Reseña de libros:
por Anthony Daniels
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, by John Lee Anderson.(Grove, 814 PP, $35)
Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, by Jorge Castañeda (Knopf; 352 pp., $30)
INSIDE every rebel, there's a tyrant trying to get out: of no one is this more true than Ernesto Guevara, known as Che. He was the Ayatollah Kllomeini of the Cuban Revolution, an ascetic who turned his own taste for renunciation into a moral imperative for others. A world ruled by Guevara would have been about as much fun as Calvin's Geneva.
It is typical of the fathomless self-indulgence and frivolity of pampered Western youth that they should have turned this self-righteous revolutionary prig into a pop icon, just because he wore a beret, failed to wash regularly, was careless in his dress, and was, from certain angles, highly photogenic. Of his horrible doctrines they knew and cared nothing. As far as they were concerned, any young man who brought down a government by force in the name of justice must be a hero.
To be fair to Guevara, it was not his fault that he was so misunderstood by students in the West. He disdained to conceal either his thoughts or his actions. But despite his deep, almost elephantine earnestness, he also fully partook of the intellectual and moral frivolity of his western admirers. Both of the present biographers claim that he had an insatiable intellectual curiosity but there is no evidence that he ev¿r once deigned to think about, let alone investigate, the causes of the heinous crimes of Stalin and Mao; nor did he ever pause to wonder about the source of the strength-economic, cultural, and military-of the United States. As a young man, he came to believe that exploitation was the fount of American and European wealth, and he held fast to that view to the very end. Only by adhering to this idiotic doctrine could he accord himself a providential role in history. Otherwise, he wc~uld have had to content himself with m~mdane medi- cal practice, for which he was not at all suited.
Both these long biographies are the fruit of diligent research; and though there are differences, the picture that emerges of their subject is essentially the same. Castañeda is much more informative than Anderson about Guevara's economic ideas; Anderson about his childhood and youth. Castañeda has Guevara's second wife, Aleida March, as a member of the upper middle classes;Anderson as the daughter of a peasant. Castañeda mentions Guevara's illegitimate children; Anderson does not. But they are in agreement about all the fundamental features of Guevara's life, character, and work.
Each of Guevara's parents came from a relatively impoverished ibranch of an oligarchic Argentine family, but Guevara never knew actual poverty, and he had the fundamental self-assurance of those who are born into an elite. He de- veloped severe asthma very early on,which had two consequences: first, it assured him of the deep love and anxious concern of his mother, who was by far the most important woman in his lifc; and second, it gave him the determination to overcome difficulties placed in his path. Despite his asthma, and against thc odds, he became a sportsman as a youth; he never gave in to his phvsicai limitations.
For the rest of his life, he was notably un-self-critical. He accepted his mother's estimate of his value; and he believed that what he did was right because it was he who did it. To the end of his days, he grossly overestimated the importance of his own willpower in shaping the world around him. His grandiosity and vanity destroyed him and many others also.
As Anderson's account makes clear, Guevara's self-importance developed earJy. During his youthful wanderings around Latin America, he had no compunction about swindling peop]e (not necessarily rich) who crossed his path when he was hard up. He saw his dishonesty as an escapade, not a moral failing, because it was he who was being dishonest; later, his excessive punctiliousness about money -in which there was a marked element of moral and intellectual snobbery- became the standard by which he judged others. In short, he was always his own exemplar.
To call him second-rate as a thinker vould be far too generous. His fundanental economic idea: that all hope of personal gain should be removed from economic life, is unoriginal, stupid, and evil in equal measure. Thc idea is just excusable in an adolescent; but in a grown man it is quite unpardonable. And only a moral monster would be prepared to kill in pursuit of such an ideal.
Guevara was such a monster; he was far too egotistical to change his fantasies h~ the light of experience once he had formed them. He dreamed of creating the New Man who, of course, would be the willing pupil of his own tuition-all previous men, from the inventor of the wheel to Shakespeare, Newton, and Mozart, failing to come up to his exacting mark.
Both of these biographies make it plain that during the Cuban missile crisis Guevara was in favor of a nuclear war, which would have resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Americans and the total eradication of the Cuban population. He believed that this was desirable because he also believed that a better world could have been built on, in, and presumably of the ashes. He felt not the slightest qualm in speaking on behalf of the millions of Cubans who would be thus immolated; not so much as a millisecond of doubt entered his allegedly capacious mind. What he said went for untold millions at a time.
It is clear, then, that Guevara was of the same mindset as Pol Pot. If he ended up killing far fewer innocent people than the Cambodian, it was not for lack of effort on his part. After all, he reveled in the Indochina war and would have loved to see two, three, many Cambodias around the world.The difference between him and Pol Pot was that he never studied in Paris.
The two authors are concerned to rescue something from Guevara's disastrous and profoundly unattractive life. Whatever his personal charms, a man who could seriously advocate the death of an entire population (being almost in a position to bring it about) is clearly unspeakably vile. The authors cannot. alas, bring themselves to say this: it is too much against the advertising orthodoxy of our age, namely that Guevara was fundamentally a good, generous man who makes a fine poster. And neither author draws attention to the fac that Guevara adopted a violently antiamerican and pro-Soviet stance without knowing anything about the history, economy, general living conditions, or culture of either country. If Guevara later became disillusioned with the Soviet Union, it was because it ceased being radical enough: Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolutions, with millions of deaths of the unrighteous, are what he craved.
Ambivalence toward Guevara is paticularly marked in Mr. Castañeda's book. Castañeda is like an old Communist who has finally accepted that Stalin killed scores of millions but is nonetheless trying to rescue something from the debacle: something like universal health care or improved literacy. Because he is himself a man of the Ieft, Castañeda cannot accept that it was Guevaras Weltanschauung that was wrong. His ambivalence is beautifully illustrated on pages 188 and 189, where he describes the effects of Guevara's writings on the youth of his day. On page l88,we read: "Che had no reason to suspect the impact [his writing] would have, on thousands of young university students in the ensuing thirty years, as they cheerfully marched off to be massacred. . . . No author should be held responsible for his readers' sagacity or lack thereof." On page 189, by contrast, we read: "Che endowed two generations of young people with the tools of that faith [in revolution], and the fervor of that conviction. But he must also be held responsible for the wasted blood and lives that decimated those generations."
Each of these citations contains a further equivocation: for the young university students marched off not merely to be massacred, but to massacre also. For ir was Guevara's opinion (quoted later by Castañeda himself) that "unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine," was desirable; indeed it was precondition of a better world. If this is noble, as Castañeda in his less clear moments claims Guevara to have been I should hate even to imagine what Castañeda would consider ignoble
When the history of the twentieth century is written, Guevaraphilia among the educated middle classes of the rich est, freest countries that have ever existed will seem a strange phenomenon indeed, and one not at all flattering to the human race. How could libertariens (or libertines) see in Guevara any thing other than a ruthless puritanic dictator? The answer is not contained in either of these books, but they both contain more than sufficient information, clearly set down, to establish Guevara as one of the most ruthless, though ultimately unsuccessful, opponents of freedom of our time.
Tomado de National Review, septiembre 15, 1997.
Dr. Daniels is a physician and traveler, and the author of Utopias Elsewhere (Crown).