According to Andrew Heywood, a well-known British specialist in political taxonomy, left-wingers tend to be keen on “ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism,” while right-wingers prefer “notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism.” This is fair enough, but where does it leave dictatorships like Cuba’s? If the words used by Heywood mean anything, it is far to the right of all European governments, with the possible exception of the one ruling Belarus, as well as those of the United States and most countries in Latin America. It has nothing but contempt for freedom and human rights, it is as authoritarian as they come, it cannot be described as egalitarian because it makes sure that its apparatchiks enjoy a standard of living that is denied to the rest of the population and it is fervently nationalistic.
Much the same could be said about the late and unlamented Soviet dictatorship, but until its demise men and women who proclaimed themselves leftists defended it against all-comers. Since then, they have been doing the same with its Caribbean variant, which is why Kirchnerites – who for some reason are habitually described as “left-wingers” by foreign journalists – are reluctant to criticise the brutal repression of dissent that followed last week’s protest demonstrations in Cuba. Led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, they remain convinced that the desperately poor police-state the Castro brothers ruled for well over half a century is still a beacon of hope for the unhappy victims of capitalist infamy, which is why Alberto Fernández said he did not know enough about what was going on to risk an opinion.
When applied with caution, as they have been in Western Europe, the United States and other developed countries, left-wing ideas have done much to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of people. The trouble starts when those who are in thrall to them get too enthusiastic and acquire too much power. The moment such zealots run into difficulties, they are unable to resist the temptation to try and overcome them by force, so after removing individuals who stand in their way they go about “liquidating” entire social classes. Convinced of their own rectitude, they tell themselves that, given the circumstances, they have no choice but to put dissidents and their relatives to work in concentration camps or, if that proves expensive, to clear the way ahead by massacring them.
By then, many of the people who helped install a leftist dictatorship will be remembering with nostalgia the days when they assumed that it would be easy to reshape reality. They become increasingly conservative. Uncomfortably aware that their achievements do not measure up to the hopes that once inspired them, they remind themselves and others that the revolution they brought about had triumphed against all the odds, as though this meant that they were bound to succeed in the long run. Like elderly generals, they keep fighting the last war because they have nothing new to offer
This has happened so many times that one might have thought that by now progressives living in democratic countries would have been put off by the gruesome results of such endeavours and by the inability of those responsible to explain why they made so many mistakes. After all, they must appreciate that the “socialist experiments” which were tried in North Korea, Cambodia, Soviet Russia, China before she went capitalistic and, needless to say, Cuba and Venezuela, went terribly wrong and it would therefore be utter folly to attempt to give it another go, but this has not been the case.
In many parts of the world – including the United States of all places if reports from that country are to be believed – communism is enjoying something of a comeback among “progressives.” Presumably, the appealing image the Left has somehow managed to retain is due to the frustration many people feel. As a result, they find just about any alternative to the status quo attractive.
Argentina is by no means the only country in which saying that a person is “right-wing” is considered insulting. Much the same is true in North America, Europe and Australia. However, despite the all too evident fact that regimes which pride themselves on their adhesion to left-wing ideologies exhibit, often in a grotesquely exaggerated form, characteristics which are traditionally attributed to the extreme right, this does them no harm in the eyes of believers. As far as these are concerned, Cuba’s dictatorship – which for long was as much a family affair as North Korea’s – is now a senior member of the great left-wing fraternity and therefore deserves to be given their unstinting support.
The Cuban regime owes its waning but still considerable popularity among those who see themselves as rebels against the established order to its revolutionary origins. Propagandists make much of this. They have yet to tire of telling the faithful that “the revolution,” or what they call “socialism,” obviously matters far more than the lives, let alone the welfare, of the island’s inhabitants.
Their approach would make sense to believers in a violent religious cult who take it for granted that martyrdom will ensure them preferential treatment in the afterlife, but it is surely inappropriate among left-wingers who like to say they are against such antiquated superstitions. Nonetheless, ever since the late 18th century there has been no lack of intelligent individuals ready to sacrifice themselves for an allegedly rational political ideology. By and large, they have far more in common with the holy warriors of Islam and their Christian equivalents of former times than with the rationalist thinkers who provided them with material for the revolutionary ideology to which they hew.
Does the discontent that last week bubbled up to the surface in Cuba mean that the dictatorship’s days are numbered? Many certainly hope so, but perhaps they underestimate the willingness of Miguel Díaz-Canel and the rest of them to go to any lengths to cling to power. For them, and, it would seem, for many other people, if in order to defend the revolution they felt themselves obliged to eliminate the entire population of the island they would be proud to do so. For fanatics, the cause they are devoted to is infinitely more important than anything else, and there can be no doubt at all that, despite the evident failure of the revolution to deliver the promised goods, there are still plenty of fanatics in Cuba.