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Protests for Me, Not for Thee
Cuba has erupted into protest and, frustratingly but predictably, parts of the socialist left are reacting in the worst of ways.
The island of Cuba, one of the few holdouts of Marxism-Leninism — i.e. Soviet-style communism — is currently rocked by protests prompted by lack of food and vaccines. Protesting one’s government should be a fundamental civil right, but the authoritarian government of Cuba has often cracked down on such protests in the past. Predictably, a large segment of the socialist left has raced to defend the regime and find ways to smear the protestors as illegitimate.
Just three months ago, in April 2021, during the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, Raúl Castro, the younger brother of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, stepped down from his post as First Secretary, the most powerful post on the island. For the first time in Cuba’s six-decade-plus history as a communist state, a Castro no longer leads the country. Perhaps some see this shift as an opportunity to push for change — but the island is genuinely struggling with a shortage of critical goods.
There is a network of propaganda outlets largely focused on the internet, such as RT (a state-run propaganda outlet of the Russian government) and Grayzone (a supposedly independent publication started by the son of a Clinton lackey) that exist primarily to provide fodder to prop up authoritarian governments that are anti-American in nature, regardless of whether they are left- or right-wing. The narrative they love to push in the wake of protests of almost any sort is that they are CIA-backed or otherwise instigated by the United States government.
To Cuba’s strong credit, they are one of the most successful implementations of Marxism-Leninism. Even through a decades-long embargo, they have long outlasted the fall of the USSR. Though China is officially communist in ideology and, these days, a highly formidable world power, its on-the-ground reality is one of authoritarian capitalism with heavy social conservative leanings. The United States struggles with similar sorts of problems, but the Chinese government is constructed in a way to give Xi Jinping far more power and ability to outlast others than, say, Donald Trump — as we saw first-hand this past election cycle.
One of the chief reasons for the existence of authoritarianism is a desire to suppress dissent. But intense, prolonged suppression of dissent can lead to disorder. The unspoken core of the thought process of the Grayzones and the RTs of the world is that there is no way these dictators would let things get so out of control without outside factors conspiring against them. In reality, the tighter you seek to control a populace, the more they will inevitably strike back when given the opportunity.
Authoritarianism, even when seeking supposedly principled ends, such as in the case of Marxism-Leninism, is built on fear — fear of executed, imprisoned, “disappeared,” or anything else that can drive a populace into submission. When fear of starvation or dying of COVID outweighs that of the government, people are much more likely to take far more radical action than they would before. To insist such surges in dissatisfaction must take outside meddling is to deny these suffering people agency.
Frustratingly, the kind of people who espouse these views often decry the value of voting in the “liberal capitalist” United States where, despite significant differences in social, economic, and environmental policy, the Democrats and Republicans are dismissed as fundamentally the same. Instead, they push the value of “direct action” — a range of activities from protest to mutual aid to seizing supplies. What is labeled justified — or even revolutionary — here is deemed counter-revolutionary there.
Given Cuba is already the supposedly “correct” ideology to many Marxist, any action against the government is dismissed as inherently invalid. But the goal of politics is not to realize the specific vision of dead men, it is to improve and maintain the quality of life for people alive today — and, crucially, in the future, which those who have procrastinated on climate change want to ignore. To deem some governments as inherently infallible because they uphold some time-weathered tome is just theocracy with extra steps, especially when personality cults become involved.
However, much of the propaganda that puts protests such as these at the feet of the CIA comes from places that are, far more than communist or socialist, simply “campist” in nature — rather than rote love for the United States and its allies, they instead provide it to its enemies and rivals. They trade one camp for another. The Russian government is the major driving force behind this phenomenon in the English-speaking world, who, with its weakened economy, traded the raw industrial and military might of the Cold War for mass internet disinformation and propaganda.
This is most strongly evident in the campists’ intense, unflinching support for Syria’s “president” Bashar al-Assad — a man who is, by almost every conceivable measure, a fascist and far-right but defended staunchly by people with “antifa” and “leftist” in their social media bios. The core focus of the propaganda Russia and its partners in propaganda push is the idea that a single chemical weapons attack was staged, even though that was thoroughly debunked — not to mention there are countless others conclusively linked to the tyrant. This is not a man even putting up the pretense of building a bright communist future, just a brutal butcher who, with the help of Russia and Iran, created the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Let us not get too hasty with comparisons. The Cuban government is far-left and has accomplished numerous good things, the Syrian government is far-right and has not. What do they have in common? Authoritarianism, strong diplomatic ties to Russia, and an anti-American geopolitical stance. This fits with the strategy outlined by The Fourth Political Theory, a book written by a Russian fascist theorist who advocates bringing together the authoritarian, nationalist right- and left-wing governments of the world together against the liberal world order and democracy.
Obviously, in the face of American influence and, at times, aggression, many countries who are otherwise unable to defend themselves feel forced to align themselves with a country much more powerful than they are. The Cuban government is not any less legitimate for maintaining ties with the country that, in the form of the USSR, was a long-time lifeline. When annexation by the United States feels like a legitimate risk, and when industrialization takes technology and talent hard to build from the bottom-up, “camps” inevitably form.
However, we, the people, not these camps. It is critical that we recognize the right of the populace to protest against all governments, however much we might find them ideologically preferable to others. In many parts of the world, authoritarianism is on the rise — and desperately needs to be countered. The embargo should be lifted and aid should be sent to any country with shortages of essential goods when possible. Our solidarity should always be with people there, not the governments that rule them.