Who was Che Guevara?

Submitted by Anon on 5 March, 2006 - 12:24

Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928-67) was born into a well-off family in Argentina, became a medical student, and then, after travelling round Latin America, committed himself to a revolutionary group working to overthrow the corrupt Batista dictatorship in Cuba, which at the time was backed by the USA. He became a leader of the guerrilla movement that took power in Cuba in 1959.

In 1965 he left his position in the Cuban government in order to try to lead further peasant-guerrilla-based revolutions in Congo and in Bolivia. He was killed by the Bolivian army, aided by the CIA, in 1967.

He was and is the most popular and attractive emblem of the politics of revolutionary Stalinism.

By the 1960s the standard image of an "official Communist" leader in the USSR was a podgy old man with a thick overcoat, a big car, and a luxury dacha. It was hard to believe that such people could represent any sort of liberating alternative to capitalism. But there were other prominent figures representing the general policy of a closed state-monopoly system created by a military-bureaucratic elite, what we'd call Stalinism.

Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia, Mao Zedong in China, Kim Il Sung in Korea, Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap in Vietnam, Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan in Cambodia, were not men who'd made their way up a stolid bureaucratic hierarchy by patient time-serving. They were people of personal courage, tenacity, and daring who had risked their lives in long, and finally successful, wars to rid their countries of foreign domination and install Stalinist-type systems there. Most of them had defied the cautious old men in Moscow, to one degree or another, in
order to do that.

They were revolutionaries against the existing order. But they were also counter-revolutionaries against the working class - people who, once in power, put an iron lid on the workers in their countries (and, in the case of Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan, became mass murderers). In some ways the militant Islamists of groups like Al Qaeda today - ultra-militant against the established order, but also against the working class - help us understand those revolutionary Stalinists. But, while the Islamists are open about being right-wing, the revolutionary Stalinists proclaimed themselves (and probably sincerely thought they were) socialists.

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