>>1759362>walking into a manipulative setting that tries to pull them in and drain them for labor and possibly money, while harming their mental health and possibly straining outside relations, indoctrinating them into untrue nonsense or an anti-intellectual mindset, and so on - not saying PSL does these but these are some ways cults harm people
yeah i think this is a real danger in orgs like PSL, but ive known enough relatively normal people who were in PSL and left when shit became weird in the sense of counterproductive drama, more senior members being irresponsible and manipulative, etc. there have definitely been some abuse scandals and im sure theres more than have been leaked. the main difference i see is that its possible to just up and leave if you havent already made it your life, and being involved in that bullshit is definitely straining at the very least, but i see it more as like a multilevel marketing scheme or a really intense homeowners association. maybe those could be described as cults of a sort, i just usually think of "cult" as requiring a level of huge initial commitment to be involved at all & then actively trying to prevent you from leaving, while at the same time providing intense community "comfort" when you do lean into it and dont question the program. there are absolutely socialist parties & orgs like that out there, but i dont get the impression PSL is one of them. i think it mostly just has a culture & structure that encourages cliqueishness and all kinds of unhealthy interpersonal drama, with the liberatory politics serving as a way to justify that kind of thing, but not in a way that is necessarily predatory or abusive. the best example might be a college fraternity: its a closed environment with a strong in-culture, importance of seniority, and pressure to conform even when things dont make sense, and that provides an environment that predatory and abusive people can easily make use of to get away with their behavior. not good but not exactly the same as what people normally mean by a cult, where the intention from the jump is to isolate you from the rest of the world to instrumentalize you for someone or anothers messiah complex. in the case of PSL its the kind of thing that varies wildly depending on the local, there have been a couple locals and college PSL clubs that got fed up with the wider party being weird and became independent socialist orgs
as for your other question, there's actually more ways now to get involved at-large since zoom meetings have taken off during covid. unfortunately that means missing out on the gratifying community work and camaraderie that come from having a group to actually meet and work with, but if you just want to get involved and help out you can look for orgs that take at-large members, and volunteer to do phone banking, social media management, writing/editing newsletters, secretary work for zoom meetings, etc., that kind of thing. DSA and SAlt definitely have at-large positions, CPUSA might but im not sure. none would be my first pick either but honestly when theres not many choices available its just about choosing the least bad option available, and think of it less as pledging loyalty to one group and more as getting experience and perspective while working to try to cultivate a broader communist movement. DSA does have some good working groups you could check out, but mileage is going to vary a lot depending on what personalities you end up working with.
alternatively, you could always do things like volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter or look into if theres any similar charitable efforts in your area that are community service without being attached to NGOs or reactionary politics of some kind. it might not sound like much, but its a way to get experience with the basic logistics of organizing, plus something like church community service can put you in contact with a lot of poor and working class people already doing what is essentially mutual aid work in their own communities in a way that socialist orgs struggle with because they dont have a foothold there. i dont have any illusions about that being some great contribution, but in the absence of active organizing in your area you could do a lot worse than consistently doing some independent study of theory and consistently doing some food drives with the church in the poor part of town