Back to the Future
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Recently a public forum entitled “Is Communism Dead?” was held in Washington, D.C. Among the participants was Harry Wu, a human rights campaigner who spent 19 years in a Chinese labor camp, the laogai, for no reason other than criticizing Mao’s Communist Party. The speakers agreed that the battle over the legacy of communism is a difficult one.
True, communism is no longer practiced anywhere, except for North Korea and Cuba. But some 17 years after the Berlin Wall was breached, U.S.S.R. outfits and t-shirts bearing the image of Castro’s henchman, Che Guevara, are not uncommon in the West. What does that say about the appeal of a philosophy responsible for murdering a hundred million people? Far from being a taboo like its intellectual sibling, Nazism, communism is chic among the youth in many countries.
Part of the blame for the lack of universal condemnation of communism, like the one that justly befell Nazism, rests with the left-leaning intellectual elite in the West. Having spent decades of their lives defending communism, many intellectuals find it difficult to admit that they were wrong.
Instead, they opted for a strategy aimed at resurrecting at least some of communism’s lost appeal. The idea is to minimize the evil committed in the name of communism and maximize its achievements, while doing the inverse vis-à-vis liberal-democracy.
Take Alexandre Trudeau, a journalist and the son of Canada’s previous Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Alexandre wrote an article lionizing Castro that appeared in Canada’s Star on August 13, 2006. The piece is a typical example of the battle for the legacy of communism. It is a piece of shameless propaganda that would make Stalin’s little helpers at the Soviet Ministry of Information blush. In the article, Mr. Trudeau calls Castro “a giant,” “a superman,” “a great scientific mind,” and “the most curious man that I have ever met.” He comments on Castro’s “Herculean physique,” “extraordinary personal courage,” and “monumental intellect.”
Raving about communism is nothing new. Manning Clark, an Australian historian, said of Lenin that he was “Christ-like, at least in his compassion.” H. G. Wells’ had a grand impression of Stalin, “I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is, and nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. I had thought before I saw him that he might be where he was because men were afraid of him but I realize that he owes his position to the fact that no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him.”
But back to Cuba. So how come many Cubans risk the sea voyage to escape the paradise island? Who is responsible for Cuba’s poverty? Why, America, of course. As Mr. Trudeau puts it, “Cuba under Castro is a remarkably literate and healthy country, but it is undeniably poor. Historians will note, however, that never in modern times has a small, peaceful country been more subjected to unfair and malicious treatment by a superpower than Cuba has by the United States.”
Never mind that Castro’s madness brought the world close to destruction or that he was willing to sacrifice his “literate and healthy” countrymen in the process. The fact is that no matter how odious Castro is, following the Soviet pull-out of their nuclear missiles from Cuba, the island was no longer a threat to America. As such, the American trade embargo made no sense. Moreover, since America stood alone, the embargo was doomed to fail, but it did provide shameless defenders of the Cuban tyrant, like Alexander Trudeau, with a plausible argument to criticize America.
I say “plausible,” because even though many people believe it, Mr. Trudeau’s argument is wrong. True, Cubans cannot trade with America, but they can trade with the other 200 countries in the world. The reason for Cuba’s poverty is not the lack of market access, but the inability to produce much of what other people might want to buy. The man responsible for keeping the Cuban economy unproductive and inefficient is Fidel Castro.
Economics aside, what about Castro’s murderous past and suppression of Cuban opposition today? Mr. Trudeau admits that “Castro’s leadership can be something of a burden … [The Cubans] do occasionally complain, often as an adolescent might complain about a too strict and demanding father.” Comparing the desire of millions of oppressed people to be free of a tyrant with adolescents rebelling against parental authority? A sickening analogy.
Perhaps instead of making short trips to Cuba and being guided around the island by Castro’s agents, Western intellectuals should move there and experience communism first hand. To those who decide to do so I would simply say, “Bon voyage, but don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper.”
Mr. Tupy is the assistant director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute.