Kshama Sawant Seattle Socialist City Councilor
Kshama Sawant is an essential figure of the American left. Eight years after her surprise election to Seattle City Council, this Socialist Alternative member continues to push forward progressive public policies ($ 15 minimum wage, rent control, tax Amazon). Nationally, this native of Pune, India, naturalized American in 2010 is campaigning for the creation of a working class party outside the Democratic Party. A difference with Bernie Sanders which did not prevent her from leading the campaign of the senator from Vermont last spring for the primary of the same Democratic Party.
On January 20, Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States. During the Democratic primary, you supported Bernie Sanders. Biden is not as progressive as the left would like. What will be the next big step for the American left?
Kshama Sawant Tens of millions of workers and young people in America are feeling collective relief at the defeat of the reactionary, racist and pro-billionaire regime of Donald Trump. Its failure to resolve the Covid-19 crisis was criminal and has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives in America. The sheer scale of the crisis facing workers is forcing Congress to move beyond the extremely limited proposals in the second massive Covid aid package. Sadly, while Congress has been forced to give in to measures it initially tried to oppose, the policies announced fall far short of what is needed to address this dire situation. Joe Biden and the Democratic establishment had already made it clear during the election year that his administration would not provide a clear alternative. As early as last summer, Joe Biden had promised wealthy donors that “Nothing would change fundamentally” if he were elected, that his plan would not involve big tax hikes on the rich and that he would not drop them. It’s no surprise that Biden’s cabinet choices, as a long-time representative of the interests of the wealthy, reflect his experience serving their interests, including the interests of the fossil fuel and insurance industries.
The United States has suffered the worst consequences of Covid-19, not only because of Donald Trump’s horrific mismanagement of the pandemic, but also because of the lack of socialized medicine. Yet the new president completely rejects Medicare for All. Without major pressure from mass movements, even Biden’s verbal pledges to a “public option” may not amount to much because of his loyalty to the billionaires who profit from the healthcare and medical industries. pharmacy. The Biden administration and the Democratic establishment, by pursuing a pro-billionaire agenda, will continue to anger tens of millions of people. In this political vacuum, and with escalating crises and the existential threat of climate catastrophe, we should expect right-wing populism to continue to grow. Trump is out of the White House, but the only way to defeat Trumpism and right-wing ideas is to build an alternative to the two parties that represent the capitalist class. We must build a new mass party for the workers, a party that does not take corporate money and that will fight unambiguously for the workers and oppressed communities.
Donald Trump received more than 74 million votes despite a presidency particularly harmful to the poorest and minorities. How do you explain it?
Kshama Sawant The Democratic establishment is stunned to see that, despite Donald Trump’s criminal mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic and the massive economic crisis, there was no Biden plebiscite or a ‘blue wave’ guaranteeing the majority in the Senate. In fact, the Democrats have also lost a number of seats in the House and there are losses at the state level as well. Even though, of course, crucial progressive victories have come with the election of Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman who will now join The Squad alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. It is not a coincidence. Joe Biden’s team and the Democratic Party have adopted a very dangerous strategy, leading a standstill campaign and making the same mistakes as in 2016. This is not due to a lack of know-how in the matter. campaign, but that stems entirely from the fact that the Democratic Party serves Wall Street and American capitalism just as much as the Republicans, even though they have obvious differences. Biden’s campaign offered virtually nothing for the working class, sticking to a purely anti-Trump message, in order to make as few promises as possible that he would be beholden to once in office. Nothing is more revealing of the position of the Democratic establishment than their second blow against Bernie Sanders and his pro-working class agenda. Joe Biden flatly rejected Medicare for All despite its huge popularity: In a Fox News poll, 72% of voters voted in favor of a government-run health care program. Biden rejected the Green New Deal even though a recent poll showed 70% of Americans support it. He said the police should shoot the suspects “In the leg” as his solution to racist police killings. These so-called “radical” progressive policies are in fact much more popular than the so-called “moderate” Democratic agenda or than Joe Biden himself.
The Democratic Party leadership fought harder and more effectively against Bernie Sanders in the primaries than against Donald Trump in the general election. Yet rather than acknowledge that Sanders’ agenda is in fact much more popular than their failed neoliberal agenda, liberal pundits are playing a misplaced and dishonest “blame game”. They seek to place the blame for their disastrous strategy on the people who did not vote (especially those “of color”), the independent voters and the racist ideas of the white working class, or the Democrats who are associated. to the “radical left”. Instead, the Democratic Party leadership needs to look in the mirror to see who gave Trump the opening to try to steal this election. Moreover, Bernie Sanders himself shouldn’t have capitulated to Joe Biden, and he shouldn’t have self-censored for his previous criticisms of the Democratic Party. All this allowed Donald Trump to present himself once again as the anti-establishment “outsider” candidate! The absence of a working-class-oriented campaign allowed Trump to seize the opportunity to fallaciously criticize Joe Biden for his 1994 racist crime bill, as well as for his support for the ongoing wars and business-friendly trade agreements. This combined with a vicious cocktail of racism, sexism, authoritarianism, far-right appeals, conspiracy theories and Trump’s “public order” rhetoric, which undoubtedly finds an echo with some of the conservative white voters.
Donald Trump had one of the lowest approval ratings of any candidate for the current presidency. There is no doubt that, if Bernie Sanders had been Trump’s opponent, it would have been a real political draw to the American working class, and he would likely have beaten Trump crushingly. Polls show that 58% of Democratic voters were motivated to vote “against Trump” rather than “for Biden.” This election shows that the Democrats and their strategy are simply not capable of defeating the far right. On the contrary, Joe Biden’s pro-business agenda will create more space for the right. Socialist Alternative and I believe that it is urgent to build a new party based on the working class.
You are the first socialist elected to Seattle City Council. Reelected last year, you have made this city a “laboratory” of the left (minimum wage at 15 dollars an hour, winter break from rental evictions). Nationally, the Democratic Socialists of America win many elections: is the United States espousing Marxist ideas?
Kshama Sawant Certainly we have had important victories in Seattle, even though we have had to face the antagonism of the political establishment at every step. Unfortunately, Seattle City Council only has an independent socialist position through my office, with the other eight being from the Democratic establishment. Since my first election in 2013, many candidates posing as socialists have been elected. In Chicago, for example, six members of the Democratic Socialists of America were elected city councilors last year. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist calling for a political revolution against the billionaire class, galvanized tens of millions of Americans. His call across the country demonstrated that an agenda based on clear working class demands has the potential to unite masses of workers and youth. It is clear that, for the new generations, socialist ideas are more and more attractive, as the bankruptcy of capitalism is highlighted.
The fact that hundreds of elected officials say they are socialists is a big step, but it will not be enough either. We need elected socialists to build mass movements rather than negotiating with the establishment. We need them to orient themselves to the streets and workplaces where our real power is, not the corridors of power. We need the elected Socialists to build movements and fight tooth and nail to win Medicare for all, especially at this time when the healthcare crisis is so obvious.
No real challenge is posed to the political establishment as long as progressives and socialists, however well-meaning they are, fall into the trap of parliamentary arithmetic, mistakenly believing that they have no other choice than to strike deals with the establishment. We need a new party which will not only elect candidates from the left, but which can be a basis on which movements can be built to fight for a socialist policy and an alternative to this system in crisis.
Interview by Sébastien Natroll