Ernesto "Che” Guevara the great internationalist and revolutionary leader died 50 years ago on Oct. 9, 1967, at the hands of Bolivian soldiers who were trained, equipped and put in motion by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives.
His killers posed with his body to boast and prove his death. But Che's last words proved their defeat and his victory: "Shoot, cowards. You are only going to kill a man."
Because Che still lives.
Immediately after his death, protests against Che's murder at the behest of the U.S. erupted worldwide, from Mexico to Algeria, from Cairo to Calcutta. In France, those demonstrations built toward the 1968 general strike and student uprising that brought the country's economy to a virtual standstill.
In Cuba, 1968 was declared the Year of the Heroic Guerilla, beginning the still ongoing travel by Cubans to Africa and Latin America to complete internationalist missions originating in Che's example.
Fifty years later, murals of Che and his words still inspire people in the U.S., from Los Angeles to Chicago to an obscure side street garden in Syracuse, N.Y.
An Post, the Irish Post, issued on Oct.5 this one euro stamp. The first day cover includes a quote from his father Ernesto Guevara Lynch, who said in 1969: 'In my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.' Below a Republican mural near the Falls Road area of Belfast. Patrick Lynch, Che's ancestor, was born in Galway and emigrated to Argentina in the 1740s.
Bourgeois writers argue that the millions who wear Che T-shirts, or engrave his name on their bodies with tattoos, are doing so as a fashion fad or a romantic fantasy. They say people do not really know what Che represents.
A stone-cold answer to that came, amazingly, at a 2016 graduation ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. Documented later in social media, a cadet pulled aside his formal uniform vest and revealed Che's implacable face underneath. Anticipating comments that this was only an ironic gesture, the cadet then flipped his regulation hat over to reveal a scrawled, defiant message: "Communism will win.”
Che still lives. How and why?
Che was an Argentine physician with a lifelong asthma disability, a husband and father, a guerilla warfare and military tactical genius, an economist and minister of industries in revolutionary Cuba and a Marxist-Leninist communist to his dying breath.
When he said at his end, "You will only kill a man,” those words were imbued with his absolute understanding of the interconnectedness of the worldwide struggle against imperialism and capitalism, which he knew would continue after his death, without fail.
Imprinted on the hearts and minds of those who have come after is Che's passionate devotion to the world's oppressed, best known perhaps in his words: "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.” ("Socialism and Man in Cuba,” 1965)
But Che's unrelenting commitment to internationalism, rooted in Marxist materialist analysis, is equally crucial to understanding his continuing vitality into the 21st century. In 1965 remarks to the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria, Che said: "There are no borders in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, because a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory.”
From his guerilla camp in Bolivia, the April before his assassination, Che sent a strong internationalist message to the Tricontinental Solidarity organization in Havana: "We must bear in mind that imperialism is a world system, the last stage of capitalism and it must be defeated in a world confrontation. The strategic end of this struggle should be the destruction of imperialism. Our share, the responsibility of the exploited and underdeveloped of the world, is to eliminate the foundations of imperialism.”
Che lives on in Bolivia. There Manuel Cortez, farming next door to the schoolhouse where Che was assassinated, said: "It's like he is alive and with us, like a friend. We say, 'Che, help us with our work or with this planting,' and it always goes well.” (Knight-Ridder News, Aug. 17, 2004)
Che lives on throughout Africa. There Thomas Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary, pan-Africanist and president of Burkina Faso, said: "Che Guevara taught us we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse.... That is why we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabè.” (Akinyemi Adeseye, "'We Are Heirs of the World's Revolutions': Lessons from Thomas Sankara,” 2010)
The oppressed of the world continue to embrace Che because Che embraced them in the struggle.
Fidel Castro said on the 40th anniversary of Che's death: "Why did they think that by killing him, he would cease to exist as a fighter?... Today he is in every place, wherever there is a just cause to defend.”
Che lives. In the words of the great Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, as quoted in Granma on Oct. 8:
to live like you have died,
to live like you live,
An article written by founding Workers World editor Vince Copeland (1915-1993) shortly after Che Guevara's death 50 years ago, recalling an historic meeting of U.S. activists with the great revolutionary
A conversation with Che Guevara
By V. Copeland
Workers World, Vol. 9, No. 21, October 20, 1967
Since the article below was written, Premier Fidel Castro has declared his belief that it is really true - Che Guevara is dead.
We dip our flag and join with all true revolutionaries in mourning him. He was unique, but the youth that admired him so much will now try still harder to acquire his unconquerable spirit.
