SCC Insight has obtained a collection of internal documents from Socialist Alternative that were written over the past three years. Those documents provide a unique view into the organization’s internal — and sometimes acrimonious — debates on a wide range of topics, including Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Democratic Party, Donald Trump, the Black Lives Matter movement, its own organizational structure, and Seattle politics. But they also reveal the extent to which Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a leading member of the organization, has handed over her Council responsibilities to Socialist Alternative – including deciding how to vote on items before the Council, and even the hiring and firing of government employees working in her office in City Hall. Beyond the fact that she has never disclosed to her constituents in District 3 that she has ceded these duties to Socialist Alternative, having done so likely violates several provisions of the city’s Ethics Code for government officials.
I strongly encourage you to read the entire article below, to help you understand the context behind the Socialist Alternative documents. But if you really don’t have the time or the patience for that, here’s the tl;dr version of this article. Or, just skip down to the discussion of the most problematic aspects of Councilmember Sawant’s relationship with Socialist Alternative.
As reported previously, Socialist Alternative is a closed-membership, dues-paying organization, requiring prospective members to pass an interview before being allowed in to ensure that they are in agreement with the organization’s political beliefs. Members are expected to pay 5-10% of their wages to Socialist Alternative in dues (ref. pages 6-7) and are asked to sell copies of the organization’s newspaper (ref. p. 9). It is not registered as a political party; at one time it was registered as a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit, but after several years of failing to file the required financial disclosures, the IRS revoked its 501(c)(4) status. The organization doesn’t publish information on its leadership, nor does it disclose any information on its finances. Through Council member Sawant’s required financial disclosure as a public official, we know that she has close financial ties with Socialist Alternative: she makes donations from her “solidarity fund” to the organization each year, slightly more than the 10% of her salary she would be expected to pay as a member; Socialist Alternative also employs her husband, Calvin Priest, and sometimes pays travel expenses for both Sawant and Priest.
As of the end of 2017, Socialist Alternative had about 1000 members nationwide; 200 of those are in Seattle (ref. paragraph 68). While that reflects substantial growth in recent years, it pales in comparison to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which leveraged the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to catapult to 50,000 members as of September 2018.
Socialist Alternative styles itself as adhering to strict Marxist principles. As such it is a “revolutionary” organization dedicated to the dismantling of the capitalist state. It believes that it is impossible to reform a capitalist state from within; it must be completely dismantled and replaced with a new economy and government. That view extends to the entire apparatus of the capitalist state, including for example the police: while not a police abolitionist, Socialist Alternative nevertheless believes that existing police departments must be dissolved and replaced once a socialist state is established. Contrast this with the DSA, which it views as “reformist,” attempting to evolve the existing capitalist state from within using socialist principles rather than replace it wholesale. For this reason, Socialist Alternative is of decidedly mixed feelings about the DSA and Bernie Sanders: while it is happy to see more people attracted to socialism, it has little faith that the DSA will accomplish any real reform. But the organization reserves its greatest scorn for the Democratic Party, which it derides as corporate tools of the capitalist state. This view is reflected in Sawant’s recent letter to newly-elected democratic socialists Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Julia Salazar:
“Finally, we must recognize that while we agree on many things there is a fundamental difference between Marxism and social democratic politics. Socialist Alternative and I are fighting for a socialist world and recognize capitalism cannot be made to work for the working class. Social democrats hope to create a humane capitalism – a futile mission and fundamental error.
We also believe we need a new party for working people, independent of corporate money and the ruling class and we do not agree with your decisions to run as Democrats.”
Socialist Alternative self-governs through “democratic centralism,” a time-honored principle in Marxist organizations dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. It boils down to two rules: all institutional bodies are elected by party members (the “democratic” part), and all decisions of those bodies are binding on all of their party members and any subsidiary organizations (the “centralism” part). Party members elect party committees for specific geographic areas; those party committees have two responsibilities:
- Debate and decide policy decisions (much like a legislative branch would);
- Elect a smaller “executive committee” to make day-to-day decisions and implement the policy decisions of the party committee.
There are natural tensions in this model that are the subject of ongoing debate within the organization as it grows. A party committee can worry that its executive committee is making decisions that should be the subject of wider policy debate, while executive committees can chafe at a party committee that micromanages day-to-day decisions. Branch and city committees likewise can resent edicts from above that seem tone-deaf to local conditions.
Socialist Alternative is a national organization, with a national party committee (the “NC”) and executive committee (the “EC”). It has branches in several US cities with their own Branch Committees. Seattle is a special case, however, because of its size: it has its own City Committee (“CC”) and Seattle Executive Committee (“SEC”), and ten branch committees for specific neighborhoods such as the U District. Members’ dues and donations, and subscriptions to their monthly newspaper, pay the salaries of several full-time staff (“full timers”) who carry out much of the work of the organization’s committees. Socialist Alternative also has an international parent organization: the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which has its own International Secretariat (“IS”) and International Executive Committee (“IEC”).
