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Samizdata quote of the day

Having failed to win the support of the Eisenhower administration, who knew exactly what sort of man they were dealing with, Castro adopted communism purely for opportunistic and practical reasons. He was about as much a socialist revolutionary as he was a democrat. Naturally, the Soviets fell over themselves to shower any third-world thug who paid lip-service to communism with money, weapons, and other support and they did just that with Castro – even though his adoption of their ideology came to them as a complete surprise.

Many people think the USA is responsible for Castro’s rise and continuation in power, but most of the blame lies squarely on Moscow’s doorstep: without their cynical support in those early stages, Castro’s brutal dictatorship would likely have been over much more quickly.

Tim Newman

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Castro adopted communism purely for opportunistic and practical reasons

    I have heard this, but I strongly doubt it. I think he was a Marxist long before he took power.

  • Umbriel

    I’ve heard this asserted before, though I’m not sure I 100% agree. Surely the US was backing enough dirty-handed authoritarians at the time that he wouldn’t have been so outrageous in comparison — we were cutting deals with not-all-that-dissimilar “sorts of men”. The Eisenhower administration’s lack of support probably had more to do with wanting to keep a lid on revolutionary movements in the western hemisphere. If the other tin pot, but big business-friendly, dictators of central and South America saw us making nice with the guy that had overthrown our man Batista, it would make them wonder how readily we might sell any of them out to the next revolutionary to come along.

    And while I’m sure Castro was a pragmatist, and would likely have readily aligned with a fascist regime had there been any willing and able to prop him up in the 1960s, he was apparently enough of a true believer in a “people’s revolution” to have agitated for nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. That may have had more to do with a personal grudge against the US, or perhaps just a megalomania so strong that it saw millions of deaths as acceptable so long as they created a power vacuum for him to exploit, than with deep-seeded Marxist inclinations, but it seems like a poor fit for a US ally in any case.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    It’s interesting that it’s hard to tell a dedicated Communist despot from a merely pretensive one.

  • Paul Marks

    This quotation is not true.

    Even when the late Mr Castro was claiming not to be a Marxist (and the lying New York Times journalist was backing him up) in the 1950s – he stated that his program of action was “Social Justice and a Planned Economy” (guess what that means kiddies).

    Of course Fidel and his brother were Marxists back in the 1950s and they had professional Marxist killers (such as “Che” from Argentina) with them from other countries.

    As for the Eisenhower Administration – its arms embargo on Mr Batista (admittedly a Radical himself – and someone with a “touch the sun”, as the saying used to be, racially – which certainly could not be said of the white Mr Castro) led to the fall of Mr Batista and the rise of Mr Casto – who the Americans most certainly WERE (not were not) prepared to do business with – he just, in reality (as opposed to his lying interviews) did not want good relations with “Capitalist” America – because Mr Castro was a MARXIST.

    It is actually rather irritating to me that this “he was not a Communist till he was pushed into the arms of the Soviet Union” B.S. still gets pushed – the Castro brothers (and others) were professionals (I may hate them on ideological grounds – but I respect their professionalism), the Americans were painfully unprofessional.

    After all this was the 1950s when the American Administration had just thrown Senator McCarthy to the wolves (even though they know his charges of domestic subversion were true – see Stanton-Evans book “Blacklisted By History” on this), because it was just too embarrassing as people from “good families” were being exposed (which was bad for these “good families”).

    I see so it does not matter than the institutions of American government (of course Senator J.M.s interest was about infiltration in government – other people warned about infiltration of Civil Society institutions) and society are being infiltrated, at least it does not matter so much as to be worth embarrassing certain special families… Anyway it is all water under the bridge and the Communists will not be a problem in the future……. (thinks Ike and co) – accept in the 1960s they took over many universities and have had increasing influence in education (including of young children) and the media (including the entertainment media) since this time.


    But back to Cuba and the comedy hour of American intelligence operations at the end of the 1950s and (even worse) the early 1960s – when the American government was headed by Jack Kennedy (when his mind was clear of the influence of various drugs – and it was clear some of the time).

    As former CIA officer Brian Latell admits (see his book “Castro’s Secrets”) American intelligence was totally useless – and utterly undermined by a refusal to see the situation in IDEOLOGICAL terms.

