It can be hard, even impossible, to make significant achievements in this world without doing harm. Let us not be euphemistic and reference omelettes and eggs. Sometimes you have to kill people to save other people. Still, it is striking how the Marxist commentator Sam Kriss writes movingly of Victor Jara, the Chilean singer who was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s firing squads, and then eulogises Fidel Castro without mentioning that the Cuban summarily executed hundreds of his foes.
“In Cuba we survived,” writes this English millenial, avoiding the irony of his being able to attack his government on the Internet when a Cuban cannot criticise the Castro regime and until eight years could not even own a computer.
Still, Kriss must feel that the cause justifies this oppression. The benefits of socialism must be so exceptional, and so endangered, that such measures become a necessity. After all, as he writes, “For decades Cuba was a light to Latin America and the world”. A light to the world! Truly, a paradise on Earth. Well, no. How one can apply this notion to a poor, under-resourced, corrupt society is beyond me. Hats off to the education system for achieving Cuba’s admirable literacy rates but with such limitations on what you can read and write, and such little opportunity for innovation, that knowledge is worth less than it might be elsewhere. People who use their learning for dissent and irreverence are still tossed into jail. The idea of this vulnerable Eden struggling to defend its riches is pathetic.
Still, Cuba is far from being the worst country in the world. British allies are by any measure more obnoxious. I will even state again that one thing gives Castro undeniable poetic resonance: his apparently indomitable defiance of the world’s richest and best-armed superpower. Yet I resent the Lost Cause mythologising of Marxists, who often dwell on South America where, communist atrocities notwithstanding, leftists were often treated with spectacular cruelty. “We’re doomed,” Kriss mourns, “And we fight anyway, against it all.” Yet communists have not been victims of history. From Russia to China to Korea, Albania, Vietnam, Cambodia, Romania and Ethiopia communists have toppled governments and replaced them. What a record of sweeping intercontinental triumphs for the odd theories of a long-dead German philosopher! What an astonishing series of achievements! The problem is that Marxists are not keen to associate themselves with the killing, torture, theft, rape and famine that soon followed them. Without Yankee imperialists to blame they can only accuse old comrades of betraying the cause. With no desire to launch into Kołakowskian exegesis of communist dogma I can only say that “triumphs” so liable to prompt bloodbaths are probably not worth seeking – and that once you accept savage means of achieving desired ends you are less able to prevent savagery from spreading. But ideologues are deaf – or, at least, hard of hearing. How can one take seriously people who think they were the plucky heroes of a time when Mao, Hoxha, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Kim Il-Sung, Mariam and Ceaușescu slaughtered millions? It makes the most ardent admirers of General Lee seem balanced. Even the Castros have lost their claims to being underdogs. In 2016, with Obama attempting to normalise relationships with Cuba and the CIA about as liable to organise as a coup as to send a Christmas card to Julian Assange, they were still carting dozens of peaceful protestors off to jail. Communists have been victims, like the unfortunate Victor Jara, but more often than not they have been oppressors.