Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna - Che Guevara
Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna
Che Guevara, 1928-1967
Argentine Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader
At two years old he developed asthma from which he suffered all his life, and his family moved to the drier climate of Alta Gracia (Cordoba) where his health did not improve. Primary education at home, mostly by his mother, Celia de la Serna. He early became a voracious reader of Marx, Engels and Freud which all were available in his father's library, it is probable that he had read some of their works before he went to secondary school (1941), the Colegio Nacional Dean Funes, Cordoba, where he excelled only in literature and sports. At home he was impressed by the Spanish Civil War refugees and by the long series of squalid political crises in Argentina which culminated in the 'Left Fascist' dictatorship of Juan Peron, to whom the Guevara de la Sernas were opposed. These events and influences inculcated in the young Guevara a contempt for the pantomime of parliamentary democracy, and a hatred of military politicians and the army, the capitalist oligarchy, and above all the US dollar/ imperialism. Yet although his parents, notably his mother, were anti-Peronist activists, he took no part in revolutionary student movements and showed little interest in politics at Buenos Aires University (1947) where he studied medicine, first with a view to understanding his own disease, later becoming more interested in leprosy. In 1949 he made the first of his long journeys, exploring northern Argentina on a bicycle, and for the first time coming into contact with the very poor and the remnants of the Indian tribes. In 1951, after taking his penultimate exams, he made a much longer journey, accompanied by a friend, and earning his living by casual labor as he went : he visited southern Argentina, Chile, where he met Salvador Allende, Peru, where he worked for some weeks in the San Pablo leprosarium, Colombia at the time of La Violencia, and where he was arrested but soon released, Venezuela, and Miami. He returned home for his finals sure of only one thing, that he did not want to become a middle-class general practitioner. He qualified, specializing in dermatology, and went to La Paz, Bolivia, during the National Revolution which he condemned as opportunist. From there he went to Guatemala, earning his living by writing travel-cum-archaeological articles about Inca and Maya ruins.
He reached Guatemala during the socialist Arbenz presidency; although he was by now a Marxist, well read in Lenin, he refused to join the Communist Party, though this meant losing the chance of government medical appointment, and he was penniless and n rags. He lived with Hilda Gadea, a Marxist of Indian stock who forwarded his political education, looked after him, and introduced him to Nico Lopez, one of Fidel Castro's lieutenants. In Guatemala he saw the CIA at work as the principal agents of counterrevolution and was confirmed in his view that Revolution could be made only be armed insurrection. When Arbenz fell, Guevara went to Mexico City (September 1954) where he worked in the General Hospital. Hilda Gadea and Nico Lopez joined him, and he met and was charmed by Raul and Fidel Castro, then political emigres, and realized that in Fidel he had found the leader he was seeking.
He joined other Castro followers at the farm where the Cuban revolutionaries were being given a tough commando course of professional training in guerrilla warfare by the Spanish Republican Army captain, Alberto Bayo, author of Ciento cincueto preguntas a un guerrilleo, Havana 1959. Bayo drew not only on his own experience but on the guerrilla teachings of Mao Tse-tung, and 'Che', as he was now called (it means chum or buddy and is Italian origin), became his star pupil and was made a leader of the class. The war games at the farm attracted police attention, all the Cubans and Che were arrested, but released a month later (June 1956). When they invaded Cuba, Che went with them, first as doctor, soon as a Commandante of the revolutionary army of barbutos. He was the most aggressive, clever and successful of the guerrilla officers, and the most earnest in giving his men a Lenist education: he was also a ruthless disciplinarian who unhesitatingly shot defectors, as later he got a reputation for cold-blooded cruelty in the mass execution of recalcitrant supporters of the defeated president Batista. At the triumph of the Revolution Guevara became second only to Fidel Castro in the new government of Cuba, and the man chiefly responsible for pushing Castro towards communism, but a communism which was independent of the orthodox, Moscow-style communism of some of their colleagues.
Che organized and directed the Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria to administer the new agrarian laws expropriating the large land holders; ran its Department of Industries; was appointed President of the National Bank of Cuba; forced non-communist out of the government and key posts and acting obstinately against the advise of two eminent French Marxist economists who were called in by Fidel Castro and who wanted Che to advance much more slowly and of the Soviet advisers, he pushed the Cuban economy so fast into total Communism, and into crop and production diversification, that he temporarily ruined it.
In 1959 he married Aledia March and together they visited Egypt, India, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Yugoslavia. Back in Cuba, as Minister for Industry he signed (February 1960) a trade pact with the USSR which freed the Cuban sugar industry from dependence on the teeth of the US market; in it is foreshadowing his failure in the Congo and Bolivia, in an axiom which proved to be hopelessly misleading; ' It is not always necessary to wait until the conditions for revolution exist: the instructional focus can create them.' And, with Mao Tse-tung, he believed that the countryside must bring the revolution to the town in predominately peasant countries. Also at this time, he glorified his own kind of communist philosophy. ( published later in the Socialism and Man in Cuba, March 12 March 1965). It can be summed up in him ' Man really attains the state of complete humanity when he produces, without being forced by physical need to sell himself as a commodity.' He was moving away from "Moscow", towards Mao, and beyond into what is essentially the old idealistic, Anarchism. His formal breach with the Soviet Communist came when, addressing the Organization for Afro-Asian Solidarity at Algiers (February 1965) he charged the USSR with being a 'tacit accomplice of imperialism' by not trading exclusively with the Communist bloc and by not giving underdeveloped socialist countries aid without any thought of return. He also attacked the Soviet government for its policy of coexistence; and for Revisionism. He initiated the Tricontiental Conference to realize a program of revolutionary, insurrectionary, guerrilla cooperation in Africa, Asia and South America. On the other hand, after a halfhearted attempt to come to some kind of terms with the USA, he was also attacking the North Americas, at the UN as Cuba's representative there, for their greedy and merciless imperialist activity in Latin America.
Che's intransigence towards both capitalist abd communist estabklishment forced Castro to drop him (1965), not offically, but in practice. For some months even his whereabouts were a secret and his death was widely rumoured: he was in various African countries, notably the Congo surveying the possiblities of turning the Kinshasa rebellion into a Communist revolution, by Cuban-style guerrilla tactics. He returned to Cuba to train volunteers for that project, andf took a force of 120 Cubans to the Congo.
His men fought well, but the Kinshasa rebels did not, they were useless against the Belgian mercenaries and by autumn 1965 Che had to advise Castro to withdraw Cuban aid.
Che's final revolutionary adventure was in Bolivia: he grossly misjudged the reveloutionary potential of that country with disastrous consegquences. The attempt ended in his being captured by a Bolivian army unit and shot a day later.
Because of his wild, romantic appearance, his dashing style, his intransigence in refusing to kowtow to any kind of establishment however communist, his contempt for mere reformism, and his dedication to violent, flamboyant action, Che became a legend and an idol for the reveloutionary- and even the merely discontented- youth of the later 1960s and early 70's a focus for the kind of desperate revolutionary action which seemed to millions of young people the only hope of destroying the world of bourgeos industrial capitalism and communism.
Note: Che's remains were found near Vallegrande, Bolivia at the end of June 1997. His remains were identified and were returned to Cuba .