Surging Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” A Rip Van Winkle figure would be more accurate for someone who apparently slept through the major atrocities of Communism.
Sanders was born on September 8, 1941, a few months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Before Hitler’s invasion, the Nazis and Soviets had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact that promised peace between the two countries for ten years. After the signing of the Pact on August 23, 1939, the Hitler’s National Socialist Regime invaded Poland, beginning World War II, and Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics joined in the invasion soon after, sealing Poland’s fate.
Sanders was but an infant at the time but in his 78 years has shown few signs that he knows anything about the Nazi-Soviet alliance. Likewise, Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine, which claimed millions of lives, seems to have escaped notice, along with Stalin’s show-trials of the mid-1930s.
A vast body of scholarly literature has revealed these atrocities and repressions, works such as The Great Terror, by Robert Conquest, and novels such as The Gulag Archipelago, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Like the establishment media, Sanders shows little if any familiarity with the historical record.
In February of 1956, when Sanders was 14, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev revealed the tide of Stalin’s atrocities to the Communist Party Congress. When that hit the news, most of those who were still Communists in the U.S. left the Party, never to return. If Sanders has ever addressed the Khrushchev revelations it has yet to make news. On the other hand, reporters can’t ask about events they don’t know.
The Soviets were still holding on to Eastern Europe and by the end of the 1950s established a colony in Cuba. The Castro Communist dictatorship put down all dissent, repressed all freedom and had the firing squads working three shifts.
By the late 1960s Castro was being denounced by European leftists who previously supported him. For the record, see Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba 1928-1978. That scholarly work was published in 1981, when Bernie Sanders was 40. Seven years later, he opted to honeymoon in the Soviet Union.
Castro also proclaimed homosexuality to be counterrevolutionary, and tossed Cuban gays into forced labor camps. That was chronicled in the 1984 Improper Conduct, a documentary by Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros and praised by, among others, Vincent Canby in the New York Times.
One would think candidate Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate for president, might denounce Cuban homophobia in his pushback against rival Bernie Sanders. So far, nothing from mayor Pete, and for the Vermont socialist Fidel Castro is a noble purveyor of literacy programs, not a Sado-Stalinist dictator.
One would think every candidate for president of the United States would strive to be better informed about the biggest mass movement of modern times, and its outpost 90 miles offshore. And as it happens, this is not a partisan issue.
In 1976, Republican Gerald Ford proclaimed “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” surely one of the dumbest statements of all time. True to form, Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, and the rest is history. There might be a lesson in there somewhere.
Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the nonprofit Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.