Bernie Sanders

Why Bernie Sanders' Communist Misadventures Still Matter

Sanders no longer favors government takeover of "the major means of production." But his four-decade quest for political revolution continues.


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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has spent his entire career explaining away the inevitable downsides of massively increasing the power of the state over the individual.

Sanders once identified as a socialist who, with reservations, admired the economic achievements of Cuba under Fidel Castro, of Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, and of the Soviet Union right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Running for office as a candidate for the Liberty Union Party in Vermont in the 1970s, Sanders sought a top tax rate of 100%, saying "nobody should earn more than $1 million."

Sanders wanted to stop businesses from moving out of their original communities, arguing that the ultimate solution to protect workers was national legislation that would "bring about the public ownership of the major means of production." He favored the government seizure of "utilities, banks, and major industries," without compensation to investors or stockholders.

Shortly after he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981, Sanders told a room full of charity workers, "I don't believe in charities," because only the government should provide social services to the needy.

He traveled to Nicaragua in 1985 to meet Sandinista leaders, who had installed a socialist government after overthrowing an American-backed dictator. Sanders attended the sixth-anniversary celebration of the Sandinistas' revolution and praised Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.

In 1988, he visited the USSR, three years before it collapsed. After his trip, Sanders praised the Soviets' social and cultural programs, saying American leaders had much to learn from the communist system. In 1989, Sanders traveled to Cuba to seek a meeting with Fidel Castro—though he ended up settling for the mayor of Havana.

Today, Sanders calls himself a "democratic socialist" and has become a millionaire. He favors single-payer health care, free public college for all, and a $15 minimum wage. And he has distanced himself from some of his former positions in support of the Sandinistas and Castro, pointing instead to Nordic countries as examples to follow.

But one thing has remained constant as Sanders has shifted his focus from Nicaragua, Cuba, and the USSR to Denmark, Finland, and Sweden: In all of these countries, he's misled his followers about the political and economic realities on the ground.

Produced and edited by Justin Monticello. Graphics by Joshua Swain. Audio production by Ian Keyser. Music by Silent PartnerJingle Punks; Topher Mohr and Alex Elena; Jimmy Fontanez, Doug Maxwell & Media Right Productions; The 129ersSir CubworthMK2; and Riot.

Credits For Spanish-Language Version: Translation by María José Inojosa Salina; Voiceover by Alexandra De Caires

Music: Silent Partner; Jingle Punks; Topher Mohr and Alex Elena; Jimmy Fontanez, Doug Maxwell & Media Right Productions; The 129ers; Sir Cubworth; MK2; and Riot; Guiton Sketch by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license; The Great Unknown by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license; Guess Who by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license; Bushwick Tarantella by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (; Firesong by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license Photo credits: Havana food line, 2014: Jakub Szypulka [CC BY 4.0 (]; Sanders in 1991: Geoff Hansen iPhoto Inc./Newscom; Sanders with reporters, 2015: Flickr / Michael Vadon; Man carrying sack in Cuba: Mark Hertzberg/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Sandinistas as a group: SIC Notimex/Newscom; Ortega in Spain, 1985: Photos/Newscom; Ortega swearing in: Chicho96 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (; Ernesto Cardenal profile: Roman Bonnefoy, [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]; Soviet housing, 1975: Thomas Taylor Hammond (1920-1993) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]Yaroslavl theater performance, 1964: Thomas Taylor Hammond (1920-1993) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]; Yaroslavl terminal: A.Savin, WikiCommons; Volkov Theater: Alex 'Florstein' Fedorov [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]; Soviet-era housing block: flickr / young shanahan; Moscow subway 1: Punxutawneyphil and the architects Л. В. Лилье, В. А. Литвинов, М. Ф. Марковский, В. М. Доброковский [CC BY 2.0 (]; Moscow subway 2: W. Bulach [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]; Castro 1: flickr / Marcelo Montecino; Castro 2: Luis Korda [public domain]; Modern Cuba 1: ALEX GARCIA/TNS/Newscom; Modern Cuba 2: Sandrine Huet / Le Pictorium/Newscom; Modern Cuba 3: Sandrine Huet / Le Pictorium/Newscom; Modern Cuba 4: Sandrine Huet / Le Pictorium/Newscom; Denmark 1: hbgbild / MEGA / Newscom; Denmark 2: picture alliance / paul mayall/Newscom; Denmark 3: Francis Dean /Deanpictures/Newscom; Denmark 4: Francis Dean /Deanpictures/Newscom; Denmark 5: Francis Joseph Dean /Deanpicture/Newscom; Denmark 6: Gonzales Photo/Kim Matthai Lelan/Gonzales Photo/Avalon/Newscom; Denmark 7: Francis Dean /Deanpictures/Newscom; Denmark 8: Gioia Forster/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom; Denmark 9: Francis Joseph Dean /Deanpicture/Newscom; Denmark 10: Francis Dean /Deanpictures/Newscom; Denmark 11: Francis Dean /Deanpictures/Newscom; Denmark 12: Francis Dean /Deanpictures/Newscom; Norway 1: Noe Falk Nielsen/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Norway 2: A. Farnsworth/agefotostock/Newscom; Norway 3: Dominic Byrne/robertharding/robertharding/Newscom