Formed by a split with the Workers World Party in 2004 (which split from the Socialist Workers Party nearly 50 years prior), the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) has grown into a regular—at times domineering—presence at demonstrations across the United States. After it claimed the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition in the split, PSL became a vital force in the anti-war movement of the 2000s. Though membership grew considerably during the 2008 economic crash and the Occupy movement, PSL’s numbers surged after the mass disillusionment of Bernie voters in the 2016 election. This growth has been dogged every step of the way by accusations of sexual abuse, male chauvinism, and internal corruption.
We will not highlight all of the accusations here, as this article would become unreadably long. We will, for the sake of brevity, highlight some of the most flagrant wrongdoings and errors. Though we have met many sincere and dedicated rank-and-file members of the “Party” and have counted some of them as close comrades, we can no longer stand by and wait for these offenses to be properly addressed by PSL. To remain silent in the face of brazen male chauvinism, transmisogyny, racism and abuse would be a disservice to our comrades within PSL, to ourselves as revolutionary women, and to the oppressed masses in general.
Character Assassination and Denial: Steven Powers and PSL Philly
In July of 2020, Dakota of PSL Philly reported fellow member Steven Powers for sexual misconduct at the behest of Powers’ then-girlfriend, who used the name Griselda online. In the weeks following his report, Dakota was charged with violating PSL’s constitution, removed from organizational chats, slandered by his so-called comrades and generally isolated by party leadership. Dakota highlighted this process in detail1 after attempting to struggle over the issue through the proper channels. PSL claims that Powers was throroughly investigated, but thus far the only people to see any consequences for his predatory and abusive actions are the people he harmed.
Griselda, who brought his behavior to the attention of other party cadre, has been systematically harassed and stalked by party leadership. In a formal party statement, PSL even disclosed Griselda’s legal name and location, and declared that their investigation committee concluded that Griselda had falsely accused Powers. It’s worth noting that PSL has taken down the statement down due to Griselda threatening suicide; some members now insist that she was not doxxed, repeating the lie that that the original statement had only her first name in it.
What is perhaps most concerning about PSL’s treatment of Griselda is the fact that the party’s investigation into the matter was entirely internal, though she was never a party member. An internal committee of PSL members reading through text messages is not only unqualified to rule out abuse, it is obviously a ploy to avoid transparancy and protect the org’s reputation at any cost. Let us be crystal clear:This is not an internal issue of party discipline. This is an issue of a party member abusing someone outside of the PSL.
The process was further compromised by Powers’ close friendship with members of the Steering Committee, which headed the investigation. Steering Committee member Timour K. was seen hanging out with Steven Powers with other PSL members during the investigation, despite contact with Powers being restricted by the Party.
A recently released statement by former PSL Philly members2, originally intended for internal struggle, details how PSL manipulated Griselda’s accounts to make her out to be a “hysterical woman” and distorted the context for Griselda’s “consent” in order to find Steven Powers innocent of abuse. The Steering Committee also concealed the fact that Powers had another accuser.
If revolutionary parties truly wish to earn the position of vanguard, they must be accountable to the masses, both inside and outside party membership. PSL’s attempts to resolve contradictions between themselves and the unorganized masses through secretive internal meetings reveals not only a disconnect from the broader masses, but a deep fear and distrust of them as well. This is far from the first time that PSL has sprung to the defense of over-degreed white chauvunists in its ranks.
Anti-Indigenous Chauvinism: The Red Nation Statement
On January 17th, 2017, The Red Nation (TRN), a “coalition of Native and non-Native activists, educators, students, and community organizers advocating Native liberation”3, published a piece detailing the abuse of Indigenous women by PSL Albuquerque leader Chris Banks, and predatory, racist behavior towards Indigenous women by PSL generally4. Details are withheld for the protection of the victims, but the behavior described is damning nonetheless. In the piece TRN highlights their efforts to combat PSL’s behavior and its sexist characterization of the women involved as “paranoid,” “emotional,” and “gossiping” along with the racist characterization of them as “superstitious”. This behavior was so extreme and consistent and the “Party” so unwilling to self-criticize and rectify their actions that The Red Nation severed ties with PSL altogether.
