Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Opinion
Che lives!
By Bong Lacson

Oct 12, 2017

IT HAS BEEN 50 years – half a century – after his death, but Ernesto Guevara de la Serna still lives. No incorruptible saint, in fact the so called “Butcher of La Cabana” – for signing the death warrants of hundreds of “war criminals,” read: military officers of the ousted Batista regime as well as informants, and counter revolutionaries – Guevara has gained cult status around the world.

Notwithstanding too, the late – and still continuing – discoveries of his failures and alleged atrocities.

It was on the occasion of his 44th death anniversary, six years ago, that I essayed to touch the Che mystique, thus:

COMANDANTE STAR on a black beret capping a frowning, pensive handsome face; left eyebrow slightly raised; black, long hair waving in the breeze.

Beyond the image of Che Guevara pop cultured in millions of T-shirts, posters and decals around the globe, what do the young and not-so-young know about the man already long dead – executed on October 9, 1967 – even before they were born?

Essentially, nothing.

So what fascinates them to wear that icon, in virtual veneration of the man they don’t even know?

Irreligious blind faith?

The aura of enchantment around that image of Che known in the whole of Latin America as El guerrillero heroico is – to Paco Ignacio Tabio Jr., author of the definitive Guevara: tambien conocido como el Che (Guevara: also known as Che) – wrought by “the manifestation of a transparency and supernatural honesty.”

There, arguably, lies the Guevara mystique.

The photograph was taken by Albert Korda for the Cuban newspaper Revolucion at the public funeral of the 81 fatalities in the explosion of La Coubre, a French ship laden with Belgian arms at the Havana harbour on March 4, 1960. Unpublished, the photo remained in the newspaper morgue.In 1968, the Italian publisher Giacomo Feltinelli, researching on the life of Che, found the photo in Korda’s house, took it back to Italy and made a poster from it. The rest, as clichéd, is history. The irony not lost in the capitalist success rising out of a communist “artifact.”

The Che brief may well read: Argentine by birth, doctor of medicine by education; adventurer and motorcycle enthusiast, poet, photographer, writer; by revolution defined and deified.

The essence of Che may well be in his word: “The only passion that guides me is for the truth…I look at everything from this point of view.”

By his truth he lived. By his truth he was executed. Life and death make a universality that finds relevance to and resonance in the world to this day.

An unshakeable belief in the people that makes the core value of the true revolutionary: “There is no effort made towards the people that is not repaid with the people’s trust.”

Vanity

A damnation of the vacuous vanity of selfordained champions of the masses: “The people’s heroes cannot be separated from the people, cannot be elevated onto a pedestal, into something alien to the lives of that people.”

The masses eke an existence out of hovels, even as they look up to their heroes luxuriating in their high-walled mansions. So un-Che, so unheroic, so undemocratic, so prevalent. And so very Filipino.

Che holds the purity of the democratic ideal before its corruption by the politics of patronage: “How easy it is to govern when one follows a system of consulting the will of the people and one holds as the only norm all the actions which contribute to the well-being of the people.”

Compare with the Filipino norm of governance: Off with the people, buy the people, fool the people. Thus, the first call of the revolution: “People – forward with the Revolution! Workers – to the struggle! Peasants – organize!”

Romanticism – damned by Mao as a bourgeois diversion to be expunged from the Chinese Revolution, and for that matter, from all revolutions – finds a refining, humanist aspect in Che’s own: “If it were said of us that we’re almost romantics, that we are incorrigible idealists, that we think the impossible: then, a thousand and one times, we have to answer that yes, we are.”

The Latino attributes of intense passion, sentimentalism, and romanticism do not diminish any, but in fact even enhance, nay, inflame revolutionary zeal. Che makes the perfect argument: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

(In college, barely versed in Che’s life and works, I wrote an essay on Che titled The Romantic Revolutionary. Modesty be damned, I got a fl at 1 on that. More importantly, bragging rights for having already grasped Che’s essence even then. Though my enchantment with Che started in high school, in – of all places – the seminary.)

Humanism

Che takes the humanist facet of the revolution further: “Revolutions, accelerated radical social changes, are made of circumstances; not always, almost never, or perhaps never can science predict their mature form in all its detail. They are made of passions, of man’s fight for social vindication, and never perfect.”

Yet another taboo in the revolutionary movement – adventurism – was taken to the positive plane by Che: “Many will call me an adventurer, and I am, but of a different type: of those who put their lives on the line to demonstrate their truths.”

So, Che demonstrated his truth with his death, something the romantic adventurer in him put thus: “Wherever death may surprise us, it is most welcome. Our funeral dirge will be the staccato sound of machineguns and the cries of battle and victory.”

Some object lessons there for the RAM. The Magdalo, the YOU and what-have-you in the Philippine military wanting a coup.

Che’s thesis on revolutionary praxis makes one of the most succinct on the subject: “And it must be said quite sincerely that in a true revolution, to which everything is given, from which no material returns are expected, the task of revolutionary vanguard is both magnificent and anxious…In these conditions, a great dose of humanity is needed, a sense of justice and truth, if we are not to fall in the trap of extreme dogmatism, of cold scholasticism, of isolation from the masses. Everyday we have to fight so that love for humanity can be transformed into concrete deeds, into acts that set an example, that mobilize.”

There lie lessons in revolutions Che had fought, had seen and in those he did not see: the Stalinist dogmatism that pervaded the Soviet Union and its satellites, the excesses of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Mao’s cult of personality, the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields.

Failure

Before his fatal failure in Bolivia, Che bombed out in the Congo in the 1965 attempt to start the conflagration of the African continent that to him represented “one of, if not the most, important battlefields against every form of exploitation that exists in the world.”

“We cannot liberate by ourselves a country that does not wish to fight,” Che conceded defeat six months after. A pointed lesson that it is as hard to start as to stop revolution from without. Lessons for Che himself in Bolivia, for the USA in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.Lessons still unheeded today in Iraq, in Chechnya, and again, in Afghanistan. Hasta la victoria siempre – ever onward to victory – usually captions the Che icon. It was the exhortation that closed Che’s letter to Fidel Castro before he left for the Congo. It has become the rallying cry for revolutionaries around the world.

But Che had a more stirring call for revolutionary solidarity: “If you can tremble with indignation every time an injustice is committed in the world, we are comrades.”

Hasta siempre, Comandante Che Guevara!





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