Synthesis/Regeneration 12   (Winter 1997)

Exploring New Approaches for the New Left

Peace and Freedom Party from 1967 to 1997

by Casey Peters, South State Chair of the Peace and Freedom Party of California

In response to the Democratic Party's war in Vietnam, over 100,000 Californians registered to vote in a new political party of the Left in 1967. The Peace and Freedom Party (P&F) is still on the California ballot 30 years later and is reassessing its role in building a viable national alternative. During 1968 the Black Panther Party provided leadership with Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver all running for public office on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. The disjointed national efforts of Peace and Freedom, Dick Gregory on the New Party line and Gene McCarthy's independent candidacy, collapsed after Nixon's election as most state parties lost their ballot status.

California P&F survived to run the century's first Mexican-American candidate for Governor, Ricardo Romo, in 1970. Marguerite Buckley, the party's nominee for state Attorney General, got more than the difference between the losing right-wing Democrat and the winning Republican. Predictable criticism from liberals was diffused by the fact that the Democratic Party had earlier supported that same Republican in his election to District Attorney of Los Angeles County in a 2-way race with P&F's Mike Hannon, a maverick LAPD officer.

P&F candidates expose liberals as modest moderate reformers who defend the capitalist status quo.

Throughout its history, Peace and Freedom Party has boldly taken on even the most liberal Democrats, such as Ron Dellums, Tom Hayden and Henry Waxman, in an unending struggle to move America's political dialogue further to the Left. P&F candidates expose liberals as modest moderate reformers who defend the capitalist status quo. The party's leadership developed from its grassroots membership. Many of the party's candidates over the years have been women and men of color, youth and aged, gays and lesbians, working class people. Gayle Justice became the nation's first openly gay candidate for US Senate in 1974. Then in 1978 Marilyn Seals was the first open lesbian to run for Governor of any state. The slate Seals led was P&F's most successful, with Elizabeth Cervantes Barron and David Wald each getting over 4% of the vote for statewide office. Also in the mid-70s, Peace and Freedom won a 9-0 victory in the US Supreme Court, overturning filing fees for indigent candidates.

In 1971 the California-based party sought out like-minded groupings to form a national People's Party which ran Dr. Benjamin Spock for President in 1972 and Margaret Wright in 1976. Other participants included the DC Statehood Party, the Human Rights Party of Michigan, Vermont's Liberty Union, Good Neighbors Union of Arizona, New Reform Party of Montana, the Bicentennial Reality Party of Washington State and many more.

From the beginning, the party promoted democracy, ecology, feminism, gay and lesbian rights, racial equality, and peace conversion of the economy. Its working class perspective evolved into a formal declaration in 1974 that P&F is a socialist party. At that time, People's Party nearly merged with the New American Movement (NAM) and Socialist Party USA. When that narrowly failed, NAM joined the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and was subsumed into the Democratic Party. People's Party joined the People's Alliance which included such groups as American Indian Movement, Black Panther Party, and the Mass Party Organizing Committee.

By the end of the 1970s, People's Party had suffered a series of takeover attempts, twice by an internal Maoist faction and then by the Newmanoid psychotherapy spinoff of Lyndon LaRouche's cryptofascist cult (best known later as New Alliance Party, NAP). Those attempts failed but weakened the national organization. Then the People's Party gave way to the Citizen's Party which ran Barry Commoner in 1980 and Sonia Johnson in 1984.

As the only socialist party on California's ballot, Peace and Freedom Party has played a dual role as an entity unto itself with its own platform and as an umbrella for other groups. Among the organizations to have run candidates on the P&F ticket are: Communist Party USA, Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Party USA, Solidarity, and Workers World Party. Most P&F activists don't belong to any of those groups and are primarily affiliated with Peace and Freedom.

In 1982 the Search Committee for a United Left Presidential Ticket (SCULPT) was initiated by P&F, leading to a series of conferences which culminated in a joint platform being adopted by delegates from several parties, leagues and other groups. Hopes for such a national unity effort were dissolved by Jesse Jackson's presidential primary campaign which sucked much of the organized Left into the Democratic Party.

Peace and Freedom's 1988 state convention had a three-way split resulting in no presidential ticket. One faction included members of CPUSA and SPUSA as well as many independents. Another was led by the now defunct Peronist-Trotskyist ("Morenoite") Internationalist Workers Party (FI).

The third was another invasion of the Newmanoids, now sporting cult psychologist Lenora Fulani for President. P&F finally drove NAP out in 1992 with the nomination of former Rainbow Coalition CEO Ron Daniels for President. Now the followers of Newman and Fulani are happily ensconced in Ross Perot's Reform Party.

The enthusiasm for Ron Daniels' Campaign for a New Tomorrow led to formation of a coalition now known as the Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN). P&F officially participates in IPPN's "National People's Pledge Campaign" as a possible basis for a new national party. It includes some of the same forces that comprised the People's Alliance plus labor union activists, civil rights groups and many Greens.

