Fidel Castro and the Left's Failures

Socialism’s failure has compelled the left to move from repairing society to making value judgements that entirely refute its legitimacy and is the cause of the left’s failures today.

Fidel Castro, Cuba's Revolutionary Leader, Dies at 90. Here: pictured playing golf in Havana in 1960.
Prensa Latina, AP

Fidel Castro’s death last week added an ironic emphasis to the difficulties being experienced by the left in nearly the entire Western world, including Israel, of course. The revolution that Castro fomented over 50 years ago left an entire country in poverty and oppression. U.S. President Barack Obama’s response to the announcement of the dictator’s death — “history will judge him” — is therefore surprising, no less than is the praise the outgoing president received for renewing ties with Cuba as an exciting high point of his diplomatic achievements. It is surprising that the most liberal American president in recent years saw fit to treat with respect the Castro regime, with all its falsehoods in regard to the principles of liberty and prosperity.

But the resounding failure of the Marxist tradition is not confined only to failed states such as Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea. After Britain and the United States, and many years after Israel, France and Germany can also expect to face the question of who will win the election: the right, or the extreme right? The left repeatedly finds itself outside of the main game, and the question is why. What causes its almost sweeping failure in almost all Western countries?

While it is true that Obama was elected president and then reelected — an enormous achievement — but in light of the developments, it might be the exception and not the rule. The development that today threatens the European Union might be ascribed to the foolishness of the voters, the evil of the corporations and even the sun and the stars. But it seems that the simple answer to the ongoing, long-term failure of the left almost everywhere is connected to the fact that the situation of most people in Western democracies greatly improved in the second half of the 20th century, especially thanks to the rules of the capitalist free market. Socialism, in contrast, has failed at most of its tasks. This fact has compelled the left to largely abandon the concrete realms of social and economic decisions and settle for fighting for minorities, immigrants and weak, marginalized groups that have not yet come into society’s broader core.

The problem is that because these groups aspire to integrate into the thriving mainstream society, the left cannot depend on them ideologically and politically. Their goal is to join the strong. And so the left is pushed into a much more extreme strategy: It denounces, discounts and criticizes mainstream society itself, hoping that by doing so it will prevent that society’s ideological victory.

As a result, the left’s focus on advancing the rights of minorities and marginalized groups is carried out by criticizing and denying the legitimacy of the existing society, even when that society is a flourishing democracy.

Today’s left holds that the universal principles governing democratic societies oppress its nonconforming minorities, because these principles come from the dominant Western culture and not from the authentic culture of the oppressed.

And so, instead of concrete socioeconomic proposals that do not work, the left has moved on to metaphysical discourse about “evil” in the world, and Western democratic society — like Israeli society — is repeatedly accused of “evil.” The move from repairing society to making value judgements that entirely refute its legitimacy and is the cause of the left’s failures today.