Gloria LaRiva got her start in labor politics early.
“I was radicalized in college,” she said, “And at age 23 I organized my first union drive.”
The drive was a success, despite pushback from the ownership- LaRiva described the process as “going to war.” She was fired the day after the election.
The lesson from that formative moment for the young activist has informed LaRiva’s politics ever since.
The 2016 presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation talked about domestic politics and the mission of the PSL in an interview Wednesday. This is the first of three articles based on that discussion- the other two, on foreign policy and the first 100 days of a hypothetical LaRiva administration, are forthcoming.
LaRiva was one of the founders of the PSL in June 2004. The party didn’t run a candidate for federal office then, but they would in 2008. That year, LaRiva and Eugene Puryear ran as a ticket for president. In 2012, Peta Lindsay ran for president for the PSL. LaRiva would stand in for Lindsay due to Lindsay’s age.
Now, in 2016, LaRiva and Puryear are again the PSL’s candidates.
“We believe that socialism can only come about through an overturning of the system and not through elections,” she said. “Our participation in the capitalist elections is to mobilize, to help to build a movement that challenges the very system itself.”
This attitude helps the PSL maintain friendly relations with other left-wing third parties in the American system. LaRiva said that the PSL considers itself generally on the same side as the American Socialist Party and the Green Party on many issues. The goal of challenging and remaking the system allows for cordial relations and a shared struggle.
“We engage in the elections to engage with people who are drawn to them,” LaRiva went on, “To show those people the futility of fighting for change within the capitalist election system. What we need is socialism, a new system, and a struggle for it.”
I asked LaRiva what she thought of Bernie Sanders, given his candidacy’s moment in the spotlight and the potential for a broader movement out of the ashes of his soon to be ended campaign.
“Identifying as a socialist, albeit a democratic socialist, [opened] the door for the fog of anti-communism,” she said. “So this was very helpful.”
Most importantly for LaRiva and the PSL, the Sanders campaign will provide a perfect example for his supporters of how the system is rigged and needs to be rejected. It’s nearly impossible for Sanders to win the nomination at this point, if there was ever a chance with the party machinery stacked so heavily against him. Once the crash comes, LaRiva said, it will expose the corruption at the heart of capitalist democracy.
“If he hands his support over to Clinton, there are going to be millions of people, greatly disappointed, who will be looking for answers,” LaRiva said. She said the PSL has been going to Sanders rallies to lay the groundwork for that moment.”We tell people we understand what they’re doing and that we support them.”
For LaRiva and the PSL, there is hardly any daylight between potential Clinton or Trump presidencies. It’s a positioning for the party that stakes out ground to the left of other left-wing third parties in the US.
“We understand why, given the blatant racism and his calls to violence would make people very fearful of Trump,” LaRiva said. But, “we have no qualms of saying there’s a hair’s breadth difference between Clinton and Trump.”
Clinton and Trump support the same destructive economic and imperial policies, LaRiva explained, and there is little to no difference in how they would govern. While Trump’s rhetoric surrounding issues like immigration is more extreme, in practice Clinton would have a similar deportation policy.
Further, LaRiva said, both candidates are members of the upper class in America and will therefore act to preserve the interests of that class at the expense of the rest of the country and the world. No matter how much Clinton’s image is polished by the Democratic Party, her politics- and the politics of the party- perpetuate the ruling class’ aims and goals.
“The Democratic Party wants her to win and to crush the Sanders campaign,” LaRiva explained, “Not because he wouldn’t go along with the program, but because his victory would represent a lot of challenge to the system. People would expect some real change.”
That’s what the PSL is hoping to do in 2016- effect real change by helping the movement in the American left grow in power and influence and directing the energies of the Sanders movement to real alternatives to the capitalist duopoly.
“Keep our flyer, keep our name- you’re going to want to hear from us afterward,” LaRiva said, “You’re going to have the chance to vote for a real socialist.”