The Left has had a love affair with Castro’s Cuba ever since he seized power on January 1, 1959. Castro established a Stalinist regime that has persecuted its people in horrific ways for decades. And the Left has shown its gratitude for and intoxication with the brutal display of totalitarian power all throughout.
The horrifying experience of Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet who endured twenty-two years of torture and imprisonment for merely raising the issue of freedom, is a testament to the regime’s barbarity. Valladares’s memoir, Against All Hope, serves as Cuba’s version of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Valladares recounts how prisoners were beaten with bayonets, electric cables, and truncheons. He tells how he and other prisoners were forced to take “baths” in human feces and urine.
With this barbaric nature of Castro’s regime in mind, it is completely understandable why the Left initiated a romance with Castro and his slave camp, just as it did with Lenin’s and Stalin’s Gulag. Jerry Rubin set the tone perfectly during his trip to Cuba in 1964, during which he paid special homage to Castro’s chief executioner, Che Guevara. Rubin proudly recalls:
"We were 84 Amerikan students visiting Cuba illegally in 1964. We had to travel 14,000 miles, via Czechoslovakia, to reach Cuba. . . . As Che rapped on for four hours, we fantasized taking up rifles. Growing beards. Going into the hills as guerrillas. Joining Che to create revolutions throughout Latin America. None of us looked forward to returning home to the political bullshit in the United States."
Five years later, in 1969, American leftists formed the Venceremos Brigade, a coalition whose members traveled to work in Cuba to show their solidarity with the Communist revolution. These fellow travelers participated mostly in sugar harvests in the first pilgrimages, while later brigade members engaged in various types of agricultural and construction work. High-profile Western leftists, meanwhile, including Susan Sontag, Jean-Paul Sartre, Norman Mailer, and Abbie Hoffman, also made pilgrimages to Cuba.
Berkeley activist Todd Gitlin traveled to Cuba with an SDS delegation to a Cultural Congress in 1967. In the belly of the totalitarian beast, where he was well aware that dissidents were rotting in jail and being tortured beyond imagination, Gitlin too experienced the intoxication of venerating tyranny. Leaving Cuba proved quite painful for him. He recalls:
"What was palpable was the pain of re-entry to my homeland. . . . At the Mexico City airport, having a drink with Dave Dellinger and Robert Scheer, I looked out the window and saw a billboard advertising Cutty Sark. I had to change seats: after twenty-three days where public space was turned to revolutionary use, capitalist propaganda disgusted me."
What disgusted him, of course, were the withdrawal symptoms he was experiencing—analogous to a drug addict coming off his fix. For twenty-three days he had experienced his euphoria of shedding his inner self and submerging himself within the totalitarian whole. In Cuba he had found a home where even the slightest dissent would be crushed instantly and the concept of the individual was non-existent. The advertisement he saw, therefore, was a horror to him, since it symbolized a free society where individuals could use their free will to pursue their own tastes and desires. This reality is anathema to the believer.
As Gitlin so well revealed, Western leftist intellectuals were greatly inspired by the persecution of intellectuals in Cuba, just as the earlier generation had been by the persecution of intellectuals in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Charmed by the notion of a society in which their own talent—as well as their entire being—would be extinguished, they continued the practice of labelling the totalitarian monstrosity the opposite of what it was.
Western leftists have continued to shower adulation on Castro to this day. Humberto Fontova has written a succinct account of the Left’s continuing dalliance with Castro in Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant. Here is just a portion of his compilation of leftist praise for the death-cult leader:
“Cuba’s own Elvis!”—that’s how Dan Rather once described his friend Fidel Castro. Oliver Stone, another friend, describes Fidel as “very selfless and moral” and “one of the world’s wisest men.” “A genius!” agreed Jack Nicholson. Naomi Campbell said meeting Castro was “a dream come true!” According to Norman Mailer, Castro is “the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second World War.” Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Castro is at the same time the island, the men, the cattle, and the earth. He is the whole island.” . . . Actress Gina Lollobrigida cooed, “Castro is an extraordinary man. He is warm and understanding and seems extremely humane.” Francis Coppola simply noted, “Fidel, I love you. We both have the same initials. We both have beards. We both have power and want to use it for good purposes.” Harry Belafonte added: “If you believe in freedom, if you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!”
Steven Spielberg visited the father-god in Havana in the fall of 2002. He called the meeting with Castro “the most important eight hours of my life.”
Castro’s Cuba has been an exhilarating gift to the American Left, presenting it with a totalitarian death-cult to worship with a wonderful geographical bonus: it is close to home, just ninety miles from the Florida coast.
About Jamie Glazov
Jamie Glazov holds a Ph.D. in history with specialties in