| Ernesto Che Guevara | MR Online Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

Pioneers for Communism: Strive to be like Che

Originally published: Midwestern Marx on June 14, 2024 by Carlos L. Garrido and Edward Liger Smith (more by Midwestern Marx)  | (Posted Jun 17, 2024)
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once called Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara the “most complete human being of our age.” Today, 96 years after his birth, it is still difficult to find a better example of the socialist human being than the one who proclaimed courageously with his unforgettable last words, “Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!” Che was for Fidel Castro “the most extraordinary of [the] revolutionary comrades;” a man with an infectious character who organically lifted those around him to emulate his revolutionary virtues of “altruism,” “selflessness,” and the “immediate [and] instantaneous willingness” he had towards “carrying out the most difficult missions” for the socialist struggle. Although carried by a Herculean courage and a spartan attitude in the face of difficulties, in the speech Fidel gives in memory of Che he says that it is

In the field of ideas, in the field of feelings, in the field of revolutionary virtues, in the field of intelligence, apart from its military virtues, where we feel the tremendous loss his death has meant for the Revolutionary movement.

The bourgeois Ideologues who serve as the theoretical and rhetorical mouthpieces of the capitalist ruling class will pile garbage on the reputation of any historical figure who successfully advances the struggle for socialism, Che Guevara is no exception. As he had already eloquently noted in a 1961 speech in Santa Clara, “it is the nature of imperialism which bestializes men, turning them into wild blood thirsty beasts willing to behead, to kill, to destroy the last image of a revolutionary, of a partisan, of a regime that has either fallen under its boot, or still fights for freedom.” However, Che lived his life in a way that made him exceedingly difficult for the bourgeois imperialist media to criticize. How can you, after all, criticize someone who fell defending “the cause of the poor and the humble of this Earth,” and that, as Fidel noted, did so in such “an exemplary and selfless way” that “not even his most bitter enemies dare to dispute?”Che believed that a necessary component in the construction of a socialist society is the creation of a ‘new socialist man,’ free of the selfish and individualistic traits that are common among individuals existing within capitalist relations of production. For Che, every revolutionary should strive to exemplify the new socialist man in their actions, through being honest, hardworking, incredibly studious, and willing to labor for the good of the collective society. This marks a radical transition away from the capitalist notion of growth centered on an individual’s accumulation of capital and commodities, and towards a socialist notion of growth centered on human flourishing – towards a notion of the human being as the unique expression of the ensemble of relations they are embedded in as individuals dialectically interconnected to the social. As Che told the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in a 1962 speech, “the young communist must strive to be the first in everything…to be the living example and mirror through which our companions who do not belong to the young communist see themselves.” This meant that young communists must

be essentially human. To be so human you become closer and closer to perfecting the best attributes of being human. To purify the best attributes of man through work, studies, and the exercise of continual solidarity with our people and all people around the world. To develop to the maximum his sensibilities, to the point of feeling anguished when a man is assassinated in another corner of the world, and enthusiastic when in some corner of the world, a new flag of freedom is raised.

Che himself became increasingly disciplined as he got older and serves as a shining example of the socialist virtue-ethic he hoped would shape the next generations of Cuban communists. Since his death, generations of young Cubans have exerted themselves in the process of constructing the new socialist human being through the maxim: “pioneers for communism; we will be like Che.”

For Che, the transition to socialism could not just be reduced to changes in political economy, a fundamental transformation of the human being through the development of socialist culture was necessary. As Michael Löwy notes, Che held “the conviction that socialism is meaningless and consequently cannot triumph unless it holds out the offer of a civilization, a social ethic, a model of society that is totally antagonistic to the values of petty individualism, unfettered egoism, [bourgeois] competition, [and] the war of all against all that is characteristic of capitalist civilization [and] this world in which ‘man eats man.’” Not only was it necessary to raise the intellectual and cultural life of the mass of working people by developing “a consciousness in which there is a new scale of values,” but this transformation should not be limited to the ideological-political superstructure; it must also embed itself in the economic foundation of society through what he prescribed as the need for “a complete spiritual rebirth in one’s attitude toward one’s own work.” As Vijay Prashad notes,

it was this new moral framework that motivated Guevara’s agenda to build socialism… if a new society had to be created, it had to be created through a new moral fiber.

