WASHINGTON -- The letter from a 12-year-old to "my good friend Roosvelt" is dated Nov. 6, 1940, one day after FDR won a third term. Saying he is "very happy" FDR won, he adds: "If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american." The letter, an enlarged copy of which is on display in the National Archives, ends: "Good by. Your friend, Fidel Castro."
Young Castro with his hand out prefigured his role in political history. Until its spell was broken, Marxism mesmerized millions by promising to solve mankind's economic problem -- abundance without the alienation caused by work, the French word for which is travail. Instead, Castro created mendicant Marxism, making Cuba dependent on huge subventions from the Soviet Union, which paid eight times the market price for sugar, and in the process purchased young Cuban men to fight in various "wars of liberation." When Russia withdrew its aid, Cuba's economy quickly shrank 35 percent, more than the U.S. economy contracted (26.5 percent) in the Depression. Cuba under communism had to import sugar. Today, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela provides $4 billion of oil to a Cuba with a GDP of $45 billion.
The departure, if such it really is, of Castro, the weird uncle in the island's attic, cures nothing. Cuba's affliction remains: It is Castroism, which is communism colored by Bonapartism. Communism of any stripe is afflicted by terminal ignorance. Having no market, which is an information-generating mechanism, communism cannot know what things should cost.
Hence communism's amazing contribution to humanity's economic history is "value-subtraction" -- products worth less than the materials that go into them. That result is seriously inconvenient for Marxism's labor theory of value -- the theory that labor adds all value to the world's materials.
Castro's career, although calamitous for Cubans, has provided entertaining farce through its effect on Western political pilgrims seeking leftist saviors. Joseph Goebbels called the Nazi regime "ennobled democracy," the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo called his "neo-democracy." In 1960, the second of Castro's 49 years as warden of Cuba as prison, Jean-Paul Sartre, existentialist and Stalinist, published an enraptured book about Castro's democracy. Sartre marveled at what he called Castro's "direct democracy" as demonstrated when, at a roadside stand, Castro and Sartre were served warm lemonade.