Sen. Bernie Sanders said Monday that “what happened and existed” in the Soviet Union was not real socialism.
Sanders, 77, a Vermont Independent who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, invoked the common left-wing refrain during a Fox News town hall in Dearborn, Michigan.
At one point, a woman in the audience asked him to explain the difference between his brand of democratic socialism and the socialism of the now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
“As someone from Russia, a country that was greatly impacted by the negative effects of socialism, what assurances can you offer myself and other people impacted by socialism that democratic socialism will not have the same effects?” queried the woman, who said her name was Margaret.
Sanders replied that “what happened and existed in the Soviet Union was not socialism, it was authoritarian communism.” He denounced communism as being “marked by totalitarianism.”
As he is wont to do, Sanders then held up Nordic countries as models of his democratic socialist utopia.
“When we talk about democratic socialism, Margaret, I’m talking about Finland. I’m talking about Denmark. I’m talking about Sweden,” he said. “I’m talking about countries all over the world that have used their government to try to improve life for working families, not just the people on top.”
If the USSR isn’t real social, what is, Bernie?
Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum later noted to Sanders that Sweden, Denmark and other countries with generous social welfare programs have in recent decades embraced market-based reforms in order to address ballooning expenses.
Sanders responded by saying, “I am not an expert on the current economy in Sweden.”
He added: “All I can say is that they have gone a long way to eliminate poverty, to make sure that their people have all the basic needs that they need in order to live good lives.”
Bernie Sanders tells an audience member who is from Russia that "what happened and existed in the Soviet Union was not socialism, it was authoritarian communism."
The audience cheered at his answer. pic.twitter.com/f0do0MJuRp
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) March 9, 2020
During both his presidential runs, Sanders has faced criticism for his praise of left-wing regimes, even has he has condemned authoritarianism. On the 20202 campaign trail, Sanders has saluted China’s role in alleviating extreme poverty and, more recently, late Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s implementation of a national “literacy program.”
Resurfaced local public access TV clips from the 1980s, when Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, show Sanders praising the the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Sanders told Fox News anchor Bret Baier on Monday that he has no regrets about his Castro comments, which came last month during an interview on ABC’s “60 Minutes” and provoked backlash.
“Look, I have spent my entire life fighting for working people and fighting for democracy,” he said. “And Bret, if you check my record, I have condemned authoritarianism, whether it is in the Soviet Union, whether it’s in Cuba, whether it is in Saudi Arabia.”
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) March 9, 2020
A day after the town hall, Sanders suffered a resounding defeat to former Vice President Joe Biden in a series of Democratic primary contests. The results appeared to doom Sanders’ chances at the nomination.
However, on Wednesday, Sanders vowed to stay in the race. He said he looked forward to a Sunday CNN-Univision debate against Biden.