The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) held its Third Party Congress April 1-3, 2016, in San Francisco, California.
Per the Constitution of the PSL, the Party Congress is the highest body of the Party. It is fundamentally responsible for the maintenance, defense and growth of the Party.
The Party Congress is attended by voting delegates elected at the branch level, voting delegates elected by the Central Committee and non-voting delegates invited by the Central Committee. (The Central Committee is the highest body of the Party between Party Congresses.)
The tasks of the delegates to the Congress include setting policy and determining strategy and tactics for the next period; making amendments to the Party Program and Constitution; and electing a new Central Committee.
Strategic framework for the current period
The Congress met in the context of an unusual and unpredictable U.S. presidential election campaign — a process that in most years is tightly managed by the ruling class. The unlikely campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have had a profound impact on the domestic political situation. The impact of the Trump campaign has been to destabilize the Republican Party, at least for the time being.
The Sanders campaign reflects two intersecting phenomena: the intervention in politics of millions of young people who are disgusted with capitalism or at least its myriad manifestations of inequality, low-wage jobs, staggering student debt, etc., and the revival of the traditional liberal wing of the Democratic Party that had been vanquished by the Clinton administration and the Democratic Leadership Forum. This is approximately what happened to the Labour Party in Britain in the 1990s, when it adopted the slogans and perspectives of New Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair. The fact that this political phenomenon happened simultaneously in both the United States and Britain was not accidental, but rather an indication of the sharp shift to the right among the imperialist establishment. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party wants to revive the party and give it leadership; many of the young people in the Sanders campaign want change and are attracted to the idea of a mass movement and a “political revolution.”
The unpredictable election campaign has unleashed broader social forces — on the ultra-right and the left — that may prove difficult for either party to contain during and after the election. The growing political crisis within the establishment and the polarization within broader society are reflections of the phony capitalist “recovery,” which is built on the most outrageous levels of inequality and has only increased the social contradictions that neoliberal capitalism is incapable of resolving. This has propelled popular disenchantment with politics as usual on all sides.
The irreversible decline of U.S. imperialist hegemony — sinking the dream of a “unipolar” world order — has sharpened the struggles within the U.S. ruling class and is the foundation for the growing crisis of legitimacy for the whole political order.
The Bernie Sanders campaign — for all its clear weaknesses and the limitations of the candidate — signals the ability to discuss socialism with a mass audience. Given the fact that anti-communism has had such a perverse and sabotaging impact on political consciousness for decades, including within the various progressive social movements, this represents a positive opportunity that the socialist left must take full advantage of. This requires a tactical approach that allows revolutionary socialists to engage with those forces that the Sanders campaign has brought into motion without tailing the Sanders campaign.
We recognize that this is just the early stage of the revival of socialism. The overthrow and collapse of socialist states deeply wounded the credibility of socialism and communism globally for decades, for an entire generation, and led to a capitalist counter-offensive on both military and ideological terms.
The PSL recognizes that this early stage of revival, which is not the stage of insurrection or revolution, is closer to the historical period of the First International, in which Karl Marx brought together an eclectic mix of people who had an interest in fighting against the capitalist class, which at that time was aggressively breaking strikes and stoking national division within the working class.
Marx was not the leader of the First International principally because the majority of its membership agreed with his ideology, philosophy or political world outlook. Rather, Marx became the preeminent leader in the First International based on his competence as an organizer — his ability to bring and keep together various trends. At the same time, Marx and Engels step-by-step introduced in the course of the struggle core scientific socialist concepts into the workers’ movement and developed their distinct philosophical worldview, which over time proved itself in practice and became a truly mass phenomenon.
This is not to say the PSL advocates for a loose First International organizational model. To the contrary, it considers a core task to preserve and teach the practices of democratic centralism to a new generation of fighters who are entering the struggle. Building a revolutionary party of this type — with its own centralism — is an essential precondition for the working class and oppressed to withstand the repressive centralism of the capitalist state and eventually overthrow it. To turn away from this form of organization would be to ignore the lessons of over a century of historical experience.
With this political framework, this Congress highlighted the need to build partnerships and united fronts with other political forces with whom the PSL does not have a full identity of views — as was done in the First International. At the same time, a special focus must be put on developing and restoring Marxist theory and organizational concepts for the revival of a revolutionary movement. The PSL was founded as, and continues to serve as, a bridge between the previous eras of revolution and counter-revolution, and this new era in which the socialist movement has essentially been forced to “start over.”
It is critical for revolutionaries to grasp the primary tasks of their historical period. Since the Second Party Congress of 2013, the PSL has been pursuing a strategic framework organized around the tasks of Recruitment, Popularization and International Coordination.
The basic premises of this strategy are to 1) de-popularize capitalism by linking the daily oppressions to the system itself, and bringing out in a popular and accessible way the socialist alternative; 2) recruit and build the socialist movement, and our Party — socialism can only be revived as a mass phenomenon with the recruitment and training of many more dedicated socialists; 3) reach out to and create coordination with revolutionary forces internationally — the vitality and credibility of socialism exists in its internationalism.
The Third Party Congress both sharpened and clarified this strategic framework, which has been validated by the basic trends now appearing in the Sanders phenomenon. There is more openness to socialist politics now than there has been in decades. The Congress devoted much of its time to how to deepen this new socialist consciousness, how to practically prepare for the coming period of struggle, as well as other important organizational tasks and new proposals that flowed from its political assessment.
The work of the Congress
The Third Party Congress followed an extended period of partywide discussion within the PSL that took place at the local, regional and national level, involving the Party’s elected national and local leadership bodies, and every Party member.
The PSL held a East Coast Regional Conference in New York City on Jan. 16-17 and a West Coast Regional Conference in Los Angeles on Jan. 30-31 that were together attended by the majority of the PSL membership.
These conferences were preceded and followed by internal discussions at the local level in all cities. They took up organizational proposals and political perspective contained in proposals and documents prepared and circulated in advance of the Congress.
All PSL branches also engaged in a month-long period to elect a portion of the delegates that attended the Congress, a process in which all PSL members participate.
After this extensive Pre-Congress Discussion Period, including the circulation of a central Pre-Congress Discussion Document, the Third Party Congress was in session for over 20 hours during the course of three days.
The Congress began by adopting an agenda and rules. It included the presentation and discussion of a political and organizational overview of the domestic and international situation, from which the Party derives its strategy and tactics. This then led into discussions on recruitment, Party growth, building alliances, communist and socialist agitation and propaganda, the focused development of women’s leadership, and strengthening the Party’s national organization. Subsequent sessions took up amendments to the Party Program and Constitution, as well as the amendment and adoption of new Party Guidelines. The Congress also reviewed the Party’s annual National Fund Drive, took up new resolutions and held sessions to nominate, discuss and elect the new Central Committee. A final session referred business to the newly elected Central Committee and heard closing remarks.
The Congress delegates also joined other PSL members and people in the progressive movement for a Rally for Justice for ALL Victims of Racist Police Brutality called as part of the National Call to Action demanding “Justice for Akai Gurley” called by the Justice for Akai Gurley Family Committee.
The Third Party Congress of the PSL launched an organizational process for carrying out each of these tasks. That is now continuing, in the newly elected Central Committee, in local leadership bodies and throughout the Party.