During the last election, The Nation magazine ran an interview with Bernie Sanders who spoke about the need for the Democratic Party to be as bold as it was in the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Wallace.
Sanders specifically advocated for the reinvigoration of an economic bill of rights, which would guarantee a livable wage, free health care and affordable education.
This latter program is honorable; however, the boldness of Roosevelt and Wallace’s platform resided not only in their domestic policies but especially in their foreign policies.
It is there that Sanders fails to measure up.
Roosevelt and Wallace were both strong anti-fascists and advocates of peace with the Russians which Bernie—along with most other members of the progressive congressional caucus—is not.
In 1933, the Roosevelt administration had revived diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and then provided lend-lease aid to the Soviets as they heroically fought back against the Nazi invasion.
After the Nazi eastern offensive was pushed back at Stalingrad, then at Kursk and the allied D-Day landing, Roosevelt initiated a series of post-war summits which included Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The most important occurred at Yalta in February 1945, in which the United States agreed not to interfere in Eastern Europe, where the USSR was seeking to establish a buffer against any renewed German aggression after the war, and return to it some islands that had been lost in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War.
In return, the Soviet Union agreed not to support left-wing guerrillas in Greece or to intervene in the Asia-Pacific where the U.S. was intent on establishing a network of military bases as a spoil of victory in the Pacific War.
According to his son James, FDR succeeded in restraining war hawks in the State Department such as W. Averell Harriman, a founding partner of Brown Brothers Harriman and Co. investment banking firm, who opposed Yalta and wanted to initiate hostilities with the Soviets. (Harriman was Joe Biden’s political mentor when he was in the U.S. Senate.)
Roosevelt’s vice president, Henry Wallace, was a particularly strong advocate for sustaining peaceful relations with the Soviets and averting a Cold War.
He traveled to the USSR numerous times and found that the population was not hostile toward the United States and was war-weary and wanted peace, as did the Soviet leadership of the time.
Contrary to popular myth, Wallace was never an apologist for the abuses of the Soviet regime, but rather pointed out in his 1948 book, Towards World Peace, that it was seminally responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany which should earn it the gratitude of everyone.
At the 1944 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, Wallace was ousted from his position on the Roosevelt ticket in a blatant coup d’état masterminded by Democratic Party powerbrokers and big business interests in the back rooms.
Wallace in turn took up the position of Commerce Secretary in the Truman administration after Roosevelt’s death, though he lost this job when he gave a memorable speech at Madison Square Garden in which he called on the United Nations to assume control of the strategically located air bases in which “the United States and Britain [had] encircled the world.”
According to Wallace, “nations not only should be prohibited from manufacturing atomic bombs, guided missiles, and military aircraft for bombing purposes, but also prohibited from spending on its military more than 15% of its budget.” The United States, he said, could ensure cooperation with the Soviet Union if it made clear that “we are not planning for war with her” and had “no more business in the political affairs of Eastern Europe than Russia has in Latin America.”
Wallace ended his speech by calling on Americans who “look on this war with Russia talk as criminal foolishness…[to] carry our message direct to the people—even though we may be called communists because we dare to speak out.”
Now where is Sanders to match the boldness of Wallace and to denounce a Democratic Party president who called quite explicitly for regime change in Russia? Or to stand up for those who have been persecuted and censored for challenging the dominant narrative about Ukraine and advocating for peace with Russia?
On March 29, after President Joe Biden released his proposed fiscal year 2023 budget calling for $813 billion in military spending, a $30 billion increase from the gargantuan 2022 budget, Sanders issued a statement: “At a time when we are already spending more on the military then the next 11 countries combined, we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget.”
In the past, Sanders had sponsored amendments calling for modest cuts to the defense budgets. However, in early March, Sanders supported a $13.6 billion emergency aid measure to Ukraine, at least half of which was appropriated for military weaponry.
Sanders singularly blamed Russia for starting the war—when strong evidence suggests that Ukraine started it eight years ago, or at the very least provoked it.
On February 24, Sanders issued the following statement on the Russian invasion:
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine that the world is witnessing today is a blatant violation of international law and of basic human decency. It may well kill thousands and displace millions. It could plunge Europe into long-term economic and political instability.
The United States and our allies must impose severe sanctions on Vladimir Putin and his fellow oligarchs. At a time when thousands may die as a result of his war, Putin, one of the richest people in the world, should not be allowed to enjoy the billions he stole from the Russian people. The United States must also work closely with international partners to provide humanitarian relief for the Ukrainian people.”
While legitimately concerned about the horrible human costs of the war, Sanders’ remarks whitewash not only the Ukrainian but also the American roles in precipitating it.
