Ernesto Che Guevara. The Awakening of Latin America (North Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2013) reviewed by Daniel Egan

In his eulogy of Che Guevara given at the Plaza de La Revolución in October 1967, Fidel Castro referred to Che as an ‘artist’ of revolution. As this collection of Che’s writings on Latin America suggests, Fidel’s statement was no exaggeration. Beginning with his travels throughout Latin America as a young medical student and ending with his tragically failed attempt to initiate a revolution in Bolivia, the writings presented here reveal Che to be an artist in the most complete sense: the profoundly humanistic nature of his revolutionary vision, the creative nature of his military and political strategy, and the dramatic quality with which he made use of the written and spoken word.

The book is organized chronologically into three parts: the first deals with his ‘discovery’ of Latin America, the second with his experience in the Cuban Revolution and, subsequently, as a major presence in the new revolutionary government, and the third with his lived commitment to revolutionary internationalism as reflected in his missions in the Congo and Bolivia. Each section includes a wide range of documents, including diaries, letters, articles, interviews, poems and speeches, many of which are quite familiar to readers but others less so. This gives the reader a sense of how Che’s theory and practice developed over time, while within each section the reader can see this expressed in a multitude of ways. We see from Che’s diaries of his travels across Latin America the inhumanity of imperialism, from the everyday experience of an old woman suffering from asthma to the US-sponsored military coup overthrowing the progressive nationalist Arbenz government in Guatemala. Later on, his diaries from the Congo and Bolivia reveal both the day-to-day experience of revolutionaries as well as larger questions of tactics and strategy. We see from Che’s reading lists not only his extensive interest in Marx and Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and José Martí, but also in playwrights, novelists and poets from all over the world. We see from his letters and poems his most deeply personal thoughts about poverty and resistance in Latin America, but we also see more official letters that acknowledge the bureaucratic trap of officialdom. We see polemical writings (under the name ‘Sharpshooter’), first for the newspaper El Cubano Libre during the revolution and, after the revolution’s victory, for the armed forces magazine Verde Olivo, in which Che explained the importance of the Cuban revolution in terms of both its experience of imperialism and its potential for the revolutionary destruction of imperialism. We also see this case developed in much greater detail in works such as Che’s address in support of the Declaration of Havana and articles such as “Tactics and Strategy for the Latin American Revolution” and “Guerrilla Warfare: A Method.”

Throughout the book, it is clear that the awakening of Latin America is also Che’s awakening. Che’s observations of the deep, structural poverty throughout Latin America led his already existing commitment to social justice to take on the more systematic form of Marxism.

Whether this is reflected in his recognition of the centrality of Marxism for resolving the difficult tasks facing the new revolutionary government – defending against US aggression and addressing the profound social needs of the Cuban people – or in his profound sense of internationalism, the selections in this book do an excellent job illustrating the central lesson Che continues to offers us today: that revolution is not only an act of social transformation but of personal transformation as well.

Reviewed by Daniel Egan
University of Lowell
Daniel_Egan@uml.edu

 

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