Ernesto 'Che' Guevara finally died 47 years ago today. Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary, mass murderer, and guerrillaman, whose stylised visage has become synonymous with youth rebellion in the West, at once the symbol of the triumph and defeat of Marxist ideology. To date, Western Leftists and even UNESCO continue to venerate this man as a sort of secular saint.
Guevara was born in Argentina, the eldest of five children. His parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna y Llosa were of Basque and Irish descent. Sadly, this upper-middle-class family was also enamoured with the political Left (a bourgois way to purchase virtue), and his father, a firm supporter of the Communists during the Spanish Civil War, even opened the family home to veterans of that conflict, so young Ernestito, who could have become a respectable physician and successful travel writer when grown up, never had a chance.
If only he had been stupid and a weakling! But no. Guevara was bright and physically courageous. He learnt chess early and began participating in tournaments from the age of 12. He was also a voracious and erudite reader, managing to amass, during the course of his short life, thousands books, many of them commendable, but quite a few others by communists, and even some by Freud. He also excelled as an athlete, despite asthma attacks, practising a variety of sports and earning himself a reputation as brutal rugby union player. Indeed, his fury on the field caused him to be nicknamed Fuser (el furibundo + Serna). On top of this, he also enjoyed shooting—a skill he would abundantly use later on.
In 1948, Guevara enrolled at the University of Buenos Aires. He dreamt of becoming a physician. However, he also dreamt of exploring the world, and embarked on a series of journeys throughout South America. His brain already poisoned by Marxist ideology and bourgeois guilt, what could have been an enriching experience fuelled a life-time of hatred instead. On his first journey, in 195o, he attached an engine to a bicycle and travelled to the rural reaches of northern Argentina. He next took a year off university to spend nine months on a 5000-mile motorcycle trek with his friend Alberto Granado, six years his senior. The initial goal was to spend a few weeks volunteering at a leper colony in Peru, on the banks of the Amazon river, but from there they continued through Ecuador, Colombia, Venzuela, and Panama, ending in Miami, in the United States, before returning home. It was this latter trek that convinced Guevara to leave medicine. At the Chuquicamata mine in northern Chile, he was angered by the miners' working conditions. In the Atacama Desert, he was angered by the destituteness of a Communist couple. And in the Andes, he was angered by the poverty of the peasant farmers. All of this he blamed on capitalism. He came to conceive of Hispanic America as a borderless land in need of liberation through armed revolution. By contrast, his older and more constructive friend, though in agreement with his inflexible views, went on to enjoy a meritorious career as a doctor, scientist, and biochemist, holding a number of prestigious posts from which he did some good, equipping Cuba with an army of well trained doctors, and co-founding the Cuban Genetics Society, of which he served as its first president. In short, he used his intelligence and expertise to improve the lives of multitudes.
But Guevara was not to follow this good example. No sooner had he obtained his degree in 1953 that he set out for a third time, this time to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. By December he was in Costa Rica, traversing the 'dominions' of the United Fruit Company. There, he was angered once again by the practices of this American corporate giant, and, adopting a head-hunting tone, swore on Stalin's portrait that he would not rest until the imperialist capitalist octupuses had been crushed.
Now, the United Fruit Company, which had operations in the region and specialised on tropical fruit (and bananas in particular), had a chequered history. On the one hand, it built railways and founded numerous schools. On the other hand, it held on to vast swathes of uncultivated land and and prevented local governments from building motorways in order to maintain its trade monopoly. The company was frequently castigated by Left wing activists and intellectuals.
Around this time, Jacobo Árbenz was president of Guatemala, having been elected on promises of 'land reform'. His interpreation of land reform, however, meant expropriating uncultivated portions of large holdings and giving it to landless peasants. The minimum area threshhold was not huge: 2.7 km², or a square one mile per side. Compensation was to not to be as per market value, but as per the 1952 tax declaration, which was a clever way of ensuring minimum payment without arguments, and not in the form of a cash payment, but in the form of a 25-year-bond with 3% interest, which meant a net loss. Guevara certainly liked the idea, and thus went to Guatemala, to 'perfect' himself and become a full revolutionary.
