Wasserman on 'Libertarian' Fidel Castro

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It is a constant source of wonderment that seemingly intelligent people persist in mythologizing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Here is former Los Angeles Times book review editor Steve Wasserman reviewing Castro's autobiography for Truthdig, the left-wing news portal founded by Robert Scheer, and slobbering all over a man of "extraordinary eloquence [and] strength of character." A few samples:

"His triumph: standing up for the right of small states to resist the bullying and domination of large powers. He was not willing to submit to the dictates of Washington, nor was he always a reliable cat's paw for Moscow. One has only to examine the roots of Castro's Africa policies, which antedated his coziness with the Soviets and were carried out independently of Soviet desires throughout much of the 1960s, to know that he very often refused to kowtow to Kremlin orthodoxy."

Utterly ridiculous. To resist the demands of his Soviet patrons is rather different than taking an independent line that conforms with Soviet foreign policy goals. Castro's imperial adventure in Angola, which Wasserman cites, was indeed his own initiative, but one, as Cambridge historian Christopher Andrews notes, that "was enthusiastically encouraged by Moscow." After Cuba decided to bring troops to Angola—troop and matériel transport was arranged by the Soviets, incidentally—the Russian-Cuban military and espionage collaboration continued throughout the conflict and spread into the war in Ethiopia. This hardly qualifies as "resist[ing] the bullying and domination" of a large power.

"…Castro disavowed terrorism as a tactic of revolutionary war. He was not a nihilist, and he deliberately eschewed, indeed, condemned, terrorism for its disregard of human life. In a letter during the fight against Batista rebuking his brother Raul for his reckless kidnapping of a group of U.S. citizens (subsequently released unharmed) Castro said: "It is essential to declare categorically that we do not utilize the system of hostages, however justified our indignation may be against the political attitudes of any government."…In a radio speech to Batista's soldiers, Castro called on them to surrender, pledging that "[n]o prisoner will be interrogated, mistreated, or humiliated in word or deed, and all will receive the generous and humane treatment military prisoners have always received from us." By most accounts, Castro's practice-during the guerrilla war at least-was as good as his promise."

Note the qualifier—"in the guerrilla war at least." Wasserman also says that "it is unlikely that, after Castro's demise, unmarked mass graves will be found filled with the remains of opponents who had been made to disappear. Cuba is not Chile under Pinochet or Argentina under the generals." It is not Chile under Pinochet—it is, and was, much worse. It is important to remind the credulous diggers of truth that immediately following the fall of Havana, the new regime quickly set forth a policy of revolutionary terror. It is estimated that 600 people were executed for connections, however dubious, to the Batista regime. None were afforded fair trials. As French historian Pascal Fontaine points out, at La Loma de los Coches prison alone "more than 1,000 'counterrevolutionaries' were shot in the years between the triumph of 1959 and the final liquidation of the Escambray protest movement." Fontaine also notes that "During the repressions of the 1960s, between 7,000 and 10,000 people were killed and 30,000 people imprisoned for political reasons." Even ignoring the executions and arrests in the following 25 years, Castro's murderous record far outstrips the number executed and "disappeared" by the Pinochet dictatorship.

It is typical of Castrophilic commenters to become moral scolds when describing Batista's Havana as a den of inequity; prostitution, gambling, mobsters. And it was Castro who cleaned up the slum of Batista's Cuba, Wasserman says: "By the 1950s, in Havana, according to Louis A. Perez Jr.'s indispensable "On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture," almost 12,000 women could be found working as prostitutes." Soviet-style communism to the rescue! (Incidentally, Perez's book puts the tally at 11,500 prostitutes, but Wasserman, of course, rounds up.) Later, Wasserman notes that "the Cuban economy is, again, dependent on sugar, tobacco and tourism (particularly sex tourism)." If he were to connect the dots, perhaps Wasserman would see that, since 1959 and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of women working as prostitutes has increased in Cuba.

Even when nominally criticizing Castro, Wasserman's analysis is baffling: "As for Castro, all things must pass. His early ideals of libertarian socialism are nowhere in evidence."

Sure, we can quibble and debate all manner of theories of Cuban communism, but I think it's safe to say that Fidel Castro in no way qualifies as libertarian.

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  1. Does anyone off the top of their head know how many royalist sympathizers were “disappeared” during the American Revolution?

    Just curious.

  2. Once a term comes to mean everything, it means nothing. Fucking vocabulary co-opting socialist asshats…

  3. If he were to connect the dots, perhaps Wasserman would see that, since 1959 and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of women working as prostitutes has increased in Cuba.

