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Che Guevara: Some Simple Truths

This article will be much less structured than the other articles you find on this website. However, I want to share the following information in a very basic way so as to ensure that the message is beyond clear and can be comprehended by anyone who may happen to stumble upon it. In other words, it will hold a more conversational tone. Additionally, understand that this is just my assessment and opinion based on what I have researched. 

Recently, I was involved in a debate about various forms of government. This eventually led into a discussion about good and bad leaders. During the discussion, I was told the following about Che Guevara. It has since moved me in such a way that this article became the result. The comment was as follows:

Che Guevara is a hero and a revolutionary. I don’t know why more Americans don’t love the man.

So let us talk about that for a minute. As you may or may not know, I have studied leadership for years. I study all kinds of leaders from the past to the present and both the good and bad. If there is anything that I would like to profess here today, is that there are many things wrong with what this person suggested. If Che was any kind of real "leader", I would immediately have to label him a pseudo-transformational leader.

He was not a good leader in my opinion and I will demonstrate why. Before I do, let me first state that I would be a lot more understanding about someone with a Communist leaning following the words Marx or even Stalin. At least these guys achieved some of their stated goals. Furthermore, their ideas (at least in part) continue to inspire (for some reason) certain groups of people around the world to this very day. But following or even admiring Che... this one I have a hard to time wrapping my head around.

What follows is not a peer reviewed journal entry or some all-inclusive wrap-up of Che's life. Instead, it is simply my take on the man and his actions based on what I have gathered from my years worth of research and contemplation. You will also see both communism and socialism addressed in this article as similar, as I see one as merely the theory of community of property, and the other as the doctrine. So, take it for what it's worth.

Che Guevara was nicknamed “Chancho” (pig) because of his bathing habits

The narrative is that Che Guevara, or Ernesto as it were, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary. He was a physician, a guerrilla leader and is today (at least to the some), a counterculture symbol of rebellion. I'll admit, it sounds good on the surface. But is Che someone who deserves such love and admiration? There are some who sure think so; even some American teachers; which is odd because you would think that anyone might know better, it would would be them. But let me share with you what I know, then you can be the judge.

By definition, a hero is someone who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. I don't think Che had any of these. Some are quick to suggest that if Che had anything, it was courage. I disagree with that as well.

It was reported numerous times that he would put himself right in the middle of danger. However, I do not believe this was courage so much as insanity because he wanted to become a martyr. In fact, it is well documented that not only did he want to die, but he also wanted to take a lot of people with him. That's not courage. Instead, that sounds more like some sort of homicidal or omnicidal maniac if you ask me. For those familiar with his work, you will recall Guevara's message to the Tricontinental advocating "two, three, many Vietnams," or other messages such as "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …" - that's not courage... that's raving.

Che and Mao Tse-Tung laughing it up

His writings are filled with similar ideas. It makes sense on some level though, because Communists are known for their eagerness to murder. Che is known to have appreciated Stalin style tactics; a man who was responsible for the deaths of nearly 43 million. Of course, Che also wanted to “borrow experience” from his buddy Mao Tse-Tung (easily one of the greatest mass murderers in world history – killing over 45 million in just 4 years). Again, I am not sure this counts as “courageous” so much as psychopathic. I also don’t think any of this counts as an “outstanding achievement” or “noble quality” either. There are some great reasons why those governments and movements failed, and I can't find many who can say that they would have loved to live in Communist Russia or Communist China. But for the sake of argument, let’s just go ahead and give Che the title of “courageous”, just in case I am somehow misunderstanding the materials I have reviewed. That still doesn't make him a leader.

The function of socialism is to raise suffering to a higher level.
- Norman Mailer

The truth is that even his death toll didn't measure up to his Communist counterparts. It is said that Che signed 400 death warrants the first few months of his command, and personally ordered 700 executions by firing squad. However, friends suggest that he sent as many as 1,897 people to firing squads and was responsible for the deaths of well over 2,000 people during his guerrilla wars. But maybe he just had less to work with.

