In an ongoing refrain, unallied radicals regularly plead with socialist parties to join forces in electoral and other campaigns. The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) urges this too, and practices it when able. Left cooperation based on shared ideas reaches greater numbers of workers looking for solutions to crises besetting them. But many parties are too bent on defending their turf to see this big picture. Defining themselves as the only “real” revolutionaries, they disdain to work with others.
No group exemplifies this tendency more than the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Far from cooperating with other socialists, PSL actively sabotages them. A case in point is the 2012 presidential race, following new information about PSL’s dealings in the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP) recently leaked by a disillusioned former member.
The PFP in California is one of the few remaining left collaborations in the U.S. It has a socialist platform and runs candidates from various parties. PSL presidential candidate Peta Lindsay was one of several parties’ representatives competing for the PFP nomination. But California disqualified her from the ballot because, at 28, she was too young to legally hold the office of president. (FSP believed this was undemocratic and, with others, protested to the state.)
When PSL became convinced that Lindsay’s disqualification would cause her to lose the PFP nomination, it threw its delegate votes to celebrity comedian Roseanne Barr instead of one of the other socialist parties, enabling Barr to win. Barr had lost the nomination of the reformist Green Party only two weeks before the PFP convention, but was suddenly claiming to be thoroughly socialist.
Ex-PSL member John Hernandez has posted online an audio file of the conference call among party leaders and campaign organizers that finalized the decision to support Barr. The file is a blistering exposé of PSL’s unprincipled behavior. (On his WordPress blog, Hernandez also denounces PSL’s toleration of sexist abuse of women by Carlos Alvarez, a then-PSL member who ran for governor on the PFP ticket in 2010.)
On the conference call, PSL leader Brian Becker laid out the plan as a purely tactical maneuver to win the party media coverage and attention. He said that differences over the revolt in Syria were the reason for not supporting the FSP or the Socialist Party. But he admitted that Barr’s professed socialism “doesn’t necessarily correspond to our world view of socialism” and repeatedly acknowledged PSL’s political gap with her by referring to her as a liberal progressive or populist.
Still, he had the gall to cite as authority for his proposal the fact that the Bolshevik Party at times endorsed other socialist candidates, giving them critical support that acknowledged political differences — as FSP has done for PSL candidates in the past. Becker’s reference to Bolshevik policy is darkly ironic. It is the opposite of what PSL did by uncritically supporting a candidate who wasn’t even a socialist!
The phone call shows how PSL first went to Cynthia McKinney, former Green Party presidential candidate and Barr’s campaign adviser, and proposed backing Barr in exchange for Lindsay becoming Barr’s vice-presidential candidate. The Barr campaign rejected this because of Lindsay’s age and counter-offered to put Gloria La Riva, a former PSL presidential candidate, on the slate. PSL nixed this because Lindsay would still be running a write-in campaign in California.
The final agreement struck with Barr, McKinney, and Barr’s running mate, Cindy Sheehan, was a trade: PSL’s Peace and Freedom delegates would vote for Barr, and Barr would share the podium with Lindsay during the former’s speaking engagements. This plan predictably fell apart immediately, because Barr failed to campaign seriously at all. She also reneged on promises to PFP to donate funds and help sign up new voter registrations. (Sheehan quickly withdrew from the ticket publicly.)
At the PFP convention, PSL announced that Lindsay was dropping out of consideration only minutes before the vote, an obvious ploy to keep the other socialist parties from picking up new delegates or from forming an alliance. (For more, see Freedom Socialist presidential candidate comes in second to last-minute celebrity entrant Roseanne Barr.)
Bottom line: PSL’s whole opportunist performance reeks of the same principle-free conduct that’s the norm for capitalist parties.