Ernest Che Guevara
Ernesto Guevara de Serna was born in Argentina in 1928 into a fairly privileged family.He developed serious asthma at the age of two, which would plague him throughout his life.He was home-schooled by his mother, Celia de la Serna.It was these early years when he became an eager reader of Marx, Engels, and Freud which all were all part of his father’s library.He went to secondary school in 1941, the Colegio Nacional Dean Funes, Cordoba, where he excelled in literature and sports.
At home he was impressed by the Spanish Civil War refugees and by the long series of political crises in Argentina.These culminated in the Left Fascist dictatorship of Juan Peron, to whom the Guevara de la Sernas were opposed.These events and influences implanted ideas of contempt for the charade of parliamentary democracy, a hatred of military politicians and the army, the capitalist oligarchy, and, above all, U.S. imperialism.Although his parents, most notably his mother, were anti-Peronist activists, he did not take participate in revolutionary student movements and showed little interest in politics at Buenos Aires University (1947) where he studied medicine.He focused on understanding his own disease, and later became more interested in leprosy.
In 1949 he made the first of his long journeys, exploring northern Argentina on a bicycle.This was the first time Ernesto came into contact with the very poor and the remnants of the Indian tribes.It was during this leave of absence from schooling that Guevara, now nicknamed “Che” (Italian origin meaning chum or buddy), first experienced the depth of poverty and suffering of his fellows.In 1951, after taking his exams, he made a much longer journey.He visited southern Argentina, Chile, where he met Salvador Allende, and Peru, where he worked for several weeks in the San Pablo leprosarium.He then was in Colombia at the time of La Violencia, and Venezuela and Miami where he was arrested but soon released.
He returned home for his finals sure of only one thing: he did not want to become a middle-class general practitioner.He passed, specializing in dermatology, and went to La Paz, Bolivia, during the National Revolution in which he condemned as an opportunist.From there he went to Guatemala, arriving during the socialist Arbenz presidency.It was in Guatemala that he began to earn his living by writing archaeological articles about the Inca and Maya ruins.By then he was already a Marxist, well read in Lenin, and he refused to join the Communist Party.This meant that he would pass up the chance of a government medical appointment.This left him penniless.He moved in with Hilda Gadea, a Marxist of Indian stock who expanded his political education, looked after him, and introduced him to Nico Lopez, one of Fidel Castro’s lieutenants.
While in Guatemala, he saw the CIA at work as the principal agents of counterrevolution.He confirmed, in his view, that Revolution could be made only by armed insurrection.When Arbenz fell, Guevara went to Mexico City (September 1954) where he worked in the General Hospital.Hilda Gadea and Nico Lopez joined him.It was there that he met and was charmed by Raul and Fidel Castro, then political emigres, and realized that in Fidel he had found the leader he was seeking.
He joined other Castro followers at the farm wh…..ere Alberto Bayo, the Spanish Republican Army Captain, was training Cuban revolutionaries in guerrilla warfare.The Spanish captain drew not only on his own experience, but also on the guerrilla teachings of Mao Tse-tung.Che became his star pupil and was made a leader of the class.The war games at the farm attracted police attention, and all the Cubans and Che were arrested.However, they were released a month later (June 1956).
When the guerillas invaded Cuba, Che went with them, first as doctor, and soon later as a Commandant of the revolutionary army.He was the most aggressive, clever, and successful of the guerrilla officers, and the most earnest in giving his men a Leninist education.He was also a ruthless disciplinarian who unhesitatingly shot defectors, as later he got a reputation for cold-blooded cruelty in the mass execution of recalcitrant supporters of the defeated president Batista.At the triumph of the Revolution, Guevara became second to Fidel Castro in the new government of Cuba, and the man was chiefly responsible for pushing Castro towards communism.It was a communism that was independent of the orthodox, Moscow-style communism of some of their colleagues.
In 1959, he married Aledia March and together they visited Egypt, India, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Yugoslavia.Back in Cuba, as Minister for Industry (February 1960) he signed a trade pact with the USSR which freed the Cuban sugar industry from dependence on the teeth of the U.S. market.At this time, he glorified his own kind of communist philosophy.He was moving away from “Moscow,” towards Mao, and beyond into what is essentially the old idealistic, Anarchism.His formal breach with Soviet Communists came when, addressing the Organization for Afro-Asian Solidarity at Algiers (February 1965) he charged the USSR with being a tacit accomplice of imperialism by not trading exclusively with the Communist bloc and by not giving underdeveloped socialist countries aid without any thought of return.
Che’s unwillingness to compromise towards both capitalist and communist establishment forced Castro to drop him in 1965, not officially, but in practice.For some months his whereabouts were a secret and his death was widely rumored.He was in various African countries, notably the Congo surveying the possibilities of turning the Kinshasa rebellion into a Communist revolution, by Cuban-style guerrilla tactics.He returned to Cuba to train volunteers for that project, and took a force of 120 Cubans to the Congo.His men fought well, but the Kinshasa rebels did not.They were useless against the Belgian mercenaries, and by autumn 1965 Che had to advise Castro to withdraw Cuban aid.Che’s final revolutionary adventure was in Bolivia where he grossly misjudged the revolutionary potential of that country with disastrous consequences.The attempt ended in his being captured by a Bolivian army unit and shot a day later.
Because of his wild, romantic appearance, his dashing style, and his unwillingness to bend to any kind of establishment, Che became a legend and an idol for the revolutionaryand even the merely discontentedyouth of the later 1960s and early 70’s.He was a focus for the kind of desperate revolutionary action which seemed, to millions of young people, the only hope of destroying the world of middle class industrial capitalism and communism.