Editor’s Note: John McTernan is a former speech writer for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-communications director to former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
John McTernan: Leaders on the left are mourning Fidel Castro's death
The dictator should be a source of shame for them, he writes
A dictator is dead. Another country’s citizens may be ready to abandon the discredited and economically disastrous ideology of communism. Citizens can hope that free speech, a free press and human rights will become the order of the day.
A moment to celebrate, surely? Not for the left. For them, the death of Fidel Castro is one of sadness. Take Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, who said: “Fidel Castro’s death marks the passing of a huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th century socialism.”
In truth, the only part of that statement which is accurate is the last bit. Castro is a footnote in world history, a man who made his country subservient – both to him and the Soviet Union – rather than independent. He did, though, demonstrate conclusively over more than five decades that a socialist economy is only good for one thing – immiserating an entire nation.
Tributes have been flowing in from the usual suspects: Presidents Maduro of Venezuela, Morales of Bolivia and Correa of Ecuador were highly effusive. What explains the left’s abject apologies for a brutal dictator – a man who had thousands of Cubans executed?
The first is an instinctive anti-Americanism. For many on the left, the rule is “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” With Fidel a sworn enemy of the US, he had to be supported whatever he did. (Though that kind of moral relativism was routinely – and rightly – condemned by the left when extended by President Reagan to authoritarian regimes of the right.)
Without any irony, praise is given for the Cuban leader’s longevity and how he outlasted so many US Presidents, without any consideration of the contribution that never having an election made to his lengthy rule.
Second is the view that the end justifies the means. The Cuban health and education systems are prayed in aid, as if their successes justify the human rights abuses that are regularly highlighted by Amnesty International and other independent observers. The world actually abounds in examples of countries which manage to combine excellence in health care and education with democracy. In fact, pre-revolutionary Cuba had a substantially lower infant mortality rate than the rest of Latin America.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, it was a relatively well off, “middle income” country with wealth comparable to Southern states of the United States. It took hard work, a commitment to communism and state-owned enterprises to destroy the growing prosperity of Cuba.
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Still, neither of these positions fully explain the left’s fandom for Fidel. The third and most disturbing reason for this support is a leftist fetish for violence. Revolutions and dictatorship are brutal and violent. For Castro’s apologists they are not merely unfortunate and regrettable byproducts of change, they are an essential part of his appeal.
The military garb, the cult of Che Guevara, are both aspects of this. There is something atavistic in the left’s love of Cuba, which is undoubtedly connected to the feeling that violent overthrow is an easier path to victory than the necessity of winning over hearts and minds in a democratic election.
The death of Castro should be the death of any lingering belief in socialism as a distinct and beneficial form of economic organization. Instead, it has been used as the opportunity to celebrate “a champion of social justice.” That shouldn’t just raise questions on the left, it should be a source of shame.