Fifty Years On, Che Guevara's Economic Ideas Are What Matter

The Marxist leader killed in an ambush in 1967 achieved icon status as a warrior for the revolution. But it's his proposals about the economy that have lasting value.

Fifty Years On, Che Guevara's Economic Ideas Are What Matter
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera


BOGOTÁ — Argentine philosopher Miguel Benayasag warns against misinterpreting late guerrilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara today, 50 years after his death. Espousing the views of the Argentine-born revolutionary "does not mean direct adherence to the armed struggle as method." Instead, it is above all a sign of diversity.

The objective in the years of Guevara on the front line — the 1960s — was to escape the simple dualism of the Cold War that divided the world into camps supporting the West or the Soviet bloc. In a letter he wrote to the Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1964, Guevara predicted that the Soviet Union would ultimately see its forces drained and turned toward capitalism within some 20 years. This was also him expressing his own fears about the increasing influence of pro-Soviet tendencies within the Cuban revolution.

It is the lesson drawn clearly from a reading of Guevara's "Critical Notes on the Political Economy," which he prepared after discarding his guerrilla garb of the Cuban Sierra Madre for the industry minister's desk in Havana. Reading the document is of particular use as it helps us get away from the tendency to simply praise or condemn the life and ideas of one of the 20th century's most influential figures.

A pertinent debate in the shadow of the 2008 economic debacle.

Fifty years after his death in Ñancahuazú, Guevara remains controversial, which shows that he still fascinates us, as does the context of his actions. One should thus ask why analysts and commentators remain ignorant of Guevara's contribution to debates around industrial organization, economic planning and management, incentives, or calculating value and prices.

Far from being irrelevant after the fall of the Soviet bloc, this is a pertinent debate in the shadow of the 2008 economic debacle whose effects are not only not fading, but multiplying and expanding into a series of political crises like Brexit, the disintegration of the European Union or the return of far-right groups in the United States and elsewhere, which should all be considered a part of this socio-political debate.

Guevara aimed to manage the Cuban economy on the basis of productive, administrative and communicational techniques used then by U.S. corporations. Yet it was consistent with critical analyses of the political economy, in particular capitalism's tendency to "cannibalize" its own activities, as well as colonize and dominate markets. It is an observation that should interest us today, as should his proposals for systems to give priority to education and training, establish administrative controls, engage workers in running industries, generate science and consider psychology's role in economics. A half-century after his death, it's worth looking not only at Guevara's images, but his ideas as well.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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