I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Soviet Union and China in the past few weeks. These thoughts and ruminations have come as past comments by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praising the train system in Russia, the Chinese Communist Party for what they have done for the working-class, and Castro’s education of the poor in Cuba have been tossed into the public arena. As many Sanders supporters have pointed out, he’s not wrong. Each of the Communist governments mentioned above have, at least to an extent, been good for the working and lower-classes of their respective governments.
However, the praise of the undeniable good that these non-capitalist countries have done will not play well in November and, with Sanders’ campaign at a critical juncture after yesterday’s primaries, that is something worth considering. It’s fair to say that most working Americans have an incomplete understanding of Russian, Chinese, and Cuban history, or of the historical conditions that lead to their Communist revolutions. Still less how well some of the these government’s programs have benefited their people, especially the poor whose lives were utterly destroyed by the ruling wealthy elite.
When most Americans think of Communist governments all they think about are millions of peasants starved in the Russian famine of 1921-1922, that many Cubans were desperate enough to take to makeshift rafts and float their kids across the shark-infested waters separating Cuba and Florida with the hopes of escaping the Castro government in the 1990s, or the concentration camps set up across modern to ‘re-educate’ the Uyghur minority.
Why do middle-American moderates and conservatives hold these views of Chinese, Russian, and Cuban governments, and why have Sanders’ praises been problematic? Well, for one there is a kernel of truth to the accusations. Castro was a brutal dictator, Josef Stalin did intentionally starve Russian peasants, and China is especially brutal to ethnic and religious minorities who do not follow the ‘party-line’.
Most importantly, most Americans, few of whom have travelled abroad, only know what the media shows them, and what they read in high school history books. A media run by the wealthy elite is not going to show us the lived reality of a country that threatens the wealthy class’s – their – way of life. And the textbooks in a capitalist country are not going to sing the praises of socialism and Communism. After all, education is the way in which all countries socialize their children to be good citizens of that culture and country.
To those people, those conservatives, let me say this. Drive into the inner cities, and the small rural towns, in this country. What do you see? What you see is a poor and starving people who are being denied access to jobs, food, education, and medical-care by our government. What you see is a group of people being shipped off to for-profit prisons for minor offenses and for failing to hold the cultural party-line where their labor and incarceration are a means of profit for the ruling class. What you see is everything that you hate about Castro, Stalin, and Mao.
To my Sanders supporting friends let me say this: You need to understand that the indoctrination of the media and the schools in rural America, the schools that I grew up in and the media that I grew up consuming. Do not allow for these people to entertain the facts and realities that I just listed. We must be patient with them, and we must continue to repeat ourselves and Sanders must continue to make it abundantly clear that he does not support dictatorial governments.
Having said that, Sanders done this much: he has made it abundantly clear that he rejects totalitarian regimes and dictatorial leadership. However, one more time for those in the back, because of the indoctrination and anti-socialist propaganda in the media and education he must continue to do so. He must continue to do so because it takes years, if not decades, for a person’s lens to adjust. It tiresome, it is frustrating, and it is something that a leader like Senator Sanders should not have to do, but he must because the propaganda machine in America is powerful. Those who do not see this have clearly never stepped foot into rural southern and midwestern America.
Let me close with this. My fellow Sanders supporters: We want Sanders as our president because he is the single candidate that is proposing policies that will benefit the poor and the working class. We have a strong propaganda machine working against us and our candidate. It sucks that we have to be so defensive. It sucks that we have to repeat ourselves and repeat Sanders’s words of praise of other governments in context. But we must continue to do so. That is the only way in which we will win over our fellow democrats and elect the first ‘people’s president’.