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The Communist Puritan: It is good to die for the revolution

The life of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara has lately been receiving revived interest. There were the movies about parts of his life: Motorcycle Diaries, and the two-part Soderbergh movies, featuring four hours of Che as a guerrilla. These were followed by the revision and updating of Jon Lee Anderson’s massive, authoritative, and highly praised biography, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life.

Che with cigar – Museo Che GuevaraIt is not hard to understand the appeal to many of Che. Che was born into a privileged family in Argentina and wound up fighting against tyranny in Cuba. It was obviously not his fight: he was not born into the misery in which most Latin Americans lived then, or now, and he wasn’t even Cuban. Yet he risked his life fighting injustice. Having overthrown the Batista dictatorship in Cuba in 1959, Che left Cuba in 1965 to again risk his life fighting for revolution, first in the Congo, then in Bolivia. This short sketch of his life seems to indicate characteristics of Che that inspire many: selflessness, internationalism, passionate commitment. And for many, the fact that Che fought against US imperialism is, on its own, enough to commend his battles.

Yet to fight against unjust forces is not to fight for justice. To fight for change is not necessarily to fight for worthy forms of change. Looking closer at the details of Che’s life – masterfully rendered in over 700 pages by Anderson – Che does not seem such an admirable figure.

Firstly, we should consider what sort of society Che considered just. Che did not appreciate what he saw as the bureaucratic privileges he encountered in his visits to the Soviet Union. He was more impressed by Maoist China, especially their understanding of the need for ‘sacrifice’, which was ‘fundamental to a communist education’ (p 574).

What sort of sacrifice does he mean? Essentially, it meant serving the new state with the same fervour as Che. Che thought that ‘even if the Cubans should disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names … they would feel completely happy and fulfilled’ knowing the triumph of the revolution. (p 455)

Anderson does not note any polls on which this view is based. It seems to me perhaps a little unlikely that millions of people would be pleased to be killed for the sake of his glorious revolution. Even though Cuba brought the world closer to nuclear annihilation than at any other point in history, Che welcomed the prospect: ‘Thousands of people will die everywhere, but the responsibility will be theirs [the imperialists], and their people will also suffer … But that should not bother us.’ Cubans would ‘fight to the last man, to the last woman, to the last human being capable of holding a gun’. (p 571)

Which brings us to Che’s underlying values. One of Che’s most famous quotes is that ‘the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love’. Yet it may be more fair to say that Che’s ‘true revolutionary’ is guided by something a little different. Anderson identifies a ‘prime element’ of the qualities Che thought necessary for the future great battle against imperialism: ‘a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us above and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to, and transforming him into an effective, violent, seductive and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus: a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.’ (p 687)

Che’s central motivation in life appears not to have been love or compassion. It was, above all, hatred – hatred of ‘the great enemy of mankind: the United States of America.’ (p 688) Years of fighting guerrilla warfare against ‘the great enemy’ helped make Che the cold, ruthless killing machine that he considered ideal. The result was that after Che overthrew a cruel dictatorship, he helped install a new one.

Shortly after the revolution, Castro began closing down dissenting newspapers (pp 433–4, 451). Che had openly opposed a free press for years. When witnessing the overthrow of democracy in Guatemala by the US, he explained why he didn’t support democracy either: ‘This is a country where one can expand one’s lungs and fill them with democracy. There are dailies here run by United Fruit, and if I were Arbenz I’d close them down in five minutes, because they’re shameful and yet they say whatever they want’ (p 127). Imagine the horror of living in a country where one breathes in democracy!

Che, however, took charge of the trials of alleged counter-revolutionaries. The spectacle of these public trials and executions overwhelmingly appalled all independent witnesses and foreign journalists (p 372). But Che was a killing machine, deaf to the pleas for compassion, or procedural fairness. He explained that ‘revolutions are ugly but necessary, and part of the revolutionary process is justice at the service of future justice.’ (p 436) If judicial murder is ugly, at least we can presume it was for a greater cause: the Maoist tyranny that Che thought ideal.

This should be stressed: Che was not guided by love, and he does not seem to have thought that a goal like trying to make the world happier would have been worthwhile, despite his youthful reading of the social philosophy of Bertrand Russell. It is also a shame he did not read Russell’s critique of the Bolsheviks. One of Russell’s many pertinent insights was his observation that ‘the hopes which inspire Communism are, in the main, as admirable as those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, but they are held as fanatically, and are likely to do as much harm. … [F]rom men who are more anxious to injure opponents than to benefit the world at large no great good is to be expected.’

