Tuesday 27 September 2016

A country where a comrade with a conscience could holiday and also support the struggle

John McTiernan in London

Published 22/03/2016 | 02:30

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle greet families of embassy staff in Havana (AP)
Barack Obama and his wife Michelle greet families of embassy staff in Havana (AP)
Cuban president Raul Castro shakes hands with US president Barack Obama during a meeting in Revolution Palace (AP)
Obama's trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro's ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
President Barack Obama waves upon arrival to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 20, 2016.(AP Photo/Fernando Medina)
Local Cubans watch from their homes as the motorcade of U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in a section of Old Havana, Sunday, March 20. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. President Barack Obama walks with first lady Michelle Obama, who is holding the arm of her mother Marian Robinson, during a walking tour of Old Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Cuba. What do you think when I say the name of that country?

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Current affairs buffs will go on about Obama and the detente with the US. The historic nature of his visit - the first by an American President for 90 years.

Those who love winter sunshine will rave about unspoilt beaches, lovingly maintained old cars and unmodernised Grand Spanish houses. Do go soon, they'll urge, it's changing so quickly.

But for a certain type of lefty it will bring a tear to the eye. This was one of the last remaining examples of "actually existing" socialism. One of the few places that a comrade with a conscience could holiday and feel that they were also supporting the struggle. Now it's gone. Fallen to the Great Satan. About to be enslaved by the Yankee Dollar.

This will seem bizarre to most people. The history of Cuba a mystery to most. And the fetishisation of Communist rule beyond comprehension. But ever since Lincoln Steffens returned from the Soviet Union in the thirties and proclaimed: "I have seen the future, and it works!" there has always been a constituency on the Left which wants to find Utopia in dictatorships.

For those paying attention, the communist dream failed early. But there were always alternatives. For the peasant fixated there was China. Mao may have been an even more brutal murderer than Stalin, but those Mao jackets were cool. And that Little Red Book!

Of course, the truth about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution eventually came out. But for the hardliners there was always Albania and North Korea which functioned as living reminders that socialism derived from Puritanism a deep and abiding hatred for pleasure.

For the less ascetic there was always Vietnam. Peasants, Communism, weapons - and victory against the US. But they too discovered property rights, capitalism and tourism. Nicaragua? Good enough to have its own Solidarity Campaign for a long time, but never mentioned now that the Sandinistas have become more anti-abortion than Ted Cruz. Venezuela as hard to defend though Hugo Chavez did hate Tony Blair. But despite that it was a minority choice.

The thing was, there was always Cuba. It had everything. A defeat for Yankee Imperialism. Che. The romance of violence long enough ago for the details to be mostly forgotten. And in Castro had a leader who always dressed in military fatigues. Who made seven-hour speeches. Who had survived CIA sponsored assassination attempts.

And who had created a world class health care system. If you heard one thing about Cuba from the Left it was that - and if you heard it once, you heard it a thousand times. Health care was a right in Cuba while the US couldn't provide free health care for its citizens. Freedom of speech, by comparison, was a bourgeois right.

With Cuba gone, what will the Left do? North Korea doesn't have the vacation potential - or any redeeming feature for that matter. They should apologise, of course, for the immiseration of Cubans in which they colluded. But since many of them still cling to the view that the Soviet Union was a quiet country provoked by the US into occupying other European countries, I won't be holding my breath. Perhaps the best we can hope for is some humility, and a period of silence on their part.

And please, no more Utopias.

Irish Independent

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