    Like Mr Hemingway the Americans viewed themselves as tough and cynical – and were actually weak and trusting. They tended to believe what they were told by “friend” in the way small children do.

    If told Mr Castro and his associates were not dedicated Marxist professionals – the Americans would believe it. After all they (including President Kennedy himself) were “too intelligent” (read too stupid) to be “ideological” – the “real world” was run by bribes and so on like an overgrown Chicago (and this view even does not understand Chicago – for there is “ideology” at work there, the bribes are a SECONDARY thing oh “realistic” fools). Accept the “real world” contains people who are NOT motivated just by money and perks – as Dr Johnson pointed out “a man is seldom so INNOCENTLY engaged as when his after money” – people are often motivated by much darker things than money (for example Marxism).

    And who were these friends (Cuban agents) in the Castro regime that the Americans relied upon?

    All but one of them turned out to be working for the DGI (Cuban Communist intelligence) which ran rings round the “non ideological” “realistic” CIA. The DGI were fighting for a cause (yes an EVIL cause – but still a cause). And as Ayn Rand pointed out (in reference to the Russian Civil War – but also in reference to Vietnam) people with a clear set of beliefs (even evil beliefs) tend to defeat people who have no clear set of beliefs (no boo-hiss “ideology”) – especially people who pride themselves on believing in nothing (and consider that “realism” or “being pragmatic”).

    And the one real agent in the Cuban regime that did exist?

    He was actually an accident, originally an agent for the Israeli service who was passed-on to James Angleton – and as head of CIA Counter Intelligence Mr Angelton could not admit to having any agents at all (as for the head of Counter Intelligence to run agents of his own is against CIA rules). All the other “agents for the United States” in the Cuban regime were really working for the DGI and feeding the Americans disinformation (which in their childish “tough cynical guy” way – they believed). Electronic intelligence and physical (aircraft and so on) intelligence – yes that was O.K. (to some extent), but human intelligence (actual agents in key positions), not the Americans were hopeless at that, because they failed to really grasp they were in an IDEOLOGICAL conflict against a highly intelligent, professional and dedicated foe.

    Still that was more than 50 years ago now – what really annoys me is that the Cuban service is still pulling the wool over people’s eyes. “Fidel was not real Communist – the Americans alienated him and forced him into the hands of Moscow” – it is utter nonsense.

    Still if I carry on I will either have a stroke or start swearing – and as Julie from Chicago rightly points out, swearing serves no good purpose (it just messes up public discourse).

  • Marcher

    Still if I carry on I will either have a stroke or start swearing

    Quite. Swearing pretty much negates anything that came before it and makes an argument worthless, not that anyone reads more than four paragraphs in a comment section. I read the first three and and last one.

  • bobby b

    Mr. Newman: “Castro adopted communism purely for opportunistic and practical reasons . . .

    PapayaSF: “I have heard this, but I strongly doubt it. I think he was a Marxist long before he took power.

    This sounds like the argument that militant Islam isn’t “true” Islam.

    Given that so many of the driving force people behind communism’s spread end up wealthy and in complete charge, I think this is a false dichotomy.

    A TRUE Marxist leading a revolution would never end up wealthy and despotic. The ideal behind the ideology would never allow it, and so the leader would never aspire to it. If you are advocating some ideal that involves true equality amongst all, and if you are a committed believer of that ideology, you just wouldn’t ever work to become rich and powerful.

    But they almost always DO end up rich and in charge.

    So, there’s this unapproachable ideal of Marxism, which no one has ever attained, and then there’s the actual Marxism that we see constantly in which some fabulously wealthy strongman runs society.

    Point being, Castro WAS a true Marxist ideologue, and so he ended up as a wealthy thug in control.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Let’s not forget that Castro was really motivated by American hypocrisy. The Americans have always treated Cuba as if it were a colony of the US, going in if they didn’t like some government and changing it to suit themselves- and then going back when that effort failed. Cuba is the equivalent of Ireland to Britain, but the British didn’t pretend it wasn’t an Empire.
    If the Americans resolved to stay out of Cuba, and kept to it, they’d gain a lot of credit.

  • John Galt III

    Some 58 years of failure and Cuba is still a cesspool of Gulags, Torture and no food.

    Just 1) Haven’t tried Communism hard enough, 2) Tried the wrong kind of Communism or 3) It’s time to see if National Socialism, Fascism or Islam might work better.

  • Mr Ecks

    Nicholas Gray–So Castro is the US’s fault? Going for the John Pilger soundalike award?

    For a non-socialist Castro has enforced socialist evil at the economic level even more unpleasantly than the soviets. Oh he was a leftist all right. Don’t kid yourself otherwise.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Even John Pilger isn’t always wrong, though that would be the smart way to bet. And I don’t deny that Castro was a leftist, or evil. I do claim that America also doesn’t have clean hands on the issue of Cuba- when are they going to hand back Guantanamo Bay? Why are they hanging on to it?

  • Chester Draws

    Let’s not forget that Castro was really motivated by American hypocrisy. The Americans have always treated Cuba as if it were a colony of the US, going in if they didn’t like some government and changing it to suit themselves- and then going back when that effort failed.

    Name these efforts. The US took control of Cuba after defeating Spain, as they did the Phillipines and Puerto Rico. In the case of Puerto Rico they did actually make it basically a colony, but with Cuba it could easily have become a Phillipines. In the lead up to Castro the US hadn’t intervened in any real way for many decades.

    Cuba was wealthy relative to similar Caribbean countries, and that was at least in part because of its US links. Unfortunately it was the wrong sort of wealthy for the likes of Castro.

    Like Russia, which would doubtless have continued on its path of modernisation and liberalisation, Cuba was forced into Communist economics, and ruined. (Russia in 1917 was not particularly backward, despite all those Bolshevik propaganda attempts to portray it as such. It was at least as modernised as Spain and Italy, albeit mostly the bits that are no longer Russia.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    The US took control of Cuba after starting a war with Spain, and it has interfered whenever it felt it ‘needed’ to. And Russia was a Feudal economy when WW1 started. Straight from feudalism to Communism! Poor people. When Communism collapsed, they had to adopt the English word ‘business’ because they had no word of their own for a market economy! (Just going by what I’ve read, of course, like most of us.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    As for US interference, look up the Platt Amendment, which made Cuba formally subservient to America, and which was abrogated in 1934. The US also took land, such as Guantanamo Bay. And it isn’t just Cuba- Mexico has lost land to the Gringos for centuries! And Hawaiians would have preferred to be ruled by Britain, but the US annexed them.

  • And Russia was a Feudal economy when WW1 started.

    Russia was behind but making massive strides forward between 1880 and the Revolution, particularly in the west. Nikita Khrushchev did particularly well in what was to become Donetsk in the years before the Revolution, becoming something resembling a Yuppie. Like Castro, he switched to Communism when it became expedient for him to do so.

  • Paul Marks

    Russia was never a “feudal” country (apart from in the relations between the Czar and the Cossacks – that was “feudal”) – it would have been better if it had been as “feudal” means a monarchy limited by fundamental contractual laws of agreed mutual military and political obligations.

    Feudalism is a political and military system – NOT an economic one (surprise – Karl Marx was wrong). There is no necessary connection between “feudalism” and serfdom – one can have serfdom without feudalism (for example the late Roman Empire from the Emperor Diocletian onwards) and one can have feudalism without serfdom.

    For the record – serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861 (before the United States abolished slavery), and Russia was the forth largest economy in the world by 1914 – and had the highest rate of economic growth.

    Indeed that is why Germany jumped at an excuse for war in 1914 – as the German elite knew that every year that passed meant that Russia was stronger in relation to Germany, by the way France was also in the middle of a massive military reorganisation in 1914 – it was an ideal time for the Germans to strike.

    The French military reorganisation was due to be finished by the end of 1916 the Russian military reorganisation (modernisation) was not due to be finished till 1918, by which time Russian industry would have been overtaking German to become the second greatest industrial power on Earth (after the United States – the economic giant that most leaders in Europe did not seem to notice).

  • Paul Marks

    As John Dundas points out in his “A Summary View Of The Feudal Law, With The Differences Of The Scots Law From It” (1710) an important difference between “feudal” law and “modern” law is that under the “feudal” law the King (or other government) had no right to take land (without the voluntary consent of the landholder) to build a road or whatever. As long as the landholder kept up his “Feudal” (contractual) obligations – which were set and could NOT be changed by the Crown.

    Not exactly Russia under the Czars.