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  • pg 1

By Tony Saunois

Chapter 1          A Bohemian Beginning                             Page 6
Chapter 2          In Bolivia                                       Page 13
Chapter 3          What Do I join?                                  Page 19
Chapter 4          Guerillaism and Marxism                          Page 26
Chapter 5          Granma and The July 26th Movement                Page 31
Chapter 6          In Power - Cuba versus 'the gringos'             Page 44
Chapter 7          A New Cuba                                       Page 49
Chapter 8          Congo to Bolivia                                 Page 60
Chapter 9          Epilogue                                         Page 69

DURING 1996 and 1997 numerous                  More importantly the renewed interest
books, pamphlets and articles have             in Che Guevara reflects the appeal he
been published by assorted writers             always had for those looking for a way
about     Ernesto     Guevara       to         to change society and end the
commemorate the thirtieth anniversary          exploitation of capitalism and
of his execution. Throughout the               imperialism. Che, and Cuba, are seen
world he is known simply as 'Che'. He          by many as a symbol of resistance.
was given this nickname by friends             Reflected in the public display of
and comrades in struggle when he was           support for Che Guevara by a new
in Mexico during the 1950s. Che is a           generation, is the beginning of a
commonly used term in Argentina -              search for revolutionary socialist ideas
his native country. In 1997 young              which offer a viable alternative society
people in Latin America and Europe             to capitalism.
have begun to wear Che Guevara T-
shirts and display posters of his              So why has the CWI produced another
portrait.                                      pamphlet on Che and Cuba when so
                                               much has already been written on
Some cynical and superficial pro-              them internationally?
capitalist journalists have attempted to
dismiss this re-awakened interest in           Apart from the cynical articles and on
Che. They have falsely attempted to            occasion flippant articles in some
portray it as nothing more than a              magazines and papers some serious
desire to be identified with the so-           books and biographies have already
called permissive life-style associated        been produced. Che Guevara - A
with the 1960s.                                Revolutionary Life, by the US
                                               journalist and writer, Jon Lee
Che Guevara undoubtedly has a                  Anderson, is a well researched and an
romantic and cultural appeal to many           enjoyable biography. So is Ernesto
young people who associate with his            Guevara tambien conocido como El
image as a "rebel".                            Che (Ernesto Guevara also know as El
Che) by the Mexican writer, Paco               advocated by the central figures
Ignacio Taibo (available only in               involved. This pamphlet is a
Spanish).                                      contribution to a discussion on the
                                               experiences, ideas and methods of
Despite the extensive research and             struggle which developed during the
investigation such authors have                revolution in which Che played a
undertaken, their work inevitably              principal role.
lacks one thing. They do not draw a
political balance sheet of the lessons         Consequently this pamphlet does not
of Che's contribution to the                   aspire to be a full personal biography
revolutionary movement which can               of Che's life. Many aspects of his life,
assist the struggle against capitalism         including his two marriages, are not
and imperialism today. Such authors,           covered although such personal
although      making      a    valuable        questions are important features in the
contribution in recording history,             formation of any character and had a
cannot achieve this task. The reason is        bearing on his political evolution.
simple enough. They are not active             Neither has it been possible to give a
participants in the struggle to                full account of all the historical events
overthrow capitalism and begin the             which took place and in which Che
task of building socialism.                    participated. Readers will need to
                                               study other biographies and works on
The CWI has produced this pamphlet             Cuba, Che and the Cuban Revolution
on Che and the 1959 Cuban                      in order get such information.
Revolution in order to assist in the
task of building an international              On the thirtieth anniversary of his
revolutionary socialist organisation           death it is right to recall the heroic and
which will be able to defeat capitalism        self-sacrificing struggle which Che
and imperialism. History never repeats         conducted in opposition to capitalism
itself in exactly the same way.                and imperialism.
However, there are important lessons
from     previous     struggles    and         He was a bitter opponent of capitalist
revolutions which must be drawn by             exploitation and fought against it. He
those fighting for socialism today if          was drawn towards socialism largely
we are to be successful.                       as the result of his own experiences
                                               and was motivated by a desire to see
It is for this reason that this pamphlet       its victory internationally. Initially he
has been published at this time. The           looked to the USSR and Eastern
Cuban revolution, in particular the            Europe as alternative socialist
contribution to it made by Che                 societies. This he did from "a
Guevara, has many lessons for the              distance". Later his first hand
struggle against exploitation which is         experience of those bureaucratic
taking place today, especially in Latin        regimes which ruled in the name of
America, Africa, Asia and the Middle           socialism repelled him.
                                               Committed to the life of a
In order to make such a balance sheet          revolutionary by his mid-twenties, the
it is necessary not only to follow the         struggle    for    the    international
historical events which took place but         revolution would cost him his life at
to discuss the ideas and methods               the age of 39. He led by example and

was an incorruptible internationalist.          Confronted by the difficulties of the
Because of these qualities he                   situation in Cuba and the horrors he
continues to be a source of inspiration         witnessed as a result of his visits
as a symbol of struggle against                 behind the 'iron curtain' to the USSR
oppression and exploitation.                    and Eastern Europe, he seemed to be
                                                searching for an alternative and began
At the same time his ideas were not             to explore other ideas. He started to
fully rounded-out from the point of             read some writings of Leon Trotsky a
view of a full understanding of                 few years prior to his death. We can
Marxism. It was his ideas on                    only speculatively pose the question:
guerrillaism which had a decisive               if he had continued his studies of
bearing on the Cuban revolution and             Trotsky's ideas would he have
events which followed, especially in            embraced them?
Latin America. His defence of these
ideas as a method of struggle to be             In 1964 he was in Moscow to attend
adopted throughout Latin America put            the celebrations for the 47th
them at the centre of a debate in the           anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
revolutionary socialist movement                During this visit he not only protested
throughout that continent and beyond.           about the lifestyle of the Russian
These ideas of Che are discussed in             officials but argued that economically
this pamphlet as they have many                 "...the soviets are in an economic
important lessons for today's struggle          dead-end, dominated by bureaucracy".
against capitalism and imperialism.
                                                The bureaucratic caste in China at this
Che also developed other ideas                  time was adopting a more "radical
relating to the economy and also what           face" internationally in an effort to win
he called "socialism and the new man"           support after the rupture which had
which centred on how people's attitude          taken place between it and the USSR
towards society could be developed              bureaucracy. This had occurred as a
after the overthrow of capitalism.              result of a clash of narrow national
These works reflect some of the issues          interests between the two regimes.
he had to deal with after the revolution
had taken place in 1959. Because of             Che was attracted towards the Chinese
limitations of space it has not been            bureaucracy as a result of the "radical
possible to discuss them in this                face" it adopted during this period and
pamphlet.                                       also because of the victory of the
                                                peasant army which had taken place in
A study of Che's life shows that his            1949. It appeared to confirm his own
ideas developed over a lengthy period           analysis. However, he also began to
of time, often as the result of his own         explore the ideas of Leon Trotsky. In
experience. He died at the relatively           Moscow he was attacked as being
young age of 39. It is clear that he was        "pro-Chinese" and a "Trotskyist".
still developing his ideas at the time of       Aware of these denunciations Che
his death. In this respect a certain            referred to them in a meeting in the
parallel exists between Che and                 Cuban Embassy with Cuban students.
Malcolm X and George Jackson in the             The incident is recounted in Paco
USA.                                            Ignacio Taibo's biography.

Che commented: "...I have expressed               overthrow of Batista but also
opinions which could be closer to the             explained the character of the new
Chinese side...and also those mixed up            regime which developed and the need
with Trotskyism have come up. They                to look to the working class in order to
say that the Chinese are fractionalists,          develop the revolution throughout
also the Trotskyists and me as well."             Latin America.
He continued: "Opinion which must
be destroyed with batons is opinion               Later, Peter Taaffe, in an article in
which brings us an advantage. It is not           Issue 390 of the British Militant
possible to destroy opinions with                 newspaper explained the processes
batons and it is precisely this that is           which had unfolded in Cuba. "Castro
the root of intelligence...it is clear that       and Guevara relied on the peasants
you can get a series of things from               and the rural population. The working
Trotsky's thought."                               class only entered the struggle through
                                                  the general strike in Havana when the
There is no indication of what                    guerrillas had already triumphed and
conclusions Che was drawing from                  Batista was fleeing for his life."
any reading of Trotsky's writings and             Explaining how this rural base shaped
he did not advocate ideas which would             the whole character of the movement,
have flowed from him embracing                    he continued to outline how the
Trotskyism. However, he did continue              revolution unfolded, ending in the
to study them further. Just before his            abolition of capitalism and private
death in 1967 he was given some                   ownership of land by the big land
books of Trotsky by the French                    owners but "because of the forces
intellectual, Regis Debray, who was in            involved - a predominantly peasant
Bolivia, working with Guevara's                   army" the new regime lacked
forces at the time.                               conscious democratic control and
                                                  management of the economy by the
During this period the dominant                   working class.
current     which      subscribed   to
Trotskyism failed to engage in an open            Despite encountering some of
political dialogue and discussion with            Trotsky's ideas in his search for an
a view to helping Che develop fully               alternative, Che unfortunately did not
rounded-out ideas on the socialist                embrace the alternative ideas or
revolution. They merely supported and             methods of Trotskyism. Nevertheless
encouraged the ideas on guerrillaism              his actions were sufficient to provoke
which he advocated and gave support               a reaction in the Kremlin and
to Fidel Castro's regime.                         elsewhere. In Cuba and amongst the
                                                  Latin American masses Che was a
This was combated at the time by                  hero whose revolutionary example
some within the Trotskyist movement,              should be emulated. Amongst the
including the then tiny forces in                 ruling circles of the bureaucracy in
Britain organised in Militant (now the            Moscow he was attacked as "an
Socialist Party) who later established            adventurer" "pro-Chinese" and worst
the Committee for a Workers'                      of all a "Trotskyist". The ruling class
International (CWI). In 1960 at the               of the capitalist countries hated
time of the stormy events in Cuba the             everything he defended and fought for.
members of Militant enthusiastically
welcomed the revolution and the

Che was executed by those intent on            fighting      capitalist    exploitation
defending the rich and powerful. His           internationally should learn important
image lives on as a symbol of struggle         lessons from his ideas and experiences
against oppression. As protests against        in order to win the victory he desired -
'neo-liberal' policies and the market          socialism. This pamphlet is intended
have erupted in Latin America it is            as a contribution to assist in that
still common to find graffiti scribbled        struggle.
on walls by young people - "Che -
Vive" - Che Lives.                             Tony Saunois
To commemorate the anniversary of
his execution it is justified that those

Chapter 1                    A Bohemian Beginning

IT IS perhaps fitting for an                  Argentinean also with ancestors from
Argentinean to own a yerba mate               the Spanish nobility.
plantation as Ernesto Guevara Lynch
did in the remote jungle of Misiones          The first of four children, Ernesto, was
on the border with Paraguay and               to become known as the world
Brazil. Chileans are renowned                 renowned revolutionary, Che Guevara.
drinkers of tea and Brazilians of             As a revolutionary who spent most of
coffee. The Argentineans consume              his life in clandestine activity, it was
with gusto a bitter tea herb throughout       apt that he should have falsified birth
the day whilst at work or relaxing with       and death certificates.
                                              Ernesto was in fact born one month
Ernesto Guevara Lynch was the great-          earlier than June 14 1928 which was
grandson of one of South America's            stated on his birth certificate, the
richest men whose ancestors were of           deception being necessary because his
both Spanish and Irish nobility. Most         mother was three moths pregnant on
of the family fortune had been lost by        the day she married. Che was executed
previous generations and Guevara              on October 8 1967 in Bolivia at the
Lynch invested what he had in the             hands of the United States Central
yerba mate plantation where he hoped          Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the
to make his fortune. In 1927 he met           Bolivian army.
and married Celia de la Serna, an
Thirty years after his execution the          America and the Caribbean. It was not
name of Che Guevara lives on                  possible for Che to successfully repeat
throughout Latin America and beyond.          the experience of the revolution in the
He has left a powerful tradition as an        countries of Latin America where
internationalist and self-sacrificing         there were different conditions - in
revolutionary who acts as an inspiring        particular a more powerful urban
symbol       of    struggle    against        population     and     smaller    rural
exploitation.                                 population than in Central America.

On the thirtieth anniversary of his           The attempt of Che to apply the same
execution it is legitimate for                methods he used in Cuba poses
revolutionaries to salute Che's               important question about his ideas and
qualities as a symbol of struggle             methods which need to be discussed
against oppression and recognise the          and analysed by revolutionary
heroic role he played in the Cuban            socialists.
revolution in 1959. The guerrilla
struggle which was mainly based upon          Che did not readily enter into political
the most downtrodden peasants in              activity. Reflecting his middle class
Cuba ended with the overthrow of the          upbringing and compassion for the
hated Batista dictatorship.                   poor and sick he was initially drawn
                                              towards medicine and eventually
This was possible because of the              graduated as a doctor from the Buenos
concrete situation which existed in           Aires Faculty of Medicine in 1953.
Cuba and other countries of Central
His family had moved from Misiones               wing groups. According to one report
to Cordoba partly for business reasons           he joined the Peronist Youth (a
and also in a bid to aid Che's chronic           populist and nationalist Argentinean
asthma through a change of climate.              movement led by General Perón) as a
They finally moved to Buenos Aires in            means of obtaining greater access to
1947 where his parents eventually                the university library.
split up.
                                                 He was regarded as radical and
Asthma was to dog Che throughout his             outspoken by those he encountered but
life. Its crippling effect made all the          did not have any coherent or worked
more      remarkable     the   guerrilla         out ideas and certainly did not regard
struggles which he eventually was to             himself as a Marxist. His main
engage in. Like many such disabilities           objective was still to qualify as a
it had an effect in shaping his early            doctor with a view to helping the sick
development. Often unable to walk                and the poor. However, within him a
and confined to bed he developed a               passion for travel was beginning to
keen interest in reading and learning to         develop. Initially this was within
play chess. Whilst determined to                 Argentina itself and then later he
overcome his disability and insisting            undertook two journeys which brought
on playing sports he became                      him throughout Latin America and
something of a loner spending much               eventually beyond.
of his time reading and studying. This
was re-enforced by the split between             The experiences which he encountered
his parents, the death of his                    during this Odyssey changed his
grandmother and the financial                    perception of the tasks necessary to
problems which the family were now               end poverty and exploitation. It was
encountering.                                    during the adventures and events
                                                 which he witnessed on these journeys
At university Che was drawn to more              that Che eventually embraced socialist
political reading although he did not            ideas.
actively participate in political life. He
began delving into socialist ideas.              Che's first real journey took place
According to his own recollections he            during 1950 in which he travelled
read some Marx, Engels and Lenin                 widely throughout Argentina. For the
along with some material by Stalin.              first time he witnessed the massive
He also studied the novelists Zola and           social divide which existed in the
Jack London and Argentine socialists             country. In Buenos Aires he had
such as Alfredo Palacios. His love of            evidently seen poverty before but for
poetry was satisfied, amongst others,            the first time he witnessed the dual
by the works of the Chilean writer and           character of much of South America.
Communist Party member, Pablo                    Buenos Aires was one of the most
Neruda, and the Spanish Civil War                European of South American cities in
poet Lorca.                                      its culture and lifestyle. During this
                                                 journey he travelled into the backward
However, for all his new-found                   and socially deprived centres of
curiosity about socialist ideas he never         Argentina which existed at the time.
engaged in political activity beyond
discussing with some members of the              Much of what he saw in the hospitals
Young Communists and other left-                 he visited and amongst the most

downtrodden of the rural poor with               young adventurers. The local daily in
which he made contact was viewed                 Temuco carried the headline 'Two
through the eyes of an aspiring doctor.          Argentine Experts in Leprology Travel
Che concluded from these experiences             South America on a Motor Cycle.'
that the modern Argentinean nation
was a "luxurious façade" under which             Frequently they had to flee local towns
the real "soul" lay., a soul which was           and villages having aroused the wrath
rotten and sick.                                 of the local peasants, especially fathers
                                                 with attractive daughters. During this
Che's first international tour took place        first trip Che led the largely bohemian
in 1952 and the second during 1953/4.            and carefree existence for which he
These had a more pronounced effect               was known as a student at university
and ultimately changed the direction             in Buenos Aires. It was a lifestyle
of his entire life, especially his second        made all the more possible by the
Odyssey throughout the continent.                relative affluence of his middle class
                                                 family. At the same time it also
Nobody can escape the consequences               reflected the independent spirit which
of powerful social upheavals and                 marked his character.
convulsions. It is true that some
individuals, especially from a middle            However, whilst it is this aspect of the
class background, may be content to              trip which is the dominant feature in
only observe such events. Others are             his diary, other experiences had an
increasingly drawn into big social               important impact on him. The poverty
events and the struggles between the             and     conditions     he     witnessed
various classes. Che Guevara was                 increasingly aroused a nascent social
content to play the role of an observer          awareness. Che's anger at the
at the beginning of his voyage. As it            indifference shown towards the poor
progressed     he     was       eventually       by the ruling class was being stirred
increasingly     drawn        into    the        during his travels.
revolutionary       struggle        which
ultimately cost him his life.                    Whilst encamped at the Chilean port
                                                 of Valparaíso, Che was asked to use
At the outset of his voyage he and his           his medical skills to try and help an
travelling companion, Alberto, were              elderly woman who it transpired was
more interested in having a good time            dying of chronic asthma and a weak
and gaining some medical experience              heart. There was little he could do but
as they toured South America on a                the experience of trying to treat her,
Harley Davidson. Che's recently                  surrounded by poverty, evidently lefts
published Motor Cycle Diaries                    its mark. Afterwards he wrote: "
provide more than adequate examples              There, in the final moments of people
of this. Drunken brawls, romantic                whose farthest horizon is always
encounters and other, "youthful"                 tomorrow, one sees the tragedy that
adventures, dominated the trip they              enfolds the lives of the proletariat
were making around the continent. As             throughout the whole world; in those
they crossed the border into Chile they          dying eyes there is a submissive
passed themselves off as leprologists.           apology and also frequently, a
The local papers of the towns and                desperate plea for consolation that is
villages they passed through even                lost in the void, just as their body will
reported the journey of these two                soon be lost in the magnitude of

misery surrounding us. How long this           detailed not only the impressions he
order of things based on an absurd             had of the workers, but also
sense of caste will continue is not            production techniques and the political
within my means to answer, but it is           importance of the mines for Chile.
time that those who govern dedicate            Referring to the mineral rich
less time to propagandising the                mountains he protested about the
compassion of their regimes and more           "exploited      proletariat"       and
money, much more money, sponsoring             environmental destruction of the
works of social utility."                      landscape.

Unable to get a boat to Easter Island as       "The hills show their grey backs
they intended Che and his companion            prematurely aged in the struggle
headed north, eventually arriving at           against the elements, with elderly
Chuquicamata, the world's largest              wrinkles that don't correspond to their
open cast copper mine. "Chuqui" as it          geological age. How many of these
is still known in Chile today, was             escorts of their famous brother
owned by US monopolies such as                 (Chuquicamata) enclosed in their
Anaconda      and    Kennecott.      US        heavy wombs similar riches to his, as
ownership of the mines at "Chuqui"             they await the arid arms of the
was a symbol of imperialist "gringo"           mechanical shovels that devour their
domination of Chile. They were                 entrails,   with     their   obligatory
eventually nationalised by the Popular         condiment of human lives?" *
Unity government, led by Salvador
Allende of the Socialist Party, between        However, despite these scenes and the
1970 and 1973.                                 impact they had on Che, he would still
                                               need further experiences and witness
It was here Che and Alberto                    greater events before he committed
encountered the harsh realities of the         himself to the life of a revolutionary.
class struggle. They met a former
miner and his wife, both members of            The next stop on his Odyssey was
the then illegal Chilean Communist             Peru which proved decisive in Che
Party. Che was told the bitter story of        embracing socialist ideas through an
repression, disappearances and black-          encounter with a prominent leader of
listing used by the company and                the Peruvian Communist Party, Doctor
government against those who tried to          Hugo Pesce. Before arriving in Lima
fight for workers' rights.                     on 1 May 1952, Che and Alberto had
                                               the opportunity to encounter the
Che and Alberto succeeded in entering          marvel of ancient Inca culture.
the mine where a strike was being
prepared. They were shown around by            As with all visitors, the stark
a foreman who, as Che noted,                   consequences of four hundred years of
commented, "..imbecile gringos, they           "white" European conquest in Latin
lose millions of pesos a day in a strike       America and brutal suppression of the
in order to deny a few centavos more           indigenous peoples of the continent,
to a poor worker."                             was undoubtedly engraved into the
                                               consciousness of Che during his visit
This visit to Chuqui made a lasting            to the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco
impression on Che and he kept a note           and the stunning temple ruins of
book on the experience in which he             Macchu Picchu.

