There is an odd illogic to the American response to revolutions. America itself was created by a Revolution, one that we hold dear, and justifiably so, for throwing off the reins of a dictator, in this case a monaarchy, and replacing it with a respresentative democracy. That democracy was not quite as representative as one might suspect, restricting participation, as it did, to a tiny fraction of the people it governed, namely the white male adult landed gentry. The ideals stated as the fuel for that revolution, however, have led us on, in fits and starts and with blunders and backslides, to enfranchise minorities and females and the less economically fortunate, and we stand today, despite our present deep political conflicts, a beacon of hope for universal human rights.
The illogic rises from the following question. Why, if our own beginnings lay in revolution, do we so often end up supporting the dictator against revolution? How does it happen that we support dictators like Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Somoza in Nicaragua and Batista in Cuba? And on what perverted ground did we actually go down and murder the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende in Chile and install the brutal, criminal Augusto Pinochet?
This is not to say that the United States has always opposed revolution or always supported dictatorial regimes. We have, however ineptly, opposed some of the dictatorships in the Middle East, and we have stoutly opposed the Communist dictatorships in Russia and China, and we have done so, in the main, on humanitarian grounds in accordance with the ideals stated in our own Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, we have this odd track record of supporting those in power whose conduct has give rise to popular revolution.
The key to understanding this contradiction in our policies lies, I suggest, in the failure, either by ignorance or intent, on the part of those in power to distinguish between that which is political and that which is financial. Democracy, in its many forms, is at root a political program. Whether representative, as in the United States, or parliamentary as in the United Kingdom and various European countries, it arises from the root principle that every human being has basic and undeniable rights, and the effectiveness of the government is to be meausred by whether that government’s policies are installed to protect and nourish those rights.
Capitalism, on the other hand, is a fundamental economic theory. In its rawest form it holds that the best way to build an economic system is to allow the market place a free hand to set prices and create products. There is no necessary correlation between democracy and capitalism. One may in fact have a capitalist dictatorship, as in China, and one may have a socialist democracy, as in Denmark and the Scandinavian countries.
It seems that the problem always arises when those in power confuse the two. The failure of the Soviet Union could comfortably be attributed to this confusion. The Russian Revolution was justified by the brutal treatment being imposed on the people by the czars, but somehow those who seized power did not return that power to the people but rather took it in their own hands, and they made the egregious error of imposing their own dictatorship both om the people and on the economy. Whatever may have been their merits as revolutionaries, and whatever may have been their failures as politicans, they were terrible economists, and the eventual collapse of that economic system was completely predictable. The Chinese, on the other hand, somehow allowed a capitalist economic system to develop within the political dictatorship, and the result has been at least apparently tolerable.
Revolutions arise because of oppression of the people by a government, and the United States has always claimed to oppose such oppression. We ourselves, however, have too often confused the political with the financial, and that, I suggest, is what we did in Cuba. Batista’s dictatorship allowed fortunes to be made while stark poverty and oppression ran amok in the country. Once again, as far too often in American history, American opposition to the Cuban revolution was, in effect, purchased and financed by financial powers, by those who had the most money to lose in the fall of the Batista dictatorship. The political outcry against Cuban Communism was in large part a disguise for the financial outcry against the removal of casinos and resorts and strip clubs.
After fifty years of a rather ineffective policy of embargo based on this confusion, the United States has taken the first steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba. The cuckoos — Rubio and Cruze and Gingrich and the like — condemn those steps as they condemn anything this administration does. For me, these steps are a welcome relief from the illogic of opposing a revolution inspired by ideals so close to our own. The people do deserve basic rights, and the country deserves to function for the good of all and not just the good of the wealthy. It may, in fact, happen that the promotion of that good will best be done by means of a capitalist economy. One can only hope that we will not make the mistake of confusing politics and economics and oonce again allow moneyed interests to override the rights of the people. The price of liberty, said Jefferson, is eternal vigilance, and the object of our vigilance must always and only be the growth of human rights.