Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 977
SOURCE: An interview in Look, Vol. 27, No. 7, April 9, 1963, pp. 26-7.
[In the following excerpt, Berguist probes Guevara's views on Marxism, world politics, and social reform in Cuba.]
[Berguist]: Many early Castro supporters certainly didn't have today's Marxist-oriented revolution in mind. When you were fighting in the Sierra Maestra mountains, was this the future Cuba you envisioned?
[Guevera]: Yes, though I could not have predicted certain details of development.
Could you personally have worked with a government that was leftist but less "radical"—government that nationalized certain industries, but left areas open for private enterprise and permitted opposition parties?
Historically, the extreme Right and Left in Latin America (and Europe) have combined for different purposes, in an effort to topple "centrist" governments like Rómulo Betancourt's in Venezuela. Why does Cuba levy more violent attacks at Betancourt than at a dictator like Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner?
Paraguay's dictatorship is obvious. Betancourt is a traitor; he has sold out to the imperialists, and his government is as brutal as any dictatorship.
But Nasser of Egypt takes help from the "imperialist" West, as well as from the East. Has he "sold out"?
No, he is a big anti-imperialist. We are friends.
You once said Cuba would resist becoming a Soviet satellite to the "last drop of blood." But how "sovereign" were you when Khrushchev arranged with Kennedy for the missile withdrawal without consulting you?
As you know from Fidel's speech, we had differences with the Soviet Union.
You've traveled widely since our last talk—from the Punta del Este Conference in Uruguay to Moscow. Since you call yourself a "pragmatic Marxist" who learns from the "university of experience," what have you learned?
At Punta del Este, I learned in a shocking, first-hand way about the servilismo [servility] of most Latin-American governments to the United States. Your Mr. Dillon was a revelation to me.
I've heard many Cubans refer to the period when Anibal Escalante was a director of ORI as "our Stalin" period. But Anibalistas are still in the government. What can keep them from regaining power?
Escalante was shipped out of the country. He had to go. That period is finished. We are completely reorganizing ORI along different lines.
Bureaucracy seems a plague of most "Socialist" countries. I noticed it in Moscow. Hasn't it also invaded Cuba?
Bureaucracy isn't unique to socialism: General Motors has a big bureaucracy. It existed in Cuba's previous bourgeois regime, whose "original sins" we inherited. After the Revolution, because we were taking over a complex social apparatus, a "guerrilla" form of administration did develop. For lack of "revolutionary conscience," individuals tended to take refuge in vegetating, filling out papers, establishing written defenses, to avoid responsibility. After a year of friction, it was necessary to organize a state apparatus, using planning techniques created by brother Socialist countries.
Because of the flight of the few technicians we had, there was a dearth of the knowledge necessary to make sensible decisions. We had to work hard to fill the gaps left by the traitors. To counteract this, everyone in Cuba is now in school.
During the last mobilization, we had many discussions about one phenomenon: When the country was in tension, everyone organized to resist the enemy. Production didn't lessen, absenteeism disappeared, problems were resolved with incredible velocity. We concluded that various forces can combat bureaucracy. One is a great patriotic impulse to resist imperialism, which makes each worker into a soldier of the economy, prepared to resolve whatever problem arises.
What about Cuba's new school system, which separates many children from their parents? Isn't it completely disrupting family life?
The revolutionary government has never had a definite policy, or dealt with the philosophical question of what the family should be. When the process of industrial development takes place, as in Cuba, women are increasingly at work and less at home caring for children. Nurseries must be established to leave the child somewhere. In places like the Sierra Maestra, where there can be no central schools after a certain age, because pupils are too widely scattered in the countryside, we think it better for the children to receive schooling in a specialized center like Camilo Cienfuegos School City. There they can also train for their later work in life. The child spends his vacations with his family—certainly this is no worse than the "boarding schools" of the wealthy people we knew, who did not see their children for eight to ten months a year. There are the problems of families divided, where half the members are revolutionary, the other half not with the Revolution—even pathetic cases of parents who left for Miami, but whose children of 12 or 14 did not want to go. If we hurt the family, it is because we haven't thought about it, not because we are against the family.
Recently, at a trade-union banquet, you noted that "youth" was conspicuously lacking among "exemplary workers" honored that night. Since this is such a "young" Revolution—why?
Perhaps an artificial division has arisen in the thinking of our people. In the armed defense of the Revolution, young people have always been disposed to heroic adventure. Ask them to make long marches, to take to the trenches or mountains, to sacrifice their lives if need be, and they respond. But when the word "sacrifice" refers to an obscure, perhaps even boring job that has to be done daily with efficiency and enthusiasm, older people of experience still excel them. Socialism cannot be achieved by either armed fight or work alone. We must now create a new authentic national hero—a work hero whose example is contagious, as potent as any military hero's.
Finally, what of claims by Cubans that "socialism" here is "different"?
Perhaps it was more spontaneous, but we are part of the Socialist world. Our problems will be solved by our friends.
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SOURCE: "Introduction: Che's Enduring Contributions to Revolutionary Thought," in Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution: Writings and Speeches of Ernesto Che Guevara, edited by David Deutschmann, Pathfinder/Pacific and Asia, 1987, pp. 19-32.
[A leader of the Cuban Revolution and the current prime minister of Cuba, Castro considered Guevara an outstanding revolutionary leader and intellectual mentor. In the following essay, originally delivered as a speech at a memorial rally for Guevara in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution on October 18, 1967, Castro eulogizes Guevara's literary, military, and political achievements, noting "Che possessed the double characteristic of the man of ideas—of profound ideas—and the man of action."]
Revolutionary compañeras and compañeros:
I first met Che one day in July or August 1955. And in one night—as he recalls in his accounts—he became one of the future Granma expeditionaries, although at that time the expedition possessed neither ship, nor arms, nor troops. That was how, together with Raúl, Che became one of the first two on the Granma list.
Twelve years have passed since then; they have been twelve years filled with struggle and historical significance. During this time death has cut down many brave and invaluable lives. But at the same time, throughout those years of our revolution, extraordinary persons have arisen, forged from among the men of the revolution, and between those men and the people, bonds of affection and friendship have emerged that surpass all possible description.
Tonight we are meeting to try to express, in some degree, our feelings toward one who was among the closest, among the most admired, among the most beloved, and, without a doubt, the most extraordinary of our revolutionary compañeros. We are here to express our feelings for him and for the heroes who have fought with him and fallen with him, his internationalist army that has been writing a glorious and indelible page of history.
Che was one of those people who was liked immediately, for his simplicity, his character, his naturalness, his comradely attitude, his personality, his originality, even when one had not yet learned of his other characteristics and unique virtues.
In those first days he was our troop doctor. And so the bonds of friendship and warm feelings for him were ever increasing. He was filled with a profound spirit of hatred and loathing for imperialism, not only because his political education was already considerably developed, but also because, shortly before, he had had the opportunity of witnessing the criminal imperialist intervention in Guatemala through the mercenaries who aborted the revolution in that country.
A man like Che did not require elaborate arguments. It was sufficient for him to know that there were men determined to struggle against that situation, arms in hand. It was sufficient for him to know that those men were inspired by genuinely revolutionary and patriotic ideals. That was more than enough.
One day, at the end of November 1956, he set out on the expedition toward Cuba with us. I recall that the trip was very hard for him, since, because of the circumstances under which it was necessary to organize the departure, he could not even provide himself with the medicine he needed. Throughout the trip, he suffered from a severe attack of asthma, with nothing to alleviate it, but also without ever complaining.
We arrived, set out on our first march, suffered our first setback, and at the end of some weeks, as you all know, a group of those Granma expeditionaries who had survived was able to reunite. Che continued to be the doctor of our group.We came through the first battle victorious, and Che was already a soldier of our troop; at the same time he was still our doctor. We came through the second victorious battle and Che was not only a soldier, but the most outstanding soldier in that battle, carrying out for the first time one of those singular feats that characterized him in all military action. Our forces continued to develop and we soon faced another battle of extraordinary importance.
The situation was difficult. The information we had was erroneous in many respects. We were going to attack in full daylight—at dawn—a strongly defended, well-armed position at the edge of the sea. Enemy troops were at our rear, not very far, and in that confused situation it was necessary to ask the men to make a supreme effort.
Compañero Juan Almeida had taken on one of the most difficult missions, but one of the flanks remained completely without forces—one of the flanks was left without an attacking force, placing the operation in danger. At that moment, Che, who was still functioning as our doctor, asked for two or three men, among them one with a machine gun, and in a matter of seconds set off rapidly to assume the mission of attack from that direction.
On that occasion he was not only an outstanding combatant but also an outstanding doctor, attending the wounded compañeros and, at the same time, attending the wounded enemy soldiers.
After all the weapons had been captured and it became necessary to abandon that position, undertaking a long return march under the harassment of various enemy forces, it was necessary for someone to stay behind with the wounded, and Che stayed with the wounded. Aided by a small group of our soldiers, he took care of them, saved their lives, and later rejoined the column with them.
From that time onward, he stood out as a capable and valiant leader, one of those who, when a difficult mission is pending, do not wait to be asked to carry it out.
Thus it was at the battle of El Uvero. But he acted in a similar way on a previously unmentioned occasion during the first days when, following a betrayal, our little troop was attacked by surprise by a number of airplanes and we were forced to retreat under the bombardment. We had already walked a distance when we remembered some rifles of some peasant soldiers who had been with us in the first actions and had then asked permission to visit their families, at a time when there was still not much discipline in our embryonic army. Back then we had thought that possibly the rifles were lost. I recall that the problem was not brought up again and, during the bombardment, Che volunteered, and having done so, quickly went to recover those rifles.
This was one of his principal characteristics: his willingness to instantly volunteer for the most dangerous mission. And naturally this aroused admiration—and twice the usual admiration, for a fellow combatant fighting alongside us who had not been born here, a man of profound ideas, a man in whose mind stirred the dream of struggle in other parts of the continent and who nonetheless was so altruistic, so disinterested, so willing to always do the most difficult things, to constantly risk his life.
That was how he won the rank of commander and leader of the second column, organized in the Sierra Maestra. Thus his standing began to increase. He began to develop as a magnificent combatant who was to reach the highest ranks in the course of the war.
Che was an incomparable soldier. Che was an incomparable leader. Che was, from a military point of view, an extraordinarily capable man, extraordinarily courageous, extraordinarily aggressive. If, as a guerrilla, he had his Achilles' heel, it was this excessively aggressive quality, his absolute contempt for danger.
The enemy believes it can draw certain conclusions from his death. Che was a master of warfare! He was an artist of guerrilla struggle! And he showed that an infinite number of times. But he showed it especially in two extraordinary deeds. One of these was the invasion, in which he led a column, a column pursued by thousands of enemy soldiers over flat and absolutely unknown terrain, carrying out—together with Camilo [Cienfuegos]—an extraordinary military accomplishment. He also showed it in his lightning campaign in Las Villas Province, especially in the audacious attack on the city of Santa Clara, entering—with a column of barely 300 men—a city defended by tanks, artillery, and several thousand infantry soldiers. Those two heroic deeds stamped him as an extraordinarily capable leader, as a master, as an artist of revolutionary war.
However, now after his heroic and glorious death, some people attempt to deny the truth or value of his concepts, his guerrilla theories. The artist may die—especially when he is an artist in a field as dangerous as revolutionary struggle—but what will surely never die is the art to which he dedicated his life, the art to which he dedicated his intelligence.
What is so strange about the fact that this artist died in combat? What is stranger is that he did not die in combat on one of the innumerable occasions when he risked his life during our revolutionary struggle. Many times it was necessary to take steps to keep him from losing his life in actions of minor significance.
And so it was in combat—in one of the many battles he fought—that he lost his life. We do not have sufficient evidence to enable us to deduce what circumstances preceded that combat, or how far he may have acted in an excessively aggressive way. But, we repeat, if as a guerrilla he had an Achilles' heel, it was his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute contempt for danger.
And this is where we can hardly agree with him, since we consider that his life, his experience, his capacity as a seasoned leader, his authority, and everything his life signified, were more valuable, incomparably more valuable than he himself, perhaps, believed.
His conduct may have been profoundly influenced by the idea that men have a relative value in history, the idea that causes are not defeated when men fall, that the powerful march of history cannot and will not be halted when leaders fall.
That is true, there is no doubt about it. It shows his faith in men, his faith in ideas, his faith in examples. However—as I said a few days ago—with all our heart we would have liked to see him as a forger of victories, to see victories forged under his leadership, since men of his experience, of his caliber, of his really unique capacity, are not common.
We fully appreciate the value of his example. We are absolutely convinced that many men will strive to live up to his example, that men like him will emerge from the peoples.
It is not easy to find a person with all the virtues that were combined in Che. It is not easy for a person, spontaneously, to develop a character like his. I would say that he is one of those men who are difficult to match and virtually impossible to surpass. But I would say that the example of men like him contributes to the appearance of men of the same caliber.
In Che, we admire not only the fighter, the man capable of performing great feats. What he did, what he was doing, the very fact of his rising with a handful of men against the army of the ruling class, trained by Yankee advisers sent in by Yankee imperialism, backed by the oligarchies of all neighboring countries—that in itself constitutes an extraordinary feat.
If we search the pages of history, it is likely that we will find no other case in which a leader with such a limited number of men has set about a task of such importance; a case in which a leader with such a limited number of men has set out to fight against such large forces. Such proof of confidence in himself, such proof of confidence in the peoples, such proof of faith in man's capacity to fight, can be looked for in the pages of history—but the likes of it will never be found.
And he fell.
The enemy believes it has defeated his ideas, his guerrilla concepts, his point of view on revolutionary armed struggle. What they accomplished, by a stroke of luck, was to eliminate him physically. What they accomplished was to gain an accidental advantage that an enemy may gain in war. We do not know to what degree that stroke of luck, that stroke of fortune, was helped along, in a battle like many others, by that characteristic of which we spoke before: his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute disdain for danger.
This also happened in our war of independence. In a battle at Dos Ríos they killed the apostle of our independence; in a battle at Punta Brava, they killed Antonio Maceo, a veteran of hundreds of battles. Countless leaders, countless patriots of our war of independence were killed in similar battles. Nevertheless, that did not spell defeat for the Cuban cause.
