Socialist Alternative (United States)

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Socialist Alternative
Chairperson Collective Leadership
(National Committee)
Slogan Struggle, Solidarity, Socialism
Founded 1986
Headquarters New York City
Newspaper Socialist Alternative
Ideology Marxism
Trotskyism
Democratic socialism
International affiliation Committee for a Workers' International
Colors Red
Position in national political spectrum Left-wing
Seattle City Council
1 / 9
Website
www.socialistalternative.org
Politics of United States
Political parties
Elections

Socialist Alternative (SA) is a socialist political party active in the United States. It identifies itself as "a national organization fighting in our workplaces, communities, and campuses against the exploitation and injustices people face every day. It describes itself as "a community of activists fighting against budget cuts in public services; fighting for living wage jobs and militant, democratic unions; and a people of all colors speaking out against racism and attacks on immigrants, students organizing against tuition hikes and war, women and men fighting sexism and homophobia."[1]

It is active in over 20 major cities in the United States including New York City, Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, New Orleans, Madison, Tampa, Philadelphia, Mobile and Chicago.[1] It publishes a national bi-monthly newspaper called "Socialist Alternative" along with various local newsletters and internet media outlets. In recent years it has centered its activity around various campaigns including home foreclosures, public education, union rights, public transit, the Occupy movement, and electoral politics.[2][3] It is affiliated internationally with the Committee for a Workers' International, an international socialist organization headquartered in London, United Kingdom.

History[edit]

Socialist Alternative was originally formed as Labor Militant in 1986. In the mid-1990s, Labor Militant became part of a national campaign to form the US Labor Party where it became influential in the New York Metro Chapter.[4] Labor Militant members argued that the Labor Party should vigorously run candidates against the Democrats, whereas the national leadership of the Labor Party wanted to take a more cautious approach. After accusations of electoral fraud in the New York Metro Chapter around the vote to run candidates against Democrats, the chapter was subsequently closed.[5]

From 1998 to 2002 Socialist Alternative was active in the anti-globalization movement. It was present at many of the major protests during this time, including the N30 Protests in Seattle. At these protests it argued that the movement should take up the key demands of "abolish the IMF, World Bank and the WTO", "cancel the [international] debt", "papers for all [undocumented immigrants]" and "take the banks and financial institutions into public ownership".[6]

In 2004 Socialist Alternative members initiated Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR) as a sustained campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan . YAWR worked mainly in high schools, and was at the forefront of counter-recruitment activism in several cities. In 2005, 2006, and 2007 in several cities, including Seattle and Minneapolis, thousands of high school and college students walked out of class in protest of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.[7] As a result of protests and sit-ins at school board meetings, YAWR and Socialist Alternative were able to pass some of the most restrictive policies in the country against military recruiters in Seattle and Minneapolis.[8]

Socialist Alternative gave critical support to the candidacy of Ralph Nader during the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Other left organizations such as Socialist Action criticized Socialist Alternative's support for Nader's campaign on the basis that Nader is not a socialist, that he has relatively right-wing positions on immigration, and claimed that he was a bourgeois candidate.[9][10][11] Recognizing the restrictions of the Nader Campaign, Socialist Alternative stated that, "Despite these limitations, a successful Nader campaign will accelerate the trend of disintegration of the two party system and would represent an important advance towards the building of a mass workers party. It would be a historic step, breaking millions of people away from the Democratic Party."[6]

In the time leading up to the 2008 presidential election Socialist Alternative was a vocal critic of Barack Obama, anticipating that he would not bring the kind of "hope" and "change" that he campaigned on.[12][13] It pointed to his pro-free market stance on job creation, his record in congress of voting in favor of bills like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, his vague stance on healthcare reform, and many other issues.[14] In an article a few months before the election Socialist Alternative wrote: "The Democrats seem poised to make gains against the Republicans in Congress in 2008. Whoever gets elected president in 2008 will be faced with colossal crises, both at home and abroad. The Obama campaign, while fostering illusions of change and hope, is not the vehicle of social change that the liberals imagine, but signals the opening of a new period of political and social instability."[13]

Political views[edit]

For general information about Socialist Alternative's politics, see Committee for a Workers' International and Trotskyism.
Socialist Alternative members marching for LGBT Rights in Seattle, WA.

