Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
To paraphrase the old VE jump-rope rhyme, “A-tisket, a-tasket, Castro’s in his casket.” The last of the Cold War Soviet stooges has gone the way of his communist masters.
Encomia from the usual useful idiots are lighting up the internet, but don’t mind them. Like tantrum-throwing college students and George Soros rent-a-protestors, they are a machine for producing Republican voters. The Dem-wits, on the other hand, should pay attention to the Cuban immigrants and expatriates celebrating in Miami. They might find there a clue to how they lost Florida and the whole government. Opening up trade, as their messiah Obama did, with a regime that pockets all the profits while it jails protestors, that gives workers eight cents of every starry-eyed tourist’s dollar, makes for bad optics. Canoodling with a brutal dictator who crushes dissent, persecutes homosexuals, excludes blacks from the government, abuses the church, monopolizes wealth, and tortures dissidents in his gulag is not the way to win American votes.
And discount the extravagant praise for Castro’s political genius. For all his Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and international fan-boys, Castro was a typical, but savvier, Latin American dictator––a cacique, caudillo, jefe, El Señor Presidente, El Gran Chingon, a glorified version of the General Mapache from The Wild Bunch. If not for the Cold War, he would long ago have met the same gruesome fate as those other strutting, bombastic oppressors. Only with billions of dollars in Soviet support and cash for overpriced sugar––and John Kennedy’s foreign policy bungling–– was he able to leverage being 90 miles from the U.S into a geopolitical significance far beyond his deserts, along the way almost igniting a nuclear war. He paid the Soviets back by letting them use his soldiers as imperialist mercenaries in Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. After the USSR vanished like Trotsky from a May Day photo, oil and $18 billion in loans and grants from his fellow dictator Húgo Chavez, along with foreign investment from running-dog capitalists, kept Cuba from collapse. Castro repaid Húgo by skimming thousands of his doctors and other skilled professionals needed at home, and sending them to Venezuela.
More importantly, Castro, like many other Third-World communists or the PLO jihadists, was a genius at exploiting the romance of revolutionary violence and the radical chic endemic among Western bourgeois parlor pinks and caviar communists. For Europeans, Canadians, and a small number of Americans before Obama’s recent softening of travel restrictions, carefully orchestrated and surveilled tours of Cuba were like the hajj to Mecca for Western lefties. Like their political ancestors in the twenties and thirties gaping at the Soviet’s Potemkin economy, these rich, well-fed, politically free beneficiaries of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism ignored or rationalized away the poor, hungry, repressed Cubanos hidden behind the pastel-colored belle époque hotels and the restored ’57 Chevies.
Indeed, Cuba under Castro was perhaps the premier example of progressive moral idiocy and intellectual incoherence. Style and empty slogans like “A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past” trumped consistent principle and morality. Castro’s simple military uniform, his field cap, his cigar, his bushy beard; Che Guevara’s similar get-up improved by his matinee-idol looks and martyr’s death, seduced and thrilled comfortable Westerners who never worried about their next meal, or losing their freedom to slander their countries while giving aid and comfort to their enemies; who never feared the rifle-butts pounding their doors in the night, or the feel of El Che’s cold pistol on the back of their necks. So they strained authoritarian gnats allied with the West, while swallowing totalitarian camels working to destroy the West and the very freedom they enjoyed. That’s why psychopaths like Che and Mao still adorn hipster tee shirts, while Ronald Reagan, who helped free millions from communist tyranny, is still the left’s favorite “fascist.”
Of course, it was Castro and his regime who had more in common with fascism. The state’s control and plundering of the economy, the repression of human rights, the secret police, and the cult of personality surrounding the messianic leader are classic fascism. Likewise, apologies for Castro’s brutality always ring changes on those for Mussolini: “he made the trains run on time.” Bernie Sanders is a Castro fan, and even when he dialed back his praise during the Democrat primary, he had to say, “it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in healthcare, they are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.”
We see here the morally bankrupt utilitarian calculus of progressives like Thomas Freidman, who waxes lyrical on China’s airports and wishes we could have a tyrant for a while. Historically illiterate, they don’t realize that for five thousand years, tyrants who monopolize resources and force can achieve a lot, at least in the short term. Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin in the thirties were admired for the great leaps in economic and infrastructure development, even as they murdered millions and turned their societies into police states. But all that improvement cost about 65 million dead.
And Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes ultimately collapsed, as do all governments eventually that oppress their peoples and deny them freedom, the most important resource for human development and flourishing. It’s no surprise that Pharaoh could build the Great Pyramid or the Great King of Persia erect Persepolis, able as they were to coerce battalions of forced labor. The real miracle is the Athenian Parthenon, constructed by free citizens who voted in the Assembly to pay for it. More important, today Persepolis and the pyramids are Ozymandian fragments of long-lost greatness. But the Parthenon, though battered by time like the others, represents not the power and ego of a great king, but the ideals of political freedom and citizen self-rule it celebrated 2400 years ago, and that are still vibrant in our political order today.
Finally, the enduring fascination of the Western left with Cuba and Castro demonstrates their unhealthy lust for totalitarian power. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath’s slur against her own sex, they “adore a fascist, the boot in the face, the brute.” They may call it progressivism, dress it up with pseudo-science and pretenses to rational thought, perfume it with duplicitous calls for “freedom” and “equality,” but deep in their lizard brains is an ancient love of power, their seduction by Satan’s lie that we can be as gods. No matter the cost in freedom and human dignity, progressives will always choose the Great Leader and admire his willingness to break any number of eggs for the the mythical utopian omelet.
So good riddance, Fidel. Our totalitarian wannabes will have to find another thug to admire.