It takes a certain chutzpah to insist that food lines are actually a good thing—but that’s exactly what Bernie Sanders did in 1985 when he was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. An old video of Sanders, a self-described “democratic” socialist, has surfaced in which he speaks favorably of the Marxist government of Nicaragua. The video was recorded in August of 1985, just weeks after he visited Nicaragua at the invitation of the left-wing junta.
Sanders went beyond decrying American involvement in that nation’s dirty civil war and actually praised the Soviet-supported Sandinistas, their policies, and even their food lines. “You know, it’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food,” said Sanders. “That’s a good thing. In other countries the rich get the food and the poor starve to death.”
Who knew that food lines could be spun as a positive? Sanders’ assertion, though not quite as outrageous as his previous commentary on women’s supposed gang rape fantasies, is still a doozy.
The Nicaragua that Sanders visited during the 1980s was distinctly socialist but not particularly democratic. In 1979, the Sandinistas overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza and instituted rule by decree while promising democratic elections. As time passed, however, it became evident that one dictatorship had replaced another.
Five years went by and the new ruling elite never got around to having a referendum on their revolution. And why would they? They had nothing to gain from an election and everything to lose. In 1984 the Sandinistas, under internal and international pressure, allowed the people to vote in an election whose legitimacy has been debated ever since. While some international observers concluded that it was imperfect but fair, others have called it a sham. At very least, we know that the elections took place under a “state of emergency” declared by the ruling Sandinistas in 1982. Basic freedoms such as free speech, press, and assembly were suspended. Independent radio and television broadcasts were banned. It’s rather difficult to win an election when your opponent won’t allow you to talk, meet, publish, or broadcast over the airwaves. The state of emergency continued until 1988.
Legitimate or not, the Sandinistas were the clear victors of the 1984 election that they had only begrudgingly allowed. They promised another election in 1985, the year Mayor Sanders visited, which they reneged on. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Nicaraguan people were permitted to cast ballots again. This time the Marxists were tossed out.
In the span of eleven years the Sandinistas allowed only two elections, neither of which they actually wanted to hold. One of these elections may have been rigged and the other they lost. Was the “democratic” socialist Bernie Sanders dismayed by the lack of democracy in Nicaragua?
Not in the least. After returning from his government-sponsored trip through whatever Potemkin village they wanted him to see, Sanders wrote an open letter to the people of Nicaragua on the mayor’s official letterhead: “I am certain you will win—and that your heroic revolution against the Somoza dictatorship will be maintained and strengthened.” It’s odd that he would invoke the ghost of Somoza, who was deposed by the Sandinistas in 1979 and gunned down a year later, as if the old dictator were waiting in the wings to undo all the Marxist movement had worked for. Clearly Sanders was formulating a false choice between Somoza and the Sandinistas. It’s very likely that the majority of Nicaraguans wanted neither and would have elected someone else if they had been given the opportunity. But alas, the elections that were promised for that year were cancelled and no one knew at the time if there would be any more ever again. Bernie Sanders didn’t know either though he apparently didn’t care. He ended his letter with the communist salutation “Venceremos,” borrowed from the Spanish Civil War and made popular among Latin American Marxist groups.
It should be noted here that all socialists claim to be democratic. There are no self-described “undemocratic socialists” or “anti-democratic socialists,” even among those who plainly display authoritarian tendencies. Even the Soviet Union claimed to be democratic, more democratic in fact than our own country. Democracy worked a little differently in their country, you see, because the Communist Party considered itself to be the only authentic voice of the proletariat. If any other party managed to win an election that could only mean that the capitalists/fascists/imperialists had perverted the process. Only Communist Party members were therefore permitted to win elections.
More or less the same rationale is and has been used in all socialist countries. East Germany was actually called the German Democratic Republic, a name that government officials used profusely and without irony. The ruling Socialist Unity Party won elections by absurd margins because the game was rigged. Cubans are still anxiously awaiting the free elections that Castro promised when he came to power in 1959. Even North Korea, the last bastion of Stalinism on earth, calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
So what is this thing called democratic socialism? If it exists at all it cannot be distinguished from other varieties of socialism or by the public statements of its supporters. Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-Un would both tell you that they are democratic socialists.
While some news outlets deliberately avoid the subject of Sanders’ socialism, others such as the taxpayer-funded NPR mislead their listeners (perhaps deliberately) about what this serious presidential candidate truly believes. In August 2015, NPR reporter John Dillon explained to his audience that Senator Sanders is actually the good kind of socialist—the democratic kind. Again, show me a socialist who claims to be anything else.
Dillon’s entire article takes on the exasperated tone of an intellectual who’s tired of explaining to the ignorant American public that they have nothing to fear from socialism. Americans, you see, have this weird phobia of progressive causes that just won’t die despite years of contrary messaging emanating from Hollywood and the elite media. Dillon Writes: “[Sanders] says the kind of socialism he advocates is the Democratic socialism seen in Scandinavia and other countries in Europe.” Yes, he says that—but if Dillon were a reporter and not a stenographer he wouldn’t take Sanders’ statement at face value. He would look a little closer and see that Sanders never met a red dictatorship he didn’t like. Dillon continues: “Those governments support paid sick leave, universal health care and free higher education.” Dillon doesn’t pose the question of when Sanders stopped supporting the Central American brand of socialism. Nothing in the article suggests that Sanders ever did.
The same article quotes Professor Garrison Nelson of the University of Vermont: "This is not communism; this is not five-year plans, collectivized agriculture and nationalized industry." Not that Sanders would oppose any of that, by the way. That’s what existed in Nicaragua where Sanders went to undercut his country’s foreign policy and bolster the spirits of the Marxists. That’s also what existed in the Soviet Union, where Sanders honeymooned in 1988. It beggars belief to suppose that a hypothetical President Sanders would oppose those policies even here. Would he veto a bill to nationalize, for example, the petroleum industry? Pharmaceuticals? I doubt it.
“Democratic” socialism sounds great to a lot of people because it sounds like free stuff. A critical mass of Americans now votes for what they want rather than working for it. They scoff at the rest of us who see this attitude as the slippery slope to banana republic status. Denmark is their model, they say, not some bankrupt third world backwater. But then the mask slips and we see that this brand of socialism is nothing but old wine in new bottles. Bernie Sanders, the cranky old Sandinista fanboy, is not the wave of the future. He’s the last dying breath of a failed dream that truly deserves its fate because it was ill-conceived in the first place.