There is a saying that love makes the world go ‘round. The power of love can be observed in a multitude of different relationships, including parental love, romantic love, brotherly love, and sexual love. However, the love experienced by a revolutionary has received inadequate attention.
Che Guevara states in his celebrated essay, Man and Socialism in Cuba that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love.” (1) These feelings of love are a driving force in revolutionary life. This love is not just expressed to a few people, but rather towards humanity. The initial remark by Che focuses on the feelings of love. However, is love a feeling? Feelings are often transient and certain feelings are not always present in our lives. A wife can love her husband, but she may not always experience feelings of love toward him. The emphasis on the feelings of love also assumes that everyone experiences the same feelings. People often experience different feelings when they love someone. It could be joy, excitement, sympathy, empathy, intimacy, comfort, bonding as well as other feelings. These feelings may vary among people in terms of strength and extent. Consequently, the concept of feelings of love is not precise and may refer to different feelings in the loving process. We can also ask whether a true revolutionary needs to be motivated by strong feelings of love. Some revolutionaries may have difficulty, given their upbringing and environmental conditions, to experience strong feelings of love. Therefore, revolutionaries may or may not possess these feelings of love. The emphasis on feelings is an inadequate means of understanding revolutionary love.
Che claims that these loving feelings need to be transformed into concrete actions with a drive for creating justice in the world. He further maintains that this revolutionary fervor should not be limited to one area of the world, but extended to proletarian internationalism. (2) The emphasis now is on behavior. Feelings themselves that do not produce revolutionary behavior are of no avail.
Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving contends that love consists of the qualities of caring, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. (3) Caring involves a concern for the welfare of others, responsibility is meeting their needs by your actions, respect refers to wanting the best for others and knowledge is using certain facts in understanding a situation and acting wisely.
A revolutionary expresses his love by initially caring about the poverty and oppressive conditions that people endure without much hope for change within a political system. If one did not care or was ambivalent about the terrible conditions that the masses experience daily, then revolutionary activity would not ensue. The revolutionary has the responsibility to use the best means available to overthrow an oppressive regime. It receives the respect and support of the people by its continual effort to bring justice and equality within a political structure, and uses its knowledge of strategies and tactics to defeat the enemy. This may involve the use of guerilla warfare as occurred in Cuba, nonviolence as used by Gandhi in India or a variety of approaches as employed by Subcomandante Marcos in Mexico.
Essentially, revolutionary love needs to have a corresponding behavioral component. According to Che, there are additional components to revolutionary love.
First, a revolutionary is willing to make sacrifices. Fidel Castro was a lawyer and Che a medical doctor, and yet they both relinquished a bourgeois life in order to become revolutionaries. It necessitates a commitment to revolutionary activities with all the physical and emotional hardships that one will endure during those times. This would include fighting even though there is a lack of food, adequate shelter and medicines as well as overcoming interpersonal conflicts. Che experienced many bouts with asthma, but he still continued fighting. These sacrifices are made because revolutionaries know or have experienced the severe suffering and oppression that exists within the political system and want to change it.
Second, revolutionaries need to be courageous in battle and willing to undertake dangerous missions that might lead to their death. As a guerilla, Che had contempt for danger and a willingness to undertake perilous tasks in difficult situations. He was known to sometimes crawl under fire to obtain a dead enemy soldier’s weapon. Fidel said that Che’s Achilles heel was his excessive aggressiveness and disregard for danger. (4) They sometimes had to stop him from doing certain tasks because of the danger. This indomitable will and unrelenting behavior were part of Che’s character that can be traced back to earlier events in his life, namely, the dire hardships he endured while motorcycling throughout South America and mountain climbing in Mexico despite being susceptible to asthma attacks. All revolutionaries need to persevere in warfare under the most severe living conditions and setbacks. This takes courage.