Council member Sawant’s City Council office is a highly visible anomaly in this governance structure. It is not a committee, it is not elected by either party members or another committee, and its staff are paid by the City of Seattle, not by Socialist Alternative. That raises interesting questions about how it fits into the structure and philosophy of “democratic centralism.” Yet it is a source of great power for the organization as a political platform, one which they have leveraged extensively. Indeed, there is wide recognition within Socialist Alternative that Sawant’s position and office are their most valuable asset, a “stronghold in enemy territory.” They are very possessive over it, repeatedly referring to it in their documents as “our Council office.” As such, they recognize that mobilizing to get Sawant re-elected in 2019 is a top priority for the organization, one they are committed to (ref. para 31).
“Our victory in winning a city council seat in Seattle was a historic achievement for SA and the CWI. The entire organization is deeply committed to defending this conquest and waging a fierce struggle to reelect our public representative in 2019.”
Despite their common objectives, there are several topics of active debate within the organization, including:
- Increasing membership vs. building cadre. Socialist Alternative knows that it wants to grow – but only if it can keep the organization true to its strict Marxist principles. To do that, they need to build “cadre” – a core of leaders deeply immersed in the key teachings of Marxism who can lead and educate new, “low consciousness” members to ensure ideological consistency among the membership base. The organization can’t scale up faster than their cadre allows it to — and it recognizes that limit (ref. pages 32-33). But that could make it challenging for it to stand by and watch DSA’s explosive growth. Socialist Alternative could fade into irrelevance as the tiny, revolutionary sister to the large, reformist DSA.
- Propaganda vs. “principled mass action.” Revolutionary Marxist organizations have two primary activities: writing and publishing propaganda advancing their political positions; and organizing workers into movements that will protest, disrupt and ultimately overthrow the capitalist state. They must do both, but deciding how much of their energy and resources are devoted to each is a tricky balance. Finding that balance also implicates the power balance within the organization, since formulating and adopting policy and propaganda is the realm of the party committees, while the operational challenges of organizing mass action requires an executive committee. To be clear: I am not using the term “propaganda” here in a pejorative sense, though it is a word that has gained strong negative connotations over the years. Socialist Alternative describes its own work and writings as “propaganda,” in the sense closest to its definition: ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause.
- How much to support and work with DSA. Socialist Alternative acknowledges that there is a Marxist left-wing within the DSA that holds views similar to their own organization’s, but based on the history of other emerging socialist organizations around the globe the Socialist Alternative EC does not believe that the DSA’s “is capable of educating the DSA in Marxism and genuine internationalism” (and they seem to have been proven right). They think that their relationships with the DSA’s left contingent are useful “insofar as they give us access to DSA’s fresher layers who are moving into struggle. The key relationships with DSA members will be built through local collaboration on issues in which we can set the political tone of the actions, meetings or campaigns taking place… Surface and impressionistic analysis of DSA will not be adequate for giving our members the capacity to intervene in their debates. We do not want to be seen as simply the ‘advisors’ to the group… Instead, we need to train our members to use united front methods of work and put forward the CWI’s politics in the process of collaboration with DSA in anti-Trump struggles and beyond.” And yet they recognize the existential threat that the DSA represents to their own organization: recently a group of Socialist Alternative members in Tennessee defected to DSA. Socialist Alternative has repeatedly called for the DSA to join it in creating a new Socialist Party in the United States.
- Opportunism vs. strict adherence to Marxist principles. Revolutionary Marxist organizations are always on guard against short-term “opportunist” goals that could distract them from bigger political goals. Again, this is a source of tension between a party committee and its executive committee, since the EC is tasked with day-to-day operations. The big, looming opportunist threat to Socialist Alternative is also their biggest asset: Sawant’s Council seat and the importance of getting her re-elected in 2019. This issue has provoked an ongoing debate around where to compromise or make concessions in order to enlist the support of what Sawant refers to as Seattle’s “Katie Wilson-dominated liberal activist layer,” and other potential allies such as Black Lives Matter. To quote from one position paper on the issue:
“The pressure that we feel is not from Mayor Durkan or the conservative establishment; it is from progressive sections of the middle and working class in Seattle. Broader layers of activists and progressive workers and youth have a very strong pragmatic outlook, considering any step “in the right direction” to be worth actively supporting. This means that when we have an elected council seat, we feel an immense pressure due to this mood among our own progressive base... A common way this manifests itself today for us in Seattle is grassroots pressure from progressive or radicalizing layers who are genuinely pushing for change and want us to make compromises in order to govern effectively. Many of these people believe the choice is between a “progressive who gets things done” and a dogmatic purist who remains loyal to principles but is ineffective at achieving any real reforms. It is inevitable that we face such pressures as we work alongside people moving into struggle who have pragmatic and reformist attitudes... We must be able to stand against these pressures, while adopting a skillful approach that takes into account this consciousness. We do this in how we argue our position, how we frame things, the reforms we support even though we know they are limited, and making united front-type appeals to left-wing Democrats and middle-class forces... We also can feel opportunist pressures to adapt to the dominant and popular ideas of those who are moving into struggle, such as the strong identity politics in BLM and #MeToo, or syndicalist moods among union activists... But the far bigger danger for left-wing politicians, like AOC, Bernie Sanders, and Marxist representatives, is not corruption from above, but the far more pernicious and powerful pressure of public opinion from below. The biggest source of opportunist pressure at this time flows from the confusion and low level of consciousness amongst the working class and the oppressed. Even the most sincere and dedicated Marxist representatives will come under pressure at key moments to avoid taking principled stances which isolate them.”
