Selected Writings of Ernesto Che Guevara
Ideology of the Cuban Revolution
Che Guevara wrote “Notes for the Study of the Ideology of the Cuban Revolution” for the October 8, 1960, issue of Verde Olivo, the magazine of Cuba’s armed forces.
This is a unique revolution, which for some does not fit in with one of the most orthodox premises of the revolutionary movement, expressed by Lenin: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” It should be said that revolutionary theory, as the expression of a social truth, stands above any particular presentation of it. In other words, one can make a revolution if historical reality is interpreted correctly and if the forces involved are utilized correctly, even without knowing theory.
In every revolution there is always involvement by people from very different tendencies who, nevertheless, come to agreement on action and on the most immediate objectives. It is clear that if the leaders have adequate theoretical knowledge prior to taking action, many errors can be avoided, as long as the adopted theory corresponds to reality.
The principal actors of this revolution had no coherent viewpoint. But it cannot be said that they were ignorant of the various concepts of history, society, economics, and revolution being discussed in the world today. A profound knowledge of reality, a close relationship with the people, the firmness of the objective being sought, and the experience of revolutionary practice gave those leaders the opportunity to form a more complete theoretical conception.
The foregoing should be considered an introduction to the explanation of this curious phenomenon that has intrigued the entire world: the Cuban revolution. How and why did a group of men, cut to ribbons by an army enormously superior in technique and equipment, manage first to survive, then to become strong, later to become stronger than the enemy in the battle zones, move into new combat zones still later, and finally defeat that enemy in pitched battles even though their troops were still vastly outnumbered? This is a deed that deserves to be studied in the history of the contemporary world.
Naturally we, who often do not show due concern for theory, will not proceed today to expound the truth of the Cuban revolution as if we were its owners. We are simply trying to lay the foundation for being able to interpret this truth. In fact, the Cuban revolution must be separated into two absolutely different stages: that of the armed action up to January 1, 1959; and the political, economic, and social transformations from then on.
Even these two stages deserve further subdivisions. We will not deal with them from the viewpoint of historical exposition, however, but from the viewpoint of the evolution of the revolutionary thinking of its leaders through their contact with the people.
Incidentally, here we must introduce a general attitude toward one of the most controversial terms of the modern world: Marxism. When asked whether or not we are Marxists, our position is the same as that of a physicist when asked if he is a “Newtonian” or of a biologist when asked if he is a “Pasteurian.”
There are truths so evident, so much a part of the peoples’ knowledge, that it is now useless to debate them. One should be a “Marxist” with the same naturalness with which one is a “Newtonian” in physics or a “Pasteurian” in biology, considering that if new facts bring about new concepts, the latter will never take away that portion of truth possessed by those that have come before. Such is the case, for example, of “Einsteinian” relativity or of Planck’s quantum theory in relation to Newton’s discoveries. They take absolutely nothing away from the greatness of the learned Englishman. Thanks to Newton, physics was able to advance until it achieved new concepts of space. The learned Englishman was the necessary steppingstone for that.
Obviously, one can point to certain mistakes of Marx, as a thinker and as an investigator of the social doctrines and of the capitalist system in which he lived. We Latin Americans, for example, cannot agree with his interpretation of Bolivar, or with his and Engels’s analysis of the Mexicans, which were made accepting as fact even certain theories of race or nationality that are unacceptable today. But the great men who discover brilliant truths live on despite their small faults, and these faults serve only to show us they were human. That is to say, they were human beings who could make mistakes, even given the high level of consciousness achieved by these giants of human thought. This is why we recognize the essential truths of Marxism as part of humanity’s body of cultural and scientific knowledge. We accept it with the naturalness of something that requires no further argument.
The advances in social and political science, as in other fields, belong to a long historical process whose links are constantly being connected, added up, bound together, and perfected. In early human history, there existed Chinese, Arab, or Hindu mathematics; today, mathematics has no frontiers. A Greek Pythagoras, an Italian Galileo, an English Newton, a German Gauss, a Russian Lobachevsky, an Einstein, etc., all have a place in the history of the peoples. Similarly, in the field of social and political sciences, a long series of thinkers, from Democritus to Marx, have added their original investigations and accumulated a body of experience and doctrines.
