Brief Notes on Trump’s Immigration Policies, and an Appeal

The United States has entered a new historic period with the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. Protests have swept the country, and the globe, against the right-wing populism his government represents. On the second day of his being in office, the Women’s March on Washington D.C. had over a half a million participants, marking the largest protests potentially in US history, at the very least since the height of the anti Vietnam War movement. With over 400 Women’s Marches in the nation, over 2 million have been estimated to have marched against Trump. While the vast numbers of people stepping into the streets and stepping into conscious historic action is immensely uplifting, questions are still ever present on the methods of struggle the movement against Trump takes up. Indeed, even to pose the movement as one singularly “against Trump,” itself should be taken to task. The current struggle against Trump’s “Muslim Ban” is useful in highlighting the differences in approach.

Executive Order 13769, Trump’s “Muslim Ban” was signed on January 27th. It bars entry of refugees for 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely, and all citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days, with exceptions for green card holders and case-by-case individuals. After that time has elapsed, it is likely that heightened restrictions will continue for the working class of those countries. I highlight here specifically the class impact of the executive order. While the corporate media has put the plight of graduate students, tech workers, and artists at the fore, a wing of the capitalist class has already stepped in opposed to Trump’s travel restrictions, with the defense of those in mind. Locally, both Amazon and Microsoft have criticized the new law, with a large privileged H-1B visa immigrant workforce fearful of how these restrictions affect them. Seattle too has declared itself a “Sanctuary City,” refusing to use city resources in enforcing federal anti-immigration law. However, federal agencies operating within the City are unthreatened and will continue to operate under Trump’s policies. Additionally, the subsequent threatened loss of federal funding risks the city only 1.5% of the city’s budget, around $75 million. Further, exactly due to the “progressive” tech companies like Amazon spiking housing costs in Seattle, working class immigrant communities have been primarily built in the southern suburbs, outside of the “safety” of Seattle’s sanctuary status. Not to mention the Seattle Police Department’s longstanding targeting of the East African community, the effectiveness of moral grandstanding in a rapidly whiter and wealthier city declaring itself a safe place demands skepticism to say the least

To be clear, Trump’s order has had an impact greater than the language of the law. Deportation agents have been emboldened by the spirit of xenophobia signed into law, with two unions representing border patrol and deportation agents producing a joint statement praising the new policy. Numerous ICE field offices and “rogue” ICE agents have ended the right of “prosecutorial discretion” for undocumented immigrants, effectively expediting the deportation of those even without criminal records. Today, Trump’s new appointment for acting director of ICE, Thomas D. Homan, was confirmed. Homan, in 2015, was awarded by then-President Obama the Presidential Rank Award for his central role in the mass removal of Central American families fleeing US fueled gang violence and dictatorships. Overall, Homan headed the deportation of over 900,000 individuals. Barack Obama’s role in overseeing vast numbers of deportations should not be forgotten. Under his presidency over 2.5 million undocumented workers were deported, more than any other US president, and more than every 20th Century president combined.

The “Muslim Ban” under Trump itself is a continuation of Obama-Democratic Party policy. In 2016, those seven countries named in Trump’s executive order, and anybody who had previously traveled through them, faced heightened visa restrictions. From Libya to Iraq, and Syria to Somalia, many of those same seven countries have also been barraged by drone strikes ordered by Obama. Though today we see Democratic Party officials clamoring for the ending of Trump’s extension of their own policies. If while the in-practice actions of the Democrats are not representative of the freedom of movement for all people we seek, could the Democrats still not be allies temporarily in struggle? Yes, absolutely self-identified liberals and Democrats should be united with, however to take up their terms of struggle, to oppose “Trump’s” deportations, but not all deportations, is to give up fighting for real victory.

So too, are the methods of struggle they fall back on limited. The Women’s March, following the massive outpour of support, recommended it’s supporters write post cards to their congressperson. Many organizations are focusing on the need for mass rallies to publicly present mass outrage to the media. While pressuring politicians and holding rallies are useful, the main issue is always of power. Often, movements based solely on pressuring politicians dissipate after particular gains are won. At the end of the day, power is still not gained for the working class, rather granted to the State. Kwame Ture, commonly known as Stokely Carmichael, reflected in 1988 on the 60’s, saying “There’s a difference between mobilization and organization and this difference must be properly understood. To be an organizer, one must be a mobilizer, but being a mobilizer doesn’t make you an organizer. Martin Luther King was one of the greatest mobilizers this century has seen, but until his death he was short on organizing. He came to double up on it just before his death, but he was very short on organizing. Many today who follow in his footsteps still take this path of mobilization rather than organization. Thus one of the errors of the 60s was the question of mobilization versus the question of organization.”

The working class vitally needs its own organizations, distinct from the organizations of the liberal middle-class – i.e. the non-profits – to accumulate power. Mobilization today tends to follow an Alinskyist framework, even within the Far Left. This framework was constructed by Saul Alinisky, the author of Rules for Radicals, a bible for NGO “community organizers.” Inherently reformist and economistic, Alinskyism sees working class action in a utilitarian lens, as a means to an ends, rather than an expression of class consciouses. The ends in this case often are the winning of narrow reforms or pre-determined “leaders” being placed into positions of power.. We see that too often today, with movements being compartmentalized into single-issues, with each issue focusing on one particular reform or savior political figure. The forest is lost for the trees, and a criticism and movement against Capitalism is replaced by “social justice” and the “dismantling of oppressive systems of behavior.” As Kwame Ture has also eloquently stated, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you’re anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.”

Again, the main task is the construction of organizations rooted in workplaces and working class communities, organized as a “class for itself,” conscious of it’s own interests separate from that of the interests of Capitalism. This is what guides the work of Communists today, not a vision of totalitarian dictatorship reminiscent of US propaganda, but of community power, whereby the resources of society are equitably distributed for the empowerment and freedom of all peoples. Today, Seattle Communists participates in the Neighborhood Action Coalition out of this vision, a grouping of neighborhoods standing against Trump’s policies by relying on the strength of the people, not the State. We have also launched self-defense classes, with the intention of eventually forming a community patrol, to protect ourselves against reactionary violence. Revolutionary organizations across the country have formed along similar lines. These ideas are not abstract gifts from the minds of intellectuals, rather they are a reflection of the needs of the working class, being fulfilled by the working class itself. Understanding the need to fully differentiate the needs of the working class as distinct from the needs of the capitalist State is paramount, and I welcome all to join Seattle Communists in aiding in that vision and project.

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Only Community Power Can Solve Seattle’s Housing Crisis

Originally published November 14th on The North Star 

The Crisis

Since November 2015 a state of emergency on homelessness has been officially declared in Seattle and King County by Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine, as official King County estimates surpassed ten thousand individuals who experience homelessness sometime in the course of the year.i While this writing focuses on the details of Seattle, undoubtedly lessons can be abstracted, as homeless crises have been officially declared by government leaders in Los Angeles, Portland, and other cities – not to mention the largely unspoken ongoing poverty across the United States. In Mayor Ed Murray’s statement on the state of emergency, he reminded the city that “more than 45 people have died on the streets of the city of Seattle this year and nearly 3,000 children in Seattle Public Schools are homeless.”ii

This tragedy is directly linked to the continual rise of apartment rental prices across the city, indicated by a 2013 national study which found a 15% increase in metropolitan homelessness per each median rise in rent by $100.iii Per a June 2015 analysis by KUOW, “(s)ince 1998, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment has risen 38 percent, measured in 2014 dollars. That’s pushed the average cost to $1,412 per month.”iv From January 2015 to January 2016 alone, rent rose 7.3%, resulting in an average apartment rent of $1,649.v That’s an increase of $119 each year for the past two years, and the increase of the King County homeless population has far outpaced the 15% per $100. This year’s One Night Count of the County’s homeless in January found 4,505 without shelter.vi A 19% increase over 2015’s count, and 40% increase from 2014, however even this was acknowledged by organizers to be a low estimate. This number balloons to over ten thousand when those in shelters and transitional housing are taken into account, as the 2015 count showed.vii From 2010 data provided via the Mayor’s July 2015 Housing Action Plan, between 15 to 20% of Seattle’s households are considered severely rent-burdened, including 21,500 households making under 30% of Seattle’s area median income. Between 2000 and 2011, the poverty rate of the suburbs around Seattle grew 78.9%. A larger share of the region’s poor today live in the suburbs,viii while increasing enclaves of poverty grow within the city limits.ix

The market absolutely cannot be depended upon to correct this process. Over 8% of Washington State’s workforce is in the tech sector, where the average yearly salary is $130,000.x In Seattle neighborhoods with the largest share of South Lake Union tech workers, the median cost per square foot of an apartment went up $0.60 from 2011 through 2015 to $2.19. In the neighborhoods with the lowest resident SLU tech worker density, the increase was $0.38 over the same period.xi From 1998 to 2014, the city has experienced a 118% increase in one-bedroom apartments, however rents went up 38% over the same period, with a large portion of that hike occurring in just the last five years.xii In 2015, nearly 13,000 new apartment units were opened up across the Seattle metro area.xiii These units largely targeted incoming wealthier tenants, with rent in newer construction being upwards of 40% greater than existing buildings.xiv By one estimate, an income of $72k is necessary to live comfortably in Seattle.xv Even with a $15/hr, $30,000 a year job, the average one-bedroom rent would consume well over half of a person’s income.

The City of Seattle, for their part, even while playing lip service to much of the above, have put forward policies that rely exactly on the marketplace which has failed working people. The Mayor’s convened Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) report reads:

“Market forces alone will not build sufficient affordable housing for lower income households, nor can sufficient quantities of subsidized housing be produced in high amenity and opportunity neighborhoods without the participation of and partnership by market-rate developers. Therefore, to ensure more affordable housing is built and that our neighborhoods individually and collectively reflect the demographics of our city, the City should: (1) boost market capacity by extensive citywide upzoning of residential and commercial zones; and (2) match this increased capacity with a mandate to build affordable housing in emerging market-rate buildings. To achieve these goals, this program will encourage market-rate housing developers to produce units versus paying a fee in lieu of performance.”xvi

Murray is calling for a drop-in-the-bucket of 20,000 affordable housing units, either new or preserved, over ten years which is to be accomplished via various proposals completely dependent on private forces. Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is one of the central plans, incentivizing developers to integrate affordable housing in future construction, 5-7% of building units by current language, by allowing for increased height limits. In spite of the policy’s name, very little is mandatory, as developers can pay a fee to have affordable housing built elsewhere, which could reinforce the concentration of the impoverished into the exterior and less marketable areas of the city. In other cities which have put forward similar policies, the portion of mandated affordable units have been much higher, with little or no option of fee payment as alternative. However, from San Francisco to Kirkland, the number of affordable units developed through these policies have been underwhelming to the scale of the crisis at hand. xvii
“Affordable housing” is itself a broad term. What is considered affordable housing isn’t objective, but is relative to the income of the individual or family seeking housing. As long as a unit is set aside for a renter making below 81% of the Area Median Income (AMI), it is considered affordable. The median income of Seattle is now $80,349, setting the 81% mark at just over $65,000.xviii Of course, tying a plan to generate housing to market forces means being tied to market interests. Murray has himself conceded that, for developers, producing units set aside for income earners making between 65-80% of AMI (roughly between $52-65k) is “probably the only financially reasonable method.”xix A 2009 report by King County found that, on a county-wide level, only 9% of market-rate rental units were considered affordable to households making under 40% of the county’s median income (roughly $32,00 in Seattle).xx Offering tax breaks to developers who build for 60-80% of AMI does nothing to correct the imbalanced housing stock.

