The reactions to Fidel Castro’s death mark the latest episode of left-wing pundits and leaders celebrating the minor accomplishments of dictators while downplaying their abhorrent records of abuse.
In perhaps the most egregious example of lopsided praise for the deceased despot, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waxed poetically about Castro’s legacy, calling him a “remarkable” and “larger than life” leader who “served his people” with a “tremendous dedication and love.”
Other international leaders struck a similar note. British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn even had the audacity to call Castro, who executed thousands of his political opponents during his reign, a “champion of social justice.”
Why, in spite of the atrocities he committed, does Castro receive this praise?
Not all dictators get such a pass. Adolf Hitler is rightly remembered as a monster. His name has become the pop culture standard for evil incarnate, and the facts about his genocide of racial, ethnic, and political minorities are well-documented. But the murders committed by the Nazi regime account for only a fraction of all those in the last century carried out under totalitarian governments. Why does he get special attention?
According to the standard narrative, fascism is a far-right ideology (though many, such as Jonah Goldberg, contest this). This makes Nazism an easy target to be singled out for condemnation. But when left-wing ideologies spawn evil leaders, many are silent in their criticism or even seek out minor details to praise, while overlooking the glaringly obvious horrors of their regimes.
“The fascist regimes led by Hitler and Mussolini weren’t so different from those led by communists”
It’s as if progressives feel an obligation to defend one of their own with someone like Castro. Because he was a leftist revolutionary, they’re quick to overlook his barbaric actions and focus instead on praising his efforts to socialize Cuba’s healthcare and educational systems. Sure, they rationalize, he did some not-so-progressive things like killing gay people, but hey, at least more Cubans can read because of his efforts.
This partisan lens distorts the historical record of revolutionary 20th century regimes. Questions of left and right aside, the ideological zealots who rose to power in the last century were uniformly disastrous. In practice, the fascist regimes led by Hitler and Mussolini weren’t so different from those led by communists. Both featured charismatic figureheads with cult-like followings. And more importantly, both were characterized by the use of state power to remake society. Fascism and communism are not polar opposites, but two varieties of the same trend toward the accumulation of central power and economic control under the pretense of an ideological revolution.
Setting aside the false dichotomy of left versus right, it should be clear that collectivist regimes headed up by authoritarian strongmen are a threat to human dignity and freedom, regardless of the ideological banner under which they occur. Fascism and communism alike are threats to western civilization, and should be viewed with equal contempt. The fact that Castro espoused one and not the other made no difference in the deaths of those he killed and in the lives of the generations that suffered under his oppressive regime.
Fidel Castro was not a Hitler or a Stalin, at least in terms of significance. He did not kill millions or launch an international war. But he was a brutal despot who killed tens of thousands for political purposes. Regardless of reported improvements in the literacy rate, the Cuban people were worse off for his revolution. He systematically targeted the most vulnerable in society, including political dissidents, religious minorities, and LGBT citizens. The fact that he did so in the name of communist ideals does nothing to diminish the evil of his actions.
If progressives are true to their stated goals of protecting minority groups, they must set ideology aside and condemn all tyrannical regimes.