The night before Che Guevara left the United States for the last time, he met with a little band of progressive writers and supporters of Cuba. And he talked until past midnight about guerrilla fighters and the world revolution.
Now, according to his enemies, he is dead. If so, the revolution has lost a great leader, as even the counter-revolution, for its own reasons, is quick to admit.
We who met with him on the night of December 16, 1964, did not have the opportunity to serve with him in guerrilla battles or in political struggles. But we saw him in a rare moment of relaxation - a socialist man in a capitalist world, conversing with comrades and sympathizers about the struggle and about its demands on the individual.
He talked, not like the "romantic” the imperialist press makes him out to be - not with the "charisma” that is supposed by reactionaries to set off the "born” leader from his followers by some unbridgeable gulf of the personality. He talked more like a man tired of the phony politicians he had been with all the preceding week at the UN, but with enough enthusiasm to the questions about the present struggle and future struggles for power.
Sitting on the floor in the parlor of the Cuban Mission to the United Nations on 63rd Street in New York, he spoke to the eight or nine of us about Black Freedom in the U.S., problems of production in Cuba, liberation of Puerto Rico and the U.S. blockade of his country.
We were seated around him in a semi-circle of three or four chairs and a sofa between. Sitting on the floor probably more to put us at our ease than for any other reason, he smoked his inevitable cigar (having already passed out Havana specials to all of us).
Mae Mallory, the Black Liberation fighter and associate of Rob Williams, was there. So was Deirdre Griswold, editor of the Partisan, Leroi Jones, the dramatist and Black Freedom fighter; Dixie Bayo, president of the New York Chapter of Movement for Puerto Rican Independence (MPI); and James Aronsen, then editor of the National Guardian and two or three others.
Che was as handsome as his pictures and informally witty as he was reputed to be.
"A revolutionist has to be a little 'loco,'” he told us with a sympathetic smile, when someone asked him what were the human qualifications necessary to create a movement to destroy capitalist oppression.
He described some of Fidel's and his own experiences, and turning modesty into humor, he explained their heroic facing of such tremendous odds by using the ruling class' own characterization of revolutionaries as "crazy.”
You would never have known by anything in his manner that he was the author of the book "Guerrilla Warfare” - and more significantly a great practitioner of its lessons. Several of us remarked afterwards on the total absence of build-up and pomp and "greatness” that every big shot in the capitalist world surrounds himself with on such occasions.
He was a surprisingly shortish man and didn't at all have the "commanding presence” that great leaders are supposed to have, and his humor, although disarming, was not especially dazzling. Nor did he speak with an air of special wisdom or was he over-conscious of his position. He seemed like a man who would find it absolutely impossible to pontificate about anything at all - including that which had the most right to speak authoritatively about - guerrilla warfare.
He was just as serious about the number of eggs produced in Cuba as he was about the possibilities for world revolution. At that time, there was a great deal of talk about rationing of food in Havana. And with many of the statistics at his finger-tips, he made the fundamental point that for the great masses of Cuba, rationing was a tremendous step forward, because formerly they had had practically nothing and now were being fed, while the former middle class had to wait.
He talked about the struggle for Puerto Rican liberation - when he was asked about it - and the fight for Black Freedom in the U.S. He was an internationalist through and through, and regarded Cuba as only the opening shot in the revolution of the Western Hemisphere.
Contrary to capitalist press reports about his being a ladies' man, he showed not the slightest trace of "Latin gallantry” to the young women in the audience, and in fact treated them as comrades, warmly and with exactly the same enthusiasm as he did the men. This was something we all felt was deep in his character and could not have been put on for the occasion.
If his is indeed dead, it is a great and sorrowful loss. But not at all of the kind of loss the Bolivian Government and world imperialism is making it out to be, with their slanderous allegation that he said, "I have failed,” just before he died.
No one felt any more strongly than Che Guevara himself that he could not fail, and that the socialist revolution was inevitable. By the same token, Che also was one of the foremost among those brave spirits throughout the ages who have taken to arms against oppression, who have sounded the clarion call to struggle for a better world. He felt deeply that "he who wills the end must will the means thereof.” And his advocacy of armed struggle, like his example of laying his own life on the line, shall not perish will him.
Guevara would be the very first person to say, "There are many Che Guevaras.” And legendary as are his deeds and exemplary as his personality was, if he died fighting Yankee imperialism in Bolivia, he could have had no better death.
And if he died, he must have died secure in the knowledge that the best youth in the world will try their utmost to imitate the actions of his life.