Considering the definition of achievement, the only outstanding achievements that I can really think of when it comes to Che is perhaps his personal education level and maybe his eventual death. Other than that, he really was a failure all the way around. You will read in some books about how he was able to rally tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies. Of course, I wouldn't classify getting a bunch of naive kids to leave school for a failed or lost cause as an achievement. Clearly, that is not difficult to do. As history has shown, that was not a good move and not exactly inspirational - definitely not something to look up to. Still, it may sound impressive at first, but the part often overlooked was the all out failure of these insurgencies or the failures of his leadership during these insurgencies. So by these results, I don't think the word "achievement" applies here either.

Of course, in almost any “Che Debate”, his racism, bigotry, and prejudiced nature tends to come up. I should address this as well. In his own biography; The Motorcycle Diaries, he says things like “The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese.” That’s not very nice at all. Of course, it wasn’t all geared towards black people; Che also said that “Mexicans are a band of illiterate Indians”. There seems to be a trend in Communism and Socialism when it comes to "other races". Here's an example:

“Is it a misfortune that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who did not know what to do with it?”
- Karl Marx

Some are quick to argue that these statements come from a time before he was “Che”, and before he was a “real” communist. The argument is that he had changed over the next several years and they point to his words in front of the United Nations in 1964 when he said "Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom? The government of the United States is not the champion of freedom, but rather the perpetrator of exploitation and oppression against the peoples of the world and against a large part of its own population."

It must hurt to be so... cool?

My analysis of this contrast in words and ideas is simple. Che needed to bolster support, and like any pseudo-transformational leader or politician in need of support, he said what people wanted and needed to hear. A related factoid: scientists believe that such racism is hardwired into the brain, especially after a certain age. According to findings published in Nature Neuroscience, this racism operates unconsciously. I believe Che demonstrates this fact because while in the Congo about a year later, Che repeatedly wrote to Castro about his frustrations with the black rebels he had joined; commenting on their lack of discipline and Che’s need to impose a strict order.

Can the argument be made that Che was just frustrated and his words had nothing to do with color or race? Perhaps, but what other conclusion can we draw from his words “The Negro is indolent and lazy,” in regard to his Congolese comrades? It seems pretty clear to me. It doesn't matter anyway, because Che failed to bring the Congolese together and stop all their infighting which ultimately resulted in the failure of that insurgency as well. To be clear, this wasn't a failure of follower-ship, it was a failure of leadership. The fact remains that true leaders have followers who want to be led by them. And even Che wrote letters describing the failure of his Congo campaign. Can you guess where he put the blame? But maybe that had something to do with how Che was influenced?

One ought to be Marxist with the same naturalness with which one is 'Newtonian' in physics..."
- Che Guevara

It’s very similar to how anyone can defend Che’s record on homosexuality. Homosexuals did not fare well with Che. He mounted a massive campaign to have them all jailed. In fact, Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, was known to have spent some time in these jails. He wrote about the conditions for homosexuals saying “It was a sweltering place without a bathroom. Gays were not treated like human beings, they were treated like beasts. They were the last ones to come out for meals, so we saw them walk by, and the most insignificant incident was an excuse to beat them mercilessly.

Gay and Che Pride... wait... what?

Again, perception or time could be argued. However, quite a few people spoke of this. In the book "Mea Cuba" Page 71 - "Che Guevara considered homosexuals to be sick people who must give way to the politically healthy "new man" made by Communist Cuba". - Or how about the book Ernesto "Che" Guevara; Page 97 – (speaking of the Soviet-style camps) "It was there that their "enemies" of the revolution were sent for rehabilitation, enemies that soon included dissidents, homosexuals,..." Yet, today we see homosexuals, waiving their rainbow flags and wearing their Che t-shirts. I don't know if this is sad or just laughable. Consider this another public example of failed education because they are clearly ignorant about what they are really promoting.

Some suggest that Che was a smart man. Perhaps, but then maybe he should have stuck to medicine. Fidel Castro eventually put Che in charge of the Cuban economy. A big mistake; because Che's "industrialization plan" was another near total failure. Understanding that Che was a Marxist Communist, he attempted to model the economy on the same ideals as Marxist Russia and by doing so, put Cuba on an economic downward spiral almost immediately. Again, highly documented. This should be a warning to us today.