The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, foresees the future. But in addition to foreseeing it (by which he would meet his scientific obligation), he expresses a revolutionary concept: it is not enough to interpret the world, it must be transformed. Man ceases to be the slave and instrument of his environment and becomes an architect of his own destiny. At that moment Marx begins to put himself in a position where he becomes the necessary target of all those who have a special interest in maintaining the old — like what happened to Democritus, whose work was burned by Plato himself and his disciples, the ideologues of the Athenian slave-owning aristocracy. Beginning with the revolutionary Marx, a political group is established with concrete ideas, which, based on the giants, Marx and Engels, and developing through successive stages with individuals such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and the new Soviet and Chinese rulers, establishes a body of doctrine and, shall we say, examples to follow.
The Cuban revolution takes up Marx at the point where he put aside science to pick up his revolutionary rifle. And it takes him up at that point not in a spirit of revisionism, of struggling against that which came after Marx, of reviving a “pure” Marx, but simply because up to that point Marx, the scientist, standing outside of history, studied and predicted. Afterward, Marx the revolutionary took up the fight as part of history.
We, practical revolutionaries, by initiating our struggle were simply fulfilling laws foreseen by Marx the scientist. And along that road of rebellion, by struggling against the old power structure, by basing ourselves on the people to destroy that structure, and by having the well-being of the people as the foundation of our struggle, we are simply fitting into the predictions of Marx the scientist. That is to say, and it is well to emphasize this once again: the laws of Marxism are present in the events of the Cuban revolution, independently of whether its leaders profess or fully know those laws from a theoretical point of view . . .
Each one of those small historical moments of the guerrilla war framed different social concepts and different appraisals of Cuban reality. They shaped the thinking of the military leaders of the revolution, who in time would also reaffirm their status as political leaders.
Before the landing of the Granma, a mentality predominated that, to some degree, might be called subjectivist: blind confidence in a rapid popular explosion, enthusiasm and faith in being able to destroy Batista’s might by a swift uprising combined with spontaneous revolutionary strikes, and the subsequent fall of the dictator. . . .
After the landing comes the defeat, the almost total destruction of the forces, their regroupment and formation as a guerrilla force. The small numbers of survivors, survivors with the will to struggle, were characterized by their understanding of the falsehood of the imagined schema of spontaneous outbursts throughout the island. They understood also that the fight would have to be a long one and that it would need to have a large peasant participation. At this point too, the first peasants joined the guerrillas. Also, two clashes were fought, of little importance in terms of the number of combatants, but of great psychological value, since they erased the uneasiness toward the peasants felt by the guerrillas’ central group, made up of people from the cities. The peasants, in turn, distrusted the group and, above all, feared barbarous reprisals from the government. Two things were demonstrated at this stage, both very important for these interrelated factors: The peasants saw that the bestialities of the army and all the persecution would not be sufficient to put an end to the guerrillas, but would be capable of wiping out the peasants’ homes, crops, and families. So a good solution was to take refuge with the guerrillas, where their lives would be safe. In turn, the guerrilla fighters learned the ever-greater necessity of winning the peasant masses. . . .
[Following the failure of Batista’s major assault on the Rebel Army,] the war shows a new characteristic: the relationship of forces turns in favor of the revolution. During a month and a half, two small columns, one of 80 and the other of 140 men, constantly surrounded and harassed by an army that mobilized thousands of soldiers, crossed the plains of Camagüey, arrived at Las Villas, and began the job of cutting the island in two.
At times it may seem strange, or incomprehensible, or even incredible that two columns of such small size — without communications, without transport, without the most elementary arms of modern warfare — could fight well-trained, and above all, well-armed troops. The fundamental thing is the characteristic of each group. The fewer comforts the guerrilla fighter has, the more he is initiated into the rigors of nature, the more he feels at home, the higher his morale, the higher his sense of security. At the same time, under whatever circumstances, the guerrilla has come to put his life on the line, to trust it to the luck of a tossed coin. And in general, whether or not the individual guerrilla lives or dies weighs little in the final outcome of the battle.
