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International Socialism, Winter 1968/69


Gwyn Williams

Who Lives?


From International Socialism (1st series), No.35, Winter 1968/69, p.40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Diaries of Che Guevara
Black Dwarf, 5s

Disconcertingly labelled ‘Black Dwarf’, the familiar Christ-Head of the century’s most successful hero confronts the reader. Although Tariq Ali stridently proclaims his adherence to the Fidelista revolution and denounces the rival CIA version of Che’s diaries (‘We spit on them!’) the precise relevance of a foco-that-wasn’t to a journal that presumably re-engages the broken British revolutionary tradition of its Peterloo namesake is not too clear – unless a clue may be found in Guevara’s coy reference to his river-crossing loss of a ‘book by Trotsky’!

Certainly a real as opposed to a metaphorical guerilla has horrors even Grosvenor Square knows not –

‘... I was overcome by the most violent colic, with vomiting and diarrhea (sic). They stopped it with Demerol and I lost consciousness while they carried me in a hammock. When I woke up I was very much relieved but smeared all over like a baby. They lent me a pair of pants, but having no water my stench reaches a league away ...’

A guerilla force, more than most armies, marches on its stomach and the supreme value of this diary is the immediacy of its impact – the endless marches, the obsession with food, the weariness, the squabbles over precedence, sugar, command, the repeated lectures and post-mortems, the backbreaking brush-cutting of the ‘macheteros’, the raw-picked skeletons by the ford – this is, in Che’s customary honesty and particularly, a highly successful reliving of experience, even though the translation is, in parts, so bad as to amount to a counter-revolutionary provocation.

The reader is immediately struck by its resemblance to the early Cuban experience as sketched in by Guevara’s Pasajes. In fact, much of the posthumous and portentous ‘analysis’ of the ‘futility’ of the Bolivian guerilla is exposed as the ignorant nonsense it is. Simply to say that the guerilla failed to ignite the peasantry is to say nothing. In fact, until the August of 1967, the campaign was developing much as the campaign developed in the first two phases of the Sierra Maestra; the response of the peasantry seems remarkably similar. It is true that the guerilla was prematurely blown and that the column had to take off hurriedly, with the actions in March worsening still further the overall strategic situation. But in truth, although already strategically doomed by that date, the campaign was highly successful in a tactical sense into mid-summer, particularly with the cutting of the Santa Cruz road and the contact with the mestizo and semi-commercialised campesinos south of the Cochabamba complex. That there were difficulties between ‘continental’ Cubans-Argentines-Peruvians and the handful of Bolivians (mostly breakaway Communists in the Douglas Bravo mode of Venezuela) is clear; not until 11 January does Che report – ‘We began studying Quechua’. But in fact, the guerilla failed through faulty timing. The premature exposure of the Nancahuasa base brought the La Paz network, the ‘altiplano’ miners, the subsidiary columns, the defecting peasant militias into action piecemeal and unco-ordinated. Even so, at the time of the state of emergency in July, Che, reporting signs of disintegration in the Barrientos government, could say – ‘it is too bad that we do not have 100 more men at this moment’ and he is probably correct.

One notes, however, that this situation is not that postulated by Regis Debray in his theorising. The revolutionary precipitation, if it had happened, would have happened relatively quickly; no long march here. That Guevara, if not Debray, was correct at least in his diagnosis, is suggested by the recent and very successful resumption of the guerilla under one of the Peredo brothers who figure so largely in this account, which has roped in Juan Lechin, the so-called Trotskyite miners’ leader and precipitated a crisis within the Barrientos regime (complete with characteristically Grand Guignol contortions by the peripatetic Arguedos). The situation in neighbouring Peru, where the guerilla has taken new root, is also interesting. In fact, it is perfectly clear from the Diary that American intervention and the much-vaunted ‘new tactics’ of the Rangers and their CIA Cubans were effective only in the last stages, from late August onwards, when the strategic paralysis took fatal hold.

In that paralysis, of course, the Bolivian Communist Party with its ambiguous Monje and Reyes, and the European apparat, apparently represented by Tania, played a key role. While one need not follow the ‘Chinese’ in believing that the Muscovites deliberately sabotage the guerilla, their role, to say the least, was even more ambivalent than that of the Venezuelan CP vis-à-vis Bravo and the FLN. The CP in Bolivia is a very recent creation in a country where revolutionary sensibility tends to be ‘Trotskyist’; it had obviously been penetrated by, and may have been in part a creature of, the CIA.

For the rest, the diaries strengthen the Che image of a man dedicated and indeed fanatical, whose fanaticism is tempered by humour and a basic, in these Bolivian circumstances quite remarkable, humanity; this is a revolutionary Jesuit who talks like a genial seminar leader, and acts like a superlatively human being. Two interesting features strike the reader. Che has a Latin, almost ritualistic, sense of meaningful time; the diaries are peppered with significant anniversaries, from Bolivian national day to his children’s birthdays. Furthermore, time after time, the current struggle in Latin America is related to the First Emancipation and Simon Bolivar; the launching of the Bolivian guerilla is to be the ‘Grito de Murillo’ of this century. This, I think, is significant. Latin American pundits of Anglo-Saxon stock invariably forget how ‘Spanish’ the continent still is.

’Once more I feel Rosinante’s ribs beneath my heels’ said Che when he left Cuba. To us Don Quixote is – well, quixotic. To the Spanish world on both sides of the Atlantic. Quixote is a folk-myth of Sorelian proportions. And if we forget that fact, rest assured that they remember it in Bolivia!

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