It is impossible, on this fortieth anniversary of the execution of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, to sum up in a blog entry all that I would like to be said on this day. Taking full advantage of the casualness of this format, I will instead offer unrefined reflections on various aspects of the man.
People are drawn into the romanticism of violence when it comes to Che Guevara. There are those who seek to nickname/fashion themselves “comandante” without ever having an iota of what the title really entails. There are others who don’t take the time to objectively evaluate his historical record as a military strategist; a task that, if undertaken, would reveal the fallibility of the legend. It’s entirely understandable why this is so. Che represents the highest ideal of laying down one’s life for a greater cause; a manifestation of courage few can boast. I have met a few brave souls that truly have transcended the trappings of self-preservation, such as Malalai Joya, and the experience is immense. It is immediately known that their presence is one of an elevated humanity. That courage is the lasting quality that makes Che forever alive as a symbol. As for the history of Comandante Che, I had the pleasure of speaking to historian Paul J Dosal about that very subject. His book, “Comandante Che” is an immense contribution to the study of the man. I recommend reading his book as well as listening to the linked conversation between Dosal and I in order to gain a full sense of my perspectives on this particular aspect of Che.
Che’s Motorcycle Trip:
The Motorcycle Diaries, famously adapted into a motion picture movie, represent the cross section where history and the realm of myth meet with no contradictions. Che, then Ernesto “Fuser” Guevara, departed from Argentina, transformed in his journey, and returned home a changed man. In this historical aspect, Che fulfills the outline of the mythical “hero’s journey.” Myths are ahistorical suggestions to the human spirit. However, the journey of the hero, as told in the past, can be enacted on the stage of history in the present. In fact, that is what is to be done; the assimilation of the myth in our very non-mythical historical experiences of being alive. Che could not have been the man he fully became later on in his life without having gone on this journey with his longtime friend Alberto Granados. As for the motorcylce diaries from a literary standpoint, Che was much more humorous than in his latter writings as a Comandante.
The Marxism of Che Guevara:
Che Guevara was the quintessential Marxist of the twentieth century. That isn’t to say that he was a Marxist in the similar vein of the majority of Marx-Lenin-Mao thought. In fact, Guevarism didn’t find much favor with the fractious Sino-Soviet split. He was quintessential in terms of being very much a class based analytical thinker. The oppressive cross sections of gender and race were not represented significantly in his philosophical outlook. This is a short-coming of twentieth century Marxist thinking and Che is not absolved in this regard.
As minister of the economy in Cuba, his economic Marxism was heavily dependent on the transformation of human beings. Economic questions were to never be detached from philosophical ones. If Che were to see what China has become in our world today, he would most certainly not approve. In a similar light, it would be interesting to see what his thoughts would have been in terms of Cuba’s “Special Period.” It is, however, in his economic Marxism that we find an enduring lesson; that a revolution is meaningless if societal transformations are not accompanied by nor produce changes in the condition of humankind.
Che’s methodology for producing Marxist societies was that of la via armada. I was not a contemporary of his times, so I am not fit to judge whether his approach was right or wrong. I do believe that his continental strategy might have been quite successful if not for the timidity of the Soviet Union and China at the time. Che was ready, but others were clearly not as the revolutionary moment had passed. Another man, Salvador Allende, the Marxist president of Chile, was the odd man out of his generation for seeking Socialism through the ballot box at the height of the Cold War. However, these days, la via Chilena taken by Allende no longer seems so crazy when one looks at the existing political situation in Latin America. In this regard, perhaps Che’s revolutionary methodology is relegated to historical consideration, and his valor; the subject of his enduring value as a symbol.
Che’s Place in History:
The question of Che’s place in history on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his death is an immense one. By dissecting various and important aspects of his legacy, we can come to a conclusion about his lasting legacy. Che Guevara was a man of the past and some of his theoretical postulations are antiquated. However, many of his core ideals are not. This is especially so with the somber state of the world today in terms of ravaging imperialist wars and the continuing immiseration of the poor. His living example, embodied by his courage, the complete assimilation of words and deeds, and unflinching idealism, has carried forty years past his death and shall carry on for many more.
Che was produced by history. He was the most vivifying example of the revolutionary fervor of his generation. He also transcended his class to become an agitated producer of history; a people’s history. However, the man is not without his faults. It serves no one’s interest to make Che the subject of a hagiography. Like Bolivar before him, Che died a disappointed man who did not bear witness to the realization of his grandiose dreams. Detached from grappling with his faults, assimilating his virtues does less good. Still, the stark gaze of his piercing eyes challenge the levels of complacency in which we find acceptable to live with. The history of today is lived, not studied, and with Che eternal as a symbol, the world must be made so that it no longer betrays us and we no longer have to say as Che once did that “we are overcome by anguish at this illogical moment of humanity.”