Public Housing First

Perhaps the largest unauthorized concentration of homeless individuals in Seattle – with over 300 persons – was in the area known as The Jungle, or “Freedom Hill” to residents, along the I-5 Greenbelt. Out of 357 contacted Jungle residents, only 28 were given temporary housing following a mass city sweep of the area.xxi On May 23rd, former Jungle resident Andrew Collins addressed Seattle City Council as a representative with a list of demands:

“We the housed and un-housed people of Seattle demand the city:

One, stop all the sweeps of the homeless on the streets of Seattle and encampments city-wide, especially The Jungle, and return all seized property to its owners or compensate them for that loss,

Two, enact a housing-first program for all houseless in the city.

Three, stop paying taxpayer money on privatizing homeless issues, such as for-profit sweeps and contractors.

Four, provide 24-hour living areas, and the right to rest in unused buildings public or private in the Seattle area.

Five, spend the $1 million for The Jungle fence to revitalize any neglected public or private property — such as unused fire stations, vacant buildings or The Seattle Times building — for those without housing.”xxii
These demands should guide any organization which claims to fight in the interests of homeless, impoverished, and working class Seattlites. The second demand, for “housing first,” primarily refers to a policy whereby the placement of homeless individuals and families into housing is prioritized over other concerns, such as mental health or drug addiction. Utah has enacted such a program, and under it has lowered the chronic homeless rate by 91% over a decade.xxiii Chronic homelessnes refers to the 23% of homeless individuals nationally who have been living without residence for an entire year and suffer from mental health or other debilitating issues.xxiv According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “(t)he solution to chronic homelessness is an intervention known as permanent supportive housing (Housing First), which combines affordable housing and a tailored package of supportive services that help people achieve housing stability, get connected to health care and other social services, and improve their health and social outcomes. Study after study has shown that permanent supportive housing not only ends homelessness for people with the most severe challenges, but also reduces the use of emergency services and lowers public costs.”xxv While Housing First has been touted in words by the mayor, the specifics are a far cry from genuine Housing First and effective policy. The most direct method of extending housing is via state intervention. What is proposed by the Murray’s “Pathways Home” action plan however, is Housing First as temporary housing prior to continued dependence on private housing, which has miserably failed to meet the needs of Seattle’s poor and working class. Rather, Housing First should be posed as a radical step towards a right to housing for all.

Absolutely no serious discussion of public housing as policy has entered into the city government’s discourse. Rather, the HALA report depends on numerous convoluted market-reliant programs saddled with bureaucracy, and even calls for “explicitly allow(ing) the sale or lease of City-owned land at less than fair market value for affordable housing purposes, recognizing that this comes at a cost to other city needs and general funds.” Turning over city land to private ownership to build “affordable,” rather than public, housing. This follows in a long trend of privatization and “public-private partnerships” by the City of Seattle. Between 1998 and 2009, the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) public housing stock declined by 833 units, replaced and surpassed by SHA vouchers which aid in renting in the private market.

The strategy of SHA is most expressed in the selling off of many of their properties to private companies who develop under the agreement that a certain number of built units will be “affordable.” Seattle’s oldest public housing project, Yesler Terrace, was home to 1,167 residents in 2005. In 2013 SHA began what they termed as a “revitilization” of the housing project, a parceling out of the land to private developers, including Vulcan, with the intention of creating a new tech campus, retail space, and mixed-income housing with SHA units comprising a tenth of the available housing.xxvi National trends point in the same direction, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) itself lowering overall public housing stock from 1.39 million units in 1990, to a projected 780,000 in 2020.xxvii What stock still exists in the U.S. exists in abandoned disrepair. The federal government has in response moved towards turning over public housing to private ownership through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. Additionally, HUD has allowed numerous local Housing Authorities, including the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), the ability to launch their own programs by which to charge rent greater or less than the standard third of a household’s income.

In Seattle, a program of rent increases for SHA residents was proposed in 2014 under the name Stepping Forward. This program would have raised rents for five years incrementally for tenants considered work-ready; by the fifth year “a tenant would need to earn almost $20/hour to afford a 2-3 bedroom unit.” The Seattle Housing Authority serves a largely immigrant family population. “70% of SHA households live in 2 or 3 unit households, and 51% are single parent households. 25% of all impacted households are immigrants and refugees. For the immigrant and refugee community this [would have] severely harm[ed] newcomers who rely on community networks and familial support to succeed in a new country.”xxviii Stepping Forward was defeated by mass action on the part of the tenants packing public meetings and City Hall. Like the mayor’s Pathways program, SHA saw their own housing stock as a temporary measure, with tenants to be eventually pushed out into market housing.

Housing is a Human Right

What is key here, is the question of control. Housing must be absolutely fought for as a human right. However, without democratic control, housing as a right becomes housing as a privilege – to be granted and taken away. Public housing historically has not been run in the interest of tenants (as a right rather than a privilege), as SHA has recently showed. Market housing is certainly not run in the interest of anything other than profit. As the Marxist authors of In Defense of Housing put it, “housing markets are political all the way down. The balance of power between tenants and landlords, or between real estate owners and communities, cannot be determined in a neutral, apolitical way. What the free market boosters ignore is the question of power.” Public housing should not be restricted as a public service, as government policy to address a temporary crisis in visible poverty, but rather extended as a larger social resource. In Austria, the city of Vienna sets an example of the scale to which we should fight for. There, in a city roughly equal in population to Philadelphia, the United States’ fifth most populous city, public “housing represent(s) about 46 percent of the city’s housing stock, making Vienna the largest landlord in Austria and one of the largest in Europe.” The housing that exists there is built with high standards of aesthetic qualities as well as considerations to its environmental and social impact. Tenants are also included in the design process, giving input on apartment layouts and communal area use.xxix Even above inclusionary construction processes, the vision of the city which should be constructed is one of city financed housing cooperatives. Cut away from both government bureaucracy, as well as market interests. In Defense of Housing further asserts that “(p)osing the housing question today means uncovering the connections between societal power and the residential experience. It means who and what housing is for, who controls it, who it empowers, who it oppresses.”xxx

Failure of the Established Left

Unfortunately, the city currently lacks a legitimate political left wing openly fighting for public, not to mention democratic, housing. Councilmember Kshama Sawant and the organization to which she belongs, Socialist Alternative, could be considered the closest to such a legitimized left flank, however their actual approach to housing and gentrification falls far short of both addressing the scale of the problem, or addressing it in a direct manner. Instead Socialist Alternative have been inconsistent in how they understand gentrification and housing. In July of 2014 a op-ed written by then Socialist Alternative candidate for the State House 43rd District, Jess Spear and published by The Stranger laid out a case for rent control where the central claim was the case of Ballard’s then high vacancy rate in the face of mounting rent increases.xxxi However, the city as a whole actually had, and still maintains, record low vacancy rates as newly constructed apartments are quickly filled. In June of 2014, Spear explained the housing crisis to the Seattle Weekly that “[d]evelopers are buying up land, lobbying the city to allow for increased heights, and getting handouts subsidized by taxpayers – but what they are building are expensive, posh apartments that few workers in the city can afford”xxxii Ironically this statement was published just four days after Sawant voted exactly in favor of rezoning around the Mount Baker light rail station, allowing for increased height limits in an area already facing gentrification and displacement. Now, in 2016, a representative of Kshama’s office has confirmed her support for the Mayor’s HALA upzoning, stating that community displacement is “happening no matter what. In her support for the upzones, [Kshama]’s not saying [density] will solve the problem, but it’s not the source of the problem.”xxxiii
Socialist Alternative has shifted focus for two years from one short-term campaign to another with, at best, loose and haphazard language around public housing. A year ago, in the midst of their championing of rent control, a debate occurred on that topic at Town Hall to a packed auditorium. Councilmember Sawant and then-Councilmember Nick Licata represented the pro-rent control side. In his very opening statement, Licata boldly stated that “nobody is arguing that government run apartments,” and moved on to argue in favor of market regulations, effectively sidelining any non-market based solutions. This went practically unchallenged by Sawant.xxxiv The demand for rent-control, preempted by conservative Washington State law banning residential rent controls, was destined to die as a lobbying effort, and thus it did in January of this year with little fanfare.xxxv From this came other numerous smaller effort reforms, which while positive, neither individually, nor as a whole, seriously represent a reversal of the deep processes of gentrification in Seattle.

These reforms include the “Carl Haglund Bill,” legislation withholding the ability for landlords to raise rent on apartments with numerous codeviolations until the unit is up to code, and a law implementing guidelines and some restrictions on apartment move-in fees. Likely to appear as well is “a bill to massively expand relocation assistance for tenants forcibly evicted by dramatic rent increases.”xxxvi No fundamental relationship of power has been altered by these initiatives, no matter how positive in piecemeal. Those who benefit from a cap on move-in fees, are the diminishing number of working people who can afford the skyrocketing monthly rent; and relocation assistance, while positive, hardly softens the blow of gentrification and community displacement.

The current campaign is Councilmember Sawant’s call for a thousand new units of housing, diverting REET (Real Estate Excise Tax) funding alloted for a slated new Seattle PoliceNorth Precinct.A four-page letter from the City Council Central Staff to Sawant’s office is the centerpiece which has been uncritically distributed. The letter clarifies a controverisal legal route via which REET funding could technically be routed to fund affordable housing. Surprisingly. when the Central Staff advise that “(t)he City could sell (the intended North Precinct) land and use the proceeds to support affordable housing,” no criticism of this is made by Sawant.xxxvii This letter then falls short even of the report drawn up by the Community Housing Caucus (CHC), a caucus convened by Socialist Alternative’s twice-electoral opponent Washington State House Speaker Frank Chopp. The CHC explicitly recommend to “(i)nitiate immediately a thorough and comprehensive strategy to acquire and develop unused, underdeveloped, and available public land for a dramatic expansion of the city’s low income housing stock.”xxxviii While shifting funds away from the SPD and towards housing is absolutely needed, no larger vision or strategy is developed. Instead, a continual reliance on private interests, even if they be non-profit, is pointed at. Again, the Mayor has proposed an average of 2,000 units of affordable housing to be built or preserved every year for a decade. The radical alternative is to counter with an additional 1,000 after three years?xxxix Economic trouble on the horizon could also doom this plan. As critics of the plan have cited, REET is “a volatile source of funds as the real estate market cycles, and the city would risk defaulting on its debt in a downturn.”xl Ironically then, a proposal by a Socialist is hinged on the continual health of Capital. To their credit, Socialist Alternative does semi-regularly mention a pie-in-the-sky desire for “discussing how we can use the City’s bonding capacity issue to build thousands of units upfront of affordable housing,”xli unfortunately a call for discussion is neither action, nor a plan.

