In 1966-67, he led a nucleus of revolutionaries from Bolivia, Cuba, and Peru who fought to overthrow the military dictatorship in Bolivia. In the process, they sought to forge a Latin America-wide movement of workers and peasants that could lead the battle for land reform and against U.S. imperialist domination of the continent and advance the struggle for socialism. Guevara was wounded and captured on Oct. 8, 1967. He was shot the next day by the Bolivian military, after consultation with Washington.
As part of the commemoration of this anniversary in Cuba, dozens of articles, speeches, and interviews by those who worked with Che are being published, dealing with the Cuban revolution, its impact in world politics, and the actions of its leadership. Many of Guevara's collaborators and family members have spoken at conferences and other meetings, bringing Che to life for a new generation and explaining the importance of his rich political legacy today. These materials contain many valuable firsthand accounts and information, some of which are being written down and published for the first time. They are part of the broader discussion taking place in Cuba today on how to advance the revolution.
The Militant is reprinting a selection of these contributions as a weekly feature, under the banner "Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution."
The following speech was given at the opening of an October 1- 4 symposium on "Che: Man of the Twenty-First Century," held at the University of Havana and sponsored by the university's Ernesto Guevara Studies Program along with the Personal Archive of Che Guevara, directed by Aleida March Guevara. Ricardo Alarcˇn is the president of Cuba's National Assembly and a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba. The translation, subheadings, and footnotes are by the Militant.
Che continues to fight. He represents a real threat that instills fear in the oppressors. This is demonstrated by the abundant literature attempting to distort his life, falsify his thought, and blunt the sharp edge of his image.
A recently published book shows in detail how the CIA, FBI, and other imperialist agencies followed Che's tracks step by step, even before the landing of the Granma,(1) and how, through a press that pretends to be free, they strove to distort his efforts. Further documents will be published some day, showing how the imperialists have continued to pursue him systematically from the time of La Higuera(2) to today, as they will surely keep doing in the future.
In the book I alluded to, U.S. attorney Michael Ratner reveals a fact that confirms that Che truly lives - not only in the hearts of youth and the fists of the exploited. In 1988 the region of Bolivia where he fought was still considered a security zone by the authorities. More than 20 years later, a new generation of military officers still seemed to be on the lookout for guerrilla movements around the Đacahuaz˙ river!
How should we look at Che today? What is his legacy for the century now beginning? This is the question asked by revolutionaries, those of us who are fighting to transform the world and who believe in the betterment of humanity.
As we do so, his image and his memory spread through the world. His portrait appears on T-shirts worn by youth who never knew him; it is carried during protests by the dispossessed masses who were not able to read his basic writings. It becomes increasingly a symbol that encourages rebellion and hope, attaining legendary dimensions.
Conferences like this one can contribute to the collective search needed to begin to find the indispensable answers, which above all must be turned into concrete actions. It could not be otherwise, since the subject of our attention is Ernesto Guevara.
Found time to write about revolution
Besides his enormous contributions as a guerrilla combatant and leader, as well as the important responsibilities he shouldered in the revolutionary government, Che left us a body of writings of astonishing breadth and depth, especially considering they were produced over the course of just a few years by a young leader thoroughly immersed in the storm of events during the most intense period of the life of our people.
In essays, articles, letters, speeches, lectures, and other public addresses, Ernesto Guevara took up the questions that the revolution confronted at that time and made a priceless contribution to the concrete political struggle and revolutionary consciousness of the Cuban people. Imperialism's threats and acts of aggression in that period were subjected to his incisive analysis and his clarifying indictment.
Alert to dangers from the outside, he also focused on questions specifically related to the economy, the trade unions, the formation of the party and its methods and style of work, and the special role played by the youth organizations, among other important subjects. For workers, students, and youth, for political and administrative cadres, he left a wealth of ideas that - aside from conjunctural aspects, of course - remains completely relevant today.
It is remarkable to discover that in the heat of those years, he found time to write about his guerrilla experience in Cuba, leaving subsequent generations a precious testimony that enriches our historic memory. But what surprises others was, for him, something natural and necessary.
Preserving these experiences was essential to the goal - which he carried out with rigorous dedication - of summarizing the story of the Cuban insurrection and elaborating his theory on guerrilla warfare. There, in the concrete development of the armed struggle, where everything depended on each individual combatant, and on their willingness to give their life, he discovered the seeds of the new man.