Not yet in IPPN is the newly-formed Labor Party, to which many Peace and Freedom people belong. Its bureaucratic, go-slow, nonelectoral approach is frustrating to activists who have long since unequivocally broken with the Democratic Party. Despite its lack of a socialist perspective and its unwillingness to take stands on "controversial" issues like defending women's right to abortion, the Labor Party is seen by most progressive people as an important development. Another recent development to watch is a series of regional conferences initiated by Committees of Correspondence. They have invited Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Party USA, Solidarity and other explicitly socialist groups to begin serious discussions on the questions of cooperation and regroupment. Also worth watching is the Alliance for Democracy which formed in response to Ronnie Dugger's call to activism in a summer 1995 issue of The Nation.

Some P&F activists, including current State Chair CT Weber, feel that it is time to go it alone to build a national Peace and Freedom Party.

They say that the series of national conferences in 1995-96, including the Albuquerque and Los Angeles Green Gatherings, the National Independent Politics Summits in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and two Third Parties '96 meetings in Washington DC, failed to produce the desired result of a national ticket representative a broad spectrum of people's movements. Proposals for putting a united progressive party into the electoral arena wallowed in a mire of apathetic and/or na´ve delegates.

Some seemed to feel that local organizing works better without having a national organization, while others didn't want to interfere with President Clinton's re-election chances. For the earlier conferences Peace and Freedom prepared a national schedule of state ballot deadlines, but by the time Nader and the Greens woke up, most of the deadlines had passed.

. . .the unwillingness of Nader to run a real campaign hampered the efforts of Greens and other progressives to use the candidacy as an effective organizing tool.

The Ralph Nader candidacy, first proposed in the July 1995 issue of the party's internal newsletter, PF Flyer, turned out to be a great disappointment. Someone of his stature and public respect should have been on the ballot in nearly every state, could have organized active local chapters nationally, and if running a serious campaign might have received many millions of votes. While it was useful to have someone with a household name run to the left of the incumbent Democrat, the unwillingness of Nader to run a real campaign hampered the efforts of Greens and other progressives to use the candidacy as an effective organizing tool. In the aftermath of the election, the Green Party is only on the ballot in nine states (one for President only) and is reported to be torn into bitterly feuding national factions.

In September 1995, Green Party's California co-convenor Walter Contreras Sheasby and P&F activist Casey Peters wrote to Ralph Nader asking him to consider a presidential run as a unity candidate for progressive parties. In November, sectarian forces announced that Nader would run only as a Green. Those Greens with a proprietary attitude toward Nader foiled the hopes of others who worked hard to promote Nader's simultaneous nomination by P&F. Go-it-alone Greens proved themselves incapable of building a viable national campaign without help from other progressive organizations. What lingering effect their 1996 exclusivity may have on the likelihood of future progressive coalition electoral action remains to be seen. Some P&Fers would like to have a joint political conference with the California Green Party but others feel that would be a waste of time better spent on building Peace and Freedom Party. One P&F (cont on p. 13) activist calls the Greens "Junior Democrats" for their unwillingness to oppose the 1994 gubernatorial candidacy of pro-corporate Kathleen Brown, and others take the Greens for lightweights since they fielded only 4 local candidates for partisan office compared to P&F's 20. Those who propose that the two parties formally merge have a lot of work cut out for them.

Peace and Freedom Party has traditionally advocated a multi-party system with democratic elections though proportional representation. Perhaps everyone would be better off with a New Zealand style progressive coalition of separate parties emphasizing specific constituencies. Campaign for a New Tomorrow, Green Party, Labor Party, NOW's 21st Century Party, Partido de La Raza Unida, and an alphabet soup of Left parties (CPUSA, CLP, FSP, RCP, SPUSA, SLP, SWP, SL, WWP) all have valuable viewpoints to contribute to the public's decision-making deliberations. Currently, P&F tries in its own way to represent most of those constituencies.

Three decades of independent political action has made P&F something of a living legend. Having weathered many storms yet maintaining its essential integrity, the party is now enjoying an "era of good feelings" with disparate factions and individuals working together. Over Dead President's Weekend in February 1997, Peace and Freedom Party will be holding a retreat to ponder its past and consider its future. It is open to all party members and those who would be if registered to vote in California. For further information, you may write to PFP, PO Box 741270, Los Angeles, CA 90004, or call (213) PFP-1998.

With over 75,000 registered members, Peace and Freedom Party is bigger than at any time since qualifying for the ballot in 1968. Its 1992 US Senate nominee, author and Black Studies professor Gerald Horne garnered over 300,000 votes (which is higher than the number which elected over 20 sitting US Senators). Its low-key 1996 ticket of Marsha Feinland and Kate McClatchy outpolled the previous two decades of P&F presidential nominees despite Nader's presence on the ballot. P&F activists are engaged in labor union organizing, international solidarity work, defending women's health clinics, supporting the gang truce movement, working for renters' rights, promoting electoral reform and much more. Regardless of what happens on the national scene, the Left in California will continue to find a strong voice through the Peace and Freedom Party.

Casey Peters is South State Chair of the Peace and Freedom Party of California and former National Secretary of the People's Party.

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