Che- revolutionary lifeEduardo Galeano described Che as ‘the most puritanical of the Western revolutionary leaders’ (p 575). This is eminently fair. Anderson writes that Che’s ‘workweek lasted from Monday through Saturday, including nights, and on Sunday mornings he went off to do voluntary labour. Sunday afternoons were all he spared for his family.’ (p 536) While some may admire Che for how hard he worked, he apparently thought the ideal society would be motivated by the same religious fervour: constant, joyless sacrifice for the revolution. He explained that after the revolution, the New Man ‘becomes happy to feel himself a cog in the wheel … creating a sufficient quantity of consumer goods for the entire population’. Russell, on the other hand, condemned the ‘sacrifice of the individual to the machine that is the fundamental evil’ of capitalism. Emma Goldman likewise complained of the ‘fatal’ crime of capitalism, ‘turning the producer into a mere particle of a machine, with less will and decision than his master of steel and iron’. One recalls the saying that under capitalism man exploits man, but under communism, it’s the complete opposite.

Che’s contempt for mere people manifested itself in his cruelty towards the people he knew, and also to those he didn’t. Visiting a literacy program for peasants, he saw one man who hadn’t made much progress. Che publicly insulted him with such spite that he reduced the humiliated peasant to tears (pp 537–8).

Illustrative of his fanatical zeal, Che helped design a 32-storey bank. However, he thought it should go without an elevator (Che could get by without an elevator: why not everyone else?). And they could ‘eliminate at least half ’ of the bathrooms. ‘But in revolutions,’ he was told, ‘people go to the bathroom just as much as before it.’ ‘Not the new man,’ said Che. ‘He can sacrifice.’ (pp 431–2)

And sacrifice he must. For Che’s puritanical vision must be imposed; all must sacrifice for the revolution. Before Che was executed, he declared: ‘Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.’ (p 710) Che could finally make the ultimate sacrifice for the vision he lived for. It’s just a shame that his vision was so inhumane.

While Che’s hatred and fanaticism may have made him a gifted guerrilla, they did not help create a more just society. Again, one turns to the humane and prescient warnings of Russell from 1920, decades before Ernesto Guevara became Che:

The ultimate source of the whole train of evils lies in the Bolshevik outlook on life: in its dogmatism of hatred and its belief that human nature can be completely transformed by force. To injure capitalists is not the ultimate goal of Communism, though among men dominated by hatred it is the part that gives zest to their activities. To face the hostility of the world may show heroism, but it is a heroism for which the country, not its rulers, has to pay the price. In the principles of Bolshevism there is more desire to destroy ancient evils than to build up new goods; it is for this reason that success in destruction has been so much greater than in construction. The desire to destroy is inspired by hatred, which is not a constructive principle. From this essential characteristic of Bolshevik mentality has sprung the willingness to subject Russia to its present martyrdom. It is only out of a quite different mentality that a happier world can be created.

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Michael Brull is a columnist at New Matilda. He’s written for other publications including Fairfax, the Guardian, Crikey, Tracker and the Indigenous Law Bulletin.

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  2. Nice piece shining some light on Che. I notice that ou haven’t touched on the fact that he’s attempt at instigating revolution in Bolivia was ultimately unsuccesful because it never won enough people on side. His tactics in that situation seemed misjudged and misread.

  3. Yeah, Congo was a disaster too. I mean, there’s more about Che I don’t like. I think he totally misread why the revolution in Cuba was successful. There’s a pretty good study of Cuban from an anarchist perspective in a book by Sam Dolgoff, available online which talks about that. Che theorised about the foco – basically, he thought this little vanguard of guerillas could win the revolution anywhere, and he was obviously wrong, and was proven wrong. Besides tactical failures. Regis Debray was influenced by Che, and wrote along similar lines. There was an excellent critique of it by Eqbal Ahmad, who stressed the importance I think of what he called out-administering the government one tried to overthrow. Eqbal Ahmad was a far more intelligent anti-imperilaist (I think Edward Said called him the shrewdest anti-colonialist of some period or other). People didn’t pay him enough attention – especially the PLO.

  4. Hey Michael, thanks for the review. A couple of points, however.

    Cuba bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war? So what was the US doing? I think you’ve massively downplayed the US role in this situation, and their continuing interference when it comes to Cuba. The boycott, for instance, made it easier for the undemocratic nature of Cuba to persist.

