Bernie Sanders Backed Socialist Workers Party–Leader Defended Iran During Hostage Crisis

urlington, Vermont's Socialist Mayor Bernard Sanders formally announced in Montpelier, March 10, 1988, that he intends to run for Vermont's lone congressional seat. Sanders called for a national health care system, a change in how national priorities are established, and supports a verifiable disarmament treaty. (AP Photo/Craig Line)
AP Photo/Craig Line

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is coming off a strong victory in Nevada, has repeatedly told supporters he has remained consistent in his call for Democrat socialism but has largely failed to address his affiliation with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) — a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party wing in the United States, whose leader openly backed Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis roughly 40 years ago.

Sanders, the current Democrat Party frontrunner, and his supporters have routinely touted the consistency of his message throughout the primary process.

“The ideas that I am fighting for now didn’t come to me yesterday,” Sanders said in October, according to the Washington Post.

“I’ve been on more picket lines, I expect, than all my opponents combined over the last 30 years,” he continued.

“Having a long record gives people the understanding that these ideas that I am talking about — they are in my guts. They are in my heart,” he added. “This is who I am as a human being, and it ain’t gonna change.”

While Sanders openly embraced socialist positions during his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in the ’80s, his association with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which aimed to usher in “the abolition of capitalism through the establishment of a Workers and Farmers Republic,” has been largely swept under the rug.

Sanders openly supported the SWP’s leader and presidential candidate, Andrew Pulley, in 1980, even serving as an elector for the SWP. Pulley openly condemned what he described as the “anti-Iranian hysteria around the U.S. hostages” and “Carter’s war drive against the Iranian people.” He repeated Iranian talking points, suggesting that many of the hostages were spies. Pulley and his runningmate even released a statement, calling on the United States to “end its attacks on the Iranian revolution.”

Sanders’ support of the SWP was consistent, even after the 1980 election. In 1981, the socialist spoke at a rally for Pulley and proclaimed that the SWP had “been treated with cold contempt by the United States government” and seemingly defended the party’s defense of Iran throughout the Iranian hostage crisis:

Even worse, he went on, apparently referring to the Iranian hostage crisis, “now anybody who stands up and fights and says things is automatically a terrorist.” He claimed that he had been investigated himself by the FBI because “I was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party,” referring to his formal role in the 1980 election with the Trotskyists.

While a Sanders campaign spokesman tried to distance Sanders from the rhetoric touted by Pulley, for whom he campaigned,  even Snopes admitted that Sanders was clearly not disturbed by the pro-Iran rhetoric enough to withdraw his active support.

“Senator Sanders did not think the hostages were spies nor did he support their captivity. Any suggestion otherwise is nonsense,” a spokesperson told Snopes.

Sanders continued to champion the SWP’s cause, reportedly participating in a “Campaign Kick-Off Rally” in Boston in 1982. He went on to support SWP presidential nominee Mel Mason, a former Black Panther and former Seaside City Council member, in 1984.

“We want to change the society in this country from one that puts profits first to one that puts human needs before profits,” Mason said in 1984, according to an archived New York Times article.

At the time, Mason praised Cuba and Nicaragua as “the greatest example of a Socialist government.”

“The greatest example of a Socialist government is Cuba, and Nicaragua is right behind, but it’s still developing,” he said.

Notably, Sanders has come under fire in recent days for praising aspects of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s brutal regime, arguing that it is “unfair” to say everything was “bad” under his oppressive reign.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said during an appearance on 60 Minutes.

“When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” he asked:

As Breitbart News detailed, the education system in Cuba is abysmal, with zero parental choice, deteriorating schools, and severe punishment for dissidents.

Mason, who viewed the socialist revolution in Cuba with apparent admiration, told the Washignton Examiner that Sanders was “pretty in-the-camp with us and other socialist organizations.”

“We talked regularly and he also said that if I ever made it to Burlington, he was going to give me a key to the city,” he told the outlet, noting that they maintained a “long-distance relationship” that effectively drifted after Sanders made it to Congress.

“I didn’t have as much contact anymore. I have a lot of respect for him, but I just don’t think the programs he put forward are what workers need in this country,” he continued.

“We were calling for the formation of an independent revolutionary labor party. We felt that it was necessary for workers in this country to enact a revolution,” he added.

While Sanders’ close involvement with the SWP has remained largely unaddressed, he has continued in his calls for a “political revolution to transform this country.”

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