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Vol. 76/No. 27      July 23, 2012

Che led with confidence in
capacities of working people
(Books of the Month column)

Below is an excerpt from the introduction to The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for July. Guevara’s diary tells the story of the effort he led during the 11-month guerrilla campaign in late 1966 and 1967 in Bolivia to forge a fighting movement of workers and peasants that could open the socialist revolution on the South American continent. Copyright © 1994 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The socialist revolution, as Guevara repeatedly explained, marks the first time in history that expanding revolutionary consciousness and growing political domination by the working class becomes a necessity in order to advance the economic organization of society. The door is opened for working people to cease being the objects of blind economic laws that determine their living and working conditions and social relations, and instead to begin placing the organization of productive forces under their own conscious control.

This is not just one way among others that might be used following a successful popular revolution to advance the transition to socialism. The most committed and self-sacrificing vanguard of the working people, organized in a communist party, must lead growing layers of their class in taking more and more control over the political direction and administration of the state and economy.

In carrying out whatever leadership task he was assigned, Che organized along a course that made it possible for workers to transform themselves and their social and political consciousness as they collectively transformed the social relations under which they worked, produced, and lived.

He explained that this is the only way working people carrying out the revolutionary process can make the new social relations more transparent and direct and, at the same time, base these relations on human solidarity. It is the only way to tear away the veils and fetishes behind which the capitalist system hides the brutal consequences of its exploitation of working people and obscures the unique contribution labor makes to all social and cultural progress.

By the time the Cuban revolution conquered, the balance sheet of twentieth-century experience had demonstrated beyond any doubt that society will not—and cannot—advance toward socialism and communism along any other course.

If it is directed down any other road, it will become mired in bureaucratic planning and management, fostering growing demoralization and alienation of working people from their labor. New privileged social layers will be spawned that ape the values and attitudes of the capitalist classes still dominant on a world scale. Willy-nilly, revolutionists will be turned into accomplices of the law of value and its corrosive social consequences. They will begin, at first even unconsciously, to seek support and collaboration from petty-bourgeois layers at home and from bourgeois forces internationally, as they turn their faces away from the toilers of the world, who are humanity’s only salvation.

Along this road, a workers state will not only regress toward restoration of capitalism but, as Fidel Castro put it in 1986, “to a system worse than capitalism.”

Recognizing the fundamentally political character of economic questions and decisions during the transition to socialism was central to everything Guevara did as a leader of the Cuban revolution. His experience had given him infinite confidence in the capacities of ordinary working people to understand these questions in the process of taking control over their labor and their lives, and, in fact, to become different human beings.

To this end, Guevara set the example of consistent study and disciplined reading. He did so at the same time that he carried an immense political workload—including international travel, meetings with assemblies of factory workers, and frequent participation on days off in voluntary work mobilizations on priority social projects. …

In the pages of Guevara’s Bolivian diary that follow, as well as in the memoirs of his fellow combatants, this Che comes alive—the leader of men and women who challenged all of them to expand their cultural horizons and stretch themselves to take on responsibilities they never dreamed they were capable of. The library of 300–400 books the guerrillas rotated among themselves for reading and discussion; the study classes on political economy, history, mathematics, Quechua, Aymará, and French; Che’s study of The Young Hegel and Capital—all are described in vivid detail here. …

As Fidel Castro pointed out in his 1960 address to the United Nations General Assembly, the economic, social, and political conditions that made possible the first socialist country in the Americas were not unique to Cuba. The Cuban revolution was only the crest of the rising tide of mass struggles across the continent, which, in turn, registered a new level of energy and explosiveness in the wake of the Cuban victory.

Fear that the example of Cuba would spread and that other proimperialist regimes would be overthrown by mass revolutionary struggle underlay Washington’s determination to crush the workers and farmers government in Cuba. At Wall Street’s bidding, bourgeois governments throughout the hemisphere rushed to try to isolate the revolutionary regime. …

Che thought and acted as an internationalist. He knew that the future of the Cuban revolution did not ultimately depend on the efforts and capacities of the communist leadership in Cuba of which he was part, however deep-going that revolution might be, however capable the leadership. Only new revolutionary victories elsewhere, especially new socialist advances in the Americas, would change the relationship of class forces internationally and break the isolation that weighed so heavily on Cuba.  
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