The death of Che—as we said a few days ago—is a hard blow, a tremendous blow for the revolutionary movement because it deprives it, without a doubt, of its most experienced and able leader.
But those who boast of victory are mistaken. They are mistaken when they think that his death is the end of his ideas, the end of his tactics, the end of his guerrilla concepts, the end of his theory. For the man who fell, as a mortal man, as a man who faced bullets time and again, as a soldier, as a leader, was a thousand times more able than those who killed him by a stroke of luck.
However, how should revolutionaries face this serious setback? How should they face this loss? If Che had to express an opinion on this point, what would it be? He gave this opinion, he expressed this opinion quite clearly when he wrote in his message to the Latin American Solidarity Conference that if death surprised him anywhere, it would be welcome as long as his battle cry had reached a receptive ear and another hand reached out to take up his rifle.
His battle cry will reach not just one receptive ear, but millions of receptive ears. And not one hand but millions of hands will reach out to take up arms. New leaders will emerge. The men of the receptive ears and the outstretched hands will need leaders who emerge from the ranks of the people, just as leaders have emerged in all revolutions.
Those hands will not have available a leader of Che's extraordinary experience and enormous ability. Those leaders will be formed in the process of struggle. Those leaders will emerge from among the millions of receptive ears, from the millions of hands that will sooner or later reach out to take up arms.
It is not that we feel that his death will necessarily have immediate repercussions in the practical sphere of revolutionary struggle, that his death will necessarily have immediate repercussions in the practical sphere of development of this struggle. The fact is that when Che took up arms again he was not thinking of an immediate victory; he was not thinking of a speedy victory against the forces of the oligarchies and imperialism. As an experienced fighter, he was prepared for a prolonged struggle of five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years, if necessary. He was ready to fight five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years, or all his life if need be! And within that perspective, his death—or rather his example—will have tremendous repercussions. The force of that example will be invincible.
Those who cling to the idea of luck try in vain to deny his experience and his capacity as a leader. Che was an extraordinarily able military leader. But when we remember Che, when we think of Che, we do not think fundamentally of his military virtues. No! Warfare is a means and not an end. Warfare is a tool of revolutionaries. The important thing is the revolution. The important thing is the revolutionary cause, revolutionary ideas, revolutionary objectives, revolutionary sentiments, revolutionary virtues!
And it is in that field, in the field of ideas, in the field of sentiments, in the field of revolutionary virtues, in the field of intelligence, that—apart from his military virtues—we feel the tremendous loss that his death means to the revolutionary movement.
Because Che's extraordinary character was made up of virtues that are rarely found together. He stood out as an unsurpassed man of action, but Che was not only an unsurpassed man of action—he was a man of visionary intelligence and broad culture, a profound thinker. That is, in his person the man of ideas and the man of action were combined.
But it is not only that Che possessed the double characteristic of the man of ideas—of profound ideas—and the man of action, but that Che as a revolutionary united in himself the virtues that can be defined as the fullest expression of the virtues of a revolutionary: a man of total integrity, a man of supreme sense of honor, of absolute sincerity, a man of stoic and Spartan living habits, a man in whose conduct not one stain can be found. He constituted, through his virtues, what can be called a truly model revolutionary.
When men die it is usual to make speeches, to emphasize their virtues. But rarely as on this occasion can one say of a man with greater justice, with greater accuracy, what we say of Che: that he was a pure example of revolutionary virtues!
But he possessed another quality, not a quality of the intellect nor of the will, not a quality derived from experience, from struggle, but a quality of the heart: He was an extraordinarily human man, extraordinarily sensitive!
That is why we say, when we think of his life, that he constituted the singular case of a most extraordinary man, able to unite in his personality not only the characteristics of the man of action, but also of the man of thought, of the man of immaculate revolutionary virtues and of extraordinary human sensibility, joined with an iron character, a will of steel, indomitable tenacity.
Because of this, he has left to the future generations not only his experience, his knowledge as an outstanding soldier, but also, at the same time, the fruits of his intelligence. He wrote with the virtuosity of a master of our language. His narratives of the war are incomparable. The depth of his thinking is impressive. He never wrote about anything with less than extraordinary seriousness, with less than extraordinary profundity—and we have no doubt that some of his writings will pass on to posterity as classic documents of revolutionary thought.
Thus, as fruits of that vigorous and profound intelligence, he left us countless memories, countless narratives that, without his work, without his efforts, might have been lost forever.
An indefatigable worker, during the years that he served our country he did not know a single day of rest. Many were the responsibilities assigned to him: as president of the National Bank, as director of the Central Planning Board, as minister of industry, as commander of military regions, as the head of political or economic or fraternal delegations.
His versatile intelligence was able to undertake with maximum assurance any task of any kind. Thus he brilliantly represented our country in numerous international conferences, just as he brilliantly led soldiers in combat, just as he was a model worker in charge of any of the institutions that he was assigned to. And for him there were no days of rest; for him there were no hours of rest!
If we looked through the windows of his offices, he had the lights on until all hours of the night, studying, or rather, working or studying. For he was a student of all problems; he was a tireless reader. His thirst for learning was practically insatiable, and the hours he stole from sleep he devoted to study.
He devoted his scheduled days off to voluntary work. He was the inspiration and provided the greatest incentive for the work that is today carried out by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country. He stimulated that activity in which our people are making greater and greater efforts.
As a revolutionary, as a communist revolutionary, a true communist, he had a boundless faith in moral values. He had a boundless faith in the consciousness of man. And we should say that he saw, with absolute clarity, the moral impulse as the fundamental lever in the construction of communism in human society.
He thought, developed, and wrote many things. And on a day like today it should be stated that Che's writings, Che's political and revolutionary thought, will be of permanent value to the Cuban revolutionary process and to the Latin American revolutionary process. And we do not doubt that his ideas—as a man of action, as a man of thought, as a man of untarnished moral virtues, as a man of unexcelled human sensitivity, as a man of spotless conduct—have and will continue to have universal value.
The imperialists boast of their triumph at having killed this guerrilla fighter in action. The imperialists boast of a triumphant stroke of luck that led to the elimination of such a formidable man of action. But perhaps the imperialists do not know or pretend not to know that the man of action was only one of the many facets of the personality of that combatant. And if we speak of sorrow, we are saddened not only at having lost a man of action. We are saddened at having lost a man of virtue. We are saddened at having lost a morally superior man. We are saddened at having lost a man of unsurpassed human sensitivity. We are saddened at having lost such a mind. We are saddened to think that he was only thirty-nine years old at the time of his death. We are saddened at missing the additional fruits that we would have received from that intelligence and that ever richer experience.
We have an idea of the dimension of the loss for the revolutionary movement. However, here is the weak side of the imperialist enemy: They think that by eliminating a man physically they have eliminated his thinking—that by eliminating him physically they have eliminated his ideas, eliminated his virtues, eliminated his example.
So shameless are they in this belief that they have no hesitation in publishing, as the most natural thing in the world, the by now almost universally accepted circumstances in which they murdered him after he had been seriously wounded in action. They do not even seem aware of the repugnance of the admission. They have published it as if thugs, oligarchs, and mercenaries had the right to shoot a seriously wounded revolutionary combatant.
Even worse, they explain why they did it. They assert that Che's trial would have been quite an earthshaker, that it would have been impossible to place this revolutionary in the dock.
And not only that, they have not hesitated to spirit away his remains. Be it true or false, they certainly announced they had cremated his body, thus beginning to show their fear, beginning to show that they are not so sure that by physically eliminating the combatant, they can eliminate his ideas, eliminate his example.
Che died defending the interests, defending the cause of the exploited and the oppressed of this continent. Che died defending the cause of the poor and the humble of this earth. And the exemplary manner and the selflessness with which he defended that cause cannot be disputed even by his most bitter enemies.
Before history, men who act as he did, men who do and give everything for the cause of the poor, grow in stature with each passing day and find a deeper place in the heart of the peoples with each passing day. The imperialist enemies are beginning to see this, and it will not be long before it will be proved that his death will, in the long run, be like a seed that will give rise to many men determined to imitate him, many men determined to follow his example.
We are absolutely convinced that the revolutionary cause on this continent will recover from the blow, that the revolutionary movement on this continent will not be crushed by this blow.
From the revolutionary point of view, from the point of view of our people, how should we view Che's example? Do we feel we have lost him? It is true that we will not see new writing of his. It is true that we will never again hear his voice. But Che has left a heritage to the world, a great heritage, and we who knew him so well can become in large measure his beneficiaries.
He left us his revolutionary thinking, his revolutionary virtues. He left us his character, his will, his tenacity, his spirit of work. In a word, he left us his example! And Che's example will be a model for our people. Che's example will be the ideal model for our people!
If we wish to express what we expect our revolutionary combatants, our militants, our men to be, we must say, without hesitation: Let them be like Che! If we wish to express what we want the men of future generations to be, we must say: Let them be like Che! If we wish to say how we want our children to be educated, we must say without hesitation: We want them to be educated in Che's spirit! If we want the model of a man, the model of a man who does not belong to our time but to the future, I say from the depths of my heart that such a model, without a single stain on his conduct, without a single stain on his action, is Che! If we wish to express what we want our children to be, we must say from our very hearts as ardent revolutionaries: We want them to be like Che!
Che has become a model of what men should be, not only for our people but also for people everywhere in Latin America. Che carried to its highest expression revolutionary stoicism, the revolutionary spirit of sacrifice, revolutionary combativeness, the revolutionary's spirit of work. Che brought the ideas of Marxism-Leninism to their freshest, purest, most revolutionary expression. No other man of our time has carried the spirit of proletarian internationalism to its highest possible level as Che did.And when one speaks of a proletarian internationalist, and when an example of a proletarian internationalist is sought, that example, high above any other, will be the example of Che. National flags, prejudices, chauvinism, and egoism had disappeared from his mind and heart. He was ready to shed his generous blood spontaneously and immediately, on behalf of any people, for the cause of any people!
Thus, his blood fell on our soil when he was wounded in several battles, and his blood was shed in Bolivia, for the liberation of the exploited and the oppressed, of the humble and the poor. That blood was shed for the sake of all the exploited and all the oppressed. That blood was shed for all the peoples of the Americas and for the people of Vietnam—because while fighting there in Bolivia, fighting against the oligarchies and imperialism, he knew that he was offering Vietnam the highest possible expression of his solidarity!
It is for this reason, compañeros and compañeras of the revolution, that we must face the future with optimism. And in Che's example, we will always look for inspiration—inspiration in struggle, inspiration in tenacity, inspiration in intransigence toward the enemy, inspiration in internationalist feeling!
Therefore, after tonight's impressive ceremony, after this incredible demonstration of vast popular recognition—incredible for its magnitude, discipline, and spirit of devotion—which demonstrates that our people are a sensitive, grateful people who know how to honor the memory of the brave who die in combat, that our people recognize those who serve them, which demonstrates the people's solidarity with the revolutionary struggle and how this people will raise aloft and maintain ever higher aloft revolutionary banners and revolutionary principles—today, in these moments of remembrance, let us lift our spirits, with optimism in the future, with absolute optimism in the final victory of the peoples, and say to Che and to the heroes who fought and died with him:
Hasta la victoria siempre! [Ever onward to victory]
Patria o muertel [Homeland or death]
Venceremos! [We will win]
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SOURCE: "Che Guevara—the Loss Looms Larger," in Commonweal, Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 4, April 12, 1968, pp. 110-11.
[Capouya is an American educator, editor, critic, and translator. In the following excerpt, he reviews Guevara's personal account of the Cuban revolution, focusing on Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War and Guerrilla Warfare.]
In order to arrive at a true estimate of men like Ernesto Guevara and his fellow-revolutionary, Fidel Castro, we should first of all have to wake up to the world in which we are living. In that world, there are two hundred million Latin Americans, most of whom are very hungry, and their hunger is a necessary feature of the political and economic arrangements that make us North Americans rich.
They are ruled for the most part by armed degenerates whose brutality bears an exact proportion to the misery over which they preside, and the degenerates in question are subsidized out of the American treasury. In that waking world of hunger and hopelessness, Guevara and Castro took up the cause of the dispossessed. Most unfortunately—by our own standards of social decency, by our own ideals of freedom and personal dignity, by our own humane professions—they are in the right and we are in the wrong. That is what all the shooting is about.
Ernesto Guevara was, next to Fidel Castro, the most influential spirit and the best mind of the Cuban Revolution—both in its military phase and, after the overthrow of Batista, in the phase of intensive social reconstruction that still goes on…. Guevara's classic work is Guerrilla Warfare. Two translations have been published in this country, both of them technically and stylistically faulty. Guevara was, among other things, a first-rate writer, and no available translation of any of his works does him justice. Readers must be warned, accordingly, that the spirit of the man and sometimes the point and bearing of his ideas are misrepresented in English.
Guerrilla Warfare is more than a treatise of irregular military operations. It is a manual of political struggle in regions ruled as Latin America is ruled. For Guevara, guerrilla warfare is important because it is the most appropriate political instrument—and also the most effective instrument of political education—in countries like pre-revolutionary Cuba, where three general conditions exist: poverty, a predominantly rural economy, and no legal means of reform and redress. For understandable reasons, neither the conservatives nor the adherents of the traditional leftist sects and parties in North and South America are willing to accept the thesis.
Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War is Guevara's unadorned memoirs of his own service in that struggle. They suffer somewhat from having been set down as occasion offered, and because the author confined himself strictly to what he himself had done or observed. Guevara hoped that other participants in the revolution would write their own accounts in the same sober spirit, and produce collectively an accurate report of that turning-point in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The most interesting sections of the present book are concerned with the hand-to-mouth stage of the revolution, when, after the rout of the Granma expedition, the 12 survivors, including Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos, were fugitives rather than soldiers. Semi-starved, often bivouacking without shelter, for a long time, their object was mere survival and their immediate enemies were the climate and the terrain. Whether we are concerned with political and military history or with the history of particular souls, the transition from the stage of survivors in flight to the phase of effectual rebellion is of the highest interest. Despite the circumstantial character of Guevara's narrative, unfortunately, that transition accomplishes itself offstage, for there is a hiatus in the account precisely at the point where the material and moral current must have shifted to permit the first forays upon Batista's troops.
