Volume 15, No. 40, 7 November 2016
Joe Sims: "Keep hope alive and keep the pressure on!"
By Mark Waller
Joe Sims of the Communist Party USA stresses that the future of the Left is rooted in the working class and its organisations, as well as in the broad struggle for democracy, and that this is situated in efforts to combat racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Sims is a member of the National Board of the Communist Party and coordinates its social media and party work. He is a member of the editorial board of Peoplesworld.org and edits the cpusa.org website. Peoplesworld.org carries on the tradition of the Daily Worker newspaper. The website is now in its third edition with its new redesign and is now available for use with smart-phones and tablets. It reaches 80,000 visitors a month.
What's the CPUSA's message to left-wing voters who hoped for a radical left breakthrough by Bernie Sanders and are now faced with a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?
Joe: Well, I actually think a radical breakthrough did occur with the Sanders campaign. The campaign may have "lost" the nomination but it succeeded in shifting the debate and greatly influencing the electoral platform adopted at the Democratic Party's convention.
The concept of socialism entered the mainstream debate in this election cycle thanks to Sanders - as did "political revolution." These are important ideological breakthroughs by any measure.
This victory has to be seen within the context of a political realignment that is occurring in the U.S. that began with the Obama campaign in 2008, followed by Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and now the Sanders campaign.
It is motivated by deep dissatisfaction among the working class people; it's not an accident that the Great Recession of 2007-2008 prompted much of the reaction. We are still living in its aftermath. Despite the "recovery" wages are stagnant; new jobs created are largely low pay; student debt is extremely high etc. So people are fed up.
So the message is congratulations on the achievements so far, keep hope alive and keep the pressure on. The problems we face will only be solved within the context of working-class masses in motion, of the people "seizing the time" as Bobby Seale - activist and founder of the Black Panther Party - used to say and demanding real change. And finally that has to occur within the framework of insuring Donald Trump's defeat. Should he win all bets are off.
What is future for the Left in the USA - any pointers that the CPUSA believes indicate what we can expect?
Joe: That's a tough question. The U.S. left is actually quite large however it is dispersed and unorganised at least in terms of political parties. Many on the left are active in mass organisations, trade unions etc.
Viewed from a class angle - and there's a tendency in the U.S. to interpret "right" and "left" in cultural ways - the future of left is intimately tied to the working class and its organisations: the trade unions in the first place but not only. There is a tremendous offensive taking place in the U.S. against labour complete with union busting, "right-to-work" restricting union activity, speed up, etc. The percentage of workers organised in unions is still declining. For this to be reversed requires action both at the trade union level in terms of organising but also in politics because many of these things are determined by who holds power at the state and national level. And this is where the left has to be active.
But that's just one side of the picture. Left activity must also involve the struggle for democracy; and here I'm speaking about the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia etc.
The organisational forms these struggles take vary: there are existing ones, well established and new ones as well, like the Sanders initiated Our Revolution, or Black Lives Matter.
The Communist Party sees the need to work with all of them, building unity, working coalition on the issues with which we agree.
Politically we see the need for a third mass political party led by labour that will lead the country in an anti-monopoly direction on the path of advanced democracy. How and when that will happen is hard to say.
Racism seems to be resurgent in many parts of the world. How does the CPUSA view recent developments on this score in the United States (e.g. with the killings of so many black people by law enforcement and the rise of Black Lives Matter) including in an international context?
Joe: I don't know if racism has increased in the U.S. - what's happening is that police murder of African Americans is being captured on film and televised and broadcast online. On the other hand the Trump movement is fanning racist flames and there has been an increase in racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim violence.
We actually think there is an anti-racist majority in the U.S. broadly defined in terms of people's' thought patterns and consciousness. On the other hand, ruling class racism has grown more severe.
The solutions to these problems require radical reforms: to address institutionalised racism in society and the criminal justice system but also in the economy - addressing the economics of racism is a key question. The country cannot move forward unless these problems are solved.
What do you think are the main problems facing working class internationalism and international solidarity, given the fact that despite its persistent crises imperialism calls the shots in just about every sphere of life globally?
Joe: I think international solidarity has worked in the past and continues to work: it contributed to ending the Vietnam War; South Africa's defeat of apartheid, Cuba's resistance to the U.S. blockade.
Of course there are problems and challenges including adapting to the new tools and possibilities offered by social networks and social media.
More attention must be given to this area of struggle by the Communist and Workers Parties.
If you were to name just three great icons of working class and progressive struggle in U.S. history whose message is especially important now, who would they be?
Joe: Frederick Douglas, Helen Keller, and W.E.B. Du Bois come immediately to mind. All overcame huge adversity; slavery; blindness and deafness and deep racism and helped change and shape history. Their contributions are lasting.
More about Joe Sims' icons of progressive struggle in the US
Frederick Douglass, 1818 - 1895, was born into slavery in about 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. He became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time, advising presidents and lecturing to thousands on a range of causes, including women's rights and Irish home rule. Douglass was an eminent human rights leader in the anti-slavery movement and the first African-American citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank Among Douglass's writings are several autobiographies eloquently describing his experiences in slavery and his life after the Civil War, including the well-known work Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
Helen Keller, 1880-1968, overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century's leading humanitarians, as well as co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller a member of the Socialist Party, and between 1909 and 1921 wrote several articles about socialism and supported Eugene Debs, a Socialist Party presidential candidate. Her series of essays on socialism, entitled "Out of the Dark," described her views on socialism and world affairs.
W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868-1963, was one of the most important African-American activists during the first half of the 20th century. W.E.B. Du Bois rose to national prominence when he very publicly opposed the proposal that vocational education for blacks was more valuable to them than social advantages like higher education or political office. He adamantly opposed the idea of biological white superiority and vocally supported women's rights. A proponent of Pan-Africanism, Du Bois helped organise several Pan-African Congresses to free African colonies from European powers. W.E.B. Du Bois died on August 27, 1963—one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington—at the age of 95, in Accra, Ghana, while working on an encyclopaedia of the African Diaspora.
Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class