TRN correctly points out that this is not merely male chauvinism on behalf of PSL, it also demonstrates a pervasive settlerism within the Party. This is further made evident by PSL’s party program, which confusingly affirms the need for stolen lands to be returned to Indigenous nations, but ultimately places the right to redistribute these lands in the hands of the socialist government. Instead of decolonization, PSL proposes using settler-colonialism as a means for socialism and liberation. These colonial conceptions of socialism are common on the left and by no means extraordinary, but it must be heavily criticized and combatted to end settler-hegemony. All organizations have a class character, and it’s clear from their activity that PSL represents the interests of the settler class in the USA and its continued domination. There can be no room for settler “socialism” amongst genuine revolutionaries.
John Beacham and PSL Chicago
On September 14th, 2019 and on May 8th, 2020, information regarding an abortive split from PSL Chicago, the grooming occurring therein, and textbook transmisogyny in its supposed rectification was reported to PSL national by a member of the Chicago branch. In a final 28 page report released in December, the problems facing the party and its internal structure are laid out in painful detail.5
After a transgender woman, Veronica, was groomed into participating in a failed split lead by a party founder, John Beacham—who also sexually harassed her—she was not allowed to return to the party while other cis/hetero participants were. Local leadership then slandered Veronica as “arrogant” to excuse their denial of her renewed membership, in what is clearly textbook transmisogyny. Trans women are commonly derided and accused of possessing “male” traits or taking up too much space when we speak up for ourselves.
Another transgender member of the Chicago branch was “demotivated” (which apparently means they were dissuaded from running for a leadership position) for speaking to Veronica during the time period in which she had supposedly resigned. This comrade was called “sloppy” and a “security risk” despite the fact that the constitution of the PSL does not restrict members’ communication with ex-members, and that both parties agreed not to discuss PSL matters at the onset of their communication.
Presidential candidate and well-known PSL spokesperson Gloria La Riva was personally involved in disenfranchising and ostracizing Veronica.
Transphobia and Transmisogyny
Transphobia, primarily transmisogyny, has been a consistent issue among PSL leadership, including its Central Committee, which has no transgender members. PSL leadership’s treatment of both Dakota and Veronica are in no way isolated cases. Though the party often treats rank-and-file members as disposable, this has especially been the case with trans members.
The Central Committee recently reached out to several members who liked tweets that were critical of the party’s statement that doxxed Griselda. They were invited on to a call that consisted of, according to those on the call, “three hours of emotional appeals by the Central Committee, circular rhetoric which refused to engage the document’s criticisms, browbeating and baseless accusations of racism.” When one transgender woman raised concerns over transphobia in the PSL, La Riva flatly denied that transphobia was a problem in PSL. When this person remarked that La Riva was not qualified to judge this as a cis woman, La Riva bizarrely responded, completely avoiding criticism, “Did you say ‘cis woman’ referring to me? Because I denounce that characterization of me as to belittle who I am. I’m a Latina woman, and I’ll tell you something, there is a lot of racism going on here, and I will say that categorically.” There has been no self-criticism for how La Riva’s unprincipled behavior and blatant transphobia on this call.
It should be noted the party does little to nothing to integrate trans women cadre into leadership positions, including the Central Committee, which only consists of cisgender cadre. Ex-PSL members have raised this criticism to the Central Committee, who were unwilling to engage these criticisms in a principled manner.
Criticism is a gift, given for the sake of an organization’s internal life and political line. Fear of criticism is evidence of entrenched liberalism, and all available evidence suggests that the PSL fears criticism above all else. If honest, comradely criticism—especially from members of your own organization—and the exposure of abuse is a genuine threat to your party, then your party is not revolutionary but instead reactionary, and has no right to lead the masses or even exist.
False Democratic Centralism
“Both inside and outside the Party there must be a full democratic life, which means conscientiously putting democratic centralism into effect. We must conscientiously bring questions out into the open, and let the masses speak out. Even at the risk of being cursed we should still let them speak out. The result of their curses at the worst will be that we are thrown out and cannot go on doing this kind of work — demoted or transferred. What is so impossible about that? Why should a person only go up and never go down? Why should one only work in one place and never be transferred to another?”