Pablo Neruda in his celebrated work             without giving any importance to
on Latin America, Canto General                 anything else."
(General Song) included a poem,
Alturas de Macchu Picchu (The                   On 1 May the two travellers arrived in
Heights of Macchu Picchu) reflecting            Lima. Che met with Dr. Pesce, a
the image this ancient ruin high in the         leading figure in the Communist Party
Andes provokes in those aspiring to             and follower of the Peruvian
struggle against exploitation.                  philosopher       José    Maríategui.
                                                Maríategui's primary work was written
In Che's native Argentina the                   in 1928 - Seven Interpretative Essays
indigenous peoples had been virtually           on Peruvian Reality. This laid great
wiped out and their culture destroyed.          stress on the role of the indigenous
In Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and some               people and peasantry in the struggle
other Latin American countries this             for socialism.
was not the case. They had been
reduced to the most downtrodden and             The discussions with Pesce evidently
exploited layers of society, often              had a profound effect upon Che. A
predominating in the countryside. The           decade later he sent the doctor a copy
mixed race mestizos had developed               of his first book, Guerrilla Warfare,
and formed big sections of the                  with the inscription, "To Doctor Hugo
working class in the cities. The rich           Pesce who, without knowing it
and powerful ruling classes were, and           perhaps, provoked a great change in
remain, largely of pure European                my attitude towards life and society,
decent.                                         with the same adventurous spirit as
                                                always, but channelled toward goals
This history of conquest and the                more harmonious with the needs of
continued exploitation of the continent         America."
by     imperialism,    especially    US
imperialism, has resulted in an                 At this stage, despite the discussions
extremely powerful anti-imperialist             he was engaged in with Pesce, Che
consciousness amongst the exploited             was still not prepared to embrace
classes. In the latter half of this             openly     an     identification   with
century this bitterness has been largely        "Marxist" ideas. His opinions were
directed at the "yanki gringos", north          however beginning to take shape and
of the Rio Grande. Che, during his              he began to express them. In particular
visit to Peru, increasingly absorbed            he began to openly develop
this hatred of the dominant imperialist         internationalist ideas, at least within
power.                                          the context of Latin America.

Upon being forced to leave the free             At a party to celebrate his twenty
accommodation they had secured with             fourth birthday in Peru, Che made a
the arrival of a party of "gringo"              toast     declaring    "...that  (Latin)
tourists, Che noted: "Naturally the             America's division into illusory and
tourists who travelled in their                 uncertain nationalities is completely
comfortable buses would know                    fictitious. We constitute a single
nothing of the conditions of the                mestizo race, which from Mexico to
Indians...The    majority    of     the         the Straights of Magellan presents
Americans fly directly from Lima to             notable ethnographic similarities. For
Cuzco, visit the ruins and then return,         this, in an attempt to rid myself of the

weight of any meagre provincialism, I           divergence he had with a fully
raise a toast to Peru and for a United          rounded out Marxist analysis was
America."                                       about how this should be done and by
                                                which class.
This statement clearly reflected his
developing internationalist aspirations.        After continuing his tour, arriving in
However, they did not constitute a              Colombia and Venezuela, Che, having
rounded out Marxist analysis and were           separated from his travel companion
somewhat simplistic in the assessment           and friend, returned to Argentina in
of the situation. The aspiration for a          order to complete his studies and sit
unified Latin America has existed               exams at university. The impact of this
since Simón Bolívar (who led armed              first journey upon him was evident in
rebellions against Spain and helped             his Notas de Viaje, written up from his
secure independence for much of                 travel diary. He was no longer the
Latin America) and the 19th century             same person who had left Argentina.
wars      of     national    liberation.        "The person who wrote these notes
Continental unity is still a powerful           died upon stepping once again onto
sentiment amongst the Latin American            Argentine soil, he who edits and
masses, existing side by side with a            polishes them, 'I' am not I; at least I
national consciousness in each                  am not the same I that was before.
country.                                        That vagabonding through our
                                                'América' has changed me more than I
The recurring aspiration of the masses          thought."
to unify Latin America is not possible
to obtain within the context of                 Once back in Argentina his family
capitalism because the ruling capitalist        hoped that his days as a vagabond
class of each Latin American nation             would end and that he would take up
have their own economic and political           his chosen profession, medicine. Che
interests to defend. They are also              completed his studies during April
linked by economic and material                 1953 and received his doctor's degree
interests to imperialism from which             in June, a few days prior to his twenty
they cannot break free. Imperialism             fifth birthday.
itself also opposes unity of the
continent under capitalism, generally           However, the hopes held by his family
preferring to impose its will on a              were rapidly dashed as his second tour
number of states weaker than itself.            of America began. This time it was
The establishment of a democratic               planned together with his childhood
federation of Latin American states as          friend, Carlos "Calica" Ferrer, who
a step to unify the continent is only           had dropped out of medical school.
possible by breaking free of capitalism
and     imperialism    and     building         According to Calica, the two friends
socialism.                                      had talked of going through Bolivia as
                                                Che wanted to return to visit the Inca
This spirit of internationalism was a           ruins and Machu Picchu. Their longer
theme to which Che returned many                term plans included Che's hopes of
times and the idea of an internationally        visiting India and Calica's quest to see
based revolution against imperialism            Paris.
and    capitalism     was     one    he
championed in later years. The

Thus by early July when the two travel           President in 1970, the first Socialist
companions set off by train from                 Party candidate to win a popular
Buenos Aires, Che still had no idea of           Presidential election campaign in
committing himself to a life of                  South America. On victory he
disciplined      and     self-sacrificing        proclaimed himself to be a Marxist.
revolutionary struggle. The bohemian             One of the first acts of this socialist-
still dominated his character. Within a          led government was to nationalise the
relatively short space of time this was          mines      at    Chuqui.      Allende's
to change.                                       government was overthrown in a CIA
                                                 backed bloody coup in 1973.
Individuals are drawn to participate in
the revolutionary movement for many
reasons. Some are mainly motivated
by political ideas, others by a
revulsion of the existing system, and
some through participating in big
social upheavals from which they
cannot simply stand aside.

The reason the direction of Che's life
took a sharp turn cannot be explained
by one single issue. He was
undoubtedly interested in political
ideas and was outraged by the social
conditions which he witnessed. He
was also profoundly affected by the
powerful     social   explosions   he
experienced during his second
American tour. These included two
revolutionary movements, in Bolivia
and then Guatemala, after which his
life took an entirely new and
unexpected direction.

*At the time, Chile was involved in a
Presidential election campaign which
was eventually won by the populist
nationalist candidate, General Carlos
Ibanez del Campo. Once in power he
concluded an agreement with US
imperialism and introduced a savage
deflationary package which included
reneging on a pledge to nationalise the
copper mines at Chuqui. In the
election the socialist and left-wing
candidate, Salvador Allende, came
last, partly due to the legal ban on the
Communist Party and its supporters.
Allende was eventually elected

Chapter 2          In Bolivia

DURING this second tour Che penned             peasants, through a series of land
another journal which he entitled, Otra        occupations, forced a far reaching
Vez (Once Again).* Reflecting how he           programme of agrarian change. The
began this journey he wrote: "This             tin mines, Bolivia's primary source of
time, the name of the sidekick has             income at the time, were nationalised.
changed, now Alberto is called Calica,         The miners and peasants had armed
but the journey is the same: two               themselves, sections of the army came
disperse wills extending themselves            over to the side of the workers and
through America without knowing                peasants. A militia was established
precisely what they seek or which way          and for a short time the army was
is north."                                     formally disbanded. However, the
                                               revolution was not completed with the
Che, who wanted to see the renowned            establishment of a new regime of
Bolivian miners first hand, visited the        workers'    democracy       and    the
Balsa Negra mine just outside La Paz.          movement was eventually defeated.
Prior to the revolution company
guards had used a machine gun to               During these revolutionary events the
open fire on striking miners. Now the          tin miners played a leading role in
mine      was     nationalised.    Che         establishing a new independent trade
encountered truck loads of armed               union centre, the Central Obrera
miners returning from the capital to           Boliviana (COB). Reflecting the
protest their support for land reform          revolutionary upsurge which took
and the struggle of peasants. With             place the COB even formally endorsed
their "stony faces and red plastic             the Transitional Programme, written
helmets they appeared to be warriors           by Leon Trotsky in 1938.
from other worlds".
                                               In La Paz, Che spent much of his time
                                               in cafes and bars meeting political
Che and companion arrived in La Paz,           migrants who had arrived from all
the Bolivian capital, during July 1953.        over America. During the course of
They were immediately caught up in             the revolution Bolivia had become a
the revolutionary upheavals which              political Mecca as radicals and left-
were rocking one of the poorest and            wing revolutionaries were attracted to
most "Indian" of American nations. A           the stormy events erupting.
mass revolt of the predominantly
indigenous peasants and tin miners             "La Paz is the Shanghai of the
had broken out twelve months earlier.          Americas. A rich gamut of adventurers
This mass uprising had brought the             of all the nationalities vegetate and
radical Movimiento Nacionalista                flourish in the polychromatic and
Revolucionario (MNR) to power.                 mestizo city", wrote Che in his Otra
                                               Vez. Here he mixed with a variety of
The new regime, whilst trying to keep          political activists and engaged in
the mass movement in check, was                debate and discussions with them. He
forced   by     the   insurrectionary          met up with some of the Argentine
upheavals to carry through a                   community living in La Paz. Amongst
widespread programme of reform. The
those he met was an               exiled         role of the working class in the
Argentinean, called Nogues.                      socialist revolution, even in countries
                                                 such as Bolivia where they constituted
The influence of the powerful social             a minority of the population. This
events taking place in Bolivia are               weakness, combined with other
reflected in Che's comments about this           factors, would have a direct bearing on
leader of the expatriate Argentinean             the ideas he later developed.
community. "His political ideas have
been outdated in the world for some              At this stage in Che's political
time now, but he maintains them                  evolution however, it is sufficient to
independently of the proletarian                 note the impact which events in
hurricane that has been let loose on             Bolivia had on his outlook. For the
our bellicose sphere."                           first time in his life he was touched
                                                 directly by the heat of the flame of
Through these social contacts Che led            revolution. Despite the sweep of
a double existence in La Paz                     events he was still an observer rather
alternating between observing the                than an active participant.
revolutionary movements and the high
life he was introduced to through the            After extending their stay in La Paz to
Argentine community. On one                      nearly one month Che and Calica
occasion, Nogues' brother, having                moved on. They spent some time in
recently returned from Europe,                   Peru and in Lima again met with
showed Che and Calica an invitation              Doctor Pesce and also Gobo Nogues.
he had received to the wedding of                Gobo ensured that they ate on a few
Greek shipping tycoon, Aristotle                 occasions at the Country Club and in
Onassis.                                         Lima's most expensive hotel, the Gran
                                                 Hotel Bolívar.
However, it was the revolutionary
process which he witnessed in La Paz             They moved on to Ecuador where they
which left the most lasting impression           forged new friendships with a group of
on Che. He wrote to his father in July           adventurers. Che's intention had been
complaining that he wanted to stay in            to move on with Calica to Venezuela.
Bolivia longer because, "...this is a            After a series of excursions Calica and
very interesting country and it is living        Che departed company, the former
through a particularly effervescent              heading for Caracas and the latter with
moment. On the second of August the              a new companion, Gualo, to
agrarian reform goes through, and                Guatemala. They were totally broke
fracases and fights are expected                 and had to work their passage on a
throughout the country. We have seen             ship. Before reaching Guatemala they
incredible processions of armed                  passed through Costa Rica, Panama
people with Mausers and 'piripipi'               and     Nicaragua,      meeting     and
(machine guns), which they shoot off             discussing with individuals and groups
for the hell of it. Every day shots can          along the way.
be heard and there are wounded and
dead from firearms."                             By travelling north to Central America
                                                 Che had entered a somewhat different
Despite witnessing the tremendous                world to that which existed in the
strength of the Bolivian miners Che              southern cone of Latin America.
never really absorbed the potential              Imperialism dominated the southern

countries in conjunction with an                       reserved for itself the most
enfeebled national capitalist class.                   beautiful place,
There was a relatively strong urban                    the central coast of my land;
population and working class in the                    the sweet waist of America..."
cities and the societies tended to be
more developed. This was even the                Neruda's     poem     continues   and
case in the poorest countries at the             denounces the company for creating
time, such as Bolivia and Peru.                  the "Tyrannical Reign of Flies" the
                                                 dictators of Central America: Trujillo,
In a series of Central American                  Tachos, Ubico, Martínez, and Garias -
countries US imperialism arrogantly              "the bloody domain of flies."
imposed local tyrants as dictatorial
heads of state while despised and
hated companies, such as Coca Cola               On to Guatemala
and the United Fruit Company,
plundered the economies. As Che                  If events in Bolivia had made an
commented: "...the countries were not            impact on Che, developments in
true nations, but private estancias".            Guatemala, where he got actively
                                                 involved for the first time, would
This was only fifty years after US               change the direction of his life. He
imperialism had created Panama, and              arrived in Guatemala City on
ran it as a client state in order to keep        Christmas Eve and openly identified
control of the canal which it had built          with a political cause and with some
for trade purposes and strategic                 idea of what he now intended to
interests. Nicaragua had been ruled for          commit his life to.
thirty years by the corrupt dictatorship
of Somoza. El Salvador was run by a              Just prior to his arrival he had written
succession of dictatorships intent on            a letter dated December 10, in which
defending the interests of the coffee            he outlined his political views to his
plantation owners, and Honduras was              aunt Beatríz, with whom he had an
virtually run as a packaging plant for           especially close relationship. These
the United Fruit Company.                        were undoubtedly a reflection of the
                                                 effect events in Bolivia had had on
The      United     Fruit   Company              him. For the first time he clearly
symbolised the exploitation of the               identified himself ideologically with
continent by imperialism. Che's                  socialist ideas.
favourite poet, Pablo Neruda, wrote an
ironical verse, La United Fruit Co.,             "My life has been a sea of found
reflecting the sentiments of Latin               resolutions until I bravely abandoned
America towards its imperialist                  my baggage and, back pack on my
domination:                                      shoulder, set out with el compañero
      "When the trumpet sounded,                 García on the sinuous trail that has
      everything was prepared on                 brought us here. Along the way I have
      earth,                                     had the opportunity to pass through
      and Jehovah divided the world              the dominions of the United Fruit,
      between                                    convincing me once again of just how
      Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,                  terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I
      Ford Motors, and other entities:           have sworn before a picture of the old
      the United Fruit Company Inc.;             and mourned Stalin that I won't rest

until I see these capitalist octopuses         government and the various political
annihilated. In Guatemala I will               parties. In the main these were not
perfect myself and achieve what I              armed. However, the forces of
need to be an authentic revolutionary."        reaction began to arm and mobilise.
He signed the letter "from your
nephew of the iron constitution, the           Amongst those present during the
empty stomach and the shining faith in         Guatemalan drama, apart from Che
the socialist future. Chao, Chancho".          Guevara, were numerous future
                                               leaders of Latin American left-wing
By 1953 the populist left-leaning              organisations,    including Rodolfo
government in Guatemala, presided              Romero, a future leader of the
over by Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, was             Nicaraguan Sandinista FSLN (Frente
locked into a head-on confrontation            Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional)
with US imperialism and the rich elite         which     overthrew     the Somoza
of Guatemala City. Arbenz was                  dictatorship in 1979.
continuing a reformist programme
begun by the preceding government              Che met with a series of political
which came to power during the                 activists and engaged in discussion.
1940's having toppled the ruthless             He secured work as a doctor in a
Ubico dictatorship.                            hospital and was introduced to Hilda
                                               Gadea, an exiled leader of the youth
US imperialism would tolerate a lot            wing of the radical populist Peruvian
from this reformist administration. But        movement, APRA. She introduced
in 1952 the Arbenz administration              him to activists and leaders of various
took a step too far. A land reform             political groupings and gave him
decree was enacted which abolished             political works to study, including
the latifundia system and nationalised         some works of Mao Tse Tung.
the properties of the detested United
Fruit Company.                                 It was during these events that Che
                                               encountered a number of Cuban
This measure provoked the wrath of             exiles. They had been given asylum by
Guatemala's white Creole elite and             the Arbenz regime and had
won massive support from the mainly            participated in an attempted assault on
indigenous and mestizo poor rural              July 26 1953 against the Moncada
peasants and urban workers. The                military barracks in Cuba. For the first
United Fruit Company and the                   time Che began to discover about the
Eisenhower     administration    were          struggle developing against the Cuban
outraged. It would only be a matter of         Batista regime.
time before the CIA would instigate
the overthrow of the Arbenz                    The speed with which events
government.                                    developed in Guatemala also resulted
                                               in Che's ideas maturing. He began to
The     "socialist"   experiment    in         criticise the communist parties which
Guatemala had drawn thousands from             had adopted a policy of 'Popular' or
all over Latin America to see first            'People's Fronts'. This put them in
hand this challenge to US imperialism.         alliances with sections of the national
Mass mobilisations were taking place           capitalist class. The leadership of the
all the time and numerous militias             communist parties wrongly argued a
were established by both the                   tactical      alliance    with      this

"progressive" wing of the national              may follow the example of events in
capitalist class was necessary in the           neighbouring countries.
struggle against imperialism, in order
to defend and widen parliamentary               The CIA had put together a plan to
democracy. They said a stage of                 topple the Guatemalan administration.
'capitalist democracy and economic              A figure-head named Castillo Armas
development' was necessary before the           was hand-picked to replace Arbenz as
working class could struggle for and            President. A paramilitary force was
hope to obtain socialism.                       trained in Nicaragua and those
                                                friendly to the US in the Guatemalan
This policy resulted in the communist           Army were involved in a plot against
party leaders limiting the struggles of         the government.
the working class to prevent them
challenging the interests of capitalism.        Arbenz refused to take action against
The      workers'    movement        was        those in the military known to be
frequently paralysed by this policy             sympathetic to the plotters and tried to
which often resulted in bloody defeat           appease the military. A few days
at the hands of reaction. Decisive              before      his       government     was
sections of the capitalist class were           overthrown       in     1954   by     the
quite prepared to abolish democratic            conspirators he appealed to the army
rights and utilise repressive methods           itself to distribute arms to the militias
of rule in order to defend their own            which had been established. The
class interests.                                military command refused and the
                                                government        fell.   The    existing
Che, although not clearly presenting            capitalist state machine had been left
an alternative to this policy, felt that        intact and no alternative of workers'
the communist parties were moving               and peasants' committees had been
away from the masses simply to get a            established from which an appeal
share of power in a coalition                   could have been made to the rank and
government. He wrongly argued at                file soldiers.
this time that no party in Latin
America could remain revolutionary              This defeat and the failure of Arbenz
and contest elections.                          to take any action against the capitalist
                                                state apparatus was to leave a lasting
Though beginning to articulate his              impression on Che, one which he
thoughts, Che's ideas did not become            would not forget as the revolution in
fully     formulated    until   later.          Cuba unfolded.
Meanwhile, events in Guatemala
overtook the polemics he had begun to           After seeking asylum in the
be engaged in. The US was                       Argentinean Embassy and hiding for a
increasingly uneasy about the course            period, Che eventually found his way
events were taking and had concluded            to Mexico by September. As a fresh
the government must be overthrown.              activist his movements had not gone
The example of the movement in                  unnoticed. The CIA opened a file on
Guatemala was beginning to spill over           him for the first time. Over the coming
into other Central American countries.          years it was to become one of the
A general strike broke out in                   thickest ever compiled by them on any
Honduras. The Nicaraguan dictator,              one individual.
Somoza, feared his own population

It was while Che was in Mexico that
he initially met one of the leaders of
the July 26th Movement fighting the
Batista dictatorship in Cuba, Fidel
Castro. Their first meeting was during
1955, after which Che eventually
joined the Movement.

Following his experiences in Bolivia
and in particular after his participation
in events in Guatemala, Che entered
the next phase of his life no longer as
the medical doctor and social
observer. From this point on he was to
be an active participant in and
eventual leader of historic events.

