BALTIMORE – Fidel Castro was regarded as a revolutionary and a “change agent.”
But he is better understood as a throwback, more of a counter-revolutionary than a real revolutionary.
The real revolution in human affairs happened long before he was born… and is still going on – the revolution led by civilized free-market capitalism.
The real revolution was a shift from violence to persuasion. In commerce, theft yielded to voluntary exchanges. In politics, elections and consensual democracy gradually replaced armed conquest.
Until fairly recently, kings were stabbed in the back by their relatives. Emperors were slaughtered by their guards. Conquerors defeated reigning rulers and took everything – their women, their money, their land, and their peoples.
At least the common man knew his place…
He knew he was a subject, not a citizen. He paid no more taxes than he had to. He hid his wealth. He ducked his rulers, with their duties, corvées, and death squads.
As for being ready to die for his country, forget it! He knew he was more likely to die at the hands of his government than for it.
Democracy, in many different modern forms, evolved in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
It succeeded because it was able to bamboozle the common man into believing that the government was actually his… that he was in charge of it… and that he was the master, not the servant. Force gave way to fraud, in other words.
This fantasy put him in a generous mood.
He stood in line to vote. He voluntarily paid taxes. He lined up to join the army. And in times of war, he was ready – according to the patriotic press – to throw himself onto a grenade to save his fellow soldiers and the cause they served.
This gave democratic governments a huge evolutionary advantage: Letting the common man participate in his own government made him more enthusiastic and lowered the cost of compliance. Elites who had to rely only on the grudging cooperation of their distrustful subjects couldn’t compete.
Readers will note that slavery went out of style at about the same time democratic governments evolved. And for the same reason.
Had mankind developed a greater sense of justice and sympathy towards others?
Not likely. What had evolved to a higher level was the economy. It was now cheaper and more efficient to pay laborers than to keep them as slaves. Digging the New Basin Canal in 1830s Louisiana was a good example.
Slaves got yellow fever in the swamps and died. Slaves had capital value. A dead slave was a dead loss. So the engineers found a new source of manpower – poor Irishmen willing to work for as little as $1 a day. They died even more readily than the slaves. But nobody cared.
Cuba had been working its way toward fragile democracy when Fidel Castro appeared on the scene. But in 1952, former President Fulgencio Batista staged a coup d’état. Then he teamed up with the American mafia to turn Cuba into a “Latin Las Vegas.”
Popular discontent grew, as the ordinary Cuban felt he was not getting a fair shake.
Fidel Castro invaded in 1956 with 80 “revolutionaries.” There wasn’t much revolutionary about them; they simply intended to bring back old-fashioned values – murder, larceny, slavery – to Cuba.
But Castro soon developed a new hustle – communism. This was a new strain of politics, a mutant form of government that took the worst parts of old and new, combining age-old force with the popular new fraud.
It pretended that the citizen comrade was not only in charge of his government, but of his economy, too. Not only was the proletariat the new ruling class, it was also the owner of all the stuff!
For a few decades, this new creed seemed to work. The typical working man was apparently enthusiastic (those who weren’t often were shot, exiled, or imprisoned)… as long as supplies of stuff held out.
But it had a fatal flaw. Capitalism spurred making; force and violence relied on taking. As the years passed, the communists ran out of stuff to take while the voluntary economies made so much stuff – tanks, guns, bombs – they became unstoppable.
And now, after going up a blind alley for 67 years, Fidel is dead.