    Because Cuba is encircled by a bloodthirsty Capitalist embargo.

    Moynihan, surely you must know how this game is played?

  4. Cue joe’s crypto-apologia in 3..2..1..

  5. Wasserman: …the Cuban economy is, again, dependent on sugar, tobacco and tourism (particularly sex tourism).

    Me: and?

  6. Elemenope,

    5*

    *The margin of error is ?3 percentage points

  7. “Libertarian socialism” was once a popular term to describe something that today we’d call something like anarcho-communism. According to Wikipedia, “libertarian” comes from the French “libertaire,” which was coined by Joseph D?jacque, and he used it to describe his own philosophy of anarcho-communism. While using the term “libertarian” might seem odd to an American, it was commonly used by European socialists in another era. Wasserman can be accused of using antiquated definitions that could be misleading today due to the vast difference in usage, but it’s pretty obvious where he’s coming from.

  8. “the Cuban economy is, again, dependent on sugar, tobacco and tourism (particularly sex tourism).”

    In Communist Cuba, liberty means fuck you!

  9. Only some sort of radical lefty would say an economic embargo harms a country’s economy.

    That’s the sort of thing found in crypto-apologias.

  10. The man once freakin’ outlawed Christmas. Need we say more?

  11. “Libertarian socialism” was once a popular term to describe something that today we’d call something like anarcho-communism. According to Wikipedia, “libertarian” comes from the French “libertaire,” which was coined by Joseph D?jacque, and he used it to describe his own philosophy of anarcho-communism. While using the term “libertarian” might seem odd to an American, it was commonly used by European socialists in another era. Wasserman can be accused of using antiquated definitions that could be misleading today due to the vast difference in usage, but it’s pretty obvious where he’s coming from.

    I know what “libertarian socialism” means. There’s no sign that Castro ever favored it. The Cuban left-anarchists began to criticize Castro’s authoritarian ways almost immediately after the revolution, and Havana started shutting down their papers in 1961.

  12. You were close, Andrew.

    I look forward to future Wasserman pieces extolling the libertarian virtues of Kim Jong Il, Pol Pot, and Mao.

  13. I think that Casto serves as a marker that allows one to divide leftist who want to help people from those who merely use it as a form of self-aggrandizement.

    Leftist who want to help people hate Castro for using leftist ideals to create a dictatorship. Leftist who only care about themselves adore Castro because he continuously pokes a stick in the eyes of the leftist’s social and political competitors. He opposes what they oppose so he becomes a romanticized Robin Hood like character in their minds.

  14. Leftist who only care about themselves adore Castro

    They usually have Che posters too.

    He had a motorcycle! He must have been a libertarian!

  15. Dear heavens, do these people even feel uneasy writing stuff like this?

  16. Elemenope,

    Does anyone off the top of their head know how many royalist sympathizers were “disappeared” during the American Revolution?

    None, that I’m aware of and I have researched the matter. The American Revolution was a very civilized affair where as a rule, all sides observed the rituals that governed armed conflict.

    Most actions against individuals took the form classic community punishments such as tar and feathering. The Green Mountain boys were a typical example of those who used this kind tactic. They drove hundreds of Loyalist out of Vermont with physical harassment but they never killed anybody.

  17. Also libertarians: Hitler, Stalin, Franco, El Duce

    It’s true, because my brain is mushy from reading Wasserman’s tortured excuses.

  18. Oh, I forgot that Ghengis Khan, Caligula, and Cardinal Jimenez were also libertarians. Also, Amenhotep IV.

  19. Elemenope,

    I know there’s been some scholarly work on civilian Tory vs. Patriot violence but I can’t remember any titles offhand. Look around. There’s a number of anecdotes and stories in this book which, on the whole, left me with the impression that everybody gave as good as they got. Not many “disappearances” IIRC but certainly lots of tit-for-tat vendettas.

    Shannon Love,

    The American Revolution was a very civilized affair where as a rule, all sides observed the rituals that governed armed conflict.

    You’re kidding, right?

  20. Only some sort of radical lefty would say an economic embargo harms a country’s economy.

    Only a right wing nut would say that an embargo of only one nation (the rest of the world chooses to ignore it) could not cripple Cuba to the poverty and tyranny it has suffered for nearly 50 years.

  21. Only some sort of radical lefty would say an economic embargo harms a country’s economy.

    Game, set and match. To me.

  22. Castrotarians!!

  23. The man once freakin’ outlawed Christmas. Need we say more?

    So did the Puritan settlers, like on the Mayflower.

  24. I know what “libertarian socialism” means. There’s no sign that Castro ever favored it. The Cuban left-anarchists began to criticize Castro’s authoritarian ways almost immediately after the revolution, and Havana started shutting down their papers in 1961.

