Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) on Monday differentiated Democratic socialism from “authoritarian communism” at a CNN town hall at which he fielded a question from a Russian immigrant who accused him of being “eager to implement” many Soviet-style policies.
“My father’s family left Soviet Russia in 1979 fleeing from some of the very same socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country,” audience member Samantha Frenkel-Popell said. “So my question is, how do you rectify your notion of democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?”
“Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don’t and never have. And I opposed it,” Sanders responded.
“What do I mean when I talk about democratic socialism? It certainly is not the authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union and in other communist countries,” the senator said. “What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”
Sanders has drawn criticism for comments praising the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Cuba, as well as the left-wing Nicaraguan strongman Daniel Ortega.
“People there seemed reasonably happy and content,” Sanders said of the Soviet Union after his honeymoon in Yaroslavl, Russia. “I didn’t notice much deprivation.”
Documents discovered by the New York Times revealed that Soviet officials had attempted to use Sanders’s initiative to form a sister-city relationship between Yaroslavl and Burlington, Vt., where Sanders was mayor, to advance Soviet propaganda.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said of the communist island nation in a February interview on 60 Minutes. “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?”
The comments drew sharp rebukes from Florida politicians in both parties, whose constituents include a large population of Cuban refugees and exiles.
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