What does emerge clearly enough is Guevara's personal development in the course of the fighting. When it began, he was an enthusiast for revolution and the next thing to an invalid (he suffered all his life from incapacitating attacks of asthma), and, for all his spirit, hardly a likely soldier, one would think. But he fought along on sheer nerve, bearing severe physical hardship with his comrades, and showing reserves of will that marked him as a natural leader in difficult undertakings. Fidel Castro says of him that his failing as a soldier was excessive disregard of danger, and coming from that authority the judgment is one we had better accept. Yet there is no doubt that Guevara was one of the master tacticians of recent military history.
In that respect, Guerrilla Warfare is his witness; it is the only significant work on the subject written in the West—for the good reason that no other writers have had clear strategic notions in the light of which their tactics might be developed. The strategic aims of Western commentators tend to be, as it were, subconscious, and in any case unavowable. But in Guevara's writings, strategy is always conceived in terms of political evolution, and is necessarily more ample, more adequate in terms of reality, than the abstract geo-politics plus games theory that passes for military thought in other places.
For an example of his astuteness as a political analyst, the reader is referred to the epilogue to Guerrilla Warfare, in which, writing in 1959, he predicts the manner and means of the invasion of Cuba that was to take place in 1961. Another classic of analysis and polemic is his speech at the Punta del Este conference (reproduced in Che Guevara Speaks), called for the purpose of quarantining Cuba and containing the Latin-American revolution by means of the Alliance for Progress. Guevara's exposition of the program's defects, had they been heeded, might have saved Mr. Moscoso from resigning his directorship in despair when time had made clear to everyone what was clear only to the Cuban delegation at Punta del Este.
The present volume ends with 26 remarkable letters written by Guevara, for the most part while he was serving as a bureaucrat of the revolution after the seizure of power. I think it impossible to read those letters—direct, unassuming, austere—and not know that one is in the presence of a rare being, a man of principle, deserving of Castro's eulogy: "Immensely humane, immensely sensitive."
Ernesto Guevara was wounded in the Bolivian mountains, captured, and apparently shot after capture. Then his body was exhibited to photographers by relieved officials. From his point of view, fair enough—he had sought out just such a fate. But our perspective must be different. He was a very great man. He died at 39. In terms of the political evolution of Latin America in this century, the loss cannot be made up.
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SOURCE: "Guerrilla Saint," in The New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1968, pp. 3, 34-5.
[In the following review, Gall analyzes several works by Guevara, tracing the development of his ideological position as revealed in his political essays.]
The capture and murder last October in Bolivia of Ernesto "Che" Guevara was the most significant consequence of his own botched guerrilla insurgency. The story of his death—still subject to final refinement of detail—adds new mythic material to the reverence most Latin Americans feel for martyred guerrilla saints like Mexico's Emiliano Zapata. Nicaragua's Augusto Sandino and Colombia's rebel priest, Father Camilo Torres. Moreover, in Guevara's case, the flame of publicity has lighted candles in the literary salons of New York and Paris, as well as in the official eulogies of the Cuban Revolution and in the imagination of revolutionary youth throughout the world. The shadow, of course, has dwarfed the man; it has been enlarged by canonization and official tribute of the kind easily turned into a lean and flashy song.
The lacquered image of Che Guevara will not be beautified by the anemic spurt of quickie books issuing from his death [Venceremos!, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, Episodes of the Revolutionary War and Che Guevara Speaks]. Nor, as a result of their publication, will we understand more clearly the mystery of his restless romanticism, which has become an ideal for some of the more dynamic and concerned youth of both Americas. Offered here are diverse collections of the hero's wooden words, yielding little of Che's affecting presence and charm, and even less food for the nourishment of romantic illusion. Instead, human warmth gives way to the stilted, humorless prose of his official pronouncements, articles and speeches published by the Castro regime since 1959.
There are no unguarded moments here, only occasional signs of a momentous intellectual pilgrimage by a wanderer with the noble obsession of forming a pure and just human society, at whatever cost. Unfortunately, no independent editor or scholar has bothered to tell us of the origins and course of the pilgrimage, or of the intellectual milestones along the way. John Gerassi's introduction to Venceremos! is not what is needed. It merely provides a thin biographical sketch of the author, without any critical evaluation of his development or his political role.
The spirit shining through these hastily produced volumes is the fervent orthodoxy of the newly converted. They are full of exhortations for Cuban workers to work, to get organized, to produce, to correct the chaotic "errors" of the state-spawned bureaucracy that Che himself helped build to monster proportions. There is urgency throughout, as well as a healthy sense of vindication through the cyclonic social progress of the revolution.
Since Che was one of the key symbols and spokesmen of Cuba's revolutionary government, virtually every word in these books was uttered for its propaganda effect. His public personality shone strongest outside Cuba—and beyond the shadow of Fidel Castro—in cavalier appearances with beard and olive-green fatigues at international conferences such as the Punta del Este meeting of 1961 (when Cuba was expelled from the Organization of American States) and in Geneva at the 1964 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. On that occasion he offered a modest proposal that, given the declining terms of trade for the Third World, the underdeveloped nations suspend payments of dividends, interest and amortization "until such time as the prices for [their] exports reach a level which will reimburse them for the losses sustained over the past decade."
Until he landed in Cuba in late 1956 in Fidel Castro's confused but momentous guerrilla expedition, Ernesto Guevara was part of Latin America's permanent floating population of young political bohemians; he had shown scant interest in "Marxist-Leninist" teachings. Relatives report that since his early adolescence he was prodigious in both his sympathy for the unfortunate and in his fondness for the open road.
As a teen-ager, he took marathon bike trips to read poetry to the inmates of a leper colony. His absorbing interest in leprosy and its victims led him, both as a medical student and a young doctor, into extravagant wandering (from the time of his first motor-bike trip across the Andes in 1952) into remote parts of South America to visit leprosariums and participate in anti-leprosy campaigns. By the time he met the Castro brothers in 1955 in Mexico City, where he earned his living as sidewalk photographer, Che already had obtained a much broader knowledge of Latin America than any of Cuba's top revolutionary leaders were ever to achieve. He had traveled through Bolivia just after the profound and convulsive 1952 revolution, when the tin miners had crushed the Bolivian Army and, in effect, seized the mines, when Indian serfdom was abolished and land and the vote given the hacienda peons. He had wandered about Colombia in the years of the violencia, the savage civil war that claimed 200,000 lives, then drifted to Guatemala just in time to witness the C.I.A.-organized invasion of right-wing exiles (conniving with key Guatemala Army officers) that ended the agrarian revolution of President Jacobo Arbenz, whose Communist and other leftist supporters did not rise to his defense. The lessons of these wanderings were hardened in Che's exemplary career as a guerrilla column leader in Cuba's Sierra Maestra, and only after he descended from the hills did the attitudes formed by these experiences begin to take doctrinal shape.
The formal crystallization of his revolutionary belief began when he became a kind of alter ego and lightning rod in Fidel Castro's maneuvers to consolidate his power. The formalization of his ideal was dramatized best in his last published essay, the utopian "Man and Socialism in Cuba" (reprinted in Venceremos and Che Guevara Speaks), which appeared in Uruguay shortly after his widely publicized disappearance in March, 1965, and proposes a new moral motor for socialist society. It underscored a common feeling in the young Cuban leadership that a new kind of Communist is being formed by the revolution, far better in breeding and behavior than the Stalinist party hacks implicated in sordid bargains with the old Batista dictatorship.
Che's last visionary essay foresees the day when
man will begin to see himself mirrored in his work and to realize his full stature as a human being through the object created, the work accomplished. Work will no longer entail surrendering a part of his being in the form of labor-power sold, which no longer belongs to him, but will represent an emanation of himself reflecting his contribution to the common life, the fulfillment of his social duty. We are doing everything possible to give labor this new status of social duty and to link it on the one side with the development of a technology which will create the conditions for greater freedom, and on the other side with voluntary work based on a Marxist appreciation of the fact that man truly reaches a full human condition when he produces without being driven by the physical need to sell his labor as a commodity.
This is the glorification of the "moral incentives" to production—as opposed to material incentives of pay hikes pegged to economic performance advocated by Sovietoriented Marxists—which under Che's influence have come to dominate the Cuban production ethos. Indeed, this moral formula bears a striking resemblance to that of China's communes and the disastrous "Great Leap Forward," and the analogies between Cuban and Chinese Marxism do not end there.
Just as Mao Tse-tung has been responsible for the adaptation of Marx and Lenin to Chinese cultural traditions, Castro and Guevara have been attempting another major mutation—under Chinese influence—by designing a program of revolutionary armed struggle for Latin America. Curiously, neither Che nor Castro nor Mao made any systematic study of Marxism-Leninism until they had come to power or—in Mao's case—retreated to a secure guerrilla base area.
Mao's peasant origins always have inclined him to a profoundly popular and violent form of revolutionary struggle, which was fed and inflamed by peasant self-defense against the scourge of Japanese invasion in the 1930's. On the other hand, the guerrilla theories of Che and Fidel are more narrowly rooted in the radical student politics of Latin-American universities, and contain the "élitist" flaw of imposing the guerrilla movement—as Che did, fatally, in Bolivia—from outside the peasant area, often with little preparation and less regard for local conditions.
Unfortunately, the anthologies published since Che's death fail to include—and barely mention—his little handbook, Guerrilla Warfare, which is probably the most influential book published in Latin America since World War II, even though its strategic precepts may be wrong and the guerrilla movements it guided may have failed. While Che's strategic formulation has failed so far to change the outcome of Latin America's revolutionary struggle, it has profoundly altered its focus and tone.
Of the four volumes under consideration here, two are separate editions of Che's recollections of the Cuban guerrilla insurrection in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Oriente Province, while John Gerassi's Venceremos anthology contains most of this text. These "reminiscences" were first published as separate articles in the Cuban armed forces magazine, Verde Olivo, for the political orientation of the military establishment. It is a skeletal official history told in the first person, strangely shy of personal reflection or any departure from normative political requirements.
In contrast, for example, to George Orwell's graphic and introspective memoir, in Homage to Catalonia of boredom and filth and starvation in the trenches of Spain, Ernesto Guevara steers clear of the "subjective" literary material that would seem to be of greatest interest: the inner life of the guerrilla band, the doubts, the sufferings, the quarrels, the factions, the diverse strains of human character tied together in a struggle to survive, the give and take of winning the loyalty of frightened peasants and of outwitting Batista's brutal, stupid, pot-bellied army.
As a result, the skirmishes are all here but the war is missing. The soldier-author affects a kind of Hemingwayesque curtness and stoicism, with little interest in personality save for a monotonous and perhaps abnormal adulation of Fidel Castro. Of the spear-carriers we learn little, save that Juan was a peasant who joined the guerrillas and became a good fighter, while José sneaked away one night to betray his comrades to the army, and that Che always knew that Pedro, the quiet one, was also a traitor, since after Castro came to power he went into exile in Miami.
Of the two anthologies reviewed here, the slimmer one, Che Guevara Speaks, has by far the more incisive and luminous selection of Che's writings, and costs much less than the bulky, repetitious and carelessly assembled Gerassi collection. Che in print is important because of his influence on the Cuban Revolution (his public utterances consistently anticipated Fidel's future moves) and his symbolic meaning to much of Latin America. But the warmth and weight of his personality are muffled in his official words, and the evolution of his intellectual character still needs to be described.
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SOURCE: "Che Speaks," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXI, No. 20, May 13, 1968, p. 102.
[Sokolov is a critic, novelist, and author of recipe and cooking books. In the following review, Sokolov offers a mixed assessment of Venceremos!]
Even before his mysterious death last October, the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara had become the patron saint of the Third World and the guerrilla guru of the U.S. New Left. Raised in comfort, trained as a physician, he gave himself up totally to the revolutionary ideal. From early adolescence Guevara was an impassioned wanderer among his people; the underclass of feudal Latin America. He knew his continent and carried its sorrows with him from country to country. With each bloated baby and exploited peasant he saw, Guevara's hatred of the Latin overlords and their Yankee senior partners deepened. It was inevitable that Che would link up with a rebel government.
In 1956, at the age of 28, he sailed from Mexico to Cuba with Fidel Castro and 80 others on an old yacht called Granma. Two years later, Che emerged from the hills, a seasoned commander and a key figure in the new revolutionary government. Doctor, soldier, diplomat, economist—the careers multiplied and the prestige grew as his embattled new Cuba stabilized herself in spite of a U.S.-led trade embargo and, of course, the eventual and bumbled invasion of the Bay of Pigs. By 1965, Cuba was still far from self-sufficient, but for Guevara it was time to move on to new adventures. For months on end he fell from view, only to turn up murdered in Bolivia, where he had been fighting with local guerrillas.
He left behind him a legend of activist bravery, an unpublished diary tangled in copyright haggling and a great mass of speeches and writing. Shortly after Che's death, John Gerassi and a number of translators went to work making his currently printable literary legacy available to Yanqui readers. For the gringo Guevarista it would be a chance to commune with his hero, and for the outsider such a book should explain the bearded leader's charisma.
It [Venceremos—The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara] doesn't. Charismatic he must have been, but on the printed page. Che's words don't even have the ring of Robert Taft's. "Let us go on now to Topic II of the Agenda," he says vibrantly to the leaders of the OAS at Punta del Este in 1961. Here he is wowing the cane cutters of Camagüey in 1963: "Under our agricultural conditions with 40,000 arrobas of cane to the caballería, six rows are needed to fill a cart. And a heavy cart that keeps getting heavier cannot be dragged along. A motor would be needed to move it."
Even at his most inspiring, Guevara does not really make the heart beat faster: "And you, comrades, you who are the vanguard of the vanguard, who have demonstrated your spirit of sacrifice toward work, your Communist spirit, your new attitude toward life, ought always to be worthy of Fidel's words, which you inserted in one of the boxes in this precinct: 'What we were at a time of mortal danger, may we also learn to be in production; may we learn to be workers of Liberty or Death!'"
Somehow the rhetoric comes unstrung; the over-all effect is turgid and flatfooted; and the message is repetitive. Like most pep talks, these harangues and pseudo-essays probably worked with the original audience but don't have much significance afterward except as historical documents in the archives of propaganda.
There are marginal exceptions to the general sweep of ennui. Che's personal account of the Cuban revolution is an engaging scenario; however, a fuller version was published three months ago by Monthly Review Press, as Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolution.
