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  August 2018

SAlt’s Sawant Backs Seattle’s Top Cop

When Seattle police veteran Carmen Best (left) was appointed chief of police, city council member Kshama Sawant (right) of Socialist Alternative voted to confirm the top cop. Police are the armed fist of the capitalist ruling class.  (Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

A “socialist” voting to support the chief of police? Yes, it just happened in Seattle, Washington, when city council member Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative (SAlt) “stunned” observers by voting on August 13 to confirm the city’s new chief of police. As capitalism’s guardians in blue murder black and Latino people every day, this shows how low fake-socialist groups are willing to go as they immerse themselves in bourgeois politics.

One of the opportunist organizations most avidly purveying “Sanders socialism,” SAlt has faced big problems with the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America. Hyping the Vermont senator’s “political revolution” for Democratic renewal was supposed to help it hit the big time, but it was the DSA that reaped the benefits, while SAlt has been left in the dust. This has meant increasing upheaval, with chunks of the organization decamping to the DSA.

In contrast, some members repelled by SAlt’s “Bernie turn” have sought to understand the roots of its opportunism. This led former leaders of its New Hampshire branch to investigate the politics of the Internationalist Group, and fuse with the IG in June. (See “Class Struggle Education League Fuses with Internationalist Group” and “An Open Letter to Socialist Alternative Oppositionists, Past and Present,” The Internationalist No. 52, May-June 2018.)

Kshama Sawant is SAlt’s political superstar who gave a “socialist welcome to Bernie Sanders” when he campaigned in Seattle (promoting a revival of FDR’s New Deal on the anniversary of Social Security). Her alliances with local Democrats have caused unease among some SAlt members, but the group is determined to move further and further into Democratic Party terrain. As a badge of social-democrats’ aspiration to administer the capitalist state, SAlt pretends that cops are “workers in uniform.” Sawant already praised the process of hiring the previous police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, back in 2014, saying it was “positive ... that a woman will be at the head of what has been and still is a male-dominated bastion,” and calling the new chief’s call for a “tiered approach for policing protests” a “welcome change” (sawant.seattle.gov, 23 June 2014).

Now Sawant has taken the next step. When O’Toole stepped down last year, she was replaced on an interim basis by Carmen Best, a 26-year veteran of the Seattle PD, who was then confirmed for the top cop job at the August 13 city council meeting. “Stunning the crowd, Councilmember Kshama Sawant voted ‘yes’ in support of Best,” reported KOMOnews.com. Sawant justified her backing of Best to become the chief of capitalist cop repression with the claim that since Best is African American, Sawant’s support was “a vote of solidarity with my black and brown fellow community members” (Seattle City Council Insight, 13 August).

No, Sawant’s vote was a pledge of allegiance to the racist capitalist state. Since ghettos and barrios across the country erupted against racist police terror in the 1960s, the ruling class has allowed some black faces in high places, insultingly hoping this could piece off the black population that continues to face cop terror. This racist repression goes on today, regardless of whether the person heading up the institution enforcing it is black, a woman, or both. Just look at Baltimore, where there was a black woman mayor and black police chief, and almost half the cops on the force were black, when the police murder of Freddie Gray shook the city and the country. As members of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth chanted in protests against the racist police murders of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and so many others: Only revolution can bring justice! Part of building the party to lead that revolution is relentless exposure of the opportunists that sully the word “socialism” with their obeisance to the bourgeoisie. ■