    Marx was an anarcho-communist – he just believed there would be an intermediate period of state communism between the present state capitalism and the ultimate stateless communism. It seems likely that Castro, at least at one point, believed in Marx’s dialectic, which would make him a libertarian socialist of sorts.

  25. This Wasserman is a really funny guy. Sure Castro cleaned up prostitution! He also healed the deaf, raised the dead, and walked on water. The only problem with the claim by Mr. Wasserman is that he is making it up. Prostitution is still rampant in Cuba and I have known Europeans who go there to vacation because the prostitutes (male and female) are so inexpensive. That implies a relatively large supply. But that’s economics and I’m sure Mr. Wasserman has nothing but contentp for that.

  26. Between Michael Moynihan and Michael Young, the ignorance on display at Reason is what is baffling, not Wasserman’s analysis. As others have pointed out, “libertarian socialism”, though it may seem a contradiction to some, has quite a long tradition — perhaps the Reason offices should employ Google every once in awhile.

    Further, it’s interesting that Moynihan can only bring himself to blog about designated enemies of U.S. imperialism, like Chavez and Castro — both bad people, to be sure, but no worse than U.S.-backed regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. The crucial difference is that those like Chavez oppose U.S. interventionism and Western corporations.

    You see, using state power to murder labor activists is bad, but ultimately acceptable, when employed by the likes of Pinochet or Uribe to the benefit of U.S. corporations. Using state power to go after Western capital, however, is totalitarian and Stalinist. Never mind that both are ultimately uses of force that benefit a small elite — to those like Moynihan, as long it’s the Western elite benefiting then, why, that’s just the forces of globalization baby!

    I’m not looking for Castro apologia, but I would like to see some analysis at Reason that goes beyond the shallow glibertarianism of Moynihan and his continual attempts to downplay the crimes of the likes of Batista and Pinochet (and Uribe) as somehow nowhere near as bad as that of the Cuban regime.

  27. Does anyone off the top of their head know how many royalist sympathizers were “disappeared” during the American Revolution?

    I doubt very many. There are cases of the especially ‘upitty’ ones getting tarred and feathered – quite visibly. Estimates have the # of loyalists by 1783 at about 700k. There were 100,000 who left ‘on their own.’ But most just shrugged and went back to their lives singing ‘meet the new boss…’

  28. and of course, before the mid 20 cent, being a ‘desaparecido’ was something most people chose for themselves to start anew with a clean slate.

  29. and I now see shanon love already covered it

  30. Somewhere I heard that Cuba has a really good health care system.

  31. Back in the 50’s, the tourists were Americans who went down to gamble.

    But now, some of the tourists are European girls who sunbathe topless.

    So, at least to a certain extent, Communism is quite a positive thing.

  32. I don’t know, Kolohe. Color me skeptical about the great humanitarian story we tell about our founders.

    Perhaps the American Revolution was just a never-to-repeated exception to every historical rule in this way as well as some others…but I for one have not observed human nature to be so malleable as to exclude all (or even much) such behavior in a war zone, regardless of the time period.

    I shall have to do some research of my own, I suppose. (Which sucks. I’m really kinda lazy sometimes. 🙂

  33. I think Moynihan’s not understanding that “Libertarian Socialism” is its own term and is not meant to be understood as a form of either libertarianism or classical liberalism. “Libertarian Socialism” is best understood as state-less, free-association communism. So, when Wasserman calls Castro a “libertarian socialist,” he’s just calling Castro a commie (though ignoring his authoritarianism).

  34. LMNOP-
    I was talking about ‘disappeared’ in the Nazi/Communist/Fascistic sense.

    I’m sure there were ‘attrocities’ on both sides, but people were more open and ‘honest’ about it back then (e.g. the Thirty Years War of the previous century and Western Hemisphere Abriginals vs Everyone Else from 1492 to Wounded Knee)

  35. Re Loyalists:

    Elemenope | April 17, 2008, 5:35pm | #
    I don’t know, Kolohe. Color me skeptical about the great humanitarian story we tell about our founders.

    Perhaps the American Revolution was just a never-to-repeated exception to every historical rule in this way as well as some others…but I for one have not observed human nature to be so malleable as to exclude all (or even much) such behavior in a war zone, regardless of the time period.

    I shall have to do some research of my own, I suppose. (Which sucks. I’m really kinda lazy sometimes. 🙂

    This might be a starting place (sorry, don’t know how to do a link thingy…) http://www.redcoat.me.uk/

    Here’s an interesting quote from that site: The expression ‘Lynch Mob’ comes from the American Patriot Judge Lynch who hung anyone suspected of being a Loyalist with impunity.