While in Guatemala City, he met Hilda Gadea Acosta, a Peruvian economist and communist leader with contacts he thought useful. She introduced him to various high-level officials in the Árbenz government and to exiled Cubans linked to Fidel Castro. It was they who nicknamed him 'Che', in reference to his frequent use of the term (the Argentinian equivalent for 'dude' or 'bro'). To make ends meet, Guevara sought a medical internship, but to no avail; no one wanted him and he lived in penury. Not long after, the Árbenz government took delivery of a shipment of weapons from Communist Czechoslovakia, which was noted by the CIA. The Eisenhower government took a dim view of having a Communist beachhead in Guatemala, so Árbenz was forcibly removed and a US-friendly liberal installed in his place. After Árbenz holed up in the Mexican Embassy, Guevara called to resist. This got him noticed. However, no sooner was comrade Gadea arrested that he himself holed up in the Argentine Consulate, where he remained until given a safe-conduct so he could flee to Mexico. Once there, he married comrade Gadea.
These events confirmed Guevara's view of the United States as an imperialist power. No big news there. Yet, they added fuel to his hate, and by the time he left Guatemala, he was absoltely sure that violent armed Marxism was the way forward. Somehow, Guevara, champion of the poor, chose not to notice that Communism had already impoverished and sown death by the millions across Eurasia, and, though a bookworm, he later also chose not to take notice of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which was available from 1963 in three different translations, and could have taught him a thing or two about the workers' paradise. Lenin and Freudian psychoanalysis made far more sense to him.
While in Mexico, he held various jobs. He worked at the General Hospital, lectured at the Autonomous University of Mexico, and was employed as a news photographer for the Latina News Agency. So troubled was he by the poverty around him that, in a paroxysmic search for virtue, this cultured upper-middle-class white-collar professional thought of going to Africa to help the poor there. Unfortunately, though he would have done far more good as malarial carrion in the equatorial jungles, or as beneficiary of poison dart fr0m the mbuti pygmies, Guevara elected, instead, to renew his friendship with the exiled Cuban communists. In 1955 he met Raúl Castro, who introduced him to his brother Fidel. The two struck an instant friendship, and by the end of the evening Guevara was a signed-up member to Castro's 26th July Movement, determined to help overthrow the liberal, US-backed Batista government in Cuba. Guevara submitted to guerrilla training with such raging zeal that by the end of the course he'd out-guerrillaed everyone, leaving Alberto Bayo, his instructor, stupefied with admiration.
Initially, Guevara was to be a field doctor, but, once the shooting had begun, he laid down his medical supplies and picked up a box of ammunition dropped by a fleeing comrade. The communist guerrillaman had been born.
During the revolution, Guevara displayed immense energy and daring. The latter verged on foolhardiness, but both his comrades and, at least on one occasion also his opponents, were in awe of his testicular superiority. Unfortunately, he seems to have had the ability to bend space around him, because the bullets stubbornly evaded his anatomy. Guevara also fashioned himself a teacher, and would spend the idle hours reading classics and lyric poetry to his comrades. Pearls to the swine, obviously, for anyone who's taken even one look at Latin-American Marxist guerrillamen—or just communist thugs in general, anywhere. Likewise, he organised schools to raise literacy among the peasant farmers in the mountains, if only so he could more easily indoctrinate them with Das Capital.
One area in which Guevara truly distinguished himself was in dealing with those whom, either because they found more reliable ways to fill their bellies, or because they realised the evil of Marxist ideology, were deemed traitors. There was little that Guevara enjoyed more than hunting them down and having them shot on the spot, sometimes venturing forth to pull the trigger himself. One only needs to read his clinical account of the first such incident to grasp how meaningless life was to this man. Recording the scene in which a peasant army guide, Eutimio Guerra, having admitted his betrayal, begged for his life to be ended quickly, Guevara wrote
I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal [lobe].
A sociopathic movement demands a sociopathic leader, so, unsurprisingly, Guevara's methodoly proved effective.
And that was not all: Guevara even had time to take a lover, while his wife waited in Mexico. Naturally, this ended in divorce. Thus we find here again the usual pattern with fanatics of the radical Left: a boundless love for abstract humanity, dysfunctional relationships at home.
