Left Third Parties in 2013: The Beginning of the Wave?

by John Halle

November 9, 2013

The 2013 municipal election contained mixed results for left third party advocates. The two most high profile and exciting campaigns, those of Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant and Ty Moore, appear to have gone down to defeat. But the margins were small and both are young and have already committed to rematches in two years with a strong likelihood of success.

Furthermore, even if these two candidates had won, they would have amounted to no more than two small points of light. Municipal office and the opportunities it presents for building power have yet to be recognized by the left whose anarchist tinged distaste for “electoralism” on the one side and disfunctional relationship with the Democrats on the other have prevented any widespread recognition of this potential from emerging.

Sawant and Moore have shown that such campaigns can be run cheaply, effectively, and competitively, most notably in the numerous cities where Democratic machines have dominated for generations. Their campaigns may have woken up many leftists to follow suit and it is not impossible that 2015 could see a wave of municipal candidacies on Moore and Sawant’s Socialist Alternative line, from a reinvigorated Green party and other independent left formations, such as the Vermont Progressive Party.

While leftists might not yet be fully aware of this potential, it seems certain that the Democrats, whose history of compromise and capitulation to big money–“pond scum” compared to the Republicans’ “dog poo,” as a recent Daily Show segment pegged it–are aware that they are ripe for the picking by the left.


A good indication occurred in Syracuse where long time Green activist Howie Hawkins, whose previous campaign against a machine Democrat failed by 94 votes, this time went down by a slightly larger margin. The difference did not reflect a drop in support but rather, as the Syracuse Post Standard reported, the presence of “the Working Families Party, which hired paid canvassers and coordinated an intensive get-out-the-vote effort on (Hawkins’s opponent’s) behalf during the past few weeks.”

This is only the most recent chapter in the long and increasingly sordid history of the Working Families Party which, during the last gubernatorial election, showed its true colors as a pawn of Democratic Party leadership by supporting the union busting “Governor 1%” Andrew Cuomo.

Increasingly true to form, rather than aiding numerous Democrats against Republican competition (for example, here), the WFP turned its fire against the left, supporting a bland, corporate centrist in Syracuse. Their rationale for doing so was pithily summarized by one of the paid WFP out-of-town “organizers” who declared on social media that “a victory for Hawkins tomorrow would be worse for the progressive cause than any other victory for a Right Winger.”

It was due to Hawkins’ strong challenge that the combination of crackpot logic and cynicism which is at the core of WFP’s much vaunted “strategy” has been finally revealed for all to see, provoking this petition which has attracted the support of noted left intellectuals such as Barbara Garson, Rick Wolff, Margaret Kimberly, Doug Henwood, Steve Early, and 200 others.
Rather than being coddled, the WFP should be widely repudiated, most notably by The Nation magazine, which has championed it to the exclusion of other left parties for years.

The Left Wins When It Loses

More positively, strong third party challenges have shown, as did Occupy Wall Street a few years back, that they can force a shift in the political agenda, requiring Democrats to get on board or expose themselves as the servants of capital which their business model requires them to be. A case in point was Sawant’s signature issue of a $15 an hour minimum wage, which was quickly adopted by leading Democratic candidates in the city least they show themselves as out of touch with the anti-corporate mood which formed the backdrop to this electoral cycle.

These are only two indications of how, as was reported by the Seattle NPR affiliate, the left wins even when it loses with serious, well organized, and viable campaigns. Let’s hope 2013 is a preview of many more to come.

John Halle is a former Green Party Alderman from New Haven, CT. He teaches music theory at Bard College Conservatory.

Please sign the petition protesting the Working Families Party’s opposition to Howie Hawkins.


3 responses to “Left Third Parties in 2013: The Beginning of the Wave?”

  1. Elena Zeledon Avatar
    Elena Zeledon

    An update on the Seattle elections and the Minneapolis defeat.

    Kshama Sawant has won a seat on Seattle City council. He Democratic Party opponent, Richard Conlin, has conceded.

    In Minneapolis, Tyler Moore came within 229 votes of winning.

    Something in the water or something in the air?

    Small steps forward.

  2. Joel Avatar

    Hello. I am a member of Socialist Alternative. I wanted to give some positivity to the article that in fact Kshama Sawant is still in the running for a victory in Seattle. Reason being her position is over the city of Seattle and there are many ballots to be counted. The majority of ballots that were counted on election night were people who had voted at the booth, but Kshama certainly has a presence among the people who mail-in ballots who are unfortunately too busy working to make it to the ballot boxes. Our base is the working-class after all. The last count of ballots on Friday night were of approx. 58% in favor of Sawant, making her at 49.5% (less than 1% away from taking the lead) and there are many more ballots to be counted. Our organization is very proud of the working class of Seattle in making such a strong effort to fight for true change and we hope to see that momentum only grow in the coming years. And we, in Socialist Alternative, will make sure that if Sawant does win the seat on Seattle’s City Council, that her position will be used for just that purpose; to build a strong working class movement.

    Thank you, JB

  3. Alex Avatar

    Thanks Joel! Good news.