There has been a lot of reflection on the life and legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The release of the movie of The Motorcycle Diaries, I suspect, will help add to it.
Certainly, as icon, Che is ubiquitous, rivaling Mickey Mouse and Madonna. (Personally, the vestiges of the old Lefty in me sees Che as an “adventurist”, as does my psyche’s liberal, Burkean, and every other shard of the political spectrum.) But the man is fascinating. Why he so fascinates us is another question.
Hitchens had this to say recently.
‘His death meant a lot to me, and countless like me, at the time. He was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do – fought and died for his beliefs.’
‘He belongs more to the romantic tradition than the revolutionary one. To endure as a romantic icon, one must not just die young, but die hopelessly. Che fulfils both criteria. When one thinks of Che as a hero, it is more in terms of Byron than Marx.’
True, but then there has never been this kind of a cult around Rosa Luxemburg, who died in a similar fashion.
Where would Che have wound up, had he not died? The evolution of Regis Debray, who was with Che in Bolivia, wrote Revolution dans la revolution, and is now grappling with faith, may offer an answer. Debray has a new book on God, entitled God: An Itinerary (put out by Verso press). In it, he suggests,
“The resurgence of mysticism—and there is no way of foreseeing its end—would thus appear to be ineluctable. The progress of science and technology will no doubt impede neither the vital impulsion to believer nor the concomitant violence.”
And I suppose we are left to conclude that there is something ecstatic, religously ecstatic, about the Guevaran revolutionary zeal that suggested “[i]f we can tremble with indignation every time an injustice is committee in the world, we are comrades.” The operative word being “tremble”.