In what has to be one of the biggest and most inspiring upsets in recent North American political history, avowed socialist candidate Kshama Sawant beat long time Democratic incumbent city council member Richard Conlin in Seattle's recent municipal elections. She becomes the first socialist to sit on Seattle's city council in decades.
Beyond the exciting win is the fact that this clearly represents an important political moment in that we are regularly told that socialism as a political idea and an ideology is an unpopular relic of the past, a "rusty anchor" as it were, that has to be cast aside in the march to a centrist and homogenous narrative of neo-liberalism.
In Canada, of course, the NDP has dropped socialism from both its constitution and its general language altogether and its federal and provincial wings both campaign and govern as one would expect given this. In Canadian municipal politics, candidates or elected officials who call themselves, campaign and fight for socialist policies once elected, are very few and very far between.
It is assumed by the pundits and backroom operators who put together poll driven platforms, as a matter of course, that you cannot win office or impact the discourse running on a radically transformative agenda, that you cannot do so outside of the established political parameters and power bases and that you cannot do so as an open leftist.
Sawant won doing all of these things. She won even despite the mounting hysteria of some of the mainstream and capitalist press.
Sawant ran on a working class platform, centred around the call for a $15 an hour minimum wage, and directly confronted the failure of modern capitalism; even having a "Why Socialism?" page on her election website! Far from a standard "social democrat" (an increasingly meaningless term), Sawant is a member of Socialist Alternative, a party that is a part of the radically anti-capitalist international movement, the Committee for a Worker's International (CWI). The CWI has elected others, such as well known Irish Socialist Joe Higgins.
If what she has done can be done in Seattle, it can be done in places like Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto and Halifax. There is a yearning out there for an alternative to the empty and devastating politics of inequality and austerity government. There is a very real desire among those living in poverty, the new retail working class, the marginalised and the oppressed for a voice that will fight for justice for them, and that will fight directly against the corporate agenda of lower wages and living standards and the gutting of union and worker's rights.
Despite the abject failure of capitalism during and in the wake of the global 2008 crisis, and despite the brutality of its consequences on the daily lives of millions of citizens, the established political "left" in Canada has stayed very much away from rejecting capitalism as an economic system. Never has the NDP been more embracing of trade agreements, maintaining tax cuts for millionaires and pledging to be "good managers" and a responsible "government in waiting" for the failed capitalism of the new era of corporate power and the grotesque wealth and inequality of our times.
Otherwise, we are told, the left cannot "win". The left supposedly cannot hope otherwise to get into power to implement an agenda so minor that one can expect to see nothing of any importance change at all.
Kshama Sawant has shown that this is not true. Socialism is not dead and history has not ended. Socialists can win against very high odds. It is time to follow her example and build a new proudly and openly socialist and anti-capitalist movement to fight in municipal, provincial and federal elections across Canada.
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