    Like with all histories, people like to attribute them to great men, but there were other people there too.

  5. Hey Jack: Saying that Cuba brought the world to the brink of nuclear war doesn’t mean other parties didn’t do the same. I think that the US, Russian and Cuban governments were all criminally insane, and arrogantly risked the fate of humanity.

    Now, I grant that the reason for Cuba wanting the missiles was because they (rightly) feared a US invasion. But they knew that this carried tremendous risks, and the Soviet idea to do it secretly was insane. Cuba thought they might get detected – which they did – and they still went along with it. Now, the need wouldn’t have arisen if it weren’t for US counter-revolutionary subversion, terrorism, sabotage and the actual likelihood of invasion. But the point of my review was to evaluate Che. Che was not a voice of reason at the time, nor was he one afterwards.

    I agree the boycott has been harmful, and I oppose it, and I oppose US attempts to overthrow the Cuban regime. But it seems to me no less true that Castro and Che never planned on creating a liberal or libertarian socialist society. And I thought it worthwhile to say so. People on the left here are better informed about US imperialism in Latin America than they are about the nature of anti-imperialist movements I think.

  6. It’s not clear what 20th-century revolutionaries can do to avoid being psychoanalysed into oblivion. If they take it easy after the revolution, they get hit with the first cliche: “Mao claimed to believe in equality, but really he just wanted the privileges of an Emperor”–the pigs playing poker with the neighbouring farms, and so on. If they continue to work hard after their movement achieves victory, then they are obviously puritanical psychopaths. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Communists described as “motivated by hate, not love”, although that’s usually applied to Lenin.

    Well, who was motivated by love? Not Emma Goldman, despite her being approvingly quoted here: she was an early supporter of the Bolsheviks despite their “hatefulness” and was subject to the same persecution by the liberal authorities of her day. Was Gandhi motivated by love? What about FDR? How do you know? Who cares, anyway? What does it even mean? Maybe marriage should be motivated by love, but must politics? Can’t it just be motivated by belief? Must one’s convictions derive from warm fuzzy feelings? Can’t they just be honestly held?

    You say Russell was “prescient” in saying that the Communist revolutions were better at destruction than at construction, which might have been plausible in 1920, but was not at all prescient: the USSR first, and then China, both experienced freakishly rapid industrialisation after their revolutions. Russell says that in Russia and, by implication, Cuba, Communists exhibited “a heroism for which the country, not its rulers, has to pay the price”. That’s an odd thing to quote in an article about Guevara, because he, of course, paid the ultimate price for his beliefs, as did almost all the Old Bolsheviks except Stalin, whereas Bertrand Russell’s dangerously “humane” socialism did not prevent him achieving a life of extreme comfort and a peaceful death at the age of 97. Nice guy and all, but really.

    Apart from the probably-apocryphal anecdotes that sound like old jokes converted into hearsay (“Comrade, in our new society, we have no need to go to the toilet!”), there’s a hint in this article at something legitimately interesting: the reliance of 20th-century revolutions on peer pressure, shame, exhortation, and sometimes terror to guarantee continued production after the market was overthrown. But to really say anything substantial about that you’d have to do a lot more work. Does anyone really think the horrors of the 20th century and its failed revolutions were just caused by a lack of personal warmth among the leadership? How does that theory translate into a political program? More communications training for cadre? Less foquismo, more focus groups? After all, this article complains that Che’s rhetoric was not derived from poll numbers…

    • Yes, I was going to write something along the same lines.
      Politically, Che never seemed to me tremendously useful. In fact, the thing that struck me from the Anderson biography (a great book, IMO) was how theoretically naive he was, as much a young romantic as anything else. But the psychobiography isn’t very helpful. Che was a hardworking ascetic. Well, you know, so is Noam Chomsky. There’s worse things to be.
      The quote about hatred gets dragged out by every right-winger but, again, it seems pretty banal to me. He’s writing in the context of guerrilla war. News just in: hatred is part of war.
      It’s useful to point out, I guess, that moralism isn’t much use in creating a different kind of world. But moralism infects, in very similar ways, most versions of anarchism: indeed, the implication in the post that radicals should be ‘guided by love’ is a pretty classic example (what does it actually mean, and who is going to be responsible for keeping the love levels up?).
      Finally, Jacinda’s right to suggest that you can’t assess the fact of the Cuban revolution without a more adequate discussion of the blockade. Of course, that’s not to absolve Castro (there’s never been anything particular democratic about Castroism). But it’s certainly the case that the blockade has been pretty central in the development of Cuba since the revolution.