The enemy soldier, in the Cuban example that we are now considering, is the junior partner of the dictator. He is the man who gets the last crumbs left by the next-to-last hanger-on in a long chain that begins on Wall Street and ends with him. He is ready to defend his privileges, but only to the degree that they are important. His salary and his benefits are worth some suffering and some dangers, but they are never worth his life. If that is the price of keeping them, better to give them up, in other words, to retreat from the guerrilla danger.
From these two concepts and these two morales springs the difference that would reach the crisis point on December 31, 1958.
The superiority of the Rebel Army was being established more and more clearly. Furthermore, the arrival of our columns in Las Villas showed the greater popularity of the July 26 Movement compared to all other groups: the Revolutionary Directorate, the Second Front of Las Villas, the Popular Socialist Party, and some small guerrilla forces of the Authentic Organization. In large part this was due to the magnetic personality of its leader, Fidel Castro, but the greater correctness of its revolutionary line was also a factor.
Here ended the insurrection. But the men who arrive in Havana after two years of arduous struggle in the mountains and plains of Oriente, in the plains of Camagüey, and in the mountains, plains, and cities of Las Villas are not the same ideologically as the ones who landed on the beaches of Las Coloradas, or who joined in the first phase of the struggle. Their distrust of the peasant has turned into affection and respect for his virtues. Their total ignorance of life in the countryside has turned into a profound knowledge of the needs of our peasants. Their dabbling with statistics and with theory has been replaced by the firm cement of practice.
With agrarian reform as their banner, the implementation of which begins in the Sierra Maestra, these men come up against imperialism. They know that the agrarian reform is the basis upon which the new Cuba will be built. They know also that the agrarian reform will give land to all the dispossessed, but that it will dispossess its unjust possessors. And they know that the largest of the unjust possessors are also influential men in the State Department or in the government of the United States of America. But they have learned to conquer difficulties with courage, with audacity, and above all, with the support of the people. And they have now seen the future of liberation that awaits us on the other side of our sufferings. . . .
(Che Guevara Speaks, Pathfinder Press (2000). Photos: R.A. Torres, Cuban Office of Historical Affairs.)
Mobilizing the Masses for the Invasion
The following is an extract from a speech by Ernesto Che Guevara to sugar workers in Santa Clara on March 28, 1961, twenty days before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
[…] We must remind ourselves of this at every moment: that we are in a war, a cold war as they call it. We are in a war where there is no front line, no continuous bombardment, but where the two adversaries — this tiny champion of the Caribbean and the immense imperialist hyena — stand face to face, knowing that one of them is going to end up dead in the fight.
The North Americans are aware — they are well aware, compañeros — that the victory of the Cuban revolution will not be just a simple defeat for the empire, not just another link in the long chain of defeats it’s been suffering in its policy of force and oppression against the peoples in recent years. The victory of the Cuban revolution will be a tangible demonstration before all the Americas that the peoples are capable of rising up, that they can proclaim their independence in the very clutches of the monster. It will mean the beginning of the end of colonial domination in Latin America, that is, the beginning of the definitive end of U.S. imperialism.
That is why the imperialists do not resign themselves. That is why this is a struggle to the death. That is why we cannot take a single step backward, because the first time we retreat one step would be the beginning of a long chain for us too. And we would end up the same way as all the traitorous regimes and all the peoples who at a given moment of history were incapable of resisting the drive of the empire.
That is why we must move forward, striking out tirelessly against imperialism. From all over the world we have to learn the lessons presented to us. We must turn Lumumba’s murder into a lesson.
The murder of Patrice Lumumba is an example of what the empire does when the struggle against it is carried on in a firm and sustained way. Imperialism must be hit in its snout again and again, and yet again, in an infinite series of blows and counterblows. That is the only way the people can achieve their true independence.
