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.
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.