I’ve always wondered what democrats who grew up in communist countries thought of communists who grew up in democratic countries. Hardly anyone in the West ever voted with their feet, so to speak, by moving to a communist country; but communist dictatorships created millions of refugees who fled their homelands for Western democracies. East Germans were willing to risk being shot to make a run over the wall, Cubans are still willing to risk drowning to reach Florida, yet once in a while I still meet Westerners who have a warm spot in their hearts for regimes like Castro’s.
“What do you think,” I asked her, “of people in the West who think communism is a good idea but haven’t actually experienced it? There are quite a few people who admire the system in Cuba. You know the types I mean. The people who wear Che Guevara t-shirts.”
“Ah, yes,” she said. “They are ridiculous. But somehow I can understand them. Let’s take the example of France. In France they were all socialists when they were young. Sartre was a close friend of Castro’s. Gerard Depardieu was a close friend of Castro’s. They believed in this ideal, but after they saw what Stalin did they couldn’t look to the Soviet Union. So they turned their hopes to Cuba. Then they saw what Castro did. The only one who still seemed to live up to the ideal was Che Guevara. So they turned to Che Guevara. I understand them. They were wrong their entire lives, and it is difficult to admit this.”
“They are ridiculous.” Perhaps some t-shirts could be made. After all, people who wear “Che” t-shirts and peddle communist claptrap presumably imagine they’re signalling how daring they are, righteous even. Some, like the people at 21st Century Socialism, may think of Castro’s chief executioner as “an icon, a means of identifying with the anti-establishment, a unique mix of the revolutionary ideals and pop star celebrity.” Yet it seems to me they may as well be walking around with a big notice saying, “If I had my way I’d control you and ruin the lives of everyone you care about.” Though stated in those terms it could lead to an occasional thumping.
I feel an urge to juxtapose.
“The intellectuals’ vain search for a truly socialist community, which results in the idealisation of, and then disillusionment with, a seemingly endless string of ‘utopias’ – the Soviet Union, then Cuba, China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Tanzania, Nicaragua – should suggest that there might be something about socialism that does not conform to certain facts.” Friedrich von Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, 1988.
“We’ve had the Soviet experiment. We’ll get it right next time.” Daoud Hamdani, The Guardian, 2010.