By Ben Pensant.
‘Revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts but moral conviction’
Fidel Castro, March 1959.
If there’s a quote that better crystallises the socialist utopia Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz maintained for 57 blissful years I’m yet to hear it. Granted, some prefer his iconic defence of state-sanctioned killings from the same year: ‘We are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it’. And with good reason too as it encapsulates the lies and violence that characterised Castro’s Cuba by insisting that innocent people and political opponents are not being executed while executing innocent people and political opponents.
Other fans like the Lineker-esque grooming-based wager he made with the Cuban public: ‘I’m not thinking to cut my beard because I’m accustomed to my beard…When we have fulfilled our promise of good government I will cut off my beard’. Which explains why when he died on Friday his face-fur was still intact.
And many look to the words he spoke in 2003 as proof that Castro’s dedication to first class education was almost as great as his dedication to imprisoning journalists and abducting homosexuals: ‘One of the greatest benefits of the revolution is that even our prostitutes are college graduates’. It’s a mark of Castro’s brilliance that he created not only an educated workforce but also an economy with bugger all use for it. But at least the hookers know how to say ‘fuck me in the mouth’ in five different languages.
But my chosen quote resonates because of a profound ideological clarity which still brings tears to my eyes. Not as many tears as the Castro opponents who ended up blindfolded with bullets in their brains but tears nonetheless. As newly unemployed footballer-cum-philosopher Joey Barton put it: ‘A giant of a man has passed’.
A giant indeed, looming large for six decades over all the people he oppressed, tortured and murdered. Though it’s unsurprising Joey has such affinity with Castro, as both he and the deceased tyrant have first hand experience of how dangerous cigars can be. Let’s hope he maintains his militant tendencies now he has so much time on his hands; the regressive left needs more principled recruits of his ilk. And few are more principled than Joey, who’s kind to animals, loves his mother and has been banned from more dressing rooms than Barry Bennell.
But it’s the emphasis on ‘moral conviction’ that makes that quote so memorable. Especially as it was spoken after Castro over-rode Cuban law and gave the right of appeal to prosecuters after a tribunal acquitted 44 members of Batista’s airforce. Happily, moral conviction won the day, there was a second trial and the airmen were sentenced to 30 years in jail. Which goes to show what all good progressives know; moral conviction trumps trivialities like the law and human rights any day of the week. And nowhere was this illustrated more than the reaction of high profile leftists to the death of their hero.
Indeed, this belief in moral conviction is so great that all manner of politicians, writers and celebrities have spent the last few days eulogising a dictator whose principles and values were anything but liberal. That the same people were decrying Donald Trump a week ago for his attacks on free speech and freedom of movement speaks volumes about how powerful that moral conviction is.
The fact that they then lauded an unelected fascist who banned free speech and free movement is a testament to their moral conviction. And if that means holding opposing ideas at the same time so be it – there’s nothing like the death of a communist dictator to being out the cognitive dissonance of liberals. Because cognitive dissonance is part of our identity and should be embraced, like laziness, victimhood and mental illness.
Unsurprisingly, the first to laud the Comandante was Jeremy Corbyn, who echoed his 2009 description of Hamas (‘dedicated to peace and social justice’) by declaring Castro a ‘champion of social justice’. It emphasises the Leader’s moral conviction that he has no hesitation in using the phrase ‘social justice’ to describe the policies of a man who sent gays and journalists to prison without trial. But when you’ve already used it in reference to a terrorist group who shoot protesters, fire rockets at civilians and have a written constitution calling for the genocide of Jews worldwide then applying it to a bearded dictator is a walk in the park.
Corbyn then praised Castro’s longevity, smirking as he discussed the US Presidents he’d outlived – a gold star for as far as anti-Western regressives like St Jezza are concerned. ‘It seems like he’s been with us forever’ gushed Corbyn, in tones usually reserved when a family pet or cuddly TV presenter dies rather than an illiberal tyrant who spent 6 decades oppressing, starving, abducting and murdering his own people.
Wisely, Corbyn didn’t expand upon why Castro has ‘been with us forever’ as that would involve mentioning the fact that there hasn’t been an election in Cuba since 1958. Because these are questions for Cubans to worry about, not brave souls like Corbyn who can happily fetishize repugnant regimes from the safety of their Islington allotment without having to think about all the people who suffer in them.
