A few years ago, I saw a video of a teacher’s union marching down the street. These teachers were protesting in support of higher wages. However, each teacher was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. When asked why they wore the shirts, they could not fully explain it (Pundit, 2012). One teacher went as far as to call Che a role model. I found this ironic, considering Che was a racist murderer who burned books and despised homosexuals.
I want to share the following information in a very basic way to ensure that the message is beyond clear and can be comprehended by anyone who may happen to read it. Again, I challenge you to be objective and open-minded.
Over the years, I have had numerous debates about various forms of government. These eventually led to a discussion about good and bad leaders. During one such discussion, I was told the following about Che Guevara.
“Che Guevara is a hero and a revolutionary. I don’t know why more Americans don’t love the man.”
As you may or may not know, I have studied leadership for years. I have studied and written about all kinds of leaders from the past to the present, both good and bad. If there is anything that I would like to profess here today, there are many things wrong with what this person suggested. If Che were any kind of leader, I would immediately label him a pseudo-transformational leader (Robertson, 2016).
In my opinion, he was not a good leader, and I will demonstrate why. Before I do, let me first state that I would be a lot more understanding about someone with a Communist leaning following the words of Marx or even Stalin. At least these guys achieved some of their stated goals. Such was rarely (if ever) the case with Che.
Furthermore, the ideas of Marx and Stalin (at least in part) continue to inspire (for some reason) certain groups of people around the world to this very day in the way that they intended. Following or even admiring Che… this one, I have a hard time wrapping my head around.
The narrative is that Che Guevara, or Ernesto as it were, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary. He was a physician, a guerrilla leader, and is today (at least to some), a counterculture symbol of rebellion. I will admit it sounds good on the surface. Is Che someone who deserves such love and admiration? Some sure think so. Even some American teachers. This is odd because you would think that if anyone knew better, it would be the educated. Let me share with you what I know, and then you can be the judge.
By definition, a hero is someone who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. I do not think Che had any of these. Some are quick to suggest that if Che had anything, it was courage. I’m afraid I have to disagree with that as well.
It was reported numerous times that he would put himself right in the middle of danger. However, I do not believe this was courage so much as insanity because he wanted to become a martyr. In fact, it is well documented that not only did he want to die, but he also wanted to take a lot of people with him. That is not courage. Instead, that sounds more like some sort of homicidal or omnicidal maniac, if you ask me.
For those familiar with his work, you will recall Guevara’s message to the Tricontinental advocating “two, three, many Vietnams” (Guevara, 2002) or other messages such as “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become…” (Hollander, 2009). There is much I could say about his statements, but I think it speaks for itself.
His writings are filled with similar ideas. It makes sense on some level because Communists are known for their eagerness to murder. This is not an exaggeration. Let me share with you something that Rudolph Joseph Rummel, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, has said: “Communism has been the greatest social engineering experiment we have ever seen. It failed utterly, and in doing so, it killed over 100,000,000 men, women, and children, not to mention the near 30,000,000 of its subjects that died in its often aggressive wars and the rebellions it provoked” (Rummel, 2002).
Che is known to have appreciated Stalin-style tactics, a man who was responsible for at least 20 million deaths in labor camps, forced collectivization, famine, and executions (Keller, 1989). Of course, Che also wanted to borrow experience from his buddy Mao Tse-Tung; easily one of the greatest mass murderers in world history – with an estimated 65 million Chinese dead as a result of Mao’s repeated, merciless attempts to create a new “socialist” China (Courtois, 2015). Again, I am not sure this counts as courageous so much as psychopathic. I also do not think any of this counts as an outstanding achievement or noble quality either.
There are some great reasons why those governments and movements failed, and I can’t find many who say that they would have loved living in Communist Russia or Communist China. For the argument’s sake, let’s give Che the courageous title, just in case I somehow misunderstand the materials I have reviewed. That still does not make him a leader.
The function of socialism is to raise suffering to a higher level.Norman Mailer
The truth is that even his death toll did not measure up to his Communist counterparts. It is said that Che signed 400 death warrants in the first few months of his command and personally ordered 700 executions by firing squad. However, friends suggest that he sent as many as 1,897 people to firing squads and was responsible for the deaths of well over 2,000 people during his guerrilla wars (Ortega & Calvo, 2009). Maybe he just had less to work with.