* This journal, covering three years of
Che's life has never been fully
published. It was transcribed by his
widow, Aleida March after Che's
death. It was made available to the
writer Jon Lee Anderson and
extensively used by him in his
celebrated biography, Che Guevara -
A Revolutionary Life, published in

                                                Auténticos (Authentic Revolutionary
Chapter Three                                   Movement) in 1947 and was led by
                                                Eduardo      Chibas     whose     main
What Do I join?                                 programme       was     "honesty     in
                                                government". The Autenticos, re-
                                                organised during the 1930s, initially
By the time Che had arrived in                  attempted to lay claim to the 19th
Mexico his open commitment to                   Century       national      democratic
socialism had matured. Whilst in                revolutionary tradition of Cuba's
Mexico he developed his studies of              national hero, José Martí - the poet
Marx, Engels and Lenin and                      and fighter for independence who was
supplemented them with further                  killed in 1895 whilst leading a charge
reading of Jack London and other                on horse-back against the Spanish
writers. However, despite this political        army.
evolution    of     Che's      political
knowledge, his grasp of Marxist                 Martí and the independence movement
theory was still one sided and                  were comprised of many strands and
incomplete.                                     included a certain anarchist influence
                                                from the growing Spanish workers'
This weakness was particularly                  movement. Martí himself supported a
evident in his interpretation of how to         radical social programme. He was
apply a Marxist method to the colonial          influenced by certain anarchist
and semi-colonial countries of Latin            organisations which had links with the
America. This would become clear in             Spanish        workers'    movement.
a very real way as he engaged in the            However, as Hugh Thomas points out
concrete struggle to overthrow the              in his extensive tome, Cuba - The
Batista dictatorship in Cuba.                   Pursuit of Freedom, Martí "...from his
                                                writings, seems a contemporary of
Che was drawn to the July 26th                  Rousseau rather than of Marx..." Martí
Movement which was initiated by                 was in essence a fighter for national
Fidel Castro rather than the Cuban              independence and defender of "social
Communist Party. This decision has              justice". He did not however advocate
puzzled many on the left, especially in         a break with capitalism or defend
Latin America. The answer lies in the           socialist ideas.
role and policies advocated by the
communist parties throughout Latin              The Auténticos increasingly modified
America at that time and the character          their stand just as the Orthodox Party
of the July 26th Movement.                      were destined to do less than a decade
                                                later. Within the youth wing of the
The July 26th Movement was so-                  Orthodox party a radical current was
named to commemorate the date of an             to be found which increasingly
assault on the Moncada military                 became frustrated because of the lack
barracks in the Cuban city of Santiago          of serious struggle by the party against
during 1953. This attack was carried            the Batista regime.
out by a group of youth who were
mainly linked with the Cuban Peoples'           Those who carried out the attack on
Party ( Partido del Pueblo Cubano),             the Moncada barracks hoped that it
known as the Orthodox Party. This               would begin a national uprising
was a radical Cuban nationalist                 against the Batista regime. Instead it
formation which had split from the
was brutally crushed and its                     modern,      industrialised     capitalist
participants     either    killed    or          democracy which would grant
imprisoned. Amongst those involved               elementary rights to the working class
in the assault were Fidel Castro and             and the poor. This was amplified still
his brother Raúl. Most of the 170                further by Castro after his arrest in the
participants were either from a lower            speech he delivered during his trial.
middle class or working class                    Castro outlined five laws they
background. Despite this they were               intended to implement once in power.
not advocates of socialist ideas. Raúl           These were radical and promised
Castro was a member of the Young                 nationalisation of the telephone system
Communists but had participated in               and other public utilities, a programme
the attack as an individual and without          of land reform and proposals to
the knowledge of the Communist                   restructure the sugar industry. It
Party.                                           proposed a profit sharing scheme in
                                                 the sugar mills and other non-
The majority were not members of any             agricultural sectors of the economy.
political organisation. The programme
they advocated was mainly limited to             However, the programme did not even
the radical aspects of the policy of the         propose the nationalisation of the
democratic but capitalist Orthodox               sugar industry and would not have
Party. Fidel Castro was no exception.            ended foreign ownership of the
At that stage he did not regard himself          economy. In essence it was a
as a socialist and he was certainly not          programme of liberal capitalist reform
committed to Marxist ideology despite            which if implemented would attempt
having read some Marx and Lenin.                 to tackle the tasks of the bourgeois
                                                 democratic revolution.
The basic idea which the insurgents at
Moncada advocated can be gauged                  Historically, these tasks include a
from the proclamation they read after            programme of land reform to end
the capture of the radio station: "The           feudal class relations, the development
Revolution declares its firm intention           of industry, the unification of the
to establish Cuba on a plan of welfare           country into a nation state, the
and economic prosperity that ensures             establishment         of       capitalist
the survival of its rich subsoil, its            parliamentary democracy and the
geographical position, diversified               winning of national independence
agriculture and industrialisation...The          from imperialist domination and
Revolution declares its respect for the          laying the basis for the modern nation
workers...and...the establishment of             state.
total and definitive social justice,
based on economic and industrial                 The exact form the tasks of the
progress under a well organised and              bourgeois democratic revolution take
timed       national     plan..."    The         differs from country to country and in
proclamation      affirmed      that   it        some countries some of the questions
"...recognises and bases itself upon the         posed can be resolved or partly
ideas of Martí" and then pledged itself          resolved, others remain to be
to restore the constitution of 1940.             achieved. For example in Argentina
                                                 capitalist property relations as opposed
In other words it proposed a                     to feudal ownership exists in the rural
programme to established in Cuba a               areas. However, Argentina is still

shackled by the domination of the               industrialised capitalist countries the
major imperialist countries' economic           building of socialism could begin.
power.                                          Triumphant revolution in these
                                                countries would end the isolation of
However, for decades in the semi-               other workers' states and because of
colonial and colonial countries such as         their higher productivity level lay the
Cuba, the implementing of the                   basis for the construction of socialism
programme       of   the     democratic         - that is, a society of plenty where
bourgeois revolution has meant a                need is met. In this way the tasks of
conflict    with     capitalism     and         the bourgeois democratic revolution
imperialism. This is because the                would be achieved by the working
national capitalist class is too                class as part of the international
enfeebled, linked to the landowners             socialist revolution.
and shackled to imperialism to
accomplish the bourgeois democratic             These were the classical ideas of the
revolution. A further factor is the fear        Permanent Revolution that were
the national bourgeoisie have of the            developed from the experience of the
working class entering any arena of             Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
struggle against imperialism.                   In particular they were developed by
                                                Trotsky and encompassed by Lenin.
The vice in which Cuba was locked by
imperialism, together with the                  In a distorted caricature of this Marxist
decadent Cuban ruling class, was too            prognosis the Cuban Revolution
strong to permit even a limited                 would eventually result in the
programme of liberal reform. As in              overthrow      of    landlordism     and
other non-industrialised countries, the         capitalism and replace it with a
national capitalist class in Cuba was           centrally planned economy. The
too weak, corrupt and shackled to               revolution was to acquire mass
imperialism to complete the tasks of            support and bring tremendous benefits
the bourgeois democratic revolution.            to the Cuban population. But the new
And yet these tasks need to be                  regime which triumphed in 1959
resolved if society is to develop.              would not be based upon a regime of
                                                workers' democracy.
As the Russian Revolution had
illustrated in 1917, this dilemma could         Castro And the July 26th Movement
be solved by the working class, even
in a country where it was in a                  At the time of the Moncada attack
minority. It could do this by taking            Castro still pronounced his allegiance
control of the running of society and           to the Ortodoxos. The party leadership
establishing a workers' democracy.              regarded the attempted assault on the
With a programme to win the support             Moncada as an adventure. Large
of the poorer sections of the peasantry         sections of the Ortodoxos and the
and other exploited layers such as the          urban middle class were still hoping to
urban middle class and intelligentsia,          reach an agreement with the
landlordism and capitalism could be             dictatorship. Batista denounced it as
overthrown.                                     an attempted "communist putsch
                                                (coup)". The Communist Party
Through      the   victory   of  the            denounced it as an attempt at a
international revolution in the more            "bourgeois putsch".

US imperialism at the time was                  liberal capitalism and parliamentary
increasingly expressing its concern             democracy. Castro viewed the USA as
about what it viewed as "communist              his model for Cuba.
encroachment"     throughout     Latin
America. Under pressure from                    Within the Ortodoxos movement a
Washington, after a visit to Havana by          layer of its supporters were seeking
CIA director Allen Dulles, Batista              negotiations and a compromise with
agreed to the establishment of the              the dictatorship. Others, especially the
Buró de Represión a las Actividades             youth, were seeking more direct
Comunistas- BRAC.                               means of confronting the regime.

Neither the CIA nor Batista had Castro          The prospects for Castro had been
and his supporters in mind when this            enhanced by the suicide of the former
special police unit was established.            leader of the party, Eduardo Chibas, in
Reflecting how little his movement              1951. By projecting himself in the
was perceived as a serious threat at the        image of a new Martí, Castro made an
time, Castro and the other imprisoned           appeal to the ranks of the Ortodoxos to
insurgents were released in 1955 as a           support him.
"good-will gesture" after a campaign
to free them which in part was                  The Communist Party in
initiated by the Roman Catholic                 Retirement
                                                At the same time the expanding
In Cuba Castro was heralded as a                political vacuum was inflated by the
cause celebre because of his struggle           situation in which the Cuban
against Batista and especially as a             Communist Party (Partido Socialista
consequence of his imprisonment on              Popular - PSP) found itself. Hugh
the infamous Isle of Pines. The one             Thomas in his book on Cuba
condition of his release was that he            accurately states, " The Cuban
should leave Cuba. He headed for                Communists in general were in semi-
Mexico where Cuban exiles and some              retirement during most of these years,
of his followers had been congregating          recovering their health and energies..."
during the early 1950s.
                                                The party had lost much of its
Castro had established a reputation as          credibility as a consequence of its
an audacious and charismatic leader.            earlier policy of supporting a Popular
As a 'Young Turk' in the movement,              or People's Front. The policy had been
he was able to exploit this to his              adopted by the Latin American
maximum advantage. In the summer                communist parties after 1935 when a
of 1955 his new group, the Movement             meeting of all the regional communist
of the 26th of July, was formally               parties was called in Moscow where
established and he broke from the               the new line was imposed in each
Ortodoxos in 1956. At its launch the            country, with some exceptions such as
Movement declared that in its view the          Brazil.
"Jefferson philosophy was still valid".
Jefferson was one of the eighteenth             It was adopted in Cuba during an
century leaders of the US War of                exceptional period of social turmoil.
Independence against colonial British           1933 had seen a radical revolt by
rule. His "philosophy" was therefore            junior officers in the army. Amongst

other measures they demanded the                 this case the interests of capitalism.
ending of the Platt Amendment,                   Batista proved to be no different.
signed with the USA in 1901, which
gave the US the right to militarily              Political opponents were viciously
intervene in Cuba. At the head of this           dealt with and under Batista's
movement was a young officer from a              leadership, with the encouragement of
working class background, Fulgencio              the US ambassador, the army was
Batista.                                         deployed in 1935 against a general
                                                 strike demanding a new democratic
This was an entire period of social              constitution. Despite his earlier
upheaval and radicalisation in Cuba.             populist      nationalism,    Batista
There was a crisis of authority in the           succumbed to the pressures of
government. The one force which                  imperialism and ultimately fully
seemed able to hold things together              collaborated with it.
was the army headed by the
radicalised junior officers. Batista             After winning the Presidential
reflected the varying conflicts between          elections in 1940 and withdrawing his
the various classes which existed at             candidature in 1944, Batista returned
the time. He reflected the pressure              to power in a coup which was staged
from a wing of the national ruling               in 1952 after he lost another
class to assert its own interests against        Presidential election. The new hated
US imperialism. At the same time he              regime which seized power in 1952
reflected the pressures from the                 was to unleash repression and terror.
working class and sections of the                The communists throughout this
radicalised middle class for greater             period adopted a policy of supporting
social change. For a period Batista              Batista, slavishly following the
balanced between the different class             decisions of the Moscow conference
pressures which were bursting forth.             in 1935.

Batista ruled Cuba through a series of           At its congress in 1939 the PSP agreed
puppet        presidents,      granting          it should "adopt a more positive
concessions to workers and also                  attitude towards Colonel Batista".
implementing some land reform. A                 From that moment on in party journals
minimum wage was introduced and it               Batista was no longer "...the focal
was made illegal to dismiss employees            point of reaction; but the focal point of
"without reason". These measures                 democracy". (New York Daily Worker
were slow in being implemented but               1 October 1939).
they boosted the confidence of the
working class. As a populist leader              The international organisation of the
from a working class background                  communist parties which existed at the
Batista enjoyed widespread support               time, the Comintern, stated in its
from the Cuban population for a short            journal: "Batista...no longer represents
time. But like all such bonapartist              the centre of reaction...the people who
leaders and regimes - those which                are working for the overthrow of
balance between various class interests          Batista are no longer acting in the
combining reforms to the masses with             interests of the Cuban people." (World
repression - in the final analysis they          News and Views, No 60 1938).
act to defend one class or another, in

In 1952 the PSP declared the new               Party and wrote to his mother
regime to be "no different" to the             anticipating that he would eventually
preceding one! The "Communists" had            take such a path. But he held back at
been loyal supporters of the                   this time largely because the bohemian
Bonapartist dictator for more than a           dragon within him had still not been
decade when he seized power. As                fully slain. As Che himself admitted,
Hugh Thomas comments in his book,              he had "well-defined convictions" but
the Catholic laity had endured more            also what he described as his
conflicts with the regime than the             "vagabonding"        and       "repeated
Communist Party leaders.                       informality". As he explained in the
                                               letter to his mother he still yearned to
Despite this the PSP maintained an             travel, especially through Europe and
important       influence      amongst         "I couldn't do that submitted to an iron
important sections of workers. Yet, in         discipline".
the course of events, the party paid a
price for its collaboration with a loss        It was not until 1955 that he met
of support amongst the working class           Castro. The immediate prospect of a
and the youth.                                 struggle which was offered to him by
                                               Castro and his movement together
However, the highest price was paid            with his "well-defined convictions"
by the Cuban masses, suffering under           finally led Che to accept that "iron
a regime which rapidly showed itself           discipline" which he had previously
to be puppet of US imperialism.                rejected, although it was not within the
Historically Cuba had been a                   ranks of the Communist Party.
playground for the "gringos" north of
the Rio Grande. Havana developed as            Che's entry into the July 26th
the local brothel and gambling casino          Movement was not without its
of US bankers and industrialists.              problems. Some of its members were
Batista was merely the local pimp.             of a pronounced middle class
                                               background and his political persona
It was against this historical                 irritated them. Che, despite his lack of
background that Che Guevara                    formal commitment to the movement,
eventually found his way into the              was showing aspects of his character
ranks of the July 26th Movement.               which would emerge in a very forceful
Castro and his followers would                 way during the rest of his
undoubtedly have seemed a more                 revolutionary life.
attractive and combative force than the
communist parties at the time. Che             He was austere and once he had
was in contact with some of Castro's           decided to commit himself to
supporters prior to his arrival in             revolutionary struggle, utterly self-
Mexico. Plans were already being laid          sacrificing. Some of those who met
to begin an armed struggle against             him were somewhat "put out" by what
Batista.                                       they regarded as Che's "self-
                                               righteousness". As Jon Anderson
During 1954 Che was also mixing                recounts in his biography, a Moncada
with Communist Party members from              veteran, Melba Hernández, had arrived
all over Latin America, especially             in Mexico to join her husband. She
exiles from Guatemala. Initially he            was still dressed in refined clothes and
saw his future within the Communist            jewellery when she was introduced to

Che. He looked at her and proclaimed           developed in a one-sided manner. He
she could not be a serious                     based himself on the peasantry and
revolutionary dressed so. "Real                guerrilla struggle. This is one
revolutionaries adorn themselves on            important aspect of the Marxist policy
the inside, not on the surface", he            which applies in the rural areas where
stated.                                        a peasant class exists.

Having joined the July 26th                    The question of the role of the
Movement, Che threw himself into it            working class and the urban centres is
body and soul as preparations were             also of decisive importance to apply a
undertaken to land in Cuba and begin           correct Marxist policy. As will be
the "revolution" during 1956. He               further explained in this pamphlet this
intensified his political studies and          is true even in countries where the
undertook an increasingly harsh                working class form a relatively small
physical training course and put               section of the population.
himself on a diet to get fit. Still
plagued by asthma he needed to be              Unfortunately because of the uneven
twice as healthy as other fighters.            development of Che's ideas it was not
Through will-power and determination           possible for him to develop a policy
Che overcame the limitations his               and programme which could bring
health imposed upon him. Within the            about a victorious revolution in
group, which numbered no more than             countries such as Argentina, Brazil or
twenty to thirty according to Castro,          Chile where powerful working classes
Che rapidly rose to pre-eminence.              existed.

The group was arrested in Mexico and
then released. From prison Che wrote
to his parents: "My future is linked
with that of the Cuban revolution. I
either triumph with it or die
there...From now on I wouldn't
consider my death a frustration, only,
like Hikmet (the Turkish poet): "I will
take to the grave only the sorrow of an
unfinished song."

His commitment to the cause of
revolution was now his entire life.
This spirit is indispensable to defeat
capitalism and win a revolution. It is
the quality in Che which those fighting
to emancipate the working class and
exploited classes today need to

As     he    engaged     directly  in
revolutionary struggle his boldness
and self-sacrifice was to become very
evident. At the same time his ideas

Chapter Four
Guerillaism and Marxism
NO REVOLUTIONARY develops                       genuine revolutionaries used their
ideas in a social vacuum or in total            energies and not a few gave their lives
isolation. In this respect the ideas            in trying to apply his incomplete ideas.
which Che Guevara developed and                 What Che had not absorbed from his
supported were not an exception. In             studies of Marxist literature was the
looking at Che's life nobody who                experience of the Russian Revolution
regards themselves as a revolutionary,          of 1917 and the ideas of the
fighting against exploitation and               Permanent Revolution. In particular,
oppression, can question his heroism,           he did not grasp the role of the
determination and self-sacrifice. By            working class even in countries where
the time he arrived in Cuba he was              it constitutes a minority in society.
wedded to the idea that socialism had
to be built throughout Latin America            Unfortunately after the victory of the
to     liberate  the    masses    from          Russian working class the revolution
exploitation and free the continent of          was not victorious in the developed
imperialist domination.                         industrialised      countries.    The
                                                Bolshevik victory remained isolated.
However, what Che did not have was              A combination of intervention by the
a clear understanding of how this               armies of Western imperialism and
could be done and which class would             civil war exhausted the Russian
have to play the leading role in                workers' movement. Whilst capitalism
achieving it. From a Marxist point of           remained defeated in Russia for a
view the most important deficiency in           prolonged historical period of time,
Che's ideas was his underestimation of          until the capitalist restoration of
the role of the working class in                1989/92, the working class was robbed
overthrowing capitalism and building            politically of its control of society.
socialism.                                      This was usurped through the
                                                emergence of a vicious, privileged
Because of the specific conditions              bureaucratic elite.
which existed in Cuba this deficiency
did not prevent the defeat of Batista or        Che failed to grasp the lessons of the
the coming to power of the guerrilla            revolution of 1917 or later events. To
force Che was fighting with. Because            do this and apply the lessons of these
of international factors and the                events to the specific conditions which
momentum of the revolution, neither             emerged in Central and Latin America
did it prevent the overthrow of                 required a gigantic and audacious leap
capitalism in Cuba (discussed in later          forward in political understanding and
chapters).                                      vision. In isolation and under the
                                                influence of events and alternative
It did shape the character of the new           ideas, Che could not complete the leap
regime which was to emerge after the            (which was and still is) required in
triumph of the revolution. Moreover,            applying the methods of Marxism to
when Che's ideas were later applied to          the particular conditions which exist
other countries in Latin America,               on his continent.
where objective conditions were very
different, they failed. Many heroic and
Under capitalism the working class is          countryside, especially amongst rural
compelled to struggle collectively             agricultural workers and the poorer
through strikes, demonstrations and            sections of the peasantry.
workplace occupations etc. in order to
win concessions and to defend its              Even today, after a massive
interests. Of course where necessary           urbanisation of society in South
the workers' movement needs also to            America, there are many important
organise its own defence from armed            links between the rural areas and the
attack by the employers and those that         urban population, especially the
defend their interests.                        working class. This is pointedly the
                                               case in Central America. Workers
The decisive role of the working class         from the cities will periodically return
in the socialist revolution arises             to the countryside for work or to
because of the collective class                support their families who are still
consciousness which it develops in the         there. Sections of the urban poor,
workplace and which allows it to               living in shanty towns on the
prepare the basis for the collective           periphery of major cities, live almost
democratic control and management              as peasants on the outskirts of the
of society. This lays the basis for            industrial centres.
establishing a workers' democracy in
order to begin the task of building            These sections of the population are
socialism. By incorporating into its           bound to be affected by the rural
socialist programme the interests of           movements and will frequently take
other exploited layers of society, the         up the methods of struggle mainly
working class can win their support to         used by peasants and rural workers.
carry through the revolution and               These methods of struggle will include
overthrow landlordism and capitalism.          land    occupations     and    forming
In this way the proletariat play the           contingents of armed groups to fight
leading role in the revolution and the         the military, the police and the armed
building of socialism.                         thugs used by the landlords to protect
                                               their    interests.    Under     certain
The Rural Struggle and Marxism                 conditions these movements in the
                                               countryside can erupt prior to
The poorer peasants, whilst able to            movements in the cities and can bring
play an important revolutionary role in        with them a boost in the confidence of
struggle, lack the collective class            urban workers.
consciousness which predominates
amongst the working class. The                 This process has been seen recently in
peasantry, because of its isolation in         the Zapatista (a radical, mainly rural
rural areas and economic relationship          militia) uprising in Mexico and by the
to the land, with its narrow, parochial        explosive movement of the Brazilian
and individualistic outlook, cannot            landless organised in the MST
play the same role in the revolution as        (Movimiento Sem Tiera).
the workers in the cities.
                                               A revolutionary Marxist programme
Whilst Marxism defends the leading             would support such struggles in the
role of the working class in the               countryside and take every step to
socialist revolution it also recognises        incorporate them with the workers'
the importance of the struggle in the          movement in the cities. They would,

