My thoughts on Communism

By February 6, 2014Fujifilm X-Pro1, RTW, Travel
man cycling past crumbling cuban sign

Communism: The Contradiction

Firstly, let me preface what I’m about to say by declaring that Handcarry Only was never meant to be a political blog, nor am I a particularly astute political pundit. Nevertheless, it is impossible to have visited Cuba and not have an opinion about the political system that pervades all aspects on life here, communism.

The primary thing that struck me about Cuba is how contradictory it is, on one hand, it is hard not to laud some of its noble ideals, universal healthcare, free education, a louder voice for the poor and disenfranchised, and even something as seemingly insignificant as free birthday cakes for kids, but on the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the spartan shelves that line the walls of the equally ascetic tiendas or state-operated stores, the sometimes totally indifferent service, and the innumerable and often creative ways in which Cubans try to circumvent the system, either to earn more money, or to obtain goods otherwise not available to them.

For example, from my conversations with some locals, I learnt that as a result of the trade embargo on the island, they have to be as self sufficient as possible, and since beef production is not extensive on the island, it is not normally available to common Cubans, only to be distributed for children, schools, national sports people, the elderly and generally, others more ‘deserving’ of the added nutrition. In reality though, everything can be had, for a price, on the bolsa negra, or black market. Which of course, is little different from a capitalist system, where more is available to those with more resources, and less to those without the means – the very concept that communism sought to eradicate.

The logic goes that if the system works so well, the people would not have to resort to measures like this to circumvent it right?

cuban propaganda on the wall
cuban propaganda on the wall
cuban police officer in uniform

Un Hombre Nuevo

I think that the fundamental flaw with communism is that it has failed to take into account the intrinsically selfish nature of humans. If everyone took as much as they needed and gave as much as they could, there would be no waste and the world would be ideal, but this utopian view of mankind, whilst aspirational, is unfortunately far removed from reality. Why work harder when there is no reward (financial or otherwise) for doing so? Why have one when you can have two? or four? Whist financial reward does not form the sole basis for motivation even in a capitalist system, it does provide a fundamental incentive for renewed and continued effort. Take that away and doctors, who on average, earn the equivalent of about USD30 a month, would rather abandon their Hippocratic oath to work as a bellboy in a tourist hotel, where tips alone could be more than double a doctor’s pay.

Clearly, Che Guevara’s vision of un hombre nuevo, or, The New Man has not materialised.

Whist foreigners more or less waltz through customs at the airport, locals returning from trips abroad (itself a complicated and difficult endeavour, requiring state permission and approvals), get their luggage thoroughly scrutinised, for fear that they are smuggling contraband. The system that is formed on the basis of empowering the common man has turned on him.

I am certainly not saying I have the answers to these dilemmas and conundrums, nor am I saying that the opposite end of the spectrum, unbridled capitalism is the answer, but I am fairly sure, the ideal system, if one even exists, is lodged there, somewhere in the middle, where creativity and hard work is recognised and rewarded, but at the same time, the state is compassionate enough to look out for those who for one reason or another, are marginalised and voiceless.

hugo chavez che guevara
Plaza de la Revolución, Santa Clara, Cuba

Plaza de la Revolución, Santa Clara, Cuba

I left my job as an advertising Creative Director in August 2012 to travel Africa and South America for a year with my wife, documenting these beautiful places with my Fuji X-Pro1. View the rest of my RTW adventures on Handcarry Only and follow me on my journey by subscribing/following/bookmarking.
  • madmaxmedia

    Thanks for your observations (and photos!), its nice to hear them from someone who has actually visited. I agree with your last statement 100%- if anything I belong to the ‘Pragmatist’ political party.

    • Thanks! I think we need more moderate people in the world, any extreme is seldom good.

  • WeGoRTW

    Hey Adrian I was just reading up on traveling friends blogs this morning and love this article. Being born in the USA we’ll after the cold world I haven’t really fully understood our elders hatred towards communist, so my view points had always been open to wanting to understand better. Your article might be one the best understandings to the truth behind the cons vs pros. Thanks for posting! Jealous you guys are still traveling 🙂

    • Hey Dustin, I know right? Neither political extreme is desirable, the answer must lie somewhere in between. We have actually finished our trip already, I’m just behind in my posting! Can’t say I’m not itching to run off travelling again though!

      • WeGoRTW

        I know how you feel there, ever since we got back been iready to go again

  • Ian K. Iles

    “The logic goes that if the system works so well, the people would not have to resort to measures like this to circumvent it right?” Right. I mean it’s not as if there’s a trade embargo in place, or anything like that. Oh there is! Now whilst I wouldn’t want to offer succour to a regime that lacks democracy, and which has failed to live up to the ideals of communism (no class divisions, small state, devolved & direct democracy, democratic oversight of the economy) as Cuba has, the whole thing has been subject to antagonistic & downright aggressive interference from the USA. Lift that stupid embargo & let’s see what happens. And so far, Cuba seems only to be exporting doctors, rather than invading other countries. If only every nation could say the same.

    • Hi Ian, agreed. Whilst I’m sure the US embargo is debilitating, Cuba is and has been free to trade with other countries other than the US, including Latin America which it shares a language and cultural link. This hasn’t really managed to lift the country out of the funk its been in. But agreed, the US should lift the petty embargo and realise that it has only ever punished the common man and not the regime.