— Mao Zedong6
PSL leadership’s distorted conception of democratic centralism allows their Central Committee to be disconnected from the rank-and-file membership and go uncriticized. One former member noted that PSL’s view of democratic centralism was one “in which actions that have not been democratically decided upon are sprung upon the rank-and-file members by National leadership and expected to be defended with no prior discussion or notice.” The few formal criticisms of leadership made are met with threats of expulsion, if not immediate expulsion.
Mao recognized that essential to this organizational principle is “the atmosphere of speaking out and of correcting shortcomings.” Cadre are obligated to bring their ideas and criticisms to the Party, and engage in debates within the Party regarding actions and lines to take. Mao also recognized that as a consequence of criticisms of the Party, leadership may be changed and cadre may be demoted.
The cases of abuse and misleadership mentioned above reveal a culture and structure that limits the debate and discussion necessary at every level of the party to ensure democratic centralism, and discourages, and at times penalizes, criticism of leadership.
Even those who criticized PSL after leaving have been silenced by PSL leadership. Though Mike Prysner may not be a member of the Central Committee, he is a prominent PSL member and a leading activist in the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition. Prysner served in the US Army since he was 19 years old and claimed to have duties such as ground surveillance, home raids, and interrogating Iraqi civilians, often using obscene torture tactics. He famously remarked that “the real terrorist was [him],” and has since leaving the army committed his life to anti-war activism and building PSL. In 2014, Prysner was also willing to use the US court system to file a restraining for “civil harassment” against a former PSL member who criticized him and PSL.7 This was never condemned by PSL leadership, though the case was dismissed in court.
Many PSL members are un-willing to discuss criticisms people have towards their party for they see discussion of “internal issues” as violating democratic centralism. When bringing these criticisms to leadership, members are often given shallow dismissals and are told to trust their leadership, to trust that democratic centralism is ensuring a principled party.
Democratic centralism is supposed to enhance the work of a communist formation while keeping all levels of leadership accountable to the whole party. As Scott Harrison notes in his essay Two Concepts of Democratic Centralism, “Democratic centralism facilitates the division of labor; it promotes the growth of skills and technical expertise (in the positive sense!); it sets up organized networks which can aid the work of individuals; it encourages the collective examination of individual work and criticism and self-criticism; it helps keep us all busy in our work and productive; and it results in tremendous encouragement for individual work.”
Democratic centralism is portrayed by the PSL as a formal structure that can be mechanically adopted rather than a set of principles that guides the forging of the party, introduced to enhance and consolidate revolutionary work and organizations.
An internal PSL document stated, cited in this 2018 criticism of PSL, “Communication between members in different branches that does not first go through the leadership bodies of the respective branches — which can be called ‘horizontal communications’ — is generally prohibited.”8 Members between branches are allowed to casually message one another, but group chats are prohibited to prevent factionalism and gossip, and meeting up with members of other branches requires permission from leadership. When this information became public, PSL members defended this policy as in line with democratic centralism.
Democratic centralism was summed up by Mao this way: “We must affirm anew the discipline of the Party, namely: (1) the individual is subordinate to the organization; (2) the minority is subordinate to the majority; (3) the lower level is subordinate to the higher level; and (4) the entire membership is subordinate to the Central Committee. Whoever violates these articles of discipline disrupts Party unity.”9
It must be kept in mind that strict adherence to this pattern of democratic centralism was especially necessary in a clandestine militarized party in the midst of people’s war. Those are nowhere near the conditions PSL is in, and prohibiting horizontal communications is, at the very least, inappropriate. The strictness to which PSL’s policies are enforced depends on the branch and whether or not the leadership favors the transgressor. There is also a tendency among members seeking higher positions in the Party to snitch on their comrades for violating the communication policy. All in all, this policy in practice has routinely protected abusers and silenced dissent.
PSL’s false democratic centralism, or bureaucratic centralism, breeds a culture of distrust and unprincipled leadership that has been weaponized for the abuse and oppression of women and non-men.
