In our youth, before the dream soured, we fell for Castros vision | Will Hutton
In the idealistic 1960s, Cubas late leader seemed to offer a genuine alternative to oppressive regimes
Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Fidel Castro tended to feature in the most vivid part of the eras backdrop. He was emblematic of the international rise of communism: he was as vigorous and charismatic as a revolutionary leader should be and seemed intent on creating a new society based on the principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. China and the Soviet Union were communist, as was eastern Europe, and the creed was on the march in Asia and Latin America led by Castro.
I remember, as a schoolboy, listening intently to the radio. Was President Kennedy going to unleash a nuclear war in response to the Soviet Union shipping nuclear warheads to Cuba? Castro had led a revolution and established the Caribbeans only communist state and now he was colluding with the Russians in creating the capacity in the USs backyard to attack them with Soviet nuclear missiles, or create a system of better self-defence, depending on which side you were on. We had to be on Americas, but for a day or two we feared a nuclear holocaust unless Khrushchev backed off. I was frightened I would not make it to adulthood.
Not only were these enemy states that could trigger the end of humanity in a nuclear war, China and the Soviet Union were both tyrannous dictatorships that denied fundamental freedoms and human rights. We had to make common cause with the US to deter them militarily and ideologically, and alongside that weed out communist elements in British society, whether turncoat spies or trade unionists. They were deluded quislings bent on undermining Britain from within to create a British communist dictatorship.
But Castro, and perhaps more importantly, his right-hand man, Che Guevara, were ambassadors for what seemed a different kind of communism. They planted doubts in our young minds. While Russian tanks crushed the Hungarians and, later, Dubeks Prague Spring and Maos Red Guards committed countless atrocities, Cuba seemed to represent something different. Maybe communism did not have to collapse into gulags, prison camps, thought control and atrocity after atrocity. Maybe there was a different vision of society than exploitative capitalism or tyrannous communism. Israels kibbutzs, representing a new form of communal shared living, and Cubas new socialist order might just might represent a future in which the idealistic could believe.