I’m sorry to write once more about Che, especially after my last post was about him, but I just have to break down Robert Scheer’s piece, “The Martyring of Che Guevara.” Originally published on Truthdig to mark the 40th anniversary of Che’s execution, Scheer’s work features some incredulous claims about the man! Nevertheless, “Robert Scheer” is a brand name in leftist progressivism and as such, his piece made the republishing circle which included Commondreams, and Alternet. These progressive media outlets are not balanced in terms of representation of minority voices, and I can’t help but think that such voices would be better suited to address the legacy of an icon of the third world. Truthdig, Commondreams, and Alternet are not alone in this and neither is print media. Democracy Now! hosted by Amy Goodman, featured historian Greg Grandin to discuss Che for half an hour on the occasion of the anniversary. Grandin’s scholarship is superb yet he has not published anything significant in relation to Che Guevara. Is there not a brown person in the house?!??!!?
The academy was not much better in comparison to alternative media. As a history major, I learned about Latin American history and Che Guevara from white men. However, at least one of those white men, Professor Brennan, taught me a valuable lesson. Years ago, being the punctual Chicano that I was, Professor Brennan and I spoke about Nicaragua in the previous electoral cycle prior to Ortega’s recent win before class. I pressed him for his opinions about the political situation, but he relented saying that he’s no expert in Nicaragua and that too many people like to offer opinions on things they don’t really know that well.
Enter Scheer’s piece: Alternet’s posting of the article featured the subtitle: “Let’s dispel some common myths and misconceptions about Che.” Sounds like a plan! In the middle of “The Martyring of Che Guevara,” Scheer asks the question:
So, what’s the big deal? Che was a Cuban Communist, and it’s a good thing that folks like Bush and Rodriguez were able to defeat him before he spread his evil message further — right? False, on every count. First off, he was either an Argentine Trotskyite or an anarchist, but Che was not a Communist in what we think of as the heavily entrenched, bureaucratized Cuban mold. Che was restless in post-revolutionary Cuba because his anarchist temperament caused him to bristle at the emerging bureaucracy. He was, like Trotsky in his dispute with Stalin, skeptical that the kind of socialism that truly served the poor could survive in just one country; hence, he died attempting to internationalize the struggle.
According to Scheer, Che was either an Argentine Trotskyist or Anarchist! Incredulous! First off, Che was far from being an Anarchist. His short stint of constructing the revolution in Cuba saw him attempt to centralize power both politically and economically as quickly as possible. Che, ostensibly, was an authoritarian Socialist. An honest assessment of Che the historical figure could only render him such. To be sure, he was much more radical than the conservative political elements in control of the Soviet Union, China, and most of Latin America’s Communist Parties. Guevarism was regarded by these leftists as maverick adventurism. However, Cuba, as much as it could be given its neo-economic dependency on the Soviet Union, was not Stalinist in the sense of the vozhd’s notion of “Socialism in One Country.” This nuanced distinction also makes Scheer’s second point about Trotskism troublesome. Trotsky was in direct competition with Stalin for power. Che, from the onset, was an internationalist, and wanted to spread armed rebellion beyond the island confines of Cuba. The Cuban government, or “bureaucracy” if preferred, provided the infrastructure for the exportation of revolution, including Che’s focos in Bolivia and the Congo. But wait, there’s more! Scheer continues in his article, as he writes that:
It also turned out that killing Che was a big mistake, as his message was spread more effectively by his execution than by his guerrilla activities, which were, after he left Cuba, quite pathetic. This is the case in Latin America, where political leaders he helped inspire are faring better than those coddled by the CIA. Daniel Ortega, whom the CIA worked so doggedly to overthrow, is the elected president of Nicaragua.
Yes, there is something else incredulous in this paragraph! Within two sentences there is a glaring contradiction. In conditioning Che’s foquismo as pathetic following his departure from Cuba, Scheer qualifies his political symbolism risen out of the ashes by citing Daniel Ortega’s recent electoral victory in Nicaragua. But long before Ortega came to power via elections, he came to power following…a guerrilla struggle! Che’s legacy was not merely a political inspiration to Nicaraguans. The legacy in play was the continuance of Che’s military theorems in practice. This is not surprising to those who know Che was inculcated with guerrilla warfare by Alberto Bayo in Mexico. The legendary Nicaraguan, Augusto Sandino, was a guerrilla who inspired Bayo, who then inspired Che, who then inspired the FSLN’s victorious revolution in 1979. Cuba played an immense role in that revolution and was the conspiratorial hub of rebellion in Nicaragua. Long before the guerrilla triumph, rebels such as Carlos Fonseca trained in Cuba. Nicaragua, decades under the rule of dictatorship, could not have come to its formal democratic present without the violent struggle that preceded it. Whatever one’s thoughts may be on armed struggle, that is the hard historical fact of the matter. And if Ortega’s electoral triumph is a signal of the prevalence of Che’s ideals, I must have missed the part in history where Che made an opportunist political pact with General Barrientos in Bolivia as Ortega did, not once, but twice with the criminal Arnoldo Aleman. But wait, there is still more! In the next paragraph, Scheer writes:
Almost all of Latin America’s leaders are leftists, some more moderate than Che (as in Brazil), and others as fiery as the guerrilla (in Venezuela), but all determinedly independent of yanqui control.
Hugo Chavez is not as fiery as Che Guevara. He isn’t even as fiery as Salvador Allende. Incredulous! (That’s as much as I want/need to go into that one!) And so there we have it. An author claiming to clarify the misconceptions about Che commits many in the process. Fret not, however! There are ten years before the 50th anniversary of Che’s execution. In a decade, we are sure to see another round and another flurry of people commenting on the man’s continued legacy. Let’s just hope that at that time we don’t have to navigate through more Scheer Nonsense!