‘The Best Form of Saying is Doing’ – Ravikumar on Che

Picture by Alberto Korda
This portrait of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, titled "Heroic Guerrilla", is the most reproduced image in the history of photography. Taken in 1960, at the highpoint of the Cuban revolution, by Alberto Korda, it hung for years in his studio before it became the iconic figure of the rebel.

[This is a guest post by well-known Tamil writer RAVIKUMAR on the occasion of Che Guevara’s 40th death anniversary on 9 October. The article was written on the 9th. ]

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna popularly known as ‘ Che’ was born on June 14, 1928 in Argentina. A doctor by profession he involved himself in revolutionary activities from his student days. He was with the political activists of Guatemala when the elected government of Jacob Arbenz was overthrown by a CIA backed coup in 1954. He escaped to Mexico where he met the exiled Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. He joined with them in their struggle to liberate Cuba from the Batista regime.

Che was the name his Cuban companeros gave him. It is a popular form of address in Argentina. He sailed with the Cuban revolutionaries in the famous yacht ‘Granma’ as a doctor. Later he was promoted as commander. Che played an important role in the success of the Cuban revolution. He led a guerilla column in the final battle. Finally, Batista fled the country on January 1, 1959.

Che became an important player in the Fidel’s revolutionary government. First he was appointed president of the Industrial department, and then he became the president of the National Bank of Cuba. He represented Cuba in various international forums, including the UN, and tried to build a grand alliance of developing nations against the supremacy of America. Expanding the influence of  the Cuban revolution is his main aim.  He knew very well it can’t be achieved through diplomacy. He always believed in the call of Jose Marti, “The best form of saying is doing”. So he left Cuba and joined the guerilla movement of Congo. He returned to Cuba in 1965 and then went to Bolivia to prepare one more revolution.

Che arrived in Bolivia in November 1966 and set up a small guerilla unit there. The following is the ‘analysis of the month’ written in the Bolivian Diary of Che: “Everything has gone quite well; my arrival was without incident; half the troops have arrived, also without incident, although they were somewhat delayed; Ricardo’s main collaborators are joining the struggle, come what may. The general outlook seems good in this remote region and everything indicates that we could be here for practically as long as necessary. The plans are: to wait for the rest of the troops, increase the number of Bolivians to at least 20, and then commence operations. We still need to see how Monje reacts and how Guevara’s people conduct themselves.”

They started the attacks in March and achieved some victories in the beginning. But they were surrounded at last. “In the Bolivian campaign Che acted with his proverbial tenacity, skill, stoicism, and exemplary attitude. It might be said that he was consumed by the importance of the mission he had assigned himself, and all times he proceeded with a spirit of irreproachable responsibility… Unbelievable adverse factors build up against him, such as the separation of part of the guerilla detachment,” said Fidel Castro. Castro also pointed out the decisive factor for the defeat: “It was the ambush in La Higuera (on September 26, 1967) that created a situation they could not overcome.” In that ambush the vanguard group was killed and several others wounded. Che and his men were intercepted when they were headed towards a peasant area in the day light. Che knew very well the risk of moving in the day light, but he decided to do so to help the doctor of his team who was in very bad physical condition. Che was wounded and captured by the US-trained Bolivian counter-insurgency troops on October 8, 1967.
“October 9 – in that poor little school house in La Higuera , Che patiently waits for death. The order to kill him comes from Washington; the underlings duly obey and with one bullet after another steal the vigor from the guerilla fighter’s body.”

On August 20, 1960, addressing medical students Che said: “I realized one fundamental thing: to be a revolutionary doctor, or to be a revolutionary, there must first be a revolution…A revolution needs what we have in Cuba: an entire people mobilized, who have learned the use of arms and the practice of combative unity, who know what a weapon is worth and what the people’s unity is worth.” But he seems to have forgotten this when he headed to Bolivia.

Today (9 October) is the fortieth anniversary of Che’s death. Yes, his enemies succeeded in killing Che Guevara, but they miserably failed in erasing his memory. Che has become the symbol of resistance world over. The ruthless character of imperialism and its new tactics of colonialism have made it necessary that we remember Che.

He is not only a symbol of resistance but a symbol of revolutionary internationalism. “Every drop of blood spilled in a land under whose flag one was not born is experience gathered by the survivor to be applied later in the struggle for liberation of one’s own country. And every people that liberates itself is a step in the battle for the liberation of one’s own people” said Che. That was the spirit of his internationalism. But what is the state of internationalism now?

Today the imperialists are sending mercenaries everywhere to suppress people movements. Parallel to this, it is terrorists who are spreading across geographical boundaries. But there’s no sign of ‘Revolutionary Internationalism’ in sight. Why has this happened? Though Che believed in internationalism he fought only national liberation struggles. He considered the poor people of Bolivia as his comrades but they didn’t come forward to accept him. It is not because of their ignorance. It is because of their narrow nationalism. In Bolivia, Che was a foreigner. When mercenaries fight for alien regimes they are driven by the power of money. And fundamentalists are motivated by the indoctrination of religion. Class consciousness has failed in the face of the power of money and religion—this is the tragedy of our times. What is the way out?

Globalization erases the geographical boundaries of nation states. Sovereignty has become a meaningless word now.  We can extract positive outcomes from this. Positing ‘nationalism’ against globalization is not the solution. Instead we have to build revolutionary internationalism. This must be done with the help of people movements, not with NGOs. Reinventing Che as a symbol of ‘Revolutionay Internationalism’ should be our foremost task.

[Ravikumar is a Tamil writer who lives in Pondicherry. He is the co-founder of Navayana. He is currently a member of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly, representing the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (Dalit Panthers) party. Formerly president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry), he has edited and founded several little magazines in Tamil. A compliation of his writings, translated from the Tamil, entitled Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics, is forthcoming from Samya.]

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