They also discuss this in terms of the pressures on elected officials, and specifically on Sawant: “Any time Marxists win a mass position there are opportunist pressures to de-prioritize the building of a revolutionary organization and dilute our Marxist politics. How we deal with these challenges with our first elected representative is establishing a foundation for how we deal with much bigger pressures when we have many elected officials and union leaders across the country.”
- How to maximize the leverage of Sawant’s position. Maximizing its leverage means coordinating the activities of Sawant and her Council office with those of Seattle’s other committees and the national and international organization, but that directly raises the question of who, under “democratic centralism,” dictates the shared priorities across the relevant committees within Socialist Alternative and Sawant’s City Council office. Is the Seattle City Committee, the National Committee, or CWI’s International Secretariat in charge? And equally important, how do Sawant and the Council office balance their responsibilities to District 3 with their responsibilities to the organization? On that question, Socialist Alternative’s leadership is very clear: Sawant and the Council office must be wholly accountable to Socialist Alternative. As one SA member writes:
“This important democratic tradition is reflected in the resolutions of the first four Congresses of the Communist International, which the CWI bases itself on. One key resolution was the ‘Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism ,‘ which explains, ‘Communist members of parliament must subordinate all parliamentary action to the activity of their Party outside parliament… The organization of the parliamentary faction must be completely in the hands of the Central Committee of the Communist Parties.'”
And here is where things get troublesome. In response to questions as to whether Sawant has been appropriately accountable and accusations that her Council office has worked too independently from (and occasionally at cross-purposes with) other parts of the Seattle arm of Socialist Alternative, Sawant has insisted that she is accountable to the organization’s Seattle Executive Committee:
“I completely reject the idea that the Council Office is failing – in any way – to communicate to the SEC, or to be accountable to the SEC and the organization. As SEC comrades should be able to admit, Council comrades take great pains to include and consult the full SEC. We err on the side of taking political questions to the SEC. There have been many instances when I have personally insisted that Council comrades send advance notice to the SEC to make all leading members aware of a given political situation.”US Doc 4 letter from KS to EC
Subsequent to that letter, in December 2017, the National Committee and International Executive Committee both approved a resolution confirming that Sawant has indeed demonstrated an appropriate level of accountability to the organization, and declaring that “the running and staffing of KS’s office in Seattle be agreed by the national EC of the organisation in consultation with KS.”Doc 04 IEC-NC resolution
In practice, Sawant’s accountability to Socialist Alternative means that she has handed over significant decision-making to the organization — including how she votes on business that comes before the City Council, and the hiring and firing of government-payroll staff in her office.