Che's knotty economics is hard for the non-Marxist to follow, but it led to Cuba's unorthodox but apparently workable substitution of moral for cash incentives. The Guevara myth is no fairy tale, but his talents were not on the printed page but as an activist exhorting peasants in the fields, leading irregulars in the mountains or improvising the structure of a new kind of state.
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SOURCE: "The Cuban Revolution," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3460, June 20, 1968, p. 638.
[In the following mixed review of Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, the critic praises the volume's candor and humor but questions its value as an historical document.]
When the history of the Cuban Revolution comes to be written—and perhaps the time is not yet ripe—Ernesto "Che" Guevara's Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War will probably be regarded as the outstanding contemporary account of the revolutionary war in the Sierra Maestra. There exist a number of excellent first-hand reports by journalists (mostly foreign), but of the revolution's leaders only Guevara systematically recorded, from memory and "a few hasty notes", the most significant episodes of the war—experiences from which he derived the theories expounded in his now classic and, it seems, internationally (if sometimes inappropriately) influential Guerilla Warfare.
First published in installments in various Cuban periodicals during the early 1960s, Guevara's "fragmentary history" of the war ("a series of personal reminiscences") opens with a strikingly unheroic account of the voyage from Mexico to Cuba that Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl, the author (none of whom was over thirty years old) and some eighty other would-be revolutionaries made in the yacht Granma:
With our lights extinguished we left the port of Tuxpan amid an infernal mess of men and all sorts of material. The weather was very bad…. We began a frenzied search for the anti-seasickness pills, which we did not find. We sang the Cuban national anthem and the "Hymn of the 26th of July" for perhaps five minutes and then the entire boat took on an aspect both ridiculous and tragic: men with anguished faces holding their stomachs, some with their heads in buckets, others lying in the strangest positions, immobile, their clothing soiled with vomit.
Apart from two or three sailors and four or five other people the rest of the eighty-three crew members were seasick.
Three days after landing in Oriente province on December 2, 1956, and totally unprepared for immediate battle, they experienced at Algeria de Pìo a bloody baptism of fire at the hands of Batista's troops. Guevara himself, who was already suffering from an acute attack of asthma, was severely wounded:
I immediately began to wonder what would be the best way to die, now that all seemed lost. I remembered an old story of Jack London's in which the hero, knowing that he is condemned to freeze to death in the icy reaches of Alaska, leans against a tree and decides to end his life with dignity.
Only twelve rebels survived the massacre to form the nucleus of the Rebel Army which two years later marched into Havana.
Guevara's narrative (complete with diagrams) of the rebels' skirmishes with government troops, the establishment of contacts with the local peasant population, the creation of a "liberated zone", and the way in which the guerrilleros (200 of them by June, 1957) coped with their everyday problems—the provision of food, water and clothing, the supply of arms and ammunition, the maintenance of discipline and morale (particularly during the early difficult months)—is one of unusual interest. Moreover, it is related with considerable frankness, modesty and, surprisingly, with a good deal of humour. Doctor, dentist (albeit a reluctant one), military commander of the Rebel Army's fourth column and responsible for the "political orientation" of new recruits. Guevara emerges from this book as a most attractive adventurer. "A virtuoso in the art of revolutionary war" (to use Castro's description of him), he became addicted to life in the sierra and came to believe in revolution as a kind of personal therapy: "revolution", he wrote, "purifies men, improves and develops them". The letters he wrote in the period after 1959, a number of which are printed as an appendix to the book, give some idea of the frustration he felt with his post-revolutionary life as a bureaucrat. It can have surprised no one who knew him when in 1965, having played his part in consolidating the Cuban Revolution "in its territory", he left in search of "new battlefronts" in the struggle against American imperialism—to meet his death two years later in a Bolivian jungle.
From the historian's point of view, Guevara's Reminiscences are of strictly limited value. Many of the questions crucial to any understanding of the origins, nature and development of the Cuban Revolution remain unanswered. There is little to be learned, for example, about the way in which the political aspirations of the rebels evolved beyond the desire to overthrow the Batista dictatorship. Guevara simply states that as they came into closer contact with the peasants of the Sierra Maestra (who were, of course, far from typical of the Cuban population as a whole)—"prematurely aged and toothless women, children with distended bellies, parasitism, rickets, general avitaminosis"—they began to see the need for "a definite change in the life of the people. The idea of agrarian reform became clear …". His own ideological influence on the revolution—always said to be paramount—is still not clear. The relationship between the 26th of July Movement and the Partido Socialista Popular (the Communists) is scarcely discussed: "The P.S.P. joined with us in certain concrete activities", Guevara writes, "but mutual distrust hampered joint action and, fundamentally, the party of the workers did not understand with sufficient clarity the role of the guerrilla force, nor Fidel's personal role in our revolutionary struggle". The reasons for the ultimate rebel victory over Batista remain obscure. Guevara merely refers in vague terms to the oppressive nature of the existing regime, the privileged position of the latifundistas businessmen and foreign monopolists, and the demoralization and technical ineptitude of the military. In the last analysis, he says, in a statement which explains very little, "the war was won by the people, through the action of its armed fighting vanguard, the Rebel Army, whose basic weapons were their morale and their discipline". The narrative effectively ends with the second battle of Pino del Agua (February, 1958) and only a few pages are devoted to the events leading up to the seizure of power in January, 1959.
No one could reasonably accuse Guevara of exaggerating his own role in the Cuban revolutionary war: however brilliant, he was throughout Fidel Castro's second-in-command. At the same time one of the most curious features of his narrative is the infrequency with which Fidel himself figures in it. The explanation, of course, lies in the fact that the fourth column operated independently for much of the time and Guevara is describing his war. Yet no account of the war as a whole would be complete without an understanding of Castro's complex personality and his military and political skills.
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SOURCE: "Che on Che," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXII, No. 3, July 15, 1968, pp. 41-2.
[In the following essay, the critic examines Guevara's writing habits as well as the focus and publication history of his diaries.]
Since his death in a squalid hamlet in the jungled mountains of Bolivia eight months ago, Ernesto (Che) Guevara has assumed a revered place in the romantic imagination of thousands of revolutionaries around the world. To many young people in particular, his bold attempt to carry the torch of Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution to the very heart of the South American continent was an act of high adventure and noble purpose. Last week, however, with the publication of his secret personal diary, Che himself revealed for the first time all the mundane details of his Bolivian sojourn—the constant battle he waged against jungle sickness, the bone-wearying effort to elude pursuing Bolivian troops, the internecine conflicts among his own Communist comrades. And for all the unquestioned drama contained in its 345 pages, the diary turned out to be the story of a blundering failure.
The diary, long thought to be tucked away in a heavily guarded safe in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, was released last week by the Cuban Government to a half dozen sympathetic foreign publishers, including Ramparts magazine in the U.S. Although Castro insisted that a Cuban "sympathizer" had provided Havana with the copy, there were a number of conflicting versions of just how the diary was spirited out of Bolivia.
For the occasion, Castro wrote a glowing introductory tribute to his old comrade-in-arms. "It was Che's habit during his days as a guerrilla," Fidel reminisced,
to write down his daily observations in a personal diary. During the long marches over abrupt and difficult terrain, in the middle of the damp woods, when the lines of men, always hunched over from the weight of their mochilas [knapsacks], munitions and arms, would stop for a moment to rest, or when the column would receive orders to halt and pitch camp at the end of a long day's journey, one could see Che … take out his notebook and, with the small and almost illegible letters of a doctor, write his notes.
That, of course, was almost a decade ago, in Cuba's Sierra Maestra. But Che remained a faithful diarist in the Bolivian Andes, Castro explains, despite the fact that the struggle there "unfolded under incredibly hard material conditions." While the Cuban Premier carefully refrains from taking credit for sending Che to Bolivia to launch the insurrection, he leaves little doubt that he hoped, by presenting the diary to the world, to strengthen the cause of his militant philosophy of world revolution.
Indeed, a large portion of Castros' introduction is devoted to a bitter commentary on Che's conflicts with the conservative wing of the Bolivian Communist Party. Castro levels a searing blast at Communists, like those in Bolivia, who follow Moscow's line of peaceful coexistence rather than Fidels' own doctrine on the necessity for waging guerrilla wars. According to the Cuban Premier, Bolivian Communist Party Boss Mario Monje Molino did "nothing more than enter into shameful, ridiculous and unmerited claims for power" with Che and later actually "began to sabotage the movement, intercepting well-trained Communist militants in La Paz who were going to join the guerrillas."
In fact, as Che's diary makes clear, Monje and other Bolivian Communist leaders failed to share his vision of a "liberation" movement extending from a secure base in the Bolivian mountains to Argentina, Peru and other South American countries. Determined nonetheless to launch a "second Vietnam" in Latin America, Che left Cuba more than two years ago and flew to Europe (where he purchased his German diary in Frankfurt). Disguised as a balding Uruguayan businessman, he arrived in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz sometime in the fall of 1966. From there, he journeyed to La Paz to confer with local Communists and then proceeded to a farm which had been purchased for him by his Bolivian sympathizers in the isolated area of Îanchuhuasú, where he first began writing his diary.
Sometimes dramatic, sometimes tedious, the diary makes heavy reading due to its constant use of noms de guerre. The tangled geography of the region remains as confused to the reader as it was to the guerrilla chief himself. But what emerges is still a fascinating document of the painstaking mechanics of trying to start a revolution in an inhospitable land with groups of men (never more than 53) who frequently suffered not only from hunger, thirst and disease, but also from petty conflicts of personality and nationality. Che reveals himself as touchingly human by faithfully recording the birthdays of his comrades and his family. And as for Jules Régis Debray, the French Communist writer who, upon being captured and subsequently tortured by Bolivian Army troops, revealed the whereabouts of the Cuban's guerrilla hide-out, Che seems surprisingly uncritical. (Some experts, however, suspect that Che was not entirely happy with Debray's performance in the jungle—and let Castro know about this by radio.)
Castro gives his version of what happened to Che after he wrote the last entry in his diary on Oct, 7. The next day, he was caught by Bolivian soldiers and taken to the town of Higueras. There, on Oct. 9 in a small school house, writes Castro, "Maj. Miguel Ayoroa and Col. Andrés Selnich, rangers trained by the Yankees, instructed Officer Mario Terán to proceed with the killing. When the latter, completely drunk, went into the place, Che … saw that the assassin vacillated [and] said firmly, 'Shoot, don't be afraid!'"
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SOURCE: "The End of a Guerrillero," in The New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1968, pp. 1-2, 26, 28, 30.
[Lockwood is a photojournalist, editor, and author of a book about Fidel Castro and Cuba. In the following review, in which he offers a highly favorable assessment of Guevara's Bolivia diary, Lockwood praises Guevara's writing style and comments on several events in the Bolivian campaign.]
Dear Folks—Once again I feel the ribs of Rocinante between my heels; once again I take the road with my shield upon my arm…. Many will call me an adventurer, and that I am—only, one of a different sort, one who risks his neck to prove his platitudes…. Now a will which I have polished with delight will sustain some shaky legs and weary lungs. I will do it. Give a thought once in a while to this little twentieth century soldier-of-fortune….
—Che Guevara: farewell letter to his parents.
Last October, when the Bolivian Government gloatingly announced that it had not only captured and killed the great revolutionary guerrillero, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, but that among the contents of his rucksack had been found a complete war diary in Che's handwriting, minutely detailing his daily adventures and observations, publishers' agents from around the world flocked to La Paz to bid for the right to its publication.
Bolivian President René Barrientos, hoping to recoup some of the $3-million of Bolivia's meager funds which had been spent in bringing Guevara's tiny band to rout, hinted openly that he would like to get a million dollars for the package. At first, the publishers vied briskly with one another and intrigued secretly with members of the Government for the inside track. As months went by, however, most of the competitors dropped out, some because they feared a lawsuit from the Guevara heirs in Cuba (who presumably have some legal right to the diary), others out of dismay at the international scandal that had been stirred up by the crassness of the Bolivians, and still others out of unwillingness to accept the editorial conditions demanded by the Bolivian Government, i.e., that the full story "from the Bolivian side" must be included in any publication.
Then, in July, Fidel Castro shocked La Paz by announcing that he had acquired a copy of Guevara's war diary "free of charge" from a mysterious source and would publish it immediately in Havana and other capitals. Within a week, an English translation of this Cuban edition, together with an introduction written by Castro, appeared in this country in Ramparts Magazine, and now reappears in a Bantam paperback [as The Diary of Che Guevara; Bolivia: November 7, 1966—October 7, 1967].
Almost simultaneously, Stein & Day publishers have come forth with what they call The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Ché Guevara, published under official license of the Bolivian Government. It is called "complete" because it contains Che's entries for 13 days that are missing from the Castro version (out of nearly 400 days). More interesting, it also includes the diaries of three other Cuban guerrilleros ("Pombo," "Rolando" and "Braulio," all officers of Cuba's Army), which shed further light on Che's fascinating narrative, and a 60-page introduction by Daniel James which, among other things, amply fulfills the obligation to present the Bolivian side of the story by devoting three effusive pages to a political biography of President Barrientos and an equal number to Gen. Alfredo Ovando, the army's Commander in Chief.
These two English versions of Che's diary have been compared, and they unquestionably derive from the same original. Both, however, suffer needlessly from inept and inaccurate translations. The Cuban translation, prepared in Havana (in obvious haste), is an especially messy job; the Stein & Day version is somewhat better, but far from perfect.
Che Guevara quietly dropped out of sight in April, 1965. "Other nations of the world call for my modest efforts," he had written at that time to his friend, chief and mentor, Fidel Castro, pledging "to carry to new battlefields the faith which you have taught me, the revolutionary spirit of my people, the feeling of fulfilling the most sacred of duties: to fight against imperialism." He was not seen again publicly until two and a half years later, when his grimy and stiffened cadaver, strangely saint-like in death, was brought to the Bolivian town of Vallegrande in the foothills of the Andes Mountains strapped to the runner of an army helicopter. Captured alive, he had been executed the next day on orders from La Paz.
Where had Guevara been all that time? The diaries provide a clue. He had gone first to the Congo. There, together with several other veterans of the Cuban Revolution, he had tried unsuccessfully to reorganize the remnants of Patrice Lumumba's forces. When they would not fight, Che returned secretly to Cuba in 1966. With Castro, he laid the plans for a guerrilla action in Bolivia that would serve as the base and training ground for a continental South American revolutionary movement, thus fulfilling Guevara's dream (expressed as early as 1959) of "transforming the Andes Mountains into the Sierra Maestra of Latin America."