An independent working class party[edit]

In November 2008, following Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, Socialist Alternative wrote that, "While millions hope Obama will take the country in a new direction, a closer look at the reality of his positions and record, as opposed to his vague calls for change, shows he is thoroughly tied to the big business establishment." It argues that the revolving door that exists between the Republican Party and corporations exists for the Democratic Party as well and that that the Democrats are not a reliable ally to achieve progressive political reform. In the 'What we stand for' column of its newspaper, Socialist Alternative calls for "a mass workers' party drawing together workers, young people and activists from workplace, community, civil rights, environmental and antiwar campaigns, to provide a fighting, political alternative to the pro-big business parties."[1] It pays specific attention to the role of unions in this struggle stating that "unions and other social movement organizations should stop funding and supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties and instead organize independent left-wing, anti-corporate candidates and coalitions as a first step toward building a workers' party."[1]

International revolution[edit]

While Socialist Alternative supports reforms that improve the living standards of working people, it opposes a strictly reformist attitude to social change. In an article titled "Answering Common Questions – Socialism FAQs", first printed in their newspaper, it wrote, "Reforms are not granted out of the kind hearts of well-meaning politicians, but are concessions grudgingly granted to appease or distract rising movements of working people hungry for real change. Whether we're talking about civil rights, the weekend off, or the right to organize a union, every one of these required an all-out fight against the profit-driven logic of capitalism, where countless innocents were murdered by elites desperate to put down their struggles."[15]

It was in firm support of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and, in solidarity with the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), argued that the Egyptian people should form workplace and neighborhood committees to organize security against police repression and link these committees up on the city, regional, and national level to provide a political alternative to the rule of military and capitalist elites.[16] It warned that the revolution should reject any 'national unity' regime based on the interests of the ruling class or sectarian forces that want to divide the revolution along religious lines.[17]

Democratic socialism[edit]

Socialist Alternative advocates socialist democracy as an alternative to both the bureaucratic socialism of the former Soviet Union and the capitalist democratic model which it considers designed only to benefit the ruling class and disenfranchise working people. It argues that capitalism allows a small minority of wealthy elites at the top to manipulate the political system in their favor while working people are left out of any serious decision making process, whether at work or in government. A socialist society, it maintains, would flip this relationship on its head with working people running the economy, utilizing the enormous wealth and productivity of society to enrich their own lives. As a contrast to capitalist production, which it characterizes as chaotic and "casino capitalism",[18] a socialist economy would be democratically planned.

It does not consider the former Soviet Union socialist, but rather a "tragic degeneration" of the Russian Revolution and the socialist tradition.[15] While it views the Russian Revolution positively as a mass democratic revolution of the working class in Russia, it is in complete opposition to the bureaucratic dictatorship that came about after the death of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin's subsequent reign of terror. It sees these not as an inevitable outcome of the Russian Revolution, but an expression of Russia's isolation and economic starvation and a result of the vacuum of workers' power from below. "This was not a healthy ground upon which socialism could be built. The whole basis of socialism is having enough to go around, but Russia didn't have that. In this context, the democratic structures in the Soviets (workers' assemblies) ceased to function. Who wants to go to political meetings when you're worried about where your next meal is going to come from?"[15]

Campaigns[edit]

Jobs Not Cuts[edit]

Socialist Alternative initiated a national campaign called "Jobs Not Cuts" in the fall of 2011 in reaction to the debt ceiling crisis and subsequent Budget Control Act passed by the US Congress in August 2011.[19] The bill called on the Federal Government to make $2.1 trillion in cuts the Federal budget, and issued the formation of a "Supercommittee" to decide how these cuts would be made. The campaign was endorsed by notable public figures like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, and Cindy Sheehan, and organizations like the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Veterans for Peace.[20] The goal of the campaign was to hold a national week of action from November 16 to 23 in protest against these cuts, and advocating for a mass public works project that could create jobs. Part of its demands were that the government could generate money for these projects by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and dramatic tax increases on the super-rich.[21]

2010 Georgia prisoners' strike[edit]

In late 2010, Socialist Alternative launched a solidarity campaign with a group of Georgia prisoners who had recently held a week long sit-down strike in protest of their working conditions and human rights violations within the prisons.[22] The strike took place on December 9, 2010 in six different prisons throughout Georgia and was the largest prisoner strike in United States history.[23] The strike was organized using contraband cellular phones that the prisoners purchased from guards and used to communicate with each other and outside groups. One inmate, Shawn Whatley (aka Hamim Abdullah Asadallah), was interviewed by Socialist Alternative on January 20, 2011 and the interview was subsequently published on its website.[24] He reported that they were being compelled to act as firefighters and cleanup crews, while receiving no compensation for their work, and were the target of regular abuse within the prison. Following reports that several prisoners, including Whatley, had been severely beaten and placed in solitary confinement as retaliation for the strike, SA launched a solidarity campaign calling on supporters to call or email both Brian Owens, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Correction, and Governor Nathan Deal.[25]

FedUp Brockton Solidarity Poster

FedUp Brockton union drive[edit]

