Peter Sedgwick

Guevara’s other great love

(12 May 1973)

From Socialist Worker, 12 May 1973. (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ernesto: A Memoir of Che Guevara, by Hilda Gadea, WH Allen, £2.75.

GUEVARA once confessed ‘at the risk of seeming ridiculous’ that the revolutionary ‘is guided by great feelings of love.’

One can think of some revolutionaries, alas, of whom this obviously isn’t true: its applicability to Che must reflect his two commitments – to revolutionary politics and to Hilda Gadea. During 1953-56 they shared the turmoil of political emigration in Central America, managing in all the upheavals of arrest, imprisonment and flight to learn some basic marxism, get married and produce a baby daughter – a few months before Che sailed with Fidel Castro to begin the Cuban revolutionary war.

Hilda Gadea is a political science graduate and at first a marxist-inclined Peruvian nationalist. She shed many of her political illusions in Guevara’s company and despite her modesty it is clear that her influence on him was formative.

Their courtship was dramatic, beginning with long daily discussions about economics, public health, novels, current politics and the like. At one point, when they were discussing plans for a joint trip to China, Che insisted on promising solemnly that he’d make no attempt to get off with her, Then, three months after they had met, Guevara suddenly presented her with a poem which was a marriage proposal. That, more or less, was it.

Their politics were well to the left of the Latin American Communist Party even in those days. Guevara was particularly shocked by the passivity of the Guatemalan Communists in the face of the US-backed coup against the left-liberal Arbenz government in 1954, and wrote his first political article about the necessity for armed struggle around this time.

But the Stalinoid myths about ‘the socialist camp’ seem to have been accepted by the Guevaras and their circle, in a manner typical of most leftists in the Cold War: one would dearly love to know how, during 1956, that year of shock for Communist Party members and fellow-travellers, the Khruschev disclosures about Stalin and the Hungarian revolution made their impact on Che and his wife.

But the effect may have been slight: it was a busy time, with the birth of Hildita, intense guerilla training with Fidel’s force, and then departure for Cuba and danger.

The author’s words on Che’s departure for Cuba are poignant: ‘He left that weekend and did not come back.’ The next time they met, in Havana on the day of victory, Guevara was to tell his wife that their marriage was over as he was now with someone else. Realising her pain, he said: ‘Better I had died in combat.’

The flatness of the narrative and the sparseness of personal detail in the book no doubt reflects the pain of Hilda Gadea’s recollection. But there is a shining vitality in the messages that Che sent back, to his young daughter, even from the secret battleground in Bolivia where he met his death.

‘Study and maintain the revolutionary attitude: honest behaviour, seriousness, love for the revolution, comradeship ... Above all, always be capable of feeling most deeply any injustice committed against anyone in the world. That is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.’

Guevara and his ex-wife remained friends and comrades. This book commemorates the continuous element in their relationship.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 25.11.2004