As Fidel Castro has related, it was Che Guevara's custom during the guerrilla days in the Sierra Maestra to jot down his notes and observations each day in a notebook, "in the small and nearly illegible handwriting of a doctor." From this raw material Che later produced a series of accounts entitled Passages From the Revolutionary War, a book which ranks among the best war writing of modern times.
In this respect, the Bolivian diary of Che Guevara is no disappointment. In few writers does the style so transparently reflect the personality of the man. The writing is economical and matter-of-fact in tone, free of all hyberbole yet vivid, and leavened with a fine, dry sense of humor, the butt of which is often the author himself. The narrative begins slowly and gradually gains momentum. As it tersely unfolds one experiences a rising tension, a growing sense of tragic fate inexorably working itself out. As in all good adventure stories, though you know how it ends, you cannot put the book down.
The daily accounts begin with Che's arrival in Nancahuazú in November, 1966, and end the day before his capture the following October. The journal begins on a note of optimism and humor. Having traveled from Cuba via Prague, Frankfurt and São Paulo, bald and beardless and on a false passport, Che enters Bolivia and arrives at the farm which is intended to be his base of operations. The diary begins (reviewer's translation):
(November 7, 1966) A new stage begins today. We arrived at the farm by night. The trip was quite good. After entering by way of Cochabamba, adequately disguised, Pachungo and I made the necessary contacts and traveled in two jeeps for two days…. On approaching the farm during the second trip, Bigotes, who had just learned my identity, nearly ran off a cliff, leaving the jeep stranded on the edge of a precipice. We walked about 20 km., arriving after midnight at the farm, where there are three Party workers.
Other Cuban guerrilla veterans arrive in the weeks that follow, in pairs, by various routes. In the end, Guevara's guerrilla foco will contain 20 Cubans (including at least 4 members of Cuba's Central Committee), 29 Bolivians and 3 Peruvians. Of the Bolivians, 4 will desert and several others will prove unfit for combat.
Things seem to go wrong almost from the beginning. Three days after Che's arrival, two Cubans carelessly let themselves be seen by a local peasant. For security purposes, the group is forced to leave the more comfortable farm and set up a new base camp in the jungle. At the end of December, Mario Monje, head of the pro-Moscow Bolivian Communist party, visits this camp and meets with Che. In return for support, he demands to be given military and political leadership of the revolution. Che refuses, and Monje departs in anger, withdrawing the party aid upon which Che had been counting as a source of men and supplies from the cities.
In the meantime, personality clashes have already broken out between some of the Cuban veterans, and there is friction between the Cubans and the Bolivians. Che is forced to discipline two Cuban comandantes and delivers a lecture to the entire group on the need to form "an exemplary nucleus made of steel."
It is clear from almost the initial entries in Che's journal that the Bolivian operation is intended to be only the first stage in a continental revolution. The strategy was to gain a foothold in Bolivia first, then to branch out north and south, thus creating "two, three, many Vietnams" (in Che's words). Peru and Argentina apparently were to be the next theaters of operations.
Guevara correctly saw that his real enemy was the United States; his theory was that the more brush fires that could be created, the more extended the United States would become in trying to put them out, and thus the greater the chances of any single revolutionary movement succeeding. That the United States understood and feared this strategy is evidenced by the alacrity with which it moved to send materiel and "advisers" to Bolivia once it was convinced that Che Guevara was there.
By the end of January the initial guerrilla group is complete. Che prepares to take his troop on a 25-day march through the jungle for training and toughening. In his monthly analysis for January he writes: "Now begins the real guerrilla phase, and we will test the troops. Time will tell what will happen and what the prospects are for the Bolivian revolution." To which he adds a comment that is an ominous portent of things to come: "… the incorporation of Bolivian fighters has taken the longest to accomplish."
Things continue to go poorly. The guerrilla force, lacking knowledge of the terrain, continually loses its way. Two men are accidentally drowned. Others contract malaria, and Che himself begins to suffer from recurrent bouts of asthma. All are hungry. The local peasantry, from whom Che hopes to enlist new recruits, exhibit stolid indifference to revolutionary ideals. Many villages speak an Indian dialect unknown even to the Bolivians in Che's force, making communication practically impossible. The march lasts 48 days instead of the planned 25.
As hardships and privations in crease, so does the friction between some of the veteran Cuban officers. One of the comandantes "Marcos," whom Che had intended to place in charge of the vanguard, is demoted for temperament and derelection of duty and ordered either to join the rear ranks as a common soldier or go back to Cuba. (He joins the rearguard and, much later, dies bravely in battle.)
The worst blow is reserved for Che's troop when it finally returns "home" to Nancahuazú; two of the Bolivian guerrilleros have deserted and have led army soldiers to the base camp, resulting in the capture of photographs, diaries and other documentary proof of Che Guevara's presence in Bolivia. Che records these events and their circumstances in his usual matter-of-fact way and then adds, gloomily, "An atmosphere of defeat prevailed."
Although a temporary period of military success will follow, this is actually the turning-point in Che Guevara's fortunes, for he is now compelled to abandon his training camp and go on the military offensive before he is ready and long before he had planned.
Beginning in Nancahuazú and moving southward, he fights a series of skirmishes with the poorly trained Bolivian Army troops and sustains a string of victories, most of them from carefully planned ambushes laid according to the classic model described by Guevara in his handbook, On Guerrilla Warfare. However, April proves one of the cruelest months for Che. On the 17th, he is accidentally separated from his rear guard, reducing his forces by more than 20 per cent, including five Cubans. (Though he will spend months searching for them, he will never see them again.) On the 20th, the revolutionary ideologue Régis Debray, who had departed against Che's wishes after spending a month with him, is captured near Camiri and immediately becomes an international cause célèbre.
Guevara is now obliged to move northward again, taking to the inhospitable mountains and fighting as he goes. Victories continue, but now they are paid for with mortalities and casualties in his already meager forces which he is unable to replenish with even one Bolivian peasant recruit. He is cut off from support from the cities, and he has lost radio contact with Havana. Ascending into the mountains, Che is again visited with a series of horrendous asthma attacks. His medicine exhausted, he can no longer march and must alternately ride a mule (Rocinante?) or, when he loses consciousness, be carried on a litter. His sickness has begun to demoralize his men.
The diary entries of this time, faithfully recording each detail of mounting adversity in an unbroken tone of incandescent courage and optimism, invoke a growing melancholy in the reader. Upon hearing on the radio that 16 American anti-guerrilla experts have arrived in La Paz to train the Bolivian rangers, Che notes with satisfaction: "We may be taking part in the first episode of a new Vietnam."
By August, Che records that his band is now down to 22 men, three of whom are disabled, and subsisting on horsemeat. Guevara's asthma is now so advanced that he has begun to lose control of his temper, berating his men and abusing his horse. For the man who had once written, "Now a will which I have polished with delight will sustain some weary lungs and shaky legs," this breach of self-discipline is a severe blow. He calls a meeting of his men:
We are in a difficult situation … there are moments when I lose control of myself. This will change, but we must all share equally the burden of the situation, and whoever feels he cannot stand it should say so. This is one of those moments in which great decisions must be made, because a struggle of this type gives us the opportunity to become revolutionaries, the highest rung on the human ladder, and also allows us to graduate as men. Those who cannot reach either of these stages should say so and leave the struggle.
By September, Che is bottled up in the mountains, desperately searching for an escape route from the tightening encirclement of the Rangers. Practically every new entry begins with the notation, "A black day." Though now aware that he is probably reaching his end, he still possesses enough spirit for a moment of humor: "I almost forgot to emphasize the fact that today, after something like six months, I bathed. This constitutes a record which several others are already approaching."
Why did Che Guevara fail? Unquestionably, the most significant cause of his defeat was his inability to attract the support of the Bolivian peasants. During 11 months of operations over an extensive rural area, not a single native joined the guerrilla band. Instead, as Che himself admits, the peasants responded to his urgings with indifference and duplicity, and many served as paid informers to Barrientos's troops.
One reason for this was lack of sufficient preparation. It seems incredible that neither Che nor any of the Cubans had taken the trouble to learn Quechua, the most common dialect spoken by the Bolivian Indians, before arriving in Bolivia; it is equally incredible that there was not at least one Bolivian in the group who spoke Guarani, the other prominent Indian tongue of the region.
More significant may have been a miscalculation by Castro and Guevara in attempting to duplicate the success of the Cuban revolution by transposing its tactics wholesale to a Bolivian setting. The two situations are not identical.
When Fidel Castro landed in the Sierra Maestra in 1956, he was a well-known Cuban patriot who was returning to his own country at the head of a revolutionary force who were 99 per cent Cubans. Castro had no avowed political program or ideology except that of ridding Cuba of a dictatorship and restoring a democratic government. He operated in a territory (Oriente Province) which he knew personally; he had, in fact, grown up among its peasants and spoke their dialect. Hence, Castro was able to obtain the overwhelming support of the peasantry, a factor which proved decisive to the success of his revolution.
By contrast, in Bolivia Che Guevara was a famous Cuban leader on foreign soil. He was the chief of a revolutionary band that was also largely made up of foreigners. He was an acknowledged Communist doctrinaire whose revolutionary program involved the communization not only of Bolivia but of all Latin America. In effect, he was the agent of a foreign power operating on Bolivian soil—at least, in the eyes of the Bolivians. He did not speak their language. Given these circumstances, it does not seem surprising that the Indian peasants offered a cool reception to the bearded foreign warriors, or that the Government was able to capitalize on their natural xenophobia and turn them into informers.
One wonders, also, at the inadequate planning that seems to have characterized the preparations for the Bolivian adventure. Were Castro and Guevara simply overconfident or overoptimistic? Why, for example, were not more Bolivians involved in the operation from the beginning, perhaps receiving their preliminary training in Cuba? Why did not the Cuban veterans (whom Che accuses of having grown soft and lazy in desk jobs during the nine years since the revolution) undergo a rigorous reconditioning before they left? (Some had no training.)
Once in Bolivia, why didn't the Cubans, instead of doing most of the fighting, function as "advisers" to the Bolivian guerrilleros (as did the United States experts to the Bolivian Rangers who ultimately defeated Che)? Why didn't Che, who knew beforehand that there would be trouble with the Bolivian Communist party, arrange other lines of support in advance to ensure that his guerrilla would not be cut off from the cities?
With more planning, better luck, and a guerrilla cadre mainly staffed and led by Bolivians, could the revolutionary effort have succeeded? There is no sure answer. "Pombo's" diary tells us that Che expected victory in Bolivia to take at least 10 years. Certainly many of the conditions that spawn revolutions do exist in Bolivia, among them extreme rural poverty, a feudal system of land ownership, exploitation and suppression of the tin miners, corruption at all levels of government, and a revolutionary tradition.
Daniel James, in his introduction to the Bolivian edition of Che's diaries, ascribes Che's defeat in part to his failure to appreciate the tremendous political popularity of President Barrientos, whom James characterizes as "a typical Latin-American revolutionary"—an assertion likely to cause guffaws even among Barrientos's cronies. Barrientos's regime, which began with a coup d'etat, is so shaky that it almost fell during Guevara's short-lived period of victories and is now tottering again because one of his ministers stole a copy of Che's diary and sent it to Fidel Castro, enabling him to publish it first.
Were there sufficient space, it would be interesting to compare the two introductions by Fidel Castro and Daniel James, which represent points of view that could not be more opposite. However, one matter in James's essay must be mentioned. At the beginning, and again at the end of his introduction, he devotes several pages to a discussion of what he calls the "rivalry" between Guevara and Castro.
According to James's somewhat muddled exposition, the two had never gotten along since their days together in the Sierra Maestra (though both had carefully hidden their feelings). When Che returned to Cuba in 1965 from Algeria, Castro, out of pique at Guevara's supposed efforts to assume the ideological leadership of the Cuban revolution, banished him first to the Congo and then to Bolivia (after which Fidel, "copied Che's ideological program"). When Guevara began to encounter adversity, James goes on, Fidel purposely withheld the aid and support that could have saved his life, and abandoned Che "to fight and die alone in the wilds of the Bolivian southeast," thus eliminating his chief rival to the leadership of the Latin-American armed struggle.
Suffice it to say that there exists not one shred of documentary evidence, either in Che's diaries of anywhere else, to support this fantastic story. In Cuba, since his departure in 1965, Guevara's name and image have been promoted incessantly by Castro's propaganda organs. If anything, Fidel's support of his comrade has been overenthusiastic, as witness the O.L.A.S. conference of 1967, where Che was clearly identified as the new Bolivar of South America's Socialist revolution—which no doubt helped stimulate United States action in Bolivia. As for Guevara's feelings for Castro, they are nowhere expressed more movingly than in his farewell letter to Fidel:
If my final hour finds me under other skies, my last thought will be of this people [the Cubans] and especially of you. I am thankful for your teaching, your example, and I will try to be faithful to the final consequences of my acts…. I embrace you with all my revolutionary fervor!
It must be left to the reader to speculate why James (who has published a violently anti-Castro book about Cuba) sees fit to devote so much of his Introduction to this gratuitously vicious slur on Fidel Castro.
Yet no amount of scandal or intrigue will tarnish Che Guevara's Bolivian diary or prevent it from being read as one of the most transcendent documents of our time. More than a simple war journal, it is a rare self-portrait of the compleat revolutionary. Out of this diary of defeat emerges a triumphant legacy of courage, selflessness and devotion to principle of heroic dimensions. The revolutionary movement to which he so willingly sacrificed himself, though temporarily weakened by his death, must ultimately be fortified by the exemplary testament which he has left it.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1458
SOURCE: "Right and Left: Che Guevara," in T.L.S.: Essays and Reviews from "The Times Literary Supplement"—1968, Vol. 7, Oxford University Press, London, 1969, pp. 19-24.
[In the following excerpt from a collection of essays written for The Times Literary Supplement during 1968, the critic discusses the insights that Guevara's diaries provide into his life and revolutionary activities in Bolivia. The critic also compares the Cuban and English editions of the diaries.]