A New Vision – Community Power

Returning to the Jungle resident’s demands presented by Collins offers further guidance on where to fight for expanded democratic space and rights: “the right to rest in unused buildings public or private in the Seattle area” – squatting, the act of taking residence in vacant property. Even given Seattle’s low vacancy rate, there still exists thousands of housing units which lay vacant every day.xlii As the group common ¢ents wrote on Craigslist, appealing for a new vision of squats, “(v)acant buildings represent a potential for new forms of community engagement: transitional housing, community services, unstructured space, spaces dedicated to spontaneous creativity, etc. Efforts to reclaim them should not be homeless-centric. Anyone in Seattle who is worried about the city becoming divided into homogeneous sub-units, with the richest and whitest areas enjoying the best access to transportation, culture, beauty, festivals, parks, etc., should feel justified in demanding access to a vacant building.”xliii When upwards of two hundred squatters took the old emptied Seattle Times building, that was a challenge to developers who are turning that land into condominiums for the wealthy.xliv When Collins further demanded the “revitaliz(ation of) any neglected public or private property — such as unused fire stations, vacant buildings or The Seattle Times building,” that is a call for a different vision of whose interest and control the city should be constructed in. Defending squatting rights over property rights is a campaign which should be taken up in preparation for potential future economic turmoil. Defense of those seeking shelter in vacant properties should have a legal framework in the event that the local tech industry take a dive and vacancy rates in the city rise.

Nothing less than a program of massive community-controlled housing will address individual human needs nor wider community needs. A December “Building Affordability through Community Ownership” workshop with the support of multiple city council members and community organizations points to the possibility of such a program being built. The purpose of the workshop is to “discuss the necessary principles for community ownership, and community led strategies to curb displacement.” Participants will “[h]ear about specific examples where community ownership is taking root in the form of Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs) and Community Land Trusts (CLTs).”xlv However, the devil is in the details. The workshop organizers define CLTs as “nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land.”xlvi At best, CLTs can be “transformative” for “achieving effective grass-roots democracy. If extended, community land trusts may be seen as a form of neighborhood self-government.”xlvii At worst, such cooperatives provide only superficial community ties and democracy. “An angry tenant response to 1970s-era housing management reform still holds: ‘Don’t give me that participation bullshit, man. We want power!’”xlviiiSuch developments can still be central in combating displacement if they advance true community power independent of outside institutions.

It is no surprise that the community ownership workshop includes AfricaTown Seattle amongst its endorsers. Their spiritual relative, Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi, have also moved to create housing cooperatives on their own accord to empower the Black community in one of the most impoverished cities in the country. “Cooperative Jackson is its own economic ecosystem – including a farm, restaurant, recycling and compost center, cultural center, and community land trust – and has allowed the black community to own their own labor while improving the conditions of their community.”xlix The potential for CLTs to empower marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ community should be highlighted. Imagine if such democratic housing existed in Capitol Hill, giving LGBTQ peoples in the historically queer neighborhood wider power over space, and leverage to fight gentrification and loss of community. Opposed to the individualized conception of housing which is predominantly discussed by policy makers should be one rooted in community. Housing as a human right, as a democratic right, in a practical sense means a right to community. To fight for such a right is to fight for real tangible power for Seattle’s working, oppressed, and marginalized communities.

i‘The Problem’, All Home King County <http://allhomekc.org/the-problem/&gt; [accessed 23 May 2016].

ii‘Mayor, County Exec Declare “state of Emergency” over Homelessness’, The Seattle Times, 2015 <http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/mayor-county-exec-declare-state-of-emergency-over-homelessness/&gt; [accessed 20 May 2016].

iiiThomas Byrne and others, ‘NEW PERSPECTIVES ON COMMUNITY-LEVEL DETERMINANTS OF HOMELESSNESS: New Perspectives on Community-Level Homelessness’, Journal of Urban Affairs, 35.5 (2013), 607–25 <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9906.2012.00643.x&gt;.

ivKara McDermott, ‘Rent Too High? Compare Seattle’s Neighborhoods’ <http://kuow.org/post/rent-too-high-compare-seattle-s-neighborhoods&gt; [accessed 18 May 2016].

vDEI Creative in Seattle WA, ‘Spring Rental Market Update’, Seattle Rental Group, 2016 <http://seattlerentalgroup.com/2016/04/02/spring-rental-market-update/&gt; [accessed 19 May 2016].

vi‘2016 One Night Count’ <http://www.homelessinfo.org/what_we_do/one_night_count/2016_results.php&gt; [accessed 24 May 2016].

vii‘2015 One Night Count’ <http://www.homelessinfo.org/what_we_do/one_night_count/2015_results.php&gt; [accessed 24 May 2016].

viii‘Profiles of Suburban Poverty’ <https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1wuBd3fXd_wZaD80r9h5h4XT61rk&gt; [accessed 11 June 2016].

ixCaseyJaywork, ‘Capitol Hill Is Gentrifying, Indeed, but Study Shows Seattle’s “concentrated Poverty” Is Bigger Problem’, CHS Capitol Hill Seattle, 2014 <http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2014/12/capitol-hill-is-gentrifying-indeed-but-study-shows-seattles-concentrated-poverty-is-bigger-problem/&gt; [accessed 20 May 2016].

x‘Tech Workers Are 8.2% of Washington’s Workforce. Here’s How Much They Make’, Puget Sound Business Journal <http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2016/03/tech-workers-are-8-2-of-washingtons-workforce.html&gt; [accessed 20 May 2016].

xi‘South Lake Union’s Tech Boom a Small Part of Seattle’s Rising Rents’, Zillow Research, 2016 <http://www.zillow.com/research/south-lake-union-seattle-rents-12084/&gt; [accessed 19 May 2016].

xiiMcDermott.

xiiiSean Keeley, ‘2015’s Apartment Influx Won’t Stop Seattle’s Rising Rents’, Curbed Seattle, 2014 <http://seattle.curbed.com/2014/12/30/10007010/2015s-apartment-influx-wont-stop-seattles-rising-rents&gt; [accessed 18 May 2016].

xiv‘Seattle DJC.com Local Business News and Data – Real Estate – Apartment Development: You Ain’t Seen Nothing yet’ <http://www.djc.com/news/re/12075964.html&gt; [accessed 18 May 2016].

xvEndPlay, ‘You Need to Make $72K to Live Comfortably in Seattle’, KIRO, 2016 <http://www.kiro7.com/news/local/you-need-to-make-72k-to-live-comfortably-in-seattle/228407758&gt; [accessed 20 May 2016].

xvi‘HALA Report’ (Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, 2015).

xvii‘Fighting Seattle’s “Economic Apartheid”’, Crosscut, 2016 <http://crosscut.com/2016/05/preventing-seattle-from-becoming-a-city-of-the-rich/&gt; [accessed 9 June 2016].

xviiiGene Balk / FYI Guy, ‘$80,000 Median: Income Gain in Seattle Far Outpaces Other Cities’, The Seattle Times, 2016 <http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/80000-median-wage-income-gain-in-seattle-far-outpaces-other-cities/&gt; [accessed 16 October 2016].

xix‘Yesler Terrace 2.0, This Time with Private Developers’, Crosscut, 2015 <http://crosscut.com/2015/05/yesler-terrace-2-0-this-time-with-private-developers/&gt; [accessed 15 June 2016].

xx‘Existing Housing Units Affordable to Low-Income Households – King County’ <http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/executive/performance-strategy-budget/regional-planning/benchmark-program/AffordableHousing/AH29_ExistingAffordable.aspx&gt; [accessed 28 June 2016].

xxiKate Walters, ‘Nail in the Coffin for Seattle's Jungle’ <http://kuow.org/post/nail-coffin-seattles-jungle&gt; [accessed 29 September 2016].

xxii‘“Jungle” Residents List Demands in Front of Seattle Council’, MyNorthwest.com, 2016 <http://mynorthwest.com/299323/jungle-residents-list-demands-in-front-of-seattle-council/&gt; [accessed 15 June 2016].

xxiiiLloyd Pendleton and director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, ‘Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How’, NPR.org <http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how&gt; [accessed 20 May 2016].

xxivMeghan Henry, Azim Shivji, Tanya de Sousa, and Rebecca Cohen, Abt Associates Inc., ‘The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress’ (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2015).

xxv‘People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness’ <https://www.usich.gov/goals/chronic?PageSpeed=noscript&gt; [accessed 3 September 2016].

xxvi‘SHA’s Inventory of Very Low Income Housing Units Is Declined Not Increasing as They Allege!’ <http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/yesler.htm&gt; [accessed 21 June 2016].

xxvii‘Risks vs. Rewards: Inside HUD’s Favorite New Program’ <https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/public-housing-privatized-hud-rad-section-8&gt; [accessed 7 July 2016].

xxviii‘About the Current Campaign’, SHA Tenants Organizing Project, 2014 <https://stopsha.wordpress.com/about/&gt; [accessed 2 September 2016].

xxix‘Vienna Offers Affordable and Luxurious Housing’ <http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/gov-affordable-luxurious-housing-in-vienna.html&gt; [accessed 20 May 2016].

xxxPeter Marcuse and David Madden, In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis (Verso Books, 2016).

xxxiJess Spear • Jul 28 and 2014 at 6:00 Am, ‘Guest Editorial: The Rent Is Too Damn High, Let’s Get It Under Control’, The Stranger <http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/07/28/guest-editorial-the-rent-is-too-damn-high-lets-get-it-under-control&gt; [accessed 23 September 2016].

xxxiiKelton Sears Fri and Jun 27 2014 at 04:15PM, ‘In Light of Rising Rents, Jess Spear Explains Her Vision of Rent Control in WA’, Seattle Weekly <http://&gt; [accessed 23 September 2016].

xxxiiiGeorge Howl and Jr, ‘Kshama Loves Upzones’, Outside City Hall, 2016 <https://outsidecityhall.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/kshama-loves-upzones/&gt; [accessed 4 November 2016].

