In my vie, there's lots wrong with this essay, 
which is an anarchist critique of Che and the 
myth around him published in fifth estate, one of 
the longest running anarchist newspapers in the 
U.S. I post it here because it comes from inside 
our movements and raises issues that are of 
concern to radical groups despite some glaring 
and false historical interpretations that maybe 
I'll get to when I have a few free minutes next year ...

Maybe YOU would like to begin that process of deconstruction?

Mitchel Cohen

From: Peter Werbe <[log in to unmask]>

Isn't an article that quotes Lenin enough to 
disqualify it for serious consideration?

Since Che was an admirer of Stalin, one can only 
assume that had his economics been implemented, 
they would have had the same result of those who 
destroyed the Russian Revolution, ended the 
potential for revolution against capitalism, and 
paved the way for Putin. Here's our article on Che:

MR is the last gasp of an utterly failed 
ideology. Here's my article from our anti-Marx issue.

Other than that. Happy Birthday. And, congrats on your book.


The Myth of Che Guevara

Live Like him?

by <>MLB

Fifth Estate # 
<>397, Winter, 2017

Since the 1960s, Ernesto (Che) Guevara has been 
celebrated in leftist circles, and even among 
some anarchists, as the model of a revolutionary. 
A wide variety of musical and theater 
productions, political posters, T-shirts, 
bumperstickers, as well as advertisements for 
vodka, jeans, laundry soap, and promotions for 
church attendance bear his iconic image and proclaim: “Che, live like him!”

He is presented in innumerable books and articles 
as a shining example of an unrelenting fighter 
for justice and against imperialism and 
capitalism, a brave and determined man who 
rejected both bodily comforts and personal gain, 
who resisted and defied physical limitations and 
chronic health problems, and followed his dreams, 
a source of inspiration for youth everywhere.

But, is this the whole story? Are there other 
things about Che Guevara, how he related to other 
people, and what he was actually fighting for, 
that people should also know? Are there things 
that might not coincide with anarchist aspirations?

Some negative aspects of his personality and 
beliefs can be gleaned even from sympathetic 
sources. For example, in a well researched 
biography lauded by supporters, Che Guevara: A 
Revolutionary Life, Jon Lee Anderson writes that 
Guevara was an ardent Stalinist who admired the 
dictator’s brutal rule in the Soviet Union.

Che was not politically naive and was fully 
cognizant of many of the brutalities that 
appalled others, including the infamous Moscow 
show trials of the 1930s that featured tortured 
Bolsheviks and others as traitors to be 
humiliated and executed, the Nazi-Soviet 1939 
non-aggression pact, the crushing of the 1953 
East German uprising and the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

Anderson also tells us that Guevara was convinced 
that individuals had to be subordinated to the 
collectivity, embodied in the political vanguard 
and the nation-state it developed. In the 1960s, 
he famously declared that “one has to constantly 
think on behalf of masses and not on behalf of 
individuals…It’s criminal to think of individuals 
because the needs of the individual become 
completely weakened in the face of the needs of the human conglomeration.”

Che maintained that the individual “becomes happy 
to feel himself a cog in the wheel, a cog that 
has its own characteristics and is necessary 
though not indispensable, to the production 
process, a conscious cog, a cog that has its own 
motor, and that consciously tries to push itself 
harder and harder to carry to a happy conclusion 
one of the premises of the construction of 
socialism­creating a sufficient quantity of 
consumer goods for the entire population.”

Guevara’s admiration for authoritarian Communist 
principles went well beyond the abstract. He was 
integrally involved in developing and 
consolidating the Cuban vanguard for instructing, 
guiding and controlling the activities of the 
majority of people, both before and after the Castro regime took power.

As part of the July 26 guerrilla force that Fidel 
Castro established in 1956, Guevara 
enthusiastically embraced strict military 
discipline and authoritarian hierarchy. He 
willingly submitted himself and others to this discipline.

Several admiring authors, including Anderson, 
also report that Guevara bullied those below him 
in rank, often publicly expressing harsh 
judgments of them without concern for their 
feelings. Moreover, he had no qualms about 
cruelly punishing those who fell short of what he demanded of them.