Luckily, Corbyn was nice enough to mention the attacks on freedom and human rights violations that have gone on in Cuba for nearly 60 years. By which I mean he treated Castro’s ‘victims’ with the respect they deserve by dismissing these abuses as ‘excesses’. Tory trolls would no doubt claim this is like saying ISIS throwing gays off roofs and raping children is ‘a bit over the top’. But in actual fact it shows how dedicated Corbyn is to the narrative. A narrative he protected with the relativist trick of pointing out that other countries have ‘excesses’ too. Which is 100% correct and Corbyn tends to be a big fan of these countries just so long as they’re enemies of the West.
Of course, Jezza’s whataboutery wasn’t intended to damn those countries but his own. Which, despite being one of the most liberal societies on the planet is infinitely inferior to a despotic technological black hole in which gays, journalists and anyone who criticises the government tends to be thrown in prison. And if that includes so-called comrades who’ve gone off message then so be it; as Corbyn showed when his Stop The War Coalition supported the Iraqi resistance as they bombed polling stations and murdered trade unionists, the modern left are happy to throw democracy and left-wing solidarity under the bus if it means siding with someone who hates the yanks.
Corbyn then pointed out what a ‘huge figure in our lives’ Castro was. Quite right too, though not as huge as he was in the lives of dissidents he exiled, gays he imprisoned, families he tore apart or opponents he murdered. He then praised Cuba’s education and health service, a common tactic among liberals who believe that high literacy and good hospitals cancel out poverty, censorship and having to queue six hours for a pint of milk. Hey, even Harold Shipman had a nice bedside manner.
On Castro’s health service, Corbyn neglected to mention that not all Cubans have access to it and that the speed and quality of someone’s treatment depends entirely on who they are. Which is just about the best advertisement for a functioning communist state I’ve ever heard. Because if the state takes on the responsibility of controlling every aspect of our lives you have to expect those who run the state to get some perks out of it. Otherwise you end up with meritocracy and no true leftist wants that.
No, the fantastic health service is reserved for tourists and government officials and if the doctor who treats them is lucky he might be on the same money as my paperboy. Proving that the moral conviction Castro spoke of would find its literal translation in his adopted motto ‘sociolismo o muerte’ – socialism or death.
To be fair, those without access to Cuba’s fantastic health service often ended up with socialism and death but hey, we all have to make sacrifices. Indeed, after the Soviet Union went tits up and the Cuban economy tanked, Castro was known to limit himself to only five or six cigars a day while millions of Cubans struggled to eat. Socialism or death, comrade.
But it wasn’t only the next Prime Minister of the UK who paid tribute to a dictator so fascistic he makes Donald Trump look like Jed Bartlett. For Saturday afternoon was a veritable free-for-all for regressive apologists to express their sadness at the death of a man who imprisoned 15,000 opponents, forced 1.5 million into exile and had nearly 3,600 shot by firing squad.
Ken Livingstone demonstrated his inability to discuss a topic without bringing Hitler into it by highlighting the hypocrisy of Brits criticising Castro for imprisoning opponents when during WW2 we threw Nazi supporters in jail. ‘We didn’t have an entirely functioning democracy in World War 2, it was shut down. The general election was cancelled, anyone expressing support for Hitler was thrown in jail’.
Brilliantly doing what he does best, Ken equated those fleeing Castro’s tyranny with far-right supremacists while also pointing out we shouldn’t get on our high horses about a country that had no democracy for 57 years when our own country stuck two fingers up at democracy by missing one election due to the fact that there was a world war on.
He then praised the ‘open and relaxed’ Cuban society he observed as a tourist – a common claim given that tourists are treated like royalty compared to Cubans – before conceding that Castro ‘initially wasn’t very good’ on gay rights, which is entirely true if your idea of ‘initially’ means ‘for two decades’. It’s also a bit like saying ISIS ‘aren’t crazy’ about civil partnerships. But fear not, Middle-Eastern queer community, if the rise of ISIS mirrors that of Castro you’ll only have to worry about being mutilated and thrown off roofs until about 2034 by which time you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
However, before right-wing trolls suggest Ken is condoning homophobic hate crime he clarified that ‘the key thing that mattered was people had good education, good healthcare and the wealth was evenly distributed’. All of which softens the blow of abducting and imprisoning people because of their sexuality. And his point about wealth distribution was entirely true as during Castro’s reign no wealth was distributed at all – you can’t get more even than that.
