The revolutionary legacy of Che Guevara

February 22, 2006

What Resistance Stands For
Resistance Books, 2006
32 pages, $3.00
Available at Resistance Bookshops (see page 2) or order at <>

On February 10, the Sydney Morning Herald published a cynical article downplaying the legacy of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. The article argued that Che's image had been completely coopted by capitalism. Below is an abridged excerpt from What Resistance Stands For where the socialist youth organisation Resistance examines the enduring legacy of Guevara as a revolutionary internationalist.

The best known leader of the Cuban Revolution is without a doubt the Argentinean-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Che gave up a promising career in medicine to commit himself to revolutionary struggle against imperialism, joining the guerrilla struggle in Cuba led by Fidel Castro, and then, in 1965, just six years after the revolution's victory, leaving Cuba to spread the revolution. He helped train guerrilla fighters in the Congo before being murdered by order of the CIA in 1967 while fighting to make a revolution in Bolivia. He was only 39.

Che's utter commitment to the cause of defeating injustice, his internationalism, his willingness to fight wherever he was needed and his willingness to sacrifice his life to the cause made him a hero to young radicals across the world. Today, he remains a popular hero and his iconic image is seen on banners, T-shirts and posters throughout the world, especially in Latin America, where his status is nothing short of legendary.

The capitalist class has attempted to co-opt Che's image and tame it, aiming to turn it into a harmless money-spinner. His image helps sell everything from lip balm to ice cream. However, the success of the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, about the experiences that turned Che into a rebel, shows that for a new generation, Che remains an inspiration.

While Che's image is widely recognised, the political ideas that he fought and died for are less well known. When Che set out as a medical student to travel across Latin America he was appalled by the poverty and suffering he witnessed. He quickly drew the conclusion that US imperialism — which views Latin America as its backyard — was responsible.

Travelling to Guatemala in 1954, Che got to see how US imperialism worked up close. That year the US organised a military uprising that overthrew the left-wing government of Jacabo Arbenz, which had sought to implement reforms to assist the poor but had angered the US when he confiscated idle land owned by the US corporation United Fruit. A brutal military dictatorship was established and Che, who had supported the Arbenz government, had to flee for his life. Profoundly affected by the experience, Che wrote a letter to a friend declaring his intention to dedicate his life to the struggle to overthrow capitalism.

In Mexico in 1956, Che met up with Fidel Castro and agreed to join his expedition to Cuba to start a guerrilla war against the US-backed Batista dictatorship. Backed by desperate peasants and a strong revolutionary underground in the cities, the guerrillas grew in strength. On January 1, 1959, the rebels marched into Havana victorious and Che took up a range of leading positions in the new revolutionary government.

Che was extremely critical of the bureaucratic "socialism" that existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and publicly accused the Soviet Union of betraying socialist ideals.

Che understood that it was not enough to make a revolution in one country, but that capitalism was a global system that required a global revolution. In particular, he saw the need to spread the struggle against US imperialism in order to assist the Vietnamese revolutionaries who were fighting the US. When he left Cuba to spread the struggle, he called for a global offensive to create "two, three, many Vietnams". He died in Bolivia attempting to do just that. Che's revolutionary example continues to resonate throughout the world. As Che declared, "If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine".

From Green Left Weekly, February 22, 2006.
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