however, play an auxiliary role to the           during the 19th century, together with
movement in the cities.                          the Mexican Revolution (1910-18) and
                                                 the peasant armies of Zapata and
Che, influenced by a combination of              Pancho Villa, all form part of a strong
factors, drew other conclusions which            tradition on the continent and are
under-estimated the role of the                  engraved onto the outlook of political
working class. His conclusions                   activists.
evolved over a period of time. They
were being formed through his                    These struggles took place in a
observations, discussions and then his           previous historical epoch when the
participation in the Cuban movement.             proletariat and the workers' movement
His ideas were most clearly expressed            was only in its very early stages of
in articles and publications after the           conception. Since that period the
conquest of power by the 26th July               working class has enormously
Movement in 1959. One of the most                developed throughout the region.
complete explanations of his policies
is to be found in his book, Guerrilla            In Cuba by 1953 according to Hugh
Warfare, which was not published                 Thomas, only 42% of the working
until 1960.                                      population was employed on the land.
                                                 By the end of the 1950s there were
A Different Conception                           about 200,000 peasant families and
                                                 600,000 rural workers. In the cities
Partly as a result of his own class              were to be found 400,000 families of
background and the fact he was not an            the urban proletariat and 200,000
active member of any organisation in             families of those employed as waiters,
the workers' movement, Che never                 servants and street vendors. The social
actively participated in the actual              weight of the Cuban working class
struggles of the proletariat. Apart from         was far greater at the end of the 1950s
some activity in Guatemala his only              than the Russian working class was in
active      participation     in      the        1917.
revolutionary Left was through the
July 26th Movement and the guerrilla             As well as the weight of historical
struggle in Cuba. As a result he failed          tradition Che was also influenced at an
to grasp the revolutionary potential             early stage by the ideas expressed by
and strength which workers possessed             the Peruvian, Pesce. Pesce articulated
as a class.                                      the theories which he and Mar'ategui
                                                 had begun to advocate during the
Other political ideas and experiences            1920s. They revised the classical
which he was exposed to inevitably               analysis of Marxism regarding the role
had an important impact on the                   of the working class and the peasantry,
formulation of his hypothesis. He was            giving far more importance to the
bound to be under the influence of the           latter in the socialist revolution. Che
powerful traditions of historical                was also attracted by the victory of
struggles throughout the Latin                   Mao Tse Tung's peasant army in
American continent. The wars for                 China in 1949, together with the
independence led by Simon Bolivar,               ongoing national liberation struggle in
who even posed the idea of unifying              Vietnam. Undoubtedly he was
the entire continent, Sandino's struggle         influenced by some of Mao's writings.
in Nicaragua, Mart' in Cuba and others

The Latin American communist                    It was true that the workers in the
parties, although formally adhering to          cities in Cuba at the time did enjoy a
the working class in the cities,                higher standard of living than the
followed the polices of supporting              peasants in the countryside. Behind
People's or Popular Fronts. This policy         the idea of a "privileged" working
attempted to limit the struggles of the         class lay the idea that the
masses from going beyond the                    revolutionary potential of any social
interests of capitalism. Che, along             grouping is only determined by the
with a broader layer of youth in Latin          depth of its poverty. What Che missed
America, regarded this policy as too            was the potential role of the working
"dogmatic" and looked for something             class because of its position as a class.
more "radical".                                 A contributory factor in Che reaching
                                                these conclusions was the timid role of
As far as Che was concerned the ideas           the communist leaders.
he defended were an attempt to apply
a fresh "Marxist" approach to the               In his book, Guerrilla Warfare, Che
specific conditions of Latin America.           again plays down the potential role the
He was unable to formulate another              working class can play. Referring to
alternative to the pusillanimous role of        the "three contributions" Cuba has
the communist parties apart from                made in revolutionary strategy Che
defending the guerrilla struggle as the         argues: "The third contribution is
driving force of the revolution                 fundamentally of a strategic nature,
throughout the continent.                       and is a rebuke to those who
                                                dogmatically assert that the struggle of
As a result the leading class in the            the masses is centred in the urban
revolution was the "peasantry with a            movements, totally forgetting the
proletarian ideology". As he put it in a        immense participation of the people
speech which was published in June              from the countryside in the life of all
1960, entitled, 'The Responsibilities of        the underdeveloped countries of Latin
the Working Class in Our Revolution',           America." He continues to argue that
"...It is no secret that the strength of        the repressive conditions which exist
the revolutionary movement was                  in the cities make it more difficult for
primarily among the peasants, and               the organised workers' movement. The
secondarily among the working                   situation, he argues, is easier in the
class...Cuba, like all underdeveloped           countryside where the inhabitants can
countries, does not have a powerful             be "supported by armed guerrillas."
proletariat." Che continued in the
same speech to say "...the worker at            Che again misses the central point
times became a privileged individual".          about the role of the workers as a class
                                                in building socialism and reduces the
In reality the "primary" position of the        question of revolution to one
peasants in the revolution reduced the          important issue, logistics. The issue is
working class to playing the auxiliary          how the difficulties which the
role. The exact opposite of what                movement in the cities encounters can
Marxism explains is the class able to           be overcome. Che, unfortunately flees
play the leading role in the revolution         from this issue to the mountains where
and in building socialism.                      the guerrillas can "support" the local

In the same book he argues that "...the         26th Movement and on the future
arena for the armed struggle must               direction    of    the revolutionary
basically be the countryside." The              processes in Cuba.
guerrilla centres would rest upon the
support of the peasantry and would act
to ignite a movement to overthrow the
established regimes - the "foco"
theory. While Che advocated this
thesis it was developed into a rounded-
out policy by Regis Debra, the French
intellectual who generalised it for the
continent and beyond. Che echoed
Debra in 1963 in an article entitled,
'Building a Party of the Working
Class': "We went from the countryside
to the city, from lesser to greater,
creating the revolutionary movement
that culminated in Havana" (Our

Rather than the guerrillas "creating"
the revolutionary movement they were
able to step into a political vacuum
and seize the initiative. This was
possible because of the specific
objective situation which unfolded in
Cuba. When Che attempted to apply
his ideas to other countries in Latin
America they were a failure.

Marxists recognise that under certain
specific conditions a guerrilla struggle
in the countryside where the working
class is not playing the leading role,
may be victorious and overthrow an
existing regime.

However, without the working class
consciously at the head of the
revolutionary process, it will not be
possible to establish a new regime
based upon workers' democracy which
is able to begin the task of
constructing socialism.

Despite Che's wrong approach to these
questions, his support for the idea of
socialism was to have a profound
effect on developments inside the July

Chapter Five
Granma and The July 26th
On 2 December 1956 eighty two men               for two days. On top of that they were
landed on the Cuban coast having                spotted by an airforce observation
sailed from Mexico in a run down                aircraft. The group was divided into
boat, Granma. The voyage and landing            two and roamed around lost for two
were little short of a disaster. A              days.
journey which was planned to last five
days had taken seven. At times the trip         As Che described later in his diary
was almost comical. As they                     they were "disorientated and walking
approached the Cuban coastline the              in circles, an army of shadows, of
navigator fell overboard.                       phantoms walking as if moved by
                                                some obscure psychic mechanism."
The landing was supposed to have                They finally regrouped and headed
coincided with an armed uprising in             eastwards     towards     the  Sierra
the city of Santiago following which            mountains under the guidance of a
100 insurgents should have awaited              local peasant. They encountered the
the arrival of Granma with trucks and           first attack from the Cuban Army
supplies. Frank Pais, a leader of the           during which Che suffered a
July 26th Movement in the Oriente               superficial wound in the neck.
province was to organise this. He was
later on to organise supplies for the           This was the opening phase of a
rebel army through the underground              gruelling war which was to last for
urban network which was built, the              two years. It ended in January 1959
Llano.                                          after Batista had fled the country on
                                                New Year's Eve. The forces of the
After the Granma weighed anchor the             Movement of the 26th of July marched
plan was then to launch an attack on            into Havana to be greeted by a general
the towns of Niquero and Manzanillo             strike of the workers. Of the eighty-
before proceeding to the Sierra                 two who came ashore from Granma
Maestra mountain range from where               just over twenty eventually regrouped
Castro intended to launch the war               in the Sierra Maestro. Less would see
against Batista in earnest.                     the New Year in 1959 and the triumph
                                                of the revolution.
Batista had dispatched extra troops to
Oriente province and crushed the                How was it possible for such a small
uprising in Santiago while navel and            group to emerge triumphant within
air force patrols awaited the arrival of        two short, if bloody and turbulent,
Castro and his party. The insurgency            years? The answer lies in a
began badly and only got worse.                 combination of political and social
                                                factors. Firstly, social support for
The rebels waded ashore in broad                Batista was disintegrating. Opposition
daylight, they were a mile short of             to the dictatorship was increasing and
their intended rendezvous, they left            the regime by 1959 was on the point
most of their supplies behind, their            of collapse. Even the army was
reception party had given up and                beginning to be affected and became
departed the night before after waiting         increasingly demoralised.

At the same time none of the                     urban population. There was no other
opposition parties channelled the                political force which was seen as
anger of the population. The docile              waging an effective or serious struggle
PSP was still largely compromised by             against the regime.
its previous support for Batista. The
party still had a certain authority              This support increased as the war
amongst important sections of                    raged and the brutality of the regime
industrial workers in the cities.                was increasingly contrasted with the
However, its leaders largely used the            heroism     of    Castro's     fighters.
authority they had to keep the workers'          Moreover, in battle when Batista's
movement in check.                               soldiers were taken prisoners unlike
                                                 captured guerrilla fighters, they were
As the result of this, a political               not executed. They were discussed
vacuum had developed in Cuba.                    with and then set free unharmed. Such
Castro and his forces, despite being             initiatives had a big effect in
relatively small, were able to fill it           undermining the morale of the soldiers
after a two year struggle which they             in Batista's army. Castro lost no
conducted from the Sierra Maestro. By            opportunity in trying to present
the end of 1958 Castro had no more               himself as a modern José Martí - a
than 3,000 in his army and this                  new liberator of Cuba.
included a large number of non-
combatants who were based in camps.              Che Guevara emerged as one of the
                                                 principle military and political leaders.
If the war which was fought between              He had originally enlisted as the
1956-58 is considered from merely a              medical expert. Events forced him in
military point of view then Castro won           another direction as he displayed other
a remarkable victory. The Prussian               outstanding qualities when in the thick
general and writer, Clausewitz, argued           of war. Early on in the conflict he
that: "War is not merely a political act,        crossed yet another line in the
but also a real political instrument, a          evolution of his own character. Caught
continuation of political commerce, a            in an exchange between guerrillas and
carrying out of the same by other                the army, in a split second he was
means." It was the objective political           forced to choose between picking up
situation and social factors which had           medical supplies or a machine gun and
unfolded in Cuba that permitted                  ammunition.
Castro to score such a dramatic victory
in only two years.                               Opting for the latter, it became clear
                                                 that despite his medical knowledge
To achieve this victory, subjective              and experience Che was not destined
questions, in particular the collapse of         to play the role of doctor.
the morale of the Cuban army and the
will power and determination of the              As the war progressed, Che's authority
fighters of the July 26th Movement,              increased in the eyes of his fellow
played a crucial part.                           rebels. He actively engaged in battles
                                                 with the army and undertook quite
Due to the hatred of Batista by the              reckless missions on occasions.
mass of the Cuban population the                 During one air raid, as other rebels
guerrillas could rely upon the support           fled, including Castro, Che remained
they enjoyed amongst the peasants and            behind to help stranded fighters. He

was eventually appointed commander             There was another reason his column
of his own column along with Castro's          was amongst the most combative. Che
brother, Raúl.                                 began to organise a programme of
                                               political education for some of its
Che's overall maxim was to lead by             members. His socialist ideas began to
example, never to ask those under his          take root amongst many of his
command to do what he would not                guerrillas as his reputation grew. In
undertake himself. He also refused all         the midst of the military conflict there
privileges - few though they were for          was also a political dispute which
those fighting in the Sierra Maestra.          unfolded within the July 26th
Che's own conditions were in many              Movement. It featured a power
ways worse than the soldiers he fought         struggle    between     the    guerrilla
with. The effects of his crippling             movement in the mountains and the
asthma attacks in the jungle would             urban underground resistance, the
have driven many with less                     Llano. At the same time it also posed
determination     away    from     the         the question of what the July 26th
battleground.                                  Movement stood for. Che's outspoken
                                               defence of socialist ideas was a
The column of fighters he led were             minority voice within the ensuing
undoubtedly amongst the most                   polemics.
determined and heroic. They were
fuelled by his bold example and                Character of July 26th Movement
determination to achieve a victorious
revolution.                                    The July 26th Movement's ideology
                                               and programme reflected the social
They were steeled to continue the              composition of much of its
struggle against what at times seemed          membership and supporters. The bulk
impossible odds. The 'Suicide Squad',          of the leaders were drawn from the
which was established in his column            urban middle class, some from its
to undertake particularly dangerous            upper layers. Whilst the Movement
missions, gained a fearsome reputation         did have a layer of lower middle class
for its discipline and heroism.                and even working class members, as
                                               was reflected by the social make-up of
It was a model for other rebel fighters        those who participated in the Moncada
to aspire to. As Che noted in his              incident, it was not a political current
wartime diaries: "The 'Suicide Squad'          which was given birth to by the
was an example of revolutionary                working class.
morale and only selected volunteers
joined it. But whenever a man died -           Castro had established an inner core of
and it happened in every battle - when         leaders based upon the steering
a new candidate was named, those not           committee which he had set up in the
chosen would be grief-stricken and             summer of 1955. This reflected much
even cry. How curious to see those             of the Movement at that time. Most
seasoned and noble warriors showing            were former students from the urban
their youth by their tears of despair,         upper middle class. The National
because they did not have the honour           Directorate (of which Castro was not a
of being in the front line of combat           member), was made up of such people
and death."                                    and was responsible for all the
                                               underground activity in the urban

areas, i.e.. obtaining supplies of arms         burning sugar cane and imposing a
and communications etc. Many were               struggle on behalf of the sugar cane
self-sacrificing and had been arrested          workers, rather than drawing them into
and tortured by Batista's police.               struggle, is wrong, the radical
However, politically what united them           sentiments behind such declarations
was the struggle to overthrow Batista           got an echo with Cuba's poor.
and little else.
                                                However, the programme which even
The programme and ideology of the               Castro was advocating in the early
July 26th Movement reflected the                stages of the war, albeit with a social
vacillations and amorphous features             conscience, was not going beyond the
which are the political hall-marks of           bounds of capitalism. During the first
the urban petty bourgeoisie. Most of            few months of 1957 a leading
its members probably wanted little              correspondent of the New York Times,
more than to establish a capitalist             Herbert Matthews, who had also
parliamentary democracy and enact a             reported on the Spanish Civil War,
radical democratic programme of                 secured a visit and interview with
reform.                                         Castro.

Che had many presentiments about                When published in February it landed
Castro's colleagues from the urban              as an international bomb shell and was
centres in the National Directorate.            a publicity coup for Castro as Batista
"Through isolated conversations, I              was claiming the guerrilla leader had
discovered    the      evident anti-            been killed in battle. Apart from being
Communist inclinations of most of               a major international propaganda
them", he wrote in his diary.                   success for Castro, the interview
                                                revealed much about his political ideas
There was a more radical wing to the            at the time.
movement which in many ways Castro
represented. He wrote an Appeal to              Matthews wrote: "It is a revolutionary
the Cuban People, which was very                movement that calls itself socialistic.
combative. In defence of the guerrillas'        It is also nationalistic, which generally
proclamation to burn sugar cane he              means anti-Yankee. The programme is
wrote: "To those who invoke the                 vague and couched in generalities, but
workers' livelihoods to combat this             it amounts to a new deal for Cuba,
measure, we ask: Why don't they                 radical, democratic and therefore anti-
defend the workers when...they suck             Communist. The real core of its
dry their salaries, when they swindle           strength is that it is fighting against the
their retirement pensions, when they            military dictatorship of President
pay them in bonds and they kill them            Batista...(Castro) has strong ideas of
from hunger during eight months?                liberty, democracy, social justice, the
Why are we spilling our blood if not            need to restore the Constitution, to
for the poor of Cuba? What does a               hold elections."
little hunger today matter if we can
win the bread and liberty of                    Castro told Matthews, "You can be
tomorrow?"                                      sure that we have no animosity
                                                towards the United States and the
Although from a Marxist point of view           American people...we are fighting for
the idea of small groups of guerrillas          a democratic Cuba and an end to the

dictatorship. We are not anti-military..        overthrowing      landlordism       and
for we know the men are good and so             capitalism in Cuba.
are many of the officers."
                                                The process of the revolution, together
During the interview Castro succeeded           with a combination of national and
in giving Matthews the impression               international factors, propelled the
that he had more forces around him              central players in these events to a
than was the case. In conditions of war         political and social location which was
this was legitimate - why show the              not their intended point of arrival. As
enemy Batista one's weaknesses.                 Che stated in 1960: "The principle
Matthews reported that eighty two of            actors of this revolution had no
the original Granma landing were with           coherent viewpoint." (Notes for the
Castro and that his forces were                 Study of the Ideology of the Cuban
growing all the time as more and more           Revolution).
youth arrived.
                                                The impact of big social events,
In fact, as Hugh Thomas recounts,               especially wars and the struggle
Castro's brother kept passing in front          between different classes in society,
of Matthews with the same group of              has affected the political outlook of
men dressed differently. Castro had no          many individuals. Che Guevara had
more than eighteen in camp with him             empirically arrived at the guerrilla war
at the time and a total armed force of          in which he was now engaged against
20!                                             the Batista dictatorship. The effects of
                                                the guerrilla war had an important
It is probably accurate to conclude that        effect in radicalising its primary
Castro at that time did not have a              leaders. As Che wrote to Ernesto
worked out political philosophy.                Sábato, a prominent Argentinean
According to one account even by                novelist, in a letter in April 1960: "The
1960 Castro was still not supporting            war revolutionised us...In this way our
"socialism". Che, in conversation with          revolution was born. In this way, its
a friend from Mexico, Dr. David                 slogans were being created, and in this
Mitrani, stated that he hoped to                way little by little, we began drawing
transform Cuba into a socialist state           theoretical conclusions in the heat of
but that Fidel was not yet convinced (          these events to create our own body of
See Jon Anderson's biography).                  ideas."

Since the victory of the Cuban                  Che was the most politically
Revolution it has been argued that the          sophisticated of the leading guerrilla
overthrow     of     capitalism   was           fighters, in the sense of advocating an
anticipated by Castro and even                  alternative ideology. From the
prepared in collaboration with the              standpoint of a Marxist analysis the
bureaucracy which then ruled in                 theoretical conclusions he eventually
Moscow. This analysis overestimates             drew were false and in many respects
the political clarity with which the            quite crude. However, he asserted a
leaders of the July 26th Movement               growing influence over Castro as
approached the situation in Cuba. It            events and the struggle unfolded. Both
also falsely elevates the role of the           were propelled by the rhythm of
bureaucracy      in     Moscow       in         events and the concrete situation in
                                                which they found themselves.

