Monday, October 13, 2014

Not So Egalitarian: The Real Che Guevara




This iconic image (minus the "No" symbol overlay, which came from here) of Che was originally photographed at the memorial service for the victims of the explosion of the La Cobre, a French ammunition ship that carried Belgian munitions from Antwerp to Havana. Called, Geurrillero Heroico, the photo became both a communist and capitalist icon.


Che Guevara is a folk hero among the college left, and why not? He was enraged at the working conditions and poverty of South America, did something about it, and brought justice to the proletarian masses. If you are a young freshman in college, that is all you will hear, because the reality would encourage potential admirers would question just how justifiable it is to fight one evil with another.


Rise of Evil

Okay, I couldn't help using the same title as the Sabaton song, but Che hated rock music. Evil is not born in a vacuum. Che Guevara grew up in a family that fought on the socialist side of the civil war in Spain, and so was politically aware even at a young age. He had an affluent childhood and was well educated, even being able to go to medical school in a country where poverty was rampant. He went on motorcycle trips throughout South America, and found himself caught up in a coup that was allegedly meant to protect the business interests of United Fruit. The violence he witnessed convinced him that capitalists had to be destroyed through violence, and set him on the path to becoming Fidel Castro's top enforcer.

United Fruit and Banana Republics

US policy in Latin America has been notorious, largely motivated to protect the interests of United Fruit (now Chiquita) and Standard Fruit (now Dole). These big fruit companies enlisted local corruption in Honduras and Gautamala to keep prices artificially low, but it was not until the progressives entered government that official policy would be designed to protect the interests of these corporations. Under the presidencies of Theodore Roosvelt through Franklin Roosvelt, the US military would be deployed in indirect support of these corporations (the narrative that socialists and corporations are opposed will be the next one I deconstruct). Che was motivated by the 1954 coup in Guatamala, which was funded by the CIA against the Soviet backed government that ran the country at the time, and while there is no hard evidence of any United Fruit involvement, from his view, there was no question.

"Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won't rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated." -- Letter to his aunt, describing what he had seen while traveling through Guatemala.  

Cuban Revolution 

Che, after the Battle of Santa Clara
 Che spent the two years of the Cuban Revolution among the impoverished and illiterate farmers, motivating him to set up factories and schools. This phase is the phase that is watered down and made heroic, but while he was a cunning leader and strategist at the time, he was anything but noble. It was during the revolution that he also gained a reputation for brutality, shooting any and all suspected of being loyal to the Bastita regime. This brutality was not one sided; the Bastita regime conducted terror bombings of citizens to demoralize the revolutionaries, but helped to drive public sentiment toward them, and further hardered Che's view that capitalism had to be destroyed through violence. After the overthrow, Che oversaw the shooting of Bastita loyalists at La Cabana Prison, further hardening his belief that socialism could only succeed if capitalism was violently suppressed.

Hatred is the central element of our struggle! Hatred that is intransigent...hatred so violent that it propels a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him violent and cold- blooded killing machine...We reject any peaceful approach. Violence is inevitable. To establish Socialism rivers of blood must flow! The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we'll destroy him! These hyenas are fit only for extermination. We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm! The victory of Socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims!” -- 1966 speech to the Tricontinental


The New Man: Chaste, Straight, and Non-Negro


May 17, 1959: Upon his return to Cuba, Castro signs the Agrarian Reform Act. The government expropriates farm lands over 1,000 acres and bans land ownership by foreigners.
Che became Industrial Minister of Cuba, and oversaw the implementation of the Land Reform laws. Theses laws allowed the government to confiscate private farms, separate them into 1,000 acre segments and run them collectively. The process got off to a slow start, as not all of the peasantry was willing to turn over their private property to the collective and work without pay. Che himself believed that the law alone could not ensure a transition to socialism: everyone would have to be so fundamentally changed so that the acquisition of wealth, property, and deviant sexuality were no longer instinctual desires. Prostitution and pornography were eradicated on the island, but Che and many of the rest the top Cuban revolutionaries saw gay men as examples of "improper masculinity" and Afro-Cubrans as a lesser race (similarly to the Nazi view of the Jews). 

Raul Castro was the originator of the idea, but it was Che who oversaw the implementation of the Gulag-inspired UMAP system, first by building a militia to run the labor camps, then drafting every Cuban citizen to work in what was advertised farming as a way of building military readiness. The reality was that these camps were also used to segregate and reeducate the religious through torture and segregate Afro-Cubans from the Latino Cubans, but gay men were experimented upon in attempts to "cure" their homosexuality. 
They thought they could apply that [Pavlovian experiments] to the gays. Then they would give you an insulin shock and an electric shock while they showed you photos of nude men and afterwards they gave you, while they gave you food, gave cigars, they showed films of heterosexual sex. They thought like that they could … convert you into a heterosexual … Sometimes they left you without food and water for three days and then they showed you photos of nude men and later they gave you food when they showed you the photos of the women. If you are not diabetic, and they give you an insulin shot, it shocks you, you urinate and defecate and vomit … Electric shock … you lost your memory and two or three days after you don’t know who you were and you are catatonic and you cannot speak. -- Héctor Santiago, survivor of experimentation.
Similarly to Marxism itself, these experiments failed and many of the soldiers running the camps were deviant themselves, often engaging in sex parties with the inmates.
“They put all the homosexuals together, and what they do, they fuck with the guards … At night, the gays escape and they fuck with the soldier, they fuck with the peasant, they fuck with everybody” -- Héctor Santiago


Revolution and Racism

Che's views on blacks are commonly quoted from the Motorcycle Diaries, the diaries he kept on his motorcycle trips through South America. He was young at the time, and many on the left and right buy into the narrative that he changed.
"The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese. And the two ancient races have now begun a hard life together, fraught with bickering and squabbles. Discrimination and poverty unite them in the daily fight for survival but their different ways of approaching life separate them completely: 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." 
Supporters of Che use his support of the failed revolution in the Congo as "proof" that Che was not a racist. After all, he led an all-black army in battle against Congo's capitalist oppressors. However, his secret diary, The African Dream, reveals that his views did not change.
"Given the prevailing lack of discipline, it would have been impossible to use Congolese machine-gunners to defend the base from air attack: they did not know how to handle their weapons and did not want to learn."
"We're going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing."

Capitalist Icon

 Che was used to promote Mercedes luxury cars, a symbol of capitalism and affluence (source Fox News)
Che's grestest failure is not his hypocrisy but his presence on T-shirts, baggage, and notoriously, his use in a Mercedes Benz promotion. He struggled to turn Karl Marx's vision of world revolution against capitalism and imperialism into a reality, and in the end, those very capitalists have exploited his popularity with the young and hip.

Cowardice

 Che, the day after he was shot by the Bolivian government

For all his bluster, Che would ultimately not go down in a blaze of glory. His last sentence was; ""Don't shoot, I'm Che Guevara and I'm worth more to you alive than dead."

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