Friday, January 30, 2009

Che Guevara : looking behind the official myth.

To some Ernesto Guevara is the ultimate humanistic hero, defender of the poor and the oppressed. To others, he is a Stalinist fundamentalist who sentenced thousands to death by revolutionary tribunals and firing squads. The latest film Che the Argentine is hitting the world’s big screens and now showing in Japan. Given that it was premiered in Havana, it is essentially just another festive event on the official agenda of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.

It is about the state sponsored myth and the cult followed by socialists worldwide. In 1960 when French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was glorifying Che’s superior intellect, hundreds of ordinary citizens were being sentenced to death by his revolutionary tribunals and executed by the firing squads he helped indoctrinate and train. Back then, Big Brother Che was watching.... In fact, he still is from the giant mural of the police force HQ in Havana. Nowadays the icon is only watching foreign tourists ushered by party faithful guides. In other words, he is doing his bit to bring into the ailing economy the much needed cash and no longer “executing out of revolutionary conviction”. In 1967 history had caught up with the island’s Robespierre in the Bolivian mountains where he died by the same method he had bragged about in his "certainly we execute" speech at the UN General Assembly (1964).

In 1959 the Marxist revolution ousted an undemocratic regime only to replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat. Nowadays unlike the Che idolizers of the free world, Cubans know better. The egalitarian utopia promised by the Soviet-backed revolutionaries turned into a totalitarian regime whose centrally directed collectivist economy has failed to deliver prosperity. Many have left the desperately poor island in search of freedom and a better life. Many died at sea trying to escape.

Maybe one day a Hollywood blockbuster will tell their stories of bravery and desperation.

In 2009 expect a resurgence of Che mania with film merchandising, the usual celebrities parading with T-shirts, western youths brandishing his stylized image in their fight against globalization. But here is another fact. Be it on snowboards, underwear or cigars, the “Che” brand name sells well. His face recently appeared on the façade of a bar in my Tokyo neighbourhood (photo right). It looks "cool" the owner says, clearly hoping to attract more clients and maximise his profit....
The "comandante" turned capitalist icon? Maybe not. But certainly evidence that the Marxist ideology the revolutionary so fervently tried to impose, has been ultimately defeated by capitalism.

Che mania? Non merci!


  1. is it possible to cook a omelette without broken eggs? What about French revolution during which how many nobles and others were guillotined.
    Franck de Paris