Monday, October 22, 2007

Castro and Stalin: Parallel Lives

I am reading right now Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young Stalin. In The New York Review of Books, Orlando Figes nicely summarizes the book in the title of his notice: "Rise of a Gangster." Stalin's revolutionary career prior to 1917 consisted of murdering enemies and rivals, industrial sabotage, kipnapping children for ransom, million-ruple bank robberies, counterfeiting, extorsion and protection rackets. Montefiore likens Stalin to an "effective godfather of a small, useful and moderately successful Mafia family." Imprisoned briefly by the Tsarist government, Stalin became the boss of the jail "dominating his friends, terrorizing the intellectuals, suborning the guards and befriending the criminals." Anyone acquainted with Castro's own gangster youth, which included killing three rivals on separate occasions by shooting them in the back — the first when Castro and the victim were teenagers — as well as dozens of indescript killings during the Bogotazo; anyone familiar with Castro's own conduct during his brief imprisonment under Batista, cannot fail to see that Castro and Stalin lived parallel lives before reaching power (and, of course, afterwards).

In fact, Fidel Castro may justly claim to be the world's last Stalinist leader. There are others, such as Kim Il Sung and Robert Mugabe, who belong to his lineage; but Castro alone came to prominence as a gangster and political agitator while Stalin still lived, conducted a revolution which was connected to Moscow from the first and joined his country's fate to it once he came to power, transforming Cuba into the Soviet Union's first ultra-continental satellite and the only one never to break from it. So faithful was Castro to Stalin's construct of the USSR than even when it fell and was dismantled he attempted to revive it by conspiring with the Old Communists (i.e. the Stalinists) to overthrow the Yeltsin government and restore Communist rule in the former Soviet Union. This may be the only instance in the history of Communism where the satrap attempted to rescue his master -- the "master" being, of course, the legacy of totalitarianism bequeathed to Russia by Castro's real mentor, Joseph Stalin.

Having failed to restore Communism in the old Soviet Union, Castro attempted to vindicate that legacy as embodied in Stalin. In a world where Stalinism has become a byword for Communist "excesses" -- in truth, it should be a more potent synonym for state-sponsored savagery and inhumanity than even Hitlerism -- Fidel Castro, in 1992, standing amid its smouldering ruins, indeed, perched on the ashcan of history, attempted one last time to vindicate Stalin. Whatever private opinion one may entertain about the erstwhile "Great Helmsman," it is doubtful that any other head of state will ever defend again or choose to identify himself publicly with Stalin.

Castro did so in an interview with Tomás Borge in Managua's El Nuevo Diario, on January 3, 1992. He no doubt felt more secure because of the venue and the interviewer, who, to simplify matters, may be likened to a Sandinista "Che" Guevara in his penchant for blood. It was Borge who introduced the subject of Stalin, sensing, perhaps, that Castro needed to vent on the subject. Or, just as likely, the interview was staged for that purpose; it is difficult to know. In fact, neither the place nor date of the interview was given.

First, Borge congratulated Castro on keeping Cuba a communist state after the fall of the Soviet Union. Castro, who did not flinch at cutting rations in half to his slaves in order to withstand the onslaught of freedom, agreed that it was quite an accomplishment for the copy to have survived the model: "The mere fact that Cuba has decided to keep going forward and face the dangers and the challenges following the collapse of the socialist bloc and the disappearance of the USSR is a significant event in history."

Borge, who, like Gladstone, knows when to slop it on with a trowel, asked if "the Cuban revolution is the beginning of a resurrection of a socialist option at the world level?" Yes, Castro agreed, Cuba is the last and best hope for the triumph of "certain principles that are immensely, extraordinarily valuable at a moment of confusion in the world." The "moment of confusion" was the dawn of freedom in the Communist world.

Borge next asked Castro what he was prepared to do if that awful specter reared its head in Cuba? Castro once answered that question in another interview by saying that he would prefer the island to sink into the ocean. In his reply to Borge, however, he said that Cubans would defend Communism even if Cuba became a "lonely island." What he actually meant, of course, was an empty island. He clarified that point immediately when he confessed that if the island were invaded "it would be necessary to exterminate millions of men determined to fight." Even then, he was sure that the "empire would not prevail." Apparently, "exterminating millions of Cubans" out of a total population of 10 million did not signify defeat to Castro: "If we were invaded and were capable of resisting until the end, that would have great value." The lives of millions of Cubans have no value but the sacrifice of their lives in order to uphold an evil ideology would have "great value."

Borge, reminding Castro that he had recently said that the USSR was "assassinated, stabbed in the back," asked Castro if Gorbachev was in on the "conspiracy of daggers that killed socialism?" Castro exculpated Gorbachev whom he said "intended to fight to improve socialism in the USSR." He even claimed, after the fact, that he approved of Gorbachev's reforms. Well, yes, Gorbachev was a true believer, and he only wanted to tinker with Communism, not implode it. His "mistake," from Castro's and Gorbachev's viewpoint, was to try to rearrange a house of cards.