  36. American Patriot Judge Lynch who hung anyone suspected of being a Loyalist with impunity.

    Now I’m starting to wonder what differs a Loyalist, from a Loyalist with impunity, and dpes the latter deserve hanging any more than the former?

  37. Now I’m starting to wonder what differs distinguishes a regular Loyalist, from a Loyalist with impunity, and dpes does the latter deserve hanging any more than the former?

  38. KD-
    Here is a decent tutorial for creating HTML links. Even an internet tyro like myself found it useful. You can test your links in Preview before posting to avoid embarrasment

  39. American Patriot Judge Lynch who hung anyone suspected of being a Loyalist with impunity

    As long as we’re nitpicking, it should be “hanged anyone suspected of being a loyalist…”

  40. Between Michael Moynihan and Michael Young, the ignorance on display at Reason is what is baffling, not Wasserman’s analysis.

    Regarding Moynihan, I couldn’t care less which dead dictator from another country he dislikes more. I’m more irritated by his DUI nazism. A “libertarian” pens an article in favor of mandatory interlock devices? What fresh hell indeed!

    Theoretically this shouldn’t urk me so much (I don’t even drink), but I’d still like to see the Reason Foundation Powers That Be pack him up and mail him off to Beliefnet. I’m sure Moynihan, Reason and Reason‘s readers would all be more comfortable with that arrangement.

  41. J sub D | April 17, 2008, 7:16pm | #

    KD-
    Here is a decent tutorial for creating HTML links. Even an internet tyro like myself found it useful. You can test your links in Preview before posting to avoid embarrasment

    Hey J sub D, man thanks for that link… I appreciate it.

  42. Only some sort of radical lefty would say an economic embargo harms a country’s economy.

    That’s the sort of thing found in crypto-apologias.

    An embargo which pretty much no other country respects will have virtually no effect, other than slightly higher shipping costs (which in the containerization age are minimal):

    The 1998 US State Department in the report “Zenith and Eclipse: A Comparative Look at Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro and Present Day Cuba” stated that the U.S. embargo has added, at most, relatively small increases in transportation costs.

    The costs of the US embargo are to a large extent offset by the value of the massive amount of US property seized by the Castro regime.

    I know it is a radical concept, but the poor state of the Cuban economy might be more as a result of far left economic policies, corruption, nepotism, and an incompetent regime which controls the economy and cannot be removed by an election.

  43. “His triumph: standing up for the right of small states to resist the bullying and domination of large powers.”

    I wonder: would Mr. Wasserman have paid the same compliment to P.W. Botha at the height of Apartheid? After all, he too was resisting global “bullying” for oppressing indigenous populations. What’s the difference?

  44. @ Elemenope:

    There’s an interesting thesis in Ketchum’s Saratoga to the effect that the British might have won the Battle of Saratoga (and possible also the war) if not for the practice of hiring Great Lakes Indians to murder and pillage along the frontier of New York and New England. The effect of paying Indians to kill, rape and mutilate people who were often ethnic English had the effect of demoralizing British troops, and of course it also enraged American colonists of both Revolutionary and Loyalist stripe. One noted episode involved the murder and scalping of a woman whose cousin was an officer in Burgoyne’s army – thousands of American militia turned out in retaliation and British shame and internal division over the incident probably reduced morale and efficiency at the battle.

  45. Further, it’s interesting that Moynihan can only bring himself to blog about designated enemies of U.S. imperialism, like Chavez and Castro — both bad people, to be sure, but no worse than U.S.

    You are so right. That must be why we have to block all those boats filled with desperate Americans striving to get to Cuba (don’t get me started on all those poor Americans flooding into Mexico just looking for a way out from under the boot). And that Chavez – what a champion of free speech and the rule of law! He would never engage in Bushitler tactics like closing media outlets and confiscating private property.

    Imperialist America, my ass. The West has released more land to more people in the name of independence and freedom than any other civilization in world history. Only a fool sees what isn’t there.

  46. Carlos | April 17, 2008, 5:28pm |
    Somewhere I heard that Cuba has a really good health care system.

    While Cuba under Castro has a good health care system, there are two points to be made,
    First, Cuba also had a really good health care system BEFORE 1959 . Second, Latin America and the Third World have also made progress in health care in the last half century. Cuba is not alone.

