Bernie Sanders may want to praise Joseph Stalin, too

Greg Nash

Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) likes to point out the positives in brutal communist dictators — a kindness he refuses to extend to President Donald Trump.

Defending, if not praising, socialist and communist regimes has been a life-long Sanders practice.

In 1985, after visiting Nicaragua, he lauded socialist strongman Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, saying he was impressed with their “intelligence and sincerity.”

Then there was his 1988 trip to the Soviet Union and a subsequent press conference where he again tried to emphasize the positive, “The quality of your [Russian] housing is not good, but we appreciate the fact that people are paying 5 percent,” rather than the 40 percent he claimed Americans were paying.

U.S. voters might also recall that a year ago, Sanders was in the hot seat, especially with Florida Democrats, over his refusal to condemn Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro as a dictator. 

And Sanders recently raised eyebrows, yet again, with his defense of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he dismissed the notion that Castro was all bad. “When Fidel Castro first came to power, he initiated a major literacy program. There were a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. … He formed the literacy brigade.”

Of course, Castro also ensured that his Cuban comrades only had government-approved material to read, because a free press – i.e., news and books – might spread “false” counterrevolutionary reports of a collapsing economy or dissenting Cubans trying to flee the country or being hauled off to prison, where they might be tortured and killed.

Maybe in his next interview, Sanders could identify some of the good points of the Russian dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin. For example:

Stalin improved literacy. Once firmly in control, Stalin sought to expand literacy, establishing state schools and later universities throughout the country — just like Cuba.

Of course, there was an ulterior motive. 

As the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information notes: “After Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union, speedy reforms of the Soviet schools and educational system began.” But it wasn’t just to teach people to read; the goal was for Russians to read about Marxist principles and Soviet propaganda. 

“Stalin,” IDFI tells us, “was personally involved in creating and editing of the textbooks and curriculums. As a result, a Soviet school turned into a politicized institution which actively propagated Stalinism.” Ditto Castro’s literacy efforts.

So, yes, both Castro and Stalin expanded literacy, but only to make it easier to indoctrinate their comrades.

Stalin provided free “Medicare for All.” OK, Stalin didn’t call it Medicare for All, but it’s the same idea: A government-run health care system that’s free at the point of use. 

Article 42 of the Soviet Constitution of 1936, which is also known as the Stalin constitution, says: Citizens of the USSR have the right to health protection. This right is ensured by free, qualified medical care provided by state health institutions; by extension of the network of therapeutic and health-building institutions ….”

Sanders couldn’t have said it better himself. 

Yet in 1999 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a report on the Soviet economy, noting, “Health care is notoriously bad: insufficient funding, lack of qualified personnel, and shortages have helped to lower Soviet life expectancies.”

Take the life expectancy issue, for example. In 1950 life expectancy in the Soviet Union was about 56 years vs. 68.2 years in the U.S., and Russian life expectancy remained in the low- to mid-60s until about a decade ago.

Stalin dramatically decreased wealth inequality. There is an old quip that capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth, while socialism is the equal distribution of poverty. But, hey, there is no wealth inequality when everyone is poor. 

Actually, Communist Party leaders can end up being quite wealthy, they just don’t admit it.

Forbes magazine used to estimate the wealth of the world’s richest leaders. In 2006, Forbes ranked Fidel Castro as the 7th richest ruler in the world, with a net worth of $900 million, making Castro a billionaire in today’s dollars.

In fact, highlighting Castro’s wealth may be the only way to get Sanders to denounce him. 

Stalin died in 1953, so Forbes didn’t estimate his worth. However, K.C. Morgan, writing for Real Clear Politics in 2015, took a stab at it. “The leader of the USSR once controlled almost 10 percent of the global GDP, which means in 2014 he’d be in charge of about $7.5 trillion. That’s trillion, and that completely blows Bill Gates out of the water.”

Check my math, but I think that may be even more money than billionaire Michael Bloomberg controls.

To be fair, Sanders denounces totalitarianism. He stresses that he wants “democratic socialism,” by which he means people vote for their leaders.

But people in Venezuela and Nicaragua vote. And Stalin’s constitution guaranteed people in the former Soviet Union the right to vote. It’s just that, like expanded public schools and free health care, your only choice is what the government allowed.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Bernie Sanders central intelligence agency Communism in Russia Daniel Ortega Donald Trump Fidel Castro Joseph Stalin Medicare for all Michael Bloomberg Nicolas Maduro Russia Soviet Union Soviet Union Stalinism

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