RONALD RADOSH’S COMMIES contains several portraits of American radicalism, some of the most memorable appearing in his chapter on Cuba, "Socialist Lobotomies." Many of the deplorable conditions he witnessed are par for the communist course: psychiatric atrocities, penury, Procrustean regimentation.
Radosh encountered an unexpected prohibition during a meeting with writer Roberto Fernandez Retamar. An apologist for the regime’s Stalinist treatment of poet Heberto Padilla, Retamar told Radosh that the Revolucion required an aesthetic metamorphosis with attendant personal constraints. He gave an example: "If I lived in New York, I would smoke marijuana. Perhaps under communism, we will be able to do that here in Cuba. But for now, the revolution cannot permit it."
Prohibition of marijuana would appear to clash with Communist Cuba’s emphasis on personal liberation and repudiation of bourgeois institutions. On a deeper level, however, it accords with a coherent if contemptible conception of humanity.
The essence of communism is the obliteration of ownership. The Communist Manifesto refers to making "despotic inroads on the rights of property" and "the abolition of private property." The "Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League" affirms, "For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation."
While private property is generally construed as an external good (e.g., a house, a car), the paramount property is one’s body. John Locke observed in the Second Treatise on Civil Government how "every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself"; James Madison wrote that man "has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person"; and Frederick Douglass, who experienced the antithesis of self-ownership, noted, "It is a fundamental truth that every man is the rightful owner of his own body."
Communism is axiomatically inimical to property, and bodily property as much as any other. It is not adventitious that regimes such as Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea reduce human beings to state chattel. (This is ascertainable through their prohibitive emigration policies.) Communism expropriates the home and homeowner alike.
Thus we should not be surprised when a Marxist-Leninist despotism such as Cuba criminalizes the consumption of particular chemicals. Its ideological antagonism to property rights entails gutting the elemental property right of self-ownership.
If there is a totalitarian logic to the prohibition Retamar described, it remains a salient question whether such prohibition is consonant with a capitalistic society that claims to cherish the institution of private property so indispensable to a free society.