Socialist Alternative and Sawant: the short version

I urge you to read the full version of this story, because it provides important context to understand why Sawant and Socialist Alternative are doing these things — and to make sense of Socialist Alternative’s jargon-heavy documents. But if you really can’t spare the time to do so, here’s the tl;dr version.

Internal documents from Socialist Alternative, many of which were written over the past two years during a period when its leadership was factionalized and infighting, show the extent to which Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has turned over decision-making for her City Council duties to the leadership of Socialist Alternative. That includes deciding how Sawant will vote on matters before the Council, as well as staffing decisions for her Council office — and firing people who work for Sawant on the city payroll.

Sawant has affirmed that she and her City Council office are accountable to Socialist Alternative and the “democratic structures of the organization” — not the voters of District 3.

US Doc 4 letter from KS to EC

In this letter, Socialist Alternative’s Executive Committee explained why they decided to direct Sawant to vote “yes” on the confirmation of Carmen Best as Chief of Police, even though it conflicts with a bedrock principle of a revolutionary Marxist organization such as Socialist Alternative. They also explained that they decided that Sawant should deliver a speech to accompany her vote laying out some specific reasons; Sawant delivered exactly that speech.

Understanding our Vote on Carmen Best - EC Leter to NC and BC

Here is a memo and back-and-forth communications with a dissenting “minority” group who argued that the EC should have voted “no.”

Here both the National Committee of Socialist Alternative and the International Executive Committee of CWI (Socialist Alternative’s parent organization) approved a resolution dictating that decisions regarding the running and staffing of Sawant’s City Council office are to be made by Socialist Alternative’s national Executive Committee (EC). They also confirm that Sawant is accountable to Socialist Alternative, and has acted accordingly in their view.

Doc 04 IEC-NC resolution

Here are memos detailing that Socialist Alternative’s EC decided to fire Whitney Kahn, one of Sawant’s staff members in the Council office and a city government employee:

  • Letter from the EC to the NC explaining Whitney’s firing;
  • dissenting view, arguing that firing Whitney may have been retaliation for his political views¬† (an accusation repeated here and here);
  • letter responding to the dissent, confirming that the EC made the decision to fire Whitney though arguing that it wasn’t political retaliation.
Doc 17 Letter from EC to NC

As SCC Insight has reported previously, Socialist Alternative is a private, secretive, members-only organization that does not register as a political nonprofit nor as a political party, does not disclose its leadership, and does not disclose its finances. However, Sawant’s required financial disclosure form as a public official details that her husband Calvin Priest is on the payroll of Socialist Alternative and the organization pays travel expenses for both Sawant and Priest. That is a clear financial conflict of interest with an organization to which Sawant has turned over decision-making related to her official duties as a City Council member.¬† Also, turning over control of running and staffing her Council office to Socialist Alternative violates the city’s Ethics Code in that it’s misappropriation of city resources for something other than city use.