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Vol. 81/No. 34      September 18, 2017

(feature article)

Che Guevara: A ‘man of ideas and action combined’

Che believed in man. And if we don’t believe in man, if we think that man is an incorrigible little animal, capable of advancing only if you feed him grass or tempt him with a carrot or whip him with a stick — anybody who believes this, anybody convinced of this will never be a revolutionary, never be a socialist, never be a communist.

— Fidel Castro
Havana, October 1987

Below is an excerpt from Socialist Workers Party leader Mary-Alice Waters’ preface to Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to Socialism by Carlos Tablada. Copyright
© 1989 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The questions that Ernesto Che Guevara, acting as part of the central leadership of the Cuban revolution, sought to help the vanguard of the working class answer more than three decades ago remain the most pressing of our epoch. Guevara charted a course to rid the world of the capitalist system, with all its horrors, and open the way for working men and women to begin a transition toward a more just and human socialist society, transforming themselves in the process. That course determined his every deed as a conscious political person.

Like the young founders of the modern communist movement, Che deeply believed, and acted on his conviction, that “revolution is necessary …not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fit to found society anew.” …

After Fidel Castro — the historic leader of the Cuban revolutionary forces from 1953 to today — Ernesto Che Guevara was the best-known leader of the revolution during its early years, when “we were used to making the impossible possible,” as Castro said in paying tribute to Guevara in October 1987.

Guevara was Argentine by birth. Having graduated from medical school in Buenos Aires in 1953, he met Fidel Castro in Mexico in July 1955 and immediately agreed to join the July 26 Movement and to sign on to the expeditionary force Castro was organizing to launch a revolutionary war against the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba. Guevara — soon nicknamed “Che” (a popular form of address in Argentina) by his Cuban comrades — was initially recruited as troop doctor, but he rapidly proved himself to be an outstanding combat leader and educator. In 1957 he became the first combatant promoted by Fidel to command a separate column of the Rebel Army. Guevara led the December 1958 campaign that culminated in the capture of the city of Santa Clara in central Cuba, effectively sealing the fate of the Batista dictatorship.

But Guevara’s most important contributions to the Cuban revolution were not military. In paying tribute to Che in October 1967, a few days after his death, Castro called attention to this fact, saying:

Che was an extraordinarily able military leader. But when we remember Che, when we think of Che, we do not think fundamentally of his military virtues. No! Warfare is a means and not an end. Warfare is a tool of revolutionaries. The important thing is the revolution. The important thing is the revolutionary cause, revolutionary ideas, revolutionary objectives, revolutionary sentiments, revolutionary virtues!

And it is in that field, in the field of ideas, in the field of sentiments, in the field of revolutionary virtues, in the field of intelligence, that — apart from his military virtues — we feel the tremendous loss that his death means to the revolutionary movement. …

Che was not only an unsurpassed man of action — he was a man of visionary intelligence and broad culture, a profound thinker. That is, in his person the man of ideas and the man of action were combined.

During the opening years of the revolution, Guevara took on some of the most challenging, and heaviest, responsibilities. He helped draft the 1959 agrarian reform law, the measure that, in Castro’s words, more than any other single act, “defined the Cuban Revolution.” Che headed the department of industrialization established by INRA, the National Institute of Agrarian Reform. He was president of the National Bank during the tumultuous year 1960, before the end of which virtually all foreign and domestic-owned banks and major industries were nationalized, and the economic foundations were laid for socialized production and planning. He became minister of industry in 1961, assuming responsibility for reorganizing on new working-class foundations some 70 percent of industry in Cuba, while maintaining production as former owners and most management personnel, both foreign and Cuban, left the country. He represented the revolutionary government of Cuba on trips to dozens of countries, and spoke with a memorable and clarion communist voice at important international forums and conferences, from the United Nations General Assembly to the Organization of American States. He worked with revolutionists from around the world who were drawn to the example of the Cuban revolution and sought guidance in learning and applying the lessons of that struggle in their own countries. He helped bring about the revolutionary regroupment within Cuba that led in 1965 to the formation of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Amid all this intense practical work helping lay the foundations of a new society, Guevara also organized time to write a prodigious number of articles and letters. He made hundreds of speeches, many of which were published in Cuba and translated and distributed by supporters of the revolution around the world. He gave countless interviews.

In April 1965 Che left Cuba to lead a mission of internationalist Cuban fighters aiding the anti-imperialist struggle in the Congo. His longer-term aim was to return to Latin America to help advance revolutionary struggles that were building from Tierra del Fuego to the Río Bravo. Resigning his leadership posts and responsibilities in the Cuban government, party, and armed forces in order to take on these new revolutionary duties, Guevara left behind a rich written legacy of his political and theoretical contributions to the economics and politics of the transition to socialism.
Related articles:
‘In footsteps of Che’ Cuba brigade kicks off Oct. 1
‘We can say our revolution is so great and humane’
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