Phony Marxism-Leninism and Reactionary Collaboration
When it comes to theory, little if anything differentiates PSL from Workers World Party. PSL’s founding members wrote in 2004:
“As former leaders and members of Workers World Party, we defend that group’s historical tradition and mission, particularly that of its founder Sam Marcy. Although we believe that the Workers World Party leadership is no longer capable of fulfilling that mission, we still consider it to be a progressive organization with many honest activists.”10
Sam Marcy led a faction out of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party that formalized as the Workers World Party. This new party subscribed to Marcy’s “Global Class War” theory, which championed both “critical support” for all existing socialist states and the need to combat Stalinism, seeing the USSR as “a revolutionary social system with a counter-revolutionary leadership.”11 Developing on Trotskyist theories of permanent revolution and the degenerated or deformed workers state, Marcy proposed that socialist states, including the USSR, are necessarily “deformed” because true socialism could only exist with the complete elimination of capitalism.
Through the 60s and 70s, WWP’s unconditional support to all enemies of US imperialism flattened the contradictions in the International Communist Movement, siding with both Kruschev and Mao during the Sino-Soviet split. Today Marcyites (in both WWP and PSL) reject the analyses of Communists fighting people’s wars (including the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is actively being attacked by weapons from China given to Duterte) and continue to claim China as a socialist state and anti-imperialist power, despite the consolidation of corporativism in China and their imperialist exploitation throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia, resulting from Deng’s counter-revolution.
Marcy’s lines, grounded in a Trotskyist analysis, are revisionist—promoting capitalism and imperialism disguised as revolutionary Marxism. These remain the lines of PSL’s Central Committee, despite PSL publicly identifying as a Marxist-Leninist organization. Compared to WWP, who regularly feature articles by the late Sam Marcy in their newspaper Workers World, PSL has to some degree distanced themselves from Marcyism, as Marcy is rarely if ever mentioned internally and his works are not used in the candidacy program. That said, Marcyism is integral to PSL’s conception of anti-imperialism.
PSL’s consistent collaboration with reactionaries and rehabilitation of imperialist war criminals is another Marcyite distinctive.
The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition was initiated by WWP leadership and Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General. Clark is touted by PSL as a progressive ally, focusing on his expressed solidarity with, and even legal support for, various anti-imperialist and revolutionary figures, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leadership and Jose Maria Sison. Little is said about his defense of Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas or his decades at the United States Department of Justice.
Following the urban riots of the summer of 1967, Attorney General Clark ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to create the “Ghetto Informant Program” (GIP), a program of informants that surveilled “Black Extremists,” with at least 67 informants in the Black Panther Party. Laying the ground for COINTELPRO through forming both the Interdivisional Information Unit and the GIP, Clark became a peace activist in 1970. When the La Riva-Becker faction in the WWP formalized as the PSL, the PSL was able to take control of the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition and continued to claim Clark as a progressive hero who endorsed and participated in their work.
PSL’s Brian Becker hosted the recently cancelled show Loud & Clear with John Kiriakou, who resigned from the CIA in 2004 after years of combating communist militants in Greece and recruiting agents to spy for the United States. Their show often platforms former CIA and federal agents, including Ray McGovern and William Binney. Many of these individuals are vocally critical of the US military, some even whistleblowers, though having spent decades of their lives clandestinely serving the interests of US imperialism. More concerning is Becker’s decision to platform countless outright reactionaries, including Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, Alexander Mercouris, the Editor-in-Chief of The Duran, a far-right news and opinion site, Kevork Almassian, neo-fascist and member of the German Center for Eurasian Studies, and Mark Sleboda, associate and translator of Third Positionist Aleksandr Dugin.
Though Becker’s show is not official PSL media, Becker is a member of the Central Committee and, with Gloria La Riva, PSL’s most prominent public member. Collaborating with known reactionaries, anti-communists, and war criminals cannot be excused, especially from leaders of a so called communist party. For the party line to have always tolerated such opportunism reveals a rotten reactionary core that cannot be made revolutionary.
We recognize that PSL is a fundamentally reactionary organization. This is not the result of political degradation, but rather has been the case since its inception.
Proletarian Feminism is the Weapon
In the seminal piece on proletarian feminist praxis, On Standards of Feminist Conduct, the Center for Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Studies lays out a clear path for dealing with male chauvinism within the revolutionary movement12:
1. Revolutionary organizations, if they are genuine, must automatically expel any member who engages in anti-women violence and abuse. Organizations that fail to do this cannot be taken seriously and must be publicly exposed for their liberalism in failing to oppose male chauvinism. The “restorative justice” framework and the “accountability process” used by anarchists and other activists more often than not merely reproduce in practice the dynamics of patriarchy.
