Revisiting Cuban Revolution

Che Guevara and the 26th July Movement

Subrata Bagchi

The history of revolutions unfolds many startling events which are sometimes stranger than fiction. The heroic deeds of the revolutionaries are carefully inscribed in the pages of the text-books to focus their contributions for uprooting the imperial powers from the soil of their motherlands. Most of the liberation movements in the aftermath of the World War II in the 'wretched part of the earth' (borrowed from the coinage of Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon) still remind people of the sermons of nationalism and the fervour with which the liberation-struggles were fought out. The movements were imbued with strong moralist overtones since nations were worshipped as sacred land. However, the craving for power had never left the minds of many of the liberationists who had later become oblivious of the very causes for which they had fought once. However, their contributions are still remembered these days by celebrating their birthdays, garlanding their installed statues and sometimes preserving their mortal remains in the mausoleums.

But the Argentina-born illustrious leader of Cuban revolution Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967), popularly known as 'Che' stands out as a distinctive figure for his fearless and undaunted character to fight against the tyrant rulers of Cuba and US imperialism. One may argue that Che's deeds and belief in hardline socialism do not fit into today's tactical need for a more resilient strategy in the absence of the entire socialist hemisphere. Yet who can deny the awesome intrepidity of the revolutionaries like Che, the Castro brothers and altogether 82 fighters who took part in the historic voyage from Tuxpan (Mexico) to Niquero (South-eastern Cuba) on a yacht 'Granma', in July, 1956? That Che Guevara was a revolutionary of a different genre can be derived from his firm conviction for a continent-wide strategy for revolution in Latin America. Witnessing massive poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement in Latin America he realized that the only solution to the sufferings of the continent was armed revolution. His writings and perception of the Latin-American problems persuaded him to envisage Latin America as a single-entity that imagines a borderless, united Ibero-America (one America) sharing a common mestizo (culture). This impelled him to make trips to Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc., in 1953. During his visit to Guatemala he found how the CIA-backed coup d'etat was instrumental in overthrowing the democratic regime of the President Jacob Arbenz because he attempted to end the US-aided latifunda system which represents the preservation of the medieval land relationships. This hardened Guevara's view to slam the US as the arch-enemy of the popular governments that had endeavoured to rectify endemic inequality in Latin America.

The 26th July Movement, 1956 (26th JM) named in commemoration of the failed attack on the Moncada Barrack in Santiago de Cuba on 26th July 1953 led by Fidel Castro is the cornerstone of Cuban revolution. After being amnestied from death-sentence Fidel Castro took refuge in Mexico to propel the next coup d'etat in Cuba. In the meantime after the ouster of the Arbenz-government in Guatemala, Che Guevara came to Mexico in September, 1954, where he met the Castro brothers. In Fidel Castro he found a leader extraordinaire and immediately joined the 26th JM. After being initially chosen as the medic of the group Guevara excelled as a genuine revolutionary and was elevated to the rank of commandante (Major). The group of 82 members surreptitiously boarded Granma, a cabin cruiser at 1 p.m.on 25th July to stoke the fire of revolution against the US-aided regime of Fulgenico Batista. The timing of their arrival was planned to coincide with the uprising, launched by Frank Pais in Santiago de Cuba on 30th November, 1956. But the arrival was delayed and the uprising was smashed in the battle of Alegrie de Pio. Immediately after the vessel drew ashore on 2nd December, the unit confronted a fierce onslaught from the government forces and the entire unit was dismantled into several splinter groups without contact with each other. After the setback they moved deep into the Sierra Maestra Mountains where they got support from other rebel groups, covert communists, local guajiros (Cuban mountain man or farmer), etc. During this period Guevara developed necessary contacts for creating a broad support-base among the locals which makes him a maestro of guerilla warfare.