xxxivJuly 2015 Rent Control Debate (Town Hall, Seattle, 2015) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEPZtRQSLrQ&gt;.

xxxv‘Rent Control Not on Docket in Olympia’, Seattle Met <http://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2016/1/20/Maybe-Next-Year-on-Rent-Control&gt; [accessed 19 May 2016].

xxxvi‘CouncilMember Sawant » Blog Archive » VICTORY! Carl Haglund Law against Slumlords Passes!’ <http://sawant.seattle.gov/carl-haglund-law-passes/&gt; [accessed 7 June 2016].

xxxviiDan Eder, Central Staff Deputy Director, ‘Memo: REET Funding for Affordable Housing’ <http://sawant.seattle.gov/we-can-build-1000-homes/&gt;.

xxxviiiCommunity Housing Caucus, ‘Solutions to Seattle’s Housing Emergency’ (Community Housing Caucus) <https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1687633-community-housing-caucus-report.html&gt;.

xxxix‘CouncilMember Sawant » Blog Archive » Coalition to Build 1,000 Homes – Frequently Asked Questions’ <http://sawant.seattle.gov/build-1000-homes-faq/&gt; [accessed 17 October 2016].

xlkevinsch, ‘The North Precinct and New Affordable Housing’, Seattle City Council Insight, 2016 <http://sccinsight.com/2016/10/25/the-north-precinct-and-new-affordable-housing/&gt; [accessed 1 November 2016].

xli‘CouncilMember Sawant » Blog Archive » Seriously Addressing Homelessness in Seattle’ <http://sawant.seattle.gov/homeless-services/&gt; [accessed 1 November 2016].

xlii‘Seattle, WA B25004 Vacancy Status’ (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates) <http://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/15_1YR/C25004/1600000US5363000&gt;.

xliii‘#HowManyVacant / Old Seattle Times Building’, Craigslist <http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/vnn/5469518938.html&gt; [accessed 4 March 2016].

xliv‘Squatters to Hasten Demolition of Old Seattle Times Building’, The Seattle Times, 2016 <http://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/squatters-to-hasten-demolition-of-old-seattle-times-building/&gt; [accessed 19 October 2016].

xlv‘Building Affordability Through Community Ownership’ <https://www.facebook.com/events/231466147283591/&gt; [accessed 7 November 2016].

xlvi‘Housing Is a Human Right: Building Affordability through Community Ownership // Workshop RSVP’, Google Docs <https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSenU-9w7lQjZawUZz9MKYJf9wZUNzraNHDhkiGnUpmy2AEwxA/viewform?usp=embed_facebook&gt; [accessed 7 November 2016].

xlviipmarcuse, ‘Blog #38 – Community Land Trusts: Empty, Moderate, and Full-Bodied.’, Peter Marcuse’s Blog, 2013 <https://pmarcuse.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/blog-38-community-lnd-trusts-empty-moderate-and-full-bodied/&gt; [accessed 7 November 2016].

xlviiiMarcuse and Madden.

xlix‘Our People, Our Planet, Our Power’ (Got Green and Puget Sound Sage, 2016).

Debate within Socialist Alternative

via Debate within Socialist Alternative — oaklandsocialist

The open support for liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders by Socialist Alternative provoked a debate within that group back in the first part of 2016. In response, the leadership of Socialist Alternative sent around an internal document defending their position. 

A few former members of Socialist Alternative were given that document and we produced the following response (see below). In it, we drew the link between the support for Sanders and the direction that Kshama Sawant had been taking for several years. Here is our comment. Although the debate within Socialist Alternative has more or less been settled (with several branches leaving since then), we think the debate has some general lessons that can be useful. For that reason, we are publishing it at this time:

sawantsanders

Letter to Socialist Alternative Opposition:
Seeing Support for Sanders in Context

The authors of this open letter have received copies of Socialist Alternative’s Members Bulletins numbers 69 and 70. These documents reveal the existence of immense fissures caused by the leadership’s particular strategy around the Sanders campaign. In November of 2006, Socialist Alternative published a statement analyzing and giving warning to the Green Party, at the time fractured over a split on a Ralph Nader campaign.

“From their beginnings up to the present, the Greens have been wracked by internal debates over their political program, their relationship to the Democrats, their internal structures, and their class orientation. Many of these questions came to a head in the 2004 race when deep divisions arose over whether they should endorse Ralph Nader or David Cobb as their presidential candidate.

The Cobb wing supported a “safe states” strategy of not consistently challenging John Kerry to avoid enraging their friends in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. They came out on top at the 2004 Green Party convention. However, probably half or more of Green Party activists supported Nader and his running mate Peter Camejo, who launched Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI) after the convention.

The left wing of the Greens, grouped around GDI, correctly argued against the capitulation to “lesser evil” politics and that the Greens’ national internal structures were undemocratic. They have also had a more working-class orientation.” (http://www.socialistalternative.org/2006/11/15/building-an-alternative-to-the-two-parties-of-big-business-war-review-of-the-green-party/)

Many parallels are present then, in terms of the necessary debates needed over the political program of Socialist Alt., their relationship to the Democrats, internal structure, and class orientation. The open discussion and debate within Socialist Alt. on the direct support for Bernie Sanders is a healthy sign of a continuing revolutionary tendency within the organization. As former members of Socialist Alt., or of its predecessor (Labor Militant), we would like to contribute to this important discussion. The recent departure of the New Orleans branch from Socialist Alt indicates what could happen in branches across the country. However that may be a best case scenario, given the continued activity of the group as the Louisiana Socialist Network. Unfortunately, generations of radicalized individuals have gone through a process of disenchantment with revolutionary politics, burnt-out by bureaucratic methods and dead-end strategies. What this letter intends, is to initiate a discussion on the numerous missteps of Socialist Alternative, and to raise the idea that these are not various errors, but are tied to a common logic. This letter does not agitate for anybody to break from Socialist Alternative, although a break from a fundamentally wrong methodology is concretely posed by the very contradictions in that organization.

As the comrades were spot-on in raising in the members bulletins, the #Movement4Bernie campaign was birthed via bureaucracy. However while the leadership promise local discussion, the public image of the organization has, and will continue to be altered. The enclosing of debate within channels acceptable and controllable by leadership is cowardly and stands in contrast to the traditions of revolutionary Marxism, defined by the Bolsheviks as open debate (competing newspapers, long-term factions), and regular – not slate – elections. Political errors such as this, committed by a leadership eager to opportunistically capitalize on the possibility of new ranks of membership to correct a dire financial situation, are reinforced by system whereby membership are made unable to put the leadership in check when they find themselves distanced from the reality the rank-and-file engage in on the daily.

Seattle Leadership Priorities

No greater is this distance evidenced than in Seattle, where a recent leadership priorities list for 2016 was produced essentially thusly:

  1. *Movement4Bernie
  2. Recruitment
  3. Member Education

Only after pressure from a minority of members was a fourth item, regarding the housing crisis in Seattle, added to this list, but with no concrete steps detailed. What this reveals is the battle that must happen in every branch for resources between organizing for Sanders, and organizing for the working-class. Given the recent re-election of Kshama Sawant on the basis of a campaign run on fighting the skyrocketing rents across Seattle, it is shameful for someone who prides herself as not “actually” being a politician to be exactly like any other in this instance. To campaign on an issue, then ignore it in office – this is a political disgrace which lays at the feet of the leadership. A “Peoples’ Assembly,” further detailed below, was brought together in February of this year. This conference, dominated by Democratic Party politicians, underpinned the political concessions Socialist Alt. had made. Whereas previously they had campaigned on firstly city-wide rent control, then linkage fees (a form of property tax on construction), and lastly public housing, the Assembly made not even a mention of public housing in it’s run up. Last minute the topic of the Assembly was focused specifically on the crisis of homelessness in Seattle, and the solution Socialist Alt pushed for was a large increase in temporary shelter beds. It is greatly positive that seeking to expand public housing may now be an undertaking of the organization. However if the intention is simply to wage a propaganda battle or confine it in City Council channels, which will limit the gains greatly with limited struggle by ordinary Seattle workers, then that is hardly a campaign nor a victory. Nothing less than a “15 Now for democratically-run Public Housing” can be the rallying cry for socialists.

Kshama Sawant’s Victory a Victory for Socialism
When socialist Kshama Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2013, this gave Socialist Alt increased prominence and increased importance not only in the socialist movement in the US, but also to a small extent within the wider workers movement itself. It presented serious opportunities. But as is always the case, with every opportunity comes dangers and mistakes. While we think that some serious mistakes were made, we emphasize that Kshama Sawant’s election was a significant victory for the cause of socialism. Union members were reporting that her campaign had made it easier to raise the issue of socialism in their unions and that her victory had somewhat raised the fighting spirit of the members. It also helped focus attention on the demand for a $15/hour minimum wage. Likewise, the Bernie Sanders election campaign has undeniably opened up potential opportunities for revolutionaries to engage in a politically thinking section of workers and oppressed populations in a principled manner. However balance should be given, and has been by comrades in the MB, in acknowledging the co-optionary and conservatizing elements of the campaign as well.

Confusion Regarding Democratic Party
Politics is unforgiving, and mistakes, if uncorrected, have a way of multiplying. When Kshama was first elected, it seems that there was a lack of complete clarity on her role and relationship with the other city council members. On the one hand, she frequently warned about the dangers of a sellout, which is always important to be aware of. However, there was also some confusion from the start. She talked about the “Democratic party elite” rather than the Democratic Party as a whole. Philip Locker talked about having a “friendly” relationship with “her colleagues” on the city council. From the initial City Council election campaign, language referencing race as well as an explicit working-class orientation were removed from draft forms of the campaign plan. In other words, it was not totally clear to them right from the start that the entire Democratic Party represents the enemy class, or even on what class they would base the campaign on. This doesn’t mean that every minute has to be filled with shouting and open warfare, but through the leadership’s refusal to have a clear class-based approach, an increasing reliance on a section of the Democratic Party has been substituted for working-class militancy, which instead Socialist Alt distances itself from.

Confusion Regarding Union Leadership
The lack of clarity in relationship to the entire Democratic Party coincided with a similar confusion regarding the union leadership: There is a good reason that members’ alienation and anger towards that leadership has never been greater in over a half century. The entire leadership, including the “progressive” wing of it, is firmly locked into the position that they must help “their” employers compete with the non-unionized employers. That can only mean one thing: helping further thrust their members into competition with non-union workers for who can work cheaper. This violates the very reason for building a union, which is to help eliminate that exact competition, and the result is concessions on top of concessions, refusal to really enforce contracts, and outright repression of those members who dare to raise their heads above the parapet and demand a real struggle with the employers. This repression includes many measures, including colluding with the employers to discipline and even fire such “rebellious” members. Ironically, some of the so-called “progressive” union leaders at the national level – like Mary Kay Henry of the SEIU – are some of the worst when it comes to simple trade unionism. While some local leaders may claim to be “independent” and to oppose some of the policies of their internationals, it’s not possible to really do so without organizing the rank and file to build a base of members who are active and conscious and committed to fighting around these issues. Without this, all such “opposition” is merely talk and collapses the first time it is put to the test.