Recently, the EC decided that Sawant would vote “yes” on the confirmation of Carmen Best as the city’s new Chief of Police. This was controversial among Socialist Alternative members, since it violates their principle against lending support to a police apparatus within a capitalist state. There was vocal opposition from a minority group that claimed it was an “opportunist” move to help shore up support for Sawant’s re-election next year, and (ironically) complained that the organization should have held open, democratic debate on the issue within the membership ranks. In response, the EC was forced to issue its own statement describing why it voted to direct Sawant to vote “yes.” That statement admits that it violates their Marxist principles, but claims that it was necessary to stand in solidarity with black community leaders who fought hard to have Best reinstated as a finalist for consideration. It also explains that they required Sawant to deliver a speech outlining their reasoning — which is exactly what she did. From the EC’s statement:
As it became clear in the last week that no public support existed for a “no” vote, on Saturday the EC met to take a final decision. We agreed that however Kshama voted on Monday there would be widespread confusion over what it represented, but that a “yes” vote will likely do less damage to our longer-term ability to win over the black working class (and beyond) to our ideas than a “no” vote would. Given that we are not in a position to elect the outcome (all other eight council members will be voting “yes”), then the central question is how Kshama’s vote and speech will be interpreted, and how it will prepare the ground for winning over wider layers to our program in the future. The vote would be combined with a clear speech from Kshama skillfully outlining our disagreements with Best, warning that her lack of commitment to serious reforms (much less a socialist program) means that new racist police killings are inevitable, and that only a movement from below will achieve the changes demanded by the community. We will explain our “yes” vote by referencing the racist process led by the Mayor behind closed doors that initially passed over Best, and the broad community outcry against it, and that despite our warnings we will not stand in the way of the democratic will of the wider movement including important sections of the more conscious black working class. We will point toward the need for a unified movement demanding accountability and fundamental changes in police policy.Understanding our Vote on Carmen Best - EC Leter to NC and BC
Socialist Alternative’s control over staffing in Sawant’s office is also problematic. In December 2017, after the CWI IEC and the Socialist Alternative NC both decided that the national EC had decision-making authority over “the running and staffing” of Sawant’s office, the EC voted to fire Whitney James Kahn, a Socialist Alternative member who had worked in Sawant’s office since May 2016 — on the city payroll. Kahn protested the firing within Socialist Alternative, claiming it was political retaliation for voicing dissenting views from the majority of the organization’s leadership. The EC admitted that it voted to fire Kahn but disputes the reasoning, saying it was related to making room for other “full-timer” staff who had been on assignment in other cities and based on a proposal to the EC from Adam Ziemkowski, another Socialist Alternative member who “manages the Council office” and is also on the city payroll. Kahn’s supporters in the “minority group” in turn dispute the EC’s narrative. One of those supporters, Rebekah Liebermann, also worked in Sawant’s office, but the minority group (including Liebermann and Kahn) claimed that she was forced to resign earlier this year because of “fierce political retaliation” (ref. paragraph 18).Doc 17 Letter from EC to NC
Accusations of political retaliation aside, the fact that an outside organization — let alone a small, secretive, restricted-membership one — is running Sawant’s office, hiring and firing people, and controlling her Council vote strikes at the heart of the legitimacy of the City Council. It also represents multiple violations of the city’s Ethics Code, including:
- using an official position for other than the benefit of the city (ref 4.16.070.B.1);
- using city personnel for a purpose other than a city purpose (ref 4.16.070.B.2);
- assisting any person in a matter involving the employee’s department (ref. 4.16.070.B.3);
Worse, they have carefully orchestrated the means to avoid public scrutiny. Sawant’s office does not use city-provided email accounts; they use gmail accounts instead. They argue this is to allow them to use Google’s online collaboration tools, and they claim to support public document requests on emails in those accounts. However the latter claim is clearly untrue: a Public Document Request filed related to the termination of employment of Liebermann and Kahn returned no documents or emails from Sawant and her office — nothing at all. This is despite Socialist Alternative’s own internal documents showing that they have collections of documents on Liebermann’s and Kahn’s terminations — directly related to Council official business — that Ziemkowski and Sawant would have received and almost certainly contributed to, given that by their own admission Ziemkowski brought the proposal to fire Kahn to the EC. (ref. pages 5, 11 and 12).
It may be that some of them are confidential personnel documents also held by the City of Seattle’s HR department (and exempt from public document requests); but if that is the case, then Sawant and her office have violated the city’s ethics code by disclosing confidential information to an outside party (ref. 4.16.070.D.1). Otherwise, it is a violation of the state’s Public Records Act for Sawant and Ziemkowski not to disclose documents and communications prepared, owned, used or retained in the conduct of city business — and firing a city employee is clearly city business..
The fact that Sawant has financial entanglements with Socialist Alternative (recall it employs her husband and pays for their travel expenses) creates one more ethics violation, since she receives something of value in a relationship where she is letting Socialist Alternative control her actions as a Council member (ref. 4.16.070.C.1).Sawant F1 2018
You may be asking, “Is this really different from the way the Democratic or Republican Party works?” It is substantially different in two important ways:
- While members of a political party in a given legislative body self-organize to form a caucus to maximize the impact of their votes, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party are themselves a caucus and they don’t dictate how elected officials will vote. Further, Democratic and Republican elected officials don’t pledge their accountability to the caucus or the party (if they did, there would be no need for a Democratic or Republican Whip), and some frequently split from their party’s caucus on particular issues important to their constituents. The parties also don’t run the offices of elected officials and hire and fire their staff. Voters expect their elected officials to be accountable to constituents, not to a private organization (political party or otherwise), and to make their own decisions.
- The Democratic and Republican Parties are registered at both the federal and state level as political parties. As such, they disclose their leadership and make regular financial disclosures. Also, anyone can join the Republican or Democratic Party; there is no required financial contribution, and no interview required in which one’s ideology is tested before being accepted as a party member. None of that is true for Socialist Alternative.
Council member Sawant declined a request to interview her for this article.
