Political Che

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — This post is preceded by one which addressed educational ideas expressed by Ernesto “Che” Guevara in his letter: “The New Man and Socialism in Cuba.”

Here I will discuss how Che understood the political relations between the leaders and those led in “socialist” Cuba; that same letter will serve as my guide.

For Guevara, society could be found distributed in a non-homogeneous manner regarding political consciousness, which in turn was the epitome of consciousness.

Many people (the masses) had the misfortune of not having any political consciousness or having it distorted, but there was a small circle (the true revolutionaries), who were quite well endowed with this. Political awareness was associated, although not exclusively, with the understanding of Marxism-Leninism.

Who should rule in such a society, according to Che? Obviously the masses are not able to take on such a difficult task without the risk of going astray, therefore that responsibility falls on the true revolutionaries.

But it wasn’t that Che was opposed to democracy, don’t be fooled by that nonsense, the issue is much more complex.

It’s true that initiatives in Cuba originate from the top – observes the guerrilla – but everything really begins a little earlier, when the top leader — through intuition and exchanges of “vibrations” — succeeds at interpreting the wishes of the people.

As a result of such excellent communication, the masses accept as their own the tasks set in place by the government, and they carry these out with enthusiasm and discipline.

Fidel Castro dialogues with the masses.

Guevara emphasizes that it’s not about caudillismo (authoritarian power) but instead a process of dialectical interrelationship whose climaxing moment occurs during public gatherings. It’s also a matter of faith.

What need do we have then for democratic institutions?

Che says these institutions are going to be created since they are necessary to achieve “perfect identification between the government and the community as a whole.”

They will be created, yes, but “without undue haste”, and “distancing themselves to the highest degree possible from the commonplaces of bourgeois democracy, such as houses of parliament.”

Meanwhile, the “personality” [i.e. Fidel Castro] will play “the role of mobilizing and leading to the degree that it embodies the highest virtues and aspirations of the people and does not stray from the path.”

So what do you think? I, for one, have already drawn my conclusions: I wouldn’t want to go to Guevaraland even on vacation!

Here I’m citing some quotes from the letter “New Man and Socialism in Cuba.”

Then came the stage of guerrilla struggle. It developed in two distinct environments: the people, the still sleeping mass that had to be mobilized; and its vanguard, the guerrillas, the motor force of the mobilization, the generator of revolutionary consciousness and militant enthusiasm.


It is true that it [the mass] follows its leaders, basically Fidel Castro, without hesitation. But the degree to which he won this trust results precisely from having interpreted the full meaning of the people’s desires and aspirations, and from the sincere struggle to fulfill the promises he made.


Viewed superficially, it might appear that those who speak of the subordination of the individual to the state are right. The mass carries out with matchless enthusiasm and discipline the tasks set by the government, whether in the field of the economy, culture, defense, sports, etc. The initiative generally comes from Fidel, or from the revolutionary leadership, and is explained to the people, who make it their own.


Clearly this mechanism is not enough to ensure a succession of sensible measures. A more structured connection with the mass is needed, and we must improve it in the course of the coming years. But as far as initiatives originating in the upper strata of the government are concerned, we are currently utilizing the almost intuitive method of sounding out general reactions to the great problems we confront.


In this Fidel is a master. His own special way of fusing himself with the people can be appreciated only by seeing him in action. At the great public mass meetings one can observe something like the dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations interact, producing new sounds. Fidel and the mass begin to vibrate together in a dialogue of growing intensity until they reach the climax in an abrupt conclusion crowned by our cry of struggle and victory.


The difficult thing to understand for someone not living through the experience of the revolution is this close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass, in which both are interrelated and, at the same time, in which the mass, as an aggregate of individuals, interacts with its leaders.

They no longer travel completely alone over lost roads toward distant aspirations. They follow their vanguard, consisting of the party, the advanced workers, the advanced individuals who walk in unity with the masses and in close communion with them.


The vanguard group is ideologically more advanced than the mass; the latter understands the new values, but not sufficiently. While among the former there has been a qualitative change that enables them to make sacrifices in their capacity as an advance guard, the latter see only part of the picture and must be subject to incentives and pressures of a certain intensity. This is the dictatorship of the proletariat operating not only on the defeated class but also on individuals of the victorious class.