In the end, not through military prowess, but through Batista's cowardice, Guevara made it to Havana. The corrupt Batista had by then already landed safely in the Dominican Republic, his pockets heavier by 300 million dollars, and the revolution gorged on 2000 lives. Six days later Castro rolled into the city.
Recognising Guevara's talents, Castro named him commander of La Cabaña Fortress prison. But not before instituting the death penalty: it was time for summary executions—or rather, mass murder, because there was no due process and the scope was open-ended. Guevara, of course, excelled in his new post. And to his movement's delight, the populace was baying for blood, whole-heartedly approving of former officials of Batista's dictatorship being lined up before Guevara's shooting squads. Among those thus murdered was Rigoberto Hernandez, a 17-year-old former janitor with learning disabilities, who was shot on the basis that he was 'a CIA agent planting bombs'. Clearly, Guevara thought himself a Latin American Robespierre. Over time, the number of murdered, there and elsewhere, would run well into five digits.
Guevara was then sent off to the Bandung Pact countries. While in Japan, the murderous hypocrite dared to write, 'In order to fight better for peace, one must look at Hiroshima'. When he got back, he found Castro with vastly increased political power, thus the real reason for his diplomatic mission in far-away Asia became apparent.
Besides his reign in blood, Guevara also implemented 'land reform'. He trained a 100,000-man army in order to accomplish this at gun point. Large holdings were seized with minimal compensation, broken up, and distributed to subsistance farmers. More or less as Robert Mugabe has since done in his part of the world.
But we do have to give Guevara some credit, because during this early period of Castro's military dictatorship he, along with the expropriation militias, organised literacy brigades, managing to raise the literacy rate on the island from between 60%-76% to 96%. At the same time, we have to ask ourselves—what for? Because he, the enemy of the middle class, also instituted racist admission policies for universities, prioritising skin colour over qualifications, and made higher education universal so that every young person would have Marxist ideology, radical egalitarianism, and dialectical materialism pile-driven into his brain.
Though totally without qualifications or experience in banking or business, and utterly 'ignorant of the most elemental economic principles', Guevara was put in charge of the Cuban economy, named by Castro Minister of Industries, Finance Minister, and President of the National Bank. (To show his disdain for money, he signed the banknotes 'Che'.) Result? He ran the economy into the ground. Productivity plummeted. Absenteeism soared. Western investors ran for the hills. And the island became dependent on basket case economies of the communist Eastern Bloc.
Guevara not only destroyed the Cuban economy, he also nearly destroyed the planet. He was the architect of the Soviet-Cuban relationship. This eventually triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviets brought to the island ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. The crisis brought the world to the brink of a thermonuclear confrontation. In the end, the Soviet Union withdrew the missiles, and a nuclear hotline was created between Washington and Moscow. Guevara, however, was enraged, and told, in an interview for a British communist rag, that had the missiles been under Cuban control, Castro would have launched all of them. For him, the socialist utopia was well worth 'millions of atomic war victims'. This is the pietist who only three years earlier had said to look to Hiroshima for peace.
In the years that followed, Guevara fancied himself a 'revolutionary statesman of world stature'. At the United Nations, and clad in military fatigues, he launched into a rhapsodic diatribe, enthroning equality and canonising the weak. He was no Jonathan Bowden, yet he received a raptuous ovation. In New York he met Malcolm X, why not. And from Paris he set out on a tour that included communist China, North Korea, and parts of equatorial Africa. He stopped in Ireland, but, perhaps revealingly, feared his ancestors may have been thieves.
It took until 1965 before Guevara at last ended his public appearances, although, sadly, not by choice. He delivered a speech in Algiers, Algeria, where he complained that the Soviet Union wasn't Marxist enough. Cuba was dependent on the Soviet Union's financial backing, so Castro wasn't amused. Embarrassingly, Guevara's views approached Mao Zedong's. Indeed, he was an enthusiastic moral supporter of Mao's Great Leap Forward (1956 - 1961), a policy founded on coercion, terror, and systematic violence, which, according to historian Frank Dikötter,
motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history.
Despite catastrophic results and 18 to 45 million dead in China by that time, Guevara desired a Great Leap Forward for Latin America.