Early in the afternoon of October 8, 1967, at Quebrada del Yuro, in the remote south-east corner of Bolivia, a small guerrilla force, led by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, found itself surrounded by units of the Bolivian Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion and suffered a decisive defeat. Six guerrillas were killed and Che himself was wounded and captured. Twenty-four hours later, on October 9, he was executed. Two diaries were found among his papers: the first, a spiral notebook, covered the period from November 7, 1966 (the day he arrived—heavily disguised—from Havana, via Prague, São Paulo and La Paz, at the guerrilla base of Nancahuazú), to the the end of the year; the second, an appointments book bearing the name of a German pharmaceutical company, ran from January 1, 1967, to October 7, the day before the final battle.
Clearly the Guevara diaries were documents of the greatest political and historical interest and importance. However, neither the Bolivians nor the Americans—American counter-insurgency specialists had been training the Bolivian anti-guerrilla forces and the C.I.A. agents were apparently in at the kill—were at first prepared to authorize their publication. Photocopies of the diaries did nevertheless reach Havana, where, in June of this year, after their authenticity had been satisfactorily established, they were published, together with a 'Necessary Introduction' by Dr. Fidel Castro, in which he honoured the memory of Che, declared his solidarity with the Latin-American revolutionary movement, and argued strongly that although recent events in Bolivia constituted a setback for the Revolution they were not a defeat. The Cuban Government has consistently refused to reveal the source of the photocopies, but it is now known that they were handed over by Sr. Antonio Arguedas, the Bolivian Minister of the Interior, no less, whose defection in July triggered off a major political crisis in Bolivia. The Cape/Lorrimer edition of Che Guevara's Bolivian diaries is a translation of the Cuban edition complete with Dr. Castro's introduction and a translation of the July Proclamation by the Bolivian guerrilla, Inti Peredo, which begins with the stirring declaration, 'Guerrilla warfare in Bolivia is not dead! It has just begun.'
It has been widely assumed that besides being incomplete—in his introduction Dr. Castro admitted that a few pages were not yet in his possession—the Cuban edition of the Guevara diaries had been heavily edited in order to suppress or 'soften' passages damaging to the Castro regime. However, the publication in this country by Allen and Unwin of the American edition of the diaries, which their American publishers, Stein and Day, claim to be the 'only authentic, uncensored and complete version', makes it quite clear that this is not the case. Certainly the American edition is complete: it includes entries for January 4, 5, 8 and 9, February 8 and 9, March 14, April 4 and 5, June 9 and 10, July 4 and 5, which do not appear in the Cuban edition. Interesting as they are, however, Dr. Castro was quite correct when he wrote, 'they are entries for dates when nothing important happened and they in no way alter the diary's overall contents'. So far as the remaining 300 or so entries are concerned, there are minor variations in translation but no significant differences between the two editions. The very fact that both sides had the diaries (or photocopies of them)—and that each knew this to be the case—ensured that neither could tamper with the text and hope to get away with it.
Besides the thirteen entries missing from the Cuban version of the Guevara diaries, the American edition offers as an additional bonus, the captured diaries of three of Che's closest lieutenants, all, like himself, veterans of the Sierra Maestra and officers of the Cuban Revolutionary Army: first, Pombo (Captain Harry Villegas Tamayo), a 27-year-old Negro and one of the few survivors of the campaign, whose diary begins on July 14, 1966, and ends on May 29, 1967, and is therefore particularly valuable for the information it gives about the establishment of the guerrilla base before Che's arrival; secondly, Rolando (Captain Eliseo Reyes Rodríguez), a member of the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party, killed in action at the age of twenty-four, whose diary runs from August 11, 1966, to April 20, 1967: and, thirdly, Braulio (Lieutenant Israel Reyes Zayas), whose diary, the least interesting of the three, covers the period October 25, 1966, to August 9, 1967. The book also includes some fascinating photographs of Che himself, and the guerrilla camp, a useful chronology of the eleven-month campaign, and a complete list of the guerrillas, all of whom have been identified. (As is now well known from sensational newspaper stories, Tania [Laura], the only girl among the guerrillas, killed in August, 1967, was Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider, an East German double-agent keeping an eye on Che for the Soviet K.G.B.)
There is, moreover, a valuable, if poorly organized and at times inconsistent, introduction by the American editor of the diaries, Mr. Daniel James, a journalist and historian, who has had access to all the captured documents and who has for some time taken a close interest in the career of Che Guevara (a biography is expected to appear soon). In his introduction, Mr. James recounts Che's movements from the time of his 'disappearance' in March, 1965, to his arrival at Nancahuazú eighteen months later; he traces the idea of a Bolivian campaign back to the meeting between Dr. Castro and Sr. Mario Monje Molina, the First Secretary of the Bolivian Communist Party, during the Tricontinental Conference held in Havana in January, 1966; and he explains the purpose of the campaign which was to make Bolivia the catalyst for revolution against 'Yankee imperialism' throughout Latin America. Che is on record as saying: 'Bolivia will sacrifice itself so that conditions [for revolution] can be created in neighbouring countries. We have to make [Latin] America another Vietnam, with its centre in Bolivia.'
The Diaries themselves consist of daily jottings and monthly analyses relating to the guerrillas themselves—Che never had a fighting force of more than forty or so (almost half of whom were Cuban)—and guerrilla operations along a corridor approximately 200 miles long and seventy miles wide, within the triangle formed by the towns of Santa Cruz in the north, Sucre in the west, and Camiri in the south. No doubt they were very like the 'hasty notes' from which Che eventually compiled his Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, which was also recently published in English. Without literary pretensions, the Diaries make compelling reading. Like the Reminiscences they include a great deal of information about the everyday problems of food supply, sickness, discipline and morale, as well as comments on Bolivian and Voice of America news broadcasts relating to the guerrilla war, and descriptions of patrols and skirmishes with Bolivian government troops. Again, as in the Reminiscences, Che writes with considerable self-awareness, frankness, modesty and not a little coarse humour (May 13: 'Day of belching, farting, vomiting and diarrhoea; a real organ concert'). As late as June-July Che was still optimistic (on July 7 the guerrillas had one of their greatest successes when they took Samaipata on the main Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway), but it was from that time that things began to go wrong: the guerrilla force was gradually reduced in number and Che himself suffered a serious physical deterioration. The end came at Quebrada del Yuro early in October.
The most important question to be asked about Che Guevara's Bolivian campaign is why did it fail? The diaries themselves provide a number of clues. In the first place, and perhaps the most important, the peasants of southeast Bolivia failed to support the guerrillas. On the contrary, they seemed more disposed to assist the Bolivian army in tracking them down. Secondly, the guerrillas maintained little contact with the Bolivian miners, students and other urban revolutionary groups. One important reason for this was the deep rift which opened up between Che and the leaders of the Bolivian Communist Party. Pombo's diary reveals Che's bitterness over what became in effect communist sabotage of the guerrilla cam-paign, and in his introduction to the Guevara diaries Fidel Castro goes out of his way to denounce the Bolivian Communists for 'narrow and vulgar chauvinism'. And thirdly, the Bolivian army, hopelessly ineffective at first, improved its counter-insurgency methods as a result of intensive United States training and, in the end, had little difficulty in mopping up what remained of the guerrilla force.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1432
SOURCE: A foreword to "Che" Guevara on Revolution: A Documentary Overview, edited by Jay Mallin, University of Miami Press, 1969, pp. 11-14.
[A diplomat, educator, editor, and author, Harvey was known as an authority on Soviet affairs and East European trade. In the following excerpt from an essay written in early 1969, he briefly discusses the popularity and influence of Guevara's writings, noting his contributions to Marxist thought.]
For any study of the Cuban revolution, the writings of Ernesto Guevara are of exceptional importance. Guevara played a number of roles in that revolution, and he alone of the top leaders was a prolific writer. Guevara's interests and official responsibilities were varied, and he wrote on diverse topics—plans for industrialization, processes of high finance, the evils of bureaucracy. Historical perspective will probably show, however, that his most significant work related to his continuing discussion and interpretation of Communist revolutionary theory, particularly in the field of guerrilla warfare.
Guevara viewed the Cuban revolution as but a part of a larger revolution that he was convinced would soon engulf all of Latin America. Much of his writings aimed at both stimulating and guiding struggle in other Latin American countries.
Guevara did not attempt to strike out on new theoretical paths. His evident objective was to adapt established Communist precepts to the Latin American scene—first in terms of demonstrating the Marxist-Leninist nature of the Castro revolution and second in terms of providing strategic, tactical, and operational guidelines for revolutionary drives elsewhere in Latin America. Nevertheless—and probably because he did not himself fully understand the tenets of the Communist theoreticians he sought to interpret—Guevara turned out to be an innovator in two very important particulars.
One, he viewed guerrilla war as a means to total victory in a revolutionary struggle. China's Mao Tse-tung and Viet Nam's Vo Nguyen Giap, the two master theorists on revolutionary war in Communist ranks, had emphasized the limitations of guerrilla war and had seen it as the prime form of struggle in only one of the three stages that would necessarily mark any successful "armed revolution." Guevara echoed the three stages concept, but in his mind the stages differed in a quantitative sense, that is, in consequence of increases in the size and strength of guerrilla forces. Mao and Giap saw the difference as qualitative, with guerrilla forces evolving into regular armies and with guerrilla-type methods and operations giving way to—or at least becoming subordinate to—regular, or conventional, warfare. Mao and Giap, in contrast to Guevara, ruled out success of an armed revolution through guerrilla war alone, no matter how large guerrilla forces might become.
Two, Guevara broke with the basic dictum of other Communist theorists that a generally favorable situation had to exist before an armed revolution could be successfully initiated. He argued that it was not "always necessary to await the existence of all the conditions for revolution: the insurrectional focus can create them." This was in direct contrast to:
—Lenin: "If a revolutionary party has not the majority among the vanguard classes and in the country generally, there can be no question of insurrection…. To throw the vanguard alone into the decisive battle, before the whole class, before the broad masses have taken up a position either of direct support of the vanguard or at least one of benevolent neutrality towards it, and one in which they cannot possibly support the enemy, would be not merely folly but a crime."
—Stalin: "… it must be born in mind that the overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be successfully accomplished only when certain absolutely necessary conditions exist, in the absence of which there can be even no question of the proletariat taking power."
—Mao: "… strategically, we should despise all our enemies, but tactically we should take them all seriously … in dealing with concrete problems and particular enemies we shall be committing the error of adventurism unless we take them seriously … it is impossible to win victory in a people's war without taking full account of the enemy tactically and without regard to concrete conditions…. In seeking victory, those who direct a war cannot overstep the limitations imposed by objective conditions…."
—Lin Piao: "… every revolution in a country stems from the demands of its own people. Only when the people in a country are awakened, mobilized, organized, and armed can they overthrow the reactionary rule of imperialism and its lackeys through struggle; their role cannot be replaced or taken over by any people from outside."
Guevara's departure from the standard in these two regards had the effect of magnifying the potential of guerrilla warfare as an instrument of revolution. Guerrillas could not only get a revolutionary war under way; they could, if they applied "correct" strategy and tactics, carry it through to total victory. Even more important, a small guerrilla band, or nucleus, could, even if injected into an area from the outside, generate itself the conditions and dynamics necessary for a successful revolutionary struggle against an entrenched regime.
This thinking evidently lies at the root of the adventurism of the Castro government with respect to the training of Latin Americans in guerrilla warfare and the dispatch and support of guerrilla forces in a succession of Latin American countries. And … it well explains how Guevara could have brought himself to the abortive guerrilla effort in Bolivia that ended in his death.
Had Guevara lived out his days as a highly placed bureaucrat in Castro's Cuban government, what he wrote of revolutionary warfare would probably have been of interest and importance only to those specialists who seek to penetrate and explain the mysteries that surround the Castro takeover and the evolution of Cuba's domestic and foreign policies. It is true that for a brief period after the Castro triumph Guevara shone brightly from his Cuban setting and gave promise of a significant role in the shaping of worldwide radical thought. But as he settled into his post of alto funcionario, and proved somewhat bungling and over-voluble in the capacity, he lost his allure. Such romanticism as still attached to the Cuban revolution centered increasingly on Castro himself.
Guevara, like a number of others through history, found a new and larger life in a bizarre death. His summary execution following the collapse of the tragicomic guerrilla campaign he and elements of the Cuban military imposed on an unwilling Bolivian peasantry projected the Guevara figure into a new dimension. Guevara the man gave way to Guevara the myth—and a myth that the dissidents of the world quickly seized upon for both symbol and example.
As part of Guevara's transformation from Cuban conspirator to hero of the New Left, widespread and avid interest has developed with regard to his writings and teachings. In less than a month after his death some 15,000 copies of his Guerrilla Warfare were sold in Italy alone. Guevara's thought on war and revolution has consequently become something far more than a guide to the formation of Cuban foreign policy. It has become a force to be reckoned with wherever men have become dissatisfied with their lot and with the societies in which they live. And here it can be of great importance that Guevara did not share the concern of other Communists over a premature or indiscriminate use of violence, but instead greatly exaggerated the ease and surety with which it could bring revolutionary changes in existing power structures. It can be of great importance that his counsel ran the exact opposite of Lenin's "never play with insurrection" and Mao's "engage in no battle you are not sure of winning."
Given the unrest and searchings for new ways that mark the contemporary world as it passes through an era of great change, Guevara's theories can have widespread and traumatic impact. Guevara's own experiences, both as a manager and manipulator of insurrections from within the Cuban government and as a commander of guerrillas in Bolivia, demonstrated how small the chances are that application of his theories will lead in fact to the revolutionary overturns that he so ardently desired. But that appears of little moment to the angry and the impatient. For these, Guevara's concept that a handful of uninhibited men with guns, torches, and grenades can make a revolution where and as they choose obviously has great appeal. Would-be revolutionaries in a hurry to tear down existing orders have evidently long since wearied of the cautions of the older generation of Communists. Much more to their mood is a call to action such as Guevara sounds, no matter how rash and reckless the call might appear to others.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1219
SOURCE: An introduction to "Che" Guevara on Revolution: A Documentary Overview, edited by Jay Mallin, University of Miami Press, 1969, pp. 19-44.
[Mallin is the author of several books on Cuba and the Revolution, as well as works on Latin American and Caribbean politics. In the following excerpt, originally written in January 1969, he discusses Guevara's theories of guerrilla warfare as outlined in his various essays and in his Guerrilla Warfare, noting that "Guevara's ideas became the practical, as well as the theoretical guide for the Castro-Communist drive for power in Latin America."]
