Kshama Sawant’s essay in The Nation “Want to Rebuild the Left? Take Socialism Seriously” asks people who lean to the left to take socialism seriously and points to signs of the massive political potential that exists for a new generation of reds in the United States.
This plea is somewhat misguided.
Instead of pleading for people to take socialism seriously, socialists should take themselves seriously if they hope to earn respect and win a mass following in this country. That is precisely what Sawant and her Socialist Alternative comrades did in Seattle and they met with great success and that is precisely what has been lacking since.
What progress since her historic election has there been towards making socialism a powerful force in American politics? In the wake of Sawant’s historic victory, Socialist Alternative, the International Socialist Organization, Solidarity, and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) came together behind Jorge Mujica’s campaign for alderman in Chicago’s 25th ward, but this unity never really materialized as DSA was the only group to follow through and put people and resources behind Mujica’s campaign. Not only did socialist organizations fail to unite behind Mujica but Mujica faced political competition for votes from other left/progressive forces. What should have been a straightforward referendum on Rahmbo’s ally — for or against? — devolved into a scattershot campaign with one too many candidates. With the left/progressive anti-Rahm forces and votes split, the pro-Rahm incumbent Danny Solis won in the end by a very thin margin.
Another sign of the socialist movement’s lack of seriousness when confronting serious political problems is the way the debate surrounding Kshama Sawant’s appearance at a fund-raiser for Democratic (or more accurately, Democratic Party-aligned) city councilman Larry Gossett has developed. When confronted by protesters angry at Gossett over his support for building a new youth prison, Sawant painted Gossett as not being part of “the real establishment.” This caused dissension within the ranks of Sawant’s group, Socialist Alternative, with one member resigning (to be clear, this person has broader differences beyond the Gossett incident) while another member penned an open letter accusing Sawant and Socialist Alternative of betraying their own stated principles in an attempt to hold onto her city council seat:
“I know that Kshama is facing a fight to keep her seat on the city council. SA is thinking they must build coalitions with people like Gosset in order to do that. Three Democrats have announced they are running against Sawant. In my opinion it would be better to remain firm on the principle of not supporting Democratic candidates. SA could emphasize to Gossett’s supporters, “Look, Gossett should leave the democratic party if he really is so progressive. His party is running candidates against the only socialist, woman of color on the city council! “
“Kshama Sawant is betraying our principles in an attempt to hold onto that city council seat. I have been told before by SA leadership that our political candidates are a reflection on our entire organization.
“This is not what I joined SA for.”
What is unserious about the above is the fact that they could only appear in the scattered universe of the blogosphere rather than in whatever approved channels Socialist Alternative members use to communicate. Because they appear in the blogosphere, they will simply be ignored by Sawant and those who agree with her on fund-raising for Gossett. Similarly, the results and lessons of Mujica’s socialist campaign deserve to be explicitly examined by the socialist left’s publications in some organized fashion rather than confined to the comment section of a tiny blog that no one reads.
Refusing to learn never got anyone anywhere and refusing to discuss difficult issues and problems will not make them go away. If we want other people to take socialism seriously, we have to start acting seriously.