This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Tropico is a make-believe island in the Caribbean and the game starts in 1949. Although it is just a tad simplified compared with other computer strategy games coming out at this time, it still has enough variety and complexity to play for months straight without reduplicating games. Even though the game claims to have communist options and focuses heavily on Cuba, the main character is a classical authoritarian dictator with a groveling advisor side-kick.
The advantage of the "authoritarian" persynality is that since the object of the game is to take care of one's subjects and not be ousted from power it forces the player into thinking about the island overall and that is important to anyone's scientific development. Although the game is titled "Mucho Macho," it also has a "teen" rating from the ESRB. It does not appear to have any pornography. From parents' perspective, this game has a number of other advantages. One stems from the trend in strategy games to think of many different game goals instead of the usual take-over-the-place-by-force-and-kill-all-the-enemies, possibly all accomplished with a single joy-stick. At root "Tropico" is really a real-estate developers' game and among other modes it is possible to play it in "sandbox" mode just to see how all the buildings and plants look.
The player has a choice of characters to serve as "El Presidente" of the island-nation and Che Guevara is the first one offered. Ordinary characters in the game acting as subjects of Presidente's rule have Latin American or Russian names such as Andropov, Putin and Gorbachev. There are also humorous names such as "Badenov" (Bad-enough) and "Bigot" attached to a Black character.
The reviewer played the game in "open-ended" mode as Che. The other players possible included a league of bourgeois dictators from history. MIM regards Che as a revolutionary anti-imperialist martyr, not a Leninist.. While Che adopted Mao's military thinking and he tried to bring socialist economic strategies to Cuba he did not break free from Soviet revisionism while Castro sided with Khruschev against Mao. He left the island without developing the economic struggle against revisionism sufficiently and embarked on military adventures unconnected to a sense of economic reality as he himself admitted in the Congo. (On the plus side, he knew he was killing imperialist occupier troops in that adventure.)
The game scenario chosen by the reviewer started with a 47% difficulty rating, but in addition to the game's rules, the reviewer used self-imposed rules to make the game more difficult. The self-imposed rules were 1) total atheism, no churches, popes or cathedral building 2) no prisons or dungeons 3) open immigration and no "love it or leave it" policy. One dungeon option claims to serve as a thought-reform institute if the prisoner survives three years. Again, with a serious topic at hand, the game reduces everything to a joke about authoritarianism.
While people are starving and unemployed throughout the Caribbean, there are people politically demanding churches on a regular basis. The religious were the most coup and rebellion inclined people in the reviewer's game.
With Che as the island's leader, politics does play a role. Che receives a 50% bonus in radio propaganda effectiveness. This makes the island population less likely to vote out or overthrow Che. There are also protests in the game.
Most of the rest of the game is accurate in terms of Brezhnev era pseudo-communism, which is really state-capitalism with a social-democratic facade. For example, there is no question of how the workplace is organized. The "Presidente" has the choice to build sky-lights in factories to appease workers, but there is not much more in terms of relations between workers and rulers or bosses inside factories.
Another Brezhnev era truism is worked into the simulation. It may be possible to start the game out in such a way that foreign aid is not crucial, but the reviewer suspects that most players will end up depending on U.S. or Russian aid to keep the budget in the black in the initial few years.
MIM does not doubt that this sardonic simulation game has summed up approximately the experiences of millions of people with phony communism. For many, communism as socialist-leadership principle means social security, free education and free health care and not much more.
Ironically, in "Tropico" when college education is free and students receive two-thirds the normal salary and everyone receives double food rations, there is still a shortage of students and the vast majority of people choose to remain uneducated to the point of not completing high school. With electricity plants and TV stations to run, this is very frustrating for the economy and "Presidente." The only way to encourage people to go to college is to widen the pay gap between those jobs requiring college education and those that do not. As the saying goes, otherwise, people "do not know what they are missing."
