Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was challenged to explain the failures of socialist Venezuela and the former Soviet Union during an appearance this week on “The Daily Show.”
The Democratic presidential candidate responded with a common left-wing refrain: That’s not real socialism.
“You can look at what existed in the Soviet Union or Venezuela, that is not what I’m talking about at all,” Sanders said. “Obviously, Soviet Union was an authoritarian society with no democratic rights, and I think if you know history, you know the democratic socialists fought and stood up against that.
Sanders was interviewed as part of a sympathetic segment on socialism by 24-year-old “Daily Show” correspondent Jaboukie Young-White. According to the millennial comedian, “the examples of failed socialism that critics use are not socialist democracies, but authoritarian states led by corrupt, ruthless and paranoid dictators.”
Bernie Sanders has a history with Venezuela and the Soviet Union
Since Sanders’ failed 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has sought to downplay any connection between his “democratic socialist” brand and the politics of South America or the former Soviet Union. Instead, he has preferred to point to Scandinavian countries, like Norway, Sweden and Denmark as models for the United States.
However, that was not always the case. In local public access TV clips from the 1980s, when Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he is seen praising the the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua.
One clip, from 1984, shows Sanders recounting how he had recently visited the Nicaraguan government, made up of socialist revolutionaries, and advised them on how to “manipulate” Americans through the media.
In another video, from 1988, Sanders discusses a recent trip to Moscow, saying he was impressed with their public transportation, which he calls “very very effective,” and their youth programs, which he says “go far beyond what we do in this country.”
The democratic socialist also goes on at length about an “absolutely beautiful” theater he visited in Russia, marveling that it had a “puppeteer area” and tickets only cost the equivalent of $1.50.
Just a few years later, the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its stagnant political and economic systems.
Meanwhile, Sanders apparently still endorses a New Hampshire newspaper’s article praising the economic conditions of South American nations such as Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela.
In the article, which appears in the “Must Read” section of Sanders’ official Senate website, the Valley News editorial board opined: “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.”
Socialism’s American ascendance
The popularity of socialism has spiked among Americans in recent years, particularly among young people.
A Gallup poll released in May found that four in ten Americans believe that some form of socialism would be good for the country. The figures represent an 18 percent change since 1942, when only 25 percent of Americans said the same.
Conservatives, citing socialism’s sketchy record of success in nations where it’s been tried, have viewed the trend as a concerning.