This includes through the U.S.’s a) promotion of NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and Ukraine; b) support for an anti-Russian coup in Ukraine in 2014 triggered by protests in Maidan Square; and c) arming of the Ukrainian Army as it terrorized the people of the Eastern Luhansk and Donetsk provinces for eight years after they voted to secede from Ukraine following the coup.
Sanders also makes unsubstantiated claims that Putin is “one of the richest people in the world” who “stole billions from the Russian people.”
A lot of properties that supposedly make Putin rich are in fact ones that any Russian president has access to as long as he is president.
Andrei Nekrasov, a Russian filmmaker who attended the Maidan Square protests, told me that “there is simply no evidence of Putin’s excessive riches; not even a single [bit of] evidence of some bank accounts or a bribe he and his wife for example got from an industry or such thing whereas there was such evidence in [Boris] Yeltsin’s case, quite specifically and direct [Yeltsin was Russia’s president from 1991 to 1999).”
Bringing Left-Wing Progressives into NATO’s Fold
On March 18, Sanders repeated his accusations against Putin at an Atlantic Council webinar involving left-wing progressives in Great Britain and Germany who also adopted a strong anti-Russian position.
The Atlantic Council is considered to be “NATO’s think tank.” It has received funding from war profiteers and corrupt companies like the energy giant Burisma, which appointed Hunter Biden to its board along with CIA agent Cofer Black and may have provided a front for funding CIA black ops in Ukraine.
In the meeting, Sanders called the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “horror that almost embarrasses us all for being part of the human race to see a large country systematically destroy people of a strong democratic nation.”
While the destruction caused by the war is indeed heart-breaking, the fact is that Ukraine is not by any stretch a “strong democratic nation.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky—to whom Sanders gave a standing ovation when he appeared before Congress asking for more U.S. military aid—has banned eleven opposition parties—including Ukraine’s Socialist, Communist, and Progressive Socialist parties.
Zelensky has further a) jailed political opponents who are considered pro-Russian; b) shut down “pro-Russian” media without any court rulings; c) removed numerous officials whom he could not control; and d) centralized the intelligence agencies, placing an old school friend, Ivan Bakonov, as head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and mafia figure known as “The Strangler” (Oleksandr Poklad) as head of counter-intelligence.
A neoliberal who accepted an IMF-loan contingent upon the slashing of public services and biggest post-Soviet privatization fire sale in a generation, Zelensky came to power as a result of the February 2014 coup that was heavily supported by the U.S. His career was bankrolled by a mob kingpin, Ihor Kholomoisky, with suspected ties to U.S. and Israeli intelligence who financed right-wing militias that committed the bulk of atrocities in Eastern Ukraine.
According to CIA expert Douglas Valentine, the CIA took over many aspects of Ukraine’s government and civil apparatus after the 2014 Maidan coup and ran black ops into Eastern Ukraine–some coordinated out of Poland.
The Pandora Papers specified that Zelensky had set up off-shore bank accounts in 2004 with his old friend and TV business partner, Serhiy Shefir, who produced Zelensky’s hit show “Servant of the People,” and became his campaign manager and chief of staff.
Zelensky in 2019 had campaigned on a peace platform; once in power, however, he expanded Ukraine’s deadly war in Eastern Ukraine while calling for the retaking of Crimea and amassing thousands of troops on the border of Donbass.
Sanders was silent about all this because it undercuts his narrative about the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a black-and-white struggle.
In his speeches Sanders has often compared Putin with Donald Trump as representatives of an oligarchic class bent on destroying democracy around the world. The implication is that a new Cold War crusade is morally justifiable—particularly when led by a Democratic Party administration said to be holding the line against pro-Trump fascists and Capitol rioters at home.
Shocking Statements About NATO
In the 1990s, then Congressman Sanders wisely opposed NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, seeing it as an unnecessary provocation of Russia.
Nevertheless, in a 2016 primary debate on PBS, Sanders said that we “have to work with NATO to protect Eastern Europe against any kind of Russian aggression.” Subsequently, Sanders called NATO “the most successful military alliance in probably human history.”
The latter was a shocking statement coming in the wake of the criminal NATO attacks on Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, which Sanders largely supported.
NATO also has a long history of subversion, establishing neo-fascist stay-behind armies in Europe that carried out black-flag terrorist operations in an effort to turn public opinion against communism during the Cold War.
The Death of the Liberal Class
According to his website, Bernie has been consistent in supporting economic sanctions and international pressure on Russia in an attempt to isolate it; those are policies that Wallace and Roosevelt would have most certainly opposed.