Collective Bargaining Opt-Out
The failure to appreciate this fundamental principle of union activity became a major stumbling block for S. Alternative and for Kshama Sawant at the April, 2014 nation-wide “15 Now” conference. There, the leadership of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (UNITE-HERE) union, came to the S. Alt. leadership with the demand that they accept a “collective bargaining opt-out” (CBO) for the hotel industry. In other words, non-union hotels would have to pay $15/hour but unionized hotels would be excluded from that requirement. The excuse given was that, in effect, the movement could not force unionized employers to pay a minimum wage of $15/hour and pay benefits too. The real reason was that they want to convince the employers that they will save money by signing a union contract. Directly linked to the refusal of the leadership to “Fight for 15 Now” plus full benefits is their absolute terror at the very thought of a real, mass mobilization of workers and youth, one similar to the famous example set in Seattle in the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It may sound overly harsh or simplistic, but the acceptance of the union leadership’s insistence on this point has to be seen as nothing but the first step to outright acceptance of their violation of the very principles of unionism. This failure was followed by S. Alt’s. refusal to even consider launching a campaign among low wage union workers such as grocery store clerks to help them organize to demand that their union back 15 Now in Seattle and to try to use such a campaign to organize for a real, fighting UFCW in general. Then, over a year later, S. Alt. did worse than turn their back on 15 Now Tacoma, which was the only 15 Now group that took the slogan seriously and actually fought for an immediate $15/hr minimum wage: Not only did they isolate 15 Now Tacoma from 15 Now, nationally; when the King County Labor Council was getting ready to vote to endorse 15 Now Tacoma’s ballot initiative, Socialist Alternative members actively canvassed the council delegates to vote against endorsement! Despite all the excuses, the real reason was, once again, that they didn’t want to run afoul of the union leaderships there whose position was expressed by one of them as being that they “preferred to work with the business community.” The fact that the tiny forces of 15 Now Tacoma ended up winning something (a 26% increase in the minimum wage for all over two years) that was close to as much as what was won in Seattle was ignored by the comrades in Seattle.

The inevitable longer-term result has been that Socialist Alternative has more or less dropped the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage now, in favor of the union leadership’s “fight for fifteen” at some time in the future. An even more serious consequence has been that the enthusiasm that the election of a socialist to city council has largely collapsed among low wage workers. A member of SEIU Local 6 reports, for example, that among fellow janitors, whereas before several members were extremely enthusiastic about Sawant, within a year or so that enthusiasm had been replaced by distrust at best, partly because Kshama has made common cause with the dictatorial and hated president of the local.

Mass Movement From Below
The greatest fear of both the Democrats and of the union leadership is a mass movement of radicalized workers. Therefore, it was inevitable that the focus on the liberal Democrats and on the union leadership, the insistence on linking with this leadership, must lead to refusal to try to build or even directly link with even the beginnings of any sort of such mass movement of defiance, just as it meant refusing to try to help build a movement from below within the unions. We saw that in the refusal to support the opposition movement in SEIU Local 6 in Seattle/Tacoma. This despite a most rotten leadership that, among other things wouldn’t even defend a female member who was sexually assaulted at work by her boss! (When this betrayal by the Local 6 president was raised with Philip Locker, he – Locker – simply refused to believe it.)

This desire to keep the links with the liberal Democrats in particular caused the Socialist Alternative leadership to hold at arms’ length any sort of movement of mass defiance, for example in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement. While nationally playing up language around criticizing Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, on the ground in Seattle, instead of trying to link up with the radicalized black youth, the Socialist Alternative leadership orientated towards the NAACP and the (conservative) black ministers. This mistaken approach then went further and was a warning of the future support for Sanders when Kshama gave an implicit endorsement of liberal Democrat Larry Gossett in February, 2015. In April, a number of Democrats were supported by Kshama to fill a vacant City Council seat, including a former NAACP and Urban League leader.

February, 2016 “People’s Assembly”: A Platform for Democrats
Recently in February of this year, a “Peoples’ Assembly” was convened with absolutely zero time given for working-class participation from the floor. Instead six elected Democrats were supported and given an uncritical platform to give speeches.

While the case of Socialist Alt openly supporting five Democratic candidates for Seattle City Council in October of 2015 is well known, what isn’t known is the depths to which the leadership fell. The South Seattle District 2 seat was contested in the primary by three individuals, Democrat incumbent (and winner) Bruce Harrell, Democrat Tammy Morales, and independent Josh Farris. Like Kshama, Farris was also known for his activist credentials, coming out of the Occupy movement leading an anti-foreclosure organization. His campaign openly supported Kshama, and referenced it in pledging to only take the average workers’ wage. His campaign was completely ignored, with the exception of a passing mention alongside the name of Morales, in a list of candidates who supported a housing platform Kshama put forward. Come October, only the campaign of Morales was highlighted by Socialist Alt. All other politics in that instance was subsumed under the single qualification of a toothless support for a platform which Kshama herself is no longer is acting on. It is in this context that the quivering criticism towards Sanders exists, where a front group could form whose website lists not a single criticism of Sanders.

History Rewritten
In the wake of this sharp turn towards the Democratic Party, it is unsurprising, though still shocking, to read of an attempted rewriting of history, where now the leadership is beginning to claim past mistakes in not supporting the potential Democratic Chicago campaign of Karen Lewis, or endorsing MXGM member and Mayor Chokwe Lumumba. Certainly Socialist Alt has been knee-jerk sectarian to the politics of Black self-determination, and is ignorant of potential developments in Jackson, Mississippi. However the central crime certainly was not caving to support a Democratic election campaign.

Jesse Jackson & Labor Militant: The Actual History
The historical alterations continue back to the 1980’s on the campaign of Jesse Jackson, where the leadership’s comments are completely erroneous. Labor Militant (the predecessor to Socialist Alternative) never had any consideration of calling for a vote for Jackson. Rather, LM initially called on Jackson to break from the Democrats and lead a movement for a mass labor party/workers’ party. The leading body of the CWI (Committee for a Workers International) criticized this by pointing out that it was a mistake to call on a capitalist politician to lead the workers’ movement. After discussion within Labor Militant, agreement was reached and the position was changed. Perhaps most shocking is their revisionist recounting of the position of the Bolsheviks regarding the Mensheviks. They compare the position of the Bolsheviks “call(ing) on the Mensheviks to take power” to the support for Sanders. The one has nothing to do with the other. The former amounted to a call on a social democratic party to overthrow the capitalist state by taking power through the workers’ councils; the latter is support for an out-and-out capitalist politician. It is hard to believe that the leading comrades in the organization don’t see the principled difference here.

Conclusion
In conclusion, here are a few demands to consider raising within Socialist Alternative:

  • Break from the liberal wing of the Democrats! Use the position of Kshama Sawant to organize to build a mass movement of defiance from below. Power must come from the working-class, not from career politicians, no matter how “progressive,” nor from top-down NGOs.
  • Withdraw support for liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders. Not supporting Sanders in no way means not trying to relate to the Sanders supporters.
  • Break from the union leadership, which represents the bosses and the Democrats inside the workers’ movement. Their entire strategy has alienated the membership from their own unions and has proven to be a complete failure. Help the rank and file organize to take back their unions, to transform the unions into fighting organizations that defend and advance wages and working conditions rather than collaborate with the unionized employers and divide union workers from non-union workers.
  • Put into action the call for 100 independent left candidates in the next election. Turn to the 1000s of individual local protest movements (around issues like police murders, lead in the drinking water, fracking, etc.) and encourage them to run independent left candidates with class-based grassroots campaigns at the local level as a first step towards coming together on the national level.

We urge those comrades who oppose Socialist Alternative’s capitulation to a wing of Democratic Party politics to consider where this important mistake comes from, and to make the connection between it and the general approach of the Committee for a Workers International. Comrades formerly in CWI sections from England to Bolivia have written material on the deficient and centrist approach of the International towards the state and the dual tasks of building both a revolutionary party as well as a mass party. The errors made globally illuminate upon the mistaken logic in the United States of Socialist Alternative. Neither staying in, nor leaving, the CWI makes one more or less a Marxist – rather it is the positions and principles upheld, and the methodology utilized. Utmost importance is chiefly on the identification of oneself as a Marxist and as a revolutionary above whatever party affiliation.

Mike Ladd
former member, Socialist Alternative
volunteer, 15 Now Tacoma
member and former shop steward and former executive board candidate, SEIU Local 6, Seattle/Tacoma, WA

Jordan Martinez
former member, Socialist Alternative,
(for more writings by Jordan Martinez, see http://www.darkarethedays.wordpress.com
Jordan can be reached directly at:
jordanlmartinez@gmail.com

John Reimann
former founding member, Labor Militant and former delegate, IEC
former recording secretary and expelled member, Carpenters Union Local 713, Hayward, CA
for more writings by John Reimann see http://www.oaklandsocialist.com
John can be reached directly at 1999wildcat@gmail.com

From the Archive: “Proposals on Political Clarity and Orientation for the Vote Sawant Campaign”

In September of 2013 Socialist Alternative was mere months away from a radical breakthrough in city politics. However, the gains that were to be made were not without their own contradictions. Below I republish the criticism I wrote then, of Socialist Alternative’s General Election Campaign Plan for the Sawant city council run. In this document one can see that even one year prior to the Ferguson uprising, and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protest movement, race is still central. This was brought up exactly as part of the greater point on the social basis on which the election would base itself on. Unfortunately, the issues I raised below represented a minority opinion, primarily that of my own. The election campaign of Kshama continued it’s partial reliance on wealthier older White liberals, over seeking to develop a base in more specifically working class areas. To this day the actions of Socialist Alternative further this methodology, where we now see developing ties to various “progressive” Democrats (see prior posts on this blog). Continue reading

Their Socialism and Ours: On Sanders

Their Socialism and Ours:

On Sanders

A specter is haunting Socialism – the specter of Sanders. The presidential run of Bernie Sanders, a nominally “independent” Senator from Vermont, has garnered at least nearly 200,000 claimed volunteers and $73 million in donations in 2015. His campaign has been heralded by the Left for it’s unabashedly populist rhetoric, with economistic calls for a “political revolution against the Billionaire Class.” There’s apparently just one problem: he’s running as a Democrat.

