links for 2008-02-19
Bad Blurbs for Good Books

Good Riddance to Fidel Castro!

Fidel Castro has retired. Good riddance!!

That the Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin Authoritarian Project of which Fidel Castro was the next-to-last exemplar was not an advance toward but a retreat from a better world was obvious long, long ago. Quite early--Kronstadt?--it was clear to all save the dead-enders that the project was a mistake. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote in "The Russian Revolution":

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party -- however numerous they may be -- is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently... because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic....

The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of dictatorship is this: that the socialist transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice. This is, unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- not the case.... What we possess in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look.... The socialist system of society should only be, and can only be, an historical product, born out of the school of its own experiences, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history... socialism by its very nature cannot be decreed or introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force -- against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot. New Territory. A thousand problems. Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts. The public life of countries with limited freedom is so poverty-stricken, so miserable, so rigid, so unfruitful, precisely because, through the exclusion of democracy, it cuts off the living sources of all spiritual riches and progress.... The whole mass of the people must take part in it. Otherwise, socialism will be decreed from behind a few official desks by a dozen intellectuals.... [Lenin] is completely mistaken in the means he employs. Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties, rule by terror.... It is rule by terror which demoralizes.

When all this is eliminated, what really remains?... Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously -- at bottom, then, a clique affair -- a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense.... Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc....

That--written some ninety years ago--strikes me as a good epitaph for Castro's rule.

But there are, of course, dead-enders like Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber, who makes an impressive play for the stupidest man alive crown with:

: [W]hat the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth's surface where they were no longer able to operate. Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk. So let's hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let's hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let's hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let's hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let's hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!