Magazine article Monthly Review

Latin America: Thirty Years after Che

Magazine article Monthly Review

Latin America: Thirty Years after Che

Article excerpt

In the decade preceding Che Guevara's death and in the three decades following, revolutionary politics has ebbed and surged in four great waves. Revolutionary politics reflects regional variations in different historical moments, following diverse strategies and drawn from distinct social bases. The figure and ideas of Che Guevara have been influential and prescient in shaping the revolutionary debates and understanding their potentialities. Too many observers and commentators have taken a shortsighted view in their critical evaluation of Che's ideas and projections. For example, Che's decision to embark on a guerrilla project in the Congo (Zaire) has been described as a "failure," a "mistake," etc. Yet on the 30th anniversary of Che's death, after many turns and twists in the struggle, the U.S./French puppet regime of Mobutu was finally overthrown, precisely by a guerrilla army, led by one of the revolutionaries with whom Che collaborated. The premature judgments of pundits and armchair revolutionaries have been refuted by living historical experiences. Thus among the issues to be considered when analyzing Che Guevara's theory and practice of revolution are the time frame, the location and the political-economic context (at national, regional, and international levels).

Critics have harped on Che's error in engaging in guerrilla warfare in the southern Bolivian countryside in the mid-1960s. The decision to engage in guerrilla warfare at that time was premised on Che's belief that the U.S. war in Vietnam was a favorable moment to launch "two, three, many Vietnams." He correctly observed that the United States was unable to win in Vietnam, was massively over committed, and that the U.S. public was becoming disenchanted with overseas commitments. He further understood that the heroic Vietnamese victories were inspiring oppressed people everywhere, showing that "subjective" forces (organization, consciousness) could overcome objective factors like superior arms and technology. Che further knew that Bolivia had a revolutionary tradition, a very advanced working class and an unpopular dictator. Thus his international understanding of the propitious movement and his analysis of national political realities were accurate. What was mistaken was the tactical location and particular style of implementing revolutionary politics (in an underpopulated region divorced from the revolutionary classes, dependent on unreliable groupings).

Subsequent to Che's assassination, events vindicated Che's global analysis as well as his comprehension of the maturing subjective conditions. Vietnam did temporarily undermine Washington's capacity for massive military intervention thus facilitating the overthrow of U.S. clients in Iran, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Grenada. In the immediate aftermath of Che's death, a new revolutionary subjectivity did emerge in Latin America that was largely centered in the Southern Core and that took diverse political expressions. What needs to be emphasized is that the relationship between Che and revolutionary politics in the last 40 years (1957-97) was complex and profound. To understand this relation it is important to situate Che's thought and practice in the successive revolutionary cycles, and to identify his key political concepts and analytical ideas and how they relate to the ongoing revolutionary processes in Latin America, sorting out the ideas that have held up over time from those that were tied to particular experiences. The concluding section will argue for the continuing relevance of Che Guevara's ideas as well as the significance of his person as a "role model" for revolutionary practitioners today.

Revolutionary Cycles in Latin America

Che Guevara's revolutionary practice and thought evolved in close relationship to the larger revolutionary processes in Latin America. He was part of the 1950s generation which was witness to the defeats and failures of the reformist electoralist political movements of their day. …

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