Considering the definition of achievement, the only outstanding achievements I can think of when it comes to Che are his personal education level and his eventual death. Other than that, he really was a failure all the way around. You will read in some books about how he rallied tens of thousands of middle-class Latin Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies. Of course, I wouldn’t classify getting a bunch of naïve kids to leave school for a failed or lost cause as an achievement. Clearly, that is not difficult to do, as evidenced almost weekly anymore in our own country. Regardless, as history has shown, that was not a good move and not exactly inspirational – definitely not something to look up to. Still, it may sound impressive at first. However, the part often overlooked was the all-out failure of these insurgencies or his leadership failures during these insurgencies. So by these results, I do not think the word “achievement” applies here either.
Of course, in almost any “Che Debate,” his racism, bigotry, and prejudiced nature tend to come up. I should address this as well. In his biography, The Motorcycle Diaries, he says things like, “The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese (Guevara, 2003).” That is not very nice at all. Of course, it wasn’t all geared towards black people; Che also said that “Mexicans are a band of illiterate Indians.” Why are so few willing to see this racial trend in Communism and Socialism? Here is another example:
“Is it a misfortune that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who did not know what to do with it?”Karl Marx – (Williams, 2008)
Some are quick to argue that these statements come from a time before he was “Che” and before he was a “real” communist/socialist. The argument is that he changed over the next several years. They point to his words in front of the United Nations in 1964 when he said, “Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom? The government of the United States is not the champion of freedom, but rather the perpetrator of exploitation and oppression against the peoples of the world and against a large part of its own population.” – (McLaren, 2000)
My analysis of this contrast in words and ideas is simple. Like many politicians, Che needed support and spoke out of both sides of his mouth to get it. Like any pseudo-transformational leader or politician who needed support, he said what people wanted and needed to hear. A related factoid: scientists believe such racism is hardwired into the brain, especially after a certain age. According to findings published in Nature Neuroscience, this racism operates unconsciously (Kubota, Banaji, & Phelps, 2012). I believe Che demonstrates this because when he was in the Congo about a year later, Che repeatedly wrote to Castro about his frustrations with the black rebels he had joined, commenting on their lack of discipline and Che’s need to impose strict order.
Can the argument be made that Che was frustrated and his words had nothing to do with color or race? What other conclusions can we draw from his words, “The Negro is indolent and lazy,” regarding his Congolese comrades (Tupty, 2009)? It seems pretty clear to me. It does not matter anyway because Che failed to bring the Congolese together and stop all their infighting which ultimately resulted in the failure of that insurgency as well. To be clear, this wasn’t a failure of followership; it was a failure of leadership. The fact remains that true leaders have followers who want to be led by them. And even Che wrote letters describing the failure of his Congo campaign. Guess where he put the blame? Maybe that had something to do with how Che was influenced.
It is similar to how anyone can defend Che’s record on homosexuality. Homosexuals did not fare well with Che (Kirchick, 2017). He mounted a massive campaign to have them all jailed. Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas was known to have spent some time in these jails. He wrote about the conditions for homosexuals, saying, “It was a sweltering place without a bathroom. Gays were not treated like human beings, they were treated like beasts. They were the last ones to come out for meals, so we saw them walk by, and the most insignificant incident was an excuse to beat them mercilessly” (Arenas, 2017).
Again, perception or time could be argued. However, quite a few people spoke of this. In the book “Mea Cuba” Page 71 – “Che Guevara considered homosexuals to be sick people who must give way to the politically healthy “new man” made by Communist Cuba.” – Or how about the book Ernesto “Che” Guevara; Page 97 – (speaking of the Soviet-style camps) “It was there that their “enemies” of the revolution were sent for rehabilitation, enemies that soon included dissidents, homosexuals,…” Yet, today we see homosexuals waving their rainbow flags and wearing their Che t-shirts. I do not know if this is sad or just laughable. Consider this another public example of failed education because they are clearly ignorant about what they are really promoting.
Some suggest that Che was a smart man. Maybe he was, but then maybe he should have stuck to medicine. I think (and hope) they still teach that Fidel Castro eventually put Che in charge of the Cuban economy. Remember what a big mistake that was? Che’s “industrialization plan” was another near-total failure. Understanding that Che was a Marxist Communist, he attempted to model the economy on the same ideals as Marxist Russia and, by doing so, put Cuba on a downward economic spiral almost immediately. Again, highly documented. This should be a warning to us today, but for some reason, it is not.