The sanctions originally resulted from lobbying efforts by the kind of billionaire that Sanders purports to hate—William F. Browder, a hedge-fund manager who participated in the looting of Russia in the 1990s.
Browder concocted a story about his accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, being brutalized in a Russian jail after his company was robbed—when Magnitsky appears to have been helping him to evade paying taxes in Russia and to scam the Russian government.
In March 2014, Senator Sanders went on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC to defend the Obama administration’s policy on Ukraine—which Roosevelt and Wallace as anti-fascists would have opposed.
Sanders later voted in favor of the huge military aid appropriations to Ukraine under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which accused the Russian Federation of destabilizing and invading Ukraine. In fact, the destabilization had been caused by the U.S. which backed the 2014 right-wing coup that resulted in a civil war; Russia furthermore had come to the defense of Eastern Ukrainian provinces that had voted for secession and were subjected to consistent shelling by the Ukrainian army that forced residents to live in underground caves.
While ludicrously accused of being supported by Russia, Sanders has for many years denounced Putin, whom he calls an “anti-democratic authoritarian,” who engaged in “military adventurism in Ukraine and the Crimea” and “interfered” in U.S. politics.
At a rally in Kansas in 2018, Bernie criticized President Donald Trump for his border policy and being weak against Putin by saying, “We say to Trump, instead of showing us your strength by tearing children from their families, where was your strength in standing up to Putin and Russia for undermining American democracy?”
These comments epitomize what Chris Hedges once called the “death of the liberal class.” The tearing of children from their families by Trump was indeed objectionable, but Sanders was criticizing the supposed fascist Trump’s foreign policy from the right while adopting accusations straight from the old John Birch Society playbook.
[The John Birch Society was an extreme anti-communist group that accused the USSR of subverting U.S. democracy during the Cold War.]
In July 2019, a Clinton-appointed judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee [DNC] against the Trump campaign and Julian Assange for lack of evidence of election meddling, stating that the DNC’s accusations were “totally divorced from the facts asserted in the organization’s own complaint.”
Two years earlier, the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity [VIPS] found, based on the speed of communication, that a supposed Russian hack of Hillary Clinton’s emails was actually a leak carried out on the East Coast of the United States—findings that were ignored by the much-vaunted Mueller investigation and by Sanders himself.
In rebuking Putin’s alleged military adventurism in Ukraine and Crimea, Sanders ignores the fact that Crimea was historically part of Russia and that its population overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia after the Obama administration backed the 2014 coup in Ukraine.
A False Political Messiah
Sanders has had a remarkable political career casting himself as an heir to the Roosevelt-Wallace tradition. Unfortunately, he has betrayed that golden tradition in his attitude toward Russia—which is not uncharacteristic.
In the 1990s, the “Birkenstock bomber,” as Jeffrey St. Clair called Sanders, championed NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and evicted anti-war demonstrators at his office in Burlington much more quickly than his Republican predecessor, Jim Jeffords.
Sanders also waged a fierce bureaucratic battle with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to bring F-35 production to the Burlington Air Base as the premier weapon of the Green Mountain Boys.
According to the website opensecrets.org, since 1989, Sanders has received $373,520 directly from the Pentagon, with another $401,570 from the U.S. Army, $386,165 from the U.S. Navy, and $383,885 from the U.S. Air Force, along with $341,193 from Boeing, a leading defense contractor.
These numbers may account for Bernie’s position on Russia and other limitations on foreign policy that make him fall well short of the Roosevelt-Wallace standard.
Back in 2015, Ukraine’s communist party was banned under a decommunization law. ↑
See Daniele Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe (New York: Routledge, 2005). ↑
See Jeremy Kuzmarov, “A New Battlefield for the United States: Russia Sanctions and the New Cold War,” Socialism and Democracy, 33, 3 (2019), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08854300.2020.1769383 ↑
See Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (New York: Nation Books, 2011). ↑
Jeffrey St. Clair, Bernie & The Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution (Petrolia, CA: Counterpunch, 2016), 13, 14. When Sanders was Burlington mayor, he had peace activists arrested when they tried to block the gate of a General Electric plant he supported in Burlington which produced Gatling guns used by death squads in Central America in the 1980s dirty wars. Doug Enaa Greene, “Not on Our Side: Bernie Sanders and Imperialism,” Left Voice, June 18, 2019, https://www.leftvoice.org/not-on-our-side-on-bernie-sanders-and-imperialism/; Peter Schweizer, Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite (New York: Harpercollins, 2020), 187. ↑
St. Clair, Bernie & The Sandernistas, 22. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.