Never a step backward, never a moment of weakness! And every time circumstances might tempt us to think that the situation might be better if we were not fighting the empire, let each of us think of the long chain of tortures and deaths through which the Cuban people had to pass to win their independence. Let all of us think of the eviction of peasants, of the murder of workers, of the strikes broken by the police, of all those manifestations of oppression by a class that has completely disappeared from Cuba. . . . And, let us also understand well how victory is won; victory is won by preparing the people, by enhancing their revolutionary consciousness, by establishing unity, by meeting each and every attempt at aggression with our rifles in hand. That is how it is won. . . .
We must remember something and insist again and again upon it: The victory of the Cuban people can never come solely through outside aid, however adequate and generous it may be, however great and strong the solidarity of all the peoples of the world with us may be. Because even with the wholehearted solidarity of all the people of the world with Patrice Lumumba and the Congolese people, when conditions inside the country went wrong, when the government leaders failed to understand how to strike back mercilessly at imperialism, when they took a step back, they lost the struggle. And they lost it not just for a few years, but for who knows how many years! That was a great setback for all the peoples.
That is what we ourselves must be well aware of, that Cuba’s victory lies not in Soviet rockets, not in the solidarity of the socialist world, not in the solidarity of the entire world. Cuba’s victory lies in the unity, the work, and the spirit of sacrifice of its people.
(Che Guevara Speaks, Pathfinder Press (2000).)
Cadres for the New Party
The French word cadre meaning framework, especially in the sense of the skeletal force of noncommissioned officers of a regiment, which needs only to be fleshed out with enough recruits to become a fully functioning unit, has made its way into the military vocabulary of most countries and into the political parlance of revolutionary movements throughout the world.
Unlike previous revolutions of this century, the Cuban revolution had to build its party after coming to power. Here, Guevara discusses the problems of selecting the cadre, i.e., that core of trained, active, and responsible members that will educate the new recruits and that will embody the party’s stability and continuity. The excerpts are from Guevara’s article, “Cadres: Backbone of the Revolution,” in the September 1962 issue of Cuba Socialista.
It is not necessary to dwell on the characteristics of our revolution, on the original way, with strokes of spontaneity, that the transition took place from a revolution of national liberation to a socialist revolution. Nor on the accumulation of rapidly passing stages in the course of its development, led by the same people who participated in the initial epic of the attack on the Moncada garrison, proceeding through the Granma landing, and culminating in the declaration of the socialist character of the Cuban revolution. New sympathizers, cadres, and organizations joined the weak organizational structure of the early movement, until it became the flood of people that today characterizes our revolution.
When it became clear that a new social class had definitively taken command in Cuba, we also saw the great limitations that would be faced in the exercise of state power because of the conditions in which we found the state. There were no cadres to carry out the enormous number of jobs that had to be filled in the state apparatus, in the political organization, and on the entire economic front.
Immediately after the seizure of power, bureaucratic posts were filled simply by “pointing a finger.” There were no major problems — there were none because the old structure had not yet been shattered. The apparatus functioned at the slow and weary pace of something old and almost lifeless. But it had an organization and within it sufficient coordination to maintain itself through inertia, disdaining the political changes that were taking place as a prelude to the change in the economic structure.
The July 26 Movement, deeply wounded by the internal struggles between its right and left wings, could not devote itself to tasks of construction. And the Popular Socialist Party, because it had endured fierce attacks and illegality for years, had not been able to develop intermediate cadres to handle the newly arising responsibilities.
When the first state interventions in the economy took place, the task of finding cadres was not very complicated, and it was possible to choose from among many people who had some minimum basis for exercising positions of leadership. But with the acceleration of the process beginning with the nationalization of the U.S. enterprises and later of the large Cuban enterprises, a real hunger for administrative technicians came about. On the other hand, an urgent need was felt for production technicians because of the exodus of many who were attracted by better positions offered by the imperialist companies in other parts of Latin America or in the United States itself. While engaged in these organizational tasks, the political apparatus had to make intense efforts to provide ideological attention to the masses who had joined the revolution eager to learn.