His intellectual work had an internationalist character that, from the very first article, anticipated his future actions in the Congo and Bolivia. In various international forums he exposed imperialism's criminal exploitation and presented a coherent theory for the liberation of the Third World, without omitting a justified socialist criticism of those who did not practice solidarity as an obligation.
Uncovered roots of events in E. Europe
It is in his study of the questions related to building socialism, registered in his memorable polemics and other basic works, that his thought achieves its greatest depth and begins to anticipate the future. Who could imagine in the early 1960s that a brutal capitalism would reemerge out of European socialism? Who was capable of uncovering the root of the problem and explain it with honesty and courage?
In the battles that imperialism continues to wage against Che we find the greatest proof that he remains alive, that his message prevails. There are attempts to present Ernesto Guevara as a symbol of a bygone era, as something from the past. In the euphoria following the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the imperialist academic establishment - which has joined with others, since cloning existed in the ideological sphere well before it was discovered in the laboratories - has tried to make people believe that the defeat of that model meant the death of the socialist ideal and that this would forever put an end to the movement by workers to achieve that goal.
Che would undoubtedly share our bitterness at the serious setback these events have meant for the people who today are suffering in flesh and blood the experience of real capitalism, and he would understand its negative consequences for the Cuban revolution and for the liberation of the Third World.
His pain would be even greater, similar to that of the wise man who foresaw the inevitable, to that of the messiah who announced the catastrophe and illuminated the road that could have avoided it. He had already warned about how difficult it would be "to defeat capitalism with its own fetishes," and raised this crucial point: "Socialism cannot exist if there is not a change in consciousness that creates a new, fraternal attitude toward humanity, both individually in a society where socialism is being built or has been built, as well as internationally, toward all peoples who suffer imperialist oppression."
His distress would be even deeper and more genuine because, having clarified this question theoretically, he preached by example both "in the society in which socialism is being built" - through his austerity; his total devotion to revolutionary activity; his genuine, modest, and quiet participation in voluntary labor - as well as in his attitude "toward all peoples oppressed by imperialism," as he would demonstrate more eloquently a few months later.
But before resuming the guerrilla path, he explained, in one of his most widely circulated works, his concern about the challenges facing a nascent socialist society: "There is the danger that the forest will not be seen for the trees. The pipe dream that socialism can be achieved with the help of the dull instruments left to us by capitalism (the commodity as the economic cell, profitability, individual material interest as a lever, etc..) can lead into a blind alley. And you wind up there after having traveled a long distance with many crossroads, and it is hard to figure out just where you took the wrong turn. Meanwhile, the economic foundation that has been laid has done its work of undermining the development of consciousness. To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man."(3)
His creative and truly Marxist thought allowed him to foresee the fate of that experience and discover the roots of its failure at a time when the very theoreticians of anticommunism considered it unchangeable and when the predominant dogmatism within the left clouded judgments. The new man was certainly not the one who had been defeated, but rather "the pipe dream of achieving socialism" without him.
Nor did capitalism achieve a global victory over the forces of socialism and national liberation. It did achieve a temporary victory through the lack of consistent and united action by these forces, which were unable to take advantage of a favorable international balance of forces. In short, what was missing was the duplication of Che's heroic example and the application of his ideas by the revolutionary movement as a whole.
Events vindicate Che
The dramatic events of recent years are not a defeat for Che but are rather his vindication. That is why Che lives, why he is taking on gigantic proportions, springing up everywhere, and advancing. That is why his enemies' fears grow.
His humanistic, renovational, and ethical conception of socialism enriched the Cuban revolutionary process and has been present throughout its history, in completion, of course, with tropical expressions of "real socialism" and in the midst of the most far-reaching confrontation ever with imperialism. Even when erroneous views and negative tendencies predominated in the leadership and administration of the economy, Che's legacy survived among us by remaining intact in foreign policy, reaching extraordinary levels that propagated his example on a massive scale.
The process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies, initiated by Fidel Castro in 1986, revived the revolutionary spirit and confirmed the correctness of Ernesto Guevara's ideas and teachings.