      • ‘and who is going to be responsible for keeping the love levels up?’ – a question equal parts amusing and terrorising.

      • Yeah, it’s true hatred is a part of war. But then, I think that has to be taken into account when evaluating someone who thinks the way to revolution everywhere is through war. One of the things Emma Goldman stressed in her critique of the Bolsheviks was that the ends and the means have to be harmonised. The point, I think, is that the means shape the ends. If all forms of struggle are to be military, then one would expect the society created by such struggles to be shaped by that form of struggle. It may be successful in overthrowing a government, but it won’t necessarily create a more humane society. I think that’s part of what commended Gandhi’s non-violent resistance. If a form of struggle produces humane, courageous people, whose sensitivities to violence are not deadened, that form of struggle seems to me preferable.

        What does it mean to be guided by love? Well, I mean, I dont’ want to sound too much like a hippy. But something like being motivated with feelings of compassion, by caring about other people, by hope for a more fair society. To the person who commmented earlier, you really do get a sense of the passion of Emma Goldman in her autobiography, which is very different to Che. Or Bertrand Russell. Or even Michael Albert.

        And you can say Chomsky seems pretty ascetic. He spends insane amounts of time reading etc. But he also loved his wife for decades, ands seems to have time for his kids and grandkids.

        • Um … Emma Goldman? Really? That would be the Emma Goldman involved in the utterly insane assassination plot that led Alexander Berkman to waste most of his life in prison. Now, you can say that Goldman/Berkman were ‘motivated by love’ when they planned to gun down Frick? Well, perhaps, in the sense that they were both overcome by a desire to sacrifice themselves for the good of a (very abstract) people. On the other hand, if you extend the definition of ‘love’ so much so that it can justify well-meaning acts of terrorism, it seems well-nigh meaningless.
          Must say, in any case, Goldman and Che seem very similar both in terms of their moralism and their very simplistic theory.

          • Well I agree it was insane, and even Berkman – who really was a kind of fanatic (see his prison memoirs) – came to regret it.

            But if you read Goldman’s autobiography, you’ll (for example) see the incident that was paraphrased elsewhere as something like I don’t want a revolution I can’t dance to).

            So I mean, certainly I agree with you about the attempt on Frick’s life, but Emma and Berkman changed over the next 20 years. Personally, I don’t like Berkman, and I haven’t read it in a while, but in his book on the Bolsheviks, he said he met Lenin and was convinced that Lenin was a fanatic – but was like so what, it’s ok to be a fanatic for a good cause..

            When you say “simplistic” theory – I don’t know your politics. Are you of the “scientific” Marxism faith? More impressed by the Bolsheviks than me?

          • Well, take the dancing quote, which turns up all over the place, presented as a great insight into radical politics. But what does it actually mean? IMO, there’s all sorts of legitimate criticisms to be made about Che and Castro but the suggestion that they should have sent more time dancing when they were fighting for their lives in the mountains is, well, kinda inane.
            It just bugs me that those who invoke Goldman as a critic never apply the same rigour to her own career. I mean, engaging in lunatic assassinations is rather a big deal and it’s a bit much to simply brush it away on the basis ‘she regretted it later’.
            One could say the same thing about Bakunin. A critique of authoritarianism? That would be the same Bakunin who established the International Brotherhood as an explicitly dictatorial organisation modelled on the Masons, and denounced Marx for belonging to a blood-sucking Jewish conspiracy with the Rothschilds.
            As I said, I’m not a great admirer of Che but if we want to critique personal and political moralities, Bakunin — an obsessive anti-Semite — has far more to answer for than poor old Che.

          • Well I think we’re getting increasingly afield, and I think this has drifted from my concern about Che. I don’t particularly care about the private lives of public figures – but the point about Che is that it is hard to find any positive vision from him. In his personal life, he lived as he thought everyone should live. I don’t think that working 6 and a half days a week and waging military struggle against America is inspiring, or universalisable.

