On leaving PSL

(Reader EnCee on why he left PSL. Promoted from the comments to my Abstaining from bad sects post yesterday. The image is of my choosing.)

This is just a little blurb on my own departure from the PSL after 6+ years. There is so much to get into, but I promised Bob I would keep this short so I will just go into the immediate reason for my departure from PSL.

The political question which led to my immediate departure is kind of a doozy. Basically you had to vote for all the slots on a delegate ballot to have your ballot count in an election. Problem was, if not all the choices available were to your liking then you were kind of in a bind. Either vote for someone you don’t really want to fill up slots on your ballot just to have your ballot count or basically abstain from the whole voting process because you couldn’t fill up a couple slots.

Whenever I have explained it to anyone outside the PSL they have given me mostly quizzical looks. (I have explained it to some people in PSL too and they have not been able to give me an adequate explanation.) Sometimes I think they assume they are missing something but even in those cases given a modest amount of time for a thorough explanation the extent of how warped a sense of political participation the PSL leadership has is allowed to sink in and can only be described as unbelievable.

The situation is so warped that it almost reaches the level of caricature. Remember that book about farm animals that Orwell wrote that was such a favorite tool of red baiters? Well, I hesitate to say it, but it’s kind of on that level of bad. Up is down, bad is good, and full participation means behaving like a good little soldier and voting for something you don’t want to vote for. Because, that’s democracy for you — and if you don’t like it… well, you were probably always unhappy anyway so it must have been a problem with you. (Isn’t it always?)

The fact that I was shouted down at an internal political meeting when I brought up the democratic point related to this flawed voting process just takes the cake when I talk to people about it. Saying people should be forced to vote for something they do not want is flat wrong. It doesn’t even matter if they have strong feelings about it, but when they do it’s even worse. For the vast majority of people, voting is supposed to be an affirmative act. It is supposed to be something you want to do, for something you want to vote for. We already lived in a flawed democratic system where the people we vote for usually don’t represent our interests. Why would you start off a new group that’s supposed to work for progressive causes on the wrong foot by tying it down to a flawed voting process from the beginning?

But, even allowing that there was some unseen rationale for justifying these types of procedures, why would you shut down discussion on the issue?

It’s almost ludicrous the way these people approach political participation. They act like they are the lords and you are the subjects and you will only be allowed to speak when they deign to let you do so.

Fact of the matter is you can’t have a democratic discussion when one person gets to decide who does or does not speak. Doesn’t matter if people come to that person’s defense or support them after the fact.

It’s almost like a bad stereotype of an authoritarian Marxist “leader.” Maybe other people have had enough experience to know better. Who would have thought anyone could be so afraid of losing control that they would be afraid of a little discussion. Last time I checked someone raising their hand to talk about democratic participation is not something that should strike fear in the hearts of man. Obviously this was a naïve position.

If there is no truly democratic forum then you can not truly address issues of substance. After looking at it a while, it seems pretty clear that’s what was intended all along. There have been a number of reprehensible behaviors which certain people (ie, the “leaders”) have been allowed to get away with. Some of these involve class privilege, chauvinism, women’s oppression/domestic abuse, undemocratic tendencies, etc. It has been in the interest of those in control to keep a tight lid on any dissent or even information about people’s behavior in order to make sure things go as planned. What that “plan” is the leaders have not deigned to let us know. I guess we’re just supposed to “trust them” but they never seemed too interested in wanting to trust us.

I will just give one glaring example, which is real, but almost seems like a caricature of a “Marxists” group. (There are many other examples, some of which I consider worse.)

There was this guy, lets call him Martie McWar, who used to call for the expulsion of people in the PSL/ANSWER because they did not meet his “high standards” of what he considered to be a revolutionary. Now, some people like me would tell him outright that was wrong while others who I guess were sympathetic to him would say “we’re not at that point yet.” But Mr. McWar would not be dissuaded. So, while everybody thought things were cool he went around to the people he thought should be kicked out and made them feel unwelcome on his own time. For others he would pretend to be friendly then while they were drunk he would goad them into saying negative things, especially about the “leaders.” Mr. McWar would then run and snitch to the leaders and be protected because according to them he was just being “loyal.”(!)

It’s like some weird demented macho frat boy quasi-Stalinist mentality which is hard to describe. Read that again and remember that I’m talking about a group that describes itself as Marxist-Leninist.

Suffice to say I’m glad I stood up for myself and no longer have to put up with this type of behavior. I kind of look at it more and more like getting out of an abusive relationship. When you’re in one it’s hard to see how you could survive outside of it, but ultimately you need to draw a line, stand up for yourself and leave these abusive patterns of behavior behind. It’s hard not being in a political group but it’s even harder not standing up for your principles.


  • DJ

    “If there is no truly democratic forum then you can not truly address issues of substance. After looking at it a while, it seems pretty clear that’s what was intended all along.”

    It’s one tool for maintaining power. You could be describing the American two-party system. When they control the dialog, they get to talk about what they want to talk about– and if you dissent, you’re unpatriotic.

    When I was younger, I thought Marx had a lot to offer. I still think his global political analysis is exceedingly useful, though as the nation-state declines in importance it will need to be refocused. But I have learned that there is no single top-down solution– the central government is, in large part, the problem, regardless of its politics. There is no national solution, most problems are local or regional problems and need to be addressed accordingly. What works in Utah would be a disaster in California, and vice versa. In large part the political gridlock we’re experiencing stems from the idea that solutions are national in scope, hence urban states want to impose their vision on rural states, who aren’t inclined to accept it and have their own vision they want to impose on everyone.

    “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” This is the approach of conventional politics, and with only a handful of exceptions (offhand I can think of only one) the Marxists I have known embraced this approach. Couched in all that rhetoric about empowering the proletariat is an implied imperialism that “they” the would-be leaders know best for everyone else.

    A truly democratic approach would not give people their opinion in the presumption that they are ignorant. It would instead *ask* them how their problems could be addressed, then empower them to do it. There’s a reason that no national (or would-be national) political party supports such an approach: it’s anti party. Instead of concentrating power in the hands of a few elites, which when it comes down to it is what most leaders (of any political stripe) want, it gives power to the people– and that scares the hell out of most politicians. Why be a politician if it doesn’t give you power? If the people were really in charge, would they still elect you to lead them?

    • That’s what Alinsky did. He asked the people what they wanted. Then made sure they, not he or his organizers, ran things. He said, we never stay more than three years and we never wear out our welcome.

      That’s what community organizing is.

      Marxists, OTOH, generally want to tell you what their solution is.

  • I’m increasingly optimistic that the Green Party can (especially since time is moving on since the disasters of 2000 and 2004 and all of that infighting that I’ve heard a lot about but wasn’t there for) be a kind of post-Marxist, democratic body for disenchanted leftists (of course, that’s just one group the Greens could appeal to). Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think that with the right strategy the Greens could appeal to a lot of people and make the radical left a bit more of a credible threat to those in the establishment, even if they’re not revolutionary.

    • I certainly hope so. I was Co-cordinator of the Green Party of Los Angeles County from 2001-2002, and it was just a teensy bit on the dysfunctional side. (Ask DJ, he was there too. And something I did then provoked probably the worst of the infighting in all of the GP, although at the time I had no idea that would happen. But that’s another story…)

      It would be great if the GP could resuscitate itself and become a major third party again, as well as a place where activism flourishes.

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