Monday, June 16, 2008

A Meeting with Che Guevara, by Gajendra Singh

Introduction by Israel Shamir

Singh’s piece is interesting and provocative, and in the best sense of the word, sentimental. Here in Baja, Che is a cultural hero, his portrait/s in the windows of countless curio shops.

If you don’t know who Israel Shamir is, you should take a look.

Nevertheless, one night in 1968 when I was in Saigon, I came across Che’s “Letter to the Bolivian People” in a copy of Ramparts Magazine. My reaction to this uniquely sentimental and subsequently famous letter by Che did not go down well with me. There was an important question of fairness that Che did not seem to be aware of. He was an utterly charming man, but revolution, command, and desire choked up his awareness of the others.

5 comments:

Rev.Verdette said...

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Verdette

Michael Smith said...

1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive. Wall Street turned against the war because of Tet. Obviously, Vietnamese revolutionaries had no opportunity to kill the generals and politicos in Washington or the corporation executives on Wall Street that were responsible for the Vietnam War. So they killed the troops acting in their name and expelled the U.S. from their country instead. The appalling destruction this cost them, U.S. troops, and their country is not for anyone else to judge, least of all Americans.

I can't really disagree that Guevara intended to kill all the sons of Bolivia "who got in his way." But who got in his way? Basically those who were paid to kill him and his men. Except for a handful of pacifists, everybody believes in killing those who are trying to kill them.

Was Che's Bolivian campaign tactically unwise? Possibly, since it failed. Was it morally wrong? I can't see how, given the conditions in Bolivia at the time (and now, too, for that matter).

Putting an end to capitalism is not some diseased idea appearing in Guevara's isolated imagination, it is a goal to which millions have committed their lives, and it doesn't take much reflection to understand why. The microscopic minority of humanity that makes all the investment decisions on behalf of the entire planet has now brought the human race to the brink of extinction, a fact that would hardly surprise Guevara, who was well aware of the situation decades ago. In fact, the U.S. government almost launched a nuclear war in its attempt to do away with the Cuban revolution's perverse commitment to feeding people instead of corporations.

I haven't read Che's letter to Bolivians. But Toni Morrison wrote an entire novel about a slave woman she read about in the newspaper who murdered her own baby to keep it from being snatched away from her by her slavemaster. Che acted from a similar motivation. He preferred to kill some of his own (though never gratuitously), and even die, rather than live enslaved. Again, outside of a few pacifists, that's taken to be an admirable sentiment.

It is absurd to expect people to "ask" for revolution. We might as well object to the Warsaw ghetto revolt on the grounds that it killed innocent German conscripts instead of Hitler himself. With what justification was grief brought to German mothers in that doomed revolt? And in Che's Bolivian campaign, it was hardly a foregone conclusion that he would lose, as the Warsaw rebels knew they would. In short, according to the logic of your complaint, the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto revolt had even LESS justification than did Guevara to employ lethal force. Why didn't they make an appeal to German mothers for permission to kill their sons before launching their revolt?

The Bolivian revolution of 1952 was destroyed by the U.S. in 1964. Che moved in to revive that revolution. His "imagination" was not the source of his revolutionary confrontation with appalling conditions of exploitation and oppression. Let's recall that he killed Cuban soldiers, too, that's how hundreds of thousands of blind people all over the Third World got cured of their blindness free of charge by the Cuban people, that's how the liberation of Angola from apartheid (Cuban troops played a key role) was achieved, that's how the Cuban poor got the right to eat, study, and see a doctor for the first time. How many lives were SAVED by all this? We don't know, but far more than the lives that were taken to make the Cuban revolution triumph. If this is revolutionary egotism run amok, we need a lot more of it.

Bradley R. Smith said...

I understand what you’re saying here. I don’t agree with you, though it can be, and has been, argued back and forth for – well, forever. I think the simplest way to respond is to reference Alfred M. Lilienthal’s The Zionist Connection II, What Price Peace? I was going through it only this week and there, in Part Two, “The Cover-Up, or Terror: The Double Standard,” he quotes G.B. Shaw.

“And so, to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honor and peace, until the gods are tired of blood and create a race that can understand.
--- George Bernard Shaw.
Caesar and Cleopatra

I think Americans are very far from where Bernard Shaw and Alfred Lilienthal are on this issue, from where I am, but that most of us are very close to where you are. Always, of course, for a “greater good.”

Michael Smith said...

The Lilienthal quote is inconsistent with your call for killing people at the top of the social pyramid rather than the bottom. Have you become a pacifist since you wrote the article, "Che Guevara in Saigon"?

If you are not a pacifist, how could Guevara have killed those at the top, i.e., for example, the most powerful members of the IMF and World Bank?

Self-defense is not murder. Those who claim self-defense but engage in unjustified killing should be condemned. But a blanket condemnation of all violence is dogmatic. There are no simple answers.

Bradley R. Smith said...

My hyperbolic reaction to Guevara’s Letter to the Bolivian people in my story Che Guevara in Saigon was rooted in the context of the killing that I witnessed on that particular day. However, I buy the libertarian idea that you do not initiate force against the other is in play here, so I do not argue against “all” violence.

We can argue revolutionary theory and who should kill whom, I lived through the 60s and 70s in a largely “red-diaper” cultural environment in Hollywood and West Los Angeles and I remember how Fidel Castro was all the rage. It was the rhetoric. The New Man and all that shit. Recently a friend reminded me that when Fidel was executing his opposition in the Havana sports stadium as a revolutionary spectacle, it was Che himself who was “managing” the murders. This is all old stuff. George Bush is responsible for millions of displaced, wounded, crippled and dead Iraqi civilians. He is innocent of all wrongdoing because has done it, is doing it, for a greater good. We are only human.

The endless refrain. Kill for a greater good and you are innocent of all wrong-doing. Who decides what is the greater good? The killer. Always the killer. Those who pulled off 9/11, no matter who they were, did it for a greater good from their POV. It never stops. It’s always for a greater good. I do not think so. I have not thought so for a long time. It is very complicated, agreed. Che was a charming, courageous adventurer who took Marxist theory seriously, some form of it, and killed in the name of a greater good – the greater good being in his own imagination, exactly where that of George Bush is.