We all performed our roles as well as we could, but not without problems and embarrassments. Many errors were committed in administrative areas on the central executive level. Enormous mistakes were made by the new administrators of enterprises, who had overwhelming responsibilities in their hands. We also committed big and costly errors in the political apparatus, which little by little degenerated into a pleasant and peaceful bureaucracy, seen almost as a springboard for promotions and for bureaucratic posts of greater or lesser importance, totally separated from the masses.
The main cause of our errors was our lack of a sense of reality at a given moment. But the tool that we lacked, which blunted our ability to see and was turning the party into a bureaucratic organization, endangering administration and production, was the lack of developed cadres at the intermediate level. It became evident that the development of cadres was synonymous with the policy of going to the masses. The watchword was to once again establish contact with the masses, a contact that had been closely maintained by the revolution in its earliest days. But this had to be established through some type of mechanism that would afford the most beneficial results, both in feeling the pulse of the masses and in the transmission of political leadership, which in many cases was only being given through the personal intervention of Prime Minister Fidel Castro or some other leaders of the revolution.
At this point, we can pose the question: What is a cadre? We should state that a cadre is an individual who has achieved sufficient political development to be able to interpret the larger directives emanating from the central authority, make them his own, and convey them as an orientation to the masses; a person who at the same time also perceives the signs manifested by the masses of their own desires and their innermost motivations.
A cadre is someone of ideological and administrative discipline, who knows and practices democratic centralism and who knows how to evaluate the contradictions in our current methods in order to make the best of them. In the field of production, he knows how to practice the principle of collective discussion and individual decision-making and responsibility. He is an individual of proven loyalty, whose physical and moral courage has developed in step with his ideological development, in such a way that he is always willing to face any debate and to give even his life for the good of the revolution. He is, in addition, an individual who can think for himself, which enables him to make the necessary decisions and to exercise creative initiative in a way that does not conflict with discipline.
The cadre, therefore, is a creator, a leader of high standing, a technician with a good political level, who by reasoning dialectically can advance his sector of production, or develop the masses from his position of political leadership.
This exemplary human being, apparently cloaked in difficult-to-achieve virtues, is nonetheless present in the people of Cuba, and we encounter him daily. The essential thing is to take advantage of all the opportunities that exist to develop him to the maximum, to educate him, to draw from each individual the greatest benefit and convert it into the greatest value for the nation.
The development of a cadre is achieved through performing everyday tasks. But the tasks must be undertaken systematically, in special schools where competent teachers — examples in their own right for the students — will encourage the most rapid ideological advancement.
In a system that is beginning to build socialism, cadres must clearly be highly developed politically. But when we consider political development we must take into account not only knowledge of Marxist theory. We must also demand responsibility of the individual for his actions, a discipline that restrains any passing weaknesses and that is not at odds with a big dose of initiative. And we must demand constant preoccupation with all the revolution’s problems. In order to develop a cadre, we must begin by establishing the principle of selection among the masses. It is there that we find the individuals who are developing, tested by sacrifice or just beginning to show their concerns, and assign them to special schools; or when these are not available, give them greater responsibility so that they are tested in practical work.
In this way, we have been finding a multitude of new cadres who have developed in recent years. But their development has not been an even one, since the young compañeros have had to face the reality of revolutionary creation without an adequate party leadership. Some have succeeded fully, but there were others who could not completely make it and were left midway, or were simply lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth, or in the temptations that power brings.
To assure the triumph and the total consolidation of the revolution, we have to develop different types of cadres. We need the political cadre who will be the foundation of our mass organizations, and who will lead the masses through the action of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution. (We are already beginning to establish this foundation with the national and provincial Schools of Revolutionary Instruction and with studies and study groups at all levels.) We also need military cadres. To achieve that, we can utilize the selection the war made among our young combatants, since there are still many living who are without great theoretical knowledge but who were tested under fire. They were tested under the most difficult conditions of the struggle, with a fully proven loyalty to the revolutionary regime with whose birth and development they have been so intimately connected since the first guerrilla battles of the Sierra. We should also develop economic cadres who will dedicate themselves specifically to the difficult tasks of planning and the tasks of the organization of the socialist state in these moments of creation.