Congratulations to Slate's Matthew Yglesias for demonstrating his proud contrarian street cred by declaring that socialism is already "off to a poor start" in Seattle. Yglesias makes fun of Kshama Sawant for talking about collectivizing Boeing's Everett plant, as well as her call to defend existing housing from unscrupulous developers.

"Look... there's someone even lefterer than me! Aren't they quaint!" exclaims Yglesias, (if not exactly in those words).


First, let's just be clear that socialism can't have possibly gotten off to a poor start in Seattle, because it hasn't started yet. With certification a week away, Sawant hasn't even officially won the election yet, let alone been sworn in. So grabbing an old out-of-context campaign quote (as Yglesias does with Sawant's comment on land use) and presenting it as a "poor start" to her term in office is just plain lazy.

As for that quote—"The first thing we need is a council that will defend existing housing and not destroy existing housing in the name of density and sustainability"—that's 25 words taken out of a 42-minute conversation with the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition. Indeed, this quote comes specifically in response to a question about the impact of speculation on the availability of affordable housing: "This is speculative investment masquerading as solutions of density," Sawant explains. "They are destroying existing affordable housing while saying they are creating affordable housing," decries Sawant, calling it "doublespeak."

Sawant goes on to criticize her opponent for pandering to developers in the name of density, while ignoring environmental sustainability and neighborhood plans that are already in place. "It's not a question of density, it's a question of who is calling the shots," explains Sawant. And clearly, she believes that the shots are too firmly in the hands of powerful developers.

Yglesias uses this out-of-context quote to make some smug comparison to "urban planning in the communist bloc." Gimme a fucking break. Again, that's just lazy.

As for the Boeing thing, yeah, I understand that Sawant's suggestion that workers "take over" Boeing's Everett plant may strike some as a bit shocking. Of course it's shocking. That's the whole point! That's part of what Sawant brings to the table—a refusal to just submissively accept whatever fate allotted by our corporate overlords. Yglesias, on the other hand, not so much:

Can Boeing's front-line workers actually retool an airplane factory and turn it to bus production and win contracts to sell buses that raise enough revenue to keep everyone employed? Only time will tell for sure, but in the real world the answer is "no." This is exactly what you need executives for. Retooling plants, establishing relationships with suppliers and customers, understanding the size of the market for buses, and all that other stuff is a nontrivial task.

Hey, way to demand deference to the corporate executives threatening to move production out of this region in pursuit of their irrational union-busting agenda. I mean, look how credulous Yglesias is: "The company tried to use the lure of building those planes in Washington State to get the machinists union to agree to some concessions in other areas of negotiation."

"Concessions in other areas of negotiation"...? Are you fucking kidding me? There were no negotiations with the Machinists local. Boeing simply demanded that Machinists give up their pensions, slash their health care benefits, accept a near pay-freeze, and surrender the right to strike. Hell, why not just demand that the union decertify? There was no effort to compromise. No willingness to negotiate. It was take this deal or we'll move your jobs to a non-union state. And Yglesias is suggesting what? That the Boeing executives know best?

Yglesias has a reputation among the serious people for being one of the more serious and credible progressive pundits, a reputation he's allegedly earned through his willingness to critique his own side. Maybe. Though I'm not the only one who's never been exactly sure which side Yglesias is on.

But on the odd chance he really is a progressive, Yglesias should quietly send Sawant a thank you note. For Sawant's willingness to truly challenge convention should give progressives everywhere the room to pull the conversation a little further to the left without being ridiculed as a crazy lefty themselves. And in that sense at least, a national pundit like Yglesias tossing off a lazy out-of-context critique of a local council member-elect, suggests that socialism in Seattle may be off to a very good start indeed.