Interview with Heather Bradford, Socialist Action candidate for U.S. vice president

Heather Bradford (2nd from left) joins rally for equal pay for women outside Duluth city hall in April 2017. (Bob King / Duluth News Tribune)

Following are major excerpts from an interview with Socialist Action’s vice presidential candidate Heather Bradford that appeared on the Third Party Second Bananas website. See:

Heather Bradford is the running mate with presidential candidate Jeff Mackler on the Socialist Action ticket for 2020. She is the organizer of the Socialist Action branch in Duluth, Minn., and works as a women’s advocate at a domestic violence shelter, at an abortion clinic, and as a public school teacher. Bradford has been a longtime activist in the LGBT, environmental, feminist, and antiwar movements.

Q. How did you arrive at becoming a member of Socialist Action?

Heather Bradford: When I was in my early 20s and attending college, my major was International Studies. Through my coursework, I quickly learned that much of the world was impoverished and lacked access to such basic things as food, medicine, and clean water.

I also learned that global suffering was connected to the policies of organizations such as the IMF, World Trade Organization, and World Bank, which played a role in perpetuating colonial relationships based upon economic exploitation. I also recognized that the Untied States has played a sinister role in destabilizing countries through war, support of dictatorships, economic coercion, and overthrowing democratically elected governments that leaned toward socialism.

The more I learned about the state of the world, the more I saw patterns that indicated a systemic problem and the more I began to identify with socialism.

At the same time, I believed that socialism had gone extinct as a movement. I believed it was something that must have died off decades ago. But to my surprise, I found that Duluth had its own socialist group! I sought out the only socialist group in my city, which was Socialist Action, and I have been a member ever since.

Q. Socialist Action has been described as Trotskyist. Could you explain to us how that makes SA different from other political parties on the left?

H.B.: That’s a great question with a lengthy answer! One difference between Socialist Action and some other socialist parties is that we do not provide any support to candidates of the Democratic Party. We call on workers to break with the Democratic Party, as we believe it is fundamentally and inevitably a party of the ruling class. As such, it will always promote U.S. imperialism and the immiseration of workers around the world.

Heather Bradford (right) at women’s rights rally at Duluth city hall.

Our staunch refusal to support the Democratic Party (or any capitalist party, such as the Green Party) differentiates us from some other socialist groups. Though, it is important to note that from time to time, we support the candidates of like-minded socialist parties and would support the formation of a Labor Party within the U.S.

At the same time, we believe in the right of oppressed groups such as women, LGBT, oppressed racial minorities and nationalities to form autonomous movements to fight for their interests. We believe that the liberation of these oppressed groups is an essential component of working towards socialist revolution, which is itself an important component of our core ideology.

We are revolutionary socialists whose aim is the ovethrow of capitalism. While working toward the goal of revolution, we support reforms that challenge the structures of oppression inherent to capitalism.

Revolution must be international, worker led, and socialist in nature (rather than in stages or [limited to] one country). Some socialists agree on some of these principles and not on others, or interpret them differently. This is a short answer to what is otherwise a long and complex question.

Q: Throughout American history, I observe progressive groups are presented with an infinity of directions since they are pioneers (abolitionists, suffragists, socialists, etc.), and as such they have intense disagreements over which direction to go and method to use. I mention this because, as I was looking at the background of Socialist Action, it seems your party is not immune from this historical pattern, receiving more criticism from the left than from the right. What do you think it would take to unite the leftist political parties?

H.B.: Left political parties can and often do work together in mass movements. Socialist Action believes in forming united fronts, which allow us to converge with other leftists on issues we can agree upon.

Because the two-parties capitalist electoral system is rigged against us, we don’t think that elections are really where socialists are going to be the most effective. We can make the most impact by building independent movements that put pressure on the political system or economy. Movements for immigrant rights, antiwar, women’s rights, LGBT rights, better wages and working conditions, housing, prison reform or abolition, and so on are arenas where leftists can work together.

Of course, leftists come together with their unique histories, rivalries, and perspectives, which can hinder cooperation and movement building. Sometimes, fighting also stems from the fatigue and demoralization of the long-haul fight against capitalism. But movement work can bring us together.

The formation of a Labor Party would also be a vehicle for smaller socialist parties to collaborate. The militant labor struggle required for the creation of such a party would hopefully draw socialists together.

Q: What do you make of a segment of the working class being dazzled by Trump with what some would call an almost cult-like fervor?

H.B.: Around 43% of Americans did not vote in 2016, so there is a large swath of the U.S. population that was not enamored enough by Trump or Clinton to bother voting. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is 40%, which is lower than the average approval rating of 53% for presidents since 1935. Trump certainly appeals to a segment of the population, which represents the failure of the left to effectively organize workers and offer them a meaninglful alternative to voting for racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

Trump seemed like an outsider and anti-establishment to some voters. I think it is also important to note that racial minorities overwhelmingly did not vote for Trump. The American working class is often imagined as white and male, but racial minorities, women (when including racial minority women), and people with incomes under $50,000 a year did not vote for Trump.

The task of socialists is to continue to support the interests and liberation of the most oppressed segments of the working class (women, racial minorities, sexual/gender minorities, etc.), offer real solutions to workers who have been duped by Trump, and fight real and terrifying elements of racism and reaction that have been emboldened by Trump.

Q: The Republican playbook for 2020 appears to be painting the Democrats as “socialist.” I gather from the SA website that even Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are considered as servants of the ruling class rather than the working class?

H.B.: I think we are entering an age wherein socialism has lost its teeth as an insult. Republicans may have to change the language of their putdowns as socialism becomes increasingly popular. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has done nothing to earn the honor of being called socialist. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez muddy the water a bit by invoking the language of socialism, without really clarifying what precisely this means.

As you recall, I became a socialist through internationalism. Socialism means standing against imperialism, which is characterized by the international dominance of monopoly and financial capitalism of a few powerful countries. It is the duty of socialists to stand against U.S. power as an expression of imperialism.

At the same time, socialism should be international. How could any socialist, which is a movement based upon the power and liberation of workers, tolerate wars or foreign policies that harm other workers? Yet, Bernie Sanders has supported U.S. foreign policy, stated that he wants a strong military, has approved U.S. military spending, and supports U.S. wars such as in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez sent mixed messages about U.S. intervention in Venezuela.

Even if they clarified what they meant by socialism into a cohesive ideology that seeks to end capitalism, the Democratic Party is not the vehicle to accomplish socialism. It is a party that supports U.S. power around the world and ultimately harms workers here and abroad by supporting militarism, financial institutions, corporate interests, and the maintenance of private capital. These things should be anathema to socialists. 

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