AOC & Co. are not communists—I should know
"A bunch of communists" - members of the Communist Party USA - demonstrating in the 1970s. | People's World Archives

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib are not a “bunch of communists” as Sen. Lindsey Graham has charged. I should know—I represent the largest “bunch of communists” in the country. A few weeks ago, I was elected co-chair of the Communist Party USA.

As a younger man, I was organized as a communist not via Moscow, Russia, and the KGB, but in Youngstown, Ohio, by U.S. Steel and the collapse of the steel industry.

A 22-year-old graduate of Oberlin College in 1979 and descendant of three generations of steelworkers, I experienced firsthand the “American carnage” Donald Trump spoke to so demagogically during his inauguration. With tens of thousands laid off, Youngstown, like so many other Rustbelt cities, became a post-industrial ghost town without a future. With Dad retired, brothers and everyone else I knew laid off, there was nothing to return to. I moved to New York, joined the staff of the Communist Party and have remained there ever since.

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. | Al Neal / PW

Thoughts that I had made a bad choice after the fall of the Berlin Wall were tempered by the recurring economic downturns, the unrelenting attacks on labor, the heartless shredding of the social safety net and, to top it off, the wholesale robbery inflicted on Blacks, Latinx, and senior citizens during the banks’ subprime rip-off. Nothing like Wall Street barons stealing billions to revive your revolutionary vigor!

That I made the right choice was recently reinforced once again by General Motors’ closing of its Lordstown assembly plant, yet another blow to the Youngstown area’s finest workers. Want to produce more communists? Keep it coming, GM!

Notwithstanding Rep. Tim Ryan’s entry into the Democratic primary to “stop socialism,” it was Big Business’s maximum profit imperative, in a word, capitalism, that has precipitated the collapse of basic industry all across the country. It’s NAFTA, not socialism, that has held down wages and kicked U.S. workers in the gut.

And yes, Americans, many of them young, are gravitating to socialist ideas. They see in a new updated 21st-century version of socialism, free of the errors of the past, the opportunity to solve some of the life-and-death problems confronting our country, like climate change, health care, and the opioid epidemic.

AOC and others have bravely put forward far-reaching, sensible proposals for addressing these and other issues, many of which reds like me agree with. However, that doesn’t make them communists. What’s the difference? The moral imperatives of socialists to reform the capitalist system are great but not enough. Communists believe that ultimately capitalism cannot reform itself, that Youngstowns will happen over and over again until the profit system is replaced by a society run by and for workers and the poor.

Labeling these ideas as “foreign imports,” and demanding their advocates “go back where they came from” is not only dangerous: It borders on giving rise to the dictatorial.

I know what it feels like to be told to go “back to where you came from,” not in rejection of the color of my politics (though that has occurred) but rather the color of my skin. It’s a dangerous moment indeed, when agents of the state—in my case, racist cops—place you outside the realm of the acceptable and threaten you. Not only do your rights as a citizen of the republic seem in danger, but also your humanity and, even more, your very life.

Almost a century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois spoke of the African-American feeling of experiencing a double consciousness, of being “a part,” yet “apart.”

Take away one’s livelihood, challenge one’s rights, deny a person’s humanity—and what’s left? Are not all, or even some, of these at stake in the GOP’s red-baiting, go-back-to-where-you-came-from attacks?

People are listening. And this is why Trump’s and Graham’s attack must be rejected—before it’s too late.


Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.