PSL outpost at 2969 Mission St. Photo by Jennifer Cortez

For 15 years, the San Francisco outpost of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) has operated out of a small storefront at 2969 Mission St. near the southern edge of the Mission. Inside, posters call for the liberation of Palestine and the end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The visage of Che Guevara peers over several tables selling stickers and paintings of other famous revolutionaries whose reputations might place its members on the edge of mainstream politics as well.

That’s no longer the case.

“There’s been very big changes,” said Richard Becker, PSL’s 72-year-old co-founder, as he joined some 25 members at 16th and Mission Street on a recent Friday. They were there to protest the Trump Administration’s treatment of immigrants. “When we formed the PSL, it was just a small group of fewer than 40 people, now we have branches and checkers all over the country.”

That small group became the PSL in 2004 when they split from the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party after deciding that its leadership was “no longer capable of fulfilling [their] mission.”

The PSL espouses a Marxist-Leninist ideology, one intent on “fighting the war program in the U.S., fighting imperialism, and fighting for Socialism,” said Gloria La Riva, a socialist presidential candidate since 1993 and a PSL founder.

Nowadays, they find, socialist ideals appear less radical, thanks to the success of the Democratic Socialists in attracting members like Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Speak out at 16th and Mission. Photo by Aleka Kroitzsh.

While PSL does not give out membership numbers, they said outposts of the Marxist-Leninist group now exist in some 90 cities. The membership trends younger and attendance at their forums, such as one recent immigration symposium, have also grown to a steadier 50 or so, La Riva said.

And La Riva’s own showing in the presidential election, which she has entered every election cycle since 1993, has also grown. Most recently, La Riva’s numbers jumped nine-fold between 2012 and 2016  to 74,392.

“The fog of anti-communism is lifting,” said La Riva, from the “negativity and misunderstanding” of the past to “acceptance.”

Becker agreed. “Socialism has reentered the political discourse in the United States.” Although he acknowledged Sanders’ help, he was quick to add, “we don’t agree with him on everything.”

La Riva, now 63 and poised for another run, is straightforward about PSL’s differences with Sanders and other Democratic Socialists.

“We are Communists,” said La Riva, who also made it out to the 16th Street protest. “We believe in a society where capitalism does not exist in any way, where there is a socialist movement in the world, beginning with the U.S., the biggest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Sanders’ Democratic Socialism, in comparison, is not Marxist and does not involve abandoning capitalism or overturning the free market economy.  And, both socialist parties share an antagonism for Trump’s harsh policies on immigration and his failure to address income disparity.

La Riva too sees the success of Sanders as a positive, “The response to him [shows that] people are really rejecting the idea that money rules and money should rule,” she said.

As for voting in 2020 election, PSL member Derek K. said that if a PSL candidate presents themselves in the 2020 election, he would vote for them, but if Biden gets nominated, he wouldn’t be too “enthusiastic” about voting.

When asked if she would support a candidate from one of the two main parties, La Riva said that would be taken up in August. “We’re going to have a great congress of our party in August in New York, and we’re going to discuss [it].”

Will she run again? That, too, will be decided at the New York congress in August.

Aleka A. Kroitzsh

Aleka A. Kroitzsh grew up in Mumbai, India and now lives in Berkeley, CA. She is an English major at Dartmouth College and is passionate about poetry, hiking, and travel.

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8 Comments

  1. “We believe in a society where capitalism does not exist in any way”

    Would be interested to know how the economy would work under this type of government. If you get rid of capitalism, does that mean the government decides on what goods are made and sold, what wages are and what the prices are? Can someone get fired from a job if they are a lazy piece of shit?

    Anyone from the PSL want to let us know how this would work in your system? You hear these terms “communism” and “Socialism”, but it’s difficult to determine how things would actually work as people have changed the meaning. Is there a link to a website that talks about how the economy would work?

  2. Is it okay to have multiple revolutionary parties or will the PSL crush the others if they manage to come to power?

    1. My guess is the latter given that their role models are tyrannical one-party states like North Korea, Cuba, Maoist China, the Soviet Union, etc.

      What I want to know is why the PSL split off from the Workers World Party? Neither party has explained the nature of the split and the PSL kept the same platform as the WWP. It seems like the stuff of Monty Python.

  3. The word communism is forever tainted by its association with Bolsheviks who killed the concept in March 1921 with the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion. Messieurs Lenin and Trotsky in charge. One day they’re communists – 12 days later they’re fascists. I guess it’s easy to flip the switch between the two – see Molotov–Ribbentrop below.

    Also – check out a book called “Animal Farm”.

    As biggest purveyor of violence – us – true. Dick Cheney is ours and still walks the earth with 13 stents in his heart.
    However for perspective see Holodomor and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact – kicking off the murder fest of 70–85 million people.

    1. Let’s not confuse a hopeful ideal with the grim meat hooks of reality. The attractiveness of the PSL lies primarily with the impossibility of its enactment. The hope inspired by Communism shines brightly, as a System, it always regresses into cheap tyranny.

  4. It seems that history has not taught this group anything.
    Like climate deniers, facts mean nothing.
    There has never been a successful socialist/communist country. Human nature doesn’t allow it and the people that get in power rip off and enslave those that put them there.

  5. Socialism is sexy and appealing within a working capitalist infrastructure.
    Comfy chair.

    After the revolution, it all falls to pieces in time and the rich elite keep power and the dumb slave comrade citizens eat hay. Via la revolucion !

  6. Lmao all these comments regurgitating the same tired and disproven anticommunist talking points. Its a meme at this point because literally every American says the same things verbatim. Tell me, how much time and critical thought have you put into researching these positions? Or are you just spewing forth pure ideology which you have passively absorbed throughout your lives?

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