Before real socialism's course toward bankruptcy had become visible, Cuban revolutionaries, inspired by Che, were deepening the struggle against its causes and attacking the root of the problem.
The authentic character of the Cuban revolution, which was exclusively the product of our own history, the result of the struggles and sacrifices of Cubans; its genuinely independent character; and the intelligent, consistent, and firm hand of its central leader, explain why those pernicious elements did not acquire the uncontrollable dimensions that led to the disintegration of the European experience.
The Cuban revolution did not succumb as the empire's chiefs and pimps had predicted a few years ago. It was able to resist the terrible consequences of the sudden disappearance of its markets, the complete loss of foreign credit and financing, the drastic reduction of supplies of oil and raw materials and other vital imports. It was able to do so and even begin to recover economically despite the fact that Washington's economic war against us came on top of the blow suffered by the disintegration of the USSR.
What does Che mean today for Cuba and the Cuban people? How should we integrate him into the current situation, into our perspectives and aspirations? What is his role, as a son of our people and one of its most clear-sighted leaders, in the complex, difficult, and decisive stage we are now going through? What should we do about his revolutionary passion, his unflagging militancy, his creative thinking?
Let us state the obvious. He is with us here and now, fighting stubbornly to rescue his work and his dreams as a builder.
Need Che's ideas today
Under the particular circumstances of this period - when in order to save our socialism, the only socialism possible in Cuba today, we have been forced to make concessions, we have had to introduce into our society undesirable values that are alien to his values - we need Che more than ever. Because of the fact that the inevitable changes in our society and the brutal imperialist offensive introduce new - and sometimes more subtle and serpentine - elements in the ideological struggle, Che is indispensable for us. We must take his ideas and turn them into a vital guide for workers, students, professors, and the entire people. At a time when the poison of selfish individualism threatens us from the inside, when some people are giving in or vacillating, we must reproduce his unblemished example in the conduct of the vanguard and extend it throughout society.
We must cultivate solidarity as a norm of everyday life.
Through the systematic involvement of the workforce and its unions, it is necessary to make the utmost efforts toward economic recovery, to save our resources, raise productivity and efficiency, especially in the state sector, combat indiscipline, and strengthen the cohesion and unity of all revolutionaries and patriots.
We must strengthen the role of the party, perfect our democratic system and the work of the mass organizations and our socialist civil society as a whole, and develop consistently popular participation in and controls over these bodies. What the invincible guerrilla is calling for is more socialism on the political-ideological level, a more heroic, creative, and Cuban socialism.
We will be like Che, our children declare. This is not just a beautiful phrase. It captures a strategy and a hope. The homeland will be saved; the revolution will prevail; our socialism will survive and be better and more genuine if we are capable, as a people, of being like him, of fighting and living like him.
Thirty-five years ago, during "the brilliant yet sad days" of the October crisis,(4) when the threat of total extermination hung over Cuba, Ernesto Guevara left us this message, which remains true for today and all time:
"From here, from their solitary vanguard trench, our people are making their voices heard. It is not the swan song of a defeated revolution, but a revolutionary hymn that is destined to become eternal on the lips of fighters throughout the Americas. It resonates with history."
From here, from his indestructible trench, let us tell him once again:
!Hasta la victoria siempre! [Forward ever to victory]
!Socialismo o muerte! [Socialism or death]
!Patria o muerte! [Homeland or death]
1. In late 1956, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and 80 other members of the July 26 Movement left Mexico and arrived in Cuba aboard the yacht Granma to initiate the revolutionary war against the Batista dictatorship.
2. La Higuera is the Bolivian village where Guevara was killed.
3. See Guevara, Socialism and Man in Cuba, published by Pathfinder Press.
4. Amid escalating preparations by Washington for a new invasion of Cuba in the spring and summer of 1962, the Cuban government signed a mutual defense agreement with the Soviet Union. In October 1962 President John Kennedy demanded removal of Soviet nuclear missiles installed in Cuba following the signing of that pact. Washington ordered a naval blockade of Cuba, stepped up its preparations to invade, and placed U.S. armed forces on nuclear alert. Cuban workers and farmers mobilized in the millions to defend the revolution. Following an exchange of communications between Washington and Moscow, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, without consulting the Cuban government, announced his decision to remove the missiles on October 28.
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