Communism has always been on the fringe of American politics, and the US rightly stood against and battled the Soviet Union for all those years during the Cold War. But it’s disturbing that many millennials view democracy so unfavorably nowadays. I wonder what kind of understanding and orientation they have towards communism, and the leaders like Fidel Castro who are its’ bulwarks.
Perhaps millennials view democracy so unfavorably because American universities have scholars who don’t do justice towards presenting communism in a more balanced and fair-minded way. When I was a political science student at Rutgers University back in the early 2000s there was a course entitled Marx and Marxist Theory. I was on the cusp of taking the course because I had been curious to know what alternative to capitalism communists seek after. I wondered back then if humans could create an order in which they could blossom in all the well-rounded potentiality that should be open to them, instead of having to wallow away in the exploitation and one dimensional lifestyle that marks life under capitalism.
Although I didn’t take that Marxist theory course, I familiarized myself with the syllabus and noticed that the reading list included the political writings of Vladimir Lenin. I read some of his work with ample curiosity, as Lenin stood as the forefront example of how to turn theory into practice. My fascination grew to such an extent that I decided to learn more about Russia, the world’s former superpower of communism. I took Russian language classes for two semesters and embarked on a journey to Moscow in 2003, a year after graduating from Rutgers, staying there for a couple months to explore the legacy that communism left behind.
It’s fine that American universities offer courses on Marxism. We are a free country after all. Marx was a theorist who inspired several other scholars to embark on a variety of inter-disciplinary studies with some of Marx’s main ideas as their main point of reference. They no doubt have contributed to some poignant and fascinating critiques of capitalism, with figures like Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin managing to garner avid fans around the world.
What gets me is the fact that there are many leftist professors in the United States who find something worthwhile in the writings of Vladimir Lenin. For them the USSR was a noble experiment that unfortunately went awry, but the general view is that the Soviets offer some blueprint and guidance for how leftists can make a revolution and society in the future. The far left gives the impression that there is so much wrong with the United States anyway, like its’ supposed greedy imperialism abroad and exploitation of the lower classes at home. It’s implied from this that communism is entitled to it’s own faults too. Many leftists distance themselves from the communism of the Soviet Union once Josef Stalin took over the reigns. The conventional wisdom goes that had Leo Trotsky taken over after Lenin instead of Stalin, the USSR would have been closer a kind of communism that leftists could be proud of, and that it would have eventually put capitalist America to shame.
Like many world leaders, Fidel Castro stands as both villain and hero, depending on whether a person has more sympathy for capitalism or communism. The conventional logic of praise or criticism towards Castro is founded on what views we hold regarding how to unlock human possibilities to their full potential. Praise is doused on Cuba for its’ robust and equitable access to free health care and education, which indicates that without these basics humans can’t go on to higher achievements. Communist regimes certainly want citizens to be widely read and highly educated, albeit within a universe censored and controlled by the authorities. Communist regimes are forthright in their condemnation and attempted destruction of religion, but within their subsidized and one-size-fits-all living quarters, communist citizens find spiritual enrichment through arts such as literature and music.
Over the long term democratic capitalism has proven to be the better system. The citizens communists try to mold, within their limited understanding of human potentiality, are attempted archetypes. The mixture of conformity and resistance toward the archetype, and the diversity of people that blossoms despite such rigid control, is testament to man’s wonderful uniqueness, despite the grotesque impositions and controls of the communist system. Communism simply impedes too much potential economic development, and too much of the decision making is centralized. In another realm of human potentiality, civil and political liberties, communism has proven an inept competitor against democratic capitalism.
I can only hope that Castro fans among the millennials will reflect on the dire faults of communism as they whip out their Che Guevara shirts, smoke a Cuban, and mosh to Rage Against the Machine.