This touches on a crucial question for the economics of socialism. At first, it may seem that "Tropico" is just absurdly wrong, but in fact, there is a contradiction between "red and expert" as the Chinese Maoists said. When the understanding of "red" is "yeah, I'm for free college, food subsidies, social security and free health care," then the reason we communists want the people to avail themselves of educational opportunities is missing. The solution to parasitism of the rich is not the smaller but more widespread parasitism of the poor. Advance involves synthesis, and some of the traits that capitalists say they have are indeed necessary for advance. By themselves demands for free health care and education are merely social-democratic, not communist.
In fact, in the World War II era, Stalin in the USSR had to do exactly what the reviewer had to do: widen the pay gap between educated technicians and ordinary workers to get the economy going fast enough to defeat Hitler. We Maoists only question whether Stalin did enough political mass mobilization to reduce the extent to which wage gaps had to be widened. Subsequently, Stalin had to fight off coup attempts and various kinds of discontent, just as one would in "Tropico."
In "Tropico" when the people overthrow "Presidente" we do not see what the next course they adopt turns out to be. We know what the demands of the people are throughout the game, but we never see how anyone proposes concretely to address them. In this sense there is something missing from "Tropico." "Tropico" claims that political mobilization helps to maintain the rulers in power and nothing else. That's what museums, radio stations and TV are for in the game. For this reason, free-market cynics say that we Maoists do not actually accomplish anything with our political campaigns: only money can accomplish anything economic. In contrast, we believe that most economic lessons are learned in practice. If it takes a political campaign to break old economic patterns and allow something to be learned in practice, then that political campaign has its success through its effect on the economy.
The view that politics is only about individual power-holding is the sterile Liberal-anarchist view. This game is perfect toward that end except that the player has to be the "Presidente" to play. In contrast, we Maoists hold that it does matter who and what class hold power. All class societies have power struggles. That's not new. How those power struggles affect society at large is the only interesting question.
On the subject of economics, "Tropico" is really about making the right real estate choices if one aims at economic development to begin with. As a communist, one has the power to set wages and fire individual workers but not to force individual workers into individual plants or even show them that they exist. The best one can do is run profitable luxury goods businesses to subsidize the many items necessary for propaganda or the people's economic benefit such as hospitals, schools and some forms of subsidized entertainment. The better job one does in placing and operating luxury good enterprises for exports, the more money is available for the people's benefits in this game--a point that may well be true of transitional stages called "socialism" and as pointed out more indirectly in Trevor Chan's game titled "Capitalism."
The focus on profits in luxury industries sounds very state-capitalist. True, within "Tropico" enterprises are not competing with each other and there are no bureaucratic factions of Presidente's government competing to implement things different ways. At the same time, the wage rate is really set by the rest of the capitalist Caribbean, because workers who believe wages are too low simply leave the country. So there is an element of competition and points out the limited extent to which a small country can escape the larger world's economic orbit, which in 1949 was assuredly capitalist.
We communists often point out that the world has enough food to feed everyone, but it is not properly distributed. In taking over a small place like Tropico, that generalization is not really relevant. When U.$. imperialism falls, we may be able to carry out that distribution, but when communists seize power in Cuba for instance, the solution to world hunger is not necessarily on the political agenda of Cuba by itself.
A limited number of people may choose to live as farmers in crude conditions, but "Tropico" does not really allow one to play strictly for internal economic development. Goods production will end up transported for export whether the "Presidente" wants it or not. If there is a shortage of ports by the player's design, goods for export will pile up at the port, unused by the local population. On the other hand, in the real world we would be silly to advise a small nation to depend on internal economic development alone if export is possible without giving imperialists control of the economy.
There is no Maoist option in this game, but it still can teach players some things. It's not our favorite game, and has a mixed political message, but compared with other games out there, it's definitely way above average. Instead of that army simulation or fighter-plane simulation game, buy someone "Tropico" instead.