Cuban revolution began with the 26th JM, 1956 which culminated in the battle near Santa Clara, led by Guevara himself in December, 1958. Finally, the army loyal to the government suffered the decisive defeat and Guevara announced their surrender over his 'Rebelde' transmitter. The battle of Santa Clara hammered the last nail hard into the chest of the army and Guevara and his contingent entered the Capital of Havana on 2nd January 1959. Almost a week later Fidel entered the city from Santiago de Cuba amidst a cheering crowd.

Che had always stuck to his belief 'hasta la victoria siempre' (always, until victory). He never counselled for freighting socialism elsewhere without risking his own life and mass-uprising and he never relished the cozy chair of a high-level administrator and political bureaucrat. The impulse of revolution was constantly bubbling in his unquiet mind and he went on leading the revolutionary movements elsewhere. At one stage his whereabouts became mysterious, however in a letter to Fidel Castro he bade farewell to Cuba relinquishing all the portfolios and Cuban citizenship to join the movements in Congo in sub-Saharan Africa in support of the pro-Patrice Lumumba Marxist Simba movement. But the struggle in Congo failed and on the insistence of Castro himself he returned to Cuba temporarily and soon joined the revolutionary movement in Bolivia to fulfill his dream for an end to US-imperialism in Latin America. But revolutionary action in Bolivia through guerilla operations had also failed and Guevara was captured alive and executed by the Bolivian army on 9th December, 1967 in La Higuera.

Steady erosion of socialist values in the wake of the atrocious spread of consumerism and market economy rekindles the need to recall Guevara's conception of 'socialist man'. Wanton disregard to socialist values has become endemic since personal aggrandizement of the leaders and everyday compromises for power and wealth is now about to disdain socialism as a perverse doctrine. Asceticism of the communists has become a thing of the past—which is antiquated further by the anxiety to ensure their permanent existence in the game of political power, safely cushioned on the rostrum of state power. On this putrid strip Guevara stands out as an exception to give the fresh visionaries a lesson or two. His deeds are not always above criticism because he was an uncompromising grammarian of socialist dictatorship, yet his ingenuity, integrity and supreme sacrifice for the cause is splendid.

He discharged his official duties as an outstanding example of the 'new man'. During his tenure in the government he refused his due salaries and accepted the meager wage as an army comman-dante what he actually was during the movement. He used to volunteer his physical labour in the shipyards, textile factories and also for cutting sugarcane during the weekends and evenings. He was a marvel of honesty who set an example by himself. In 'Socialism and Man' he wrote: 'with voluntary work based on the Marxist truly reaches his human condition when he produces without being compelled by physical necessity to sell himself as a commodity'. For the creation of 'socialist man' he relied on the development of consciousness and for this 'society must be converted into a gigantic school'. Che Guevara and his school of thought is not yet outdated; rather can still be relived if the avant-garde of radical change take society as the laboratory for learning the realties and reject dogma in interpreting the specific social-economic situations in different parts of the world.

Indeed, there should be some more to add to Che's political line in the struggle for justice and equality and fight against imperialism in the 21st century's globalized world. Particularly in the third world countries the efficacy of Che's line of political-cum-armed struggle might not be a lasting solution and needs to be reviewed when one finds the noteworthy success of the political strategy of the deceased President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez who propagated the idea, 'socialism for the 21st century' for liberty, equality, social justice, and solidarity, evolving through participatory democracy at the grassroots level.

But the spirit of the 26th July movement and Che's concept of 'socialist man' and his conviction that the 'society must be converted into a gigantic school' will still continue to influence the future generations in the struggle against oppression and the fight against the imperialist forces in today's globalized world.
References :

1.    Miguel A Faria, 'Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement'. 27 July, 2004. http://archive.newsmax.eom/archives/articles/2004/7/27/110928.shtml.
2.    Che Guevera, Socialism and Man in Cuba, (translated), htm
3.   Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevera: A Revolutionary,Life Grove Press (NYC), 1998

Vol. 46, No. 51, Jun 29 - Jul 5, 2014