A memoir by Che Guevara’s brother provides acute insights into the revolutionary icon, says CARLOS MARTINEZ
Che, My Brother
by Juan Martin Guevara
GIVEN the number of biographies of Ernesto “Che” Guevara published in the half century since his assassination, many writers would probably struggle to find anything original to write about him.
But Che’s youngest brother Juan Martin Guevara is able to offer an unparalleled insight into the family life, background, influences and early experiences that helped to form the legendary revolutionary.
His stated purpose is to take Che down from the cross, “to get people to know Che as more than a myth,” and understand how he was made so that more people like Che might emerge to wage the struggle — not necessarily guerilla warfare but broad, political, struggle for the values Che fought for.
The world desperately needs people with the intellect, passion, commitment and heroism of Che and his brother’s book seeks to inspire the emergence of such people. “It is important to understand that Ernesto began as a normal and even ordinary person, who became an exceptional person that others can and should emulate,” Guevara writes.
His family were not salt-of-the-earth workers or humble indigenous peasants — they were highly educated middle-class bohemians. How did such a family produce a fierce proletarian revolutionary such as Che?
Guevara explains that there was always a strong sense of social justice in the family, combined with a profound commitment to study and to freedom of thought: “At home, everyone was free to think more or less what he or she wanted, provided of course we didn’t support fascist ideas.
“Our home was a meeting place for many politically active characters. This hyper-politicised family atmosphere would shape Che.”
Even in childhood, Che had a strong character — purposeful, self-disciplined, resourceful, principled and adventurous. In addition, he was a voracious reader and, “taking advantage of every free moment to delve into some volume or other,” consumed on average a book a day.
He distinguished himself from other middle-class young people in that he was willing and able to get to know the poor and was therefore exposed to the appalling poverty, inequality, oppression and injustice that exist in class society.
His intellect, character and experiences — along with fortuitously meeting Fidel Castro and his comrades in Mexico — combined to turn the young Ernesto Guevara into the immortal Che.
Lively and endearing, Guevara’s work tells the story of his famous brother’s early years, along with his own story of struggle against the Argentinian dictatorship, for which he suffered eight years in prison in appalling conditions.
By no means the definitive biography, it is valuable as a means of better understanding Che and the Guevara family.
As a political disciple of Che, Guevara has his own interpretation of “Guevarismo,” which he emphasises is very different to socialism as practised in the Soviet Union. He even goes so far as to state that he suspects the KGB of having collaborated with the CIA to eliminate Che in Bolivia although, with no proof offered, this is not a helpful addition to the book.
Che certainly had his critique of Soviet socialism. But he was alive to the subtlety and complexity of politics, could see the contradictions and problems faced by the Soviet Union and had the self-discipline not to go too far in open criticism.
After all, Soviet support was decisive in the survival of socialist Cuba, as has been recognised many times by Fidel and Raul Castro.
Small flaws such as this aside, this is an insightful and valuable book.