Whilst Che aspired to conquering a                However, a contributing element in
socialist     revolution    with     an           the friction was another political
internationalist character he had no              factor. Those involved in the fighting
worked out perspective or programme               of a guerrilla war, however self-
of how to achieve his aim. By his own             sacrificing, develop a certain contempt
admission the ideas he developed                  towards the urban population. The
evolved empirically, shaped more by               desperate hardship involved in the
his own subjective experiences than               struggle in the mountains can wrongly
by an extensive appreciation of the               lead the rural fighters to dismiss the
historical lessons of the international           masses in the cities as unwilling to
workers' movement.                                struggle because of their relatively
                                                  privileged situation. This attitude is re-
A Difference of Opinion                           enforced if the guerrilla fighter's lack
                                                  clear political ideas and are not linked
Within the July 26th Movement things              to an organised movement of urban
did not remain politically static during          workers with an audacious leadership
the course of the civil war. A conflict           and socialist policies.
emerged between the National
Directorate     and     the     guerrilla         Castro certainly still lacked a clear
leadership in the Sierra. Castro wanted           political objective for his struggle
to establish his rebel army as the                beyond overthrowing the dictatorship.
primary leadership in the movement -              What he did have, however, was an
under his control.                                ability to rest opportunistically on
                                                  numerous political forces to strengthen
Initially this friction was kept within           his own position. On 12 July 1957
manageable limits. It surfaced at a               Castro signed a pact with the openly
meeting in 1957 where some of the                 pro-capitalist Auténtico and Ortodoxo
urban leaders argued for Castro to                Parties who had rejected Batista's
leave the Sierra Maestra to raise funds           recent attempt to buttress his regime
on a speaking tour. Along with other              by calling Presidential elections in
proposals this clearly indicated they             which he himself would not stand.
wanted to play down the importance
of the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra           The pact, known as the 'Sierra Pact,'
Maestra. On this occasion Castro won              limited the July 26th Movement in its
the day and gained a majority against             objectives. Whilst it called for
other proposals.                                  Batista's resignation and rejected the
                                                  military junta, it proposed an
Over the following months this                    "independent" member from civic
friction was to develop into an open              institutions to act as transitional
political rift between the Llano and the          President and for full elections within
guerrilla leaders. The latter in the main         twelve      months.    Its    economic
thought the leadership of the Llano               programme was limited to little more
was pusillanimous - they were not                 than agrarian reform. If anything it
without        justification   in     this        was even more moderate than the
assessment.        On      the   National         original programme of the July 26th
Directorate were some of the most                 Movement and intended to contain the
conservative sections of the July 26th            political situation in the interests of
Movement.                                         capitalism and imperialism should
                                                  Batista fall.

However, reflected in the signing of             mountains - especially the columns
this agreement was the fact that the             under the leadership of Che and Raúl
Batista regime was increasingly losing           Castro.
the support it enjoyed and opposition
to it was growing. Castro's guerrilla            Enter US Imperialism
fighters had begun to attract a layer of
youth from the urban centres. Some               US imperialism was evidently
protests were taking place in the cities.        beginning to become more worried
There was a certain shift in the policy          about the situation. In general the
of the PSP. Though still regarding               main concern it had was to safeguard
Castro's military campaign as an                 its business interests and contain
adventure some contact began to take             unrest. Violence was not good for a
place between the guerrillas and the             return on investment. Batista was
PSP.                                             encouraged to "democratise" and hold
                                                 elections which would be won by a
The PSP used these contacts to try and           safe traditional party. The emergence
persuade Castro that conditions were             of Castro's forces and their continued
not right for an armed movement in               campaign had complicated the
Cuba and urged him to wait for a more            situation.
opportune moment. Consequently
relations between the PSP and Castro             Between 1957 and 1958 there was a
were strained but contact was                    division of opinion in Washington
maintained.                                      about how to deal with the situation.
                                                 The State Department, the CIA and
The 8th Congress of the PSP was held             Department of Defence had their own
in 1957 at which the leadership                  separate policies. They were not
announced the PSP recognised the                 always compatible. The Department of
"valour and sincerity" of Castro. At             Defence and US military in Cuba,
the same time the party also made                working together with and arming
clear it had a "radical disagreement             BRAC (the anti-Communist bureau),
with the tactics and plans" of Castro.           wanted to support Batista and crush
The party concluded that the July 26th           the guerrilla movement.
Movement had not yet taken a
sufficiently anti-imperialist line. In           At the same time the State
PSP jargon that meant that it was not            Department, apparently in agreement
sufficiently anti-USA and pro-                   with the CIA, wanted Batista out as
Russian. The party called for elections          the most effective manner of
and formation of a "popular front"               controlling the situation. There is even
involving the "national bourgeoisie".            evidence to suggest that they
                                                 attempted to try and collaborate with
This position was not without                    and buy-off the July 26th Movement
opposition from within the party,                and Castro, in case he did succeed in
especially its youth wing. Whilst the            overthrowing Batista.
PSP played no real role in the
movement which was unfolding, apart              According to Yuri Paporov, a KGB
from trying to act as restraining                official, CIA money was channelled to
influence on Castro, during 1958 an              the July 26th Movement. This claim
increasing number of young party                 has been confirmed by Tad Szulc,
members joined the rebels in the                 Castro's biographer, who says it

occurred between 1957 and 1958, after            Movement       together   with     the
the 'Pact of Sierra Maestra' was signed          Auténticos, led by Pío. According to
by Castro!                                       Hart, the Llano leader involved in
                                                 negotiations, the discussions had
This policy changed later as it became           included some people "close to the US
clear they could not control Castro or           embassy".
his movement.
                                                 Miami versus Sierra
Despite the apparent efforts by a
section of the ruling class in the USA           The US, uncertain that Batista could
to reach out to Castro's movement,               hold on, attempted to patch together a
with a view to embracing its now                 coalition of anti-Batista forces within
internationally    renowned       leader,        which they were hoping to included a
events conspired against this policy.            "controlled" July 26th Movement. A
The momentum of the revolutionary                meeting was called in Miami which
processes which were underway,                   Castro ordered a delegation to attend.
together with questions of national              On 1 November the "Cuban Liberation
prestige and individual interest, made           Junta" was formed and the Miami Pact
this task initially difficult and                was signed.
ultimately it was not achievable.
                                                 Felipe Pazos had acted as the July
Che's reputation was growing and he              26th Movement's official leader in the
was increasingly becoming known as               delegation. He had done so without
an important "communist" influence               the consent of Castro who correctly
within the guerrilla forces. This                saw it as a bid to upstage him. The
increased the tension between the                Pact which was agreed amounted to a
more pronounced "anti-Communists"                clear attempt to secure the most
within the July 26th Movement,                   moderate of regimes possible should
especially sections of its Llano                 Batista fall.
leadership, and Che. He established
his own line of supplies to his forces           It included nothing opposing foreign
excluding the local leadership of the            intervention, said nothing against the
Llano in the Oriente province. This              idea of establishing a military junta to
was headed by a member of the                    replace Batista and urged the
Directorate, Daniel. Che's actions               incorporation of Castro's guerrilla
undercut the authority of Daniel's               forces into the Cuban army. In effect it
leadership and provoked a clash. The             was a proposal to prepare a tame post-
Llano leadership appealed to Castro to           Batista government and to dissolve the
arbitrate.                                       guerrilla forces.
                                                 When news of the agreement reached
Behind this dispute was a broader                the Sierra Maestra it provoked
political question which involved the            outrage. Raúl Castro demanded that
increasing suspicion which existed               the      July      26th      Movement
between Che and the Llano leadership.            representatives be shot. Fidel Castro
Things came to a climax over a fresh             did not immediately respond. Che
political initiative. There was an               exploded with rage. He linked the
attempt     to    form   a   coalition           acceptance of the Miami Pact by the
"revolutionary" government in exile. It          Directorate's representatives with his
would be dominated by the July 26th

own conflicts with them over military           Movement in order to oppose the
issues. He accused them of "sabotage".          "rightist" Directorate.
Che had been involved in military               A total rupture with the Directorate
action at the time. He was forced to            was set to take place in the following
retreat to a place called El Hombrito           months, propelled further by the
and was later injured at Altos de               process of events and the revolution.
Conrado. Both of these setbacks were            Che had played an important role in
linked to the Directorate not sending           the outcome of this cross-roads in the
him supplies. Now he issued an                  political evolution of Castro, the July
ultimatum in a letter he sent to Castro         26th Movement and the revolution.
on December 9. Che demanded that he
be allowed to take firm action against          Che wrote to Daniel defending his
the Directorate or he would resign.             "Marxism", attacking the "rightist
                                                Directorate"     for    allowing     the
Castro's reply would determine not              movement's "ass to be buggered" by
only his relations with Che but would           the Miami Pact, and praising Castro as
affect the rest of the conduct of the           "an authentic leader of the leftist
guerrilla campaign. He was under                bourgeoisie". Even at this stage Che
pressure from those fighting in the             evidently did not see Castro as an
mountains      and    was     implicitly        ardent defender of socialism but as a
threatened by Pazos who was making              representative     of     the    radical
a bid not only for the leadership of the        bourgeoisie.
July 26th Movement but also for the             Daniel replied, expressing doubts
Presidency in post-Batista Cuba.                about the Miami Pact but urging the
                                                July 26th Movement to decide which
Castro moved firmly against the                 path it intended taking and to ask itself
Directorate and the Miami Pact. "The            where it was heading. This exchange
leadership of the struggle against              echoed a furious ideological struggle
tyranny is, and will continue to be, in         which was taking place within the
Cuba and in the hands of revolutionary          anti-Batista forces, including within
fighters." The National Directorate             the July 26th Movement.
was accused of showing "lukewarm
patriotism and cowardice". To try and           As the crisis intensified the vacillating
head off Pazos's bid for a future               petty bourgeoisie who were grouped
Presidency he made his own                      into this movement were being
nomination - an elderly jurist Manuel           increasingly divided into opposing and
Urruitia - to lead a transitional               separate camps.
                                                On the one side the rightist leadership
The newly created junta collapsed,              of the Directorate were increasingly
Pazos resigned from the Movement                under the influence of US imperialism
and the new leader of the Directorate,          and its attempts to achieve the most
Chomón, attacked Castro for his                 favourable outcome for itself.
actions. Castro by his actions was
making clear that he and his forces             Alternatively, a more combative wing
were     the    dominant     alternative        was increasingly being radicalised to
leadership to Batista. To consolidate           the left by a combination of the effects
his position he had to rest on Che and          of the war, the process of the
the "left-wing" of the July 26th                revolution and the necessity to defend

its own interests and aspirations.              and worked against the July 26th
Castro was now firmly entrenched as             Movement. The leadership of the
the leader of this wing - El Jefe               official trade union federation, the
Máximo as he became known.                      CTC (Cuban Workers' Confederation)
                                                was corrupt and compromised through
Within this process Che was the most            its relations with Batista. Despite
politically conscious in his support for        being heavily influenced by the PSP it
international socialism. Although he            did not endorse or mobilise for the
lacked the clarity of ideas and                 strike. The Llano leadership issued a
programme which were needed to                  call for a general strike on 9 April.
achieve this goal, the clash with the
Directorate indicated he probably               It was done with no preparation
increasingly influenced Castro at               amongst the workers and without
critical moments and "helped" him to            concrete plans or a strategy to conduct
take one or more steps further in a             it. Even clandestine strike committees
leftward direction.                             of activists and known fighters were
                                                not established in the work-places to
By March 1958 the situation in                  prepare the strike.
Batista's camp was worsening. With
difficulties mounting on all fronts the         A general strike can arise, take form
state apparatus was beginning to crack          and play one of two roles for the
around him. In an unprecedented                 workers' movement. If the social and
move a Havana magistrate agreed to              political conditions are right it can
prosecute a police colonel and the              directly challenge the ruling regime
Chief of Naval Intelligence, Laurent,           and dominant class in society. As a
for the murder of four youths. All the          result it can pose the question of
schools were closed as 75,000 students          which class ought to run society - the
went on strike. Batista suspended all           capitalists and landlords or the
civil rights and imposed radio and              working class with the support of
press censorship.                               other exploited social layers.

The General Strike - A Setback                  With a far sighted Marxist leadership
                                                such a conflict in society can develop
There had been much speculation and             into a revolutionary situation and
discussion amongst the anti-Batista             victory for the proletariat. This
forces about the calling of a general           situation usually arises when: the
strike. Despite having organised                ruling class is split and divided, the
groups of supporters in the cities the          intermediary classes - the urban
organised basis of the July 26th                middle class and sections of the
Movement amongst the working class              peasants - are politically vacillating
was weak. The main structured and               and looking for an alternative, and the
coherent political force amongst the            working class is prepared to fight to
industrial workers was the PSP.                 take over the running of society with a
                                                tested revolutionary leadership at its
The Llano leadership refused to                 head.
involve the PSP in its general strike
plans. Formally the PSP supported the           In other situations, where the working
idea of a general strike although its           class is newer, too weak or lacking
leaders did nothing to prepare for one          experience,       confidence       and

consciousness in itself as a class, a              weakened prestige        to   his   own
general strike can play a different role.          advantage.
Under these conditions, whilst the
elements outlined above may exist,                 It was not revealed until years later the
they are not sufficiently matured to               full significance of these events. Che
actually allow the question of which               wrote an article in 1964, entitled A
class is to run society to be posed                Decisive Meeting, for Verde Olivo,
immediately. A strike under these                  the magazine of the post-Batista army.
conditions can play an important role              Here the consequences of the events
in the working class gaining                       surrounding the April 'strike' become
experience, building its organisations             clear.
and acquiring greater consciousness
and confidence in itself as a class.               A meeting took place on 3 May 1958
                                                   in which an open struggle took place
On 9 April 1958 neither situation                  between the supporters of the Llano
arose. The all-out strike did not                  and Castro. Arising from this meeting
materialise and was a complete flop.               Castro was named for the first time
In Havana the Harbour functioned                   General Secretary of the July 26th
along with the transport system and                Movement. This served to consolidate
most shops and factories remained                  Castro's position as the leader of the
open. The strike was imposed over the              movement. As Che commented in his
heads of the workers and was ignored               article: " At this meeting decisions
by them. The membership of the                     were taken that confirmed Fidel's
Havana Strike Committee illustrates                moral authority, his indisputable
the absence of participation from the              stature..." He continued, "...Fidel's
workers. Apart from two members of                 standing     and     authority   were
the National Directorate of the July               consolidated, and he was named
26th Movement, it comprised of a                   commander-in-chief of all forces,
senior engineer, a journalist from the             including the militias - which until
Orthodox Party, the leader of the                  then     had    been    under   Llano
Cuban evangelical churches and a                   leadership..."
philanthropic doctor.
                                                   Politically the defeat of the strike re-
Castro had backed the strike but                   enforced the scepticism in which the
criticised the Llano leadership for                Sierra held the prospects of a
excluding the PSP earlier. The PSP,                movement in the cities. This was
with some justification, blamed the                reflected in the struggle which took
failure of 9 April on the July 26th                place in the meeting held on 3 May.
Movement's "unilateral call" for a                 The prominent role of the guerrilla
general strike.                                    struggle in the mountains was
                                                   confirmed after the heated debate
The Batista regime's sense of security             which took place. Che wrote: "But
temporarily and falsely increased as a             most importantly, the meeting
result of the strike's failure. Within the         discussed and passed judgement on
July 26th Movement it had deeper                   two conceptions that had clashed with
repercussions. The friction between                each other throughout the whole
the Llano and Sierra shot up as Castro             previous stage of directing the war.
turned      the    urban       leadership's        The guerrilla conception would

emerge    triumphant      from     that         Llano. Its leaders did not subscribe to
meeting."                                       socialism, even less to revolutionary
                                                Marxism and its method of struggle
He went on: "We did away with                   aimed at ensuring the working class
various     naive     illusions   about         was running society.
attempted      revolutionary    general
strikes when the situation had not              The failure of the general strike in
matured sufficiently to bring about             April reflected a certain paralysis by
such an explosion, and without having           the working class in the cities, mainly
laid the necessary groundwork...we              because of the absence of a leadership
had considered it likely that the               able to offer a way forward. The July
Movement's forces would fail in                 26th Movement, whilst enjoying much
attempting a revolutionary general              sympathy because of its anti-Batista
strike..."                                      struggle, was not rooted amongst the
Che qualifies his conclusions about             proletariat and could not win its
the revolutionary general strike with           confidence due to its vague radical
references to central subjective and            democratic programme.
objective issues of "groundwork" and
conditions which were not sufficiently          The programme of the July 26th
"matured". These are decisive                   Movement in the Llano still reflected
questions but they are axiomatic for            the aspirations of the radical petty
Marxists and centre on an estimation            bourgeoisie rather than those of the
of the balance of forces which exist.           working class despite its call for action
                                                against the regime. However, this
Che's consideration of the general              merely expanded the vacuum which
strike as a "naive illusion" and his            existed in Cuban society. The failure
counterpoising with it the "guerrilla           of the general strike was not a measure
conception", reveals how he, and the            of the support which Batista enjoyed.
leadership of the Sierra, were not              It was a measure of the absence of
looking for the active and conscious            leadership within the workers'
participation of the masses, especially         movement.
the proletariat, in the revolution. This
was not simply a question of one                Castro's guerrilla army was perceived
article but an approach which was               as being more combative and radical.
contained in his method.                        Through its heroic military struggle
                                                and apparently uncompromising stand
If the "groundwork" for a general               against      the   regime     and US
strike had not been prepared the job of         imperialism, it was increasingly able
Marxists was to prepare it. If the              to fill the void which existed.
objective     conditions    are     not
"sufficiently matured" then Marxists            Batista, encouraged by the defeat of
patiently but energetically participate         the April strike, mounted a military
in the struggles of workers and                 offensive against the rebels in May.
conduct propaganda and agitation to             His confidence evidently rose after the
assist them.                                    April events. However, this eventually
                                                collapsed given the poor state of
There was no assessment of the defeat           morale within his forces. By July there
of the general strike from a Marxist            was a definite change. Increasingly
point of view by the leadership of the          sections of Batista's army, including

officers, came over to the side of the           the situation there was a last ditch
rebels.                                          attempt to put together a plan to
                                                 replace Batista but it came to nothing
In the final months of 1958 the rebels           due to a combination of treachery and
scored success after success on the              the dynamic of the revolution which
battlefield. Other political and military        was underway.
opposition groups collapsed into
Castro's forces. Che led his own                 With his regime in a state of
column and spearheaded a major                   disintegration, Batista fled the country
offensive on Cuba's fourth largest city,         on New Year's Day 1959 on board an
Santa Clara, which was Batista's main            air-force jet. On the night of 1-2
line of defence. The battle was crucial          January Che arrived in Havana whilst
and lasted about three days during               Castro took control of Santiago. On 2
which Che played quite an heroic role,           January, as Radio Rebelde reported
his forces at one stage seizing control          the fall of Batista, the July 26th
of an armoured train. Che's rebels               Movement issued a call for a general
issued a call to arms as sections of the         strike to mark the end of the old
town's population took to the streets            regime. On this occasion the strike
with molotov-cocktails and did battle            was solid.
with the army.
                                                 The rebels had won and they arrived
As the rebels strengthened their                 in the capital to a rapturous reception
position, in the USA both the CIA and            as the population took to the streets.
State Department had changed their               The hated Batista dictatorship had
earlier attitude and now regarded                fallen. The revolution was set to
Castro's forces as too "unreliable" to           continue. Its repercussions were to be
do business with. Almost giving up on            felt around the globe.

Chapter Six                    In Power - Cuba versus 'the gringos'

THE FALL of the Batista dictatorship              16 January he spoke at the grave of
did not end the revolutionary process             Eduardo Chibas (the former leader of
which had developed in Cuba. Castro's             the Orthodox Party), refuting that he
triumphant      entry   into   Havana             was a communist and praising Chibas.
represented the close of chapter one. A           Chibas had always been a bitter
combination of factors came together              opponent of socialist ideas. At the end
and propelled the revolution much                 of January, when he was in Venezuela,
further than many of its leaders                  Castro promised elections to a
initially intended.                               'congress' within two years.

