From the New York Times we learn—it is no surprise—that Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont from Brooklyn who until recently was leading the Democratic presidential pack and may yet end up the nominee, allowed himself and his office (mayor of Burlington, Vt., at the time) to be used by the Soviet Union as part of a propaganda operation intended to undermine and discredit U.S. foreign policy.
During the Cold War, Sanders was what Lenin called a “useful idiot.” Useful is of course a matter of perspective—Sanders has never been of any use to the United States, then or now. If we are to judge by glowing coverage in such Russian propaganda outfits as Sputnik and RT, Sanders’s usefulness to Moscow is experiencing a second life.
For most of the 20th century and all of the 21st to date, the American Left has operated from the assumption that what is principally wrong with the world is American dominance—American economic power (“exploitation”), American military power (“imperialism”), American assertiveness (“warmongering”), American culture (“consumerism”), etc. Conveniently for the Kremlin, that was the view in Moscow, too. Sanders may not have been the ideal channel for Soviet propaganda—the mayor of New York City would have been better—but allies, even allies of convenience, were hard for the Soviet Union to come by in Sanders’s day, what with the gulags and the purges and the hunger-terror and all.
Sanders spoke glowingly about the Soviet Union after his honeymoon there. Like many a useful idiot before him, he reported that he didn’t see much economic privation, as though they would have let him see it. Sanders is a strangely incurious man. He praised the impressive Soviet metro stations, but he apparently never gave a thought to the millions of peasants who were intentionally starved to death when the Soviet authorities seized grain harvests to exchange for the hard currency needed to pay for those and other vanity-propaganda projects.
While he drank and sang folk songs with the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti is how you say “Gestapo” in Russian), Sanders never once mentioned the name of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident, novelist, historian, and Nobel laureate whose works were at that time forbidden in the Soviet Union. Sanders never met Solzhenitsyn, who lived in exile only a short drive away from Sanders on the other side of the tiny state of Vermont. Not that Sanders wasn’t a man of culture: he praised the men who kept the gulags full for keeping the price of theater tickets low.
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