But Ken’s point is the supposedly ‘oppressed’ didn’t know how lucky they were. Because only the most privileged neo-liberal would whinge about being imprisoned in a labour camp when they have the luxury of being sufficiently educated to read the instructions on their weekly dose of painkillers.
Elsewhere George Galloway took time off from auditioning for the lead role in Ken Loach’s Genghis Khan biopic to gush ‘You were the greatest man I ever met. You were the man of the century’. Luckily for George most of the other dictators he’s said the same thing to are dead. Which is fortunate as the likes of Saddam and Chavez weren’t keen on playing second fiddle to some Cuban with a beard. Let’s hope George’s other favourite tyrant Bashar al Assad has a thicker skin as I’d hate to see Mr G get on the wrong side of the amiable Syrian.
Speaking of authoritarians beloved of British regressives, Galloway’s other man of the century Vladimir Putin was quick to air his sadness, praising Castro for embodying ‘the highest ideals of politics’, presumably the highest ideal in this case being a one party state that imprisons gays and murders opponents.
On a similar theme, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei – himself partial to a bit of ideological cleansing and state-sanctioned murder – lauded Castro in somewhat curt fashion: ‘I extensively talked with Castro in person. It is his personality to believe and rely on people’. Indeed, as any tyrant would agree, the ability to believe those who tell you your beard looks fantastic while relying on them to arrest and murder people on your behalf is vital for a dictatorship to thrive.
Let’s hope the Ayatollah isn’t too heartbroken though. Remember, Seyid, your delightful theocracy’s 40th is three years away and that mediocre non-entity of a British backbencher who came to your 35th anniversary bash is kind of a big deal now. So you may have had your last chinwag with Castro but there’s another bearded revolutionary happy to take his place, kneel to Mecca and chew the fat about hanging gays from cranes.
As if the kind words by these honourable statesmen weren’t principled enough, Irish President Michael Higgins praised Castro for surviving 600 assassination attempts, providing ‘freedom for his people’ and creating a country that was ‘determinedly independent’. So independent in fact, that the second the Soviet Union fell off a cliff the Cuban economy followed suit, as it did years later when the arse fell out of that other socialist utopia it was financially beholden to, Venezuela.
Higgins also pointed out that ‘inequality and poverty are much less pronounced than in surrounding nations’. Indeed, there is very little inequality in Cuba as pretty much everyone has fuck all. The fact that so many Cubans happily co-exist at the same level of impoverishment is a testament to the enduring principles of Communism and I’m sure Higgins would love to experience first hand the joy of state-controlled media, no freedom of movement and having to queue 12 hours for a banana.
Not far behind, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau praised the ‘larger than life leader who served his people for half a century’. The fact that he did this by running a one party state in which elections were banned doesn’t seem to concern Justin, dismissing the tyrant as a ‘controversial figure’, as if he were a TV presenter in a spot of bother for making an off-colour joke instead of a brutal dictator who ruled a country through fear and punishment.
Of course, Justin is a self-confessed feminist who applauds gender segregation so we shouldn’t be surprised that he would recognise the mass murderer’s ‘tremendous love for the Cuban people’. Indeed, as every authoritarian leader in history would agree, sometimes the best way to expresss your love for The People is by brutalising them for 50-odd years and plunging them into penury while you live in luxury. It’s called Communism folks. Get used to it.
Gerry Adams, meanwhile, spoke fondly of Castro, in particular his knowledge of Irish history: ‘He was a good friend to the Irish people and an admirer of our struggle, especially the hunger striker of 1981’. Indeed, hunger was something Castro admired a great deal, judging by the fact that his expert grasp of economics ensured several generations of Cubans spent their whole lives bloody famished.
Equally, President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker proved his obsession with liberal values such as workers’ rights and freedom of movement extends only to those countries who fund his crumbling bureaucracy: ‘The world has lost a man who was a hero to many…His legacy will be judged by history’ intoned Juncker, unconcerned at the hypocrisy of a man who promotes free movement of people praising a government that forbids most of its citizens from leaving the country. Which, of course, is pure pro-Western propaganda; Cubans are more than welcome to leave Cuba, just as long as they don’t mind chancing their arm on a flimsy raft in choppy waters where the only thing more dangerous than the sharks are the government boats patrolling the ocean. And people say these ingrates are oppressed?