A Provisional Government was                      At the same time the workers,
appointed which included Pazos, one               peasants, youth and even the middle
of the Maestro Pact signatories, and              class had been radicalised by the
was under the Presidency of Judge                 downfall of Batista. Castro rested on
Manuel Urruita. All were under the                this mass movement as he moved to
umbrella of the July 26th Movement                introduce measures which would
and Castro's guiding influence. It was            assert Cuba's independence. He was
precisely what its name stated - a                also affected by it and pushed in an
movement and not a disciplined                    even more radical direction.
political party with a clear ideology or
policy. The paralysis of 'liberal'                A combination of these processes at
capitalist Cuba was reflected in their            home and the reaction of US
acceptance of this 'Provisional                   imperialism to these events resulted in
Government'. The government rapidly               the revolution going much further and
announced elections would be                      faster forward than its central players
postponed for eighteen months. The                had      originally   intended.     US
avowedly         'liberal'      capitalist        imperialism was horrified at events
representatives lacked the vision or              that began to unfold in its former
initiative to boldly enter the political          playground.
fray. They had no choice but to allow
Castro to pull the strings.                       The remaining US tourists staying at
                                                  the Havana Hilton were undoubtedly
During the early days of January                  somewhat disgruntled as this luxury
Castro played a typical Bonapartist               hotel was transformed into an
balancing act. On the one hand he                 unofficial but de-facto seat of
incorporated sections of the 'liberal'            government. As they abandoned
Cuban capitalist class into the                   holidays prematurely they were forced
government and verbally tried to                  to mix with "dirty" bearded armed
reassure them and to some extent US               guerrillas, workers and youth who
imperialism that their interests were             now roamed the corridors. Amongst
not placed in jeopardy by the                     them was the figure who was
revolution against Batista. He was still          increasingly becoming their bête noir -
motivated by the radical ideas of Martí           Che Guevara.
more than anything else. The
revolution he promised was genuinely
"Cuban, national and democratic". On
The Jury of a million                            provoked a massive attack by US
                                                 imperialism which denounced such
During January measures began to be              measures as criminal. However, the
taken by Castro, largely under Che's             reprisals had the support of the mass
direction, which aroused the wrath of            of Cubans, especially the poor, who
US imperialism. In order to protect              had suffered horrific crimes at the
itself from the threat of a counter-             hands of Batista's thugs.
revolution from the remnants of
Batista's regime a purge of the old              The Tribunals were not elected
repressive state apparatus began to be           committees of workers, soldiers and
implemented. Known sympathisers                  representatives of the local community
and supporters of Batista were                   as would have been advocated by
arrested, known torturers and thugs              Marxists during such revolutionary
were executed. Over a period of                  conditions.
months      several   hundred     were
executed.                                        However, the measures taken by the
                                                 Tribunals were to defend the
Che was a crucial influence in                   revolution and to try and exact some
enacting these justifiable measures to           justice for the victims of Batista's
safeguard the revolution. In mid-                sadistic torturers. Those accused were
January Che established the Academia             given defence lawyers and the right to
Militar-Cultural to conduct an                   disprove or justify their actions.
education programme amongst the                  According to those who participated,
army at La Cabaña. From here two                 in the main, nobody was shot for
critical aspects of work were                    hitting a prisoner of the former
conducted. A political education                 regime. Only in the cases of brutal
programme amongst the army was                   torture or death, which involved
launched. About 1,000 prisoners of               hundreds of cases, was execution the
war were held from Batista's defeated            verdict. Former prisoners and the
forces.                                          families of the dead or 'disappeared'
Che was trying through these                     were asked to give evidence and show
measures to re-build the army and by             the scars they were left to carry for
doing so construct it as a firm basis for        life.
the revolution. The guerrilla units and
their leaders were incorporated into it          These elementary rights are in marked
increasingly with members of the PSP             contrast to the "justice" given during
with whom Che was establishing                   the 1980s throughout Latin America
closer relations.                                as military regimes fell one after
                                                 another across the continent. Unlike in
From La Cabaña he oversaw the                    Cuba after the fall of Batista, the new
Revolutionary Tribunals which were               pro-capitalist   governments       have
used as a means of purging the army              permitted a conspiracy of silence to
of its most pro-Batista elements. The            take place in order to protect the
trials centred on those who conducted            military and police in their respective
torture and murder under the Batista             countries. Despite hundreds of
dictatorship. Much of the Cuban                  thousands suffering torture and death,
population was in the mood to unleash            few prosecutions have been made
lynching parties on those associated             against those responsible for such
with the dictatorship. The tribunals             crimes in, Argentina, Chile, Brazil,

Peru, and other countries. The victims         On 22 January a mass rally was called
have been denied the opportunity to            in Havana to support the government's
speak out.                                     "war trials" policy. Estimates vary but
                                               anything between half a million and
The friends and families of "los               one million participated in this mass
desapparacidos" (the disappeared) still        demonstration. It was bigger than the
get no reply to their simple question          rally which greeted Castro when he
carried on placards throughout the             arrived in Havana on 8 January. The
continent: "Donde Están?" (Where are           revolution was gathering momentum.
they?). In Argentina after more than a
decade of weekly protests in front of          Banners denounced US imperialism
the Presidential Palace the mothers of         for its double standards, compared the
the disappeared are still asking this          trials of Batista's assassins with the
same question and still get no reply.          Nuremberg trials of convicted Nazis
Even the bodies of loved ones have             after the Second World War and
not been returned to allow burial and          demanded "revolutionary justice".
                                               Castro asked all those who agreed
The silence of US imperialism about            with revolutionary justice to raise their
these crimes, in which it and its              hands. Up to one million hands were
agencies such as the CIA are directly          raised to a cry of "si".
implicated, has been deafening. It has
been in marked contrast to its reaction        Castro commented: " Gentlemen of
to the tribunal headed by Che in Cuba.         the diplomatic corps, gentlemen of the
                                               press of the whole continent, the jury
A gruesome picture was painted by              of a million Cubans of all ideas and all
US imperialism of what was taking              social classes has voted."
place in Havana. The "terror" of the
new regime was hypocritically                  There was massive support for the
denounced and Che was presented as             measures being taken by the
public enemy number one. The wrath             government. Castro was resting on this
of US imperialism had now been                 support and was now mobilising it to
unleashed as the revolution took               answer the attacks and threats from the
retribution against the paid lackeys of        'imperialist gringos' in the USA. He
Washington.                                    was also being pushed along by the
                                               pressure of the mass movement which
Che was determined to carry through            was now gripped with a revolutionary
this policy. The wound of recent               fervour. At the same time the arrogant
history was still open and aggravated          response and demands of the US
by his experience during the war. Che          compounded this. Within a short space
repeated endlessly to his Cuban                of months the revolution had gone
comrades during this period that               much further than any of its central
Arbenz had failed in Guatemala                 players had anticipated it would. Even
because he failed to purge the armed           Che had written in 1958: "...I began
forces and allowed the CIA to                  the struggle with that spirit: honestly
penetrate     and     overthrow     his        without any hope of going further than
government. He was determined not to           the liberation of the country; and fully
allow history to be repeated in Cuba.          prepared to leave when the conditions
                                               of the struggle veered all the action of

the Movement toward the right                   severing      of     relations   with
(toward what all of you represent)." (          "communists". He presented Castro
Letter to the July 26th Movement co-            with a file on "known communists" in
ordinator in the Oriente, 'Daniel').            and around his government. Moreover,
                                                these demands were linked to the
                                                question of economic aid. After the
The Death of Capitalist Cuba                    meeting Nixon concluded that Castro
                                                was either, "..incredibly naive about
Although Castro was leaning on the              communism or was under communist
masses       and      defended      the         discipline and that we would have to
"revolutionary trials" he still was not         treat him accordingly."
propagating the idea of a "socialist
revolution".                                    'Accordingly', he then supported
                                                Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
All property belonging to Batista and           chief, J. Edgar Hoover, in urging the
his cronies was taken over by the state         US immediately arm Cuban exiles
during the early days of the revolution.        with a view to overthrowing Castro.
However, Castro was still refuting any          The forced removal of Castro became
"communist" objectives and declaring            a matter of prestige for the ruling class
his support for the establishment of a          in the USA and this has determined its
capitalist "democracy" in Cuba.                 policy ever since.

US imperialism was terrified of the             Castro tried to explain to Nixon that
events which were unfolding only 100            any measures his government took
miles from its coastline. Though it was         against US interests were just and
justified in its fears, many of its             spent the US tour arguing that he was
political representatives were also             not a communist, that foreign interests
suffering from a severe case of                 would be respected and that his heart
"communist paranoia" and saw a                  was "in the west". For three hours he
"communist plot" in every radical               met with the CIA's "expert" on
political movement south of the Rio             communism in Latin America, who
Grande which it did not directly                concluded, "Castro is not only not a
control or influence.                           communist, he is a strong anti-
Castro was not trusted but still
remained a largely unknown quantity.            US imperialism was not prepared to
He was invited to the US by a group             accept any challenge to its interests in
of newspaper editors with a view to             Cuba or throughout the region as a
"sounding him out". His visit took              whole. It certainly was not prepared to
place during April and it was evidently         permit a loosening of its grip in its
intended also as a means of putting             former playground through the
pressure on him to follow US wishes.            emergence of a more independent,
While he was in Washington Castro               "national" and "liberal" reform minded
met, amongst others, Vice-President             regime in Havana. The result was that
Richard Nixon for "discussions".                Castro, also under pressure from the
                                                revolution in Cuba, became locked
Nixon demanded the end of                       into a conflict with the USA and
executions    resulting  from the               capitalism.
"revolutionary" tribunals and a

Che, during these processes, was                and their friends in the USA from
urging Castro to go further against             where the spectre of "Communism in
capitalism at each stage. The                   Cuba" was raised.
revolution sank deeper and deeper
roots and gained momentum. The                  The price of Cuban sugar on the New
blows struck against it by US                   York Stock Exchange fell. US
imperialism only served to strengthen           companies with investments in Cuba
it and push it in a still more leftward         were beginning to panic about whether
and socialist direction. In his 1963            they would be paid compensation
article, Building a Party of the                should their assets be taken over by
Working      Class,      Che     wrote:         the new government.
"Imperialism has been a very
important factor in the development             The US orchestrated a campaign to
and deepening of our ideology. Each             oust Castro by demanding he call
blow dealt by imperialism called for a          elections. The response was a massive
response. Each time the Yankees                 demonstration     of    hundreds    of
reacted with their habitual arrogance,          thousands on May Day, of armed
by taking some action against Cuba,             Cubans chanting, "Revolution- Yes -
we had to adopt the necessary counter-          Elections -No."
measures, and thereby the revolution
deepened."                                      Within Cuba itself a massive
                                                radicalisation of workers, poor
After Castro returned from his                  peasants and youth was taking place
American visit a programme of                   alongside a polarisation within the
agrarian reform was announced by the            government. Vendors were selling
government. It had been drafted under           fruit juice on the streets to raise money
Che's influence and its first article           for the state and the revolution. During
proscribed estates larger than 1,000            the summer of 1959 Castro was still
acres and supported the establishment           vacillating and speaking of a
of co-operatives. Exceptions were               "humanist" national revolution which
allowed and land could even be held             was       neither     "capitalist"    nor
by foreign companies if the                     "communist".
government deemed it to be in the
national interest. In fact this law went        The openly pro-capitalist 'Liberals' in
little further than the Constitution of         the government lacked any serious
1940 but it did allow the government            figures around which they could rally
to confiscate land and the new                  their limited forces. However, they
legislation affected about 40% of total         increasingly protested at the actions of
farmland.                                       Che in the armed forces and the
                                                promotion of known socialists and
The land reform programme was to be             PSP supporters. They opposed the
enacted through the Agrarian Reform             more radical measures which Castro
Institute, INRA, which appointed farm           was agreeing to implement, such as a
managers and paid workers $2.50 a               decree cutting rents by 50%
day throughout the year. Whilst the             announced in March. An increasing
proposed agricultural reform may have           polarisation developed within ruling
differed little from the 1940                   circles reflecting the pressure of the
Constitution it was sufficient to arouse        revolution underway and the series of
the opposition of Cuba's landowners

blows and counter-blows taking place           enemies of our peoples. The
between the USA and Cuba.                      revolution has put the Latin American
                                               tyrants on guard because these are the
Manuel Urruita, the President, was             enemies of popular regimes, as are the
forced to resign in July after massive         monopolistic foreign companies......
protests against his opposition to the         Today, all the people of Cuba are on a
radical steps being implemented by             war footing and should remain so, so
the government. By November the                that the victory against the dictatorship
liberal ministers had been sacked or           is not a passing one but becomes the
forced to resign as they joined the            first step to the victory of (Latin)
Washington chorus against the                  America."
"communist" policies of the Cuban
government.                                    It was a clarion call to revolutionaries
                                               throughout Latin America and a
Che during these months was                    declaration of war against US
demanding       still    more   radical        interests. The US was adopting a
measures. Since January he had been            policy aimed at strangling the
advocating a policy of rapid                   measures being taken by the new
industrialisation of the economy based         regime. The importation of sugar from
upon nationalisation of mineral                Cuba was slashed because of the
wealth, electricity, the telephone             agricultural    reform      and      the
company (a subsidiary of the US                nationalisation of foreign petrol
multi-national ITT) and other sectors          companies in June. This followed the
of the economy.                                importation of Russian oil which US
                                               companies in Cuba had refused to
More than anybody else in Cuba, Che            refine. The Cuban government
now terrified US imperialism with              appointed administrators at all the
what he was preaching. He anticipated          refineries owned by Texaco, Esso and
the onslaught from the US government           Shell and then nationalised them.
which would follow the adoption of
more radical policies. On 27 January           Castro retaliated to the cutting of sugar
he delivered a speech, 'Social                 imports with a decree legalising the
Projections of the Rebel Army". Che            nationalisation of all foreign assets. In
proclaimed: "Our revolution is                 October, 383 large Cuban industries
intimately    linked   to   all    the         and the banks were taken over by the
underdeveloped countries of Latin              state. Capitalism was snuffed out. In
America. The revolution is not limited         April 1960, Castro for the first time
to the Cuban nation because it has             proclaimed the revolution in Cuba as
touched the conscience of (Latin)              "Socialist".
America and seriously alerted the
                                               in Moscow in the name of "socialism"
                                               initially observed events from a
Chapter Seven                                  distance. The leaders in the Kremlin
A New Cuba                                     were, if anything, taken by surprise at
                                               the turn events had taken. It is
WHILST US imperialism was                      certainly false to assert, as some
horrified by the events which were             apologists for the Moscow regime
taking    place    in   Havana    the          have, that the Cuban Revolution was
bureaucratic dictatorship which ruled          conducted with the support of the

USSR from the very beginning and                were recalled to him by Giorgi
that Castro was collaborating with              Kornienko, a senior official working
them.                                           in the CPSU Department of
                                                Information. "Khruschchev asked,
There had been some limited contact             'What kind of guys are these? Who are
between individual members of the               they?' But nobody knew the answer to
July 26th Movement and Soviet                   his question...In reality we didn't know
officials in Mexico prior to the                who these guys in Havana were."
Granma expedition. Apart from Raúl
Castro's membership of the Young                However, once confronted with the
Communists, Che had also had                    social revolution, the Moscow
discussions with a Soviet official.             bureaucracy was prepared to step in
                                                and use the opportunity which had
At most, the contact which had taken            presented itself. By embracing the
place was of a fact-finding character.          Cuban      regime    under    Castro,
Che, during the time he was in                  Khrushchev was able to assert the
Mexico, saw the Soviet Union as the             bureaucracy's international influence
manifestation     of      "socialism".          and prestige.
Moreover, as with many in the
colonial and semi-colonial world, the           This was seen during the Cuban
USSR was viewed as an attractive                missile crisis in 1962 when fearing
counterweight to imperialism - in               plans for a US intervention, the
Latin     America    especially    US           Cubans appealed for military aid. The
imperialism.                                    Soviet bureaucracy agreed and
                                                despatched weapons capable of
In a letter to 'Daniel' written in 1958,        carrying nuclear warheads. This was
Che had explained that he "...belonged          done primarily to boost the prestige of
to those that believe that the solution         the bureaucracy internationally by
to the world's problems lies behind the         being seen to "stand up to" the USA. It
so-called iron curtain..." Later, as Che        was done partly as a tit-for-tat measure
was to see Russia at first hand the             against action taken by the USA
more critical and hostile he became in          earlier. By installing nuclear weapons
his attitude towards the privileged             in Cuba Khrushchev argued: " We can
bureaucracy which ruled there in the            give them back the same medicine
name of "socialism" - without losing            they gave us in Turkey (the USA had
his hatred of capitalism and                    installed nuclear missiles aimed at the
imperialism.                                    USSR)...It's just to frighten them a
                                                bit...They should be made to feel the
If there was a conspiracy involving             same way we do...They have to
Castro and the bureaucracy in the               swallow the pill like we swallowed the
Kremlin to take over Cuba then the              Turkish one."
leaders of the Soviet Union knew
nothing about it. As news of the                As well as using the situation in Cuba
turbulent events in Havana reached              to boost its international prestige, the
Moscow during January 1959, a                   Russian bureaucracy would also use
meeting of the CPSU (Communist                  its influence and economic muscle to
Party of the Soviet Union) leaders was          control the Cuban leaders who were
taking place. Anderson details in his           regarded as wild cards. The
Che Guevara biography events as they            bureaucracy which ruled the USSR in

1960 was confident and assertive on             care was developed and made freely
the world arena in marked contrast to           available to everybody. Eventually it
the demoralised clique who enacted              would rank amongst the best in the
the restoration of capitalism during            world. Work, food and housing were
1989/92.                                        available for all. Infant mortality was
                                                reduced to 10.6 per thousand and life
Social gains                                    expectancy increased to 74 years by
                                                the late 1970s. These age expectancy
Revolutionary     Cuba      established         levels compared favourably to the
extremely      favourable       trading         major     imperialist    countries.  It
arrangements with the USSR and                  compared at the time to 45 years in
Eastern Europe. 85% of Cuban trade              Bolivia, about 60 in Brazil and 58 in
was conducted behind the 'iron curtain'         Colombia.
as Cuban sugar was purchased at three
and even four times the price on the            Castro's government was the first on
world market. 95% of Cuba's oil was             the continent to openly proclaim its
from the USSR. Indeed Russian                   allegiance to "socialism". Earlier
economic aid amounted in excess of              inclusion of the socialist or communist
US$ one million per day. Without                parties in government in Latin
such support the Cuban economy and              America had been through coalition
the revolution would have collapsed.            with a variety of capitalist parties. Any
As the old saying goes, "He who pays            adherence to building socialism
the piper calls the tune". With such            rapidly faded and was dropped. Not
dependency the Kremlin had the                  until Allende's election in Chile in
Castro regime firmly in grasp.                  1970 was another Latin American
                                                government to proclaim its intent on
Investment in industry was undertaken           building socialism.
and technicians were sent to Havana.
Based upon the overthrow of                     Moreover, the victory in Cuba was
capitalism and the construction of a            apparently achieved by revolution.
planned economy with the economic               The effect throughout the continent
support from the USSR, the life of the          was electric. Workers, peasants and
Cuban masses was transformed. The               youth throughout Latin America began
gains made as a consequence of the              to look to Cuba as an example which
revolution contrasted with the 'free            they aspired to emulate. Cuba was
market' sea of misery in which the rest         now a beacon to the exploited masses
of the population on the continent was          of Latin America. The enthusiasm
left to drown.                                  which events in Havana had generated
                                                further south was only mirrored by the
Within two years illiteracy was                 horror with which they were greeted
abolished. Prior to 1959 50% of                 by the capitalist rulers north of the Rio
children of primary school age                  Grande.
received no education at all; after the
revolution it was available to all.             From what José Mart' described as
Teachers and students were sent to              "inside the monster" of US
organise classes in the factories and on        imperialism plans were laid to
the farms. When everybody in the                overthrow     Castro's    "Communist
workplace could read and write a red            threat". In April 1961 planes from the
flag was flown at the entrance. Health          US bombed the city of Santiago de

Cuba. It was in response to this attack         operatives to all agricultural workers,
that Castro proclaimed the "socialist           transformed forts into schools, given
character" of the revolution. This              70,000 scholarships to university,
attack was a prelude to an invasion in          secondary and technological students,
the same month at Playa Gir-n (Bay of           created lecture halls for the entire
Pigs) by US organised mercenary                 child population, totally liquidating
forces. The assault collapsed into a            illiteracy,    quadrupling      medical
farce as the US pulled back from an all         services,     nationalising     foreign
out-attack on Cuban soil and was                interests, suppressing the abusive
repelled by armed militias.                     system which turned housing into a
                                                means of exploiting people, virtually
Each attempted assault by US                    eliminating              unemployment,
imperialism      merely      served   to        suppressing discrimination due to race
strengthen support for the revolution           or sex, ridding itself of gambling vice
and Castro's regime. Che, with                  and administrative corruption, armed
justification, sent a written message to        the people..is expelled from the
President Kennedy after the invasion            Organisation of American States by
at Playa Gir-n: "Thank you for Playa            governments which have not achieved
Gir-n. Before the invasion, the                 for their people one of these
revolution was shaky. Now, it is                objectives."
stronger than ever."
                                                Referring to the wrath aroused
The failure of this invasion was then           amongst the defenders of capitalism
followed by a campaign to isolate               the declaration argued: "What explains
Cuba internationally. The expulsion of          it is fear. Not fear of the Cuban
Cuba from the Organisation of                   revolution but fear of the Latin
American States (OAS) was carried               American revolution...fear that the
out on 31 January 1962. This was                workers,        peasants,      students,
followed by a total US trade embargo            intellectuals and progressive sectors of
which still exists today.                       the middle strata will by revolutionary
                                                means take power in the oppressed
On 4 February Castro hit back in a              and hungry countries exploited by the
lengthy     speech,   'The    Second            Yankee monopolies and reactionary
Declaration of Havana'. It was                  oligarchies of America, fear that the
delivered to an audience of one                 plundered people of the continent will
million - one in seven of the entire            seize arms from their oppressors and,
population. It was an outstanding               like Cuba, declare themselves free
summary of the history of Latin                 people of America."
America, denouncing capitalism and
imperialism and calling for revolution          The achievements of the Cuban
and     socialism   throughout     the          revolution    together    with    such
continent.                                      declarations ensured that it won
                                                massive support at home and abroad.
Castro was more than justified in               However, despite the popularity of the
proclaiming     "Cuba,   the   Latin            new regime and the tremendous gains
American nation which has made                  made by the revolution, it did not
landowners of more than 100,000                 result in the establishment of a
small farmers, ensured employment all           genuine     system     of     workers'
the year on state farms and co-                 democracy.

