The one with the glaring glow in his eyes, who stands straight and tall, a ‘fellow’ composed of pure determination. The one who gave up his comfortable upper-class life to fight for the oppressed and exploited. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, a man who has inspired countless people across the world, yet seems also to spark hatred in many as well. The ninth of October was the day that he was murdered, and we would like to ask the correct questions about him in his memory. Who was this man? What did he actually fight for? It’s hard to know in this world of ours, but let us see how far we can get.
Let me solidify my views: Che Guevara was a hero who fought for the freedom of the various nations he struggled in. In Cuba, he fought against the corrupt puppet dictator – Fulgencio Batista, who retained power through autocratic behaviors and sold out his nation to the Americans. What Cuba was before the revolution was a mafia state, a nation that served no purpose but to act as an American satellite. Throughout his life, Che Guevara helped out various anti-imperialist movements throughout the world, which eventually led to his death. I believe that figures like Che should be protected from the lies that are sent their way, even after their deaths.
Ernesto Guevara was an Argentine revolutionary and guerilla fighter most notable for his principle part in the Cuban Revolution. He grew up in a moderately well-off family, and studied in the medical sciences. Early on in life, he took no interest in politics, but as time went on he progressively became more attracted to it. One very important part of his personal political development was his trip through Latin America with his friend, Alberto Granado. During this journey, he witnessed the misfortunes of the people of Latin America, of how foreign business would enslave the peoples of these nations, how the ruling classes lived so well through the exploitation of these other nations. This solidified his anti-American and anti-Imperialist political world-view. While he was not yet a Marxist, his beliefs were closely aligned with Marxism.
The Communist world-view of his came from his interaction with Communist contemporaries and through study of the classic theorists of Marxism. He slowly became more and more engaged in Marxism and eventually identified as a Marxist.
Now, we are not here to discuss his life and development, but who he was and the impact he had on the world. For a biography, one that is generally seen as the one definitive impartial biography, and which dispels many of the lies hurled against him, is Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson. We are here, instead, to see whether he actually was the villain that the Yankees made him out to be.
In terms of violent activity, what other way did the activists of that time have to change their society? Peaceful methods for change were not possible. The dictatorship allowed no force of legal resistance against itself. The only way to fight against violence that has been imposed on a society is to fight back with violence. The guerillas did not kill innocent people. They only fought the necessary fight against the state’s forces. We cannot criticize oppressed peoples across the world for utilizing the only method we left them with to fight against their oppressors.
It is time to look at some myths about Che Guevara. One that is quite famous is the viewpoint that he was a racist. This is founded on a passage that Che Guevara wrote in his diaries when he was young and not politically engaged as an anti-imperialist and Communist. One quote that is seen is this:
“The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”
Of course this is a horrid quote, we cannot say that there is something that could be vindicated about this. What is to be said on this is that he was 24, still evolving from the ideals of his upper-class European Latin-American society. Later on in his life, he had many black comrades who fought along with him. He was a stubborn anti-racist who gave support to many African struggles, some examples being in South Africa and the Congo. Here is a quote from Nelson Mandela, a figure in the fight against apartheid in South Africa:
“The life of Che is an inspiration to all human beings who cherish freedom.
We will always honour his memory.”
Here is a quote from Che Guevara himself talking about racist discrimination in South Africa:
“We speak out to put the world on guard against what is happening in South Africa. The brutal policy of apartheid is applied before the eyes of the nations of the world. The peoples of Africa are compelled to endure the fact that on the African continent the superiority of one race over another remains official policy, and that in the name of this racial superiority murder is committed with impunity. Can the United Nations do nothing to stop this?”
How can we say this man was a racist? It all comes from manipulating information to fit your own narrative. Let this lie show, as an example, how dishonest people can be when talking about historical figures, and that it is up to you to be well informed.
What is another lie we hear about Che Guevara? It is that he was a notorious homophobe, and it is ironic that those who spread this lie are some of the biggest homophobes. Considering that he came from Latin American countries that were more socially conservative, it is very likely that he did have homophobic tendencies. Otherwise, there is absolutely no proof that he was homophobic, or filled concentration camps with gay people. The mistreatment of gay people in Cuba was much worse before the Revolution, and Fidel Castro also later on apologized for the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ peoples in Cuba . Today Cuba has a very accepting view of LGBT peoples, much more so than countries such as the United States.
Was Che a murderer? Depends on what we see as murder. Did he kill people? Yes, he did, just as anyone who has served in action in the military has. Che Guevara was a guerilla fighter. It is absurd to think that one should not take up arms against a corrupt dictatorship that has sold out their country to foreigners and has imposed violence on the peoples to solidify its own foundation. In wars against dictatorships, and after revolutions, very strict measures must be taken. You are harassed from all points. Agents are sent in, materials are hard to come across, and your opponent has the support of the world’s largest superpower. What are we to do? This is the nature of guerilla warfare; it is a strict but unusual method of warfare in which forces from the masses fight unexpectedly. Then, the idea that he was an ‘authoritarian’ leader and therefore shouldn’t be supported is also absurd. Che Guevara was not the leader of Cuba. He was merely a famous fighter known for his dedication to the cause. He did all he could to consolidate the power of the new state, a state which gave its citizens universal suffrage, free healthcare, literacy, and for the first time in the lives of many, conditions in which one could actually live. Currently, Cuba has a higher total life expectancy than the United States, even though it has one of the world’s largest embargoes placed upon them.
Now that we have gone over the lies, what did Che Guevara do that was deserving of praise? The most obvious is that he was a great fighter in the war against the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. He left his comfortable life in Argentina to fight for justice across the world and to fight against dictatorships. Unlike Fidel Castro, Che had larger ideas than just staying within Cuba. He fought in other places, and it led to his death in Bolivia. Even though Che had a respect for Fidel Castro, he was critical of the USSR, and was more aligned with China during the Sino-Soviet split. Fidel was less of a Communist than Che and therefore aligned with the USSR, which was larger economically than China, which was even poorer before the Chinese Revolution than Russia was before the Russian revolution.
We also have to see that Che Guevara was a romantic. His actions and perceived want of heroism led to him making bad choices such as the one that led to his death in Bolivia. He believed that groups of guerillas could create the conditions for a revolution, and this theory of his was largely seen as romantic and not the way to achieve justice. Yet he proceeded. This only shows his will to fight for others, and disproves the view that he was a power-hungry man who fought for personal gain.
The figure of Che Guevara has inspired so many people around the world. A personal connection I have is the figure of Che in Turkey, the country which my family is from. In Turkey, Che Guevara is one of the largest figures of resistance who is idolized. In the 1980s, when a US-supported military dictatorship was established, when my own father was tortured for months, Che Guevara was a figure of hope and of resistance. The example of the Cuban Revolution served as an example for people in Turkey back then, and for those who struggle for change, he still does.
Today the figure of Che Guevara still stands, despite the lies sent in his way by those who uphold oppression. It is our duty to disprove the lies sent against all historical figures, especially those such as Che Guevara, who leave behind lives of luxury to fight for the oppressed peoples of the world. We must continue the fight that was started by these people to work towards a better world, hasta la victoria siempre, always until victory!