Che Guevara: symbol of the left and the vanguardist revolution
26 April 2012
Translated from arabic original by author.

By Muntasir

Che Guevara is considered the most well-known symbol for modern communism because of the use of his picture as a commercial symbol, and because of his popularity among youth. Even the various currents of the modern left consider him an example for every leftist: which reveals the shallowness of thought of these currents and their betrayal of socialist thought. They prefer to surrender in front of official myths instead of fighting for the truth and deep criticism. Trotskists, Maoists, Stalinists, and reformist Socialists do not differ in their views of Che Guevara, on the contrary: they all  respect and praise him. Yet if we focus on his actions and his ideas instead of the myths that have been woven around him, we will find out his real effect and worth.

Che Guevara entered the pages of history after the victory of what is called “the Cuban revolution” on the first day of 1959. Before this Guevara was the second leader after Fidel Castro during the guerrilla war in the mountains which Castro and Guevara started in 1956 after they arrived on the coast of Cuba aboard the yacht Granma with 80 of their comrades-in-arms (1). From this sole experience Guevara created his famous theory on guerrilla war which he named the Foco (focus in Spanish) theory. This theory formulated a strategy for the victory of the socialist revolution though a guerrilla war fought by a small group of armed leftists in the countryside, without any previous preparation or mass participation. Thus his theory contradicts communism and resembles anarchism more than it does communism. Marx wrote: “The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves” (2) yet in the Foco theory the workers take only a very small part in the making of the revolution and instead of them the “revolution” is produced by a small vanguard without roots in society.

If a revolution produced by a small vanguard succeeds, then it will rule the people from above and the style of governing will not change, and this is what happened in Cuba: Castro and Guevara's clique came to power and became tyrants controlling the affairs of the country without any input from the people. What helped Castro and Guevara's clique in this was their belief in Stalinism, and the Foco theory itself suits Stalinists because of its nature as a vanguardist theory which ignores the role of workers and cultivators before the Socialist revolution, just as Stalinism ignores the role of the people after the Socialist revolution.

Further, Guevara transformed the class struggle into a military question, thus he wrote: “First, accepting as true that the enemy will fight to maintain itself in power, one must think about destroying the oppressor army. To do this, a people's army is necessary.” (3) This is an example of his shallow thinking and shows his concentration on military questions and his lack of faith in the people. Thus he says that we need an army to destroy another army and in this way the Socialist revolution will succeed, but where is the role of the masses in this struggle between two armies? Are they simply soldiers attached to an army? In his view this is the case, but the real Socialist revolution will have to be the product of the working class itself as Marx said, and the popular armed insurrection which will end capitalist rule we will fight on a class basis, and thus we will call the soldiers to break away from their officers and they will desert (4) and join the ranks of their class. It cannot, however, be like a bourgeois war against some government, for the revolution isn't a war and its producer is not an army but the organized working class!

Followers of the Foco theory did not succeed anywhere except in Cuba itself, even though in the period after the Cuban “revolution” until the 1990's there was at least one Guevarist group in every Latinamerican country (5). Yet in all these countries no Guevarist group succeeded during these fifty years after the Cuban “revolution.” (6) More than that, the hegemony of Guevarist thought over the leftist opposition in Latinamerica harmed the communist movement in the region greatly because it gave tyrants the best excuse possible to repress all progressive organizations.

Guevara said that he created his theory during the guerrilla war in Cuba, but he didn't make clear the particularities of this war which led his clique to victory with relative ease. In Cuba at the time the dictator Batista (puppet of the amerikans) and his regime were very weak and amerikan imperialism decided to be done with their puppet. Thus in 1958 they set an arms embargo on Cuba and in December the amerikan ambassador met Batista and told him that amerika's aid to Batista had ended and he advised Batista to seek asylum in Spain and after two weeks Batista fled to Spain. The day of Batista's flight is considered the day of victory for the Cuba “revolution,” and thus Castro's clique succeeded with the unintentional assistance of amerika: they used the vacuum after Batista's flight to come to power easily (7). amerikan imperialism underestimated Castro's clique and didn't believe it was capable of victory, but it learned from it's mistake in Cuba to better attack Guevarist groups in the rest of Latinamerica. It succeeded over these groups after the Cuban “revolution” because of the weakness of Guevarist thought, it's lack of practicality and it's vanguardist, elitist nature.

The Foco theory isn't concerned with the masses and it doesn't have more than one victory, so why does Guevara remain famous and beloved? First of all because he died a martyr...but a martyr of a useless theory which killed how many intelligent, conscious leftists with futures in the communist movement that could have been of great usefulness to the people? Second of all because his theory expresses the feelings of many leftist youth who want armed struggle for socialism now, without any concern to the intelligence or practicality of this position. Thus they want to do something tangible and they don't want to dive into continual, difficult work in agitation and organizing workers, and it's our duty to oppose this political laziness and lack of patience and explain our ideas to these type of leftists.

We have learned the true value of Guevara and his influence over the communist movement and we should affirm that as communists we do not worship anyone, nor sing their praises, nor do we consider any communist personality, even Marx, anything but a thoughtful, intelligent, important comrade. We oppose the ideas and the effects of the fake communists who deviated from communism for whatever reason, because we want a new communist movement and we do not want to swim in the sludge of the past forever.

1 – After the first attacks, less than half remained alive.
2 -  Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx
3 – Guerrilla Warfare: A method, Che Guevara
4 – Of course this will not happen without prior preparation in the shape of continuous revolutionary propaganda targeting the soldiers in the years before the revolution.
5 – For example in El Salvador in the 1970's there were more than five armed groups that were influenced by Guevarist thought, and in Guatemala at the same time there were more than four.
6 – Except in Nicaragua when the Sandinista Popular Front for National Liberation, which was influenced to an extent by Guevarism, succeeded. But the Sandinistas were influenced more by Stalinist thought in regard to the popular front and the result of the Sandinista victory has been the hegemony of liberal politics in Nicaragua, and even the leader of the Sandinista Front has now become a strict Catholic.
7 – To clarify: amerikan imperialism did not prefer Castro's clique over Batista, but at the same time Castro and Guevara's clique did not publicly announce their political position until two years after they began ruling and amerikan imperialism with all certainty did not know that they would align themselves with the Soviet Union.