Clinton, Trump and political revolution: An interview with an American communist

BY:Lucivana Nascimento| September 26, 2016
Clinton, Trump and political revolution: An interview with an American communist

This interview with Joe Sims was conducted by Lucivana Nascimento. Sims is a member of the National Board of the Communist Party and coordinates its social media and party work. The interview was  published by the Communist Party of Brazil. 


Lucivânia Nascimento: At this point, do you see good prospects for left and progressive struggle in the United States?  Did Bernie Sanders’ performance in the Democratic primaries change expectations about the sharpening of class struggle in the United States?

Joe: There is a great deal of evidence that U.S. politics are undergoing realignment. This has been taking place for many years now.


The Obama election in 2008 was an indication of it, then Occupy Wall Street. Black Lives Matter and the Sanders campaign are more recent examples.

The Obama movement initially represented an independent thrust outside of traditional Democratic party circles. It was a center-left process largely organized online that has since moved into the Democratic Party, but its origins are important.

Left-center unity is an imperative, but the challenge is the strength of the left in the U.S. which is substantial but largely unorganized and dispersed. The Marxist movement and the Communist Party in particular is not large enough to respond to the challenge. Nor is the broad left.  Our main task is to build, in the course of the ongoing struggles, our membership and influence. That’s one side of the issue. The other is to respect and work with the independence and diversity in the broader left. Our interests cannot be selfish.


Lucivânia Nascimento:  The electoral contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has been fierce.  Polling by CBS News and the New York Times, just two weeks shy of the candidates’ first debate, shows Clinton with a two-point lead (44%-42%).  When the sample is narrowed to registered voters, Clinton’s lead grows to five points (46%-41%).  What do you think the consequences will be for Latin America if Donald Trump wins this election?

Joe: Trump is a very dangerous politician and demagogue. As you know, he plans to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and deport immigrants. The two main issues are trade and immigration. Regarding trade, he says he’s against NAFTA and other trade agreements. I doubt that will continue after the election because the Republican party is very much in favor of these trade pacts.  On foreign policy I think he will continue an aggressive anti-socialist, anti-communist platform. The normalization of relations with Cuba will probably come to a halt. The opposition in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and elsewhere will be given even more support. Trump in our view represents a fascist-like danger, so unless these tendencies are halted it’s unclear what will happen.


Lucivânia Nascimento:  What are your thoughts on the electoral system in the United States?

Joe: We have a two-party system with direct elections. The presidential election is different because there’s an “electoral college” which elects the president. The way this electoral college works is that each state, depending on its population, has a certain number of electoral votes; the candidate that gets the highest number of votes in each state wins that state. So in other words we have 50 separate state elections. Based on these state elections, after the November vote the electoral college meets and then elects the president. In this situation you can win the popular vote, but lose the election, as in the 2000 election when Al Gore lost. It is very difficult for third parties to participate in the U.S. Getting on the ballot is very difficult and requires a large number of signatures.  There are two third parties running in this year but they are unable to participate in the debates because they’ve failed to reach 15 percent in the public opinion polls. So it’s very undemocratic.


Lucivânia Nascimento: Bernie Sanders came fairly close to clinching the Democratic Party nomination.  He presented himself as a socialist and advocated progressive reforms like single payer health care, free higher education, and changes to U.S. foreign policy. What was CPUSA’s position on Bernie Sanders?

Joe: The Sanders campaign and the political revolution he has called for is hugely important. It put the concept of socialism before the broad U.S. public for the first time in many decades. The Sanders campaign also demonstrated that the electoral path toward change is a viable strategy; that too is very important. Because of this, in many ways the U.S. will never be the same. Our members were active in his campaign at the local level – some also supported Clinton but most were in the Sanders camp.

The Sanders campaign was historic, wonderful, exciting, with huge implications for the future.

We don’t agree with Sanders on everything and there were some problems with his campaign. For example, we have a different concept of socialism than he does and we feel that his campaign did not appreciate the significance of the U.S. national question, in other words, racism, and its effects. Sanders, of course, made adjustments as the campaign went on.  However, the positives of the campaign far outweighed the negatives. It was historic, wonderful, exciting, with huge implications for the future.


Lucivânia Nascimento:  Joe, you’ve been a militant leftist long enough to have witnessed the political developments and social movements of the Cold War.  What have been the most significant changes in US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War?

Joe: U.S. imperialism has continued to seek hegemony worldwide. After the Cold War, of course, the issue of terrorism became more pronounced. Behind this, at least partially, was the issue of access to the oil reserves in the Middle East. In the European theater, NATO was maintained and with it an ongoing aggressive policy toward Russia despite the defeat of the USSR. It is difficult to speak about U.S. foreign policy in broad sweeps, as both the Republicans and Democrats have been in the White House during this period. Obama in certain respects has resisted calls for military intervention, with the exception of Libya etc. But the overall neoliberal policy has been much the same: the Trans Pacific Trade Pact  (TPP) is an example of this, with the so-called “pivot to Asia.” Much of the TPP is directed against China.

Lucivânia Nascimento:  What is CPUSA’s assessment of the power dynamics between the United States and the European Union?  How could Trump’s election change these dynamics?