Remember Che’s National Institute of Agrarian Reform that took control of the entire economy? They nationalized co-ops, made them state farms, and immediately ran them into the ground. On February 20, 1960, Che announced “Soviet-style planning” for Cuba (the same style that failed the Soviets) to further his communist agenda. This included Che’s abolition of workers’ rights and the destruction of the independent trade union movements. History notes that this did not end well and is yet another example of his numerous and repeated failures. Why is all of this so easily forgotten?
Che eventually fled Cuba. When he fled, it was not because a capitalist government was after him or because he would inspire others to join his Communist movement. It wasn’t even that he had destroyed the Cuban economy. Instead, it may have been because he also failed in his home life. There remain questions about his fidelity, and he had five children he was not being a great father to (Gullion, 2015)(Kallen, 2013). More endearing qualities? So off to Bolivia he went… under a different name… in what would be another example of his failure of leadership.
Some would argue that it wasn’t his personal life that sent him running. That is fine. Whether or not it was Che’s failure in his personal life or Che’s failure as head of the Department of Industry, or failure as the president of the National Bank of Cuba, the point remains, and the specific reasons that sent him running away are irrelevant. All of them were failures, and that is my point. Ironically, when he ran away from his problems, Che was really running into his biggest failure yet.
Understand that Che died, leading a Bolivian guerrilla movement where he couldn’t even recruit a single Bolivian peasant (Guevara & Waters, 1994). He could not recruit them because Che advocated communist ideals, such as total government control, never owning property, eminent domain, and heavy income taxes on the people. The punch line: Che was asking these Bolivian peasants to give up everything they had just fought and died for (land acquired during their revolution in 52), and he was somehow surprised when they did not want to do it. Think about that for a second. Che was confused that these people would not join the cause advocating against everything they had just fought for.
Again, this failed campaign ended in his own death. He failed to get the support needed for the mission, and he failed to keep the support of those who would eventually turn on him. He allowed himself to be taken alive, and then he was shot. However, even that was a failure.
There are several different versions of Che’s “heroic” and revolutionary last words. I’ll provide them, and you can decide. One version comes from General Ovando, Chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces, who said that Che’s last words were, “I am Che Guevara, and I have failed.” Another version comes from Colonel Arnaldo Saucedo Parada, head of intelligence of the Eighth Division, who delivered the official report on Che’s final moments. He said Che uttered, “I knew you were going to shoot me; I should never have been taken alive. Tell Fidel that this failure does not mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell Aleida to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children studying. Ask the soldiers to aim well.” Again, admitting failure. However, Che’s captors suggest that Che begged for his life, saying, “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.”
Which one is the accurate quote? I do not know; I was not there. However, it seems that it was definitely NOT “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man.” A quote that so many want to believe.
Regardless, Che admitted his failure – even in his final breaths. From my perspective, Che was clearly an unapologetic racist, homophobic, communist, adulterer, and terrible father who failed at everything he did because he couldn’t see the true flaws of the platforms of which he was following and professing. A real democrat hero. He was also not capable enough to see almost any of his campaigns or endeavors through or to keep people doing the things that would have been necessary to make his campaigns actually “work.” It really is that simple.
As for those who evoke his memory or imagery for the sake of their respective causes, understand that Che would not have supported black or homosexual protests for equality. Che opposed freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to protest. This fact is amusing when you consider how often his image is used during such events.
If you believe in exercising your power or having freedom of choice, and if you idolize Che, then understand that you are idolizing the wrong person. Nat Hentoff interviewed Che and asked him, “Mr. Guevara, can you see at any time in the future when there might be elections by freedom of choice in Cuba?” Che’s burst into laughter, saying: “Aqui? In Cuba?” (Hentoff, 2014) – If I were a betting man, I would bet that Che did not have that on the agenda.
Look, I understand how some might want to look up to a revolutionary. Everyone loves a rebel. I look upon Thomas Jefferson as one of the greats, and I admire guys like Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine for the same reasons. However, when it comes to leadership, you have to consider EVERYTHING. For crying out loud, even Che’s mother said he was “intolerant and fanatical (Anderson, 2015).” After all, we are talking about the guy who looked at the gulag as something positive. I find it beyond ironic and somewhat sad that those who are crying about the Rebel Flag and our Founding Fathers are the same ones wearing Che t-shirts and waving Che flags. I guess they just do not teach history like they used to.