This institutionalization of the revolution has not yet been achieved. We are looking for something new that will permit a complete identification between the government and the community in its entirety, something appropriate to the special conditions of the building of socialism, while avoiding at all costs transplanting the commonplaces of bourgeois democracy — such as legislative chambers, for example — into the society in formation.

Some experiments aimed at the gradual institutionalization of the revolution have been made, but without undue haste.


Fidel gave the revolution its impulse in the first years, and also its leadership. He always set its tone; but there is a good group of revolutionaries who are developing along the same road as the central leader. And there is a great mass that follows its leaders because it has faith in them. It has faith in those leaders because they have known how to interpret its aspirations.


Thus we march on. At the head of the immense column — we are neither ashamed nor afraid to say it — is Fidel. After him come the best cadres of the party, and immediately behind them, so close that we feel its tremendous force, comes the people in its entirety, a solid structure of individual beings moving toward a common goal, men and women who have attained consciousness of what must be done, people who fight to escape from the realm of necessity and to enter that of freedom.

Individuals play a role in mobilizing and leading the masses insofar as they embody the highest virtues and aspirations of the people and do not wander from the path.

4 thoughts on “Political Che

  • The Negrinian concept of the ‘common’ is a good start-up point for going beyond the public vs private domain. All property is private. A country, if you look very closely, is nothing more than the private property of the State. What characterizes the social role of property is the way in which it is used by its owners.

  • You’ve opened a good discussion, Erasmo. I have enormous respect and affection for Che and Fidel; but their program for achieving the “new” person during the socialist bridge period is worthless.

    This program involves depriving citizens of direct ownership of the workplace, and giving that ownership to the socialist state. It hasn’t worked, and it cannot work. It is an unnatural system that engenders bureaucracy, lack of productive incentives, the retention of wage and salary labor, political absolutism and ideological intolerance.

    The new socialist person can only be developed by direct ownership of the workplace by those who do the work–cooperative workers and individual small bourgeois. Unfortunately, both Che and Fidel–like all Marxists–believe that those who do the work of society must remain without property, be disabused of their “evil” material incentives and “taught” to be communal.

    Meanwhile, monopoly capitalism persists and the world environment goes to hell.

  • Fidel, Fidel, Fidel. I think I want to vomit. He is just a man. And now, a very old man. Flesh and blood. I could not be more fired-up about the next four years of the Obama administration. I genuinely believe that Obama understands the hopes and needs of the common American. Still, in no way does Obama merit the hero-worship expressed by Che for Fidel. No man born of woman deserves that. That´s creepy. Yuck!

  • Although superficially FIdel, Che, and the rest of the “Class of ’59” based their Revolution on Marxism-Leninism, on a deeper level I feel it was based on the Ideas in Socrates’s/Plato’s REPUBLIC (which, to some degree, was based on an idealized version of Spartain society). Generally, Cuba has done well by adopting such a system of social engineering during the past fifty years, though as Eric Cartman would say, “mistakes have been made.” Also, why be in a rush to adopt a parliamentary system? Such a system did not serve Cuba well during the first half-century of the psuedo-Republic, but merely provided a hot-house for corruption and venality. At this point, I feel that the Revolution is cultivating a more authentic parliamentary system which will be more responsive, on the grass-roots level, to its constituence. In the meantime, here in the Empire to the North, our own system of representative houses of the legislature is, with each passing decade, being furthur corrupted by the power of multi-national corporations and the military-industrial complex. Although there are a few individual senators and representatives who truly represent the best interests of their constituents, most are mere stooges and shills for their corporate masters (as was the case with the pre-1959 Cuban senators and representatives). In spite of their mistakes during the past 50 years, the “Guardians” of the Cuban Revolution have generally had the best interests of their constituents in mind. One of the reasons this was true was because the Revolution, like that never-never-land Republic of Plato, had an ideology guiding it. Of course all revolutions heretofore (e.g. the French, the Russian, the Mexican) have degenerated over time; let’s hope the Cuban Revolution had the dynamism to self-correct, rather than becominf ossified.

Comments are closed.