Mayor Bernie Sanders in Yaroslavl, USSR, in 1988
Now that Super Tuesday is behind us, voters in the upcoming Democratic Party primaries will have to choose between the two remaining viable candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
In this post I’d like to make a small contribution to the effort to keep the nomination out of Sanders’ hands. Not because I think Biden is likely to be one of our great presidents (though we can always hope!) but because I think it’s essential that voters in November have a better choice than “the devil you know” (Trump) and “the devil you may not know enough about” (Sanders). I like neither, and neither will earn my vote. If worse comes to worst, I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.
My hope that Sanders will not make it onto the November ballot comes not only from my disagreement with his pie-in-the-sky, far-left, “woke” agenda, but also from his odor as a longtime apologist for the Soviet Union and Communist or Communist-leaning dictatorships, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
In the footnote below1 is some of what has been reported about things Sanders has said and done that make me see him as one in a century-old list of influential people on the left in the West that Lenin is said to have described as “useful idiots,” meaning people who, by speaking favorably of the Soviet Union, help create a more positive (or less negative) perception of it in the West.
Why should Sanders’ views on Communist regimes matter? Because they make clear either poor judgment or ignorance — or both. Trump shows poor judgment and ignorance every day. Why would we want to replace him with someone with a different brand of poor judgment and ignorance? Why not Biden, who, despite all his gaffes, is far outside the bad-judgment-and-ignorance league of both Trump and Sanders?
Just what kind of ignorance do I have in mind when speaking of Sanders? Ignorance or dismissal of totalitarian Communism’s horrors. As a former student of Russian history, I have a clear-eyed view of the Soviet regime as no less vile than Nazi Germany’s.
As I have written before on this blog, the history of the Soviet Union is the story of over seven decades of cruelty and despotism — including the off-the-charts mass murder, by deliberate government policy, of more innocent civilians than even Hitler’s genocidal toll.2 The estimates of the total number of those the Soviet state caused to perish – by execution; deliberate, man-made famine; and purposely overworking and severely undernourishing prisoners in the gulag — vary widely. But the lowest credible estimate I’ve seen is 20 million; the highest, 115 million. And I’m talking here about civilians in peacetime, not the horrific casualties (military and civilian) of World War II. Nor am I talking about the even more horrifying toll of death at the hands of Communist governments in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and other nations that modeled their rule on what they learned from their Soviet mentors.
So when I hear Sanders talking about the “achievements” of the USSR, Cuba, Nicaragua, etc. in areas such as literacy, free medical care and culture, I can’t help being reminded of people who have said about Hitler: “Well, he wasn’t all bad. He built the autobahn.”
Seriously, people. Would Sanders be a credible candidate if he had a lifelong record of trying to divert attention from the unspeakable nature of Nazi Germany? The only thing that keeps his candidacy credible is widespread ignorance of the essence of the Soviet regime and its imitators. And that ignorance — on the part of both Sanders himself (to give him the benefit of the doubt) and the public — will have to await a future post on this blog.
- Here is a sampling of what has been reported about things Sanders has said and done that have made me view him as one of Lenin’s “useful idiots”:
- In a statement upon his return [from his honeymoon in the USSR in 1988], Sanders explained that “there are some things that [the Soviet Union does] better than we do and which were, in fact, quite impressive. Subway systems in Moscow costs 5 kopecs [sic; the word is kopeks] — or 7 cents. Faster, cleaner, more attractive and more efficient than any in the U.S. — and cheap,” an official statement from the [Burlington mayor’s] office reads. “The train trip that we took from Leningrad to Moscow — for Soviet citizens — was very cheap.” Sanders then went on to praise “programs for youth and workers” that he saw during the trip. (From https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/bernie-sanders-praised-communist-cuba-and-the-soviet-union-in-the-1980s)
- “The [subway] stations themselves were absolutely beautiful, including many works of art, chandeliers that were very beautiful, it was a very effective system,” [Sanders] said…. He also said he was fond of the USSR’s “palaces of culture.” … “I was also impressed by the youth programs that they have, their palaces of culture for the young people, a whole variety of programs for young people, and cultural programs which go far beyond what we do in this country.” (From https://www.foxnews.com/politics/vintage-bernie-footage-shows-now-presidential-candidate-praising-breadlines-communist-nations)
- “It’s funny sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food. That’s a good thing,” [Sanders] said in one vintage video unearthed by conservative activists. “In other countries, people don’t line up for food, rich people get the food and poor people starve to death.” (From https://www.foxnews.com/politics/vintage-bernie-footage-shows-now-presidential-candidate-praising-breadlines-communist-nations)
- Returning to Vermont [from his 1988 trip to the USSR], Sanders held an hour-long news conference in which he extolled Russian policies on housing and health care, while criticizing the cost of both in the United States — and boasted that he was willing to criticize his homeland [while abroad]. (From https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-bernie-sanderss-1988-10-day-honeymoon-in-the-soviet-union/2019/05/02/db543e18-6a9c-11e9-a66d-a82d3f3d96d5_story.html)
