United States: Socialist local candidate wins 35% of vote, enters run-off

By the Kshama Sawant Campaign for Seattle City Council

August 8, 2013 -- Votesawant.org -- Seattle voters sent a clear message to an out-of-touch political establishment on August 6 that they are fed up with business as usual, and are looking for an alternative to corporate-pandering politicians like Richard Conlin. Kshama Sawant, who was recently written off by The Seattle Times as “too hard left for Seattle”, won a stunning 35% of the vote, a number that will likely rise as late ballots are counted.

[Sawant is a member Socialist Alternative, the United States affiliate of the small international Committee for a Workers International (CWI).]

A majority of primary voters voted against 16-year Seattle City Council incumbent, Democrat Richard Conlin, who despite a massive fund-raising advantage and name recognition, received only 49%. Sawant and a second challenger to Conlin, Brian Carver, won the majority of the vote in the City Council Position 2 race.

[Sawant will now participate in the two-candidate run-off election with Conlin to determine who takes the contested position.]

“Working people in Seattle have a clear political choice for a change. If you want to fight for an alternative to the status quo, join us in the struggle for a citywide $15/hour minimum wage, a major expansion of public transit by taxing Seattle’s millionaires, increased investment in affordable housing, and implementing rent control”, said Sawant.

Sawant has earned the endorsements of The Stranger newspaper, four trade unions and prominent community activists such as Real Change founder Tim Harris.

Unlike Conlin, Sawant refuses to accept corporate donations. Her grassroots campaign has raised $25,000, predominantly in the form of small donations of $25 or less, and has mobilised over 125 volunteers. “We will make history by raising a grassroots army of over 300 volunteers, and run one of the biggest door knocking campaigns this city has seen to defeat Richard Conlin”, Sawant declared.

“Conlin has made clear where he stands, with corporations and the elite. By not representing the majority of struggling working people in this city, he has made himself obsolete.”

Sawants's campaign Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/VoteSawant.

Meet Kshama

“At a time of budget cuts, the Seattle City Council pays themselves nearly $120,000/year, more than any other council in the US except Los Angeles! If elected, I will only take the average worker’s wage and donate the rest to building social movements.” – Kshama Sawant

Sawant is challenging 16-year incumbent Democrat Richard Conlin for Seattle City Council. Sawant is an economics teacher at Seattle Central Community College and a member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 1789. She was an activist in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is a fighter for workers, women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants.

In 2012 Sawant won a historic 29% with over 20,000 votes as a Socialist Alternative candidate against the Democrat's Washington State House speaker Frank Chopp – the strongest vote for an independent left-wing candidate in the US in 2012, and the highest vote for a socialist in decades.

About the Kshama Sawant Campaign for City Council

While big business posted record profits last year, working people in Seattle face unaffordable housing, low wages, slashed social services and high taxes.

The Democratic Party has run this city for decades. The mayor and all the city council members are Democrats and are representing only a tiny spectrum of political opinion and the interests of the people of Seattle, namely Paul Allen and the richest 1%, along with Amazon, Starbucks, big property developers and downtown business interests. The 99% have no political representation.

As a city councillor, Kshama Sawant will use her position to help build, unite and give political voice to the struggles of low-paid workers, youth, people of colour, and all those who are shut out by the political machine that runs this city on behalf of the wealthy elite.

The Sawant campaign does not accept any corporate funding. Our financing relies solely on the support and sacrifice of ordinary people and activists.

While the Democratic Party pays lip service to working people, in reality both the Democrats and Republicans serve the interests of a tiny financial aristocracy. The Sawant campaign is an opportunity to break out from the prison of corporate politics.

We need to build a mass workers’ party drawing together ordinary people, youth and activists from Occupy, unions, environmental, civil rights and women’s rights campaigns to provide a movement-based opposition to the corporate political parties.

We live in one of the richest cities in the richest nation on Earth. There is no shortage of resources. Capitalism has failed the 99%. Another world is both possible and necessary – a socialist world based on the needs of humanity and the environment. Please support our campaign and join the struggle for democratic socialism!

[You can read more about socialists' experiences in municipal council elections HERE.]

From http://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/seattle-socialist-votes-re…

Seattle Socialist Votes. Reflections.

By John Throne (Sean)

We had a piece on this blog yesterday congratulating Kshama Sawant on her campaign for Seattle City Council. Kshama is a member of Socialist Alternative, the US section of the Committee for a Workers’ International. I am a former member of the CWI spending 25 years of my life as a full timer for that organization. I first met the group in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s.