Members of the former Socialist Alternative “minority” group that have since split off to form their own new socialist party also declined to be interviewed for this article. They did, however, provide a statement:
“Despite disagreements we had with the majority of Socialist Alternative over how best to build the socialist movement, we remain absolutely convinced that Kshama Sawant has been a necessary and tireless voice for working people on the Seattle City Council. We will be fighting alongside the other socialist and progressive forces in Seattle to make sure Kshama Sawant is re-elected in 2019 as part of a resurgent socialist movement across the country.”
Rebekah Harris Liebermann on behalf of the former minority in Socialist Alternative
I thought Sawant worked for her district, the one who voted her in. Is she mis-representing her district?
That is up to the voters of District 3 to decide.
i mean we in her district knew she was a member of socialist alternative so i dont really see whats misleading there. it is good to have some insight into internal language though – it does appear that SA is going to have to work on transparency if they really want to make any real inroads into elected office, but I think DSA already has them beat there, and they are likely to lose more ground to them for that very reason. as a district 3 member (and a socialist!) but not a particular fan of SA, this still isnt really troubling to me beyond just still thinking SA are kind of snobs (which frankly one would have guessed from watching Kshama operate over the years.
The lack of ethics does not bother you? Does a lack of ethics come with being a member of the socialist alternative so being unethical is acceptable?
I don’t care that she’s a Socialist, any other political label you want to give her. The problem I have is that instead of taking her direction from the voters she is getting her directions from a small, closed group with strict membership.
This explains a lot about her positions on the council, and why it often seems to be at odds with what most people in Seattle really want.
Would we want Conservative elected officials listening ONLY to say, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, or Rush Limbaugh instead of the constituents who elected them?
Yes, like that guy.
I want elected officials listening to ME, the person who voted for them, not some private organization with a narrow membership operating outside of the normal political process.
It’s excellent that you identify as a socialist!
But what’s with this mistaken impression of yours, that somehow Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative are “kind of snobs”?
Is it because we, Socialist Alternative, use democratic centralism as our core organizational principle on our long road to build a mass, coast-to-coast, independent party of the 99 Per Cent — women and men, black and white, gay and straight, young and old?
Whereas wishy-washy reformist parties such as the “Democratic Socialists of America” do not — instead they’re happily dancing in the Democrat Party mosh-pit, blissfully unaware that it’s Wall Street that’s calling the tune!
Democratic centralism is one of the differences between victory and catastrophe.
By way of comparison:
The “Russian” titans Lenin and Trotsky built the Bolshevik party on the organizational foundation of democratic centralism — and triumphed, in October 1917.
Whereas the “German” titans Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht did not — and were defeated, and murdered, by the vile capitalist enemy in January 1919.
Please do contact Socialist Alternative, or speak with Kshama Sawant, and you’ll see that we’re most certainly not “snobs” of any kind!:
I read every word, including the embedded documents. Excellent reporting, Kevin. If folks think everyone in D3 will just see this new info in a sanguine manner, they may be in for a surprise. A warm, fuzzy socialist is one thing, a Manchurian Candidate is entirely different. Question for you: Who has standing to file a claim for violation of the city’s and state’s rules that you referenced in the article?
Good question. For completeness’ sake, there are multiple routes here. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission investigates complaints and can issue fines for violations of the Seattle Ethics code (they can also decide on their own to investigate); you wouldn’t need standing to file a complaint with them. I don’t know what the standard is for standing to sue in court. Other potential routes: the voters of D3 could start a recall petition, though it’s already an election year so I don’t know if anyone would go to that trouble. Also, the City Council can remove any elected official from office with a 2/3 vote of its members.
To be clear: I am not advocating for or against any specific action.
Totally understand. I really appreciate the additional info. At the very least, I plan to write my CM (O’Brien, who was apparently “forced” by Ms. Sawant to vote in alliance with her, if I read this all correctly).
Where did you see the reference to Mike O’Brien?
I have opened up most of the linked documents and am going though them.
These people love to write…can you imagine listening to them for any period of time?
Hats off to you Kevin for your efforts here!
@Soccer Nut – can you clarify this statement? “…CM (O’Brien, who was apparently “forced” by Ms. Sawant to vote in alliance with her”. I’m not seeing an O’Brien connection in the materials.
Superb reporting Kevin (and I’m happily now supporting this blog on Patreon.) Keep up the great investigative journalism.
Interestingly, there are several things in here which would also be grounds for a solid recall movement should she actually be re-elected.
Thanks. I hope you get a chance to read through some of the other documents; there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in there, especially their views on the US political situation.
I knew there was something unintegrous with Sawant. I hope this relieves her of her position. Of course they will plant her somewhere else. We are a troubled nation but, socialism Marxism is NOT the way to go.
That was a lot of work, thank you
Thanks! Three months of work, to be exact.