In the summer of 2011, Socialist Alternative members became involved in the union drive at the FedEx Ground location in Brockton, Massachusetts. The initial drive signed up 75% of the workers at the location, and the company quickly reacted with an anti-union campaign.[26] Socialist Alternative called for a national day of action in support of the FedUp Brockton union drive for July 23.[27] It called on activists, union workers, FedEx employees, and supporters to hold picket lines outside of local FedEx and Kinkos locations across the country. Actions took place in Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, New Hampshire, Minneapolis, Madison, and four cities in western Washington.[28] Two days before the vote was set to take place, the national leadership of the Teamsters union decided to withdraw the petition for union recognition from the NLRB, thereby preventing the vote from taking place and subsequently announced their intention to organize FedEx Freight.[29] Socialist Alternative members publicly speculated that the withdrawal was linked to the FedEx Freight decision.[30]

The Occupy Movement[edit]

When the Occupy Movement began in the fall of 2011, Socialist Alternative became active within the movement in cities across the country.[3] It issued a statement of solidarity to the movement on October 6, pointing out that, "the movement has to challenge Wall Street and both parties of big business. We must stand up to their policies where they try to solve their economic crisis on our backs in order to maintain a system which only benefits the elite in the first place." It argued that the movement should develop concrete demands along working class lines and to, "prepare to run independent anti-corporate, working-class candidates in 2012 to challenge the policies of the two parties of Wall Street as a first step towards forming a new party of the 99%, a mass workers' party" and "build the movement to replace the rotten system of capitalism with democratic socialism and create a new society based on human need".[31]

Occupy Homes MN[edit]

When the encampment at Occupy Minneapolis began to dissolve, Socialist Alternative was one of the groups who helped to pull the Occupy Homes MN campaign together and direct the energy of the Occupy movement in Minneapolis into an anti-foreclosure campaign.[32] It helped in outreach, planning, and organizing public meetings on how the campaign could grow.[33] Despite the success of the Occupy Homes MN campaign, SA put forward that Occupy Homes should adopt a larger plan for the movement arguing that, "protest movements are strongest when they can unify around a clear vision for social change, including clear demands on those in power."[32]

Mass Occupy[edit]

In Boston, the Occupy movement began to turn toward local Occupy General Assemblies on the community level.[34] Socialist Alternative pushed to form a statewide general assembly for all the Occupations in Massachusetts to decide collectively on a way forward for the movement.[2] They helped to call together several successive meeting among occupations in Quincy, Jamaica Plain, and East Boston among others.

Electoral work[edit]

Seattle City Council[edit]

In 2013, Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University economics professor Kshama Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council from Position 2 as a Socialist Alternative candidate. She had previously won 35% of the vote in the August primary election, and advanced into the general election against incumbent Richard Conlin.[35] On November 15, 2013, Conlin conceded to Sawant after late returns showed him down by 1,640 votes or approximately 1% of the vote.[36][37] This made Sawant the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since the radical progressive Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916.[38]

Sawant had previously run for election as a Socialist Alternative candidate in the 43rd district of the Washington House of Representatives against incumbent Democrat Frank Chopp, in 2012.[39][40] Sawant advanced past the primaries with an unprecedented write-in win for Position 2, while also advancing in Position 1 where she was on the ballot challenging Jamie Pedersen. The Vote Sawant campaign won a subsequent court battle against the Secretary of State for the right to list her party preference on the ballot in November. Sawant was endorsed by local 587 of the Amalgamated Transit Union,[41] and the alternative newspaper The Seattle Stranger.[42] She received over 20,000 votes, or 28.62%.[43]

Sawant's winning 2013 platform included a minimum wage increase to US$15/hour, rent control, and taxes on the wealthy.[35]

Boston City Council[edit]

In 2007, Matt Geary ran for City Council in Boston, Massachusetts as a Socialist Alternative candidate. He received 3,025 votes (2.41%) in a plurality-at-large election in which each voter could vote for up to four candidates.[44]

International affiliation[edit]

Socialist Alternative is in political solidarity with the Committee for a Workers' International, a worldwide socialist organization in 44 countries and on every continent.