Myself and some other socialists, some who left the CWI and other groups voluntarily and others like me who were expelled or driven out, have drawn the conclusion that the failure of the left to build a serious revolutionary or left current within the working class is not entirely due to the objective conditions or false perspectives. I have come to the conclusion that the internal life of left/socialist groups (including the CWI of which I was a member) is seriously flawed. The leadership’s of these groups adamantly refuse to discuss in any serious way the internal life of these organizations, the mistakes we made, and how we came to this point and how we can correct the situation. And I know we made very serious errors.

I unconditionally supported and support the campaign of Kshama Sawant in Seattle despite my refusal to keep quiet about what I consider to be the incorrect internal life and the left sectarianism of the CWI, the organization to which she belongs.

I would also say that I have always said that I consider this incorrect internal life and left sectarianism applies to all the revolutionary left groups. I have had more emphasis on the CWI because that it the organization with which I have had the greatest experience and also because it was arguably the most successful of the revolutionary left groups for a period. It led the poll Tax struggle that was instrumental in bringing down Thatcher. It was the main force in the Liverpool City council struggle. It had a number of people elected in the Scottish and the English and Irish and European parliaments. Of the revolutionary left groups it has been amongst the most successful if not the most successful. But we need to have a balance.

I am presently writing a book on my political evolution. I discussed with most of the sizeable left groups after being involved in the Derry uprising in 1969. I joined the Militant, the British section of the CWI and was its first member in Southern Ireland and its first full timer in Ireland as a whole. We started out with about 6 or 7 members in 1970 and when I left Ireland to work internationally we had about 400.

I did not join the CWI by accident. I joined it for its good points. It had a generally correct worldview for the three decades following World War 2. This was crucial. However, in the course of events, it became apparent to me that this worldview, that capitalism was in crisis and was headed for a cataclysmic crisis and along with this, Stalinism was in turmoil and also headed for a major crisis amounting to a race between the political revolution in the East and the socialist revolution in the West, was not correct.

This is to put it mildly. It is also necessary for me to say and to emphasize that I share responsibility for the CWI developing this incorrect worldview and more responsibility than most other members as I was on the leading bodies of this organization.

The CWI argued that capitalism could not be returned to the Stalinist world as capitalism itself was in such an extreme crisis. Our argument was that the workers in the Stalinist world would rise up and establish democratic socialist societies and if the workers in the capitalist world had not already established democratic socialist societies these political revolutions in the East would spread the revolution to the West. In the 1980's we spoke of 5 to 10 years to the world socialist revolution.

We were very, very wrong with this perspective. This major mistake in perspectives hit the CWI like a wrecking ball. And this is where the incorrect internal life came in. There had always been an incorrect internal life in the CWI. It was, as they all are, too top down with an aversion to genuine probing and internal debate and a ferocious opposition to factions. The internal life of the CWI was a break from the methods of the Bolsheviks in their healthy period where debate and factional struggle was the norm and setting up a faction was no crime against the revolutionary party. Trotsky wrote in 1935: “During the 17 years when Bolshevism arose, grew and gained strength and came to power factions were a legitimate part of Party life.” Trotsky talks about there even being factions inside factions in the Bolshevik Party. Engels wrote that internal conflict was the law of development of the revolutionary party. There were always factions and even factions within factions.

The internal life of the CWI was also a break with the norm of the Bolsheviks in their healthy period when all debate was public and available for all those interested to read. Some comrades have asked me where I was when this incorrect internal life was the norm and the comrades are entirely correct and justified in asking this question.

I made a major mistake over this period. The perspectives were being confirmed by events. The CWI was going from strength to strength. Issues such as internal life and left sectarianism did not seem to be problems. It was just a question of organizing and building on the existing ideas. But then the world changed. Capitalism was restored in the former Soviet Union, a development we categorically denied could happen. This development in the old Soviet Union, the rise of new technology and the boom that accompanied it in the west and the assault on the working class worldwide gave capitalism a new burst of energy.

Of course, capitalism remains in a major crisis and will enter a new economic crisis soon, and without doubt the crisis of climate change threatens life on the planet as we know it but for a while it appeared that capitalism had triumphed. The Wall Street Journal gloated in its editorial heading when Stalinism collapsed: "We Won." Boasting that finally, the critics had come to realize how the “world really works.”

These mistaken perspectives we held in the CWI need not necessarily have had such a devastating affect on the group, major splits and a collapse in membership from around 14,000 to about 2,000, if the internal life had not been so unhealthy. This internal life was not accustomed to internal struggle and debate. What was needed was for the organization to be thrown open to the most democratic and public debate on the major mistakes made and why these had been made. Unfortunately the majority of the top leadership of the CWI did not take this road. They maintained the extremely damaging view that they had never made any mistakes or it was the other faction that had made the mistakes and by that time there were two major factions, both of which wanted to split to set up their own organization.

