From 1974 into the 1980’s I worked actively with the US Branch of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP) in support of the cause of independence for Puerto Rico. I have maintained connections to this should-be country ever since, primarily through a close friendship with a leading community activist in Vieques, a small island off the southeast coast of the main island.
Revolution Around the Corner is a special book. If you don’t know much about Puerto Rico and its relationship to the USA, there’s a lot to learn within this book. If you were active with the PSP back then this is definitely a book you should read. It’s the same if you are a progressive North American and understand that PR is a colony suffering for over 120 years under United States domination and that you have a responsibility to help free it.
But there’s another reason why this is such a valuable book. It’s one of the best books I’ve read that gives a sense of what it’s like to be part of a Left organization that has big successes for a number of years but then loses steam, members, energy and its sense of direction and ultimately disappears as an organization. Revolution Around the Corner includes the personal stories of people who were deeply affected by all of that and who, decades later, share their thinking about what went wrong.
That overall story is very relevant to all of us on the Left. It is particularly important for young people new to the movement to learn from and appreciate so that they will be able to minimize, if not prevent, destructive internal organizational/personal dynamics going forward.
For example, here’s what Alfredo Lopez, one of the US branch’s top leaders for years, said about his role: “Several of our leaders [including me] suffered from the same baseless arrogance, and this style managed to glue together coalitions that had no business existing. While I was in the party’s leadership, I told myself that these means were justified by the end. Since that time, I have come to realize that when the means are sullied by undemocratic practice, the end is never a desirable one. The demise of the PSP in this country is as much my responsibility as anyone’s.” [This assessment is based on the testimony of Carmen Vivian Rivera, a PSP leader and co-editor of the book.]
Andres Torres writes of the PSP’s serious problems with sexism: “From the party’s beginnings the role of its women members was fraught with stereotype and tradition. Leadership was heavily male dominated. The companeras were typically assigned to supportive work areas—taking minutes at meetings, providing nourishment, and so forth. They were not expected to be spokespersons or ideological leaders. The sources of this discrepancy are found in the very structure of all societies; national liberation movements are not immune to the workings of patriarchy.”
Despite these weaknesses, which ultimately led to the PSP’s downfall, the book reports on the many successes of the PSP in the 1970’s: building a mass-based and activist, socialist and independista organization in the Puerto Rican community throughout the United States; filling Madison Square Garden with 20,000 members and supporters in the fall of 1974; leading a broad July 4th Coalition in 1976 which brought out 40,000 people on that day in Philadelphia and 10,000 more on the west coast; and giving leadership to a Coalition for a People’s Alternative in 1980 which organized a Peoples Convention of thousands on Charlotte Street in the South Bronx and a march of 15,000 people to the Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden.
The book is a collection of 15 histories and testimonies by a variety of authors. It was put together and edited by Jose E. Velazquez, Carmen V. Rivera and Andres Torres, all PSP leaders in the 70’s. It is well done, an excellent read, lots of interesting stories, good writers, and comprehensive information from different perspectives. Revolution Around the Corner can help us turn the corner as we build towards a 21st century revolution which learns from past weaknesses and errors, a necessity if it’s going to happen. Si, se puede!
Ted Glick is the author of the recently-published “Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War.” More information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick