Book Review: Taking Che out of the cult!

This account about Che is deepening his family life and illuminating how he was inspired by family members as well as the personal example of how Che used the same t-shirt for at least one week. These humane events take the reader’s focus away Che from the cult and into his true human spirit.

by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(March 17, 2017, Hong Kong SAR, Sri Lanka Guardian) We must thank Che’s younger brother to take his previously published non-fiction on his brother in French for bringing us the English translation which is about to go into print worldwide in a few days. It is indeed fortunate to have the opportunity to read his firsthand account of his brother in advance. Ernesto “Che” Guevara ( 1928 – 1967, does not need introduction but the remaining true question is how far Che’s ideas have been deconstructed to create constructive arguments and governing policies, despite romanticizing his appearance while diluting his commitments in achieving personal liberty.

Che, My Brother authored by Juan Martin Guevara, is over 280 pages and was first published in French titled Mon Frere, Le Che in 2016. The book reveals the attempts to grab Che’s mission which ended up in La Higuera, an isolated hamlet in South Bolivia, in a different dimension while claiming that most of the critics of Che failed to take his contribution from out of the box. Juan’s main argument is that Che’s immense contribution to the freedom of mankind has been rolled into a cult, where many are missing the links to understand Che’s true political legacy. In fact, Che is portrayed as a part of mythology. In many social movements around the world, Che turned into a nothing more than a consumer.

“They all tend towards the same goal; to turn Che into a myth. It is this myth that I intend to fight, by giving back to my brother his human face”, (Page 8) Juan Guevara argued.

“After 9 October (in 1967), fifteen soldiers remained stationed in La Higuera for a year. They told the farmers that they were there to protect them from Che’s accomplices who would inevitably come to kill them in vengeance for his death. For it was these same peasants, wasn’t it, who betrayed Che. In this way, a cult was born, amid whispers and fears”, (Page 8)

Che was an ordinary man with an extraordinary compassion to work towards establishing ordinary society based on equal footing for all. But, like in many in the socialist movements, Che also advocated use of violence against not only the political opponents but also those who questioned the policies within the party. This was after the victorious revolution during the administration when he and Rahul were standing for executing their colleagues of yesterday, while late-Castro was denying.

Nonetheless, he is a borderless man and the representative of resistance against social suppression, resulting in agony to the independent mind. That does not mean, whatever he had done was absolutely correct and we can adopt the exact version of his theoretical viewpoints to solve the present day social crisis. ‘Cuban system does not suit even today’s Cuba’ – declared late Castro years ago.

However, there are much deeper lessons to be learned out of Che’s tthirty-odd years of life which ended in Bolivia.

While quoting Che’s speech in 1962, Juan noted, “if Che wanted to see an example of the ‘new man’ he wanted to create to build a society based on equality, his conduct must be beyond reproach. And so, by extension, must ours. Who was this new man, according to Ernesto? So human that he draws close to humanity at its best, who wants to purify himself through work, through study, through the exercise of permanent solidarity with the people and all the people of the world; who develop his sensitivity so as to feel anguished whenever a man is murdered anywhere in the world, and who exults whenever a new flag of freedom is raised somewhere else” (page 26).

In this fascinating account, the author has brought out most of the unknown but interesting insights of the family issues such as haste marriage between their parents, origins of the Guevara’s family tree, manoeuvred to deprive their mother of her family share by her siblings, political beliefs and other significant influences. In fact, the author seems determined to clear some of the erroneous exaggerations by many Che biographers.

While recalling the family situation Juan noted, “since our childhood, we had been accustomed to moving, adapting to changing circumstances. We never stayed put or enjoyed financial stability” (Page 43)

However, Juan clearly narrated that the Guevara family is the accomplishment of individual freedom and liberty. Every kid is allowed to think their own way and find solution by themselves. It seems, Che had read this carefully and later he tried to adopt these childhood experiences into theory than the practice in his revolutionary life. “From a very young age, we had to solve our own problems” (page 48). “Critical thinking was encouraged. They (parents) taught us never to blindly accept a dogma, a particular belief. Everything had to be vigorously debated” (Page 55).

Ernesto and his sister Ana Maria playing with doves in Alta Gracia in 1938 (Image courtesy: Che, My Brother )

This account about Che is deepening his family life and illuminating how he was inspired by family members as well as the personal example of how Che used the same t-shirt for at least one week. These humane events take the reader’s focus away Che from the cult and into his true human spirit. In this sense, Juan’s attempt is indeed useful contribution with many benefits for grooming decedents in the globe, though he has carefully baulked from talking about negative aspects of Che’s revolutionary life.

While quoting Che’s one of most important lines on what has happened to “socialism”, Juan repeated, “Everything starts with the misconception that seeks to build socialism out of the elements of capitalism without really changing their meaning. Thus we arrive at a hybrid system that leads to a deadlock difficult to perceive immediately but requiring further concessions to economic elements, i.e. a step backwards” (page 136). Later it was those words that led him to head off from the Cuba’s administration and start revolution elsewhere, though according to Hugo Gambini’s biography on Che, “El Che Guevara” it was  Fidel who requested Che to stay. The last letter to Fidel by Che has been reproduced in the book.

Author’s experience during  the eight years in prison under the Argentine military dictatorship which caused over twenty thousand disappearances, cracking down the democratic elements, penniless life after prison, reunification with the family in Cuba, collapsing of the Argentine military dictatorship, fundamental disagreement with the USSR etc., are allowing readers to understand the post-Che era.

By all means, this fresh account of Che by his brother has arrived significant time as it is in this year that the world is commemorating 100 years of the Russian revolution and 50 years of the brutal and cowardly assassination of Che. This is one of best contributions to enlighten not only those extreme enemies of Che but also those who are wearing Che’s mask while distorting his true legacy by developing the cult.

Did Che’s true mission in Cuba evaporate since the day he left Cuba? Did Cuba use him for mere “political propaganda” where his memories were portrayed into presenting him as nothing more than a consumer? There are no fixed answers. This book is playing a significant role in taking Che out of the cult and making clearer the true picture – instead of the one made up through distorted facts on his life. In other words, this is an answer to many to whom Che is a hero, “but his thought is not studied”.

Nothing can be further from the truth! Che “was a figure of sensitivity, tenderness, of deep humanity” (page 260).

Che, Our Brother!

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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