Che's National Institute of Agrarian Reform took control of the entire economy. They nationalized co-ops and made them state farms and immediately ran them into the ground. On February 20 1960, Che announced “Soviet-style planning” for Cuba (the same style that actually failed for the Soviets), to further his communist agenda. This included Che’s abolition of workers’ rights and of the destruction of the independent trade union movements. As history notes, this didn’t end well and is yet another example of his numerous and repeated failures.

Che eventually fled Cuba. But when he fled, it wasn’t because a capitalist government was after him, or because he was going to inspire others to join his Communist movement, or even that he had entirely destroyed the Cuban economy. Instead, it may have been because he was also failing in his home life as well. He cheated on his wives (both of them), with countless other women and had five children that he evidently wasn’t being a great father to. Family abandonment and adultery; more endearing qualities? So off to Bolivia he went... under a different name... in what would be another example of his failure of leadership.

Some would argue that it wasn't his personal life that sent him running. That's fine. Whether or not it was Che’s failure in his personal life or Che’s failure as head of the Department of Industry or failure as the president of the National Bank of Cuba that sent him running away is irrelevant. All of them were failures. And when he ran, Che was really running into his biggest failure yet.

The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
- Karl Marx; The Communist Manifesto

Understand that Che actually died leading a Bolivian guerrilla movement in which he couldn’t even recruit a single Bolivian peasant. This is because Che was advocating communist ideals; such as total government control, never owning property, eminent domain, and heavy income taxes on the people. The punch line: Che was asking these Bolivian peasants to give up everything they had just fought and died for (land acquired during their revolution in 52) and he was somehow surprised when they didn’t want to do it. Think about that for a second. Che was confused that these people wouldn't join the cause advocating against everything they just fought for.

Che not too happy about what is about to happen.

Again, this failed campaign ended in his own death. He failed to get the support needed for the mission, and he failed to keep the support of those who would eventually turn on him. He allowed himself to be taken alive and then he was shot. Now, there are several different versions of what Che’s "heroic" and revolutionary last words were. One version comes from General Ovando, Chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces, who said that Che’s last words were “I am Che Guevara and I have failed.” Another version comes from Colonel Arnaldo Saucedo Parada, head of intelligence of the Eighth Division who delivered the official report on Che's final moments. He said Che uttered "I knew you were going to shoot me; I should never have been taken alive. Tell Fidel that this failure does not mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell Aleida to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children studying. Ask the soldiers to aim well." Again, admitting failure. But Che’s captors suggest that Che begged for his life saying “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” Which one is the accurate quote? I don't know, I wasn't there; but it was definitely NOT "I know you've come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man."

Regardless, Che admitted his failure - even in his final breaths. From my perspective, Che was clearly an unapologetic racist, homophobic, communist, adulterer and terrible father who failed at everything he did because he couldn’t see the true flaws of the platforms of which he was following and professing. He was also not a capable enough to see almost any of his campaigns or endeavors through or to keep people doing the things that would have been necessary to make his campaigns actually "work". It really is that simple.

The ultimate weakness of Communism is that it robs man of that quality which makes him man
- Martin Luther King Jr

As for those who evoke his memory or imagery for the sake of their respective causes; understand that Che would not have supported black or homosexual protests for equality. In fact, he opposed freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and protest all together. This is extremely funny when you consider how often his image is used during such events.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to throw out your Che shirt just yet. But if you believe in things like exercising your power or having freedom of choice, and if you are idolizing Che, then understand that you are idolizing the wrong person. Nat Hentoff actually interviewed Che and asked him “Mr. Guevara, can you see at any time in the future when there might be elections by freedom of choice in Cuba?” Che's burst into laughter, saying: “Aqui? In Cuba?” - If I were a betting man, I would bet that Che didn't have that on the agenda.

Look, I can understand how some might want to look up to a revolutionary. Everyone loves a rebel. I mean, I look upon Thomas Jefferson as one of the greats and admire guys like Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine, but when it comes to leadership, you really have to take EVERYTHING into consideration. For crying out loud, even Che’s mother said he was “intolerant and fanatical.” After all, we are talking about the guy who looked at the gulag as something positive. I find it beyond ironic and somewhat sad that those who are crying about the Rebel Flag and our founding fathers are the same ones wearing Che t-shirts and waving Che flags. I guess they just don't teach history anymore.

