The Political Theory of Che Guevara
Guevara produced a body of work that should be of interest to anyone concerned with fundamental questions in radical social theory, for his books, essays, speeches, and so on address questions that have shaped some of the most important debates in this theoretical tradition.
The Spanish philosopher Francisco Fernández Buey once observed that Ernest ‘Che’ Guevara (1928–1967) is ‘the figure of the communist guerrilla par excellence.’ The association of Guevara with guerrilla warfare, and armed resistance to injustice more generally, is certainly wholly justified, as is the attention paid to his accomplishments in this regard, whether as a soldier or as a theorist. But Guevara was more than simply a theorist and practitioner of guerrilla warfare. He was also an original, creative political thinker whose abundant writings, speeches, lectures, and talks attest to an innovative interpretation and development of various concepts, principles, and commitments central to Marxist political theory. Indeed, Guevara—who was well versed in both the Marxist classics and later Marxist theory (including the writings of Althusser, Mao, and Paul Baran)—produced a body of work that should be of interest to anyone concerned with fundamental questions in radical social theory, for his books, essays, speeches, and so on address questions that have shaped some of the most important debates in this theoretical tradition.
In The Political Theory of Che Guevara, I offer a succinct account of the ideas that constitute the most important components, in my view, of Guevara’s political thought, along with an assessment of these ideas. Accordingly, I devote considerable space to two of Guevara’s most distinctive contributions to radical social theory, namely his conception of the 'new man'—which I call the 'new person' or 'new human being'—and his views on the need to transform our attitude toward, and experience of, work. I also explore Guevara’s perspective on internationalism and imperialism, his ideas on socialism, communism, and revolution, and his views on economic management and organization during the transition to socialism. (As I show in the book, the widespread notion that Guevara had scant interest in the mechanics of a viable socialism is completely unfounded.) Finally, I argue that many of Guevara’s key ideas remain defensible today, and that his thought as a whole constitutes a valuable resource for the theorization of what has come to be called 'twenty-first-century socialism.'
I had two principal aims in writing The Political Theory of Che Guevara. Firstly, I sought to demonstrate that Guevara’s political thought is both coherent and systematic. Secondly, I wished to refute the distortions of Guevara’s views that have marred so much of the scholarly literature on Guevara. If I have succeeded in achieving these aims, it is in part because I made extensive use of the valuable texts included in El Che en la Revolución cubana (Che in the Cuban Revolution), the single most comprehensive collection of Guevara’s speeches, articles, interviews, talks, etc. The seven lengthy volumes that comprise this collection are in fact the closest thing to Guevara’s “collected works” (although they are actually quite incomplete). A very limited edition of this work, many copies of which were apparently never circulated, was published in 1966, about a year before Guevara’s death; the first reprint of this edition appeared only a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, nearly all English-language commentaries on Guevara’s thought—and, for that matter, most Guevara scholarship produced outside Cuba—have neglected this essential text. My book is, to my knowledge, the first English-language study that draws extensively on El Che en la Revolución cubana in reconstructing, interpreting and assessing Guevara’s political thought.
Even though Guevara died half a century ago—last year marked the 50th anniversary of Guevara’s execution in Bolivia—there are still relatively few studies that examine his political thought in detail. This is particularly surprising in light of the fact that it has become much easier in recent years to gain a comprehensive understanding of Guevara’s thought, as several of Guevara’s important, previously unpublished manuscripts have finally been made available to the general public. It is my hope that The Political Theory of Che Guevara will help to fill this void in Guevara scholarship.
Renzo Llorente teaches Philosophy at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus.