Monday, November 28, 2016

Castro: Hero or Villain?

We can't let the passing of Fidel Castro go unremarked.  An icon to those of us who like to piss off right wing knee jerk reactionaries, the public commentaries on his life which have followed his death have demonstrated the folly trying to make real life figures conform to our simple dualist expectations: they can be only good or bad, according our personal prejudices.  Inevitably, we all perceived Fidel in terms which conformed with our own world views - for Jeremy Corbyn he was a hero of socialism, bringing relief to the oppressed Cuban people, whereas, for Donald Trump, he was an evil dictator, suppressing democracy and oppressing his enemies.   Neither perception allows for the possibility that Fidel, like any other historical figure (or any human being, for that matter), could be a complex and multi-faceted character, capable of simultaneously being both saviour and oppressor.    So it is that Fidel Castro undoubtedly improved the lives of the Cuban people by toppling the Batista regime (which effectively allowed the country to be run for the benefit of the US mobs) and instituting a revolution which has brought them universal healthcare and education.  It also shouldn't be forgotten that he came to power on the back of a genuinely popular uprising.

On the other hand, Cuba under Castro was a one party state, with dissent suppressed, often violently and an unwillingness to put the undoubted popularity of many of the regime's policies to the test at the ballot box and thereby legitimise them in the eyes of the international community.   The poor human rights record of Cuba under Castro is also indefensible, with 'enemies of the state' being imprisoned without trial and subjected to torture, not to mention the suppression of artistic expression (if it didn't conform to state dictated norms) and institutionalised homophobia.  Obviously, all of the good stuff can't cancel out this dark side to Castro's revolution: there is no 'cosmic balance' which measures the good and bad we do and determines which side of the scales, overall, we end up on.  But we shouldn't ignore the good whilst highlighting the bad when assessing someone like Castro - wherever we stand on him, we surely have to, at the very least, acknowledge the existence of the other perspective. 

But that's the trouble, as human beings, we tend to want to be able to neatly categorize people on a simplistic, black and white, basis.  We blinker ourselves to their faults/virtues depending upon our perception of them, which frequently renders meaningful debate impossible.  Just look at the case of Tony Blair - all those Corbynistas just can't see beyond his role in the invasion of Iraq and therefore refuse to have truck with any political policy 'tainted' by association with him. On the other side, his supporters constantly seek to justify a pretty much unjustifiable war in order to preserve the rest of his political legacy.  They are both right and they are both wrong.  It is perfectly possible to acknowledge that Blair was spectacularly wrong on at least one major issue, yet still achieved a lot of good for a lot of people with many of his domestic policies.  Just like Fidel, he was simultaneously both hero and villain.  Neither could be anything else, of course, as this is the human condition.



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