The revolution whose values vanished in a puff of cigar smoke
By Padraic P. McGuinness
It was a sad occasion for many of the old lefties of the inner city when they visited the Valhalla
Cinema in Glebe over the past week or so to see a new documentary on Cuba by the veteran
lefty director David Bradbury.
This film, Fond Memories of Cuba, was financed by an elderly leftist
of Byron Bay who wanted to
know how his idealised picture of this last bastion of the fantasies of socialism checked out with
the facts. The sadness resulted from the fact that Bradbury has told the truth.
Socialism in Cuba has been a failure (as everywhere), and has produced
a society in which
everybody (save privileged members of the nomenclature, who run the dictatorship) goes hungry
and in which free speech is not tolerated. Dissidents are treated much as they were by brutal
police militia under the Batista regime which Castro overthrew more than 40 years ago, and
many Cuban schoolgirls still live by prostituting themselves to tourists.
Two secondary purposes of the film were to check out the hospital which
was financed years
ago by the Byron Bay socialist millionaire (the film-makers were not allowed even to enter it) and
to scatter the ashes of an Australian, Harry Reade, in the Rosenbergs memorial park in Havana.
This was symbolic in more ways than one. Reade was the only Australian
to fight in defence of
Castro's Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion sponsored by Jack Kennedy, and the Rosenbergs,
whom many back then thought were innocent, have since been shown to have indeed been
conducting serious espionage activities against the United States.
Reade was one of those who held on all his life to "the sweetest dream"
- the title of Doris
Lessing's recent autobiographical novel about the lingering loyalties to Stalin, totalitarian
socialism and corruption typified by those who continue to claim that Cuba has special virtues.
Cubans are a remarkably attractive people, and their exuberant music is
once again spreading in
popularity. But these things all preceded socialism and have survived despite the Castro regime.
The testimony of those who have experienced the failings of the regime,
even those who were
its earlier supporters, is discounted or ignored. The dream cannot be questioned.
I was sharing a flat in Balmain with Reade and his father (a Depression
Stalinist) when his
excitement about the new Castro regime began to grow, and led to his decision to join the
"revolution". He was a cartoonist of considerable skill as well as a talented playwright - after he
returned to Australia early in the 1970s he worked as a journalist and then lived for some years
on a boat in the Cairns harbour writing plays. But he was impervious to argument or evidence.
Indeed, in his latter years he would, if challenged on the virtues of Stalin, the Cuban dictatorship,
the guilt of the Rosenbergs or any other article of faith, simply burst into tears. This reflected his
essential honesty and decency - he knew the dream stank, but could not abandon it. While he
was something of a hero around Glebe, he ended up being barred from most of the pubs for bad
behaviour. The faithful preferred to romanticise him rather than associate with him.
In this they, like the people on the ABC who are always extolling Cuban
virtues, are more like the
figures in Lessing's novel. She documents the personal betrayals and the dishonesty of the
political pilgrims who are seeking the ideal Left regime (East Timor is now a candidate).
Her Comrade Johnny, who has lived high on the Revolution and betrayed his
dependants all his
life, is depicted towards the end of his life with his old comrades. She wrote: "Late, before the
guests left, Johnny would lower his voice and lift his glass, and propose a toast: 'To Him'. And
with tender admiration they drank to possibly the cruellest murderer who has ever lived."
How many of those who leave Bradbury's film will still be drinking with
tender admiration to Cuba
and the bloodstained dictator who runs it as a prison state?