Fidel’s fantasy of making the world anew — violently

Dictador Supremo: José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia

Dictador Supremo: José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was the José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia de nos jours. Yet Francia had one great merit by comparison with Castro and his admirers: he made no pretence that the régime represented democracy of a higher or better kind than the parliamentary variety. Francia did not pretend that it was a democracy of any kind, and came right out with it: his self-chosen title was Dictator.

Castro was the darling of the intellectuals

partly because, like them, he was so slovenly in appearance, partly because he represented their wish fulfilment (inside every rebel there’s a dictator trying to get out). To rant for hours in front of a captive audience unable to answer or object: what greater bliss for an intellectual?

Admiration for Castro in the West was, of course, from afar. Dalrymple points out that Castro’s admirers

would not have found the régime they affected to admire supportable for a single day.

The admiration in the West

for Castro and his appalling sidekick and potential rival, Ernesto Guevara, was essentially frivolous, more a question of style than of substance. It was the promise of eternal adolescence that the two revolutionary egotists held out that rendered them so attractive at a time when adolescence was regarded as the finest of the seven ages of man.

Alberto Korda with his photograph

Alberto Korda with his photograph

Dalrymple notes that

if the photographer Alberto Korda had not snapped Guevara in an uncharacteristically romantic pose (usually he looked dishevelled and unwashed), the cult would not have existed. This was the face that launched a thousand T-shirts, not to say berets, badges, posters, coffee mugs, car stickers, and other items of kitsch.

Dictador Dalrymple would force

anyone guilty of wearing a Guevara T-shirt to read 20 pages of his writings, which make those of Leonid Brezhnev seem like P.G. Wodehouse.

When Dalrymple contemplates

the printed acreage of praise of Castro by Western intellectuals, I recall the words of Thomas Carlyle with regard to what he calls the gauchos of Paraguay:

These men are fit to be drilled into something! Their lives stand there like empty capacious bottles, calling to the heavens and the earth. ‘Is there nothing to put into us, then?’

Dalrymple:

Yes, there is: fantasies of omnipotence, fantasies of making the world anew, with us in charge.

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Revolutionary egotists

Dear little chap

Finding himself in Madrid, Dalrymple ambles into the Prado, which is for him the most beautiful of the great art galleries. He comes across a painting by Bronzino, and observes that the productions of this portraitist of the Florentine élite are marked by

clear-sighted ruthlessness. They are slightly chilling.

Don Garzia de’ Medici, son of Cosimo I de’ Medici, is represented as holding in his right hand an orange flower, symbol of innocence. But no one would take him for an innocent.

Quite the contrary, one would take him for an incipient psychopath, the kind of person who later in his career would gladly have had those around him poisoned in order to secure his power, he being only the third son of his father. The infant, chubby from rich food, is dressed in a red silk tunic laced liberally with gold, of an adult style different only in size from an adult’s, and stares out defiantly, unblinkingly and already with no illusions about the world, upon the onlooker. His expression is nasty; it is that of an infant both petulant and calculating.

The picture

lacks tenderness of any kind. It is a portrait of a young Machiavellian who expects as his due, but also has to scheme, to get his way.

Dalrymple has seen many children aged three with the malign and calculating expression of Don Garzia de’ Medici.

I worked for years in a prison and used to see the prisoners’ infants coming to visit their father in the company of their mothers, and I saw on their faces the already-hardened look of Don Garzia. I have little doubt that a psychopathic environment brings forth psychopaths.

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Richard Gott’s perverted KGB view of history

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Richard Gott: Guardian writer and onetime KGB agent

Richard Willoughby Gott, the upper-class English journalist and spy for the Soviet Union, was educated at Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. A communist, Gott was recruited by the KGB in the late 1970s and writes for the London Guardian newspaper.

Dalrymple observes that although Gott

accepted trips paid for by the KGB, that didn’t harm his journalistic reputation anything like taking them from the CIA would have.

The traitor Gott, Dalrymple points out, is

always on the lookout for a left-wing economic experiment to laud, preferably in the tropics,

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-23-24-51and one of his

more recent enthusiasms was for the late Hugo Chávez, about whom he wrote a book. Chávez’s policies could have produced a shortage of saltwater in the Pacific.