Sanders and the Democrats

In spite of how some on the Left might portray him, Bernie Sanders did not just wake up one day and say we need a political revolution, nor was his decision to run as a Democrat an incidental mistake. Sanders has long played a role as a false alternative from the Democratic Party, the primary run being only the most recent blatant shattering of his myth, although many supporters still cling to the pieces of “independence.” Bernie Sanders became involved in third party politics beginning in 1971, with his membership in the anti-war Liberty Union Party and his candidacy under their name for various statewide Vermont political positions from 1972 to 1976, before leaving the Party and orientating towards local elections. On the national level, the exit from LUP was underpinned by Sander’s support for Democratic presidential candidates- Jimmy Carter beginning in 1976, and campaigning for Walter Mondale in ’84.i

In 1981, Sanders successfully ran for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont as an independent, unseating a six-term Democrat incumbent. A new liberal progressive coalition formed to drive the electoral bids of Sanders, the precursor to the modern Vermont Progressive Party. From 1983 to ’87, Sanders would continue to win re-election against both Democrat and Republican challengers. Sanders was noted for his ardent anti-war positions, and opposition to certain imperialist policies of the federal government, a marked contrast from his current stances. In 1986, Sanders ran for Governor of Vermont, apart from the Liberty Union Party (who fielded their own candidate), solidifying the past division between himself and a layer of grassroots third-party supporters who buoyed his earliest campaigns. Despite continued “progressive coalition” support, Bernie’s electoral momentum came to a halt in 1988, following a failed run for the US House of Representatives. After seeing out his Burlington mayoral term, Sanders briefly departed from political activity. When returning to active political activity in the 1990’s, a new Bernie Sanders was formed. As the Vermont Liberty Union Party describe the rightward consolidation:

“Bernie–out of office for the first time in eight years–then went to the Kennedy School at Harvard for six months and came back with a new relationship with the state’s Democrats. The Vermont Democratic Party leadership has allowed no authorized candidate to run against Bernie in 1990 (or since) and in return, Bernie has repeatedly blocked third party building. His closet party, the Democrats, are very worried about a left 3rd party forming in Vermont. In the last two elections, Sanders has prevented Progressives in his machine from running against Howard Dean, our conservative Democratic Governor who was ahead of Gingrich in the attack on welfare.

The unauthorized Democratic candidate in 1990, Delores Sandoval, an African American faculty member at the University of Vermont, was amazed that the official party treated her as a nonperson
and Bernie kept outflanking her to her right. She opposed the Gulf build-up, Bernie supported it. She supported decriminalization of drug use and Bernie defended the war on drugs, and so on…..

After being safely elected in November of 1990, Bernie continued to support the buildup while seeking membership in the Democratic Congressional Caucus–with the enthusiastic support of the Vermont Democratic Party leadership. But, the national Democratic Party blew him off, so he finally voted against the war and returned home–and as the war began–belatedly claimed to be the leader of the anti-war movement in Vermont.”ii

A very clear affinity to the Democratic Party was then established. Democratic leader Howard Dean clarified the relationship Bernie Sanders has to the Dems on a 2005 episode of Meet The Press. Responding to a question on Sanders’ socialism in the run up to an upcoming Senate bid, he said “Bernie can call himself anything he wants. He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat that–he runs as an Independent because he doesn’t like the structure and the money that gets involved. And he actually has, I think, some good points about campaign finance reform. The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time And that is a candidate that we think… (w)e may very well end up supporting him. We need to work some things out because it’s very important for us not to split the votes in some of the other offices as well.”iii

For Sander’s loyalty to the Democrats, the current primary campaign opposite Hillary Clinton is the first time in the 21st Century he has faced a DNC-backed challenger for electoral office. Even with a decades long electoral success resume, no independent party has been built with the seal of Sanders’ approval outside of loose endorsements for Vermont Progressive Party candidates. Instead, he has given consistent endorsements and funding for Democrats nationally including, through PAC fronts, right wing Democrats.iv Disgracefully this is matched by his active campaigning against other independent campaigns, such as that of Ralph Nader‘s in 2004. On which Sanders said, “Not only am I going to vote for John Kerry, I am going to run around this country and do everything I can to dissuade people from voting for Ralph Nader.”v

Unfortunately, even armed with history, the role of Bernie Sanders as a loyal opposition has been ignored by much of the Left. To posit that perhaps paradoxically running openly as a Democrat allows the opportunity of potential success for a “Socialist” candidate is fatally flawed, an understanding that cannot escape Sanders. The campaign has long been doomed as a non-starter, exactly because of the Democratic Party machine Sanders has aided and continues to provide pseudo-independent cover to. The Democratic Party, surprise surprise, is not actually democratically structured. Instead the primary process is overly determined outside of the caucuses by “super delegates,” primarily currently electedDemocratic Party politicians. These super delegates control 20% of the overall delegate vote, and five hundred out of nearly eight hundred have already pledged support for Clinton. vi These pledges are not even coming exclusively from party hardliners, even presumed Sanders endorsers like Sherrod Brown of Ohio have gone into the camp of Clinton. Hillary then has the greatest party backing of any Democratic Party primary candidate at least since 1980. Only two House Representatives have endorsed Sanders, no senators, no governors. vii

As for the other 80% of delegate votes, derived via the caucuses, the picture isn’t much prettier. While the first two primaries of Iowa and New Hampshire look likelier by the day to swing towards Sanders, they represent a fraction of a percent of the number of delegates required at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Additionally, New Hampshire and Iowa- along with Sanders’ Vermont- are three of the nations five whitest states. Demographics will give an inevitable electoral challenge to Bernie Sanders, particularly in the South, who was polled last June at only 9% support amongst non-White Democrats nationally. Clinton however enjoys generally positive name-recognition and support amongst Black Democrats. viii This is in large part due to the complicity of the extra-parliamentary wings of the Democratic Party.

The majority of unionized workers now belong to a union which has endorsed Clinton, an affirmation of labor activist Steve Early’s warning that if “organized labor plays it cautious and safe, jumping on the Clinton bandwagon instead of rallying around Sanders, it will be just one more sign of diminished union capacity for mounting any kind of worker self-defense, on the job or in politics.” Much of the institutions of the Black community are also firmly embedded in the Democratic Party machine, and thusly the Clinton campaign. ix In September, Sanders reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus, holding a meeting for the Caucus generally panned as a failure with only six CBC participants. This is half the number of CBC members who have already endorsed Clinton, twelve, a full quarter of CBC members. x

The lock-step march of the Black elite behind the Clinton campaign in the form of intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson, over fifty Black mayors and the U.S. Black Chambers (of Commerce) endorsing Clinton, conservative church leaders, and continued patronage by Democratic Party front groups like the Urban League and the NAACP, communicates less the monopoly Clinton has over the political imagination of Black workers, and more a deep political disconnect. This political disconnect between the Black elite and the Black working class continues the political crisis exemplified by the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore. To this, Democratic Party offers no solutions, most certainly none desired by much of the Black youth who have ruptured with the old guard.

In September of 2014, in the wake of the Ferguson protests, over thirty elected Black Democrat St.Louis County, Missouri officials formed the “Fannie Lou Hamer Coalition.” While invoking radical rhetoric, the Coalition endorsed a Republican for the Missouri State House, citing an anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat mood. As one Republican supporter said: “We’re so baptized into voting for Democrats. . . . Look at all the Democrats that have done wrong to you.”xi At the Coalition’s launching press conference a 27 year old Black factory worker and hip-hop artist, a resident of the neighborhood Mike Brown was murdered in, “told the coalition that most of the youth are not going to follow them, but they will follow young men like him who have been on the ground since day one of the protests.” A coalition which pendulum-like swings from Republicans to Democrats is hardly a solution to the political fissures erupting in Black America. Numerous new organizing efforts have used the rhetoric of a New Civil Rights Movement, while funneling that energy into co-optionary dead ends. “Our generation is tired of this… It’s the young men who have being doing the fighting, but it’s still the young men who are not being heard. If it wasn’t for us fighting, these organizations wouldn’t be forming right now.” xii Unfortunately nor does the dominant organization emerging in this new period, Black Lives Matter, offer any alternative to the two-party system.

The Two-Way Street of Pressure Politics

The Black Lives Matter organization, headed by intellectuals Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, for a lengthy period strategically maintained an anarchistic abstention from the 2016 elections in terms of endorsements, while tactically simultaneously disrupting various election rallies. BLM came to strain under the new terrain of party politics. Rightist branches of the network, like that in Boston, embarrassingly appealed to the moral faculties of politicians,xiii while more controversial actions like the shutdown of Bernie Sander’s Westlake Plaza speech in Seattle haven’t been principally defended. On the Seattle incident, BLM addressed it in a statement, saying “(r)egardless of the merits of this individual action which, among some, are still up for debate, one isolated incident cannot be the basis of judgment for the movement as a whole.” This is a shameful distancing from the actions of BLM activists, if “one isolated incident” was correct, then absolutely it should not just be defended- including its “merits”- but held up as an example for the “movement as a whole”! While they claim that their “work is not funded or driven by any political party nor is it influenced by local or national candidates,” this is clearly contradicted by the electoral orientation of the network. Flowing from this work, came the inevitable reckoning with reality. xiv

Black Lives Matter aided in creating a political vacuum in the modern Black Freedom Movement, by not definitively pointing to alternatives to the two-party system, while simultaneously placing demands on that system. This vacuum was readily filled by liberals like DeRay McKesson who, with his liberal Campaign Zero, met with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and requested meetings with Republican candidates as well. Quickly, Campaign Zero took headlines and their platform began to define the movement, propelling BLM to build a relationship with the Democratic Party. Where McKesson called for a town hall candidates forum, BLM one-upped with a petition for a debate. However it was made clear on an episode of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry’s show that, radical language aside, the differences are minimal. Alicia Garza clarified the trajectory of BLM as such:

“I think the big thing that we`re concerned about is that thus far, the Democratic Party has not done the work that it needs to, to genuinely engage black voters. And we have been doing that work. So has my colleague, DeRay. And certainly, again, it`s less a question of the format to us. We want to make sure that the Democratic National Committee is having serious conversations at every single level about how to address the crisis facing black communities today. And what we think that does not
mean is resting it on the shoulders of black folks to do that work for them. “

“I think what`s relevant is the question of our access to the democratic system. And what`s also relevant is the question of how democracy works right now, which to be honest, and to be frank, is locking out people like the members of our network from participating in genuine ways.
The issue with the lack of response from the DNC, and this is not a new demand, right? There`s lots of conversation happening in the DNC about opening up the process so more people can participate. And actually opening up the process so candidates can get closer to movements without being sanctioned for doing so.”xv

Garza, rather than pointing to a break from the Democrats, instead gestures towards further inroads between “movements” and the DNC.The failure of pressure politics was put on full display, when Alicia Garza appealed to the very DNC resolution endorsing BLM, which BLM had supposedly rejected, as leverage to demand a full debate on #BlackLivesMatter with the Democrats. This was a furthering of BLM’s general strategy of confrontational pressuring, rather than challenging, of the Democrats.

