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   Vol. 69/No. 14           April 11, 2005  
Che: revolution liberates individual capacities
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from Che Guevara Talks to Young People, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for April. It is a collection of speeches by one of the outstanding leaders of the Cuban Revolution to several gatherings of youth and students between 1960 and 1964. The selection below is from the speech titled “To be a revolutionary doctor you must first make a revolution,” presented Aug. 19, 1960, to a gathering of medical students and health workers in Cuba. Copyright © 2000 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

This modest ceremony is only one among hundreds being held as the Cuban people celebrate day by day their freedom and the advance of all their revolutionary laws, their advance along the road to total independence. But I find it interesting nonetheless.

Almost everyone knows that a number of years ago I started out my career to be a doctor. And when I started, when I began to study medicine, the majority of the concepts I hold today as a revolutionary were absent from the storehouse of my ideals.

I wanted to succeed, as everybody wants to succeed. I dreamed of being a famous researcher. I dreamed of working tirelessly to achieve something that could really be put at the disposal of humanity, but that would be a personal triumph at the same time. I was, as we all are, a child of my environment.

Through special circumstances and perhaps also because of my character, after receiving my degree I began to travel through Latin America and got to know it intimately. Except for Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I have visited—to one degree or another—all the countries of Latin America. Given how I traveled, first as a student and afterward as a doctor, I began to come into close contact with poverty, with hunger, with disease, with the inability to cure a child due to lack of resources, with the numbness that hunger and unrelenting punishment cause until a point is reached where a parent losing a child becomes an accident of no importance, as is often the case among those classes in our Latin American homeland who have been dealt the heaviest blows. And I began to see there was something that seemed to me almost as important as being a famous researcher or making a substantial contribution to medical science: it was helping those people.

But I continued to be, as all of us always are, a child of my environment, and I wanted to help people through my personal efforts. I had already traveled a lot—I was then in Guatemala, the Guatemala of Arbenz—and I had begun to make some notes to guide the conduct of a revolutionary doctor. I began to look into what was needed for me to be a revolutionary doctor.

However, the aggression came, the aggression unleashed by the United Fruit Company, the State Department, [John] Foster Dulles—they're really all the same thing—and by the puppet they put in who was named Castillo Armas—was named! The aggression was successful, since the people were not yet at the level of maturity the Cuban people have reached today. So one fine day, I, like many others, took the road of exile, or at least I took the road of fleeing Guatemala, since that was not my homeland.

Then I realized a fundamental thing: to be a revolutionary doctor, or to be a revolutionary, there must first be a revolution. The isolated effort, the individual effort, the purity of ideals, the desire to sacrifice an entire lifetime to the noblest of ideals—all that is for naught if the effort is made alone, solitary, in some corner of Latin America, fighting against hostile governments and social conditions that permit no progress. A revolution needs what we have in Cuba: an entire people who are mobilized, who have learned the use of arms and the practice of unity in combat, who know what a weapon is worth and what the people's unity is worth.

Then we get to the heart of the problem that today lies ahead of us. We already have the right and even the obligation to be, before anything else, a revolutionary doctor, that is, a person who puts the technical knowledge of his profession at the service of the revolution and of the people. Then we come back to the earlier questions: How does one do a job of social welfare effectively? How does one reconcile individual effort with the needs of society?

The principle of creating a robust body should be the basis of the battle against disease—not creating a robust body through a doctor’s artistic work on a weak organism, but creating a robust body through the work of the whole collectivity, especially the whole social collectivity.

Someday medicine will have to become a science that serves to prevent disease, to orient the entire public toward their medical obligations, and that only in cases of emergency intervenes to perform some surgical operation, or to deal with something outside the characteristics of that new society we are creating.

The work entrusted today to the Ministry of Health, to all the institutions of this type, is to organize public health in such a way as to aid the greatest possible number of people, to prevent everything foreseeable related to disease, and to orient the people. But to carry out the organizational task, as for all revolutionary tasks, what is required, fundamentally, is the individual. The revolution is not, as some claim, a standardizer of collective will, of collective initiative. To the contrary, it is a liberator of the individual capacity of human beings.

What the revolution does do, however, is to orient that capacity. And our task today is to orient the creative talent of all the medical professionals toward the tasks of social medicine. We are at the end of an era, and not only here in Cuba. Despite everything said to the contrary, and despite all the hopes of some people, the forms of capitalism we have known, under which we have been raised and have suffered, are being defeated throughout the world. [Applause]

The monopolies are being defeated. Every day science, the collective work of many, registers new and important triumphs. It is our proud and self-sacrificing duty to be the vanguard in Latin America of a liberation movement that began some time ago in the other subjugated continents of Africa and Asia. That very profound social change also demands profound changes in the mentality of the people.  
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