Then, as now, Sanders campaigned on socialism, trying to set himself apart by articulating a vision of a more radical equality in this country, and a more peaceful approach to the world (before he sought out sister city status with Yaroslavl, he did the same with Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua).
But in the 1980s, many socialists in the US weren’t good at separating the fearmongering in the US from the very real life-or-death issues that plagued the Soviet Union, and Sanders was no exception.
And so he went to the USSR, and didn’t visit the dissident up the road.
There was a way to visit the Soviet Union the right way. Take feminist poet and thinker Audre Lorde, who traveled to Moscow and Uzbekistan (then a Soviet republic) in 1976, the only American invited to the Union of Soviet Writers’ Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference. She praised the government’s stated policy of multiculturalism but contrasted that with the reality on the ground. She wrote in Notes From a Trip to Russia: “I felt that there were many things we were not seeing.” She was excited that the Soviet Union promised to put people, as opposed to profit, “at the core,” but, she wrote, “I am not always convinced that human beings are at the core here, either.”