Great work Kevin. Would love to read the “How I Got That Story” on this one … With sources protected of course.
Great work. We are all in your (and your sources) debt.
Fantastic reporting. Thank you for thoroughly investigating this. I’ve reached out to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to complain. I had a public safety issue last year where I had to deal with Sawant’s office and proceeded to get a series of lectures from her “staff”, including Adam Ziemkowski, who wouldn’t even listen to my issue and immediately jumped into an unrelated diatribe about Amazon. Sawant and her staff are a complete joke and should be ousted immediately. Her purported “worker’s salary” is blatantly false – just look at where she lives and her home value. http://mynorthwest.com/970342/dori-kshama-sawant-tax-filings-con-artist/?
Best of luck with the Commission because even though I believe that they have some good folks there, recent examples have shown that they are not willing to do much against this council. I could be wrong, and I hope so.
Wow. Sawant does not represent her district in any respect, but is owned and operated by a Marxist cult? This is huge! She should be sued for the ethics violations and recalled immediately.
Thank you for this.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate the work that you do.
Outstanding reporting and work on this and many of your other pieces. Keep up the the great work and hopefully changes for the better will come.
Woo hoo “kevinsch”,
You’re comically confused regarding “democratic centralism” and “workers ‘ democracy” — and on the other side of the barricade, “bureaucratic centralism” and “bourgeois democracy”.
So let’s dispel the confusion.
Democratic centralism is the core organizing principle of Socialist Alternative — and of our co-thinker sister parties throughout the world in the Committee for a Workers’ International.
It can be summarized as:
* Complete freedom for each member to put forward their own ideas, to criticize or oppose anybody else’s ideas, and to vote in, recall or vote out any delegate to any position.
* Complete unity in action.
So all members of Socialist Alternative participate as equals in formulating perspectives, programme, policies, strategy, tactics, actions. — That’s the “democratic” part of “democratic centralism”.
And then all members participate as equals in carrying out those agreed-upon actions. — That’s the “centralism” part.
There’s a dialectical tension between the 2 parts.
When a socialist fighter, leader, teacher like Kshama Sawant wins election to any public position, she is accountable to both her political party and her social class.
It’s a double privilege — to be loved, defended and supported by both her party members and her sisters and brothers who voted for her.
“But but but Kshama isn’t accountable to just me myself, whereas she is accountable to Socialist Alternative!”, howls the odd outraged conservative/liberal.
‘Fraid so, kiddo!
That’s this vile capitalist hell we “live” in, under “bourgeois democracy” — democracy for the bourgeoisie, hypocrisy for the rest of us!
Where there’s no real means of voting out a public office-holder in mid-term.
In a socialist society, where we’d have destroyed bourgeois democracy and replaced it with “workers’ democracy”, with every non-fascist party welcome to compete for whatever public position it desired, such a recall mechanism would always be available:
Every household could democratically elect (or democratically recall at any time) their “house delegate”;
Those house-delegates for one street could elect their “street-delegate”;
Those street-delegates for one district would elect their “district-delegate”.
Like Kshama in Seattle District 3.
And so on for all districts in a city, all cities in a region, all regions in a country, and so on.
“But but but Stalin, Tito, Hoxha, Mao, Castro, Xi, Maduro, Ortega all support democratic centralism!”, cries the odd credulous cretin.
Nonsense — that’s “bureaucratic centralism”, and they’re all traitors, liars, enemies.
Kshama Sawant, unlike the above specimens, is a genuine socialist.
So please vote for her!
And join her election campaign — make it your own!
And donate to her party, Socialist Alternative!
Most importantly, please consider joining Socialist Alternative.
Together we have a world to win!
Thanks for providing my evening entertainment.
I love the irony of SA using the term “democratic” to describe itself — when in fact, by its own admission, you only get admitted if you already agree with the leadership’s stated ideology and you pay 5-10% of your wages. The latter part is called a “poll tax.”
And I suggest you ask Philip Locker, Stephan Kimmerle, and other members of the “former minority” how that “complete freedom to put forth their own ideas” thing worked out for them. That sounds a lot more like the “bureaucratic centralism” you described than the ideal of “democratic centralism” that you preach.
By the way, elected officials can be removed by the voters through a recall election, midterm. Seattle’s elected officials can also be removed by a 2/3 majority vote of the City Council.
I don’t expect an elected official to be accountable solely to me. I do expect them to be accountable to the voters in the district they were elected to represent. That is the way our system of government works — and Socialist Alternative hasn’t quite dismantled it yet.
But thank you (and Sawant) for confirming the facts that I laid out in my article. While you and your Socialist Alternative sisters and brothers may indeed have known what was going on, it appears that a large number of District 3 voters did not, and many of them have communicated to me this week their sense of betrayal. They may change their minds by the time the election comes, but then again they may not.