Guevara's first book, Guerrilla Warfare, was less a theoretical work than a basic guidebook for guerrilla warfare. It contains detailed comments and instructions on tactics, techniques, weapons, training, propaganda, indoctrination, morale, and even "the role of the woman." The book was specifically written for use by future guerrillas in actual operations. As such, the Cuban government printed at least one small-sized edition which would fit handily into any guerrilla's pockets. A note at the end stated,
Compañero: This book seeks to be a synthesis of the experiences of a people; if you believe anything should be added or changed, communicate it to the Department of Instruction of the MINFAR [Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces].
Guerrilla Warfare was nevertheless a foretaste of the views Guevara would later project. There was a warning of things to come in his statement that the guerrilla goes to battle "with the intention of destroying an unjust order, and, therefore, more or less surreptitiously with the intention of putting something in place of the old," i.e., establishing a Communist regime.
Two years later Guevara brought his ideas to full fruition. He published an article entitled "Guerrilla Warfare: A Method" in Cuba Socialista, at that time the leading doctrinal publication of the Castro regime. In compact form, Guevara described how a guerrilla campaign can be started and carried out:
Relatively small nuclei of people choose favorable places for guerrilla warfare, either to begin a counterattack, or to weather the storm, and thus they begin to act. The following must be clearly established: at first, the relative weakness of the guerrilla movement is such that it must work only to settle in the terrain, establishing connections with the populace and reinforcing the places that will possibly become its base of support.
Guevara agreed with Mao and Giap on basic tactics. But whereas they referred to the "three stages" as qualitatively different phases of a revolutionary war—the envolvement of guerrilla forces into regular armies and a changeover from guerrilla methods to more sophisticated methods of conventional warfare—Guevara thought in terms of a continuing guerrilla effort with the "stages" differing only in the sense of size and strength of guerrilla forces. Guevara used "guerrilla war" and "liberation war" and "revolutionary war" interchangeably. Mao and Giap viewed a "guerrilla war" as but one of the three stages of a "revolutionary war," or "war of liberation," although they allowed for the use of guerrilla methods and tactics in support of the conventional type of operations of the later stages.
Guevara echoed Mao in his listing of the conditions necessary for guerrilla survival: "Constant mobility, constant vigilance, constant distrust." He advocated the utilization of terror on the model of Giap. He saw terror not only as a means of intimidating civilians to support and help the guerrilla forces but also as a means of forcing increasingly harsh and indiscriminate countermeasures on the part of government forces. He explained this tactic on grounds that in Latin America there exists "a state of unstable balance between the oligarchic dictatorship and the popular pressure," and this balance "must be upset." Guevara said:
The dictatorship constantly tries to operate without the showy use of force; forcing the dictatorship to appear undisguised—that is, in its true aspect of violent dictatorship of the reactionary classes, will contribute to its unmasking, which will intensify the struggle to such extremes that then there is no turning back. The manner in which the people's forces, dedicated to the task of making the dictatorship define itself—to hold back or to unleash the battle—carry out their function depends on the staunch beginning of a long-range armed action.
Guevara believed that a small nucleus of well-trained men could be formed in, or introduced into, any country, and that this nucleus, with the use of proper tactics, would with surety grow into a revolutionary movement and would step by step weaken and ultimately destroy opposing government forces. Guevara argued that it was "not always necessary to await the existence of all the conditions for revolution; the insurrectional focus can create them." An insurrection in the form of a guerrilla movement can lead to a general revolution—so thought Guevara. In this, he differed importantly with both Mao and Giap and indeed with Communist thinking generally. He here reflected a naive faith in a sort of magic or mystique about guerrilla warfare that Fidel Castro and he had built up over the years, and which indeed became the foundation for much of Cuba's foreign policies. The mystique may be expressed as faith that any guerrilla operation, no matter how small or weak at its inception, can generate the means to its own success, that is, to a Castro-like takeover of power.
Castro and his followers, in speeches and writings, carefully nurtured the legend of the guerrilla "victory" in Cuba. Quite evidently the Castroites came to believe this legend, as evidenced by the fact that since 1959 efforts have been made to launch similar guerrilla campaigns in more than a dozen Latin American countries. Every one of these attempts has failed. In concentrating on rural guerrilla activities (with the partial exception of Venezuela, where "urban guerrillas" were also highly active for a period), the Castroites chose to overlook the fact that in Cuba the guerrilla campaign was but a phase of a general popular movement against Batista. Popular resentment against the Batista regime found expression in steadily widening clandestine activities: terrorism, sabotage, strikes, propaganda, passive resistance. It also found expression in the supply of the guerrillas with men, funds, and weapons. If it was true that the guerrillas were a major element in the wearing-away of the Batista army, it was also true that Castro rode—but did not generate or direct—a groundswell of national unrest.
Guevara's ideas became the practical, as well as theoretical, guide for the Castro-Communist drive for power in Latin America. His article was a blueprint for revolution. Tactics might vary somewhat from country to country, but basic emphasis was on fostering guerrilla warfare: "guerrilla warfare is … the central axis of the study," he declared.
… The war [said Guevara] would be continental. This means also that it will be prolonged; there will be many fronts, it will cost much blood, innumerable lives for a long time…. In fact, the birth of the American struggle has begun. Will its vortex be in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador …? Will these present skirmishes be only manifestations of an unrest that does not bear fruit? It does not matter, for the final result, that one movement or another may be momentarily defeated. What counts is the decision to struggle that ripens day by day; the awareness of the need for revolutionary change, the certainty of its possibility.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5256
SOURCE: "Che Guevara," in The New Left: Six Critical Essays, edited by Maurice Cranston, The Bodley Head, 1970, pp. 17-48.
[Born in New Zealand, Minogue is an educator and critic who writes and lectures on issues related to political science. In the following excerpt, he articulates the principal tenets of Guevara's "concrete and practical" Marxism.]
Che was a Marxist in both his actions and his theories. His fame in his respect is such as to place him alongside Bernstein, Kautsky, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Tito, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung. Most of these leaders combined action with theory, but the theory is mostly subordinate to the action. Such was the case with Che.
What did his Marxism amount to? Here we need to observe the way in which Marxism itself has developed in the first century of its existence. Marxism in the nineteenth century claimed its following because it stood at the opposite pole from the attitudes of a professional revolutionary like Louis Blanqui, or a romantic anarchist like Mikhail Bakunin. Marxism recognised the fact that a man cannot simply 'make a revolution'. It recognised this fact by asserting that a great deal of preparatory work must go into building up the proletarian organisation that will make the revolution. But it developed these 'practicalities' of the activity of making revolutions vastly further, till they had become elaborated into the celebrated philosophy of history known as historical materialism. Every society was seen as a ferment of 'contradictions' working themselves out by a steady process of which the human participants were often quite unaware.
Marx developed this line of thought so far that he reached the conclusion that no society would be transformed by revolution until its potentialities had all been developed. Capitalism, for example, would have to go through a number of stages until everything inherent in it had been worked out. And when that point had been reached, then revolution would come about as part of the natural process. The Protestant reformers and the merchants of northern Europe, for example, had overthrown feudal society quite effectively, in spite of the fact that they had no theory of revolutionary social transformation and their conscious thoughts had been focused on quite different preoccupations. Now this version of Marxism evidently leaves very little room for the conscious making of revolutions. Up to the point at which potentialities had been exhausted, revolution could only fail or generate a monstrosity; and beyond that point, the resistance to revolution was so feeble that it would in all probability be a quick and relatively painless affair.
Now this is the version of Marxism which made it the most important brand of socialism of its time. On the basis of it, nineteenth-century Marxists expected the revolution to come first in the most advanced industrial countries. It took a man as strong minded as Lenin to overthrow this theory. He had already significantly revised Marxism by developing a theory of imperialism to explain why capitalism was lasting longer than had been expected, and a theory of the party as the vanguard of the proletariat in order to build up the revolutionary organisation he thought was needed in Czarist Russia. In 1917 at the Finland Station, he instructed his followers to work directly for an immediate proletarian revolution, in spite of the fact that capitalism was very little developed in the Russia of the early twentieth century.
Lenin was the first really talented revisionist of Marxism, and after his time the history of Marxism is the history of men who showed the theory who was boss. Mao Tse-tung defied Stalin's orthodox advice and built a successful revolution amongst the peasants. And Fidel Castro, along with Che, made a revolution in Cuba which was so much based upon a practical sense of local conditions that it was only some years later, and under the pressure of economic need, that the revolution came to be approximately squared with Marxist theory.
By the 1960s, even Marxists themselves, long immured as they were in Stalinist scholasticism about 'correct' lines of thought, had come to recognise this. Marxism, they began to proclaim, was not a dogma but a method, and for its elucidation they turned to the romantic strain which is prominent in the very early writings and which also appears in some of the very late pieces. Here we find a Marx who is the moral critic of contemporary capitalist society, and who develops the notion of alienation to explain why it is that human life as we moderns know it is so impoverished. The new Marxism of the mid-twentieth century has thrown off the fashionable positivism that Marx had absorbed a century before; it no longer advances Marxism as superior because it is 'scientific' socialism. On the contrary, it throws to the fore the elements of Marxism which appeal to hope, and which inflame the will to make revolutions and bring the long awaited terminus to the horrors of capitalism. What remains of the old Marx is the idea that all the evils of the world compose a single system and that each man must fight for the revolution in whatever circumstances he may find himself. The Marxism of Che belongs to this latter kind.
Yet Che does seek to restore the original unity between the romantic and the 'scientific' elements of Marxism, and he does so with a simplicity that can only be regarded as savage, and impatient:
There are truths so evident, so much a part of people's knowledge, that it is now useless to discuss them. One ought to be "marxist" with the same naturalness with which one is "newtonian" in physics or "pasteurian" in biology, considering that if facts determine new concepts, these new concepts will never divest themselves of that portion of truth possessed by the older concepts they have outdated…. The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamics, predicts the future, but in addition [my italics] to predicting it (which would satisfy his scientific obligation), he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed. Man ceases to be the slave and tool of his environment and converts himself into the architect of his own destiny…. We, practical revolutionaries, initiating our own struggle, simply fulfil laws foreseen by Marx the scientist.
Marxism is, then, taken entirely for granted. A fully conscious revolutionary, as Che understands him, has the same sort of awareness that he lives in a world full of exploitation as the average man has that stones fall down, not up. Revolutionary struggle is as natural to him as walking and speaking; and as he walks and speaks he makes discoveries about the world which happen to correspond to the 'laws' of Marxian ideology. It is here—in the area where theory is related to practice—that the Cuban revolution has made its major contribution to Marxism; it is here that a kind of individualist renaissance has followed the frozen middle ages of Stalinism. This is the contribution of Che, of Fidel, and it was brought to its fullest maturity in the writings of Regis Debray. It amounts to a new version of the supremacy of practice over theory. Latin America had long been equipped with orthodox Marxists, but they had not succeeded in making revolutions. On the other hand, people who did succeed in making revolutions did in the end turn into orthodox Marxists. Such, at least, was the official view of the Cuban movement, a view which (it has been plausibly suggested) has allowed Castro to support guerrilla movements in Latin America and to by-pass the existing communist parties whilst yet claiming, for the benefit of his patron the Soviet Union, to be unimpeachably correct in his line.
Che's Marxism, like everything else about him, is concrete and practical. We hear little about historical epochs, and very little analysis of class relations. We do hear a great deal about the guerrilla. Developed into a theory, the guerrilla generates the idea of the foco the process of revolutionary detonation by which a small band of guerrillas set up a centre of attraction in the sierras and bring the capitalist or neo-colonialist regime to its knees. It is essential to this theory, certainly as developed by Debray, that the foco be regarded as simultaneously military and political. No longer does the commissar fight beside the soldier and guard the purity of his doctrine; for the two figures are fused together by practice, and the guerrilla will learn in the fires of experience what the urban communist has abstractly acquired from his books.
This development of Marxism runs very quickly into a problem which cannot but have struck anyone who has considered the history of Marxism. Marxism, we have seen, has largely been developed by its heretics—the men who knew when to throw aside the book and act on their own political judgment. Further, this has now happened so often that (as we have seen) it has received official recognition in the way in which Marxism is now conceived. The whole notion of orthodoxy, with its apparatus of 'correct' lines, has weakened in the poly-centric communist world of the mid-twentieth century. For those many, however, who wish to repair the fractured unity of theory and practice every break induces a desire to restore the unity. Consequently each change has been followed by a development of theory which purports to learn the lessons of the new experience.
The Russians, the Chinese, the Yugoslavs and the Cubans have all indulged in this exercise. Its logic is of course, inductive. It consists in transposing the most striking facts of the successful experience into abstract terms and generating theory from them. In this way, the successful landing of Castro and his guerrillas in Eastern Cuba, their difficult but successful struggle to survive, and their final overthrow of the Batista regime, turn into the theory of the foco; the fact that these men were revolutionaries whose acquaintance with Marxist theory was slim, and that they became increasingly sweeping in their ambition to remodel the social order, turns into the thesis that under guerrilla conditions the military and political struggles fuse together.
This kind of argument is, we have noted, inductive, and inductive argument has been subject to devastating criticism. Why, the critics ask, does the inductive reasoner select this set of facts, and out of this set of facts generate this set of general principles? For since logically all experiences are very complex, and capable of generating very large numbers of facts and principles, the inductive reasoner must have left out of his account of what he was doing the crucial principle which led him to select (rather than to discover) what he has found. The attempt to learn lessons from practice very frequently gets shipwrecked on this difficulty, and political and military history, no less than that of ideologies, is full of people learning the wrong lessons and being surprised by the reality they encounter.
The Cuban experience, then, began by rejecting a good deal of Marxism as being inappropriate to the special conditions of Latin America. There was good warrant in Marxism itself—indeed in Marx himself—for such cavalier treatment of established principles. But the ideological passion to realign theory with practice led to the production of a revised ideology which would be appropriate to Latin American conditions. Such a production is immediately subject to the same criticism as that on which it is itself based: Need we assume that Latin America is homogeneous enough to be covered by such a general theory? Might it not be true that each region of Latin America, or even perhaps each separate country, might have its own particular conditions; might, in other words, require its own special theory? It would seem that Che, who worked hard to develop a Marxism appropriate to Latin America, did not carry his reasoning this far. But his fate has certainly provoked other Marxists to do so.
