Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Che Guevara. An icon. A revolutionary. An inspiration to young radicals everywhere. An image spun to huge profits by capitalists. This article discusses Che's enduring image and the way his image has transformed over time. Everyone wears their Che t-shirts. And they have no idea who he is or what he means. The classic recent adapation of this is the Che image with the lines underneath that read "I have no idea who this is." Che's image has shifted over time. Castro has used him ever since his death as the iconic representation of the revolution in Cuba--there are very few images of Fidel and lots of Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Over time, the classic picture became picked up by US leftists, largely in support of Castro and the Central American freedom movements. By the 1990s though, kids around the US wore the image and knew nothing of what it means. Today, some people wear their Che t-shirt with pride because they love what he stands for while others just want to be cool.

My own issue with the Che image comes from Che himself. I have no problem with people wearing t-shirts with revolutionary figures on them. But why Che? The t-shirts should have Castro on them. You can criticize Castro for a lot of things--political repression, his anti-homosexual agenda, the absurd sugar harvest levels of the 1960s and 1970s, staying in power too long, his actions during the Missile Crisis, etc. But you know why Che doesn't get caught up in this? Because he left. Castro built a revolution. Che played at revolutionary. Now there are complex reasons for part of this--Castro and Che didn't see eye to eye by the early 1960s and Che felt he needed to go. But it was also part of Che's personality. Had Che acted responsibly in his post-Cuba revolutionary actions, I would feel a little differently. Che wanted to spread the communist revolution around Latin America. But instead of going somewhere he could do some good, Nicaragua or El Salvador for example, nations with active social movements, he decided to go to Bolivia, where there was no revolutionary movement to speak of. He just decided to start some shit. And it went nowhere. He was killed and the iconic image began.

Interestingly, the iconic image and memory of Che don't take into account that his asthma was so bad that the Bolivians were literally carrying him up mountains during the fighting. Now that's an effective revolutionary soldier!