Steve Watson

 

      Information: Opinions: My Opinion

 
 

21/02/2008

On Castro's Resignation

 

Well, no, not really. The title should really be something like ‘Thoughts on the Occasion of Castro’s Resignation;’ but then people might expect poetry. All I wish to do here is make some remarks with reference to a conversation that I had with a small group of graduate students a year or two ago in which Castro’s Cuba came up.

 

In that conversation I suffered through a series of fashionable leftist imbecilities while holding my tongue for the sake of good fellowship. (I had been warned previously about my ‘rudeness’ when I suggested to a graduate in ‘Peace Studies’ that her proposal to spend a year teaching ‘conflict resolution’ to children in Cambodia was a piece of ridiculous self-indulgence, misery tourism, patronising modern missionary work, of no earthy use to the Cambodians, and a transparent excuse for exotic adventures (Save Redfern first!)) Anyway, in the course of this conversation there was much said about the totalitarian horrors of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s period of rule in Queensland. There was outrage at the corruption, the failure to enact decent welfare legislation, the bulldozing of ancient (well, old, anyway) landmarks in the dead of night, the control of the press through fear, and so on. The Joh regime was apparently an appalling thing that no right-minded person could defend, and could even justify massive protest to the level of revolution. Maybe so. I can’t judge whether these complaints are well-founded or not, since I wasn’t here, and no one’s interested now anyway. But I was surprised to hear just a few minutes later that Cuba has a much better health system than Australia, so Castro has to be admired for that. And, of course, for doing this in the face of a bullying superpower’s unjustifiable embargo. The claim is ludicrous in many ways, but that isn’t the point of this memoir. When I wondered, quietly and politely, whether he should really be forgiven for running a tropical gulag, imprisoning, librarians, murdering opponents, hiring his army out to the Soviet Union, oppressing even the sainted homosexuals, etc. just because he had given Cubans a good health system, the response was that, well, people will put up with a good deal of government misbehaviour if they can just be assured of the necessaries of life.

 

This logical blindness was so staggering to me that I was unable to formulate a polite reply. I think my offhand comment was that they weren’t so forgiving to Joh. Not that I think that they should have been - but, really, compare the two cases. I was reminded of a comment by John Derbyshire that captures one impression I took from that conversation perfectly:

 

Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy. Won’t they ever learn? No, their stupidity is impenetrable. They will never learn.

 

The other impression I took (hardly a novel one) was that ‘the left’ will put up with an amazing amount of oppression of other people as long as it can be painted as twisting the tail of the Great Satan. That wouldn’t be so objectionable or dangerous in itself - ‘the right,’ for example, would admit that the comment “he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch” describes the motivation for much of the foreign policy that they approve. The problem with the left is that they just can’t be honest about this. Instead they have to twist their principles into a mess in order to justify their natural desire to support the enemy of their enemy. They must convince themselves that their partisanship is justified by something nobler and purer than that, because they are nobler and purer than that. It is almost inevitable that conceptual incoherence and practical incompetence will follow from such a practice; and this is what we see. Cuba isn’t even nearly the most egregious case. The very worst was the support of the Soviet Union or Maoist China; but the most pitiable is the current tendency of the left to associate itself with the resurgent Jihadist movements in Islam, treating them as if they were some sort of national liberation movement, or anti-imperialists, or anti-free traders, or what have you.

 

Further reading: Norm Geras ‘The Reductions of the Left’ Dissent, Winter, 2005.