Kshama Sawant: The Change Socialist Alternative is Fighting For

Kshama Sawant

From Kshama Sawant at the Socialist Alternative website:

Sanders’ Socialist Message Resonates

A specter is haunting the US presidential election – the specter of socialism. Before he even opened up his mouth to speak at the first Democratic Party presidential debate on October 13, Bernie Sanders’ impact on the presidential race was clear.

The debate marked another step forward in the re-emergence of socialist ideas as a legitimate force in US politics. Google reported that Sanders was the most searched candidate online throughout the debate. Merriam Webster reported a spike in searches for “socialism”.

The most important thing about the Sanders campaign is the enthusiasm it is building for the idea of a political revolution against the billionaire class and the popularizing of socialism. We in Socialist Alternative have argued that Sanders needs to draw as sharp a contrast as possible with Hillary Clinton who is now pretending to be a progressive and trying to hide her long history of service to corporate interests.

The Democratic Party is tied by a thousands threads to the billionaire class. It is increasingly urgent to take steps through and around Sanders’ campaign to create a new political force that will serve the interests of the 99% and therefore must be independent of the Democrats.

The article below by Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s newly re-elected socialist city councilmember, is a contribution to the necessary discussion of how we achieve democratic socialist change.

We want to live in a society where ordinary people have full control over the key decisions that affect their lives. A society based on social justice where discrimination based on gender and race has been relegated to the history books. A society based on full employment where all workers receive a living wage; with high quality and free healthcare for everyone; free education from kindergarten to college; decent pensions and good housing accessible for all. A society where communities are based on solidarity and cooperation rather than plagued with fear and alienation. A society where we have ended the threat of climate catastrophe by rebuilding our infrastructure on a green basis and agreed to leave the remaining fossil fuels permanently in the ground. These democratic socialist changes are both necessary and achievable.

Capitalism Has Failed the 99%

However, as Bernie Sanders points out, we currently live in a society dominated by the oligarchy of the super-rich. Income inequality and exploitation are driving millions into desperation and bitterness. That’s why his call for a “political revolution” against the billionaire class has had such an electric effect on hundreds of thousands of young and working people.

At the first Democratic presidential debate, Sanders declared: “what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country…own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” Sanders is giving voice to the enormous desire for change after a decade of economic crisis where millions lost their jobs and homes and the “recovery” has overwhelmingly benefited the 1%. There is deep anger because the political process is completely dominated by corporate interests; cuts to social programs and attacks on the rights of workers are endless; structural racism and sexism remain entrenched; and because no decisive measures are being taken to address global warming.

Underlying all of this is a diseased and decaying social system. But how does one take on the “casino capitalist” process, as Sanders describes it? And how does one create a society where all people do well, not just a handful of billionaires?

Socialism Goes Mainstream

Poll after poll show that people under 30 support “socialism” and “capitalism” in roughly equal numbers. The increased acceptance of socialism is the product of the unmasking of capitalism over the past eight years, during and after the “great recession”, and the new wave of social struggle that has broken out nationally and internationally. From the Wisconsin uprising in 2011, to Occupy, to the Fight for $15 to Black Lives Matter, we have seen working people, young people and people of color standing up against the rule of the 1%. Sanders has correctly stressed the role of mass movements in changing society.

In the wake of my election in 2013 as Seattle’s first socialist city councilmember in 100 years, we built a grassroots campaign with union support and won a citywide $15/hr minimum wage, the first in the country and the biggest victory for working people in a very long time. This helped inspire activists in other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, to fight and win $15. We are currently leading the fight for rent control and affordable housing in Seattle which also has major national significance.

The social power of working people is the key force that can galvanize all the strands of struggle and can push back decisively against the corporate agenda and in favor of the needs of ordinary people.

But social struggle needs to be combined with building a new political force for the 99%. Bernie Sanders’ campaign, which raised $28 million in the past three months and has refused corporate donations, shows the potential for independent working class politics. This is ultimately incompatible with the framework of the Democratic Party which is dominated by corporate money and a neo-liberal apparatus. We need an independent mass party of and for working class people to fight for their own interests here and now, linking it to a socialist transformation of society.

Breaking the Stranglehold of Wall Street

A government acting in the interests of the 99% would, as Sanders has advocated, enact progressive taxation to create a massive jobs program, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure on green lines.