Joe: I think the ruling classes in the U.S. and the E.U. are largely on the same page. The Brexit vote, of course, has shaken things up. In the opinion of some, neoliberalism has reached its political limit. Whether that’s the case economically is another matter. In the U.S., the support for both Sanders and Trump reflected working-class dissatisfaction with the state of the economy – stagnant wages, unemployment etc. The challenge for the left and the working-class movement is to fight for our interests in this situation. I doubt that Trump if elected will challenge the status quo in Europe. He has attacked NATO and questioned its usefulness.  For this reason, the foreign policy establishment in the U.S., many of them Republicans, see him as unfit to serve as president.


Lucivânia Nascimento: How have social movements in the United States responded to the coup in Brazil?

Joe: We are very concerned about the coup. Social movements see it as a big setback for democracy. It has been condemned by many in the U.S. including the AFL-CIO and the U.S. trade union movement. They have expressed their solidarity with Brazil’s workers and people in many ways.

Lucivânia Nascimento: What is NATO’s role on the current world political scene?

Joe: NATO is a product of the Cold War. As a political and military alliance its goal is to encircle Russia, which they see as a main threat and competitor. Look at what’s happening in Ukraine, for example. These policies have outlived their usefulness. Consider the ongoing military spending and the building of new classes of nuclear weapons: for what purpose? This spending continues to place huge pressure on domestic national budgets and contributes to neoliberalism’s crisis. These resources can and must be used domestically.

Lucivânia Nascimento: From your perspective in political and social struggle, do you consider that there has been a rise of the extreme right in the United States, Europe, and Latin America? What phenomena show this trend?

Joe: I am not an expert on Latin America and Europe. As for the U.S. I would say that the country is deeply divided. I actually think the Obama election is 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, represented a setback for the right. It was, however, an inconsistent or incomplete set-back and they quickly recovered. But when you look at where the people are in terms of majority opinion, there are strong democratic currents. At the same time, the right-wing is very strong and controls the U.S Congress and the majority of governorships and state legislatures.

Obama’s election in 2008 was a setback for the right wing.

The problem, as we’ve said, is for the last 20 or 30 years capitalism has been unable to better people’s lives. Our lives have gotten worse. Inequality has increased due to the deregulation, privatization, “free” trade pacts, and austerity measures. The right wing has capitalized on it. So I don’t know if the right wing is stronger but they have become more aggressive and use even illegitimate means of coming to power such as the legislative coup in Brazil.  And that is what makes them so dangerous. In the U.S., Trump has already questioned whether the elections will be legitimate. And if not, what then? The question itself is a major provocation.

Lucivânia Nascimento:  What do American Communists like yourself think about the anti-imperialist struggles in Latin America—specifically, the rise of governments like those of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Lula and Dilma in Brazil?

Joe: We believe that each country comes to socialism in its own way: each charts its own path and that there are no models. On the other hand, the experience in Latin America is extremely important to study and learn from. In this regard it may even be more important for us than the revolutionary process in Russia or China for example. Why? Because the countries of Latin America are more developed, have larger working classes, more diverse civil societies than Russia or China which still had big remnants of feudalism. We have more in common with Latin America even while there are clearly different stages of development at work.

The revolutionary process unfolding in Latin America may hold more lessons for us than Russia or China.

Socialism was brought into the world in countries where it has the least chance of succeeding. That’s one of the big ironies of history: that it came into civilization through the back door.  That door has largely been closed. Now we must find a new democratic and non-violent path to a new society. Your parties are pointing to that new way: the importance of coalition; left-center unity; how to fight for the leading role of the working class: the national question’s role, women, the role of social movements. It’s a very complex and exciting development.

Lucivânia Nascimento: In your opinion, what is the state of internationalist struggle among left parties today?  How should we be pursuing that struggle, and what should be our goals?

Joe: Imperialism is global; the trade pacts are international; the working-class movement must find ways to cooperate. It’s an issue for the trade unions as well as the parties.  It’s a challenge how to achieve solidarity across international borders.  We have rich experience in this regard with efforts to organize a Nissan auto plant in Mississippi in the U.S. South, where Europeans, South Africans, etc. have organized support for the ongoing effort. For the communist parties, the challenge is to find specific forms of cooperation while respecting autonomy and building unity. In this regard, the negative experiences of previous efforts haven’t been overcome. However, the internet and social media offer new opportunities we’re not taking advantage of.  The point is to go beyond making statements.


Lucivânia Nasicimento: Joe, what is your role in the Communist Party USA?

Joe: My work involves coordinating the work of the party and our social media. We have two publications, and  The task is to apply the Leninist idea of building the party around the press to the 21st century and social media. It’s a big challenge for us and requires a change in culture, practice and learning new technologies. Some of our comrades are still invested in the 20th century experience with print publications so making the transition is difficult.

We have two experiences in the party: the traditional one where comrades are organized in clubs in cities across the country and a new one where new members join online in small cities and towns.  These two experiences must be coordinated and combined. That’s my job. I am a member of the CPUSA national board and national committee.


Lucivânia Nascimento: Do you have a message for Communists in Brazil, and especially for our young comrades?

Joe: You are an inspiration! Keep up the good fight! We are sure you will win, and your victory is ours!


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