The Revolutionary Cult of Che Guevara

Che Guevara was a legend even before his death. A revolutionary hero, Marxist Guerrilla and pop icon, Guevara's reputation and image have endured as one of the most powerful of the 20th century.

History Facts

Where: Born in Argentina, the national hero of Cuba and a traveller of the world
When: Post World War II until 1967
History: 
Both thinker and fighter, affecting social and revolutionary change and leading Communist uprisings of the people around the world
Where to See:
 Santa Clara is home to the Che university and monuments can be seen throughout Cuba

Ernesto Che Guevara, 1928-67

Che Guevara was a legend even before his death. A revolutionary hero, Marxist Guerrilla and pop icon, Guevara’s reputation and image have endured as one of the most powerful of the 20th century. Alberto Korda‘s photograph has been used worldwide. Swatch made a Che watch,Rage Against The Machine used his photo on an album cover, endless posters and flyers adorn walls everywhere from Havana to Beverley Hills; Mike Tyson and Diego Maradonnahave Che tattoos on their arms.

In Cuba, Che Guevara is more than a hero, he has the status of a saviour of epic proportions and the Cuban’s make sure that the legacy of Che lives on. In Santa Clara, the university is named after the revolutionary and everyone must read Che studies. Extraordinary admiration reflects an extraordinary life.

Revolting Child

Che was born in Argentina in the town of Rosario in 1928. Che’s endless suffering with severe asthma did not thwart an enduring passion for literature and a growing compassion for the welfare of others during childhood. Che read Freud before he was twelve and both his mother and father encouraged Che to read Engels and Marx. Che was also becoming an activist at an early age; when the light and power workers striked over pay in Che’s local province, he organised a “sling-shot” gang to destroy every street light in town overnight. Che was only eleven at the time.

Che made the first of several journeys through Latin America when he was only thirteen, deciding to travel around Argentina before high school. Che’s Marxist ideals, his ability to captivate those around him continued through school, until in 1947 aged nineteen Che enteredBuenos Aires medical school to become a doctor. Not only did Che graduate in 1953, but in three years instead of the usual six. In this time Che had also left his studies on numerous occasions to travel Latin America. The most famous of these trips immortalised in the‘Motorcycle Diaries’ in which Che and his friend Alberto Granados set off around Latin America in 1952 on a 500cc Norton called ‘La Poderosa’ – “The Powerful One”.

Revolutionary Road Trip

It was during the years that Che spent at university and travelling across South America that he began to formulate his ideas of Nationalism, Marxism and Revolutionary Change. In 1954, after visiting many countries in the throws of social change throughout Latin America, Che was forced to escape to Mexico after the radical government of Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown by the American backed Castillo Armas. In Mexico, Che met Fidel Castro (current president of Cuba) in the summer of 1955. Fidel Castro was the leader of the Cuban revolutionaries, the exiles from the 26th July movement. Castro invited Che to join them as a fighting doctor. The Guerrillas landed in Cuba on the 2nd December 1956, and fighting began immediately. In January 1959 the Cuban revolutionaries were victorious, and Ernesto Che Guevara was now Commandante of the Cuban Revolutionary Army – the highest rank. Guevara was already a hero when he marched into Havana and he was made a Cuban citizen in 1959. Che began to travel the globe again, to Asia, Africa and Europe, exporting the new revolutionary foreign Policy. In 1960, Che visited Russia, China, Korea and Czechoslovakia, constantly developing ideas of socialism abroad and fostering relationships between Cuba and like-minded thinkers around the globe.

In was in 1960 that the now infamous Bay of Pigs invasion, organised by the CIA, was repelled by Che and Cuban army. Dutifully, Che had returned to once again pick up a gun against Cuba’s enemies. Throughout the early sixties Che campaigned in Cuba and abroad for the socialists ideals that he believed in.

By 1965 Cuba was well on the way to social reform. Che left to organise similar revolutions elsewhere around the world, and called for “twenty new Vietnams”. Che travelled extensively again in the Congo, Latin America and Vietnam and finally reached Bolivia in 1967 where he was killed by the Bolivian Army.

The Cult of Che

The death of Che remains shrouded in mystery and perhaps the real chain of events surrounding his death will never be known. His hands were allegedly removed so that the body could not be identified in an attempt to prevent Che’s burial place becoming a shrine to future revolutionaries. In 1997 Che’s body was brought to Cuba where he is now buried in Santa Clara.

Che Guevara became a hero not only in Cuba, but also the world. In America even before his death in 1967, Che was an icon for those campaigning for an end to war in Vietnam. Students wept in American campuses when news spread of his death.

To this day Che Guevara remains one of the most inspirational and enigmatic characters of the 20th century and, alongside Karl Marx, one of the greatest influences on Socialism, Communism and the power of the workers to affect true social change.

 

MORE INFORMATION

Che Guevara “The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America.”trans. Ann Wright (1992).
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Jon Lee Anderson “Che Guevara.”(Bantam) (1997)
Fantastic biography of the great revolutionary
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John Gerassi”Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Che
guevara” 
Panther Books, London (1969)
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By Dan Porter

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