            So suppose that I thought what you said about Bakunin was entirely accurate (which I don’t). I wouldn’t care, and neither would anyone who admires Bakunin, because he wrote critiques of Marxism and authoritarian socialism that many of us find impressive. No anarchist needs or wants a hero figure to emulate. It’s true that Bakunin was anti-Semitic. It’s also true that for most of his life he wasn’t an anarchist. There’s a collection of his selected writings which only took stuff from 2 years of his life. No anarchist says everyone should be like Bakunin, and there are no Bakuninists.

            Similarly with Emma Goldman. I mean, I don’t agree with everything she wrote, and I don’t support everything she did. But she collaborated in one assassination attempt (not more), when she was I think 23 – shortly after she had become involved in anarchist circles. Everything she wrote – which we remember her by – starts about 15 years later, her collection of essays is almost 20 years later. Before then, she had already progressed enough to not actually support the assassination of McKinley and say she would have nursed him if she could.

            After the attempt on Frick, Goldman was engaged in activism for almost 50 more years. It seems to me a stranger position to brush aside everything she said and did because of her support for the Berkman attentat. And even so – who cares? The important thing is not so much what she did, but what she said. And the contrast with Che is telling, because she actually did present positive values for after the revolution, which I don’t think can be found in Che.

            Or take Bertrand Russell (who I very greatly admire). I read Ray Monk’s spiteful biographies, I know a lot of people don’t like his personal behaviour. But his political philosophy, and positive vision, seem to me admirable. I don’t know why you find the idea of being motivated by love or positive values so strange or difficult to understand. I can’t find anything positive in Che. Nothing like, say, Realising Hope by Michael Albert. Or, as Erich Fromm wrote about Russell, “In reading his books and in watching his activities for peace his love of life seems to me the mainspring of his whole person. He warns the world of impending doom precisely as the prophets did because he loves life and all its forms and manifestations.”

            And the Goldman quote? I’d have to reconsult the autobiography to get it down perfectly. But basically, she was at a party or whatever, dancing or otherwise being light-hearted and frivolous. An austere revolutionary chastised her for behaviour unbecoming a revolutionary. She passionately defended her light-hearted behaviour as appropriate for a revolutionary. This was transmuted into I don’t want any part of a revolution I can’t dance to.

          • I agree this is getting off the point. But you seem prepared to make sweeping generalisations about Che’s character (like, for instance, assuring us he was motivated by hate rather than love) based on biographical vignettes, while blithely sweeping aside the fanatical anti-Semitism so central to Bakunin, on the basis that he wrote critiques that you find impressive. That was my point — the character of those you don’t like seems to matter a great deal, while the character of those you do like is simply dismissed, so that Bakunin’s Jew-baiting becomes trivial, while Che’s work ethic becomes fundamental.
            Again, I stress that I’m not especially enamored of Che as a political thinker. But, gosh, overthrowing the Cuban dictatorship would seem to be an achievement of some sort, irrespective of whether he once made a peasant cry, while going off to Bolivia to get shot down like a dog (especially when he could have remained in Cuba, like Castro) represents IMO a courage worthy of a certain respect.
            To me, your reading of his character seems unfair and tendentious: what I got from the biography was that he stressed discipline so much precisely because personally he was so emotional. Seriously — does anyone read the drunken adventurer of The Motorcycle Diaries and recognise the person you describe above?
            As for Goldman, I wasn’t suggesting that she believed in dancing as a form of revolutionary struggle. But it’s a quote that’s always annoyed precisely because mostly when it’s used it’s either, at best, facile or, at worst, entirely wrong. Light-hearted behaviour: good or bad? Well, of course there’s nothing wrong with having fun or a sense of humour (though, again, if you read Berkman’s account of the scheme he and Goldman cooked up, he’s explicit that a revolutionary should have no other interest in the revolution; at that time, at least, the two of them were pretty much poster kids for precisely the attitude you criticise about Che). But to suggest that any situation that calls for discipline is inherently reactionary (which is how the quote is often used) is simply silly. Actually, precisely because politics matters, there’s times when it is a pretty serious business.

  7. Goldman was quickly very troubled by the Bolsheviks, and abandoned them after Kronstadt.

    The problems with the Cuban, Bolshevik etc revolutions are beyond the scope of this review, which is about Che.

    • “The issue of Christianity is beyond the scope of this review, which is about St. Augustine.” Che’s entire adult life was made up of dynamic reactions to, and contributions toward ongoing revolutions. You can’t assess him but ignore the world he lived in. (And, as a matter of fact, you don’t try to in the review!)

