Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna was the eldest of five in a middle-class Argentine family, born 14th June 1928.
Aged 19, he studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. During his course, he travelled through much of Latin America with his friend, Alberto Granado. Guevara was radicalised by the extreme poverty and suffering of workers he witnessed. He finished his degree, then set to work materialising his visions for the world.
The same year, Guevara joined the Guatemalan resistance against the ongoing US coup d’état. After, he met Fidel Castro in Mexico City, where the Cuban revolution against US-supported dictator Batista was reimagined. Half a decade later, Guevara would be head of the Department of Industrialization, president of the National Bank of Cuba, and Minister of Industries, for the newly proclaimed Republic of Cuba. He would visit over 60 countries and partake in revolutions in 3 of them.
In fact, such a varietyful life had Guevara, that Wikipedia merits six official occupations to his name. However, one quality was consistent throughout his eventful life: his study of, and faith in, Marxist philosophy. But which one? That of Marx? That of Lenin? That of his own? This work intends to explore this question. So, which Marxist did Che Guevara most reflect?
Reform or Revolution?
As a Marxist, Guevara affirmed that history should be studied using analysis of class relations, defined by the prevalent mode of production. For example: slavery, and the relations presupposed between the slave and their master. Guevara further believed we could judge from this, which are the best strategies to accelerate human social development.
In this respect, Marxism can be called a science – each separate society being an experiment. To illustrate, Marx claimed history repeats itself: ‘the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce.’ Avoidable social problems must be, Marx concluded, engineered by an oppressive class in power. Poverty is an example. Civil rights activist, Nelson Mandela, agreed: ‘Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and
can be removed by the actions of human beings.’
From this analysis, Guevara concluded armed struggle had more commonly and more successfully motivated social development. In his ‘Message to the Tricontinental’, he explains the (successful) fight against oppression will materialise ‘through armed struggle in most cases’. We might refer to the French Revolution of 1799, or the Russian Revolution
of 1917. In other works, Guevara describes violence as ‘the midwife of new societies’.
However, Guevara does not outright reject the possibility of peaceful struggle. In fact, he explicitly and simply declared to the UN: ‘We [either Cubans or Communists] want peace.’ But struggle only assumes a peaceful nature when, as Guevara explains, ‘mass movements compel — in special situations of crisis — governments to yield’. So, then, there is capacity for the revolution to be bloodless. However, if the oppressors should refuse to relinquish their monopolised power at the demand of the people, then Guevara does not condemn their forcible overthrow.
This can be compared to words of Mao Tse Tung: ‘We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.’ Although we can draw similarities, Tse Tung is more resolute to armed struggle and it armed struggle alone.
In short, the Capitalist-class employs violence constantly. Violence can be a process as well as an act. This isn’t necessarily physical; it can be systematic or coercive, but equally detrimental. Examples of this violence include poverty, unemployment, imprisonment, etcetera. The worker must either surrender the best years of their life under the boot of the employer – commodified and exploited – or live no life at all. What Guevara says, conversely, is that the workers should work under their own conditions. If this can only be brought about by violence, Guevara comments, then so be it. The oppressed will deliver their demands; it is the choice of the oppressor to accept and assimilate with their new social conditions, or
necessitate the armed struggle for liberation.
Part two and three coming soon…
NB: 0161festival.com is a platform for sharing a variety of articles about sports, arts, politics, history and Manchester. This article was sent in and written by a local Manc antifascist.