As for Fidel Castro, Western intellectuals have long retained a soft spot for the Cuban dictator, and Gott is one of his leading European champions, being entirely uninterested in

the economic effects of Castro’s regime. When Castro seized power, Cuba was at the economic level of Italy, and richer than Spain. It had a poor peasantry, but so did Spain and Italy. Like Perón in Argentina, but even more dramatically, Castro undeveloped his country.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-23-23-58Nor is Gott interested in Cuba’s

  • mass emigration, or why it took place
  • executions
  • imprisonment of dissidents
  • censorship
  • constant surveillance
  • arbitrary arrest
  • omnipresent propaganda

Gott, says Dalrymple,

is now an elderly man, but he is still adolescent at heart, as so many intellectuals are.

Castro’s Cuba: a pile of rubble flying a skull and crossbones

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-47-22The dictator’s end came 60 years too late

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was his own greatest admirer. His ego was more important than the fate of anything in the world, or of the entire world. As he put it in a speech, ‘The Cuban people did not hesitate to face the dangers of thermonuclear war.’ It goes without saying that Castro did not invite the Cuban people to express an opinion on the matter of their incineration by nuclear bombs. The Romans said, ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.’ Castro, in effect, said, ‘Let the world end, so long as I play an important part in it.’ His willingness to approve an apocalypse for his own people was paralleled only by that of Hitler.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-48-22When the Russians ignored Castro in their negotiations with the Americans,

he felt humiliated by his insignificance in the larger scheme of things. The extent of his moral frivolity was demonstrated by the fact that he was reconciled with the Russians a year later after a long tour of the Soviet Union, during which the Russians fêted him as they had never fêted anyone else.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-49-41He liked nothing better, Dalrymple points out,

than to harangue hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución for several hours at a time. (Attendance was compulsory.)

A diplomat in Havana told Dalrymple that he had once dined with Castro,

who had spoken uninterruptedly for seven hours, pausing only briefly to take food and drink.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-27-46Castro was a master at

manipulating the opinion of Western intellectuals, many of whom supported him unconditionally. His creation of an utterly servile Press and suppression of all liberty of opinion did not bother those intellectuals either. The combination of his rebellious rhetoric and defiance of the US more than compensated them for the dilapidation of Cuba, the tyranny, and the large numbers of political prisoners.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-54-36Dalrymple notes that Castro knew how to get the most out of foreign interviewers.

His technique was to keep journalists waiting for days or weeks, so that their tension mounted, and then suddenly call them at 3am. Their relief was so great that they were disarmed, and susceptible to Castro’s magnetic charms. Dutiful propagandists, they would trot out Castro’s achievements in health and education, which were said to counterbalance the food rationing, the deterioration of the housing stock and the absence of elementary freedoms.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-43-54His daughter Alina Fernández, who has inherited Castro’s temper, once shouted at him: ‘You’re a mediocrity!’ Although this sounds

absurd, given Castro’s career, it contains a truth: for all his ebullience and activity, his ideas never rose above the level of cliché, and mistaken cliché at that.

The centralised economy he established

did not work, because such economies cannot work. Havana, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is crumbling into dust through lack of maintenance. Hundreds of thousands of people inhabit the ruins of a previous civilisation.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-59-07The only institution that functions in Cuba with anything approaching efficiency is

the secret police.

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Castro’s crude, dim-witted economics

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-21-56-22Fidel Castro, Dalrymple notes,

was born the illegitimate son of an impoverished Galician immigrant who became a landowning millionaire. No doubt his father’s great wealth had something to do with Fidel’s lifelong contempt for money: like a hidalgo, he despised it not only for himself but on behalf of everyone else as well.

It is probable that

his ambiguous social status as the illegitimate son of a very rich man caused him to be less attached to Cuban society than were others born with similar chances of prospering in it. Such an ambiguous position easily breeds both the confidence and the inclination to rebel.

But Castro’s life is also

an illustration of the maxim that inside every rebel there is a dictator trying to get out. From the very earliest age, Castro was endowed with a huge and ungovernable ego. Constantly, often violently, rebellious from his infancy on, he brooked no opposition from others from the moment he reached a position of power. At university, he took part in violent political feuds, and may have been a killer. Top dog was and is the only position he could ever accept.