So the most undemocratic practices developed with full power. The leadership and its hangers on waged a war against any member or members that threatened their positions. Dirty maneuvers, slander and all sorts of personal attacks and lies were hurled against anyone who disagreed with them including expulsions and in the midst of this debacle the majority of the membership walked away. The incorrect internal life prevented the CWI membership from correcting the ideas and developing a new perspective and this was for amongst other reasons because the majority of the top leadership would not admit to making any mistakes, they saw themselves as teachers of the organization as opposed to being in a democratic interaction with the membership.

Some of us began to see this for what it was. We set up a faction in North America. Every lie that the top leadership of the CWI could think up was thrown at us and we were expelled and denied our right to appeal. The idea that the majority of the top leadership had made major mistakes, that we all had major mistakes had to be squelched at all costs.

But having said all this why did those of us like myself and Richard Mellor who also writes for this blog and was a CWI member and well known activist in the trade union movement join the CWI and not some other group? We did so because of its good qualities. Firstly, the CWI held correct perspectives up until the 1970's. But also, and of extreme importance, is its orientation to the working class. That is its belief that only the working class could change society and it’s basing itself concretely on this position. Most left groups do not have an orientation to the working class. They have an orientation to the left petit bourgeois or the left liberal wing of the trade union bureaucracy. The CWI have never made this mistake. More than anything else this is why many others and myself joined the CWI. I am very pleased to see from afar that it looks as if the CWI has maintained this orientation. I see on the website the posters in Seattle with the emphasis on the $15.00 and hour minimum wage. I see in Minneapolis the emphasis on stopping an eviction. This is good.

I also see that when struggles develop such as the Bart and transit situation in the Bay Area that comrades such as Richard and myself maintain our orientation to the working class as a class and refuse to be silenced or to silence ourselves in the interests of some sort of alliance with the left groups and the left liberal bureaucracy. The orientation to the working class also helps maintain a successful struggle against ultra leftism, both in demands and methods of struggle.

For us the main issue therefore is the need to maintain an orientation to the working class. This means starting from the needs of and the consciousness of the working class and developing a program and demands based on taking this consciousness forward. The CWI is superior in this area. That is why people like myself joined it. In the past we did not capitulate to the idea that the students could change the world, we did not capitulate to the idea that the Provisional IRA and their methods could solve any of the problems in Ireland, we maintained our orientation to and belief in the working class. And we still do. This is and as far as I can see remains the great advantage of the CWI over other groups.

However and of course there is a however, and not only with regards to the internal life. By the way, on the issue of internal life, this is not irrelevant to the new members the CWI is getting, and the success of winning its new MP in Germany. The CWI just lost its two women MP's in Ireland. I wonder has this new women MP in Germany met and discussed with the two former women CWI MP's in Ireland. But this issue of internal life will come up the more the CWI grows and it will have to deal with it and explain what happened to its new members such as its candidates in Seattle and Minneapolis and other areas. This will create serious problems. The more the CWI grows the more different views will develop and the more the rigid incorrect internal life will come into conflict with this growth. The more splits and expulsions will take place unless the internal life is changed. This is why I think I am doing more to help the CWI in the long term than those members of the CWI who refuse to take up this issue of internal life. Members of the CWI who are conscientiously looking to the interests of that group should be fighting to change the internal life of that group.

There is the issue of a balanced and collective leadership. It is very good that the candidate in Seattle is a woman Comrade. It is very good that the new MP in Germany is a woman Comrade. But why have the most well-known and leading women MP Comrades in Ireland, Joan Collins and Clare Daly, former members of the CWI, not been able to stay in the CWI? I believe thare is a problem of insufficient attention being paid to the need to struggle against the special oppression of women in the CWI. Half the world's factory workers today are women. This is an issue that will not go away. Then there is the issue of collective leadership. It is still, particularly in the older sections of the CWI the one-man band, (almost always a man) leadership. The leader of the CWI, Peter Taaffe has been in that position for 50 years. This is common with most of the left groups, a dominant male figure for decades. Comrades, it is not a healthy thing for any political organization to have the same leader for 50 years, it reflects an unhealthy internal life and this will not go away, especially in this new era of the new technology and social media.

And to the issue of left sectarianism. I get the impression that the work in Seattle and Minneapolis of the CWI there is moving away from the worst of the left sectarian attitudes in other sections. This is very welcome. But maybe there is some way still to go. We have contacted them and offered them our help on a number of occasions but we have never received and answer. But in both cities where they have candidates they do seem to be prepared to work in more of a united front way to get their people elected and to build a united front of struggle. If this is the case this is a very good and important development. I hope it continues and spreads to other areas.