Let's not talk about communism. Communism was just an idea, just pie in the sky.
- Boris Yeltsin

If you have a Che t-shirt, I want you to wear it as often as possible. If you support the idea of strict dictatorship, non-existent liberties, never owning property, eminent domain, heavy income taxes for the purposes of redistribution, the complete elimination of inheritance, the elimination of the middle class, government seizures of property from foreigners, ever expanding centralized government, or the boosting of central banks like the Federal Reserve… or if you support the government regulating and overseeing all communications and travel, government sponsored corporations, the elimination of all private business – including the small to medium sized, if you like the idea of government telling you where and when you will work or what you can and cannot do, government run schools with a heavy dose of indoctrination, not being allowed to vote, public executions without due process, the oppression of homosexuals and blatant racism… then by all means, wear your Che shirt and support others who do too. Get a flag while you're at it and wave it around. Do it in groups as often as possible. Why? Two reasons. 1) I'm Voltaire-ish in the idea that I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for right to say it and 2) it's a great red-flag for others.

For me, I see Che as a hateful, violent, ignorant, pseudo-transformational leader who ultimately ended up being the icon of the very things he despised – free speech and capitalism. As a matter of fact, Ciro Bustos (who once served with Che) once mentioned that he was saddened about what Guevara has become in death. He said that legend has devoured the reality of Che and said that when he looks at all the shirts and flags, he knows that Che would be horrified to know that his image had supplanted his ideas. This is probably true.

Che failed in life and he failed in death. He really achieved little in the grand scheme of things. If that’s not an example of a complete failure, then I don’t know what is. I laugh when I see people wearing Che shirts or waving Che flags, especially when you consider the classifications or demographics of those who are sporting the image and the irony of the context that such images are usually displayed. Seriously; it's a public display of utter ignorance and sometimes I feel sorry for those who participate. Of course, I also view it as a voluntary dunce cap and appreciate the warning.

Che flag seen at Obama's campaign HQ. Should this have been a warning about the economic model to come, or just the blatant ignorance we have all come to expect?

So let's use Che's Communist/Socialist failures to gain better insight into something that affects us today. Let us consider for a moment, all the socialist and communist warnings or leanings we have seen in regard to our recent and current government officials. Remember the Mao Christmas ornaments on Obama's Christmas tree, the Che flags found at his campaign headquarters, Obama’s campaign slogan "Forward" borrowed from Chairman Mao’s "The Great Leap Forward", Frank Marshall Davis: Obama’s Communist mentor, his communist friends, his communist family, Obamacare, his Marx style gradual socialization of the economy? This isn't conspiracy. There has been an open appreciation for such ideal for some time now. Remember Cabinet Member Anita Dunn who publicly stated that Mao Tse Tung was one of her favorite philosophers?

Kind of scary when you look at it in retrospect and in context. Honestly though, that short list is actually just the tip of the iceberg. Let me share with you one of my personal favorites. Remember in 2008 when Maxine Waters participated in a house hearing with oil executives like John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company? Waters emphatically stated (referring to herself as "this liberal"), “And guess what this liberal would be all about. This liberal will be about socializing … uh, um. …

My point in all of this is to say that only a failed leader would attempt to lead his or her people to failed ideas. It's literally an example of the blind leading the blind. Che may have been a revolutionary, but he was no hero. Personally, I don't consider him a real leader at all. As for why more Americans don't love the man... well, perhaps that is because anyone willing to read can quickly and easily discover that there is really nothing to love or admire in the first place.

History seems to be repeating though and some people are again, blindly following the lie. You know as well as I do where this will eventually go - that is to say... if you know history. For now, and for some crazy reason, Che (and his communist/socialist views) have become an icon for some movements and people that he would have never endorsed and would have likely imprisoned. Regardless of his complete failures as both a leader and a person, he is embraced by the ignorant. It's just sad.

Let me close with this final quote:

Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy.
- Winston Churchill

More Reading

Che Guevara and the West


The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerrilla Challenge in Bolivia

This article has been modified and updated. It was originally ran on AAW.
David Robertson

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