A New Cuba but run by whom?                    taking over the running of society.
                                               With the proletariat at the head of the
After the Russian Revolution in 1917           revolutionary process a workers' state
a system of workers' democracy was             was established which reflected the
established through the election of            class character of the revolution. It
Soviets (Councils). These comprised            was this which had such an impact on
delegates elected from the factories,          workers throughout the world.
workplaces and military units. Similar
forms of organisation have been                The working class eventually lost
established by the working class in            political power to a bureaucratic elite
other revolutions, including during the        because of the failure of the
Paris Commune which was established            international revolution and the
in 1871. After the Russian revolution          military intervention by 21 armies of
the local soviets would elect regional         imperialism     which      strengthened
and national councils from which the           counter revolutionary forces in Russia.
government was formed.                         The civil war which raged between
                                               1918 and 1921 resulted in an horrific
All those delegates elected could be           economic and social catastrophe.
replaced by those who elected them at          Because of the starvation which
any time. Government officials were            developed in rural areas even
paid no more than the average wage of          cannibalism took place. These events
skilled workers. Lenin argued the              and the failure of the victory of the
maximum differential in wages and              revolution internationally eventually
salaries should be four to one.                exhausted     the     working     class,
Through this system of workers'                especially the most politically active
democracy the working class with the           and experienced workers. A privileged
support of the poor peasants and other         and bureaucratic caste emerged which
exploited layers, exercised democratic         took political power. A repressive
control and management over the                bureaucratic regime ruled in the name
running and planning of society.               of "socialism" until 1989/91.

As a result the Russian Revolution had         In Cuba the new regime which came
a massive impact internationally. It           to power in 1959 was tremendously
was as John Reed entitled his vibrant          popular and enjoyed massive support
account of the revolution Ten Days             amongst the population. But the
that Shook the World. Workers world            character of the state which was
wide not only supported the revolution         established        reflected      the
but they fought to emulate a similar           predominately rural and peasant basis
system of workers' democracy in their          of the revolution. As a result a
own countries. It had an even bigger           workers' democracy similar to that
and      more      practical    impact         which took power in Russia in 1917
internationally than the sympathy              was not established.
which was aroused by the Cuban
revolution.                                    Despite its support and popularity the
                                               Cuban regime was from the beginning
The system of workers' democracy               not a workers' democracy but what the
which was established during the               CWI would characterise as a deformed
Russian Revolution was built on the            workers' state. That is to say a state
basis of the working class consciously         where capitalism and landlordism

were overthrown and replaced with a            largely on day to day issues. However,
state owned planned economy but run            they have never functioned as a
and controlled by a bureaucratic caste.        mechanism through which the
There was no system of soviets or              democratic planning and control of the
workers' councils through which the            economy and society as a whole could
proletariat could govern society.              be carried out by the working class.

The government would rule mainly               Although they were popular in the
through the Communist Party and the            early period of the revolution amongst
Committees for the Defence of the              many workers they increasingly
Revolution (CDRs) which the new                played the role of informing on the
regime formed in September 1960.               activities of the local population.
These were not elected bodies based
upon the workplaces through which              The trade unions, through the CTC,
the working class could initiate               rapidly became little more than the
proposals or revise and amend those            supervisory agency for the relevant
coming from regional and national              government ministry.
level. This is essential to allow a
centrally planned economy to develop           There also existed nearly 300
most effectively and exercise a check          municipal councils but they have little
over bureaucratic tendencies.                  power. Candidates all had to fulfil the
                                               criteria laid down by the Party which
Every street had a CDR which anyone            also appointed the presidents.
could initially join and they
consequently boasted 3 million                 The Cuban Communist Party is the
members. These acted as a                      main instrument through which the
transmission belt for the decisions of         bureaucracy conducts its rule. The
the     government      which     were         party itself is run on the basis of
communicated to them mainly through            appointments made at each level from
members of the Communist Party.                the top down. It was formally
They functioned as the mechanism               established in 1965 on a controlled
through which the party leadership             basis following a purge which had
conducted local plebiscites to endorse         taken place in the ORI (Integrated
its decisions. There was no effective          Revolutionary Organisations) of all
channel through which the workers              PSP members who had participated in
and the population could debate and            the rigged elections Batista called in
change the decisions taken above.              1958.

This method of rule was frequently             With 70,000 members in 1969 it was
used by Castro. Mass rallies were              proportionally the smallest per head of
called and proposals presented to              population of the "communist parties"
those in attendance who were asked to          of    the    so-called    "communist"
endorse them "si " or "no". There was          countries. Its members were hand
no debate or discussion or check and           picked by commissions which were
control.                                       appointed by the Central Committee
                                               and factions were outlawed. These
In the fervour of the early day of the         commissions selected "exemplary"
revolution through the CDRs an                 workers and especially technicians
element of control was exercised               from the workplaces. Despite being

formed in 1965 the Communist Party
only held its first congress in 1975 - a        The excessive targets and zigzags
decade later. Other political parties           were pronounced in the important
were banned.                                    agricultural sector as well as in
                                                industry. In countries like Cuba a
In Russia even during the conditions            harmonious         development        of
of civil war the Bolshevik party held a         agriculture and industry is essential. A
congress every year. Under Lenin and            high degree of industrial development
Trotsky factions within the party were          and mechanisation is necessary in
banned (Lenin wanted this as a                  order to boost agricultural production
temporary      measure)   when      the         to the maximum. This requires a finely
revolution was threatened by the civil          tuned correlation being established
war and imperialist intervention from           between industry and agriculture. It is
21 countries. Other parties were only           not possible to achieve this without a
banned when they resorted to taking             system of workers' democracy and
up arms against the revolution and              where a bureaucracy ruling society
collaborated      with      imperialist         from the top. Leon Trotsky argued this
intervention.                                   case in his criticism of Stalin's
                                                agricultural policies in the 1930s.
A central planning mechanism was                Castro declared in the late 1960s that
established firstly through INRA and            Cuban sugar production would reach
then JUCEPLAN which were an                     10 million tonnes by 1970. This would
imitation of the bureaucratic planning          only have been possible with the
mechanisms which existed in the                 development       of     industry   and
USSR. Che played a leading role in              mechanisation of agriculture. Only 8
both and was head of the nationalised           million tons were harvested in 1970
Cuban National Bank.                            and 5.4 million in 1975. In a desperate
                                                race to meet the 1970 target 400,000
"Advisers" from behind the "iron                Cubans were mobilised from the cities
curtain" arrived and increasingly               to reap the harvest. This policy of the
influenced the centralised planning             mass mobilisation of voluntary labour
mechanism. By 1961 more than 100                (at times forced labour) was an
Eastern European "advisers" were in             attempt to provide a substitute for the
Havana. The masses were not in                  lack of mechanisation. In turn it
control of the central or local planning        resulted in a dislocation of production
of the economy. The bureaucratic                in the cities and added to the problems
control of the economy resulted in a            which existed in industry.
series of economic "zigzags" and
unrealisable targets being set as the           Che and Castro attempted to resolve
regime attempted to overcome                    some of the economic difficulties
shortages and problems. In 1960                 which arose because of the
Castro promised living standards equal          bureaucracy. They bemoaned the
to Sweden would be achieved by                  symptoms but could not find a cure.
1965. In 1961 Che Guevara declared              Even in 1963 Che was having to deal
Cuba would become an industrialised             with problems which were arising
country within 12 months. The same              because of the system of bureaucratic
year food rationing was introduced              rule. He delivered a secret speech
which was continued right up until the          which was "for the private use of
1970s!                                          political and economic leaders" in

which he castigated managers for the            were sent in 1963 to harvest sugar
poor quality of goods. However, to              cane. Once unloaded it was discovered
cure the decease of bureaucracy a               they could not be used for the task as
system of workers' democracy which              special machinery was required.
permitted criticism of decision makers
and discussion and changes of plans             Wage differentials existed from the
was necessary. This was absent in               outset of the new regime. K S Carol
Cuba.                                           remarks in his book, Guerrillas in
                                                Power that by 1963 he had
In a small country like Cuba, the               encountered an engineer in one factory
difficulties which would even be                who received 17 times the wage of a
encountered by a regime of workers'             worker. It was a long way from
democracy would demand the victory              Lenin's        proposed     maximum
of      the     socialist     revolution        differential of 4 to 1.
internationally - especially throughout
Latin America in order to obtain the            The     Cuban      bureaucracy     took
necessary resources and technique               privileges for itself although because
through the integration and planning            of the backwardness of Cuba these
of the economies throughout the                 appeared less than those taken by the
continent. That is why the struggle for         bureaucrats in the Kremlin. However,
a Socialist Federation of Latin                 they are no less significant in social
America is of such crucial importance           measurements.       In     1975     the
for the working class and exploited             Communist Party congress voted to
peoples of the continent.                       allow Cubans to buy cars. Until then
                                                this had been the preserve of party and
Che supported and fought for the                state officials. During the food
victory of such an international                rationing of 1961 government officials
revolution. Unfortunately the ideas he          were given higher rations than
advocated to achieve it did not                 workers and peasants. At the same
correspond to the conditions which              time better quality and more expensive
existed in other more urbanised                 restaurants like 'Torre' and the '1830'
countries of Latin America.                     were frequented by party and
                                                government officials. For workers
The bureaucratic influence from the             they remained inaccessible.
USSR worsened the situation. At
central level it attempted to impose its        Not For Che
own budgeting system. This ludicrous
policy meant that each industry                 Some of these privileges were literally
financially      operated     separately        taken from what the rich had left
irrespective of the national accounts.          behind as they fled Cuba. Che was not
One industry could not therefore offer          to be a party to such activities and was
subsidies to another even when this             repelled    by      them.    He     grew
was globally economically desirable.            increasingly      irritated    by     the
Che resisted attempts to impose this in         bureaucratic features which were
Cuba. Other aspects of Russian "aid"            emerging in the new Cuba.
were almost comical if not tragic.
Houses designed for the sub-zero                Orlando Borrego worked with Che in
conditions in Serbia were built in sun          JUCEPLAN and recalls one incident.
soaked Cuba! 1,000 Russian tractors             Having "intervened" in a sugar mill he

had taken a brand new Jaguar car                sent from Moscow which he
which the former owner had left                 denounced as "horse shit". On one
behind and drove around in it for a             occasion, when suffering from a
week. Che spotted him in it and ran to          particularly bad attack of asthma, he
him yelling: "You're a pimp. It is a            was visited by his friend, Padilla, who,
pimp's car. Not one representative of           having just returned from the USSR,
the people should be driving it, get rid        was denouncing what he had seen.
of it. You have two hours." Borrego             Che interrupted him: "I must tell you I
recalls "Che was super strict..like             don't need to listen to what you have
Jesus Christ".                                  to say because I already know all of
                                                that is a pigsty, I saw it myself."
He rejected privileges for himself and
lived a frugal lifestyle. As head of the        Although repelled by what he saw in
National Bank he refused the higher             the USSR and frustrated by the
salary to which he was entitled and             emerging bureaucratic methods and
insisted on living on the minimal wage          mistakes in Cuba, Che had no clear
paid to a "comandante". When food               alternative. His central weakness, the
rationing was introduced in 1961 he             lack of an understanding of the role of
was appalled to find out by accident            the working class in the revolution and
that his ration was higher than that            in consciously planning and running
being given to the mass of the                  society, now prevented him from
population and immediately cut his              developing a viable alternative policy.
                                                To this must be added his lack of any
He even refused to use government               worked out explanation about the
petrol allocated for official duties to         Stalinist states in the USSR and
take his wife to hospital and wanted            Eastern Europe. From a Marxist point
his father and family to pay their own          of view, both of these deficiencies in
airfare from Argentina when they                his ideas would conspire against him.
visited him in Cuba.
                                                He correctly looked to extend the
His commitment to the revolution and            revolution beyond Cuba's borders but
his life style earned him a special             failed to grasp how this could be done.
place in the hearts of the Cuban and
Latin American masses.                          International Policy

Increasingly, Che reacted with                  All he could offer was an appeal to
hostility to what he saw in the Soviet          repeat the revolution, and its methods
Union. On one visit, invited to dinner          of 'guerrillaism'. Because of the
in the apartment of a government                authority of the Cuban revolution this
official, he ate his meal on the finest         had a big impact on layers of youth
imported French porcelain. During the           and intellectuals throughout Latin
dinner he turned to his host and                America and Europe. However,
sarcastically quipped: "So, the                 despite sympathising with the Cuban
proletariat here eats off French                Revolution and Che, this method of
porcelain, eh?"                                 struggle was not viewed as viable to
                                                the powerful working class which was
Back in Cuba he grew frustrated by              growing up in Chile, Argentina,
the quality of the industrial supplies          Brazil, Bolivia and other countries.

Che failed to turn to this powerful and        threat to the bureaucracy. A victorious
potentially revolutionary class and            revolution in Hungary would threaten
offer it an alternative revolutionary          to spread in a series of uprisings to
socialist programme to the policies of         Eastern Europe and the USSR. The
class collaboration, reformism and             bureaucracy would not compromise
Popular Frontism which were on offer           with this threat. Khrushchev drowned
from the socialist and communist               the Hungarian revolution in blood.
parties in the region.
Che's ideas on internationalism had            However, to Havana he extended the
mass support in Cuba and the new               hand of friendship in the form of trade
regime was prepared to echo them as a          agreements and aid because the nature
counter-weight to the vicious blockade         of the Castro regime did not threaten
by imperialism. Under Che's influence          the rule of the bureaucrats in the
the regime supported and initiated             Kremlin.
guerrilla organisations in numerous
countries.                                     International policy reflects domestic
                                               policy. By 1968, after Che's death,
This was tolerated for a brief time by         Havana attempted to soften its
the bureaucracy in the USSR despite            relations with US imperialism and its
causing it some problems in its                cohorts in Latin America. This
dealings with local communist parties          reflected       the       bureaucracy's
which rejected these methods.                  consolidation of power and a
Conflicts and disagreements also took          temporary easing of the trade boycott
place between Havana and Moscow.               by the USA. Cuban support to
From the Kremlin's point of view it            revolutionary               movements
was a price worth paying as the                internationally lessened. The interests
economic aid Moscow was giving to              of the national regime had a higher
Cuba strengthened its international            priority    than    the    international
prestige especially in the colonial and        revolutionary movement.
semi-colonial countries.
                                               The Mexican government was the
Although the support of the Castro             only capitalist state to keep diplomatic
regime to numerous guerrilla forces in         relations with Havana. It acted as a
Latin America was a source of                  messenger service between Havana
irritation to the Moscow bureaucracy,          and Washington as it does today. In
it was not threatened by it. However,          Mexico October 1968 the military
they could tolerate it for a period of         massacred up to 1,000 students. Not a
time and even use it to their own              word of protest emanated from the
advantage against US imperialism.              Cuban Communist Party or the
The different attitude shown by                government.
Khrushchev towards the events in
Hungary in 1956 and those which                Moreover, there was a marked
developed in Cuba illustrated the              contradiction in the policy Cuba
nature of the regime in Havana.                adopted     towards  the     guerrilla
                                               movements and the struggles of the
In the Hungarian uprising in 1956              working      class.  As      workers'
workers' councils were formed. Power           movements erupted during the stormy
was in the hands of the working class          decade of the 1960s Castro and the
and the masses which posed a mortal            Cuban regime were notably silent.

When European capitalism was                 military intervention of the Russian
shaken by the general strike of 10           bureaucracy into Czechoslovakia.
million workers in France during May
1968 there was silence from Havana.
In the same year Castro supported the

                                                instrument to exercise control and to
Chapter Eight                                   impose Havana's desired policy over
                                                various guerrilla and left-wing groups.
                                                Increasingly this was done to meet the
                                                needs of the bureaucracy in Moscow.
Congo to Bolivia
                                                This was later illustrated when the
                                                Sandinistas seized power in a similar
The internationalist spirit of Che had a        process to that which unfolded in
big impact on young Cuban people.               Cuba. However, they did not then
Delegations of youth arrived to see             proceed to nationalise the decisive
him and sent letters pleading to be             sectors of the economy and overthrow
allowed to go and fight in Nicaragua,           capitalism.
Guatemala, the Dominican Republic,
Venezuela and other countries. A                During 1985, under the threat of
special government department was               counter-revolution backed from the
established,      Liberacion,       with        US, the Sandinista leaders were
responsibility "for the Latin American          flirting with the idea of "doing a
revolution".                                    Cuba". In April, Sandinista leader
                                                Daniel Ortega visited Moscow to
Foreign policy is a continuation of             discuss getting the support of the
domestic policy, and like the CDRs,             Soviet bureaucracy. Unwilling to
the international departments of                become embroiled in a war in Central
Cuba's government had two sides. To             America and with different interests
begin with those involved were                  and a changed international situation
usually motivated with the desire to            compared to that which existed in
spread the revolution and lend                  1959/60, the Moscow bureaucracy
assistance to fighters in other                 declined giving its support.
countries. Refuge was offered to those
throughout the region who were                  Castro    dutifully    supported  his
persecuted and had nowhere else to              paymasters and put pressure on the
go.                                             FSLN leaders. A small number of
                                                Soviet MIGs destined for Nicaragua
However, the support Liberación                 were impounded in Havana. He had
offered was almost entirely directed to         previously visited Managua in January
guerrilla organisations and not                 1985 to urge the FSLN to support a
orientated to the working class.                mixed economy, telling them: "You
Guerrilla groups were trained and               can have a capitalist economy" and
resources channelled to them. Che was           praised Ortega for his "serious and
involved in assisting groups from               responsible approach".
Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela and
Nicaragua. Many of the leaders of the           Che in the early 1960s was intent on
Nicaraguan FSLN, such as Tomás                  developing the revolution by the
Borge and Rodolfo Romero, who were              application of his guerrilla methods
members of the Sandinista leadership            throughout the South American
which took power in 1979, went                  continent. In particular he hoped for a
through training in Cuba.                       revolutionary upsurge in his native
This early support, reflecting the role
of the Castro regime, later became the
Castro wanted to strengthening his
regime and win the support of                    The Congo Disaster
Khrushchev. After returning from
Moscow during 1963 with vast                     Che left a letter to Castro, praising his
economic aid from the USSR, he was               qualities as a "revolutionary leader"
less concerned with the idea of                  and absolving Cuba of any of his
spreading the revolution beyond                  future actions. Typically he wrote: "...I
Cuba's shores and declared that he was           am not sorry that I leave nothing
"ready to do whatever is necessary to            material to my wife and children. I am
establish good neighbourly relations             happy it is that way. I ask nothing for
with the United States of America,               them, as the state will provide them
based upon the principles of                     with enough to live on and to have an
coexistence".                                    education..."

