Kshama Sawant Explains Why Seattle Is So Over Capitalism Right Now

With Seattle showing Bernie Sanders the same love it’s shown its socialist city councilmember, we rang her up to get her take on what his success forebodes for the workers of the world.

A specter is haunting America, and it rhymes with “hopeful prism.”

That’s right: the S-word, “socialism.” In the U.S. during the Cold War, the term was a synonym for Stalin’s gulags. But today, interest in socialism—that is, the democratization of the economy—is on the rise. In recent months, socialist senator Bernie Sanders has appeared seemingly out of nowhere to give presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton a run for her money (no pun intended). Here in Seattle, of course, we already had our Red November back in 2013, when economics professor Kshama Sawant unseated incumbent Richard Conlin on our august City Council.

With Seattle showing Sanders the same love it’s shown Sawant in her last two successful campaigns, we rang her up to get her take on what Bernie’s success forebodes for the workers of the world.

SW: Why the surge in interest in socialism in the past several years? Sawant: The resurgence of interest in and curiosity about socialism really comes from the massive failures of capitalism itself, and that’s especially stark when you look at what’s on offer in terms of standard of living or social context for younger people, younger generations. Older generations in the United States were raised on the idea that if you work hard and do everything right, you’re going to get your little piece of the American Dream. Now, flowing especially from the collapse of the global economy that started unfolding in 2007, 2008, you’re seeing entire generations now that are going to be worse off than their parents’ generation.

What do you make of Bernie’s success so far? If you look at capitalism through history, it has been in a long-term decline actually for decades, but that decline didn’t break out into a full-blown crisis globally because there were various mechanisms [with which] the capitalist class has held the deeper crisis at bay. So, you know, making cuts to social services, having women move into jobs and having nuclear families depend on two salaries instead of one, the explosion of the credit-card industry and debt in general—those things held the more problematic aspects of the economy at bay, but that can only go on so far.

What you see right now is young people are angry about the fact that their generation is not going to be able to replicate—and when I say “young,” it’s a pretty big, multigenerational section of people, even people in their 30s and 40s now. They’re not going to get any retirement. They’re going to have to work as long as they live, basically. Younger people are angry [because] they see that the economy [has] not collapsed, but the only people who got rewarded after the worst of the recession ended was the very banks that got bailed out, the very banks that had caused the crisis. And that hasn’t [turned into] a bailout for ordinary people. That is what’s making people angry. So I was trying to explain that it’s not just that the economy is bad. It’s the burning sense of injustice that people feel against Wall Street that’s driving them into struggle.

What do you think of Bernie’s chances? Just months ago, Bernie was a completely unknown factor as far as ordinary people and ordinary Democratic voters are concerned. Hillary Clinton thought she was galloping her way toward the nomination, and suddenly everything that the Democratic Party establishment thought [was upended] … Bernie Sanders’ campaign [proved] that actually the vast majority of people, progressives, voters in this country, are looking for a real alternative to an emblematic establishment candidate—Hillary Clinton.

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