Defending Che Guevara: The Heroism of the Ordinary Man

Written by Ben Norman in reply to an article in Pugwash magazine.

To understand Che Guevara you must separate the man from the myths which engulf him and then understand the ideas he stood for and the people he stood with.

There are three mythologies of Che. There is the revolutionary icon, the martyred Christ-like figure who is lionised by elements of the left. Secondly there is the bloodthirsty tyrant, an image fabricated from Cold War propaganda. Finally there is ‘brand che,’ a nihilistic Disney-fication of a photo, cynically aimed at the middle class ‘revolutionary chic’ who wear his face on a T-shirt while being ignorant of the man.

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Ernesto Che Guevara was none of these things. He was an ordinary man, a medical student from Argentina, who had asthma, smoked and shared the flaws of any other ordinary man. But, he lived in extraordinary times. He recognised the injustices in Latin America and he fought to change them. He played a key role freeing Cuba from a ruthless regime and was murdered trying to emulate that success across Latin America. Yet individuals do not write history and he didn’t’ act alone, he fought alongside thousands of ordinary workers and peasants who were inspired by and shared his ideas of democratic socialism.

In the opposing piece the writer makes sweeping falsehoods about Socialism and ‘Communism’, showing a banal and lazy analysis of the facts. Stalin’s Russia was a despotic regime, but it was just that ‘Stalinist’, it was not Marxist or Leninist and was certainly not genuinely Communist or Socialist.

Che’s ideas of democratic Socialism had as much in common with Stalinism as Catholicism does with the Spanish Inquisition. Both are a hideous distortion.

The writer also mentions executions, which I’ll not shy away from addressing. Socialists are staunch opponents of capital punishment, yet during the revolution executions took place. These were not of ‘ordinary citizens,’ but of murders, rapists, gangsters and pimps. I do not agree with capital punishment, but this makes Che no more of a mass murderer then Barack Obama, who presides over a nation with capital punishment today.

Che Guevara fought for socialism, which attracted thousands of ordinary workers and peasants into the jungle to fight alongside him against a brutal enemy and for an alternative. It was, and remains, democratic socialism that the people of Cuba want. We socialists support the Cuban people’s desire to reclaim their society from the distorted regime of Castro. Yet, we also acknowledge the successes of Cuba which must be defended, such as the high levels of education, healthcare and economic planning. We realise that the people do not wish for a return to the gangster capitalism of their past.

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Che Guevara was an ordinary man who not only represented, but fought alongside thousands of other ordinary people living in extraordinary times who were forced to fight for a better, socialist, world. Their struggle inspired millions across the world and it is in memory of those ordinary people and their vision that we remember Che Guevara as a hero. As we endure the latest crisis of capitalism as another generation of ordinary people are being forced onto the dole ques is it any wonder that people are turning to the image of Che and the ideas of democratic Socialism once again?

The Socialist Student Society wishes to extend an invitation to the writer of the opposing article to a public debate to discuss her ideas and misconceptions of both Che Guevara and the ideology he stood for.

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