For example, on several occasions he is known to 
have implemented mock executions, in order to 
humble and break the will of those who had 
committed offenses. He also proved well-suited as 
an emotionally detached executioner and 
supervisor of executions both during and after the guerrilla struggle.

However, most of the accepted leftist 
descriptions of Guevara are marred by the 
simplistic, dualistic perspective that can only 
recognize those who voiced criticisms of him or 
the Castro regime as counterrevolutionaries. They 
refuse to even consider that there might be valid 
reasons for opposing self-appointed liberators who act in authoritarian ways.

To gain a fuller understanding of the Cuban 
revolution as well as of the life of Che Guevara, 
it is necessary to read critical Marxists, such 
as Samuel Farber, and anarchists, such as Sam 
Dolgoff, Frank Fernandez, and Larry Gambone. 
Because of these authors’ dedication to 
grassroots self-organized activity, and concern 
with opposition to dictatorial rule, they delve 
into aspects of Guevara’s behavior and ideas that 
are all too often justified, glossed over or 
ignored by supporters of the Castro regime.

In “The Resurrection of Che Guevara” 
Politics, Summer 1998), Samuel Farber notes that 
Che Guevara unashamedly turned to the Cuban 
Communist Party, known at the time as the Partido 
Socialista Popular (Popular Socialist Party, PSP) 
for assistance in indoctrinating anti-Batista 
fighters with the Stalinist authoritarian ideas he admired as far back as 1957.

This despite the Party’s history of collaboration 
with the dictatorial Batista regime. While the 
guerrillas were still fighting in the Sierra 
Maestra, Guevara utilized PSP instructors for 
political education of cadres to help consolidate 
Communist influence among the aspirants to power.

In his book The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory 
and Practice, Farber delineates how Guevara and 
Raul Castro both later facilitated the Castro 
government’s adoption of the Soviet model of 
bureaucratic, centralized “monolithic unity.”

Once Batista was overthrown, they both worked to 
consolidate the new government’s power to 
administer society, instituting militarized 
hierarchical leadership in every phase of life. 
Guevara famously proclaimed that he wanted the 
entire Cuban nation to become a guerrilla army, 
always thinking and acting as part of a 
disciplined military. And he never wavered in his 
belief in the state as the institution best 
suited to shape the development of the new kind of person he wanted to create.

In early 1959, in consultation with agents from 
the Soviet Secret Police, Guevara, along with 
other top Cuban government officials, created a 
state security apparatus known as G-2. Guevara 
himself became the head of G-6, another agency in 
charge of ideological indoctrination of the military.

Che Guevara also had a key role in creating the 
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, 
locally and regionally based bodies for spying on 
and controlling people in the neighborhoods where they live.

This machinery was used from early on to repress 
dissidents, including anti-Communist democrats, 
socialists, and anarchists who challenged the 
consolidation of a single-party dictatorship in 
Cuba. Many of those who had been part of the July 
26 Movement in the cities or as guerrillas in the mountains were not spared.

In both his articles and books, Farber notes that 
Guevara was intolerant of individuality, and 
opposed to “politically conscious, 
independent-minded, rational individuals who 
hammer out collective goals and programs through 
democratic discussion and voting.”

Not all dissenters were right-wing as Castro 
regime supporters would want people to believe. 
Farber describes leftists in the July 26 urban 
underground who were anti-imperialist, but had a 
“strong critique of the Communists, who they 
considered to be conservative and sectarian,” and 
who they hated because of their collaboration 
with the Batista regime for most of its existence.

One glaring omission from Farber’s writings is 
discussion of the anarchists who were part of the 
anti-Batista resistance and were among the 
earliest victims of the Castro regime’s 
repression when they dared to express dissenting 
opinions. Many were punished with imprisonment or 
even death. This is clearly documented in 
Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective (1976) 
by Sam Dolgoff, and in 
Anarchism: the History of a Movement (2001) by 
Frank Fernandez, an exiled Cuban anarchist union activist.

In February 1961, Guevara became the head of the 
newly created Ministry of Industry, and 
supervised the completion of the subjugation of 
the trade union movement, making it a tool of the 
state, while justifying this policy with the 
argument that the government was the best 
representative of the interests of the people.