Well, if not Gorbachev, who destroyed socialism and dismantled the USSR? Fidel resolutely refused to name names. He was only willing to say that it "self-destructed" and that "imperialism would not have been able to disintegrate the Soviet Union had the Soviets not destroyed it themselves." "Destroying themselves," apparently, means being unwilling to "exterminate millions" in order to save Communism. And, of course, Fidel would not be Fidel if he did not also claim that he "saw it all coming from the beginning."

Borge then suggested an unexpected culprit for the fall of Communism: "Fidel, for most Latin American revolutionary leaders, the current crisis of socialism has a mastermind: Josef Stalin."

The obvious answer would have been that Communism not only survived Joseph Stalin but expanded (to Cuba, for example, and Nicaragua) after Stalin's death.

Castro, instead, availed himself of this opportunity to expound on the merits and failures of Stalin, a subject which he affirmed he had "never discussed with any journalist or on any other occasion." No wonder.

"Blaming Stalin for everything that occurred in the Soviet Union would be a historical simplism, because no man by himself could have created certain conditions. It would be the same as giving Stalin all the credit for what the USSR once was. That is impossible!"

Castro then proceeded to blame Stalin for "violations of the legal framework (the purges?), abuses of power, failure to develop a progressive process to socialize land" — in short, all of Castro's own crimes in Cuba. As he had once championed, after the fact, the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary, Castro now repudiated, after the fact, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which, of course, was the precursor of the equally craven but vastly more successful (for Castro) Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact. He also criticized Stalin for purging his generals on the eve of World War II (which is what Castro himself had done to Arnaldo Ochoa and the La Guardia brothers on the verge of the collapse of Communism). Finally, with unexpected and blood-curdling candor, he faulted Stalin for "placing Communists — who were great friends of the USSR — in a very difficult position by having to support each one of those episodes" [that is, the Hitler-Stalin Pact and subsequent invasion of Poland and Finland]. Yes, it is very inconsiderate of a bloodthirsty dictator to make his apologists abroad defend all his predations.

Borge should have left well enough alone. But his curiosity got the better of him. Castro had said that Stalin shouldn't be blamed for the collapse of Communism and then he proceeded to judge him with a rod by which surely he would not want to be judged himself, since he has committed all of Stalin's "mistakes" for twice as long as did Stalin.

Then came the question: "What do you believe were Stalin's merits?"

And Castro tells him:

"He established unity in the Soviet Union. He consolidated what Lenin had begun: party unity. He gave the international revolutionary movement a new impetus. The USSR's industrialization was one of Stalin's wisest actions, and I believe it was a determining factor in the USSR's capacity to resist. I believe Stalin led the USSR well during the war. According to many generals, Zhukov and the most brilliant Soviet generals, Stalin played an important role in defending the USSR and in the war against Nazism. They all recognized it. I think there should be an impartial analysis of Stalin. Blaming him for everything that happened would be historical simplism."

For someone who is very fond of historical simplisms himself, Castro won't allow Stalin to be crushed under the weight of them. He blames Stalin for what he himself copied in Cuba (the purges and a catastrophic alliance) and praises him for what he failed to accomplish in Cuba (industrialization). Castro praised him also for his defense of the Soviet motherland. What he admires, of course, is the fact that Stalin defended his power to his dying day and died in his own bed. It is a feat which Castro himself wishes to emulate, and, which, in all likelihood he will, alas.


Charlie Bravo said...

Many of those totalitarian dictators start their days of "power" as street thugs and petty criminals. Then they justify their crimes by blaming society for their actions, by taking it onto a particular social group, and all of them hone their "skills" in jail.
Castro shares a lot of paralellisms with Hitler and Mussolini, and he didn't chose to follow their ideology for fear of the "bad reputation" and the "bad branding and image recognition" bore by fascism after its defeat in the Second World War. What was left for him to choose was Commiedom, an option that was sanctified by the reluctance of the West to combat the other land hungry power in Europe, the Soviet Union, and by the very appealing prospect of being part of a gang who had just have being presented with half of Europe to rape and plunder as a war trophy. So he married in a threesome and rather succesfuly the savagery of Stalin, the social theatrics of Hitler, and the speech mannerisms of Mussolini in a new type of engender that has survived both traditional communism and historic fascisms.
Remember, it's said that Stalin "industrialized" the Soviet Union (while destroying agriculture in Ukraine, arts and science everywhere else, and eliminating millions of people) that Hitler educated and healed the German people (through the hygienist movement, never mind the Jews were confined to filthy ghettos before extermination), and that Mussolini brought the masses in Italy forward (and instituted voluntary work, forced militia conscription, eliminated the independent unions, and establish government and party control in every domain of society)
Those very same three things are said about Castro, the press vaunts his "health and education programs", not to mention that they even have the nerve to say that he brought Cuba forward from underdevelopment
Of course, the numbers proof otherwise, but that is "nihil", Cuba has fallen to the worst position in economic indicators in Latin America but the press just seem to believe the apocryphal "vangelis" penned by the dictator.

Vana said...

Seems all tyrants are thugs and criminals, only an insane mind would strive to enslave their countrymen, and ruin their country, Castro, Hitler Stalin all are of the same mind set.

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