Getting to Know the Unknown Che

Vicente Morin Aguado

HAVANA TIMES — On February 26, 1964, Ernesto “Che” Guevara wrote the following to a man living at 560 Juan Bruno Zayas Street, Vibora, Havana: “Unfortunately, what reaches the majority – myself included – is an apology of the system and not its scientific analysis.” Che goes on to say to the non-sympathetic reader: “Because of this – because you are thinking – I thank you for your letter. That we should disagree is the least important part.”

These words written by Guevara, words that should be etched indelibly in our minds, have been deliberately forgotten by Cuba’s current leadership, its immediate subordinates and the whole of the crapulent bureaucracy that claims to defend socialism in Cuba (when the essence of the system proposed by Marx was to secure the greatest degree of democracy for the working class, to effectively emancipate that majority whose redemption is the basic aim proclaimed by communists).

The book quoted above gathers some of Che Guevara’s private observations, part of an incomplete project aimed at offering his critical perspectives on the experiences surrounding the creation of the so-called “new society.” Referring to the mistakes he observed during his visits to the Soviet Union, he employed a word that, in my view, ought to be taken as an essential concept here: “These mistakes are excusable in Soviet society, the first to undertake the experiment…”

That is to say, it is clear to Guevara that socialism is a genuine experiment, that no one is infallible and nothing predestined to succeed, that we are dealing with the most extraordinary undertaking ever essayed by human beings in the course of their history.

This unknown Guevara, made public after many years by the Australian publisher Ocean Press, provokes us with his initial remarks where, quoting the “holy” Marx, he writes:

“To those who look upon us with distrust based on their assessment of and loyalty towards socialist countries, we offer only one warning: Marx’s statement, found in the opening pages of Das Kapital, about bourgeois science’s inability to criticize itself and its reliance on apologetics, can, regrettably, be applied to Marxist economics today.”

Such self-criticism is a task our leaders, who must publicly and clearly assume full responsibility for the failure of the experiment they have been conducting for more than 50 years, have yet to take on.

This next-to-unknown Che ought to be read because his immense prestige and intelligence are invaluable tools for reflection. Allow me to share another opinion of his, regarding the new trade unions that took shape within socialism, expressed during one of the bimonthly meetings of the Ministry of Industries, which saw the participation of a large number of workers, when he was still a minister in the sector (on December 5, 1964):

“Trade union democracy is a myth here. It will be acknowledged or not, but it’s a complete myth. The Party meets and puts forth so-ad-so as the only candidate. Then, that person gets elected, sometimes with plenty of votes, sometime with less, when, in fact, there hasn’t been a true selection process by the masses.”

Some may think I’m making this up. The book is within everyone’s reach: it costs 18 Cuban pesos. I just bought it at the Fayad Jamis bookstore on Obispo Street, in Old Havana.

Che Guevara’s proposals for the new, socialist economy are equally controversial. They are well deserving of a complete article, for they express his complete opposition to the presence of the market within the socialist experiment. He is even highly critical and says negative things about worker self-management, as applied in ex-Yugoslavia.

I will limit myself to underscoring his impertinence of the Castro brothers and others who defended the Soviet model (ultimately implemented in Cuba) to the death. I imagine how hard it was to reconcile his immense prestige as a guerrilla leader, his tried-and-true loyalty, total capacity to carry out the tasks assigned him, his irrepressible intellectual acuteness and the personal freedom that being a foreigner afforded him.

It is sad, a testament to the intolerance of despots, that Che Guevara was ultimately encouraged to give in to the adventurous side of his personality, when we dearly needed him in his capacity as competent and incorruptible minister (as more than one testimony tell us he was), and now, when Raul Castro dubs “corruption” the root of all evil, an evil capable of destroying the socialism whose defense is his raison d’etre as president.

If someone believes I am exaggerating or being untruthful, suffice it to go back to the letter I quoted at the beginning of this post, in which Che Guevara tells Mr. Jose Medero Mestre:

“If you ever feel the need to tell me something else, please remember I am no authority on these matters. I am just another man fighting to bring about a new Cuba, one who was fortunate enough to live the most difficult moments of the Cuban revolution next to Fidel, and some of the most tragic and glorious chapters of the history of the world struggling for its freedom.”

