Over on the blog Left in East Dakota, two sworn opponents of the left, Beakerkin and Sonia, have made a mess of understanding the Spanish Revolution--among other things. But, likewise, it is all too common to observe their opponents (a group to which I belong) failing to admit faults and mistakes made within the historical trajectory of our ideologies. I do not imagine that Beak and Sonia simply lack the ability to read a book (both seem to be very sharp), but rather I believe their misconceptions are blindly driven by ideology. So what if they had read the same books as I did about the Spanish Revolution? Or if I had read their books (assuming they've read about the Spanish Revolution before commenting on it)? How much different would our understandings be? Would either of us be willing to be intellectually honest and cede ground to the other if evidence and reason mounted up against our ideologies?
In the aforementioned post (and many, many others throughout the blogosphere), a discussion ensues in the comments, and one cannot help but notice the hesitation by either side of the argument to give ground, even at the expense of intellectual honesty and rational discourse. Both sides are seemingly guilty of not admitting when they are wrong--historically or about politics today.
George Orwell had to flee Spain in late 1937 thanks to the treachery of communists of the "right-wing" Leninist/Stalinist variety, socialists and moderate republicans who, like the Western democracies, had no interest in seeing the anarchist revolution succeed. Once again, we observe the threat of a good example. Orwell discusses this in his own words in Homage to Catalonia. I would prefer to take George's own word for it over that of an ideologue like Beakerkin.
In fact, as the historical record reveals, the anarchists (numbering over one million in 1936) were completely isolated by right-wing fascists, Western "democracies" and the whole slew of supposedly leftist groups. The Spanish "communists" (authoritarian version) were no more interested in the success of the social revolution than were the fascist for an obvious reason: power!
ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY
There is a tendency for corrupt, illegitimate and oppressive power consistent throughout history with all governments. It has been especially egregious wherever right-wing communism, and of course fascism, has emerged. But let's concentrate our criticism on the communist variety that far too many leftists attempt to defend. Let's look at Cuba, one of my favorite studies and a place I have experienced firsthand. While Cuba, like no other "communist" nation, has accomplished an unprecedented level of social and economic justice (bearing in mind that the stagnant economy cannot be discussed separate from the devastating toll of the U.S. Embargo), they have done little to distribute the political power of their nation and are guilty of all variety of human rights violations. But so are we here in the U.S. We allow millions to starve and live without homes in the wealthiest nation the earth has ever known. We make money off of other people's misery. We are as selfish and greedy a nation as the world has ever seen.
However, since many of us hate to admit it, let me say for my part that Cuba is not a democracy! A student asked me last week if I want to go live in Cuba, to which I responded, "hell no!" I love many of my rights here in the U.S., but I am appalled by--and want to change--the heinous inequality and social injustice we experience across this country. Not too mention most of what we enjoy materially, politically, and economically is as a result of imperial plunder. I hate what my country represents running roughshod over the world, stuffing its face with cake, committing war crimes, violating human rights on innumerable fronts, and on and on. I, like the Cubans I visited with on the streets of Havana, am displeased with all manner of sins committed in the bullshit name of my country. We must believe more can be done here and in Cuba and everywhere else. But rather than punishing good examples because it threatens our fragile little ideologies, have the stones and honesty to admit it when something is working to serve the common good.
Castro, like most all world leaders (ESPECIALLY U.S. PRESIDENTS), has committed many crimes and should be held accountable. Especially by those of us that claim to be struggling for social and economic justice.
Beak and Sonia seem incapable of intellectual honesty or perhaps a nuanced answer when discussing politics and economics. At the same time, giving ground and admitting the horrific tolls of human lives destroyed under the name (AND NAME ONLY!) of "communism," or "socialism" is imperative. We do a tremendous disservice to the merits and value, not too mention those killed struggling for these ideals, by associating them with Soviet, Chinese, and other examples. Besides, we have plenty of ideologues to try to make blanket statements about socialism. We would be smart to never defend that which is obviously beyond defense.
Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves the question my student asked me: "Would you live there?" Would any of us on the left have wanted to live in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc.? Would those on the right have wanted to live under Pinochet, Videla, Franco, etc.?