He was directly involved in suppressing 
independent union activists, including 
anarcho-syndicalists and other non-Communists. 
Fernandez describes how the combined application 
of political manipulations, lying propaganda and 
brutal repression succeeded in completely 
destroying the Cuban anarcho-syndicalist 
movement, something neither the Spanish 
colonialists nor a succession of dictators could do.

Che: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Heroic 
Guerilla, Ernesto Che Guevara, (1997) Canadian 
anarchist author Larry Gambone describes the 
active role Che played in the elimination of the 
remnants of workers’ control of their unions, 
making it much more risky for workers to engage 
in strikes or other on-the-job resistance. 
Guevara strongly supported Law 647, which 
specified that, “The Minister of Labor can take 
control of any union, dismiss officials and 
appoint others” when he deems it necessary.

Guevara was also the prime author of the policy 
requiring people to do unpaid, so-called 
voluntary work in order to develop communist 
consciousness. As the head of the Ministry of 
Industry, he developed a system for punishing 
employees for moral offenses not specified in the 
criminal code, such as favoritism shown to 
relatives or friends, intentionally covering up a 
mistake, or having an affair with another man’s wife.

Those judged guilty of such offenses were 
expected to volunteer to go to a special labor 
camp at Guanahacabibes, the westernmost point on 
the island, where they worked under very harsh 
conditions, for between a month and a year depending on the offense.

This practice set the precedent for the later 
development of non-voluntary, non-criminal labor 
camps known as Military Units to Augment 
Production for the punishment of those deemed 
political dissidents and social deviants, 
including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 
practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions, and others.

Some of these policies have been made less 
stringent or stopped since Che’s death and the 
end of the Soviet Union, and the Cuban state now 
tolerates homosexuality and offers perhaps the 
best medical support for AIDS victims in the 
world­a few decades too late for those oppressed 
by the earlier cruel treatment.

Moreover, the regime still retains the form that 
Guevara helped give it­a centralized one-party 
state that closely supervises public expression 
and limits grassroots self-activity of all sorts.

Are these really the kinds of accomplishments anarchists aspire to?

Did Che Guevara live in a way compatible with the 
struggle to create a non-hierarchical, 
self-organized and egalitarian society, in which 
people decide their own fate without reliance on dictates from above?

The answer should be an unequivocal, “No!”

MLB lives in the Pacific Northwest. They do not play or watch baseball.


The Diary of Che Guevara
Book review
by Hank Malone
Fifth Estate #62, Sept. 19-Oct. 2, 1968

Cuba: Dawning of American Imperialism
The Spanish-American War
by Bob Nirkind
Fifth Estate #269, February, 1976

An Anarchist in Cuba
Socialism or Cell Phones
by Walker Lane
Fifth Estate #378, Summer 2008

Cuba: From State to Private Capitalism
Adios Socialismo
by Walker Lane
Fifth Estate #383, Summer, 2010

State Violence & Cuba’s Ladies in White
by Walker Lane
Fifth Estate #383, Summer, 2010

Anarchists Confront the Marxist State in Cuba
Whee! Airbnb announces 2,000 available Cuban 
listings; The New York Times has full page ads 
for travel to the island. Isn’t it all grand? Well, no.
by Quincy B. Thorn
Fifth Estate #394, Summer 2015

“We Want to Revive Anarchism in Cuba”
The Cuban movement erased by Castro is coming back & they need our solidarity
by Dmitri Prieto, Isbel Díaz, Mario Castillo
Fifth Estate #395, Winter 2016

The Train to Matanzas
Cuba: A tsunami of tourism & foreign investment hits the island
by Peter Werbe
Fifth Estate #396, Summer, 2016

See also:

The Authoritarian Vision of Che Guevara
Review of Samuel Farber, The Politics of Che Guevara
by Wayne Price
Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 68, Fall, 2016, page 9

Fight Against Monsanto's Roundup: The Politics of 
Pesticides (SkyHorse, 2019), authored by Mitchel 
Cohen, is now available at bookstores everywhere! 
Please click on link to learn more.