For Marxist-Leninists, “rectification” and “criticism / self-criticism,” without a policy of expulsion, often becomes the same liberal process with a different name. In contrast, zero tolerance for male chauvinist violence and abuse must be the principle, meaning automatic expulsion and, depending on the circumstances, public exposure. This is the only way to forge organizations that are developing the actuality of women’s emancipation, not just talking about it as an appealing idea.
2. During investigations by an organization in the US into incidents of anti-women violence and abuse, the word of the victim alleging that violence and abuse has been committed against them must be given more weight than the word of the accused. If there is a factual dispute, the guiding principle must be to adopt policies and enact decisions based principally on the victim’s account of events. Victims of domestic violence often have their reality denied or manipulated consistently by their abusers.
This must be taken into account when investigating the facts and when coming to a decision about the accused. The revolutionary organization in the US, which is not a court of justice with a court’s material powers of investigation and presumptions, cannot allow the accused to simply deny the victim’s account in part or wholesale, call into question the victim’s motives, and mobilize their social network to pressure the victim and the organization.
Revolutionary organizations in the US are not states making decisions on punishment and rehabilitation, which would operate according to different standards. They are voluntary associations that must make a call – generally based on limited and conflicting verbal or written accounts – on how to respond to an incident, taking into consideration the need to advance the struggle for women’s emancipation, to develop women as militants and leaders, and to protect the organization’s work and reputation.
PSL gives credence to investigation, rectification, and self-criticism in all of their statements on their various abuse scandals, but they use these concepts in a thoroughly opportunistic way. Calls for rectification and self-criticism become nothing but empty falsehoods when they are used to shield abusers from discipline and party leaders from accountability.
Just as any organization on the Amerikan left that does not recognize the primacy of the national contradiction is doomed to the dustbin of history, so is any organization that does not give primacy to the organization and liberation of proletarian women and non-men on our own terms. Proletarian feminism is the weapon by which we achieve this liberation, and it must be turned on all reactionary forces, even those who would call themselves our comrades. We know that the comradeship of misogynists and racists is no comradeship at all, and we do no one any favors by hiding our criticisms away. Only by forging a Maoist party—that keeps proletarian feminism in command and is held accountable through criticism/self-criticism at every level—can we achieve a revolution capable of overthrowing capitalism, imperialism, settler-colonialism, and patriarchy once and for all.
The members of For The People – PDX declare our complete and unflinching solidarity with all who have fallen victim to male chauvinism, transmisogyny and abuse within the Party for Socialism and Liberation. We call upon all PSL members who seek liberation for all oppressed people living in the so-called United States to formally leave the organization. No proletarian feminist can remain in an organization with a consistent record of unaccountable abuse.
That being said, PSL never had the potential to be a revolutionary organization. PSL is a fundamentally reactionary organization where principled struggle is not possible. As Mao wrote in On Practice, “to lead the revolution to victory, a political party must depend on the correctness of its own political line and the solidity of its own organization.” Rectification is impossible in PSL not only because of bureaucratic centralism, but ultimately because of the party’s revisionist Marcyite lines, which distorts historical and global contradictions to ultimately serve the aims of imperialism. All these things that PSL lacks, misuses, or misunderstands—proletarian feminism, clandestineness, criticism/self-criticism, even anti-imperialism—are not just useful in communist organizing but necessary strategic imperatives for uniting communist nuclei with the masses on a principled basis for the preparation of people’s war. There is one option for principled communists in PSL: resign and struggle with your comrades to do the same.
We also call revolutionary organizations and organizers to break any tactical unity with PSL, and for PSL to be isolated in all organizing efforts, including coalitions, and given no platforms at demonstrations.
For the People – Portland
For the People – Long Beach
For the People – San Diego
For the People – Salt Lake City
For the People – Boston
For the People – Chicago
For the People – Saint Louis
For the People – Bloomington
For the People – Baltimore
For the People – Wichita
6. Talk at An Enlarged Working Conference Covened By The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (1962)
7. Picture below
9. The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War
10. Party for Socialism and Liberation Program:
11. Sam Marcy, Global Class War (1953) https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/marcy/gclasswar/1953_Global_Class_War.html