Here, to understand Che's Marxism, we need to consider the conditions of his Bolivian enterprise. Bolivia is a small and relatively underdeveloped country in the geographical heart of South America; and it seems that it was primarily this geo-political fact which made it attractive to Che as the detonator of the revolutionary liberation of the whole continent. It had a government which (like many in South America) called itself 'revolutionary', but was not so in any respect that Che would recognise; and it had an army which was small, ill-equipped, and had been savagely mauled back in the 1930s in a war with Paraguay, an even smaller and more primitive state. It had lots of jungle and plenty of peasants, and its economy depended upon tin, the miners of which commodity were frequently in a turbulent condition.
Anyone looking at these conditions with a fresh eye would light upon the tin miners as the evident beginning of a revolutionary movement in Bolivia. But it would seem that Che looked at Bolivia and saw only Cuba; looked at its wild and inhospitable countryside and saw the Sierra Maestra; looked at President Barrientos, and saw only the figure of Batista. What Che established in Bolivia was a carbon copy of what Fidel had done in Cuba. And since Che was, far more than Fidel, a theoretical animal, the conclusion is tempting that Che was the victim of his own theory. He seems to have believed that Cuba was nothing else but the first instance of a pattern that could be repeated in other parts of Latin America. He had, like so many figures in history, learned the lessons of experience—the wrong lessons. For what was missing in Bolivia was a thousand particular characteristics—the radical organisation in the cities, the feebleness of the Batista government, and perhaps above all the fact of leadership by the able, articulate, intuitive and entirely native Fidel.
Thinking in international terms, Che clearly thought that a revolution could be induced in Bolivia without a prominent Bolivian leader. No doubt he had to think this, since no serious candidate was available; but even beyond this inevitable deficiency, Che (and Fidel) exhibited an astonishing indifference to local Bolivian sensibilities. They failed to win over the peasants, they alienated the local communist party and they never managed to have more than a few effective Bolivians fighting amongst their picked Cuban veterans.
In this respect, then, Che has run the whole gamut of experience available to a Marxist theoretician. He bucked the theory to make a revolution, reconstructed the theory to fit the revolution he had made, and then proceeded to demonstrate by his actions the inadequacy of his own theory. It is not an enviable odyssey and it is unlikely to be frequently repeated.
Yet the adventures of a man are not the same as the premises of an ideology. The accidents which often lead to fatal consequences in the world of action are a standing ceteris paribus clause for an ideology; and an adroit use of this clause will prevent any theory from being refuted. We must therefore qualify our conclusion in two ways: firstly, that Che's failure in Bolivia does not necessarily indicate that the theory of the foco must be discarded, for it may simply be the case that ill-luck and poor preparation led to that particular disaster. More importantly, the very failure itself has abundantly the heroic quality which Che often spoke about in his writings and speeches. Whilst the Bolivian episode did—to some extent—refute one part of Che's Marxism, it also illustrated another part, and one which, although of less interest to practical revolutionaries, is far more important in generating the legend. This part of Guevara's Marxism is his preoccupation with 'the new man'.
The most suitable text for illustrating this preoccupation is "Man and Socialism in Cuba," perhaps the most famous pamphlet he ever wrote. It is here that Che states what may be vulgarly called the ideals of the movement: and the central ideal is the creation of the new man. This figure of the inevitable future is sketched out against the familiar Marxist account of twentieth-century life. Man suffers a kind of death, we learn, during the eight hours of his daily work, and even the artistic creations by which he might express the (presumed) anguish of his environmentally determined situation have been restricted by an ideological conditioning through which the monopoly capitalists prevent art from becoming (what Che thinks it must become if it is to be authentic) a 'weapon of denunciation and accusation'.
Man is exploited, and consequently his moral stature is diminished; but this happens very largely without his awareness. His attention is focused (by the agents of the monopoly capitalists) upon the success of a Rockefeller, and diverted away from the unsavory facts which made such a gigantic accumulation of wealth in the hands of one man possible. Since this is a rhetorical document, it would be unfair to press too hard upon its logical inadequacies. We need merely to note that Che has in full measure the belief common among men of his time that human beings are 'conditioned' by the environment in which they live, and that the adoption of revolutionary Marxism, although not inexplicable in terms of social conditions, is the one form of human behavior in which man throws off his 'conditioning' and embraces freedom. Clearly this is an equivocation upon the notion of 'conditioning', for the conditioning that a man can throw off is no conditioning at all. What is evidently being used here is the commonsense distinction between proceeding thoughtlessly along the paths of habit on the one hand, and becoming more self-conscious and deliberate on the other. This latter is a casual distinction we commonly make; but as transposed into Marxist ideology, it is dressed in a different vocabulary and becomes a pseudo-science of social determination. What Che has to say about it is very little distinguished from the writings of any other exponent of Marxist beliefs; what does distinguish him is his intense interest in the other term of the contrast—the new man who will replace the spiritual cripple of today's capitalist world.
Often, the specification is extremely crude, since it derives from the easy device of inserting the word 'revolutionary' before moral words which are universally regarded as virtues. There are times when Che indulges in what is virtually self-parody, and exhorts us to engage in revolutionary struggle with revolutionary dedication towards revolutionary aims. In the end, the new man does not turn out to be very much more than a revolutionary paragon:
We are seeking something new that will allow a perfect identification between the government and the community as a whole, adapted to the special conditions of the building of socialism and avoiding to the utmost the common-place of bourgeois democracy transplanted to the society in formation … the ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration (is) to see man freed from alienation.
This freedom is specified in two main ways. The first is that the new man will be the possessor of a highly developed social consciousness. This means, presumably, that the category of the private will disappear from his thinking. It certainly means that the new man will hold the same beliefs about social reality which are already held by Che himself, along with the revolutionary vanguard. In other words, the distinction between agreeing with Che's Marxist interpretation of the world, and disagreeing with it, has been transposed into the distinction between being socially conscious and remaining 'conditioned' and unaware. The doctrine of social consciousness, in other words, is a vehicle of dogmatism by which the promotion of one particular interpretation of social life is being passed off as the only possible thought on the subject.
The new man, then, will be a dedicated communist. His second general characteristic is that he will be a dedicated worker towards the communal goal of building up the community. Since Che speaks for an 'underdeveloped' country, the actual content of the work of building up the community is, quite simply, economic self-sufficiency. What it would be beyond that is very little specified. But there is one part of the revolutionary work which is so powerful that it has infused the entire picture:
Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality. This is perhaps one of the great dramas of a leader; he must combine an impassioned spirit with a bold mind and make painful decisions without flinching. Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize their love for the people, for the most hallowed causes, and make it one and indivisible…. They must struggle every day so that their love of living humanity is transformed into concrete deeds, into acts that will serve as an example, as a mobilizing factor.
Love is the master passion of the new man. It involves 'doing away with human pettiness' and it will be both higher and more persistent than love found under contemporary conditions: 'There ought to be a spirit of sacrifice not reserved for heroic days only, but for every moment.' Again: 'One ought always to be attentive to the human mass that surrounds one.'
In praising the speech which has supplied these last quotations, Che's editor, Professor Gerassi, writes:
'… the author gently criticizes Cuba's communist youth for its dogmatism, dependence on official directives, lack of inventiveness, lack of individuality—yes, Che was always fostering individualism—and continues with a beautiful, moving definition of what a communist youth ought to be.'
Che's emphasis on the new man may, then, be taken initially as evidence of his attachment to individuality, but to an individuality of a new and more complete kind than exists now. If there is any part of Che's Marxism (by contrast with other features of his career) which is responsible for the legend, it is to be found here. Communism has often been associated with a soulless collectivity, a kind of endless corvée directed towards some remote and abstract goal. But here is a major exponent of communism out flanking the appeal of capitalism on its own individualist ground.
Significantly enough, perhaps, it is in passages like this that Che sounds most like an old-fashioned Christian preacher; and he may easily be presented as a man trying to fuse the best of the old moral ideals with the most complete attention to the social realities which religious exhortation in the past has often ignored. Nor can this theme in Che be dismissed as merely the attractive rhetoric of a man who was, after all, something of a poet. For in his enjoyment of power, Che showed a powerful and continuous hostility to the capitalist device of material incentives, because he believed that such incentives split people off from one another; he believed that they stood in the way of developing the only truly socialist motive for working harder—socialist emulation.
Yet before we take Che's devotion to individuality entirely at its face value, we must consider two important qualifications. The first arises immediately if we ask: What exactly does Che mean by 'individuality'? A man like John Stuart Mill, who in his essay On Liberty supplied the classic account of individuality, believed that each person has his own unique thoughts to think and lines of action to pursue; and in what Che would call a capitalist society, which Mill would call a liberal one, the laws and governing institutions should be so framed as to permit the greatest possible development of such resources of individuality. But we can hardly believe that Che is thinking anything remotely like this when we read:
Thus we go forward. Fidel is at the head of the immense column—we are neither ashamed nor afraid to say so—followed by the best party cadres, and right after them, so close that their great strength is felt, come the people as a whole, a solid bulk of individualities moving toward a common aim; individuals who have achieved the awareness of what must be done; men who struggle to leave the domain of necessity and enter that of freedom.
These are individualities only in the sense that a tray of buns straight from the baker's oven contains a collection of individualities. Each is separate, but in all essential respects they are made up of the same materials, they have the same awarness of the same 'what must be done'. And if we pursue this line of thought further we shall find many occasions on which Che speaks exactly like an old-fashioned Stalinist agitator—or 'orientator' as Fidel guilefully renamed the function: he harangues the workers to produce more and to rise above their personal preoccupations in order to join in the common struggle. Indeed, this theme becomes at times so obtrusive that the inspiring notion of the 'new man' looks like nothing so much as a carrot to induce people to drive tractors more carefully, or to ease pining for luxuries like chewing gum and lipstick which are no longer imported from the United States. And although it is perilous to extract a doctrine from writings which are fundamentally rhetorical, we must conclude that although Che makes use of the appeal of individualism, his view of the matter is consistently the one he expressed when he discussed revolutionary medicine:
Individualism, in the form of the individual action of a person alone in a social milieu, must disappear in Cuba. In the future, individualism ought to be the efficient utilization of the whole individual for the absolute benefit of a collectivity.
There could be no better illustration than this of the way in which an ideological thinker appropriates an attractive term for propaganda purposes, and changes the meaning so that it means precisely the opposite of what once made it attractive.
The second qualification we must make to Che's individualism is closely related to the first. One of the most important differences between current capitalist society and the revolutionary society of the future is that the first has a government which must repress the people whilst the second has only leaders, or a vanguard, who are one in love and feeling with the people. The desire to eliminate politics from life, to create a community in which no one shall be rendered alien by his exercise of power, is as old as Rousseau and (in this century) as wide as the seven seas. It is by no means confined to Marxism, but it is a very powerful motor of that doctrine. To anyone who stands outside this current of thought, the aspiration can only seem delusory, the more so because it is precisely the leaders speaking most about love who have perpetrated some of the worst excesses of our time. The love which is supposed to unite Fidel and his people, for example, has had to emerge out of the early apparatus of televised executions and the constant hostility of some hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have preferred exile to the benefits of such a love.
We may go further: virtually all modern politics is an exercise of ventriloquism, in which the rulers speak on behalf of a populace which is most of the time necessarily mute. In the countries conventionally recognised as democratic—countries like Britain and America—this muteness is qualified by periodic elections, and by a fairly constant ferment of discussion and criticism. Nevertheless, it is of the nature of authority that whoever holds it must in the end make a pronouncement which shall be accepted as the political decision of the populace involved. Now most ideologies are devices by which this ventriloquial act may be carried on with virtually no interference from the puppet whatever. A democratic government, having to face elections, must come to some terms with the political opinions of its working class. But a Marxist government does not have a working class: it has a proletariat, whose consciousness may (by the rules of the ideology) be objectively determined, and instead of a political problem the government is faced by a pseudo-educational one: how to make the people conscious of what it must be thinking (but actually may not be). A great deal of what Che has to say is part of this kind of ventriloquial performance. The justification of it—as given to a group of communist youth—goes as follows:
If we—disoriented by the phenomenon of sectarianism—were unable to interpret the voice of the people, which is the wisest and most orienting voice of all; if we did not succeed in receiving the vibrations of the people and transforming them into concrete ideas, exact directives, then we were ill-equipped to issue those directives to the Union of Young Communists.
In politics at least, a posture of humility often disguises arrogance; and those whom men wish to control they first drown in flattery. The 'concrete ideas' which the Cuban government articulates from the 'vibrations' of the people are indistinguishable from the practices of all the other countries in which Marxism has become the official creed. Here is Che discussing the central problem that arises from the pretence that there is no gap between a government and its people:
And today … the workers consider the state as just one more boss, and they treat it as a boss. And since this [Che is referring to the new Cuba] is a state completely opposed to the State as Boss, we must establish long, fatiguing dialogues between the state and the workers, who although they certainly will be convinced in the end, during this period, during this dialogue, have braked progress.
This is one more version of the Stalinist argument that no safeguards (such as an opposition) are needed in a communist society, because the only oppression is class oppression, and classes have been abolished. It is a Quixotic argument in the most literal sense, for no intelligent worker is going to be taken in by propaganda pictures of Che or Fidel out in the fields humping bags of sugar. And it is particularly Latins who will, once the excitement of the moment is past, treat with amusement such exhortations as that of Che to 'raise our voices and make Fidel's radio vibrate. From every Cuban mouth a single shout: "Cuba si, Yankees nol Cuba si, Yankees no!'" The political problem is that when the puppet does get restless, and the 'dialogue' fails, the ventriloquist generally resorts to clouting him.
Our conclusion must be that although Che had a journalistic flair for the concrete detail, and although he was supremely sensitive to the intellectual and emotional atmosphere of his time, his Marxism is really very little distinguished from that of other Marxists. In the field of revolutionary guerrilla tactics, he will no doubt be remembered for a variety of devices and observations; he is the inventor, for example, of the 'beehive effect' whereby one of the leaders, 'an outstanding guerrilla fighter, jumps off to another region and repeats the chain of development of guerrilla warfare—subject, of course, to a central command.' But in the field of theory he has contributed very little, which is not surprising, since he was man who wrote gestures, postures, promises and exhortations, rather than arguments of any depth.