Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka
50th Death Anniversary of Che Guevara
[This essay was originally published in English and in Spanish translation in Granma, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, in 2007, on the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death.]
The literary imagination of genius is often more intuitive about the movement of History than that of the historian, philosopher or social scientist. In 1842, six years before the publication of the Communist Manifesto, Heinrich Heine foresaw the role and fate of Communism in these dramatic terms: “Communism is the secret name of the dread antagonist setting proletarian rule with all its consequences against the present bourgeois rule. How it will end no one knows but gods and goddesses acquainted with the future. We only know this much: Communism, though little discussed now and loitering in hidden garrets on miserable straw pallets, is the dark hero destined for a great if temporary role in the modern tragedy.”
Of all those who auditioned for the role of that dark hero of modern tragedy, none played it as memorably on the screen of History as Che. His looks and his ‘Look’ (in the Sartrean sense of ‘the gaze’), the specific aesthetic he constituted, are symbols of the trinity of rebel-hero-martyr. Soren Kierkegaard wrote of two types of heroes: ‘heroes of thought’ and ‘heroes of action’. There are passionate individualist intellectuals, thinkers, writers who stand out from the norm, mountain eagles alighting on lonely crags. There are, on the other hand, those who engage in Herculean or Sisyphean enterprise in the service of a collective cause. Che was a synthesis.
The communist experiment issued from the contradictions of Modernity. It always contained the ‘moment’ of the heroic. The most subtle of Marxist thinkers after Antonio Gramsci, Walter Benjamin, remarked in his study of Charles Baudelaire (Che was an avid fan of Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’- ‘The Flowers of Evil’) that “the hero is the true subject of modernism. In other words, it takes a heroic constitution to live modernism. That was also Balzac’s opinion”. The communist hero was modernist. “Lenin was from tip to toe a man of the new world. Herein lies his immense uniqueness, herein lies his incommunicable charm” observed Lunacharsky. Che, a hero of late Modernity, was the personification of its traits of unrest, searching, mobility, self-consciousness, intensity and violence.
It is difficult, they always say, to imagine Che had he lived until today, but one may safely surmise he would have been like Fredrick Engels, with the latter’s sensibility, his coolly confident and lucidly analytical writing style, his intense interest in the military aspect of international politics (Engels’ nickname was ‘the General’), his Pauline interventions in the international socialist movement. Except for one set of qualities, which Engels didn’t have: Che’s restlessness, his inner tensions, his self-reflexivity, his risk-taking, and the propulsive pressure he subjected himself to: his Messianism.
Continue reading ‘Che Guevara – Unique Personality who Imprinted His Visage On The Shroud Of Time.’ »