But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Guevara prediction that the Soviet republics would return to capitalism was eventually fulfilled, though because communism doesn't work rather than because the Soviet Union wasn't communist enough.
At any rate, it seems that Castro may have tightened the tourniquette, because after Algiers Guevara disappeared from public view. This fuelled idle speculation from Left-wing intellectuals and litterati. Eventually, Guevara for once did the right thing and resigned all his government posts, his membership of the communist party, and even his Cuban citizenship.
Nevertheless, still no good came out of this: Guevara's bloodthirst remained unquenched, and thus he used his regained freedom to go and play Tarzan in the Congo. He left his wife and children behind. For a while he and a motley crew of Afro-Cubans collaborated with the guerrillas of Laurent-Desiré Kabila, hoping that the violence would spread across international borders, but became disillusioned with their lack of discipine, intransigence, incompetence, and corrupt leadership. (What a surprise.) What is more, though he hoped to remain hidden, the Americans knew exactly where he was and everything he was up to, for they were intercepting all his communications from a floating base. After seven months, he was thoroughly demoralised, so he asked his surviving cohorts to sail back to Cuba, intending to remain in the jungle and fight to the death alone. This would have been the best thing he could have done, if holding a job and being father to his five children was so distasteful. However, and as he admitted, weakness prevailed. He left in November 1965.
He knew he could not get back his old life in Cuba. Castro had cannily read out Guevara's 'farewell letter', which had been drafted in the event of his death. Therefore, Guevara went first to Tanzania and then to Prague, before travelling throughout Western Europe to test his forged passport. He also travelled back to Cuba, albeit briefly and only to abandon his family for good.
By late 1966, his location still unknown, Guevara was in Mozambique. He offered his services to the Mozambique Liberation Front, but Mondlane's movement scorned his offer, forcing the violence-starved guerrillero to quest for death elsewhere.
Thus it was that he ended in Bolivia, in whose mountains he organised a guerrilla, aiming to overthrow René Barrientos' government. However, the local farmers gave them short shrift and informed the government authorities. Guevara had thought he would have it easy, on the assumption that the Bolivian army was sloppy and poorly trained. Instead, he found them disciplined and well equipped: unbeknownst to him, the Americans were again one step ahead, and had been training and supplying the Bolivian armed forces. They even had a battalion of Rangers trained in jungle warfare. While Guevara gained the upper hand in a few minor skirmishes, he was wounded and captured before long. In an effort to save his skin, he scoundrel pleaded them not to shoot him, arguing he was worth more alive than dead. But Barrientos thought otherwise and quickly made his mind known. Sargeant Mario Terán eagerly volunteered to pull the trigger.
What happened next makes one wonder what might have been, if only Guevara had known tradition and escaped the poison of Marxian dogma, because in the end one has to recognise that, once cornered, at least the rascal met his destiny like man. Terán entered the hut where Guevara was being kept, and ordered the other soldiers out. Guevara stood up and said, 'I know you've come to kill me. Shoot. Do it'. Terán pointed his rifle at him, but his hesitation angered Guevara, who shouted 'Shoot me, you coward! You're only going to kill a man!'. Terán sprayed him with bullets, ridding the Earth of the wretch at last.
It bears noting the kind of people who praised Guevara as a hero: Nelson Mandela, Susan Sontag, Frantz Fanon, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ariel Dorfman, and Stokely Carmichael. That alone says it all.
Since the 1960s, Guevara has become an odious sign of Leftist idiocy and fashion consciousness. The irony is that many of those who don a Che t-shirt of hung a Che poster on their bedroom walls probably know hardly anything about their idol other than the fact that he was a Marxist guerrillaman—and maybe that his conservative parents don't like him. Even more ironic, their glorification of Guevara in the form of merchandise is, in fact, being done with symbols of his defeat, for the commoditisation of his image represents, if anything, the triumph of American capitalism.
Hence, Guevara represents an object lesson of what happens when a man, born with good qualities, becomes, through chance and bad parenting, an avatar of the Lord of Darkness. The liberator was thus himself both a slave and an enslaver, for all communism did was trade one form of servitude for another of a worse kind. Ultimately, Guevara's materialist worldview was also symptomatic of his enslavement by dead matter, and thereby of his serving in the armies of the dead.