Saturday, March 21, 2015

Open Letter to Socialist Alternative: Is more open discussion ahead?

Sarah Morken, a member of Socialist Alternative in Tacoma, Washington, has published the following open letter:

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 agains 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.

Below: Resolution against the Team Concept from Afscme Local 444, Oakland CA introduced at the 33rd Afscme International Convention in Honolulu 1998.
 by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The letter above is an open letter from a Socialist Alternative member. I am a former member of Socialist Alternative and one of its early members when we were called Labor Militant. I was expelled along with five others in 96. In actuality, an entire branch, the most active trade union branch was shut down. The reader can find out a little more about my experience, particularly with regard to AFSCME and the CWI’s sectarian approach to the opposition newsletter and growing united front opposition we were building in that international union, an approach that
led to the newsletter's demise. Click here:   Socialist Alternative Questions and Answers. Readers should also check out: The Internal lives of Revolutionary Organizations also on this blog that includes some history of the CWI.

That Kshama Sawant attended a fundraiser for Seattle Council member Democrat Larry Gossett a Democrat, should come as no surprise. I attended last year’s $15 Now conference in Seattle and it was very evident then that in its efforts to build the $15 NOW campaign Socialist Alternative was orienting to that somewhat more liberal wing of the trade union bureaucracy. There were other signs like a speaker from the East Coast, an ATU (apparently Rank and File) member who championed his ATU local as a militant aggressive union apparently in contrast to every other union in the US. The ATU was fresh from undermining its own members out here in the Bay Area, the light rail operators and the bus drivers, both groups represented by the ATU. We had a situation when one group was helping break a strike of the other under the leadership's guidance. (read the articles under the label BART, to the left).  There was no challenge to this dishonest portrayal of union militancy from SA’s leadership or avtivists.

I have read arguments defending Kshama Sawant's warming up to Gossett because they argue,  local elections are non partisan------but they are not, These councils are dominated by Democratic or Republican party politicians.  They are often the entry point for trade union bureaucrats and others looking for a career in Democratic Party politics.

It has been pointed out also that Sawant never donated money or “officially” endorsed Gossett but that is not the point either.  SALT is a socialist organization.  It claims to stand for the independence of the working class both on the job through the rejection of the Team Concept (I have written extensively on this issue in previous blogs) and in the political arena by opposing any bloc with either of the two Wall Street Parties, particularly the Democrats, and it is clear SALT has abandoned both these fundamental principals. It has abandoned the struggle for the independence of the working class for class collaboration.   It is one thing in the class struggle to make temporary pacts with the bosses’ as the balance of class forces demands at times, but always as an independent force.

As for Gossett, he may be a decent guy; he may have done some things for workers or to alleviate the most painful attacks He may genuinely believe his road is the right road; this does not matter.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This issue is not about Gossett as an individual, it’s about political parties and the need for workers and our organizations to be independent of the employer’s organizations. The two Wall Street parties play this game of good cop bad cop and that’s what people like Gossett do in the Democratic Party, in many ways, they are worse than the Republicans as they portray themselves as friends of labor.  They are not; they are friends of the labor hierarchy that represents the interests of the employers in the labor movement.

How would it look to workers on the job their shop steward going to the boss’s ranch, something I was invited to do and refused , or going on vacation with them or spending most of our social time with them. They would not be trusted.

No matter who the individual is, there is no way forward for workers through the Democratic Party.

When I ran for Oakland City Council we made it clear that as an individual I could not change things, that we have never made serious gains through voting.  But we can use elections as a means to building a direct action movement that can change things and that’s what our electoral campaign was about. It's a tactic. Further reading on FFWP’s thoughts on the Sawant campaign here: Kshama Sawant: Building a Broader Movement   And here on the $15 NOW campaign

As we have explained before, the electoral success for Socialist Alternative with Kshama Sawant’s council victory and the huge increase in members for the organization brings new dangers as the leadership tries to maintain control and comes in to conflict with the influx of genuine young workers and students looking to change society. 

Hopefully, the open letter above following after previous open comments from concerned members is just the beginning of a period of healthy internal debate within SA that will bring positive changes.

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