The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is one of the fastest growing socialist organisations in the US. In recent months, its members have been central in the struggles against police brutality and injustice. Earlier this year, four activists, including three members of the PSL, were arrested in Denver, Colorado for their role in protesting the police murder of Elijah McCain.
This is the second part of LookLeft’s interview with PSL organiser Lillian House.
LookLeft: Over the last few years there has been a notable increase in interest in socialism amongst younger generations in the US. Could you talk a bit about how that has impacted the PSL? Has the increased interest in socialist or class politics reached more broadly into the working class?
Lillian House: Yes, there has been a huge increase in interest in socialism. Even though socialism lacks a clear, popularly understood definition, it is no longer a taboo subject. People feel more comfortable exploring socialist ideas and Marxist theory, and more people identify the problems in US society not simply as the problems with this party or that party, but as problems with capitalism itself.
The PSL has doubled in size in the last 18 months. In just 2020, more than 7,000 people have applied to become members. The interest in socialism is affecting young people of working class and middle class backgrounds and the message of socialism is increasingly a point of interest for young workers. Because anti-communism was so dominant in US politics for more than a half-century, the legacy has constricted the interest in socialism among older people. Thus we see the new emerging socialist movement is in many ways a movement of younger people.
LL: Is there any cause for optimism in relation to the trade union movement in the US? How does the PSL see the strength of the union movement being rebuilt?
LH: The PSL views labour unions as the fundamental mass organisations of the working class. If it were not for the very powerful anti-worker restrictions on union organising, restrictions that have been imposed by the government and enforced by the courts, millions of working people would immediately join unions.
As the service sector grows as a centre of economic activity, union organising in that sector also grows. The traditional sector of labour organising in manufacture and industry has been dealt a serious blow during the past four decades from the neoliberal capitalist policy of off-shoring production into low wage areas and countries. Workers who organise unions in an industrial environment or who are fighting for higher wages are routinely told should they unionise or should their struggle for higher wages succeed, they are threatened that their enterprises will be moved to another area in the US or to a foreign country. Also, as a consequence of automation and the introduction of other new technologies, vast parts of the US manufacturing sector have lost their jobs. This has had a profound impact on the militancy of labour inside the manufacturing sector.
It is no accident that the most militant strike struggles are taking place within the service sector, and very importantly, teachers and teacher unions have led the way, going on strike both in large urban areas and in smaller cities and in parts of the country that have been historically anti-union. The PSL has a very strong contingent of workers in education and PSL members have led or been part of the leadership of important strike struggles in the recent past.
LL: What does the calibre of the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates say about the state of both the US establishment and the country more broadly?
LH: Power in the US political system does not reside with the elected officials who occupy central offices. There is a professional state with thousands of trained operatives who run the system and maintain it day in and day out, year in and year out. Having semi-coherent or even incoherent candidates for president constitutes an existing tradition within modern American politics. Ronald Reagan routinely fell asleep at national security briefings, and George W Bush didn’t have a geostrategic thought in his brain when he entered the White House in January 2001.
The PSL understands that the state apparatus is a permanent state, not something that changes every four years. In the past few years, people have mistakenly used the labelling of this permanent state as “the deep state.” We prefer to just call it the capitalist state. The most powerful institutions of the state are the military and the intelligence services which work hand in glove with other systems that organize state violence and coercion.
This broad and violent, repressive and powerful state dominates all politics within the United States, and even the big capitalist bankers on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms must pay heed to the dictates of the state apparatus.
LL: Biden narrowly defeated Trump in the US Presidential election. Could you give your thoughts on the US elections, including Gloria La Riva’s campaign for the PSL?
Biden actually defeated Trump quite convincingly in the popular vote. He won by more than five million votes. But, because the United States retains an anachronistic institution which is a holdover from the era of slavery called the Electoral College, Biden only narrowly defeated Trump in some key battleground states where a significant number of electors were up for grabs. The fact that the vote was so close in these battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere, reflects almost exactly what happened in 2016 – only that this time, Trump narrowly lost in those states, rather than narrowly winning.
Regarding our own election campaign, we are glad to conclude that the Gloria la Riva presidential campaign was highly beneficial to the growth of the Party and to the training of PSL members to openly and persuasively campaign for a socialist ticket. We are also fully aware of the fact that the election system in the US is completely undemocratic and is so dominated by vast amounts of money, so it is impossible for a progressive working class candidate to become actually well-known to the electorate. The two ruling class parties spent about five billion dollars on advertising. They dominate the airwaves. They write the rules about the candidates’ debate forums to make sure that third parties cannot participate in national televised debates. Even to achieve ballot access, third parties have to pursue different ballot access regulations in each of the 50 states, making it virtually impossible in many areas of the country to even appear on the ballot. So we do not believe that the vote is a true reflection of if the campaign’s message was well-received by the working class.