However and back to another however. In Ireland the United Left Alliance was set up with either five or six members of parliament. It was a united front with some resources which gave hope to many tens of thousands of workers given the terrible betrayal of social democracy there. There were different groups which set up this alliance. A small local based group was the first to break this alliance and walk out. The second was the CWI section. It too, with its members of parliament walked out of the ULA, leaving it close to a broken weapon of struggle and leaving the tens of thousands of workers who had begun to look towards it very disillusioned. This was a left sectarian action and very damaging to the movement. So while there does seem to be a movement away from left sectarianism in Seattle and Minneapolis this does not seem to be the case in other sections. I hope I am wrong. For example in Europe now the CWI has three members of various parliaments, there are two ex members of the CWI in the Irish parliament, there are other left MP's in Europe. A non left-sectarian approach would be to try and bring these forces together in a united front of struggle around concrete demands and in mass direct action struggles.

So these are some thoughts on the CWI and where it seems to be at now. I have much more in common with the CWI than other left groups due to its orientation to the working class, its struggle to have a dialogue with the working class not see itself as the teachers of the working class and how this helps it struggle against ultra leftism and its belief that it is only the working class that can change society.

As I have said before I would be prepared to rejoin the CWI but on a number of conditions: that free and open and public discussion would be allowed without slander and lies and expulsions and the denial of democratic rights. That it would be openly accepted that these false methods were used in the past, and that myself and any member would be able to state their views and that it was accepted that factions were a normal part of the building of a revolutionary organization.

The CWI and the left groups in general were never like the Bolsheviks in their healthy period. This will have to change if the revolutionary left are to become mass organizations. The larger they get the more pressure will arise for discussion and debate and unless the internal lives of these organizations can allow and facilitate this, then they will shatter once again into splinters or remain becalmed at best in stagnant pools. .

John Throne

While reading you I felt as if you are talking about my experiences with a left group in India I was associated for a long period; and was thrown out after I raised similar concerns. While reading I also felt as if you are giving voice to my views. This problem is so common and deep rooted in current left groups.

Let me also congratulate Kshama Sawant. Hope such things may not only accelerate the growth of workers movement but also bring such initiatives to adress the above problems of the left movement.

Hi John Throne (Sean),

Thank you very much for writing the book "The Donegal Woman"!
Makes one's blood boil.

If you agree substantially with the CWI's perspectives and programme and want to fight as a member of it, you definitely ought to apply to rejoin it.

As a party member you lose the right to criticise the party outside the party (because it's not a mere debating society but a democratic centralist combat organisation striving to become the majority of the entire working class and achieve the socialist revolution); and you gain both the right and the duty to criticise the party inside the party (and that includes the right, but not the duty, to form a faction if you're a minority within the party on some issue and feel strongly enough about it).

Looking forward to your next book!


The achievement of Kshama Sawant is to be admired, and should be studied, because in municipal elections, she has also outstripped most other small party efforts e.g. by Greens. It suggests that running a vigorous campaign with a clear concrete program as a socialist can win.

However, Bernie Sanders of Vermont has run "independent left" campaigns including embracing the label socialist that won him the mayoralty of Burlington, Vermont and then statewide elections as Vermont's single congressional representative and later as U.S. senator.

Also, it is worth noting that Seattle's municipal races are non-partisan, i.e. no one has a party label.


Kshama Sawant is the first socialist candidate in 22 years to advance to the general-election ballot for Seattle City Council.

By Lewis Kamb, Seattle Times staff reporter

August 11, 2013


When was the last time a Seattle City Council candidate argued there was nothing extraordinary about herself? Or volunteered details about her recent arrest? Or freely admitted she expects her opponent to raise more money — by tens of thousands of dollars?

It’s been awhile, if ever, is the safe bet, which is also the answer to yet another question about the curious campaign of Kshama Sawant: When was the last time a socialist advanced to the city’s general-election ballot?

Sawant — who last week did just that by winning more than a third of the vote in a three-candidate primary field for the Position 2 council seat — is not your conventional candidate. And that’s exactly what she’s aiming for.

“There are some things that really set us apart from your-business-as-usual, corporate election campaigns,” said the 40-year-old Seattle Central Community College economics instructor and latest challenger to four-term incumbent Richard Conlin.

“Those campaigns revolve around the single-minded goal of advancing the political career of an individual. Everything else — including the needs of the people — is sacrificed.”

In a recent interview, Sawant largely deflected questions about herself, the individual, to instead focus squarely on the collective — or what she describes as her party’s primary goals: “fighting for social and economic justice.”

