Fidel Castro was perhaps the best communist. This is, of course, to damn him with faint praise but it is nonetheless worth noting that he murdered thousands rather than millions of his people and never drove his nation to economic collapse. He was a sincere and courageous man whose more than five decade long defiance of the world’s leading superpower will be remembered among history’s most audacious achievements. Still, he was a communist: cruel, in his oppression of political opponents, and deluded and incompetent, as a man who, with his comrades, believed in the creation of a “new man”, “selfless and cooperative, obedient and hard working”, yet left behind an impoverished, corrupt and stiflingly repressive society. That Marxists praise him with such vehement hyperbole is evidence of just how much their representatives have failed.
The deaths of public figures are a time for political football. People tend to expect unqualified denunciation of oppressive politicians who oppose their broad ambitions yet doggedly excuse or at least contextualise the oppression of politicians who share them. Many of the people who are outraged by the notion that one might praise Castro for anything believe that one should balance the cruelty of Pinochet against the economic achievements of his administration. Others who are rhapsodising about Cuban schools and hospitals would be appalled to hear praise of the general. Civilisation was built on enough slaughter and oppression that it is naive to judge dead rulers by their darkest acts. This is especially true of rulers in the Third World, where social problems are so great and institutions are so weak that even good man are tempted towards brutality. We should take their whole legacies into account – a measure by which even the best of the communists fails.