Have you seen the movie The Motorcycle Diaries? At its core, it explores one man’s travels across South America on his pathway to self-discovery. In truth, this was the springboard for one of the most controversial South American figures the world has ever known, Che Guevara. “Che” moved within a circle of revolutionaries, one of whom included Fidel Castro. That should provide a rough estimation of Guevara’s controversial place in history.
“Che” was born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in Argentina on June 14, 1928. Witnessing poverty and oppression on his travels and becoming interested in Marxism ignited political activism in Guevara, who eventually spread his ideology to the neighboring countries of Bolivia and Guatemala, as well as Cuba. However, his 1967 attempt to incite a revolution in Bolivia led to Bolivian forces capturing and killing him.
Prior to his ill-fated venture to Bolivia, Guevara met fellow revolutionary Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955 and stood behind Castro’s efforts to overthrow the Batista government in Cuba, serving as his second lieutenant. Guevara and Castro recruited an army of volunteers who were more than willing to train for guerrilla warfare. Sure enough, in 1959, their dreams came to fruition.
When Castro gained control of Cuba in January 1959, Guevara took charge of La Cabaña fortress. Throughout the next several months, Guevara oversaw revolutionary tribunals and ordered the execution of hundreds of prisoners.
From 1959-1961, Guevara served as president of the Cuban National Bank and minister of industry, redirecting the country’s trade relations from the United States to the Soviet Union. In 1965, Guevara decided to return to his roots and spread his revolutionary idealism to other parts of the world.
Guevara took stock in socialism, particularly Marxism. In the simplest terms, Che thought society should be regulated by the community as a whole, not a single-party government, led by one person.
As soon as Guevara linked up with Fidel Castro, the Cuban government’s collapse was imminent. At the time, both men believed that the only solution to South and Central America's problems was armed revolution. The Cuban government had to be overthrown in order to create an idyllic, socialist society.
Perhaps the most intriguing component of Guevara’s socialist philosophy was his revolutionary humanism. Guevara believed a true revolutionary was someone who felt the problems of mankind as deeply as his own. If a man was killed somewhere else in the world, that death should matter to every human being.
That said, his revolutionary humanism never strayed far from his Marxist ideals. In September 1960, when Guevara was asked about Cuba’s ideology, he said, “If I were asked whether our revolution is communist, I would define it as Marxist. Our revolution has discovered by its methods the paths that Marx pointed out.”
Essentially, Marxism is a socialist philosophy that is the antithesis of capitalism. While capitalism focuses on private ownership and a free, competitive market motivated by profit, Marxism takes a more communal approach. It focuses on public ownership as the means to production, distribution, and exchange.
You can see how substituting private ownership for public ownership lines up with Guevara’s revolutionary humanism. Again, to simplify things, it takes on the approach of “we’re all in this together” as opposed to sole survival.
Remember how Guevara diverted Cuba’s trading system from America to the Soviet Union? This is interesting because the Soviet Union also partook in a Marxist society during Guevara’s reign. However, their interpretations of Marxism were starkly different. Che’s Marxism focused on morality and ethics as well as economics, while the Soviet Union saw morality fall by the wayside under communist rule.
The Soviet regime forced residents into a single-party state that ruled over the entire economy. This differs quite a bit from the “we’re all this together” mentality. However, Cuba also went on to implement a Soviet-style method of leadership. Many would even label Castro a cruel and vicious dictator. What do you think Guevara would’ve had to say about that, if he’d survived?
In the end, Guevara’s ideology didn’t change much through the years. In fact, he left his post in Cuba to spread his revolutionary humanism to Africa and across South America. In a way, it’s unfortunate that he met his fate in Bolivia. Who knows what he would’ve gone on to do. Could he have prevented Castro from leading Cuba into, what some would call, a dictatorship? Or would he have participated in Cuba’s estrangement from a Marxist ideology? We’ll never know.
You don’t have to go far these days to find a graphic tee proudly displaying the image of Che Guevara. Some wearers understand the deep-rooted revolutionary history of Guevara. Others will simply wear it as a diluted symbol of freedom and self-expression. Either way, no one can say Guevara was a man who sat on the sidelines.
He developed an ideology at a very young age and went to great lengths to spread his philosophy in ways few others have. Whether you agree or disagree with his practices, at the very least, you have to give the man credit for his tremendous zeal, one that lives on today.