Sam Leith (Evening Standard 28th November) and Zoe Williams (The Guardian) were tripping over each other and themselves in their endeavours to brand Fidel Castro a ruthless, bestial dictator. And anyone who dared to think otherwise was guilty of naïve 6th form politics. Both are competent enough journalists, and on their day, damn good ones. A pity then, that on this occasion they, along with dozens of other ‘liberal’ commentators, were guilty of the same bourgeois journalistic failing – that of allowing themselves to become divorced from the material reality of their subject. It’s not that both Leith and Williams do not make some valid points – they do. Arbitrary thuggish state repression is just that, no matter whether it comes from the right or the left – particularly if one is on the receiving end. But criticisms of Castro, like any great historical figure, becomes totally devoid of meaning if divorced from the concrete reality from which they emerged. This is as true for Castro as it is for all the ‘great’ socialist revolutionaries of the 20th

century. When you read the above- mentioned articles it transpires that it is our esteemed ‘liberal’ journalists who are guilty of high school journalism and not those that seek a balanced assessment.

By way of illustration, I might recall, for the belated edification and enlightenment of our two tawdry journalists, a tiny fragment of first-hand experience I picked up in my more youthful revolutionary days. As part of one of the international brigades travelling to Nicaragua in support of the Sandinista revolution, it soon dawned on me just what sort of material conditions it takes to motivate a downtrodden people to rise up against their brutish masters and to support a left-wing revolution.

 The principle job of we internationalists was to pick the coffee crop thus freeing up the local Sandinistas to defend themselves against the dirty war that had been unleashed upon them by good old Uncle Sam. (Thomas Borges, a leading member of the Sandinista revolutionary Government had proclaimed that Somoza’s US trained National Guard thugs were free to leave the country unharmed so long as they did not attempt to thwart the popular will. They duly left where they quickly regrouped under CIA tutelage and CIA illegal arm shipments.) In addition to freeing up the workforce, we also provided the added benefit of helping to break the international isolation that the revolution was experiencing. I suspect the latter was significantly more important than the former.

Our provisions for our 12-hour shift of back-breaking work were three servings of rice and red kidney beans - tedious beyond belief compared to our usual varied western diets. When we quizzed our hosts as to why the diet was so limited, they gently explained that this post-revolutionary diet was in fact a real luxury. Prior to the revolution, the peasant diet had consisted of just one bowl of rice and beans and if they were too sick to work they didn’t eat at all. That firmly put us back in our internationalist box. We soon understood that post US dictatorship, the Nicaraguan peasants were now living in a near paradise. Three meals a day, whether you worked or not. Dairy food and vegetables were slowly being introduced into the local diet but it was slow largely because the peasants had never learned how to farm. Their role in the US global empire was simply to grow and harvest the cash crop of coffee for the world market.

As for Nicaragua, so it was for US controlled Cuba, the only difference being the cash crop – sugar instead of coffee.  But the miserable slave conditions for the general populous was exactly the same. And as it was for Cuba and Nicaragua so it was for the rest of Central and South America – one giant US imposed brutal right wing dictatorship. Surely Leith and Williams would not dispute this most basic of historical facts? And every time a democratic pulse emerged, the US military-industrial complex would step in to ruthlessly repress it. Is it any wonder progressive movements anywhere in the world were forced to turn to the Soviet Union for some form of protection and support?

This US repression was not some sort of gentle, behind-the-scenes persuasion. No sir, it was full-on, blatant fascist terror. Throughout the sub-continent, the CIA engineered coup after coup against anything remotely looking like an independent, progressive political government, and in its place, came a violent fascist dictatorship. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and of course Cuba.    

Two young German girls from our international brigade ignored Sandinista advice and decided to travel to a nearby village in search of some much sought-after eggs. Mistake. The two girls were picked up by the local Contra, brutally raped, skinned alive and then left on the roadside as a stark warning to their fellow internationalists. Cathy Newman of Channel Four news, famous for her increasingly rabid anti- Corbyn, anti-Castro bile, might care to consult with her colleague, Jon Snow, about the brutality of the US sponsored death squads in the region. (In his youthful days, Snow produced some stunning documentary work on this very topic but perhaps age and the good life has somewhat blunted his once fine journalistic instincts.)

If we were to attempt to define the essence of the 20th century we could do worse than to declare it to be the global dictatorship of capital, albeit interrupted by the often grim but in some sense, quite miraculous seventy -year survival of the Soviet Union. And this global dictatorship persists to this day, notwithstanding the ambiguous nature of the Peoples Republic of China and the equally miraculous survival of Socialist Cuba. This dictatorship of global capital is the dictatorship that surely defines our era and not the varied sometimes heroic, sometimes brutal responses to it. Leith and Williams might care to ponder on this proposition. They might also care to recall that the young Soviet revolution, with all its early humanistic ideals, was almost immediately invaded by no less than fourteen counter-revolutionary foreign armies, collectively seeking to strangle the infant idealist in its cradle. Little wonder that hard men like Stalin emerged as a response. Ditto in Cuba. A wholly legitimate democratic uprising by the Cuban people against a bestial US installed dictatorship was met by a further US invasion and countless assassination attempts. When those little wheezes failed, an illegal blockade was imposed on the island, a blockade whose cruel debilitating effects are still being felt to this day. This my dear journalistic friends is what is meant by the dictatorship of capital.

All of this is not to say that we should not criticise revolutionary leaderships and do so with rigor. That is a journalistic duty. The revolutions of the 21st century must learn from the perceived mistakes of the 20th and journalists can be an important part of that process. A primitive, medieval attitude towards homosexuality is one such lesson that must be learnt. A fear of democratic debate and diversity of opinion is another. But if we make these criticisms in isolation from the material conditions in which they occurred, then it is just so much verbiage and of little real value. As a former A-Level history teacher I routinely underlined this basic lesson of historiography and for the most part the students seemed to grasp it with ease. Leith and Williams appear to be having a little more difficulty.

As for the nature of Fidel himself; strange that we invariably find him on the progressive side of history. Unlike the Western governments, his government provided consistent moral and material aid to those fighting the corrupt Apartheid regimes in Southern Africa. And the main export of Cuba was not terror but medics. That alone should have been a significant hint for our esteemed journalists.     

End JPK Copyright 3/12/16

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