Saturday, October 16, 2004


Dr Aleida Guevara, daughter of that Che bloke, put in an appearance on The Guardian online yesterday and had a lot of interesting things to say. Surprisingly enough the online 'chat site' wasn't immediately filled with posters from Miami or Alabama lining up to scream 'commie' at her and the posts seem to have been mostly civil and appreciative. There's a kind of summary, here, of the main points made by Dr Guevara. The most interesting things Dr Guevara had to say concerned the use and misuse today of Che's iconic image (that photo) and the place of violence in modern day political struggle.

Unsurprisingly Aleida Guevara is not very impressed that Che's image has been used to flog consumer goods. She does not, though, have a problem with the use of Che's image in situations where it could 'serve as inspiration' for people today. The astounding ability of consumer capitalism to gobble up imagery from the most unlikely places - the use of Che's image for marketing campaigns for Vodka (and that awful Madonna album) being just one example of this - has been analysed to death by various cultural critics. Che's image has been turned into a symbol which signifies, simply, some kind of unspecified, generalised idea of rebellion. The original political significance of that image of Che (inasfar as we can say that the image itself had an original political significance - but you know what I mean; the image represents Che, socialist revolutionary and guerilla fighter) has been emptied out and neutralised. In its place we have an unthreatening shell, hollowed out of specific political significance, and made safe for marketing and advertising purposes. Furthermore, the effect of the capitalist appropriation of Che's image has spread beyond marketing so that the image of Che anywhere, not just in marketing campaigns has been largely hollowed out of meaning.

However, Aleida Guevara's comments rightly suggest that despite the 'banalisation' (that's my word, I've copyrighted it) and de-politicisation of the figure of Che, the political significance of the image has not been obliterated and will never be completely lost. To many people that image of Che still does represent something inspirational (and I write as someone who wears a Che badge on my bag - a small, tasteful and discreet one you understand) and can still, deployed in the right context, serve as a highly effective symbolic weapon in the Left's imagery armoury. As long as we can be clear about what the image of Che means and attempt to convey this to people the image is still something to cling to. Even, the seeming ubiquity of the image in marketing campaigns is not wholly to be regretted - the symbol of Che still retains, at the least, a latent political significance which cannot be wholly expunged from any particular appearance of the image and. The more people see of him the more likely it is that at least some will ask who he was and seek to go beyond the generalised, non-specific idea of rebelliousness the image is employed to suggest, to find out what the real Che stood for and what he did.

The second most interesting thing Aleida Guevara had to say concerns political violence. She points towards Chile and Venezuela, reminding us that at some point, if we want to change society in a socialist direction, we will run up against the organised (and probably ruthless) hostility of the ruling class. I was going to add more here, but I'm planning a blogpost on violence, repression, terror and morality for a later date.

Anyone interested in Che will find this New Left Review article on Che in the Congo a good read. Che comes out of it very well. The lasting impression I got from the article was of a dignified and highly moral man deeply disillusioned over, and upset by, the corruption of Congolese guerilla 'leaders' such as Kabilla (who seem to have spent most of their time living the high life outside of Congo, visiting brothels and drinking themselves stupid) but who, nevertheless, refused to give up on the struggle he had committed himself to in the Congo until it was absolutely the only option. Interestingly, the article suggests that Guevara may have suffered some form of mental breakdown after the severe strain of the Congo campaign.

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