Newspaper & publications[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Socialist Alternative. "Who We Are, What We Stand For". Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  2. ^ a b Orlemanski, Julie (1/10/2012). "Mass Occupy Plans for Statewide General Assembly". The Boston Occupier. Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  3. ^ a b Denvir, Daniel (10/4/2011). "Answers from Occupy Philly organizer Justin Harrison". Philadelphia Citypaper. Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  4. ^ International Bolshevik Tendency (1997). "Stillborn in the USA: ‘Labor Party’ Auxiliary for the Democrats". 1917 (19). Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  5. ^ Leopold, Les (2007). The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi. Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 464–5. 
  6. ^ a b Locker, Philip. Global Capitalism and the Socialist Alternative. Seattle: Socialist Alternative. 
  7. ^ "Civil Disobedience". The Wake. Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  8. ^ http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/e/E14.02.pdf
  9. ^ International Bolshevik Tendency. "Bourgeois Parties: Unsafe At Any Speed". 1917 (23). Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  10. ^ Delgado, Moises (October 2004). "Capitalist Nader's "Socialist" Foot Soldiers". Revolution. Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  11. ^ League for the Revolutionary Party (September 2004). "ISO: Endorsing the Lesser Imperialist". Proletarian Revolution (72). Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  12. ^ "Obama's Key Promises". Washington Post. Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  13. ^ a b Jones, Alan (March–April 2008). "Democrats Raise Hope for Change – Populist Rhetoric Conceals Pro-Corporate Policies". Justice (59). Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  14. ^ DiMaggio, Dan (September–October 2008). "Beyond the Rhetoric – Would Obama Really Bring Change?". Justice (61). Retrieved 6/11/2012. 
  15. ^ a b c Madsen, Brandon (January–February 2012). "Answering Common Questions – Socialism FAQs". Justice (81). Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  16. ^ Johnson, David and Niall Mulholland. "Mass revolt forces Mubarak regime to the brink". Committee for a Workers International. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  17. ^ Mulholland, Niall. "Revolutionary masses move to overthrow Mubarak dictatorship". Committee for a Workers International. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  18. ^ Gray, Chris; Ty Moore (June–July 2011). "Budget Myths 101 – Understanding the Debate on Taxes, Deficits and Jobs". Justice (78). 
  19. ^ Sahadi, Jeanne (8/2/2011). "Debt ceiling: What the deal will do". CNN Money. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  20. ^ http://jobsnotcutsprotest.org/
  21. ^ Mosgrove, Ryan (October 25, 2011). "Massive Budget Cuts Coming – Take Action to Defeat the Super Committee". Justice (80). Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  22. ^ Wheaton, Sarah (December 12, 2010). "Prisoners Strike in Georgia". The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  23. ^ Cook, Mark (4/1/2011). "Georgia prison strike the largest in US history". Freedom Socialist. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  24. ^ Moore, Ty (January 20, 2011). Interview: Inside the Historic Prison Strike in Georgia. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  25. ^ Urgent Solidarity: Prisoner Activist Facing Violent Retaliation—Support Shawn Whatley! Stop all retaliations against Georgia prison strike activists!. January 26, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  26. ^ Ayers, Patrick. "FedEx Package Handlers to Vote on Teamsters". Labor Notes. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  27. ^ Socialist Alternative. "Stop Union-Busting at FedEx Ground! National Day of Solidarity, Saturday, July 23". Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  28. ^ Socialist Alternative Reporters. "Protests Nationwide Support Union at FedEx". Socialist Alternative. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  29. ^ Solomon, Mark B. "Teamsters launch organizing effort at FedEx Freight". DC Velocity. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Teamsters Sell Out Their Own". Labor Relations Institute. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  31. ^ "End the Dictatorship of Wall Street! – A Socialist Strategy to Build the Occupy Wall Street Movement". Philadelphia Citypaper. 10/6/2011. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  32. ^ a b Moore, Ty (1/11/2012). Building Foreclosure Free Neighborhoods – What Strategy to Beat the Banks?. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  33. ^ Fletcher, Steve. "Occupy Homes Community Forum: Creating Foreclosure Free Neighborhoods". Retrieved June 15, 2012. 
  34. ^ Ruch, John (November 14, 2011). "Occupy JP movement begins". Jamaica Plain Gazette. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  35. ^ a b Young, Bob (August 6, 2013). "For Seattle council: Conlin against Sawant, O’Brien against Shen". Seattle Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  36. ^ Joel Connelly. "Socialist Sawant wins City Council seat". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  37. ^ Martha Kang and Manuel Valdes. "Conlin Concedes to Socialist Sawant in Seattle Council Race". KPLU.org. 
  38. ^ Seattle elects first socialist City Council member. King5.com. Retrieved November 15, 2013.
  39. ^ BCC. "From Capitol Hill's academic halls, a 'Socialist Alternative' to Pedersen in 43rd race". Retrieved 6/10/2012. 
  40. ^ Ballot Access News. "Socialist Alternative Party Places a Nominee on Washington State Ballot for Legislature". Retrieved 6/10/2012. 
  41. ^ SocialistAlternative.org, "SocialistAlternative.org", July 21, 2012, "[1]", 9/4/2012
  42. ^ STRANGER ELECTION CONTROL BOARD, "The Stranger", July 17, 2012, "[2]", 9/4/2012
  43. ^ Ballot Access News, "Ballot Access News", November 13, 2012, "[3]", November 13, 2012
  44. ^ Election results from the City of Boston.

External links[edit]