“There’s nothing unique about me,” she added. “I don’t want the main ideas of what we’re fighting for to be distracted by my stuff.”

What Sawant did offer, begrudgingly, about her own background were some generalities from an immigrant’s life that helped shape her into the activist she is today.

Born in Pune, India, Sawant largely grew up in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, India’s most populous city now with some 20 million residents.

“I grew up in an apolitical family full of doctors and engineers and mathematicians,” she said. “I wasn’t exposed to any particular ideology.”

She earned a graduate degree in computer science. But rather than seeking a well-paid career, Sawant sought answers to deeper social questions that resonated during her formative years, and became more pronounced after she came to America.

“Coming from India, what was striking is that you expect that in the wealthiest country in the history of humanity, there shouldn’t be any poverty; there shouldn’t be any homelessness,” Sawant said. “ ... But when I came here, I found it was exactly the opposite.”

Growing divide

The gap between rich and poor — and the social and political constructs that created it — fascinated and appalled her, Sawant said. After obtaining a Ph.D. in economics from North Carolina State University, in 2006 she moved to Seattle, where the social divide became even more stark.

“The vast majority of Seattle people are facing a city that is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them,” she said.

Sawant became active in immigrant-rights causes and with other progressive movements, before finding what would become her political party in 2008.

Formed in Europe in the mid-1980s, Social Alternative is an independent political organization that came to America with the working-class immigrants who supported it. In the 1990s, the group took root in cities with strong labor unions, including New York, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Now active in at least 15 major U.S. cities, the group denounces Republicans and Democrats as the puppets of big business. Its website declares it’s “fighting in our workplaces, communities, and campuses against the exploitation and injustices people face every day.”

In 2011, Socialist Alternative caught fire behind the “Occupy” movement, which articulated the frustrations among the politically and economically disenfranchised who blame corporate America for society’s failures.

Sawant became a key political organizer in Occupy Seattle.

“Our decision to run a candidate in 2012 came out of that experience and the prominence that Kshama played in the whole Occupy movement,” said Philip Locker, Sawant’s political director.

Sawant’s first campaign challenged Democrat state Rep. Jamie Pedersen in the 2012 primary. But she moved on as a write-in candidate to the general election in a different 43rd Legislative District race, against House Speaker Frank Chopp. She lost, taking 29 percent of the vote.

Now, in her second bid for office, Sawant advanced from last week’s primary as the runner-up in the Position 2 council race. She’ll face Conlin, who failed to crack 50 percent against two challengers.

Two decades ago

It has been 22 years since the last socialist advanced to the general election in a Seattle council race, city archivist Scott Cline said. In 1991, Yolanda Alaniz, a Freedom Socialist Party member, faced incumbent Sue Donaldson and lost badly.

Beyond Seattle, Socialist Alternative candidates are running this year in Boston and Minneapolis. But Sawant’s campaigns are hailed by her party as its most successful to date.

Although she touts her campaign results as signs of political momentum, Sawant still lost each race by double-digits.

Sawant has vowed she won’t take money from corporate executives or political-action committees but insists she can mount a legitimate grass-roots campaign against the well-financed Conlin.

Sawant’s campaigning so far has largely taken her to worker-rights rallies and other protests. In late July, deputies arrested her among a group peacefully protesting the eviction of a South Park man from his foreclosed home.

“If I’m elected, I would make my first order of business introducing an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour,” she said. “Others may talk about it, but I’m the only candidate who’s committed to doing it.”

Sawant also said she’d seek to reform the city’s tax system to impose a fee on millionaires that would pay for public transit and would implement rent control.

She vows to “take only the average worker’s salary” — what she estimates at $40,000 — from a council member’s $120,000 of annual pay. The rest would go to social-justice causes, she said.

“It’s a scandal the City Council is paid that much,” she said.

Among her supporters, University Temple United Methodist Pastor Rich Lang said Sawant offers a true alternative that’s good for democracy in Seattle.

“If every City Council person was a socialist, I’d be for Conlin,” Lang said. “But given our culture, I think our option for socialism is almost necessary because there’s really no difference between Republicans and Democrats anymore. And, in this city it’s a moot point. Everyone’s a Democrat.”

And maybe Peter, you could learn to differentiate between the comment section and the substantive article, which comes straight from Sawant's campaign itself.The newspaper article in the comment section was posted to provide more information on the impressive impact Sawant's campaign has achieved, even in the capitalist press. Very few publications on the left have publicised Sawant's achievement, unless they come from the same political tendency as hers. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is happy to, because it provides something to learn from and celebrate.