SEATTLE — The disintegration of the ruling political parties, along with the discrediting of the established political and economic elites, presage radical change. This change may come from the right. It may result in a frightening proto-fascism. If it is to come from the left it must be pushed forward by dogged activists and citizens who are willing to accept that stepping outside the system will mean surrendering all hope of power for perhaps a decade. To continue to engage in establishment politics, especially attempting to work within the Democratic Party, will further empower corporate capitalism and extinguish what remains of our democracy.
Willingly entering the political wilderness requires a vision that is worth sacrificing and fighting to achieve. It means that some of those who begin the revolution against corporate capitalism will not live to see its culmination. It will mean marginalization, harassment, persecution, prison and, if the movement becomes effective, state violence. History has taught us that. But given the alternative—the planet’s ecosystem destroyed by the fossil fuel and the animal agriculture industries, greater pillaging by corporate oligarchs and the rise of a global security and surveillance system that takes from us all pretense of liberty—the battle is worth it.
Kshama Sawant, the socialist City Council member in Seattle, and her Socialist Alternative Party have begun to create change where it will first be most effective—locally. She has created a petition calling on Bernie Sanders to run as an independent presidential candidate through November on a third-party ticket.
“With the rise of [Donald] Trump and the bigotry, racism and Islamophobia of the right wing, there is a temptation among people who are dejected about the low level of activism over the last few decades to feel that America is turning right-wing,” she said when we met in Seattle. “The earth-shattering momentum of the Sanders campaign belies that idea.”
“Yes, there are right-wing elements,” she went on. “We have a long way to go to address racism, sexism, equal pay for equal work, but mass consciousness in America is dominated by a yearning for a left-wing challenge. There is a desire to challenge the big corporations. There is latent anger against the unfairness, against climate change, against the low standards of living young people endure. These are passions that can begin a process of real social change. This is being expressed in the support for Sanders.”
“American is left wing,” she insisted. “America is angry at the corporate domination of politics. America is disgusted with the U.S. Congress and the two-party establishment. America wants social change that will have a transformative impact on people’s lives and the environment.”
She points to the Sanders and Trump insurgencies as evidence that the managed political system is escaping the control of the elites. This, she said, has provided the left with an opening.
“Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, expected a coronation,” she said. “She did not get that. Sanders upended every calculation the ruling class made. This is happening on the other side with Trump. The Republican Party is in disarray and chaos. This is the public discrediting of the two parties.”
And yet, she pointed out, our managed political system means that, at least among the Democrats, the political insurgency of the left has been momentarily thwarted.
“The Democratic Party establishment, along with the media, have made war on Sanders,” she said. “They have made war against the temerity of working people who challenge establishment politics. It is a grim but important lesson. The Democratic Party is hostile to genuine social change.”
“Sanders’ fundamental mistake was to run as a Democrat,” she said. “Even before he declared his campaign you and I were with him in Manhattan on the eve of the People’s Climate March. We urged him to run as an independent.”
“I have been unambiguous in this call,” she went on. “Did anyone in the Sanders campaign think that because the campaign was genuine, because it connected with tens of millions of people, the Democratic Party establishment would embrace it? This has been proven wrong. It is what we said from the beginning. We had no doubt that a truly left-wing campaign, with an open socialist, calling for the taxing of Wall Street, single-payer health care and an end to corporate politics, would resonate with tens of millions of people. The only question was whether the Democratic Party could be a collective vehicle to carry out such a campaign.”
“When Sanders speaks about making public universities free, taxing Wall Street or single-payer health care, he talks about changes that are antagonistic to the interests of the billionaire class that controls the Democratic and Republican Party establishments,” she said. “The only realistic chance to make change in America is to break out of the two-party stranglehold.”
“If Sanders had decided to run as an independent, he would have been marginalized by the media establishment,” she conceded. “There is no question about that. This is the conundrum we face. But we have to realize that we cannot build an effective movement with one presidential campaign. As long as we remain married to the false idea that social change can come through one presidential campaign, we stymie ourselves. By that logic lesser evilism continues ad nauseam.”
“I am not making the absurd claim that if Sanders had run as an independent he would have won the presidency,” she said. “Far from it. But what would have happened is that given that consciousness is so far ahead of what it was five years ago, given that people are looking for a fighting option to challenge the establishment, he would have reached millions of people.”
“If Sanders runs as an independent through November he will win seven, maybe 10 million votes,” she said. “That would not be enough to win the presidency. But if he ran as an independent and got 10 million votes, we would have 10 million votes for single-payer health care, 10 million votes to tax Wall Street speculation, 10 million votes for a political revolution against a billionaire class. That would be a phenomenal starting point to lay the basis for an independent party of the 99 percent. It would strike real fear into the heart of the establishment.”