But that being said, by the time all the votes are counted, the la Riva vote count will be approaching the 100,000 mark. This is the largest vote for any socialist candidate in the last 44 years, and clearly a signal of the growing interest in the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
LL: Trump’s tenure has witnessed a ramping up of hostilities towards Iran, China, Venezuela, and Cuba amongst others. There has been plenty of similar rhetoric from Biden – how does the PSL view the state of US imperialism and the likely approach to foreign policy that Biden will pursue? And could you outline some of the anti-imperialist organising work that your party is involved in?
LH: The Biden White House shares all of the fundamental objectives and goals of the Trump White House. Biden wants to overthrow the governments in Iran and China, in Venezuela, and in Cuba. That’s what Trump and all Republican candidates also favour.
Biden and his closest aides condemned Trump NOT for pursuing an immoral campaign of war, sanctions, and threats against targeted countries and people, they condemned Trump for NOT SUCCEEDING in the efforts to weaken or overthrow these governments. Their condemnation of Trump was that his erratic policies actually made the US weaker and China, Venezuela, Cuba stronger. So the debate is not one of goals, objectives, principles, but it is merely a tactical divide on how quickly to achieve imperialist outcomes on the world stage, or a public relations split on how these aims are to be discussed in the media.
There are two areas where Biden’s policy could differ from Trump’s significantly. Biden says he wants to return the US to the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran Nuclear Deal). This would be considered a positive development for the people in Iran, because it would allow Iran to resume economic activity and the sale of its oil to many countries that were compelled to go along with the Trump administration policy of blackmail and extortion against Iran. Whether Biden will do this remains to be seen, but he has said that he would welcome a return to the agreement. If Biden were to attempt to draw additional concessions from Iran, as a political cover, it is likely that Iran will reject this, given that it was Iran that was already a victim to the US failure to abide by the agreement.
The other area has to do with Cuba. The Biden administration appears to be signalling a return to the early stages of normalisation of relations that had been pursued by Obama, which were inadequate but considered beneficial to Cuba. That would be something that would be important to Cuba and the progressives in Latin America. Conditions in Cuba have become very difficult due to the tightening of the blockade over the past few years. However, it appears in the last few days that Biden is attempting to signal the Cuban government that in order to relieve some of the onerous new economic measures against the island, Cuba would have to begin distancing itself from the Maduro government in Venezuela. This proves that Biden and his aides are nothing but snakes. We believe that it also demonstrates that they are consumed with wishful thinking, because Cuba as a matter of principle will never forgo its relationship with Venezuela to gain concessions from imperialists.
The PSL is actively involved with the anti-war coalition the ANSWER Coalition, a leading antiwar and anti-imperialist force in the American peace movement. The ANSWER Coalition is petitioning to end sanctions on Iran, the DPRK, Venezuela, Cuba, and all other victims of US aggression. There will be activities around these themes in the coming months.
LL: From housing to healthcare to the climate crisis to the rise of the far right – there are a whole range of major issues affecting working class people in the US – what do you foresee as the main political challenges for socialists and the working class in the US in the coming years under the Biden presidency?
LH: There is a tendency in US politics for the progressive sectors to diminish their militancy and focussed organising when Democrats take control of the white house. Some fear that organising against a Democratic administration strengthens the Right and the Republicans, and these parts of the US Left begin to either self-censor or to act as if they are simply a friendly lobby that acts for the Democratic Party to make this or that concession.
This is a fundamental weakness in US left politics. Right now there needs to be an intensifying political class struggle to fight back against the capitalist government which continues to function as a servant for Wall Street and the military industrial complex. There should be no “honeymoon period” for the Biden administration. It is an aggressive, imperialist, and anti-worker government, and even if Biden were to nominate a few liberals to sprinkle around in his cabinets, we would not change our characterisation of his administration one iota.
The biggest, looming issues in America are the crisis in housing, massive unemployment, and growing hunger. The stock exchange is breaking records because both ruling class parties are rewarding the capitalists with huge cash infusions and loan guarantees, but tens of millions of workers are facing absolute and utter ruin. Millions are literally in line waiting for food handouts, and we believe this crisis is going to grow.
The PSL intends to focus on the section of the population, again numbering in the tens of millions, who are in absolute existential crisis and for whom the capitalist system has turned into nothing more than a nightmare.
Read Part One of the interview here.