      Goldman supported the Bolsheviks early on, but turned against them after various political developments. This would seem to make a mess of any attempt to divide revolutionaries and their projects into the nice ones like Goldman and Russell (with what Russell calls correct “mentalities” that guarantee good results) and the nasty ones (who are mean and have bad motivations). Isn’t it a weird coincidence that so many of the nasty ones happen to live in the countries where revolutions actually take place?

  8. Michael,

    Yes, thanks for the review but we’ll have to disagree on this one. We could argue about this detail or that detail of your piece, but it seems to me that your argument is a well rehearsed one. Indeed, we could substitute the names Lenin or Trotsky for Guevara and your piece would be identical to many that have come before it (say, Volkogonov or Service’s biographies). I have a problem, in other words, with the argument as a whole, which seems to me to be an anti-communist cliche.

    The bolshevik attitude is based on hatred, this argument goes. This means that these bolshevik revolutionaries are happy to do all kinds of terrible things such as, kill indiscriminately (and enjoy it!), crush all opponents, see humans as cogs in the machine, ban all democratic freedoms, and so on. We can then superimpose this template onto any revolution and interpret that revolution, regardless of historical context, through this mould. So pretty much all of your claims against Guevara follow this scheme: his ‘crimes’ stem from his attitude, his personality, his ideology – and are divorced from the real history of which they are a part.

    I find it extremely unlikely that any historical process is so simple. I also find the claims that Bolsheviks, in general, are driven by fanaticism and the believe that ‘force’ can drive history, equally simplistic and, well, just not very accurate. The final quote from Russell I find a banal cliche. For the an understanding of the ‘Bolshevik mind’, I’d look to someone like Victor Serge, whose work seems to me to be consummately fair.

    • Yeah, I think it’s probably fair to say that my values in criticising Che are well-rehearsed. I basically accept Bakunin’s critique of Marx, Russell, Goldman, Brinton (etc)’s critique of the Bolsheviks and so on. I think the problems with Che can be distinguished from the theoretical problems I have with Leninism and its view of the state (in my view, Serge abandoned his anarchism when he started applauding the Bolsheviks. A Trotskyist friend gave me a book of three of his essays from I think 1919 or 1920 [I'd have to check])

      But what was the problem with Che? Well, I mean, it’s easy to say he opposed US imperialism, and I guess all of us do too. But what kind of society did he want to create? The answer, as near as we kind find, doesn’t seem to me admirable. And I don’t think his ideology can be blamed on the US.

  9. Good piece. But our young people don’t need to be taught to die for revolution.

    They need to be taught to read the news, email their Senators, rally, and vote.

  10. I think I’m also saying the same things over and over. For example, I said above “Berkman – who really was a kind of fanatic… Personally, I don’t like Berkman, and I haven’t read it in a while, but in his book on the Bolsheviks, he said he met Lenin and was convinced that Lenin was a fanatic – but was like so what, it’s ok to be a fanatic for a good cause.. ” – and you say “at that time, at least, the two of them were pretty much poster kids for precisely the attitude you criticise about Che” (I’m not sure that’s true about Emma though)

    And to repeat what I think matters: “I don’t particularly care about the private lives of public figures – but the point about Che is that it is hard to find any positive vision from him. … The important thing is not so much what she did, but what she said. And the contrast with Che is telling, because she actually did present positive values for after the revolution, which I don’t think can be found in Che.”

    In my article, I recognise Che overthrew Batista, then died fighting in Bolivia, and said this naturally inspires some with its obvious “selflessness, internationalism, passionate commitment.” My point was “To fight for change is not necessarily to fight for worthy forms of change.” What positive vision animated Che? What kind of society did he want to create after the revolution? I think it is hard to find anything positive in this. And I think that’s a real failure. I mean, yeah, he fought against a US backed dictatorship. So did Khomeini. Military prowess and courage is not enough for me to admire someone, and these do not seem to me necessarily cardinal virtues of the left.

  11. This is a great discussion – I don’t really have much to add to what Jeff, ghoul and Rjurick have already said. I’d only point, somewhat parenthetically, to Alberto Toscano’s book on Fanaticism (http://books.google.com.au/books?id=Zx1cPgAACAAJ&dq=fanaticism+on+the+uses+of+an+idea&hl=en&ei=5MwGTcb-HMmecPPitM0E&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAA). Which, apart from its signal brilliance, is a convincing deconstruction of the rhetoric of the ‘fanatic’ as a confused, paradoxical and often vacuous category.

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