Sanders Rejects ‘Authoritarian Communism,’ Distancing Self from Past Statements

Senator Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) distanced himself Monday from his past endorsement of government ownership of the means of production, telling the audience at CNN’s town hall in New Hampshire that he’s moderated his views since his time serving as the mayor of Burlington in the 1970’s.

Asked by an audience member whether he plans to implement the kinds of policies that caused her parents to flee the Soviet Union in 1979, Sanders sought to distinguish between “authoritarian communism” and the “democratic socialism” he now promotes.

“Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don’t. I never have, and I opposed it. I believe in a vigorous democracy,” he said, before adding that he believes government should play a significant role in reducing wealth inequality and providing health care and education.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo then confronted Sanders with an interview he gave to the Burlington Free Press in 1976, in which he advocated “the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.”

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Sanders emphasized the date of his remarks and said that he has never moved to nationalize industry during his political career.

“I was a mayor of a city for eight years. Did I nationalize any of the industry in the city of Burlington, Vermont? I don’t think so. Congressman for 16 years,” he said. “Look, I said what I said, and that is I want to live in a nation in which all people in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world can have a decent standard of living. I’m not talking about everybody owning a big, fancy house or a Cadillac or anything like that. But I think we can do what other nations in the world are already doing.”

After returning from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1988, Sanders praised the then-crumbling state’s public-transportation system and government-backed cultural programs while his wife lauded its commitment to promoting the theater.

An avowed socialist, Sanders does favor a total government take over of the health-care market and has endorsed the Green New Deal, which calls for a government-led restructuring of vast swathes of the economy. He is second only to Joe Biden in early polling averages of the Democratic presidential race.

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