Greg Grandin says it’s a mug’s game trying to figure out when Castro turned to Marxism

Historians in the News
tags: Cuba, Marxism, Castro



Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University and a Nation editorial board member, is the author of a number of prize-winning books, including "Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman."

Fidel Castro is dead at 90. He took power in 1959, at the head of the joyful, raucous, and brash Cuban Revolution, which was immediately placed under siege by Washington. Castro almost outlasted 11 US presidents—Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and passing in the waning days of Obama’s last term. Perhaps he just couldn’t bear the thought of President Donald Trump. Having been sanctimoniously lectured by all 11 US presidents on what constitutes proper democratic procedure, he might have thought Trump, about to take office with a minority of the vote and with significant voter suppression, a vindication.

I doubt it. In recent years, since he gave up power to his brother Raúl, Castro has dedicated himself to writing lengthy thought pieces, many of them on global warming, war, the fascism of neoliberalism, poverty, and other threats to humanity. Castro was a famous optimist and an irrepressible strategist, finding ways out of the grimmest situations (such as helping to nurture the coming to power of an electoral left in Latin America, which ended Cuba’s post–Cold War geopolitical isolation). His good friend the late Gabriel García Márquez once said Castro was a “sore loser” who would not rest until he was able to “invert the terms of the situation and convert defeat into a victory.” But, after having dodged by some counts 639 assassination attempts by Washington, Castro is finally at rest. The nightmare of Trump might have been a US president too far. ...

There are many other arguments to be had about Castro and the Cuban Revolution, about the relationship of political to social rights, about whether, considering the fate of other social democratic experiments in Latin America—in Guatemala, for example, or Chile—the Cuban Revolution would have survived had Castro not shut down civil society, and if that survival was worth it. In My Life, Castro lists his country’s accomplishments in education and health care, advances in science and medicine, contributions to decolonization and beating back white supremacy in Africa, ongoing humanitarian internationalism, and the audacity of having survived “thousands of acts of sabotage and terrorists attacks organized by the government of the United States.” “What,” he asks, “is Cuba blamed for?”

The list is long, and over the decades the defense of the Cuban state has been, for many, deeply dehumanizing. And since Castro himself has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the individual in history—a “man’s personality can become an objective factor,” he once said—he will be held to account for the high cost involved in the revolution’s survival. And the most damning criticism leveled at the Cuban Revolution is not that it is repressive but that its repression was for naught, with all the old problems that plagued Cuba prior to the revolution having returned, including sex tourism, race-based economic inequality, and corruption—problems that will worsen if rapprochement is allowed to proceed. ...




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