What is made clear here, is that rather than the campaign of Bernie Sanders and the 2016 Democratic Party primary election cycle being an across the board gain for the “Left,” it in fact has been a rightist influence on large swaths of the Left, both on recent movements, as well as long-standing organizations. This is an inevitability where generally the working class have no independent institutions to resistelectoral conservativism. American Leftist political parties in their current idealist (liberal) form, disconnected from specifically working class activity, cannot replace the role of institutions. Other examples can be made reflecting this reality.

Nominally the Green Party has maintained an independent position from the Democratic Party, with a Jill Stein campaign underway already. However, within the rank-and-file fissures have formed on the issue of Bernie Sanders. This is most visibly the case in Maine, where leadership members intervened to silence discussion of supporting Sanders, sparking threats of a wide-scale departure from the GP. The creator of the “Greens for Sanders” Facebook page, Maine State Party Treasurer Daniel Stromgren, claimed that “the majority of our 40,000 voter membership is going to vote for Sanders if he beats Hillary.” This claim was reinforced by Benjamin Meiklejohn, State Party Senior Advisor: “Statistically speaking, if you look at the numbers, between 80 and 97 percent of our own party’s members will not vote for the Green presidential candidate in the general election.” xvi For the Greens, the Sanders campaign cannot be boiled down merely as a short term tactical orientation, as due to the present ballot access laws, organizing here and now is a necessity to maintain a presence in upcoming ballots and consistent openings for electoral challenges to the Left of the Dems.

As Bruce Dixon writes “Currently the law keeps Greens and others off the ballot in more than half the states. Precise details vary according to state law, but if a third party candidate after obtaining one-time ballot access receives about 2% of total votes, a new ballot line is created, granting ballot access to any potential candidate from school board to sheriff to US congress who wants to run as something other than a Republican or Democrat. That, many participants agreed, would be a significant puncture in the legal thicket that now protects Democrats against competition on the ballot from their left. But a nationwide trans-partisan ballot access campaign to create a national alternative to the two capitalist parties is something left activists must begin serious work a good 18 months before a November election, essentially right now.”xvii

This again points to the barriers Bernie Sanders builds impeding potential third-party victories. An orientation towards the Sanders campaign, without simultaneously concretely building an alternative (not just vocalizing in favor of one), reveals a level of disingenuous populism. This is why Green Party candidate “Dr. [Jill] Stein is asking for [Sanders] supporters to think about helping her party now with ballot access in order to have another option on the ballot in November as a “Plan B” for them.” xviii “As of July 2015, [the GP] are on the ballot in 20 states, reaching 55% of the population. In play for 2015 is 9% of the population. In 2016, [the GP will] be fighting for another 26% of the population. About another 10% of the population lives in states with the most challenging ballot access laws.” xix

Of course, it is absurd to speak with any seriousness of an independent Bernie Sanders campaign, even aside from the ballot access laws. Sanders himself has made clear his intentions to not run as an independent multiple times. xx Additionally, his ties with the Democratic Party have been strengthened through the primary. In November, the Sanders campaign agreed to a join fund-raising agreement with the Democratic National Committee. “The move, which comes more than two months after Hillary Clinton’s campaign signed such an agreement in August, will allow Sanders’ team to raise up to $33,400 for the committee as well as $2,700 for the campaign from individual donors at events… (Sanders) also recently lent his name to a fundraising letter for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to a campaign adviser, in another indication of his slowly growing ties to the party’s infrastructure.”xxi The majority of Sanders supporters are just as tied to the Democratic Party, with a recent poll showing Clinton with 59% and Sanders with 26% of the party’s support, and of primary Sanders supporters- 59% also comfortable with a Clinton nomination. With Clinton consistently polling around merely 15% unfavorability amongst Democrats, the number of Sanders supports who will find it within themselves to vote Clinton in 2016 is sure to rise.xxii

Dead On Arrival is my assessment of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and the movement of “Sandernistas.” Even where a movement for Bernie is a Left rather than Rightward shift, it is a zero-sum game to the DNC’s benefit. This is why the DNC has allowed an “insurgent” their platform, even highlighting Sanders’ campaign in email blasts.xxiii Whereas, in the midst of inner-party disputes, “progressive” Howard Dean had his 2004 primary run brutally taken down by a Clinton led leadership. A precursor to Sanders, Dean and his 140,000-strong “Deaniacs” movement broke records at this pre-Citizens United time with over $15 million raised, and an average donation of $25. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on attack ads against Dean by DNC insiders, culminating in a failing third-place at the Iowa caucus, and the infamous decontextualized “scream” for which he would be politically eviscerated. “Howard Dean was assassinated in broad daylight. Unlike Kennedy’s ‘grassy knoll,’ Dean’s killers are not hiding—it was the Democratic Party itself, and more specifically the Democratic Leadership Council.”xxiv

No less will Sanders campaign be eventually suffocated by the DNC, however, whereas Dean’s campaign was partially the product of a rift within the leadership of the Party, Sanders hardly could be said to have the Democratic Party, leadership or structures, in his cross hairs. Calls for a movement then coming from campaign offices, are marching orders into the DNC. Even explicit calls for a broader movement must be questioned by the previous measure– “A campaign has got to be much more than just getting votes and getting elected. It has got to be helping to educate people, organize people.”xxv Is this a statement of pressure politics, or the politics of rupture? Given what we know, this is clearly the former, a “socialism” not even passing for reformism. This is a repetition of history which should remind Leftists of all the calls after the 2008 presidential election to “hold Obama’s feet to the fire.” We should not fight to hold the state accountable, but to undermine it, as the Capitalist state can never be accountable to the oppressed.

Sanders, or Soviets?

Unfortunately, following decades of degrading labor and anti-capitalist movements, the Left is dominated by liberal ideas even on the fringes. Amongst Socialists, the conception of “movement” is less Trotskyist and more Alinskyist. Saul Alinisky was the author of Rules for Radicals, published in 1971, it became a bible for NGO “community organizers.” Inherently reformist and economistic, Alinskyism sees working class action in a utilitarian lens, as a means to an ends, rather than an expression of class consciouses. The ends in this case often are the winning of narrow reforms or pre-determined “leaders” being placed into positions of power. Given the recent history of various pressure campaigns like 15 Now and Black Lives Matter, whether intentionally so or eventually subsumed as such, the following critique of Alinskyism seems prophetic on its gains and limitations:

“(T)he Alinsky form of opposing power is not sufficient, of course. That model takes a basic insight–one almost entirely absent from our national discourse these days–about the need to fight if you hope to win, and the need to oppose power with power, and does almost as little as possible with it: it defines powers narrowly, challenges them with a deeply formulaic strategy, and wins predictably narrow victories. These victories are actual victories, which should be a slap-across-the-face wake-up to the countless liberal and progressive organizations and ‘movements’ out there that never give the [few] people they involve in their campaigns an opportunity to experience the empowerment of actually winning something. But the victories of Alinsky groups are generally narrow and local; rarely if ever do they contribute to the creation of a new political circumstance in which similar groups of citizens will not have to form and fight and win in other places to achieve the same basic gain. They do not catalyze political change, really–just the resolution of a particular community’s ‘unique’ problems.”xxvi

Returning then to the question of accountability, only institutions of the working class can ever hold their own “to the fire.” However, Sanders is not of the working class but a career politician, and is thusly an impediment to class independence where workers are expected to, in popular front fashion, liquidate themselves into his campaign – a liquidation evidenced by Socialist Alternative’s “Movement4Bernie” front group, whose website contains not a single criticism of Sanders. After decades of genuine workers institutions and organizing efforts being repressed by state violence, such as the case of the Black Panther Party, such institutions are vitally needed as the basis for “accountability” to bare any material meaning. Without them, elected Leftists, particularly those who carry no analysis of the extra-parliamentary wings of the Democrats, are forced into a centrism – swinging between, at worst, realpolitik allies, and at best, spontaneous class activity.

Proletarian institutions historically mean the commune, the soviet, the class-struggle based neighborhood and workplace councils. They build upon and transcend spontaneity, and they are the basis of dual power and thusly a new society: “All power to the Soviets.” The construction of such institutions, and the preparation for them to fulfill their historic role – this is the real task, which history in motion does not concede time to vacillate on. For Sanders though, Socialism has nothing to do with the “withering away of the State,” nothing to do with actual working class democracy and power. Instead, while appearing to be working class centered, Sanders is first and foremost state centered – in this historical context, centered on the Capitalist state. This overrides whatever promised reforms he may be campaigning on, as this places him at odds with the working class. Sanders, by defining Socialism so loosely as simply anything the government does, including the police and military(!), empowers the delusion that “progressive” Democrats are “Socialists” by reinforcing the state. This is why the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, can refuse to answer what the difference between a Democrat and a Socialist is when asked. Her response, “the more important question is, what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?” may also be shared by the leadership of SAlt and much of the soft-Left.xxvii

Murray Bookchin wrote of Sanders as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1986, describing him as “a centralist” with an “administration, [that] despite its democratic proclivities, tends to look more like a civic oligarchy than a municipal democracy.” Bookchin concluded his criticism, which included details of a Burlington waterfront sellout, thusly: “This ‘managerial radicalism’ with its technocratic bias and its corporate concern for expansion is bourgeois to the core — and even brings the authenticity of traditional ‘socialist’ canons into grave question. A recent Burlington Free Press headline which declared: ‘Sanders Unites with Business on Waterfront’ could be taken as a verdict by the local business establishment as a whole that it is not they who have been joining Sanders but Sanders who has joined them. When productivist forms of ‘socialism’ begin to resemble corporate forms of capitalism, it may be well to ask how these inversions occur and whether they are accidental at all. This question is not only one that must concern Sanders and his supporters; it is a matter of grim concern for the American radical community as a whole.”xxviii