Woo hoo “kevinsch”,
When it comes to hilarious nonsense, you’re a gift-that-keeps-on-giving!
No, to join Socialist Alternative one most certainly doesn’t “need to agree with the leadership’s stated ideology”.
Socialist Alternative is a voluntary organization but not just anybody can join.
Obviously, we wouldn’t let rapists, racists, fascists join.
But if you currently believe in relatively-harmless nonsense such as religion, identitarianism or pacifism, you’d nevertheless be most welcome to join — in struggle, argument, action, you’ll likely shed such sillinesses just as an infant outgrows her clothes.
By the same token, a member can leave Socialist Alternative.
And Socialist Alternative can suspend a member who for example lapses into lethargy — and expel such member at the next national conference if they remain lethargic.
Hey, we’re an organization of activists — not sloths.
But let’s be clear: Nobody ever gets suspended from Socialist Alternative because they have political disagreements.
Maybe if they carry out seriously anti-party actions in public.
What’s this amusing nonsense of yours, calling our Socialist Alternative subscriptions a “poll tax”?
Socialist Alternative’s funds are built on member subscriptions, supporter donations, solidarity from fellow-workers.
Money is the sinews of war.
Especially of class war.
The most asymmetrical of all war.
The Multimillions versus the Multimillionaires.
So please donate to Kshama’s vitally-important re-election campaign, and to Socialist Alternative:
Your own documents tell a very different story. Your Branch Organizer’s Guide https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5663606-BCs-Branch-Organizers-Guide.html and your recruiting guide https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5663608-How-to-Recruit-to-Socialist-Alternative.html make clear that new members need to be in agreement with the tenets of the organization before they are asked to become members. In fact, the recruiting guide says explicitly that you want new members to be in agreement with 90% of what you stand for.
If “not just anyone can join,” you are hardly democratic.
Here’s the definition of “poll tax” from the dictionary. It’s self-explanatory. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poll%20tax
What you are saying is that “anyone can join” Socialist Alternative so long as they agree with 90% of the leadership’s stated ideology, they pay a poll tax, and they are committed activists.
Woo hoo “Rip Van Winkle” “kevinsch”,
For over the past 100 years, every genuine party for socialism throughout the world has used democratic centralism as its core organizing principle.
That includes Socialist Alternative — as our documents, to which you breathlessly allude to, attest.
Yes! — Not just anybody can join Socialist Alternative.
For example, do you think we’d ever let a WallStreet/Pentagon/WhiteHouse mass-murderer like Trump, Obama or Hillary join?
For sure we’d want a prospective member to be in general agreement with say 90% of “What We Stand For”.
Why, what parts of it scare you?
And why, why oh why?
WHAT WE STAND FOR
Fighting for the 99%
Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, as a step toward a living wage for all.
Free, high quality public education for all from pre-school through college. Full funding for schools to dramatically lower student-teacher ratios. Stop the focus on high stakes testing and the drive to privatize public education.
Free, high quality health care for all. Replace the failed for-profit insurance companies with a publicly funded single-payer system as a step towards fully socialized medicine.
No budget cuts to education and social services! Full funding for all community needs. A major increase in taxes on the rich and big business, not working people.
Create living-wage union jobs for all the unemployed through public works programs to develop mass transit, renewable energy, infrastructure, healthcare, education, and affordable housing.
For rent control combined with massive public investment in affordable housing.
A guaranteed decent pension for all. No cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid!
A minimum guaranteed weekly income of $600/week for the unemployed, disabled, stay-at-home parents, the elderly, and others unable to work.
Repeal all anti-union laws like Taft-Hartley. For democratic unions run by the rank-and-file to fight for better pay, working conditions, and social services. Full-time union officials should be regularly elected and receive the average wage of those they represent.
No more layoffs! Take bankrupt and failing companies into public ownership.
Break the power of Wall Street! For public ownership and democratic control of the major banks.
Shorten the workweek with no loss in pay and benefits; share out the work with the unemployed and create new jobs.
Fight climate change. Massive public investment in renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies to rapidly replace fossil fuels.
A major expansion of public transportation to provide low fare, high-speed, and accessible transit.
Democratic public ownership of the big energy companies, retooling them for socially necessary green production. A “Just Transition” for all workers in polluting industries with guaranteed re-training and new living-wage jobs.
Equal Rights for All
Fight discrimination based on race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, age, and all other forms of prejudice. Equal pay for equal work.
Black Lives Matter! Build a mass movement against police brutality and the institutional racism of the criminal justice system. Invest in rehabilitation, job-training, and living-wage jobs, not prisons! Abolish the death penalty.
Defend immigrant rights! Immediate, unconditional legalization and equal rights for all undocumented immigrants.
Fight sexual harassment, violence against women, and all forms of sexism.