But even to carry through these basic measures means completely breaking the stranglehold of Wall Street and the biggest corporations over society. This requires more than breaking up the big banks or restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, although such measures would certainly be positive steps. It would entail bringing the big banks into public ownership, along with the big energy companies and other key parts of the economy. Why is this necessary? Consider that around 90 companies are responsible for around two thirds of carbon emission in human history. They have wielded an effective veto on any serious attempt to end global warming.

Of course entrenched corporate interests will resist the fundamental change that is necessary and they have massive resources. This is why working people need to rebuild a fighting labor movement which stands in solidarity with all those oppressed under this system. We need a powerful mass movement in the streets, workplaces and campuses with an independent political voice in the halls of power.

And for such a movement to succeed it must be linked to the movements of working people and young people across the world. Capitalism is a global system in decline. This is expressed not just in the climate crisis but in the collapse of societies across the Middle East and North Africa after decades of imperialist intervention, leading to the biggest wave of refugees ever seen in history.

Global crisis must be faced through global solidarity. Creating a viable socialist future for the people of the planet based on the utmost democratic participation of ordinary people is the paramount challenge of our era. Join the socialists, build Socialist Alternative.

8 thoughts on “Kshama Sawant: The Change Socialist Alternative is Fighting For

  1. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    Characterizing socialism that way demonstrates that you fundamentally misunderstand it. Socialism=producers get the product of their labor. Capitalism=bosses get the product of their labor. Which model is “fundamentally based on robbery”?

  2. jim

    Green WO Adjectives: You are making the same mistake that lefties made 200 years ago: See “alienation of labor”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienation

    The issue is simple enough: Back before the Industrial revolution, all products were made by individual human labor. While there might have been some variation in different people’s rate of production, to a first approximation one person could produce on item in a given time. Workers got to thinking that THEY produced that object, so THEY were entitled to the value of it. However, over time automation occurred, and the factory owners bought increasingly complicated and expensive machines, and those machines did nearly all of the actual work. This has proceeded up to the current data, with robotics.

    If you doubt this, watch the show “How It’s Made”, on the Science channel. The large majority of the actual “work” is done by machines, not people

    See how you erred? You said, “Socialism=producers get the product of their labor.” But what is the “product of their labor” when they look at a running machine? Not nearly as much as when they actually, manually produced that product 200 years ago.
    And see how you erred? You said: ” Capitalism=bosses get the product of their labor.”
    Notice, again, how you are stuck on the concept of ‘labor’. Management buys the big expensive machines, and the raw materials. If Management is only entitled to their “labor”, you are clearly trying to make it look like things haven’t changed much in 200+ years.

    People like you erred when they cite statistics about “worker productivity”. The great statistics they cite show it rising: What they don’t show is that the statistics are FALSE: They show “output” divided by the number of workers, implying the worker actually was responsible for the output. But they are not responsible for the output. Their participation is certainly useful, even necessary, but that doesn’t mean they are entitled to some fixed percentage of the value of the products that are made on their watch.

  3. paulie

    Labor and capital are just two of the factors in supplying the needs of consumers. Committees, central planning and votes by people on how much their labor is worth lead to poverty and starvation, massive misallocation of resources and, incidentally, massive pollution as well.

  4. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    Paulie,

    But doesn’t centralized allocation of the worth of labor (eg, capitalism as we know it) lead to similar sorts of problems? Either the value of labor is determined in an authoritarian manner (as in capitalism and other forms of statism) or the value of labor is determined in an egalitarian and democratic manner, on the basis of a fundamental equality of authority derived from basic human value. It’s pretty obvious which model better maximizes individual liberty and the ability for individuals to have a say in and a determinative role in their own destiny.

    Rational arguments in favor of capitalism ultimately appeal to collectivist reasoning–they argue that the capitalist mode of production leads to production of more stuff, which in turn leads to a better standard of living (typically overlooking the consequences of overconsumption and excessive authoritarianism). These arguments for capitalism basically advocate sacrificing liberty and autonomy for the sake of economic growth and military/industrial superiority over other nations.

    When we start to look at the broad picture, from the perspective of a world-citizen who is concerned about the long-term consequences of the capitalist mode of production, then we start coming to different kinds of conclusions.

  5. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    Jim,

    Many of the problems with your reasoning start from an uncritical acceptance of the premises of statist capitalist society. To say that owners (who hire managers…keep in mind managers are workers too…socialism is not against management per se, but against owners/bosses who profit purely on the basis of ownership, which is in turn maintained by government force) do all the work because they own/buy the machines is to overlook how it is that the owners/managers gained control over the capital and means of production in the first place. Ultimately, they gained control over that capital by either 1) direct appropriation via the state or some other mode of force or 2) through appropriation of value produced by workers/producers.