“This is why you know who I am and I do not recall your name. It could have been the other way around, and, then, I would have had to write you from whatever remote part of the world my wandering bones had taken me to, since I was not born here.”

I await your comments, and I hope you will read the book.
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20 thoughts on “Getting to Know the Unknown Che

  • September 21, 2014 at 9:24 am

    “In order to build socialism, we must have control.”
    Che Guevara

  • September 19, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Are you saying you find it acceptable to criminalise people you consider to be prostitutes? None of any government’s business, By the way, that also gives police officers a nice sideline in briberies.

  • September 18, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    I was trying to ignore this thread but was overcome by your obvious ignorance of the Cuban reality. I am an medium-skinned African-American constantly mistaken for Cuban when I am on the streets in Cuba. THERE IS RACISM IN CUBA. No where near as bad as it is here in the US but enough to be felt by its victims and measured in terms of police harassment and public services. Cuban police are armed by the way. OK, old and likely rusty pistols but armed nonetheless. And the whole 2000 calories a day crap? Hahahahaha! I am sorry but who told you that? The “libreta” provides for about a week of rations. Poor quality and often bug-infested rations. have you been to the bodegas that sell and distribute those rations. The rest of the month Cubans are on their own. Did you notice that they earn in an entire month what you spend on a single bottle of wine? Could you eat for three weeks in Cuba on 23 cuc? Finally, education and health care are NOT free. The Castro effectively tax Cuban incomes at more than 95%. Likewise, there is an estimated deficit of 1 million homes in Cuba. Keep in mind there are only 3.5 million households. According to the Castros own statistics, as many as half of those dwellings are substandard and 10 percent of Cuban homes would be condemned by Canadian standards. As a result, it is common to see three even four generations living under the same leaky roof. Please don’t sing that song about closer family ties. I am guessing that you don’t live in the condo you mentioned with your kids and your in-laws and your grandparents. I am married to a Cuban woman. She loves her country intensely. But there is a difference between Cuba and the Castros. You need to go easy on the Castro koolaid. It’s making you sound crazy.

  • September 17, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Do please write to The Globe and Mail, to CBC, to The National Post and to your Member of Parliament and inform them that the police are stopping your husband when walking the dog! It will I assure you be national news!
    You were not married as Cubans or as a foreigner marrying a Cuban. I know, because my wife is a Cuban and we were married in Cuba in one of the few offices licensed to carry out such marriages. No mention of a “Cuban Family Code”. The Notary did put on a blue jacket on over his red T shirt because we had dressed for what to us was an important occassion
    I don’t imagine for a moment that you have actually read the Cuban Constitution. I have! It says for example that the correo (mail) is inviolate. That as anyone will tell you is bunkum. The post office regularly opens mail – they even have the gall to put a sticker on saying that they have done so. The Constitution says (if my memory serves me correctly it is section 26) that:
    Work is a right and a duty.
    In October 2011, President Raul Castro Ruz decreed that by April 2012 500,000 (that is almost 10% of the workforce) would lose their state jobs and have to seek work in the “private sector”. There was understandably consternation as there was no private sector. In February 2012, he rescinded the decision as desperation was mounting.The regime then published a list of 187 “professions” that Cubans could obtain licenses for 200 pesos to pursue. It included pushing a wheelbarrow.
    You are obviously either intoxicated or so enamoured of the political guff, that you have failed to examine anything you have been told by your guide. Neither obviously do you speak Spanish.
    My home is in Cuba and your claims about the country are as fictitious as the nonsense about police stopping your husband for walking the dog because he is black – your husband I mean as I don;t know the colour of the dog.
    As a Canadian let me assure fellow contributors to these columns that the MyCatisFat has certain delusional views about Canada. I can only hope that she, her husband the dog of unknown colour and even the fat cat move to Cuba as immigrants to take full advantage of the benefits that she has apparently observed during her (short) stay there.

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