He never learned to know how much he did not know. This gave him

the feeling of omnicompetence: a failing that is minor, though no doubt irritating, in a pub bore, but disastrous in a dictator whose whim is law.

From the outset he

pursued policies that were economically disastrous because founded on an erroneous premise: that wealth is the mirror image of poverty, that the rich are rich because the poor are poor.

But as the Cubans

have discovered at their leisure, if you confiscate luxury cars, it does not mean everyone gets shoes.

Castro’s legacy is

a mess of gargantuan proportions which will take years and the wisdom of Solomon to sort out.

The mendacity of Castroite historiography

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-47-35When the horrors of socialist revolutions are inadmissible

There are those, writes Dalrymple, who feel — and advertise — a deep, lifelong, invincible sympathy for Castro and his putrid dictatorship.

From Sartre to Mme Mitterand, prominent personalities have raised hosannas to the Cuban caudillo and all his works.

From the very first, of course, like all murderous tyrants, Castro

deceived his followers and lied his way to absolute power. Many of his close associates learnt this to their cost.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-57-10The dictator wanted nationalisation and he wanted war with America. Yet for some,

the blame for Cuba’s half-century of penury and totalitarianism lies only with America.

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George Galloway

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Wayne S. Smith

Danielle Mitterrand

Jean-Paul Sartre

Danielle Mitterrand

Danielle Mitterrand

Cubanos — your place is to obey

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-22-13-39The pitiful human results of a rotten tyrant’s folie de grandeur

Decay, writes Dalrymple,

when not carried to excess, has its architectural charms, and ruins are romantic: so romantic that 18th-century English gentlemen built them in their gardens, as pleasantly melancholic reminders of the transience of earthly existence.

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-22-21-41But Fidel Castro

is no 18th-century English gentleman, and Havana is not his private estate, for use as a personal memento mori. The ruins of Havana that he has brought into being are the habitation of over 1m people, whose collective will, these ruins attest, is not equal in power to the will of one man. ‘Comandante en jefe,’ says one of the political billboards that have replaced all commercial advertisements, ‘you give the orders.’ The place of everyone else is to obey.

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The Dalrympian Hell

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A hospital committee meeting in which the Director of Quality Assurance talks forever of his vision for improvement of patient services

The sport of banker-bashing

Nothing is more tempting, writes Dalrymple,

than to blame the financier, merchant, or banker—in short, the scheming middlemen—for the woes of the world. They are parasites, goes the cry, mere bloodsuckers; they create nothing, but take advantage of everything and everybody. They make profits on the way up as well as on the way down, in abundance and in scarcity, no matter how others suffer in the process.

Such ideas, he points out,

are the stuff of propaganda, both Bolshevik and Nazi. For such propaganda, only the producers of simple tangible goods—the shirtsleeved proletarian in his forge pouring pig iron, say, or the happy flaxen-haired peasant hoeing the land to produce turnips—make a real contribution to wealth, everything else being but a form of hidden confiscation of what the sweat of their brow has produced.

Those who have believed this,

or at any rate acted as if they believed this, have been responsible for a great deal of misery in the world.

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The Donald’s clownish rodomontade vs Hillary’s ruthless self-righteousness

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-08-47-07Dalrymple notes that Donald Trump is regarded,

somewhat melodramatically, as a proto- or sub-Mussolini. Private Eye, the satirical weekly, published photos of Musso and Trump taken from the same angle, and the physical resemblance was remarkable.

Hillary Clinton, he says,

would be the choice of most Europeans. They believe, by no means justifiably, that she would be less dangerous for the rest of the world than the volatile and unpredictable Trump.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-09-04-14There is, Dalrymple points out,

a smugness about the European attitude to the American election. It couldn’t happen here: no serious politician of Trump’s crassness would reach his exalted level. Not only does such assurance forget our history, it disregards the discontents under the surface that could one day erupt into something far worse than Trump’s clownish rodomontade.

And Europe’s political class

already shares Clinton’s invincible and ruthless self-righteousness. Being Clinton is never having to say you’re sorry.

Europe faces

a similar choice as that between Trump and Clinton: inchoate and resentful protest (Trump), and self-anointment and entitlement to rule (Clinton) — with an admixture of suspected financial impropriety, past and to come, in both.