Fri | Oct 19, 2018

The Commies and my Christmas pudding

Published:Sunday | December 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Daniel Thwaites, Contributor

Fidel Castro abolished Christmas in 1969. Three decades later, in anticipation of a visit from John Paul II, an editorial in the state-run newspaper announced that Cubans could have Christmas again. If there is any man in Jamaica wanting to put up with that, tell you what: Please to go and chuck off into the sea and swim to Cuba.

The original abolition was supposedly because Christmas interfered with the sugar harvest. That, at least, was the official story. The Soviets didn't even bother to give an explanation for why they cancelled Christmas. It was simple: Jesus was out and Lenin was in.

So let's keep it simple, too. That guy who cancels Christmas: Screw that guy! I know he had his reasons, and revolutions, and what not. Fine. But leave me out. So far as I'm concerned, if Karl Marx and all that Germanic philosophical rubbish has a plan to get in between me and the sorrel and Christmas pudding, too bad for Karl. This is non-negotiable. I'm not interested. Same thing for Fidel.

I imagine that the Workers Party of Jamaica, had they been successful, would have eventually got around to cancelling Christmas here, too. Hence I am glad that they didn't win out here.

That said, I cannot understand myself as separated from the impulses that gave energy to Fidel's original purposes, or from the beacon of hope for self-determination that Cuba has represented for many in the Caribbean. And I believe that Jamaica was correct that the US policy towards Cuba was irrational and counter-productive. All told, I am suspicious of the man's heart who didn't see something deeply attractive about the Cuban Revolution in its inception, and that doesn't see a champion in Fidel destroying the criminal Batista regime and chasing those crazy baldheads outa town.

However, I am equally exasperated by the mind of a man who doesn't look at "the Revolution" now with severe reservations, large dollops of contempt, and with an abiding appreciation that caught in-between the United States and the Castros, a great tragedy has befallen the people of Cuba.

More generally, it takes a studious avoidance of reality to not see that any Government whose people, if not apprehended, will hazard open ocean on makeshift watercraft is not a good Government. But never doubt the PhD's. Choking with resentment for the United States, they can square any circle. I have learnt to never underestimate the capacity of academics and ideologues to completely miss the obvious.

Perhaps this is why I found Kevin O'Brien Chang's blast of common sense (in reaction to the idea that Castro has been "absolved" by history), published in Monday's paper, so satisfying.


I have no idea what absolution "by history" amounts to. Of course it was the final phrase of Castro's four-hour-long self-defence when he faced charges for leading an unsuccessful attack on the Moncada Barracks. I returned to that speech this week to find a firebrand of incredible nobility making reasonable demands on the Batista regime. But a lot has transpired since then, and only a willful blindness could miss that.

"Absolution" is a release from guilt or punishment, or in church circles, a formal declaration of the forgiveness of sins. In Castro's mouth back in the early '50's, it expressed a determination that future generations wouldn't fault him for raising arms against a tyranny. I can respect that.

But if we are to apply absolution to many decades since, it requires much more caution. Even putting one side Zhou Enlai's famous judgment about the impact of the French Revolution - "too early to say" - the record, even from where we now stand, is determinedly mixed. Just for starters, the idea of state ownership of the means of production doesn't exactly have a growing clientele. And it's not that people aren't aware of the idea. It's more that the goods are on display, but the people aren't buying. Furthermore, the restrictions on key freedoms are intolerable, and if we wouldn't abide it here, we shouldn't hypocritically countenance it elsewhere.

While on communistic matters, I note the recent public discussion about the suitability of notorious ex-communist Trevor Munroe as executive director of the National Integrity Action (NIA). I think it's a great role for Trevor. Prominent among the founders of the NIA are various large private sector corporations, the USAID, and DFID (the UK). Ironies abound, and so they should. The objectives of NIA are uniformly laudable, and Trevor is capably advancing them. What more is necessary?

Witch-hunting and tests for ideological purity were (are) distinct features of communist regimes, and we should avoid enacting on Trevor what he was likely to have impressed upon us if he had had more communistic success here.

It's not that Trevor isn't a decent man. I think he is. But that alone never stopped the communists from liquidating large numbers of enemies. I wouldn't have made it, for within short order, probably when some progressive-thinking WPJ intellectual intent on absolution by history cancelled Christmas, my ham would be cooked and I would be on a bamboo-raft headed somewhere else.

Besides, I believe the attraction of Leninism for intellectuals and academics was that it gave them such a prominent role. Typically, a student would experience the onset of Leninism like a religious conversion because that's what it was - a secular religion. The NIA is surely a safer outlet for that revolutionary energy, and one we might even benefit from.

If there has been a genuine de-conversion, though, what I would want to hear from Trevor is: How deep were the errors in the Marxist understanding of mankind, history, and the economy? Depending on what's said, of course, one could learn if Trevor sees his previous ideas as flawed and inadequate, or if the ideas were fine, but it's just the timing that was off. I ask this not just because I need to know how close to keep my raft-builder, but because I believe there's a lot to learn from this secular God that failed.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to