we also support the struggles for partial demands (such as 
a $15/hr minimum wage) that Kshama is promoting as part of her 
campaign.  The question for us is–how can we support these
struggles for partial demands without promoting the illusion 
that we can elect a savior who will _fight for us_ with help 
from liberal institutions (such as the Stranger and the 
non-profit industrial complex) and the trade union bureaucrats?

What the bourgeoisie most fears, and what will push this process
forward, is every real step toward the development of an
organization which represents the material class interests of
the working class (and, in particular, the material need of the
working class to run all of society) and which has made up its
mind to remain independent of the entire trend of social-democracy

(ie: the formal name of the political trend associated with the
creation of liberal illusions).  Please see graphic below.

Activists who like this essay are welcome to join the author (or
authors) at their next meeting of the Open Network of Revolutionary
Activists (most likely at the Black Coffee, on Sunday Sept 22).
These meetings are public and are open to all activists who
wish to exchange experience, learn from others and confront wrong
ideas concerning the decisive tasks in the development of the
independent movement of the working class.


from Counterpunch (which has articles representing
the entire range of social-democracy):

SEPTEMBER 11, 2013 
A Socialist Rising
Radical Campaign for Seattle
City Council Causes a Stir


Something important is happening on the upper-left coast.  On August 6, socialist Kshama Sawant garnered 35% of the vote in a “top two” primary for Seattle City Council.  This allows Sawant to advance to the general election on November 5where she will face Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin who received 48% of the vote.

Considering that working people from coast to coast have been beaten and battered both economically and politically for more than a generation, and that we have been playing a losing game of defense for as long as most of us can remember; considering that one of the chief reasons for labor’s losses has been a tragic reliance on and obsequious deference to so-called “friends of labor” in the form of representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, it is highly significant when an avowedly working-class campaign makes headlines.

And the Sawant campaign has not been the least bit shy about stating the case for the millions of folks who live from paycheck to paycheck, if they’re lucky enough to have a paycheck; the millions who, as it happens, don’t work on Wall Street and don’t own any banks or mines or factories.  Or, in the vernacular of Occupy: the 99 percent.  The campaign boldly proclaims, “Fund Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed.”

They advocate raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; taxing millionaires to fund the construction of mass transit, the creation of union wage jobs for all, and an expansion of needed social services; ending corporate welfare, and shifting the tax burden from home owners and working people onto big business.  They also call for environmental sanity, affordable housing, and for fighting against racism, sexism, gender discrimination and police brutality.  The campaign champions union rights and well-funded public schools, supporting input and control by teachers, students and parents instead of overreliance on ineffectual standardized tests.  There is no question that this campaign sees society in “us vs. them” terms, and unhesitatingly proclaims which side they’re on.

When it comes to assessing the two corporate parties, again the Sawant campaign pulls no punches:

The Democratic Party has run this city for decades. The mayor and all the city council members are Democrats and are representing only a tiny spectrum of political opinion and the interests of the people of Seattle, namely Paul Allen and the richest 1%, along with Amazon, Starbucks, big property developers, and downtown business interests. …While the Democratic Party pays lip service to working people, in reality both the Democrats and Republicans serve the interests of a tiny financial aristocracy. The Sawant campaign is an opportunity to break out from the prison of corporate politics.

Since a small boy blithely proclaimed that the emperor had no clothes, such a clear statement of the truth has rarely been heard, let alone openly embraced by a healthy percentage of the voters.

On September 1, more than 50 people attended a campaign volunteer kickoff meeting.  A range of ages, races and city neighborhoods were represented.  Campaign coordinators project quadrupling the number of volunteers before the general election.  Plans for postering, leafleting, phone banking, tabling and door-to-door canvassing were discussed.

The Sawant campaign was conceived and launched by a group called Socialist Alternative.  But the campaign is drawing support from a wide range of individuals, not all of whom agree with every nuance of every statement ever put out by the sponsoring party.  It is the general tenor and thrust of the campaign that has people excited.  The campaign is providing a rallying point for labor activists, fighters for racial, social and economic justice, environmental advocates, anti-war organizers, and others.  In a nation divided into opposing classes, some are seeing this campaign as a way to proclaim, loudly and clearly, which side they’re on.

Sure, the Sawant campaign isn’t the first or only working-class campaign ever to make the scene.  But it’s highly significant because 1) It demonstrates a complete break from the dead-end practice of supporting the “lesser evil” of the Democrats and Republicans, 2) It offers a clear message and a distinct, fighting alternative for working people that points a way forward which could, if embraced and extended, actually turn things around for our class.  3) And most importantly, the Sawant campaign stands out from the many others like it now and in the past because has caught fire; because it has attracted people’s attention; because folks are listening and taking notice!

At present, one could hold forth with radical ideas in a town hall in Allentown or on a street corner in San Antonio and people may or may not pay you any mind.  But right now people are watching and listening to the Sawant campaign.  As such, it remains relevant for anyone who works for a living (or wishes that they could), be they from New York City, Memphis, San Francisco or Seattle.

Bruce Lesnick is a long-time political activist who lives and writes in Washington State.  He blogs at and is an occasional contributor to Counterpunch.  He can be reached at


Hi Art and J,

I thought I should jot down some thoughts I had following 
a short conversation with Art.

The statement I wrote may be too specific to my views to
be something that Art and Justin would feel comfortable
signing.  However my statement could be useful in helping
Art and Justin come up with a statement of their own, in
their own words.  We could then circulate all of our 
statements as a group.  This would have just as significant
an impact, in my opinion, as a single statement signed by
more than one person.  We can also ask activists such as
Eric (or any activists who sense that our movement needs 
clarity regarding the Kshama campaign) if they would like
to add their own statements to the group.

Also, here are a few comments on the Counterpunch article,
which concentrate the contradictions in this campaign:

> Sure, the Sawant campaign isn’t the first or only
> working-class campaign ever to make the scene.  But
> it’s highly significant because 1) It demonstrates
> a complete break from the dead-end practice of
> supporting the “lesser evil” of the Democrats and
> Republicans 

The sentence above (my boldface) represents the primary 
illusion promoted by this campaign–that it represents
a complete break from the Democratic Party and
from politics-as-usual.

The defining characteristic of this campaign is the support
it enjoys from institutions such as “The Stranger” (which
has energed as an important cog in the local Democratic
Party machine) and the trade union bureaucrats.

> most importantly, the Sawant campaign stands out from
> the many others like it now and in the past because [it] has
caught fire; because it has attracted people’s attention;
> because folks are listening and taking notice!

> At present, one could hold forth with radical ideas in
> a town hall in Allentown or on a street corner in San
> Antonio and people may or may not pay you any mind.  But
> right now people are watching and listening to the Sawant
> campaign. 

Yes, “people” and “folks” are watching and listening to
this campaign because it is being promoted by the usual
cogs in the Democratic Party machine.

This is not a “complete break” from the Democratic Party
machine: it is more like the beginnings of a re-organization.
The Democratic Party may be undergoing a process of break-up,
whereby the left wing of the Democratic Party and the many
institutions, publications, non-profits and so forth that
have always been in orbit around it–declares formal 
independence from the main section of the party.

The proletariat welcomes this development because (as I have 
noted) this may awaken a section of the population to political
life.  But we also oppose the illusions.  We can best accelerate
this process by working to create an organization which is
independent, not merely in name, but in fact.


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