- On his 1988 trip to the Soviet Union Sanders criticized American foreign policy to such an extent that one of the Republicans on the trip rose to rebut him and then stormed out of the room, he told NBC News. (From https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/will-sanders-long-ago-praise-socialist-regimes-hurt-democrats-november-n1139811)
- The current (February-March 2020) furor was kicked off by Sanders’ comments on 60 Minutes [Feb. 23, 2020], the CBS News program, when he was asked about his positive reflections on Castro’s Cuba. “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders said. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” (From https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/25/politics/bernie-sanders-praise-authoritarian-leftist-regimes/index.html)
- “Under Castro, enormous progress has been made in improving the lives of poor people,” Sanders said …, while noting “enormous deficiencies” in democratic rights. … He returned home with even greater praise than he had for the Soviet Union. “I did not see a hungry child. I did not see any homeless people,” Sanders told the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press. While Cuba was “not a perfect society,” he said, the country “not only has free health care but very high-quality health care . . . The revolution there is far deeper and more profound than I understood it to be. It really is a revolution in terms of values.” (From https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-bernie-sanderss-1988-10-day-honeymoon-in-the-soviet-union/2019/05/02/db543e18-6a9c-11e9-a66d-a82d3f3d96d5_story.html)
- [Sanders] had already been to Cuba — twice. And to the Soviet Union, the day after his wedding in 1988. And to Nicaragua, in 1985, to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. … “In a Third World region where thousands of peasants in most Latin countries are oppressed and starving, Cuba is a model of what a society could be,” the March 28, 1989, Rutland (Vt.) Daily Herald paraphrased Sanders as saying. (From https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article62748002.html#storylink=cpy)
- Sanders in 1989: “More interesting than [the Castro government’s] providing their people with free health care, free education, free housing … is that they are in fact creating a very different value system than the one we are familiar with.” (From https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/02/10/bernie-sanders-radical-past-donald-trump-attack-fodder-column/4706779002)
- In 1989, Sanders dismissed the government’s holding of political prisoners by saying Cuba was not a “perfect society,” according to The Free Press of Burlington. (From https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/will-sanders-long-ago-praise-socialist-regimes-hurt-democrats-november-n1139811)
- In 1972, Sanders told junior high school students in Vermont that U.S. policy in Vietnam was “almost as bad as what Hitler did,” according to The Rutland Daily Herald. (From https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/will-sanders-long-ago-praise-socialist-regimes-hurt-democrats-november-n1139811)
- Susan Sontag: “Many of us [on the left], and I include myself, did not understand the nature of the communist tyranny. We tried to distinguish among communisms — for example, treating ‘Stalinism,’ which we disavowed, as if it were an aberration, and praising other regimes, outside of Europe, which had and have essentially the same character. That’s the tack that Sanders took, buying into the myth that the Bolshevik Revolution and Russia’s embrace of communism would have been just fine had murderous Stalin not appeared on the scene, with his labor camps and purges, his late-night kidnappings of innocents, his brutal erasure of enemies and allies alike. But that is not the true history of the Bolshevik Revolution, which is one of mass terror, executions of political prisoners and wealthy farmers alike, and a ruthless secret police from the very start. … That has been written out of the left’s history of the USSR.” (From https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/miriamelder/bernie-sanders-ussr-trip-solzhenitsyn-vermont)
- Garry Kasparov: “Talking about the health care and literacy in socialist dictatorships is like admiring how clean everything was on the Death Star in “Star Wars.” There is free health care in prison, but it’s still a prison. What value is literacy if you’re told what you can and cannot read? … [Sanders] and his followers may like to tout Denmark and Finland, but his own words also highlight the socialist dictatorships of Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. (From https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/05/opinions/danger-of-nominating-sanders-kasparov/index.html)
- Hitler was an “also-ran,” following Mao and Stalin. Hitler was responsible for the murders of a “mere” 18 million innocents, including six million Jews. (And I say this as a Jew who has loathed Hitler and Nazism since I learned about the Holocaust when I was about eight years old.) For more information on the ghastly matter of what the late University of Hawaii political scientist R.J. Rummel termed democide, see www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/welcome.html. To learn more about the horrors of “repression” in the USSR, I recommend The Great Terror: A Reassessment and Harvest of Sorrow, both by Robert Conquest, and Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov. For a good summary of the impact of Communism not only on Russia, but also on Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, Afghanistan and Latin America (including Nicaragua), see The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression by Stephane Courtois et al.