Please don’t misunderstand me. If you have a Che t-shirt, I want you to wear it as often as possible. If you support the idea of strict dictatorship, non-existent liberties, never owning property, eminent domain, heavy income taxes for redistribution, the complete elimination of inheritance, the elimination of the middle class, government seizures of property from foreigners, ever-expanding centralized government, or the boosting of central banks like the Federal Reserve… or if you support the government regulating and overseeing all communications and travel, government-sponsored corporations, the elimination of all private business – including the small to medium-sized, if you like the idea of government telling you where and when you will work or what you can and cannot do, government-run schools with a heavy dose of indoctrination, not being allowed to vote, public executions without due process, the oppression of homosexuals and blatant racism… then, by all means, wear your Che shirt and support others who do too. Get a flag while you are at it and wave it around. Do it in groups as often as possible. Why? Two reasons. 1) I am Voltaire-ish in the idea that I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for the right to say it, and 2) everyone loves a clown.
For me, I see Che as a hateful, violent, ignorant, pseudo-transformational leader who ultimately ended up being the icon of the very things he despised – free speech and capitalism. As a matter of fact, Ciro Bustos (who once served with Che) once mentioned that he was saddened about what Guevara had become in death. He said that legend has devoured the reality of Che and said that when he looks at all the shirts and flags, he knows that Che would be horrified to know that his image had supplanted his ideas (Jones, 2013). This is probably true.
Che failed in life, and he failed in death. He really achieved little in the grand scheme of things. If that is not an example of a complete failure, then I do not know what is. I laugh when I see people wearing Che shirts or waving Che flags. Especially when you consider the classifications or demographics of those sporting the image and the irony of the context in which such images are usually displayed, seriously, it is a public display of utter ignorance, and sometimes I feel sorry for those who participate. Of course, I also view it as a voluntary dunce cap and appreciate the warning.
So let us use Che’s Communist/Socialist failures to gain better insight into what affects us today. Consider for a moment all the socialist and communist warnings or leanings we have seen regarding our recent and current government officials. Remember the Mao Christmas ornaments on Obama’s Christmas tree, the Che flags found at his campaign headquarters, Obama’s campaign slogan “Forward” borrowed from Chairman Mao’s “The Great Leap Forward,” Frank Marshall Davis; Obama’s Communist mentor, his communist friends, his communist family, his Marx style gradual socialization of the economy? That was some presidency. This isn’t a conspiracy. There has been an open appreciation for such ideals for some time now. You might recall Cabinet Member Anita Dunn publicly stating that Mao Tse Tung was one of her favorite philosophers (Fund, 2009). Look around today. It’s not hard to see once you know what to look for.
It is truly scary when you look at it retrospectively and in context. Honestly, though, that short list is just the tip of the iceberg. Let me share with you one of my personal favorites. Recall a house hearing in 2008, when Maxine Waters bantered with oil executives like John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company (Brown, 2017). Waters emphatically stated (referring to herself as “this liberal“), “And guess what this liberal would be all about. This liberal will be about socializing … um. …” Or better yet, take all the time you need to examine AOC.
My point is that these crazy ideas continue and that only an ignorant or failed leader would attempt to lead his or her people to demonstrably failed ideas. It is literally an example of the blind leading the blind. Che may have been a revolutionary, but he was no hero. Personally, I do not consider him a real leader at all. As for why more Americans do not love the man, perhaps that is because anyone willing to read can quickly and easily discover that there is nothing to love or admire in the first place.
History seems to be repeating, though, and some people are, again, blindly following the lie. You know as well as I do where this will eventually go – that is to say… if you know history. For now, and for some crazy reason, Che (and his communist/socialist views) have become an icon for some of those that he would have never endorsed and would have likely imprisoned. Regardless of his complete failures as a leader and a person, he is embraced by the ignorant.
It is just sad. Maybe it is just scary. For some reason, the “promises” of socialism and communism endure – no matter how much history demonstrates their failures.
Let me close this article with some quotes:
The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property. – Karl Marx; The Communist Manifesto
The ultimate weakness of Communism is that it robs man of that quality which makes him man. – Martin Luther King Jr
Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy. – Winston Churchill.
Let’s not talk about communism. Communism was just an idea, just pie in the sky. – Boris Yeltsin