    Suppose the capitalists were to say “we don’t need you workers any more, we’re going to let you starve and use machines instead”….people would be upset wouldn’t they. The reason they would be upset is because the basis of the capitalist’s wealth, which they use to buy machines, was ultimately built upon the labor of workers of some kind of another.

    If we think hard about the origin of wealth and value (as Adam Smith did), then ultimately we discover that wealth and value ultimately derives from human labor. To create a machine (which is a form of human wealth), a person had to think of a design and set a plan in motion to create it. All this requires labor. But according to capitalist reasoning, when someone creates a machine, then the owner financing the project should be able to deploy state force (via patents) to not only exclusively own the machine, but to exclusively own the design behind the machine. The capitalist ownership and contract structure ensures that the worker (which includes managers, entrepeneurs…anyone who does actual work) will never receive the full value if their labor within a capitalist firm, since capitalist profits are dependent on extracting a part of the worker’s labor and giving it to the capitalist as a free-bee.

    It goes without saying that designers and innovators should be rewarded for their labor. What we object to is the notion that an owner should profit from labor/effort/innovation of other people merely on the basis of owning an enterprise, stock, or patent. In other words, we object to the notion of a “right to increase” based on government-enforced privileges. We see this “right to increase” as nothing more than a hold-over from feudalistic economic relations that sets back the cause of human progress and civilization in palpable and obvious ways. It’s fairly obvious from empirical reality that capitalist accumulation is the root cause of war, imperialism and ecological degradation. Most of us know firsthand how patents and other kinds of rent-seeking behavior can hinder innovation and access to new products. But in our current situation, where ownership of capital is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, this monopoly on ownership becomes monopoly on power that the capitalists hold over us, and which government force guarantees. Imperialism as we know it is about the capitalists in power (billionaires) expanding and reinforcing monopolies of ownership, allowing the banksters to soak up the wealth generated by working people. Monopolies in patents, banking, currency, as well as land and natural resource ownership..

  6. jim

    Green: Foolishly, you said:
    “But doesn’t centralized allocation of the worth of labor (eg, capitalism as we know it) lead to similar sorts of problems? Either the value of labor is determined in an authoritarian manner (as in capitalism and other forms of statism) or the value of labor is determined in an egalitarian and democratic manner, on the basis of a fundamental equality of authority derived from basic human value. It’s pretty obvious which model better maximizes individual liberty and the ability for individuals to have a say in and a determinative role in their own destiny.”

    ‘Capitalism’ doesn’t allocate the worth of labor in a CENTRALIZED fashion. In fact, it does so in just about the most DECENTRALIZED fashion that can possibly be: In a market for labor. A company cannot decide, in a vacuum, what the amount they must pay for labor. If they offer too little, nobody will take them up on their offer. Conversely, if they offer too much, they will get plenty of job-applicants, vastly more than they need, but their products will necessarily cost more, and they will be inefficient in the marketplace.

    You also said, “Rational arguments in favor of capitalism ultimately appeal to collectivist reasoning–they argue that the capitalist mode of production leads to production of more stuff, which in turn leads to a better standard of living (typically overlooking the consequences of overconsumption and excessive authoritarianism).

    That was utter nonsense. “Collectivist reasoning” ISN’T where “they argue that the capitalist mode of production leads to production of more stuff, which in turn leads to a better standard of living.

    You really need a brain-adjustment!

  7. jim

    Green: You continued to foolishly say:

    Many of the problems with your reasoning start from an uncritical acceptance of the premises of statist capitalist society. To say that owners (who hire managers…keep in mind managers are workers too…socialism is not against management per se, but against owners/bosses who profit purely on the basis of ownership, which is in turn maintained by government force) do all the work because they own/buy the machines is to overlook how it is that the owners/managers gained control over the capital and means of production in the first place. Ultimately, they gained control over that capital by either 1) direct appropriation via the state or some other mode of force or 2) through appropriation of value produced by workers/producers.”

    Utter nonsense. They didn’t “appropriate” the value producted by workers/producers. Ultimately, it is irrelevant from where they got the capital necessary to start the business: If they legally have it (didn’t commit any crimes to obtain it) it is their money to do want they want.

    “Suppose the capitalists were to say “we don’t need you workers any more, we’re going to let you starve and use machines instead”….people would be upset wouldn’t they.”