Like any successful historical revolutionary, Che stressed the importance of reading and intensive study. Guevara himself was known to read incessantly throughout the entire course of his life. As a young boy playing soccer in Argentina, he would read Marxist theory while waiting to play on the bench, especially when horrific asthma attacks would pull him from the games. As the Cuban guerrillas waged their revolutionary struggle in the Sierra Maestra, Che would teach classes on Marxist economics and philosophy to the revolutionaries who would be tasked with managing Cuban society after the gangster dictator Batista was toppled. When he was in Africa at the forefront of anti-colonial struggles, he was reading none other than G.W. F. Hegel. In this manner, in the germs of the Cuban revolutionary process Che had already planted the seeds for the creation of the new socialist man, and the elevation of the people’s intellectual and moral life. The embryo of the proclamation Che made in Socialism and Man in Cuba, to have ”society as a whole…converted into a gigantic school,” was already being realized even under the extraordinarily difficult circumstances guerilla warfare entailed.

Che understood that the education of the Cuban masses had very practical implications for the long-term success of the Cuban revolution. When he was young, he had thought the US empire was controlled by evil wizards and dark princes who wanted to rule the world and cared not who they slaughtered in order to do so. It was after reading books like Vladimir Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that Che came to understand that it was capital who perpetrated the violent imperialism he saw all around him in Latin America, rather than a diabolical cabal of evil wizards. It was the will of capital which dictated the murderous actions of the American Government in Guatemala, from which Che barely escaped with his life. If the people of Latin America could be made to understand this, it would be far more difficult for the US imperialists to convince them that it’s in their benefit to reinstate capitalist relations of production – which the US often tries to do via propaganda and other techniques to foment color revolutions.

After six decades of internationally denounced sanctions and hybrid warfare on Cuba, the blood soaked hands of the American empire have been unable to overthrow the construction of socialism in the country. Even in the periods where the U.S.’s warfare on Cuba has produced the most formidable of challenges in attaining the necessary materials to ensure the subsistence of the Cuban people, the mass of Cubans have brazenly continued the revolutionary process, with the slogan of their Bronze Titan Antonio Maceo engraved on their chest – “Whoever tries to take over Cuba will only collect the dust of their blood-soaked soil, if they do not perish in the fight.”

The Cuban people, in the face of a battle against Goliath, have understood the proclamation the revolution’s Apostle José Martí had made in Nuestra America – that “Barricades of ideas are worth more than barricades of stone,” that the revolutionary ideals Cuban socialism strives for are infinitely preferrable than the hardships Goliath’s war might provide. It is in part these revolutionary ideals and ethics embedded in Cuban culture and consciousness which have allowed a socialist nation with limited resources to survive right under the nose of the U.S. empire; while other projects with far more resources and material potential went down the road of capitalist restoration, plunging millions of people into poverty and conditions unseen since before the October revolution. It is in great part thanks to the emphasis Che laid in the construction of a new man, of a new culture and set of ideals and practices, that the Cuban revolution continues to be a beacon of hope for revolutionaries around the world, and a thorn in the nose of imperialists who would want nothing more than to pillage Cuban resources, superexploit Cuban workers, and use Havana as the sin-city vacation spot they once did.

By studying the emphasis Che laid on developing the new socialist human being and the new socialist culture, we give ourselves the ability to understand the success of Cuban socialism more concretely. Additionally, for those of us in countries currently fighting for the seizure of power by the working masses, studying Che’s life and work reminds us of the necessary role the intellectual and moral leadership of the revolutionary vanguard plays in disarticulating working people away from bourgeois hegemony, and towards the new set of socialist ideals, passions, desires, and ethical life necessary for the attainment of a society free of alienation, oppression, exploitation, and war.

Carlos L. Garrido is a Cuban American philosophy instructor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He is the director of the Midwestern Marx Institute and the author of The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism (2023), Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview (2022), and the forthcoming Hegel, Marxism, and Dialectics (2024). He has written for dozens of scholarly and popular publications around the world and runs various live-broadcast shows for the Midwestern Marx Institute YouTube.

Edward Liger Smith is an American Political Scientist and specialist in anti-imperialist and socialist projects, especially Venezuela and China. Eddie works as a director for the Midwestern Marx Institute. He also has research interests in the role southern slavery played in the development of American and European capitalism. He is a wrestling coach at Loras College.

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