The numerous Sanders campaign promises have limitations exactly because of the restrictions of the capitalist state which he is tied to in his “Sewer Socialism” even more than he is tied to the Democratic Party. The economic program of Sanders, which could be generalized as a Keynesian one, is a 2016 version of Obama’s “Hope and Change,” and just as sterile – sterile, as a result of the constraints of the Capitalist system in crisis. In the midst of all this talk of taxing the “Billionaire class” lies a economy struggling with a marginal recovery post-Great Recession and teetering on collapse. The assumptions present in the economic outlook of Sanders are completely at odds with a Marxist outlook. Whereas liberal economists look at the drop of investment in productive sectors of the economy, as opposed to speculative investment, as a political issue of mis- or non-allocated funds, which the state must thusly appropriate to direct the marketplace, Marxists actually have an analysis founded not in (politically Left) Keynesianism, but in (politically Right) classical Liberalism. The world is then flipped on it’s head from the perspective of a Keynesian. The root causes of the 2008 long depression – Ponzi speculations, fantastical casino betting, and easy credit – are in reality the superficial expressions of a low rate of profit, the ability for the Capitalist class to turn a dollar into two dollars. Government investment outside of particular circumstances, which both Keynes and Krugman have acknowledged to be a World War economy, are an encroachment on the profits of corporations.xxix This encroachment cycles further drops in investment, as the promise of profitable returns is lowered. On this, New York University professor Michael Rectenwald wrote that,

“As it stands, over the past forty-plus years, we have witnessed a tremendous curtailment of investment in social reproduction, such that the withering of state and private property investments has resulted in a shrunken and shrinking fixed capital base, along with the continual sloughing off of even more layers of variable capital [the labor power of workers]. Given the new, vaunted robotic automation that is promised, even more layers of workers could lose their jobs, thus offsetting or more than offsetting any gains Sanders or Clinton might achieve in employment. And if this were not bad enough, the increased technology investments in robotics [to the detriment of labor] would have the effect of further drawing down the rate of profit, thus serving to further stifle investment in production and thus labor. Likewise, the increasing introduction of robotic automation would enlarge the already growing layers of displaced workers.”xxx

On multiple fronts then the Socialism of Bernie Sanders, and the Socialism of much of the Left is found lacking. In common discourse it has become a trope to posit Sanders as the “good,” contrasted to the “perfect” that is a pie-in-the-sky Socialism. At this historical juncture however, the perfect is not the enemy of the good; in fact, the good is the enemy of the perfect – and it’s not even very good. Whereas the “Left” is supposedly a spectrum from liberals and progressives to radicals and revolutionaries, on the crucial issues before us today of the economy and the state, Marxism is not simply a ratcheting up of “progressive” rhetoric, but is it’s own logic entirely. Stoking illusions in the ability for the Capitalist state to respond to the needs of the people is a doomed strategy, one having already played out under Syriza in Greece. The only correct political response to Capitalism in crisis is the organization of a working class conscious of itself as having interests separate from the ruling class and the Capitalist state.

Jim B further wrote in his previously quoted 2006 article that “(i)n the end, real organizing and ideology are deeply linked. When the left has either one of these without the other–as with the Alinsky-based models (real organizing without ideology) and countless 20th-century manifestations of intellectual socialism (ideology without real organizing)–the right has the opportunity, if it has both (as it does in the U.S. today, in spades), to beat the living shit out of us.”xxxi While the Far Right, emphasized most by ISIS, are consolidating in the wake of the failures of the Left, whether it be Syriza’s capitulation to austerity in Greece or Chavizmo’s historic electoral loss in Venezuala, we must build up the conscious forces of the historic revolutionary Left amongst working and oppressed communities. A strategy of autonomy from the state matching that of the Far Right is both a tactical maneuver to undercut and transcend divisions within the working class, while also a strategic necessity in building towards a situation of dual power.

While it may seem laughable to contrast organizing around Bernie Sanders to organizing for a revolution, that is precisely the situation we’ve found ourselves in 2016 – closer to the precipice of another economic crash, with the Far Right much better positioned to take advantage. Immediately, campaigns around democracy – “the lifeblood of Socialism” – should be introduced for every facet of working class life, such as campaigning for community and tenant run public housing. Mass movements should not be treated as means, but as the basis for new expressions of class organizing. Ultimately, the “vanguard,” as the highest expression of class consciousness, can only appear out of class struggle. That the United States is populated by numerous “vanguard” parties, each an exception to the history of such organizations as the central bodies of co-operation and debate between genuine working class leaders, should cease to be the norm. Replacing today’s Left should be one which is both rooted, and emanates from, the working class and their conditions. Nothing else can move us forward.

i“A Vermont Socialist’s Guide to Bernie Sanders,” SocialistWorker.org, accessed December 29, 2015, http://socialistworker.org/2015/06/11/a-vermont-socialists-guide-to-sanders.

ii“Liberty Union Party | Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week,” accessed January 3, 2016, http://www.libertyunionparty.org/?page_id=363.

iiiJoetheElectrician, Meet the Press – May 22, 2005 – Howard Dean, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSFVsHlocxM.

iv“‘Socialist’ Bernie Sanders Funds Scumbag Democratic Party Campaigns,” Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist, accessed December 29, 2015, http://louisproyect.org/2014/11/03/socialist-bernie-sanders-funds-scumbag-democratic-party-campaigns/.

v“A Socialist in the Senate?,” accessed December 29, 2015, http://socialistworker.org/2006-2/610/610_11_BernieSanders.shtml.

vi“Bill Clinton Rallies Superdelegates as Hillary’s Campaign Hints at Growing Roster,” Bloomberg.com/politics, accessed January 4, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-10-28/bill-clinton-rallies-superdelegates-as-hillary-s-campaign-hints-at-growing-roster.

viiAaron Bycoffe, “The 2016 Endorsement Primary,” FiveThirtyEight, accessed January 4, 2016, http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-endorsement-primary/.

viiiNate Silver, “Bernie Sanders Could Win Iowa And New Hampshire. Then Lose Everywhere Else.,” FiveThirtyEight, October 11, 2015, https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/bernie-sanders-could-win-iowa-and-new-hampshire-then-lose-everywhere-else/.

ix“Hillary Clinton Is Pulling Away From Bernie Sanders With Union Endorsements,” The Huffington Post, accessed January 4, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hillary-clinton-union-endorsements_564677a2e4b045bf3def3588.

xSophia Tesfaye, “Bernie Sanders Tries to Meet with Black Leaders but Nobody Shows up: Only 6 Congressional Black Caucus Members Attend,” accessed December 29, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/09/11/bernie_sanders_ties_to_met_with_black_leaders_and_nobody_shows_up_only_6_congressional_black_caucus_members_attend/.

xi“Black Voters in St. Louis County Direct Their Anger at the Democratic Party – The Washington Post,” accessed January 3, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/black-voters-in-st-louis-county-direct-their-anger-at-the-democratic-party/2014/10/14/e6957b8a-4f02-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html.

xii“Black Dems Form ‘Fannie Lou Hamer’ Political Organization,” St. Louis American, accessed January 3, 2016, http://www.stlamerican.com/news/local_news/article_5509968c-3e8c-11e4-b8fa-d3c00efcf341.html.

xiii“#BlackLivesMatter Performs a Self-Humiliation at Hillary Clinton’s Hands | Black Agenda Report,” accessed December 30, 2015, http://blackagendareport.com/blacklivesmatter_humiliated_by_Clinton.

xiv“Two Years Later, Black Lives Matter Faces Critiques, But It Won’t Be StoppedBlack Lives Matter,” accessed January 5, 2016, http://blacklivesmatter.com/two-years-later-black-lives-matter-faces-critiques-but-it-wont-be-stopped/.

xv“Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 10/25/15,” MSNBC, October 25, 2015, http://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/melissa-harris-perry/2015-10-25.

xvi“Conflict Erupts in Green Party after Censorship of Sanders Supporters | Fighting the Tides,” accessed December 29, 2015, http://tides.bangordailynews.com/2015/07/13/home/conflict-erupts-in-green-party-after-censorship-of-sanders-supporters/.

xvii“Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders: Sheepdogging for Hillary and the Democrats in 2016 | Black Agenda Report,” accessed December 29, 2015, http://www.blackagendareport.com/bernie-sanders-sheepdog-4-hillary.

xviii“Plan B? Green Party Candidate Jill Stein’s Message to Bernie Sanders Supporters,” Florida for Jill Stein 2016, accessed January 10, 2016, http://jillstein2016.gulfcoastgreens.org/plan-b/plan-b-green-party-candidate-jill-steins-message-bernie-sanders-supporters/.

xix“Ballot Access,” Www.gp.org, accessed January 10, 2016, http://www.gp.org/ballotaccess.

xx“‘This Week’ Transcript: Fallout From Baltimore,” ABC News, May 3, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-fallout-baltimore/story?id=30757510.

xxiGabriel Debenedetti, “Sanders Campaign Inks Joint Fundraising Pact with DNC,” POLITICO, accessed December 29, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/11/bernie-sanders-2016-fundraising-dnc-215559.

xxii“Most Bernie Sanders Voters OK with Hillary Clinton Winning,” USA TODAY, accessed December 29, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2015/12/16/bernie-sanders-voters-hillary-clinton-poll/77414862/.

xxiiiJosh Marshall, “The Official Opposition?,” TPM, May 28, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/the-official-opposition.

xxiv“What Bernie Sanders’ Supporters Can Learn From Howard Dean,” Www.counterpunch.org, accessed December 29, 2015, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/06/12/what-bernie-sanders-supporters-can-learn-from-howard-dean/.

xxv“Bernie Sanders: ‘I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States’ [Updated on March 19],” The Nation, accessed January 11, 2016, http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-i-am-prepared-run-president-united-states-updated-march-19/.

xxvi“Activism, Incorporated,” Www.counterpunch.org, accessed January 11, 2016, http://www.counterpunch.org/2006/10/07/activism-incorporated/.

xxvii“No Really—What’s the Difference Between a Democrat and a Socialist?,” Bloomberg.com/politics, accessed December 29, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-07-31/no-really-what-s-the-difference-between-a-democrat-and-a-socialist-.

xxviii“Murray Bookchin, ‘The Bernie Sanders Paradox: When Socialism Grows Old’ (1986),” accessed December 29, 2015, http://murrayhatesbernie.tumblr.com/post/127378873094/murray-bookchin-the-bernie-sanders-paradox-when.

xxix“Krugman and Depression Economics,” Michael Roberts Blog, May 27, 2012, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/krugman-and-depression-economics/.

xxx“Syriza and Sanders: ‘Just Say “No”’ to Neo-Liberalism | Insurgent Notes,” accessed December 29, 2015, http://insurgentnotes.com/2015/07/syriza-and-sanders-just-say-no-to-neo-liberalism/.

xxxi“Activism, Incorporated.”

On Socialist Alternative and 15 Now Tacoma

Who is 15 Now Tacoma? The national 15 Now website carries no campaign updates with the exception of one sentence posted in March of last year, no reposted news articles, and no information outside basic contact information of an external website, phone number, and a Facebook page. Yet, this very same 15 Now local group has been causing political waves in the third largest city in Washington State, just 32 miles southwest of Seattle. Continue reading