    People were upset 200 years ago as the industrial revolution occurred! Look at the story of Ned Ludd (“Luddite”) whose story was actually mostly apocryphal. They recognized that people would be put out of a job if machines made their services unnecessary. Their illogic, however, was that they didn’t see how people would adjust to this change.

    ” The reason they would be upset is because the basis of the capitalist’s wealth, which they use to buy machines, was ultimately built upon the labor of workers of some kind of another.”

    You are making the false assumption illustrated by “alienation of labor”. It doesn’t matter where the wealth came from! A company’s wealth might have been due to the mining of an ore under land owned by that company, or some other owner who shares in the profits.
    Workers don’t care WHERE the money came from!

    “If we think hard”

    If YOU “think hard” your mind overheats and you become incapable of further intelligent thought.

    ” about the origin of wealth and value (as Adam Smith did), then ultimately we discover that wealth and value ultimately derives from human labor.”

    In HIS era, that may very well have seemed to have been true. No longer.

    ” To create a machine (which is a form of human wealth), a person had to think of a design and set a plan in motion to create it. All this requires labor.”

    For which he is paid.

    ” But according to capitalist reasoning”

    Sorry if I show absolutely no respect for your opinion of “capitalist reasoning”.

    “, when someone creates a machine, then the owner financing the project should be able to deploy state force (via patents) to not only exclusively own the machine, ”

    I see little problem with patents. Assuming they follow the requirements that the invention is “new, useful, and unobvious to those skilled in the art”. And somebody else can build a similar machine, in competition with the first.

    “but to exclusively own the design behind the machine.”

    If I write a book, I “exclusively own the copyright on the text of that book”. But I don’t own a copyright on the text of thousands of other possible books.

    The capitalist ownership and contract structure ensures that the worker (which includes managers, entrepeneurs…anyone who does actual work) will never receive the full value if their labor within a capitalist firm,

    You say that as if you actually believe it is true! But how is that “full value” determined? You don’t say, because you CAN’T say.

    “since capitalist profits are dependent on extracting a part of the worker’s labor and giving it to the capitalist as a free-bee.”

    You continue to avoid addressing the issue of the machines.

    “It goes without saying that designers and innovators should be rewarded for their labor.”

    And they are rewarded. Or else they’d go and work for somebody else for better reward. It sure sounds like you don’t see these simple concepts.

    ” What we object to”

    Who is “we”? Is this the “royal we”?

    ” is the notion that an owner should profit from labor/effort/innovation of other people merely on the basis of owning an enterprise, stock, or patent.”

    You are continuing to fight the same nonsense “alienation of labor” fight that fools have promoted for 200 years. Give it up!

    “In other words, we object to the notion of a “right to increase” based on government-enforced privileges.”

    What kind of “increase” are you referring to?

    “We see this “right to increase” as nothing more than a hold-over from feudalistic economic relations that sets back the cause of human progress and civilization in palpable and obvious ways.”

    Well, they are not “obvious” to people who actually understand the free market, capitalism, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, etc.

    It’s fairly obvious from empirical reality that capitalist accumulation is the root cause of war, imperialism and ecological degradation.

    No, it’s not at all “obvious”. Coincidence does not equal causation!

    “Most of us know firsthand how patents and other kinds of rent-seeking behavior can hinder innovation and access to new products.”

    Quite the opposite!!! If an individual thinks up a new invention, if that invention cannot be patented, then he cannot exploit the benefits of that invention, because somebody else would steal the idea. You cannot show how the absence of a patent system would actually increase inventivity.

    “But in our current situation, where ownership of capital is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands,”

    Quite false. In the last 50+ years, production has become spread into dozens of nations which were not manufacturing powerhouses in, say, 1960.

    ” this monopoly on ownership becomes monopoly on power that the capitalists hold over us, ”

    Apparently you don’t know the definition of “monopoly”.

    “and which government force guarantees.”

    Well, I don’t like “government force” either, but I have a solution to that problem. And the history of capitalism, communism, and socialism demonstrations that communist and socialist-run nations decays.

    ” Imperialism as we know it is about the capitalists in power (billionaires)”

    Again, you fail to establish causation.

    “expanding and reinforcing monopolies of ownership, ”

    You STILL don’t know the definition of “monopoly”.

    “allowing the banksters to soak up the wealth generated by working people.”

    You continue to ignore “the wealth generated by machines and robots”.

    ” Monopolies in patents, banking, currency, as well as land and natural resource ownership..”

    Yes, you continue to be insane.

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