Democratic socialists are in the middle of a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. Led by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and the “squad” of newly elected congresswomen, the hard-left coalition has laid out an ambitious agenda to transform the United States into a democratic socialist nation. While many commentators have dismissed the rhetoric around the Green New Deal, Housing for All, and End Cash Bail as pie-in-the-sky abstraction, in Seattle, the socialist coalition is quickly translating this agenda into a political reality.
After the socialist Left’s stunning victory over business-backed moderates in last year’s municipal elections, Seattle has effectively become the nation’s laboratory for socialist policies. Since the beginning of the year, the socialist faction on the Seattle City Council has proposed a range of policies on taxes, housing, homelessness, and criminal justice that put into practice the national democratic-socialist agenda. In the most recent session, socialist councilwoman Kshama Sawant and her allies have proposed massive new taxes on corporations, unprecedented regulations on landlords (including rent control and a ban on “winter evictions”), the mandated construction of homeless encampments, and the gradual dismantling of the criminal justice system, beginning with the end of cash bail.
Seattle’s socialists have established a narrative that provides the rhetorical basis for their policies. They argue that the corporate-technological elite, led by companies such as Amazon, has hoarded the rewards of the digital economy and created widespread misery for workers, renters, and people of color. As Seattle-based commentator and Marxist theoretician Charles Mudede has written: “We are in the 21st century. We are in one of the richest cities on earth. And yet, the old war between those who employ labor and those who sell their labor is still very much with us.”
In the socialist vision, the “new class war” is now entering a more direct phase of conflict. They have launched a political campaign to dramatically curtail the power of corporations, landlords, and traditional neighborhood interests, and to build a coalition of socialists, progressives, unions, and the dispossessed that is capable of achieving power. In short, the solution to the class war is to win the class war.
While conservatives and moderates have typically dismissed the socialist movement as a “big-city problem,” the new socialist agenda is no longer confined to the municipal boundaries of places such as Seattle, San Francisco, and New York. Increasingly, the hard-left coalition has turned these cities into “laboratories for socialism,” with the goal of eventually commercializing their policies through the national Democratic Party. Already, Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner in the Democratic primary, has proposed a nationalized version of the Seattle agenda: Tax Amazon, enact national rent control, construct public housing, and end cash bail.
But Seattle’s socialists have gone one step further. In order to consolidate their newfound power, the progressive-socialists have begun to manipulate the democratic process in their own favor: first, by providing all Seattle voters with $100 in taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers,” which are easily collected by unions, activists, and socialist groups; and second, by implementing a ban on corporate spending in local elections by companies like Amazon. At the same time, black-bloc activists and Antifa militants intimidate any potential opposition by disrupting events, vandalizing homes, and even orchestrating death threats against political adversaries.
What can opponents of socialism do? First, recognize that it must be fought on all fronts. While the socialists form a small minority of the national electorate, they have demonstrated the capability of seizing power in America’s major cities, which are home to much of the digital “means of production” in tech, media, advertising, entertainment, and research. The business sector in cities such as Seattle must recognize that the progressive-socialists are no longer interested in gaining reasonable concessions; they intend to overthrow capitalism itself.
Over the past decade, the dominant corporate strategy has been to quietly advocate for neoliberal economic policies, while pandering to the cultural mandates of “diversity and inclusion.” That era is now over. As the experience in Seattle reveals, the socialist Left cannot be appeased on cultural issues — they are fighting a war against capital and they intend to win it.
If the business sector wants to protect its own interests, it must rapidly adapt to this new reality. It’s no longer enough for local Chambers of Commerce to drop leaflets before local elections; they must build a permanent counterbalance to the progressive-socialists. They must begin by commissioning original policy research, funding local neighborhood groups, and building a political alliance of conservatives, moderates, and old-line liberals. In other words, they must reestablish a balance of power in America’s cities.
If nothing is done, the laboratories of socialism in America’s cities will become a national problem. It’s time to shut them down.