17 August 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Gloria La Riva

According to Project Vote Smart, La Riva identifies herself with the Peace & Freedom Party, an organization dating back to the 1960s with ballot access in California. Past presidential candidates of this party include the Black Panther author Eldridge Cleaver and liberal baby doctor and anti-war activist Benjamin Spock. La Riva was twice the Peace & Freedom candidate for governor. Earlier this month, the party ditched her in favor of Ralph Nader, a coup for him since it means he's on the ballot in California. La Riva had earlier accepted the endorsement of a newer group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The PSL is on the ballot in eight states so far and is collecting signatures for more states. Her running mate is Eugene Puryear, an anti-war activist.

"We are fighting for socialism," the PSL website says, "a system where the wealth of society belongs to those who produce it, the working class, and is used in a planned and sustainable way for the benefit of all. In place of greed, domination and exploitation, we stand for solidarity, friendship and cooperation between all peoples.

"Capitalism—the system in which all wealth and power is held by a tiny group of billionaires and their state—is the source of the main problems confronting humanity today: imperialist war, poverty, exploitation, layoffs, unemployment, racism, sexism, lesbian/gay/bi/trans oppression, environmental destruction, mass imprisonment, unionbusting, and more

Here the PSL attempts to make capitalism explain too much, since all the phenomena they deplore (except probably for union-busting) predate capitalism by quite a bit. That doesn't automatically rule out the possibility that eliminating capitalism could contribute toward solving many of those problems. Striking a Leninist note, the website says that revolutionary Marxism "requires a revolutionary party to flourish and develop."

The PSL hopes to build on the mass opposition that showed itself on the streets before the invasion of Iraq. The party and La Riva herself have ties to ANSWER, the radical organization that did much of the organizing for the anti-war rallies. The party is committed to ending the war and supporting "national liberation movements" around the globe. It also stands for "defense of the existing workers' states," by which, apparently, Cuba is meant above all. Eugene Puryear has also published an article defending the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe on anti-imperialist grounds.

The party believes the time is ripe for a revitalized, activist socialist movement:

Most of the people in the world today are suffering from economic depression and recession. The U.S. ruling class is holding its breath, well aware that when the U.S. capitalist economy is seized by the next severe crisis or downturn, it is likely to precipitate a global economic crisis of historic proportions. Under those circumstances, the rule of capitalism must face the challenge of a revived movement for socialism. That is our Party's orientation. Marx's prognosis and theory of revolution in the advanced capitalist societies will be validated by the revival of revolutionary socialism in the very center of imperialism.

The PSL campaign website is quick to distinguish its candidate from the front-runners. La Riva is shown on an interview with an English-language Russian channel from this week explaining the allegedly imperialist motives behind the American stance on South Ossetia. The Russian reporter takes some satisfaction in noting that there are many candidates for president beside Senators McCain and Obama, but that the American system basically shuts out those who lack the big bucks.

La Riva's foreign policy platform in general includes withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to "blockades and sanctions" against any so-called rogue nation. She will end U.S. support for Israel while endorsing Palestinian self-determination. On the economic front, she'll provide free health care for all, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand social security and somehow create full employment. She thinks we can do this by soaking the rich and confiscating their means of production, and it's not to say that these things shouldn't be done to suggest that they aren't guaranteed to produce the results La Riva anticipates. Nevertheless, the PSL thinks it can be done. Here's why:

In the United States, the productive capacity exists to meet people’s basic needs—here and all over the world. But under capitalism we experience repeated economic crises because goods are produced only to make profits for rich owners, not to meet the needs of people. Owners end up producing goods at a rate that exceeds the ability of the market to continue expanding.
The logic of this economic system requires the capitalists to stop producing goods or even destroy products that cannot be sold at a profit. Since human beings need these products it would make sense to sell abundant products at a lower price or just give them away. Instead, hundreds of thousands of workers are laid off from their jobs because they have produced more goods than can be sold at a profit. Under capitalism, profits come over peoples needs. Socialism reverses that equation.

La Riva is also pro-choice, pro-immigration and pro-reparations. Pretty much, unless you want to get rich off the surplus value created by alienated labor, you'll have the support of a La Riva administration. She'll free some of the more prominent "political prisoners" in this country, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, so here's hoping she won't fill those empty cells with the people who are inevitably going to resist the implementation of socialist policies.

"We want to speak to the tens of millions of working-class and oppressed people who desire real change but will not get it through the capitalist electoral process." the PSL says, "We want to fight shoulder to shoulder with our class—the working class—in every struggle against the profit system. We want to be a catalyst to raise working-class consciousness in every arena. Most importantly, we want to spread the ideas of revolution, of true change. We know that change is possible; we know that it will happen. We also know that it takes an energetic struggle."

These are noble sentiments, but given the American context, the PSL or any Marxist party needs to make clear exactly what it means by revolution: not just the ends, but the means. The revolution they advocate is inevitably coercive in nature and will be resisted. While activist La Riva may acknowledge that revolution can't be achieved through the electoral process alone, would President La Riva respect constitutional restraints on her power should she try to use it for revolutionary ends? If not, then why is she running? Such a stance might be acceptable if she meant to use her bully pulpit to call for a new constitutional convention which would institute socialism. But if she means to use the presidency to establish socialism by executive order, then she'd be no different from George W. Bush in acting as if the end justifies the means. Of course, Marxists are honest about affirming that ends justify means, but that doesn't mean Americans should automatically agree with them.

All that being said, the PSL clearly ought to be taken far more seriously than many of the other independents spotlighted here so far. La Riva is not a self-selected candidate, but represents a movement that has life outside the bubble of a presidential campaign. As well, it's past time that Americans stopped regarding socialism as if it were some savage religion of human sacrifice out to turn the clock back to 1984. I'll give the party the last word, since that word suits the theme of this entire project:

There are some progressives who will argue against our campaign. They will say, “You will not get elected,” and then cynically accuse us of conspiring to take away votes from so-called liberal (capitalist) candidates. We want to take away their votes. We want to expose the Democratic and Republican Party leaderships as the frauds, bigots and warmongers that they are. We want to shine a bright light on the criminal character of the system and its political representatives.

Actually, I'll give La Riva a YouTube encore, since the earlier excerpt addressed only a single-issue and I've taken most of this profile from the PSL websites. Here she speaks for herself for about five minutes at a May Day 2008 rally.

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