Fidel Castro is a very busy man. Over the past few weeks, he has imprisoned more than 75 dissidents, journalists and librarians, some to terms of 27 years. He executed three men who hijacked a ferry boat to flee to the U.S. mainland. He opened lots of angry mail from around the world from friends and former defenders. He made sure that a compliant United Nations re-elected Cuba to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
But even Susan Sontag, homegrown leftist "intellectual," stamped her foot and shook her index finger, berating Nobel Prize-winning novelist Garcia Marquez of Colombia for not speaking out against the dictator's perfidy.
What's most amazing is that left-wing intellectuals can continue to be surprised at the repetitive pattern of any communist dictator's evil. Every time they may feel compelled to take off their blinkers, as some of them have recently done, it's only a matter of time before the backsliding begins. They make the same old mistakes our homegrown Marxists always make, naively judging communism as the way to utopian impossibility. They just can't see the inherent evil in the roots of socialist ideology.
In a provocative essay building on F.A. Hayek, in the current journal of the Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation, Alan Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, compares Marxism and socialism to Nazism and fascism.
The concentration of power over all life in a centrally planned society, he writes, always attracts and rewards those who are the "morally worst," the most ruthless and the most submissive. Communist leaders don't come to power as a "necessary evil" in a transitional process toward an ideal goal. They exert absolute power for personal gain. Those who rebel are inevitably treated as Castro treats his dissenters.
"No cause, ever, in the history of all mankind," writes Prof. Kors, "has produced more cold-blooded tyrants, more slaughtered innocents, and more orphans than socialism with power."
Socialism in action, as opposed to an abstract utopian ideology, created a string of inhuman despots - Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Kim-Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro. All trampled on intellectual and artistic independence. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was no aberration. Yet leftist intellectuals not only ignore the facts, they act surprised when Stalin, Ho Chi Minh or Castro shows just how horrible a Marxist tyrant can be.
Nazism and fascism were built on atrocities in action; no intellectual today ignores their inherent brutality. Marxism gets a pass from the theoreticians, even though it's a theory that could be understood for what it really is by any moderately bright child. "It's taking other people's stuff," writes Prof. Kors. The abolition of economic liberty begets the abolition of social liberty.
In spite of the consistent record of Marxist dictatorships, many Western intellectuals prefer to attack the culture that guarantees their freedom, free markets and individual rights. They compare the world of a capitalist democracy with its freely conceded imperfections to the perfect abstraction of a socialist utopia. The abstraction wins.
With historical hindsight, the hero worship of Mao and Che Guevara in the 1960s was as wrongheaded as it would have been to worship Hitler and Goebbels in the 1940s, yet today Mao and Che are still not always regarded with the contempt they deserve.
When does the unredeemed utopian ideal expire? In 1949, several famous international intellectuals, including George Orwell, Andre Gide, Ignazio Silone and Arthur Koestler, published essays in an enduring book called The God That Failed.
They describe their love affair with communism and their eventual disillusionment with it. But their disillusionment did not dim the expectation that socialism still held promise: The problem lay with Stalin, not in his ideology. Arthur Koestler describes his communist cell meetings in Berlin as "intellectual self-castration," where the rank-and-file participants had no influence over any policy decision. He blamed the time and place.
In his novel Darkness at Noon, Koestler is brutally honest in exposing the immorality of the communist logic. But he still can't abandon his faith in the utopian idea that centralized control of economic planning (and theft) could be fused with a universal empathy for human life.
More than a half century later, after witnessing many more gods that failed, intellectuals can no longer indulge such illusions. When Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower learned that German residents in a town near a concentration camp in World War II were saying they "didn't know" what was happening around the corner - even though the stench of rotting flesh permeated the air - he ordered them all escorted through the camp to see the bodies.
Many of Castro's traditional acolytes on the left can smell the stench. They need now to acknowledge the bodies.