    I suggest you read Renaissance and Decay . In 1957, Cuba had ~ 128 physicians and dentists per 100,000 inhabitants, comparable to the US and Western European countries, better than many countries in Europe and surpassed only by Argentina and Uruguay in Latin America.Cuba’s Infant Mortality before 1959 was better than many countries in Europe.
    In 1960, Cuba’s life expectancy was 8 years better than Latin America. In 2005, it was 5 years better than Latin America. (World Bank Development Indicators, online). Cuba AND Latin America have progressed in health care in the last half century.

    Do some research and find out which country, Castro’s Cuba, or Pinochet’s Chile, got Infant Mortality below 20/ 1,000 births faster. If you want to face the truth.

  47. Castro is indistinguishable from a myriad of other Latin dictators over the years….just one more ‘jefe maximo’ in left wing drag instead of right wing drag…and as of about 15 yrs ago,the capital of Cuba isn’t Havana…it’s Miami

  48. Communist countries uses their border guards to keep people from leaving. Democracies use their border guards to control how many people get in. Kind of says it all doesn’t it.

  49. Elemenope…
    Loyalists moved to Canada, went back to England, or just changed sides and moved on to the future. There were no progroms.
    For example, Ben Franklin’s son was a loyalist, and he sailed back to England in 1982.
    Your defense of Castro’s execution of his opposition, as insipid as that is, is made more mephitic by your insinuation that the same thing happened during the American Revolution, even after your lame apology that you hadn’t researched it. This all suggests you should think before you post, if you could.

  50. Hahaha what a fucking joke. I love how Wasserman notes that Castro was not always beholden to the dictates of Moscow. Wow, he really showed them. He sometimes ignored what they said. What a courageous fucking hero.

    And to the asshole charlie who bitches about a lack of condemnation about Pinochet and Uribe, I can only say this: this is a fucking article about Castro. Those other assholes have absolutely fucking nothing to do with the discussion. If you expected the writers here to mention how bad every Latin-American dictator is everytime Castro was mentioned, they would have to write a fucking book. Oh, and I just love your pathetic fucking apology for Chavez. The man seizes control of private land and enterprises if they do something to piss him off, shuts down media outlets that disagree with him, makes it illegal to criticize him in public and authorizes his followers to use violence against his opponents, but all of that shit is OK because he stands up to American corporations. Give me a fucking break. It is amazing Castro is seen positively amongst certain segments of society because, as Charlie’s “analysis” demonstrates, his most vocal cheerleaders are total fucking idiots.

  51. “Theoretically this shouldn’t urk me so much (I don’t even drink), but I’d still like to see the Reason Foundation Powers That Be”

    No wonder you wish to remain anonymous. Who and the fuck spells irk with a “u”? What a dumbass.

  52. If you read the Wikipedia article on Judge Lynch it notes whipping, fining, exiling, tar and feathering, doesn’t say anything about hanging Loyalists (or person merely suspected of being Loyalists). After the Battle of Kings Mountain, 36 Tory prisoners were tried for various alleged crimes and condemned to death. Nine were executed, the others reprieved. This was considered extraordinary (the hangings not the reprieves) as to commented upon in most standard histories. Of course early in the war, the British and in particular the Hessians were not inclined to give quarter to Americans attempting to surrender, after the defeat at Trenton, this practice ceased although some British officers (Banastre Tarleton comes to mind) attempted to use terror to subdue the Americans and made himself to “Tarelton’s Quarter” the practice of killing surrendering Americans. Of course, the difference in killing in the heat of battle vs. Castro’s mock show trials and executions after having won the “Revolution” might be something Elemenope might want to reflect upon or whether doesn’t he think that a Lefty like Fidel ought to be BETTER than a bunch of DWG Founding Fathers.

  53. For the last five years, a non-profit effort has been documenting the cost in lives of the Cuban Revolution (on all sides of the ideological and political spectrum). To date, documented executions in Cuba attributed to the Castro government total nearly 4,500 and extrajudicial killings several thousand more. As the documention continues, the number grows. For details, see http://www.CubaArchive.org. Deaths from international military and support for terrorism and subversion are believed to total in the hundreds of thousands.

  54. Actually, the American Revolution was considered by some to be the birth of “uncivilized” warfare, like shooting at the enemy from behind stone walls at Lexington and Concord instead of marching out and facing your foe like a man!

    The war in the South during the Revolution was especially nasty. Read any biography of Generals Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, Tarleton, etc.

  55. No wonder you wish to remain anonymous. Who and the fuck spells irk with a “u”? What a dumbass.

    Sigh.

    Look at your keyboard. Look at the the ‘i’ key. Now, look at the ‘u’ key. Do you notice that they are right next to each other? Get it? Having any difficulty drawing conclusions?

    Nice RunOn sentences, by the way.

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