Still, Juncker has proven over the last year that he is somewhat unmoved by desperate people dying on rafts. Here’s hoping he turns the tables on Western Supremacy by imposing stiff trade embargos on Britain for having the temerity to leave the EU. I somehow doubt Theresa May will have the nous to respond to such economy-destroying restrictions in the moral, resilient manner that Castro did but I’m fairly certain she won’t use it as an excuse to execute thousands of her own people, send millions of them into exile and starve or imprison the rest. The cowardly bitch.
On social media the responses were as pleasantly predictable as ever. Northern Soul-loving, loose-lipped lefty Paul Mason took to Twitter to declare that 50 years of totalitarianism and impoverishment was the fault of the West and nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Communist states have a habit of descending into totalitarianism and impoverishment: ‘USA punished them with poverty/isolation. USSR used them as pawns. RIP Fidel, Viva the Cuban ppl!’. Whether Mason’s closing ‘viva’ was directed at the ‘ppl’ who Castro imprisoned, tortured or murdered wasn’t clear. Though it’s good to know that the man roundly proclaimed by regressives as a ‘visionary’ was so great and powerful he created a society incapable of functioning without being entirely dependent on two superpowers. One of which he was more than willing to help nuke on behalf of the other. Now that’s vision.
Elsewhere, US Green Party leader Jill Stein took time off from questioning the integrity of her country’s democracy to praise a dictator who actively opposed democracy: ‘Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!’ Stirring stuff, and bang on – if there was one thing Castro ‘struggled’ with it was justice. In fact, along with democracy he struggled with it for 57 years. Indeed, despite promising to hold free elections prior to the revolution of 1959, Castro found justice and democracy such a struggle that most Cubans saw as much of them during his reign as they did soap, toothpaste and newspapers that reported actual news.
Coming full circle, Corbyn fanboy and ‘prison abolitionist’ Aaron Bastani took to Twitter and radio to criticise Guantanamo Bay, the trade embargo, the US judicial system, American democracy, Saudi Arabia, Kings Landing, Darth Vader, lung cancer and any other bad thing he could think of to avoid acknowledging the brutality of Castro’s regime. Interviewed by Julia Hartley Brewer he claimed Cuba’s ills were all down to America, using China as an example of how a Communist state can flourish if allowed to trade. Which is a valid point even if it does ignore the fact that China is a free-market capitalist economy as far removed from the financial and technological backwater of Castro’s Cuba as Aaron is from someone whose knowledge of prisons runs deeper than a Bad Girls box-set.
But it was the BBC who really excelled themselves by reacting to Castro’s death in the non-biased way we’ve come to expect; whitewashing his ‘flaws’, romanticising the revolution and generally giving the impression of a quirky eccentric who divided opinion, like Noel Edmonds in khakis. Though it’s safe to say the last group of people who stood in a line in front of Castro with their hands behind their backs ended up in a lot more discomfort than anyone who’s ever opened a box for the erstwhile Swap Shop legend.
Their rolling news coverage avoided words such as ‘despot’ and ‘tyrant’, preferring the partisan likes of ‘revolutionary’ and ‘hero’, and went to great pains to stress that evidence of atrocities carried out by Castro were merely ‘accusations’, his style of leadership ‘wasn’t without flaws’, and only ‘some’ thought he was a mass-murdering dictator whose authoritarian rule kept Cuba in the dark ages for six painful decades. Brilliant, even handed stuff – take note, Daily Fail – and I’m sure the BBC will react in the exact same way the next time a homophobic mass murderer shuffles off this mortal coil. Though they missed a trick on Saturday night by not having Gary Lineker present Match of the Day decked out in fatigues, smoking a huge cigar and threatening to send Ian Wright to re-education camp unless he removes those queer specs.
But even without the superior education and shiny hospitals, Castro cemented his place in the hearts of liberals decades ago with his determination to stick it to the yanks. Okay, he stuck it to millions of his own people in the process. But they knew the deal and should have felt honoured to play such a huge part in history by dying in the name of Communism. But were they grateful? I doubt it. These days you cant even execute someone by firing squad without them whingeing about their human rights. If you’re reading, Jezza, rest assured; come the 2020 revolution I’ll gladly live in abject poverty, be tortured in a labour camp or take a bullet in the heart if it means bringing freedom, fortitude and fascism to this sceptic isle.
Viva la muerte!