A political critique of the Party for Socialism and Liberation

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The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is an activist party that endorses popular struggles in the U.S. and raises the need for international socialist revolution. Their writings stress the fight against racism, sexism, and homophobia, as well as struggles for national self-determination, labor rights, and union militancy.

The PSL program backs up their positions against racism and sexism with support for affirmative action and equal pay. They call for reparations to Indian nations and African Americans for genocide and slavery.

The PSL program also clearly states the necessity of socialist revolution in the U.S. It calls for democratic workers’ councils to carry it out.

In short, PSL is an organization with which the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) has substantial areas of agreement — on paper. But what does PSL stand for not only on paper, but in life? Answering that question goes a fair distance toward answering the question that understandably vexes so many activists: Why can’t the Left just get together?

From Trotskyist roots to backing dictators. PSL has been in existence since 2004, when it split from the Workers World Party (WWP). Neither group has explained the split or indicated major political differences. Leaders of PSL today were leaders in WWP previously.

WWP itself split in 1959 from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), at the time the main U.S. advocate of Leon Trotsky’s ideas. Trotsky was V.I. Lenin’s co-leader in the Russian Revolution and the foremost socialist opponent of the Stalinist bureaucracy as it rose to power.

Trotskyist convictions include socialist democracy, workers’ solidarity, and the permanence of revolutions as long as capitalism exists. Trotskyists agree with Lenin that a serious revolutionary party is needed if workers are to win. They champion the united front: working-class organizations joining together in struggles while continuing to debate issues of disagreement.

When they departed the SWP, Workers World founders presented their new group as still Trotskyist. In fact, they were moving away from Trotskyism — something that could be clearly seen in their international positions, and is still reflected in the PSL today. WWP and PSL have consistently sided with Communist Party (CP) bureaucrats and “anti-imperialist” authoritarians over movements for workers’ power or democratic rights. Here are three examples.

Before leaving the SWP, Workers World founders supported the Soviet Union’s 1956 invasion of Hungary. A 2006 story in PSL’s magazine, Socialism and Liberation, takes the same position 50 years later.

The article endorses the punishing reparations the USSR exacted from Hungary after World War II and the Soviet-backed police state that sparked the Hungarian uprising. It admits that workers’ councils were organized across Hungary, demanding democracy and workers’ control along with withdrawal of Soviet troops. But it argues (without facts) that the U.S., via Radio Free Europe, hijacked the movement. It supports the USSR’s suppression of the revolt, which killed several thousand and created 200,000 refugees.

Meanwhile, also in 2006, PSL in a resolution on China reaffirmed Workers World opposition to the Tiananmen Square student democracy movement in 1989. Numerous witnesses indicate that hundreds or thousands were killed and injured when the bureaucracy smashed this movement, but PSL denies it. The resolution also concludes that the CP is restoring capitalist economic relations in China, yet contradictorily maintains that as long as the Chinese CP stays in power, “there is a possibility, however great or small, that this trend can still be reversed.” So it opposes any challenge to CP rule as counterrevolutionary.

Finally, today, PSL backs the repressive regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian democracy movement. In July 2012, on a TV program called CrossTalk, PSL leader Brian Becker called Syrians in revolt “pawns” in a U.S. game, even though the people “could have real grievances” against Assad. PSL’s newspaper, Liberation, allows that part of the opposition is secular and left-wing, yet PSL sides with the regime because it is “an organized force against Zionism and for Palestinian national liberation.”

PSL refuses to condemn crimes against workers committed by figures it identifies as enemies of the U.S. ruling class — most of whom, like Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, only questionably merit the honor. This is a classically Stalinist version of anti-imperialism.

Sectarianism in the movements. In the split from Workers World, PSL ended up with leadership of the WWP-led anti-war group ANSWER. Structurally, ANSWER calls itself a coalition, but it is not a membership-run organization. Politically, it has joined with liberal coalitions to keep any radical voices other than PSL’s off the podium of anti-war rallies it initiates — a pattern repeated in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

PSL has been equally competitive in the immigrant rights movement. At the LA May Day rally in 2010, they and Latino Movement USA used strong-arm tactics to try to keep radicals of different views, and opponents of the Democratic Party, away from the microphone.

The issue of principle. PSL ran candidates Peta Lindsay and Yari Osorio in last year’s presidential campaign. While FSP ran its own candidates, Stephen Durham and Christina López, FSP supported PSL’s fight with the state of California to get on the Peace and Freedom Party ballot, as a matter of principle. FSP also critically supported and campaigned for PSL’s candidate for New York City mayor in 2009.

However, this kind of solidarity is foreign to PSL, whose leaders demonstrate no feeling of responsibility for building the Left as a whole.

On the contrary, when PSL realized it would not win the Peace and Freedom nomination, and that either FSP or the Socialist Party might, they blocked the other socialists by withdrawing their own candidates at the last possible second — and throwing their support to celebrity Roseanne Barr. In sabotaging other socialists to support a candidate who is by no sane measure anti-capitalist, they crossed class lines.

In this case, too, the PSL apple doesn’t fall far from the WWP tree. WWP has a long record of opportunistically doing the “popular” thing rather than the principled thing, including giving support to candidates who don’t pose a real challenge to capitalism. As just one example, they backed Jesse Jackson in his bid to gain the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1984.

Their hostile competitiveness with other left groups also casts a dubious light on their sudden formation last year of the group Women Organized to Resist and Defend. After years of PSL paying little attention to the feminist movement, this move came in the middle of contending against socialist groups that emphasize feminism for the Peace and Freedom nod.

Many people intent on making change, especially youth and people of color, are attracted to PSL because of its socialism, anti-war organizing, and support for the oppressed in the U.S. Hopefully, these activists will find another political home worthy of their ideals.

Contact the author at mcornish@igc.org

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