Defend a woman’s right to choose whether and when to have children. For a publicly funded, single-payer health care system with free reproductive services, including all forms of birth control and safe, accessible abortions. Comprehensive sex education. At least 12 weeks of paid family leave for all. For universal, high quality, affordable and publicly run child care.
Fight discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community, and all forms of homophobia and transphobia.
Money for Jobs and Education, Not War
End the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Bring all the troops home now!
Slash the military budget. No drones. Shut down Guantanamo.
Repeal the Patriot Act, NDAA, and all other attacks on democratic rights.
Break with the Two Parties of Big Business
For a mass workers party drawing together workers, young people and activists from environmental, civil rights, and women’s campaigns, to provide a fighting, political alternative to the corporate parties.
Unions and other 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.
Socialism and Internationalism
Capitalism produces poverty, inequality, environmental destruction, and war. We need an international struggle against this failed system. No to corporate “free trade” agreements, which mean job losses and a race to the bottom for workers and the environment.
Solidarity with the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples internationally: An injury to one is an injury to all.
Take into public ownership the top 500 corporations and banks that dominate the U.S. economy. Run them under the democratic management of elected representatives of the workers and the broader public. Compensation to be paid on the basis of proven need to small investors, not millionaires.
A democratic socialist plan for the economy based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of people and the environment. For a socialist United States and a socialist world.
The logic of “I am willing to ignore structural problems in the governance model, because I agree with the decisions that the leaders are making” seems just fine, right up until the point when the leadership starts making decisions that you disagree with, and you suddenly find yourself unable to address grievances because of that flawed governance model. Democratic centralism is no more immune to authoritarianism, populism, and oppressive tactics than any other form of governance, and the 100 years of its practice, as you pointed out, show that very clearly.
SA is not truly representing “ordinary workers” so long as its voting membership is restricted, and dissenting views are filtered out. Today it may be representing what its voting members believe to be the interests of ordinary workers, but in the long term under its current policies and governance model it runs the risk of becoming another organization that primarily represents its own self-interest, just as its predecessors have.
Its up to the City Council to impeach and expel her. She sold the office to a private entity. How are her actions different from a council member that, say, sold her office to Broadmore Golf and Country Club to vote away Seattle municipal golf courses? You like communism, well I like golf. That’s why we have a municipal code to stop this kind of thing.
Just a reminder to readers: I have a strict comment policy here, and I moderate all comments to enforce it. Comments that hurl insults at others — in any direction — will not be approved.
So, given that you haven’t raised a peep in disagreement, that means you agree with Socialist Alternative’s aims, “What We Stand For”?
So put your money where your mouth is, and please donate to us:
Democratic centralism is a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition for victory.
You seem to have some hysterically-funny misconceptions as to how a genuinely socialist party of the working-class operates.
The members of a branch democratically elect (and can democratically recall at any time) the branch leadership.
Including the branch’s elected delegate to the next-higher body.
And so on.
At the annual national conference, all members vote to elect or remove every leader — that’s the central committee, the sole governing body of the party.
Again, each central committee member can be democratically recalled at any time.
The clash of opposing ideas, disagreements, mistakes, are absolutely inevitable in a healthy party fighting for the greatest goal imaginable — the socialist liberation of all humankind.
We’re not a debating society but a combat party — When we come to any majority decision we ALL carry it out, even the minority opposed to that decision.
And no, we don’t permit any “legislative versus executive” dichotomy gibberish.
For every genuinely-socialist fighter, her genuinely-socialist party means everything.
It’s her greatest treasure.
It’s not life-and-death — It’s more important than that.
The only thing that you should draw as a conclusion from the fact that I haven’t addressed “what you stand for” is that I haven’t addressed it. That is the same approach I took in my original article, as you may have noticed. I have no interest in debating the merits of your political platform. I agree with some parts, and disagree with others. I actually believe that our local and national political discourse is stronger for having a wide diversity of views represented on political bodies such as the City Council, so that ideas can be debated, good ideas can be critiqued and improved, and bad ideas can be vetted and discarded, and I welcome the ideas that Socialist Alternative members, including Sawant, bring to the discussion.
My objection is to Sawant’s unethical — and illegal — actions in turning over the authority that the voters of District 3 gave her to a secretive organization with which she has a financial conflict of interest and that is not accountable to the voters of District 3.
You have an idealized, theoretical view of how democratic centralism plays out in Trotskyist organizations. In practice, you have your own “legislative versus executive” tension between party central committees and their executive committees, since central committees can’t run the day-to-day operations. Your own documents show that very clearly. And once the party becomes the state, it inevitably uses police power to suppress dissent and the ability to overthrow the leaders in power. History proves this again and again.
While the U.S. system of government has its own flaws, I will take its rule of law, radical transparency, and tricameral government with checks and balances over single-party democratic centralism every day of the week and twice on Friday.
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