Senator Bernie Sanders has spent much of his life talking favorably about Communism. In an interview with CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe, Senator Sanders basically said that dictatorships work since (allegedly) under Cuban dictator Fidel Castro more people learned how to read and write and there was “health care” for all.

These comments were made during an interview where O’Keefe was asking Senator Sanders if he would be willing to go to Miami and meet victims of Cuba’s Communist regime. Here was his response: “Cuba is a dictatorship, I’ve said that eight million times. But that does not mean to say, as Obama pointed out, that even under a dictatorship you can teach people to read and to write. That you can provide health care to all people.”

How does learning how to read help you, when you just receive government sanctioned reading materials in exchange? That’s not education, it’s indoctrination. 

None of those so-called achievements mean anything when other citizens are killed outright for the simple offence of wearing eyeglasses, like during the genocidal dictatorship of Pol Pot in Communist Cambodia, or were killed through mass starvation after Russia’s Soviet government deprived the people of Ukraine of their harvests.

As a historian, I can tell you that dictatorships always result in atrocious actions, violent oppression and extrajudicial killings, often in mass or even genocidal levels. To say that someone can read or write somehow makes up for the fact that half their family was killed for simply being a specific race or a certain segment of society is utterly ridiculous. 

In Cuba, it’s estimated that between 35,000-141,000 people were killed under Castro’s regime, often for being political dissidents. People who advocate for freedom are still arrested and detained, for simply wanting to express their thoughts and beliefs. But that’s what happens in a dictatorship. 

John Dalberg-Acton famously wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This is seen throughout history. Even before the Communist philosophy gained a foothold in Russia, some of Europe’s best monarchs mentally struggled under the weight of their own power and authority over the lives of their countrymen. Though many start out rather sane and levelheaded, the power that they’re given seems to drive them insane after a while.

Probably one of the best examples is Russian Tsar Peter the Great. A brilliant military strategist who led a cultural revolution that brought the country out of the Middle Ages, he also killed his own son, Alexei, through brutal torture techniques after the man tried to raise a coup d’état. In addition, Peter also killed all of Alexei’s “conspirators” in exceptionally gruesome manner to dissuade others from challenging Peter’s authority. 

Here’s the other thing about absolute power—once someone has it, they never want to let it go. And as this power is threatened, it usually results in increasing paranoia and a certain type of madness where one’s own family members are not exempt from brutal retaliation.

These problems are usually magnified tenfold in Communist regimes. The reason for this is that while most of these Europe’s monarchs believed in a higher power, which kept them somewhat in check, Communist countries don’t. In the former Soviet Union, Lenin and then Stalin were the “gods,” and same with the Kim family in North Korea. 

Stalin is perhaps one of the best examples. His paranoia and distrust of everyone led him to kill 750,000 people including military officials, artisans, dissidents and all of the original Bolsheviks who participated in the Russian Revolution. It was known as the Great Purge or Great Terror. Eventually, even Stalin’s wife committed suicide after he, as The New York Times reports, gave her a “flood of vulgar abuse” after she publicly disagreed with the collectivization policies at a dinner party. Her suicide deeply disturbed the homicidal dictator.

This fracture and disfunction trickles down into society. There is no true trust in Communist dictatorships between friends, families, parents, children and couples. There is no guarantee that your closest family member, perhaps even a child or a spouse, could intentionally or unintentionally share information that could result in imprisonment or death. Sometimes, Communist countries even encourage children to tattle on their parents, without realizing the potentially tragic consequences.

Communist countries also usually try to eliminate academics, lawyers and religious leaders by whatever means necessary, since those people could potentially mount a resistance, which results in a brain drain and lessens the possibility of a regime change. 

Dictatorships are never a good thing. Yes, some good may come of their time in power, but it is never worth the bloodshed and repression it brings. Whether in Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia or the Soviet Union and Russia, recent and ancient history is full of examples of abusive leaders who lost themselves and committed terrible crimes against humanity while in authority as a dictator.


Photo by Gage Skidmore