A guerrilla operation was initiated in           He finished the text with his famous
Argentina during 1962 by the Ejército            phrase which was to become a battle
Guerrillero del Pueblo (People's                 cry of the youth throughout Latin
Guerrilla Army). With its massive                America in the struggle against the
urban working class it was the least             dictatorships which imprisoned the
applicable country to launch a                   continent during the 1970/80s, "Hasta
guerrilla war. The offensive was                 la victoria siempre!" ( "Always until
undertaken to coincide with the                  victory").
second anniversary of the military
taking power. It was a disaster and the          However, the hopes and aspirations
group was slaughtered, including two             with which he departed for the Congo
of his closest collaborators, Hermes             with a force of Cubans were rapidly
and Masetti.                                     dashed. The mission was to turn into a
                                                 disaster and result in defeat. It was ill-
The episode had a devastating effect             prepared and undertaken almost as an
on Che. "...Here you see me behind a             act of desperation. Moreover, it was a
desk, fucked, while my people die                mission which was imposed from
during missions I've sent them on", he           outside. As Che admitted later the
replied, when asked why he was                   Congolese knew little of it until he
appearing depressed.                             arrived in their country.

A combination of this and other                  When his forces reached Dar-Es-
defeats      for     guerrilla     forces        Salaam, Tanzania, where the rebel
internationally,     combined        with        leaders were based, none could be
frustration      at     the      growing         found. They were abroad in Cairo.
bureaucratisation of the Cuban regime            Amongst them was Laurent Kabila
had led him to decide he should return           who over thirty years later would take
to the battlefield. He finally left Cuba         power in the Congo.
during 1965 and went not to Latin
America but to Africa and fought in              The Cuban forces were shocked by
the Congo. Ever since the overthrow              what they found amongst the rebel
of Lumumba's government and his                  army. Not only did it lack any
assassination the Congo had been at              coherent political direction but was in
the centre of an important conflict              Che's words "a parasitic army". The
with imperialism.                                local peasants were terrified of it.

Soldiers would rob them and assault              despite his having witnessed the mass
the women. In the conflicts witnessed            revolutionary upsurge of 1953.
by Che the fighters would usually flee           Moreover, an extensive programme of
from battle. Officers would often lead           land reform was carried out during the
drunken binges followed by fights.               Bolivian revolution in the 1950s. This
Kabila was seen by Cubans driving                made the peasantry less inclined and
around Dar-Es-Salaam in a Mercedes               receptive to take up an armed struggle
Benz and was never present when                  and lend support to a guerrilla army.
battles were imminent.
                                                 As his plans were laid for this
All of this was in marked contrast to            campaign, Che failed to win the active
what the Cuban forces were used to               support of the Bolivian Communist
and expected. Eventually they were               Party (PCB) which initially, at least
compelled to withdraw and admit                  formally, took a neutral stand and
defeat following an assault by                   even allowed some of its members to
government forces on the rebels. Che             help with preparations for the
found refuge in the Cuban Embassy in             campaign.
Tanzania and via Eastern Europe
eventually returned clandestinely to             In part this was to allow its leadership
Cuba. However, having build his                  to appear more "revolutionary" as they
reputation on fighting to the end he             feared being outflanked on the left.
could not return to Havana "empty                They were especially fearful of the
handed".                                         Trotskyist party, the POR ( Workers'
                                                 Revolutionary Party), which had a
Onto Bolivia and Death                           powerful tradition and semi-mass
                                                 influence in the country, especially
Che's aim was to return to his                   amongst the tin miners.
homeland of Argentina and continue
the struggle there but this proved to be         In reality the PCB failed to organise
impossible. In 1967 he emerged in                support for the guerrilla force and its
Bolivia with the view of igniting a              leaders were very sceptical about
revolutionary movement through a                 supporting such methods. Monje and
guerrilla campaign. From this he                 the other leaders certainly did not want
hoped to radiate to the surrounding              a guerrilla campaign being fought in
countries a series of revolutionary              their own backyard. The party was
struggles. It was an heroic gesture, like        still wedded to the idea of coalition
much of Che's political struggle. Like           with the "progressive" sections of the
the Congo, it turned out to be another           national bourgeoisie.
adventure, this time with fatal
consequences for him. An iron law of             Castro had agreed with Monje and
history, that revolution cannot be               other PCB leaders that they should
artificially imposed from the outside,           have the monopoly on political and
was illustrated in a tragic manner.              material support. In reality the PCB
                                                 leadership provided little back-up to
Although Bolivia had a bigger rural              Che's forces. This was partly because
population than Argentina it had a               of the situation in Bolivia.
strong working class spearheaded by
the revolutionary traditions of the tin          There were also international factors
miners. This was ignored by Che                  which bore down on Monje and the

PCB      leadership.    The    Moscow
bureaucracy wanted to rein in the              This, and the friction which existed
guerrilla movements which were                 between the PCB leaders and Che,
adding to the instability which was            was known in Havana when Castro
developing in Latin America. The               agreed to give the Bolivian
Cuban regime was seen to be                    Communist Party a monopoly on
encouraging them and its activities            political and practical support to Che
needed to be "controlled." Che was             and his guerrillas.
regarded     as      an   irresponsible
adventurer in the Kremlin. He was              In the event, Che launched his crusade
denounced as a "Trotskyist" and a              in one of the most isolated areas of
"Maoist" amongst circles in the                Bolivia, in the south east of the
Kremlin.                                       country, 250 kilometres south of Santa
                                               Cruz. His guerrilla force was named
This     was     manifested     at   an        the ELN - (National Liberation Army).
international conference which took            At its peak his forces numbered 29
place in January 1966, the so-called           Bolivians and 18 Cubans. The area
Tri-Continental Conference. This               chosen to launch the offensive was
event took place in Havana and was             one of the least populated with no
attended by delegates from Asia,               tradition of struggle amongst the local
Africa and Latin America as well as            peasants. Not surprisingly, Che's
China and Russia. Apart from                   expedition failed to gain any local
government representatives, guerrilla          support.
groups were present, mainly from
Latin America. Here Castro attracted           The failure of Che's forces to win any
the attention of the Chinese                   real local basis also reflected that after
bureaucracy whose interests conflicted         the land reform enacted during the
with their counterparts in the USSR.           revolution of 1953 the peasants were
                                               not disposed to take to the road of
At the same time Castro pushed                 armed struggle.
through a resolution supporting
guerrilla movements much to the                After months of fighting the guerrilla
annoyance of the Moscow leaders.               force was isolated and suffered
Monje made a rapid visit to Moscow             setback after setback. Che's health
after the conference. Arising from             began to give out and he was forced to
discussions he had with CPSU                   ride on horseback, unable to walk
officials he concluded that they like          because of asthma attacks. No support
him saw Che as the driving force               was forthcoming from Havana and
behind this policy - although he was           communications with the ELN broke
not present at the conference.                 down.

According to Monje he was urged, by            It is safe to assume that the Moscow
CPSU officials, to stand up to the             bureaucracy wanted Che 'out of the
Cubans and not to be pushed around             way'. Castro remained passive as one
by them. Monje was certainly                   of the principle leaders of the Cuban
encouraged by the bureaucracy not to           Revolution faced his final months and
mobilise the Bolivian Communist                weeks. Regis Debray, who was in
Party in support of Che's guerrilla            Bolivia with Che Guevara has since
operation.                                     moved to the right politically and

became an adviser to Francois
Mitterand, the ex-French president.             The tragedy of Che was that his
During 1996 he attacked Castro and              heroism was not linked with a fully
Havana accusing them of abandoning              rounded-out programme and ideas
Che and his forces.                             which could bring about the objective
                                                he aspired to - an international
Che's small force was in battle against         socialist revolution. The necessity of
1,500 soldiers from the Bolivian army.          achieving this is more urgent than
In collaboration with the CIA they              ever. It will be accomplished if today's
tracked his forces down. After a                revolutionaries      learn   from    the
hopeless engagement on 8 October he             experience of Che Guevara's struggle
and his guerrillas were captured near           and emulate his audacity and self-
the village of La Higuera, east of              sacrifice in the struggle to bring about
Sucre.                                          a socialist society.

The next day he was interviewed for
forty five minutes by Lieutenant -
Colonel Andres Selich, after which his
murder was ordered by Cuban-born
CIA agent, Felix Rodriquez. He lay
bound hand and foot next to the bodies
of two dead guerrilla fighters.

When asked: "Are you Cuban or
Argentinean?" Che replied, " I am
Cuban,     Argentinean,   Bolivian,
Peruvian,    Ecuadorian,   etc...You

He was executed at the age of 39 and
buried in a secret grave which has
recently been discovered. His body
has now been returned to Cuba. His
executioners cut off his hands after his
death and sent them back to Havana as
proof of his death.

Painted on a wall near his grave in
Boliva is a simple slogan: "Che -
Alive as they never wanted you to be".
The spirit of an heroic commitment to
struggle against oppression has been
bequeathed new generations. His
example still inspires many to struggle
to overthrow capitalism and fight for a
socialist alternative. Three decades
after his death, Marxists can salute
Che as an honest and heroic

                                                 confronting the loss of economic
Chapter Nine                                     support from the former USSR and
Epilogue                                         isolation, has been driven to adopt a
                                                 new economic policy. This has opened
                                                 it up to foreign investment and
Three decades after Che's death Cuba             ownership of sections of the economy,
is once again at a cross-roads. Against          legalised the circulation of the US
the background of a transformed                  dollar and begun to threaten the
international situation the threat of            existence of a centrally planned
counter-revolution     and     capitalist        economy.
restoration threatens. US imperialism
has once again tightened its grip and is         Prior to 1990/91 trade with the former
spearheading attempts to overthrow               regimes in the USSR and Eastern
Castro and recapture a playground for            Europe accounted for 85% of Cuban
business tycoons.                                exports. Sugar exports subsequently
                                                 fell by 70%. The loss of these outlets
With the loss of favourable trading              and subsidies from these regimes
arrangements with the former USSR                resulted in a plummeting of the
in 1990/91 Cuba was plunged into                 economy. Cuban Gross Domestic
economic crisis. This has been                   Product nose-dived by more than 30%
compounded by the attempts of US                 during 1991. Despite apparently
imperialism to isolate Cuba with the             stabilising the decline and increasing
imposition of a trade embargo aimed              production during the last two years,
at strangling the economy.                       the collapse which occurred during the
                                                 early 1990s has not been made up for.
Every US President since the Cuban
Revolution in 1959 has attempted to              Living standards fell dramatically and
take measures aimed at bringing about            rationing of bread and rice was
the downfall of the Castro regime and            introduced. Rationalisation in the state
restoring capitalism. Apart from                 sector led to the laying off of up to
economic blockades and sponsoring of             500,000 workers. The regime has
mercenary forces other notable efforts           taken measures to ensure that health
by the CIA have included sending                 care and education are defended but
exploding cigars to "el jefe maximo"             has been unable to prevent the return
in Havana.                                       of some of the worst aspects of life
                                                 under capitalism. Although not on the
Castro, much to the irritation of the            scale which existed prior to the
occupants of the White House, has                revolution, prostitution has returned to
survived nine US Presidents, each of             the streets of Havana.
which underestimated the massive
support which existed in Cuba for the            In a desperate attempt to stop the
revolution - despite the absence of a            economic collapse the regime was
genuine     regime     of     workers'           forced to take steps to attract foreign
democracy.                                       investment and acquire access to the
                                                 international markets. 100% foreign
However, the past gains of the Cuban             ownership of some industries has now
Revolution are now under threat as the           been legalised.
prospect of capitalist restoration looms
as a likely prospect. The regime,
                                                 avenging the damaged prestige of US
Imperialism Divided                              imperialism which lost its playground
                                                 to Castro in 1959.
This change in policy by Castro's
government has opened up a division              It has also been determined by the
amongst the contending imperialist               need       of      consecutive      US
powers.                                          administrations to gain the support of
                                                 the 700,000 Cubans living in Florida.
European (especially Spain), Canadian            The      Cuban-American        National
and Japanese imperialism have sought             Foundation, one of the most powerful
to take advantage of this situation.             lobby groups in Washington, had a
They have encouraged investment in               decisive effect in enacting the Helms-
the Cuban economy. Canada is now                 Burton Act, which tightened the
Cuba's leading trade and investment              embargo on Cuba and even penalised
partner followed by Spain. By 1996               foreign companies which invested in
there were an estimated 650 foreign              the country.
companies with investments in Cuba.
Other more powerful Latin American               Other reactionary, if smaller, groups
capitalist countries, such as Mexico             like Alpha 66 have attempted terrorist
and Brazil, have followed suit with a            and armed actions against the Castro
view to extending their economic and             regime. Whilst within this there is a
political influence in the region.               body of "moderate" opinion which
                                                 would support a compromise with the
Apart      from      taking    economic          Castro regime there is also a powerful
advantage of the opening, through this           reactionary force of former Cuban
policy they hope to pressurise the               capitalists and their dependants.
bureaucracy       to    move     towards
capitalism and disperse the planned              These forces are in no mood to
economy. They are implementing this              compromise       with   the  Castro
policy with a view to marrying the               bureaucracy and seek to reclaim
bureaucracy, or sections of it, together         factories and land which they lost
with capitalism and converting it into           during the course of the revolution.
a capitalist class together with sections        Should they return to Cuba many
of the exile Cuban population in                 would do so with the intention of
Florida.                                         wreaking their revenge.

This policy has been tremendously                The stance of US imperialism,
complicated because of the attitude of           together with the threat of the Cuban
US imperialism which has adopted a               exiles, has creating big obstacles to
more aggressive and confrontational              those sections of the Cuban
approach. This has been to try and               bureaucracy which would be more
"starve out" Castro and overthrow his            enthusiastic       about       embracing
regime and install their loyal Cuban             capitalism and attempting to convert
backers from Miami.                              itself into a capitalist class. This is an
                                                 important difference with the events
It is a short sighted policy but reflects        which developed in the former USSR
the different pressures which US                 and Eastern Europe. The bureaucracy
imperialism is under. It has been                in these countries had the prospect of
fuelled by historical considerations, of         themselves becoming the ruling class

(The exception was Eastern Germany              has inevitably developed under these
where the old bureaucracy was largely           conditions.
pensioned off by West German
imperialism).                                   When implementing these measures
                                                Castro has presented them as
The enthusiasm for the revolution and           temporary steps forced upon the
hatred of US imperialism has enabled            regime because of the situation. At the
the leadership of the Cuban regime,             same time he has proclaimed his
especially Castro, to maintain massive          continued support for socialism. When
support in Cuba despite the economic            agreeing to open the economy to
collapse which has taken place since            foreign investment, the policy was
1990. The aggressive arrogance of US            "...not being inspired by neo-
imperialism has rebounded on it and             liberalism nor does it aim for a
helped to maintain the Cuban                    transition to capitalism. It is an
leadership in power.                            opening to defend and develop
                                                socialism and this is not concealed by
However, the Cuban government has               our government."
been compelled to move in the
direction of taking pro-capitalist              The apparent defence by Castro of the
measures and to try and secure the              revolution and "socialism" in the face
investment of the non-US imperialist            of imperialist aggression from the
powers. These accelerated during                USA has re-enforced support for Cuba
1993 and 1994 and foreign ownership             in the minds of many youth and
was allowed in tourism and some                 workers internationally during the last
other sectors.                                  five years. For many Cuba is now seen
                                                as the only regime which is still
Even agriculture was affected. In 1992          defending socialism and fighting the
75% of Cuba's cultivable land was               threat of imperialist aggression and
under the control of state farms which          capitalist restoration.
enjoyed massive subsidies. By 1995
this figure had fallen to 27% - the rest        The international workers' movement
being farmed by private co-operatives           has a responsibility to oppose all
which lease land from the government            aggression by imperialism and
and buy equipment. A fixed quota                attempts to restore capitalism in Cuba.
must be sold to the state and anything          At the same time it is necessary to see
above this can be sold privately.               what lies behind the defence of
                                                "socialism" by Castro and the Cuban
These and other measures have                   bureaucracy.
allowed a certain growth in the
economy to take place in the last two           A section of it is resisting attempts to
years but it has not made up anything           move towards capitalist restoration. In
like what was lost after 1991. These            part this is because it does not want to
same policies have also led to the              abandon the social gains conquered by
growth of inequalities. Workers                 the revolution and preside over the
employed in joint ventures, partly or           misery and chaos which a return to
wholly owned by foreign companies,              capitalism would mean in Cuba.
are paid higher wages - in dollars
which were legally allowed in                   Most importantly, because of the
circulation in 1993. A black market             reaction of US imperialism and the

threat posed by a returning exile               International policy still reflects
capitalist class to sections of the             domestic policy and the interests of
Cuban bureaucracy, the latter has been          the Cuban regime. It cannot be a co-
compelled to try and avoid a return to          incidence that the silence from Havana
capitalism in order to protect its own          regarding the struggles of the Mexican
interests and privileges.                       masses is at a time when Mexican
                                                capitalism is amongst the largest
The bureaucracy has been forced                 investors in Cuba. US$1.5 million was
verbally to defend the revolution and           invested in telecommunications by the
oppose imperialism as a means of                Mexican, Grupo Domos.
trying to maintain and rest upon a
basis of support amongst the masses.            A large part of the Cuban bureaucracy
At the same time it is determined to            is prepared to support capitalist
maintain its rule and control over              restoration should an accommodation
society. This is reflected in the               with imperialism prove to be possible.
continuation of a one-party state. The          The pressure for more pro-capitalist
Cuban Communist Party is the                    measures is set to increase. Cuba
instrument    through     which     the         cannot exist in international isolation
bureaucracy controls society.                   for an indefinite period of time and it
                                                will be forced to try and attract more
Friends of Socialism?                           foreign investment and trade. Castro
                                                and sections of the bureaucracy would
Notwithstanding Castro's defence of             probably be content to try and sustain
"socialism" the other side of his dual          a hybrid regime if this is possible. This
policy has been to secure investment            would include a big element of the
from other imperialist countries                private market with some state
outside the USA. With their money               ownership and planning and his state
has also come capitalist politicians and        machine left in tact.
ideas. The hated pro-Thatcherite
former Spanish minister, Solchaga,              Those sections of the leadership which
was invited to Havana as an                     are more inclined towards capitalist
economics adviser. Castro declared his          restoration are likely to be more
desire to meet Thatcher in person and           assertive with the death of Castro who,
has already met with the Pope as part           at 71, is in ailing health.
of a clear overture to the Catholic
Church.                                         With a change in the Cuban leadership
                                                after Castro's death, even US
In an ironical repetition of history, as        imperialism could change its policy
in 1968 (when the Mexican military              and try to incorporate a new and
slaughtered hundreds of students) the           younger     generation    from     the
Cuban government and Communist                  bureaucracy with the Cuban capitalist
Party have remained virtually silent            class in exile. Some sections of the
about the uprising of the indigenous            ruling class in the US are already
people in Chiapas, Mexico. No                   looking at this possibility and have
support was offered to the heroic               even carried out investments in Cuba.
battles of the Mexican bus and petrol
workers to their fight against                  This was curtailed in the run-up to the
privatisation.                                  last US Presidential elections as
                                                Clinton tightened the embargo in part

in an attempt to win the Cuban vote in           the prospect of reactionary right-wing
Florida. However, whilst such actions            gangs from Miami being allowed to
may emerge as the main plank of                  organise their forces. This threat is
policy even this would have to                   real but will not be averted by only
overcome the hatred and bitterness               allowing the party of the bureaucracy
amongst the Cuban masses towards                 to organise itself. All parties which are
US imperialism and the reactionary               opposed to imperialism and defend the
Cuban capitalists residing in Florida. It        idea of a socialist planned economy
will not be an easy journey given the            should be allowed to organise, conduct
conflicting interests which exist.               propaganda and stand candidates in
                                                 elections. Independent trade unions
For A Socialist Alternative                      need to be established.

The absence of a socialist alternative           The threat posed by imperialism and
and Cuba's isolation, will force the             capitalist restoration in Cuba can only
process of capitalist restoration to             be avoided through the victory of the
accelerate further. This could only be           socialist revolution throughout Latin
averted by establishing a regime of              America and internationally. For this it
genuine workers' democracy, with a               is necessary to win the support of the
perspective of developing the socialist          working class in Latin America and
revolution throughout Latin America              establish a Socialist Federation of the
and internationally.                             continent. This was necessary when
                                                 Che and the revolution triumphed in
The establishment of genuine workers'            1959.
councils, locally and nationally, which
have control and management of the               Che aspired to achieving this victory.
economy       are      essential.    All         However, despite his heroism and
representatives and officials must be            revolutionary sacrifice, he failed to
elected, subject to recall by those they         understand how to accomplish
represent and receive only the average           continental socialism. Thirty years
wage of a skilled worker.                        after his death this struggle is more
                                                 necessary than ever. If the lessons of
There must be an ending of the one               Che's legacy are grasped by
party regime which exists. This is               revolutionaries internationally it will
often justified because of the threat to         be                                won.
the revolution from imperialism and


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