Third, a model revolutionary is one that possesses intelligent ideas that can be used in revolutionary struggle, an intellectual knowledge about overcoming the nature of oppression and a vision of a liberated and just society. Fidel claims that Che was a man of profound intelligence with broad cultural interests. (5) He was well read in the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin and combined his intellectuality with political action. Che believed there was a need to change the consciousness of the masses to create a different human being for the 21st century. This person would not be concerned with material gains, but dedicated to helping others. Moral incentives would replace material incentives in life. Obviously, not all revolutionaries possess this characteristic, even though they may have played an important role in the revolution. Fidel and Che would fit this model of an intellectual combatant as well as Marti, Bolivar, Mao, and Lenin. (6)
Fourth, a revolutionary experiences solidarity with humanity. However, this needs some clarification. “Humanity “does not refer to all people, since this would include the dominant and ruling class. It refers to the poor and oppressed people who are being exploited and treated unjustly. This solidarity is enhanced by the masses supporting the revolutionaries with food, shelter, weapons, information, and recruits. As this solidarity increases, there is a greater bonding between the revolutionaries and their supporters. Michael Hart and Antonio Negri claim that this unity is an act of love. (7) It is a political conception of love emanating from collective actions, expansive encounters and continuous collaborations. Peter Kropotkin in his work Mutual Aid concurs with this view in contending that love does not precede solidarity, but rather love is a consequence of solidarity. He demonstrates this using the notion of mutual aid that exists within all kinds of species. (8) When human beings are in solidarity and aid each other, political love becomes a result of this type of human activity.
Fifth, a revolutionary exhibits altruistic behavior. An altruist is primarily concerned with the welfare of others and not his personal gain. He is also constantly discovering, renovating, acting, and reflecting about ways of contributing to society. (9) This person volunteers for all kinds of activities. Che volunteered for many missions during guerilla warfare. After the Revolution, he worked six days a week and did volunteer work on Sundays with dock workers, miners, and sugar cane workers. He viewed volunteer work as a means of uniting different strata of workers in society, especially connecting mental and manual labor whenever possible. Che was the originator of volunteer work in Cuba that is currently practiced by minbrigades. His disdain for personal gain was evident by his austere life style in Cuba.
Since Che possessed all these characteristics, he has been a model of a true revolutionary for Cubans and revolutionaries throughout the world. There is a Pioneer saying that “we will be like Che.” There are probably other Ches in Cuba and in different countries. But there are special circumstances that are needed for the fruition of these characteristics and they are not always present. The pioneer saying is an excellent motivational device; however, it is unrealistic to expect all children or even adults to have the high motivation, dedication, and intelligence of Che Guevara. Che was a unique person and one that is rarely found in any society. This would also apply to Fidel. Fidel has described Che as a man without a flaw or blemish. (10) This is a literal interpretation of the Pioneer saying and Fidel’s viewpoint. It is doubtful that Fidel was saying that Che was perfect, given that all humans have imperfections. Fidel seems to be referring to Che as a revolutionary. A better interpretation of the Pioneer saying is that Che’s revolutionary values and commitments are norms that all people need to aspire.
There are different levels of a revolutionary. The first level pertains to those who are fighting to overthrow a political system and willing to die in the process. Che, Fidel, and others are on this level. They exhibit the five characteristics of a true revolutionary, namely, sacrifice, courageousness, intellectual combativeness, solidarity with the masses and altruism. These true revolutionaries are on the highest level. Within this level there are also revolutionary fighters who do not possess all these qualities, but yet play an important role in revolutionary warfare. The second level is composed of those who are actively opposed to certain injustices and values in a society, but are not interested or involved in overthrowing a government. These are social revolutionaries and not political revolutionaries. Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. would be on this level. Persons on this level would also possess the characteristics of a true revolutionary, including a willingness to risk their lives for a cause. As with the first level, there are some supporters within a social movement that have made significant contributions, however, they do not possess all the qualities of a true revolutionary.
Revolutionary love is not only expressed by individuals, but also by nations. Cuba has utilized certain aspects of revolutionary love in aiding other nations. The Latin American School of Medicine in Havana trains students from other Latin American countries to become doctors free of charge, “Operation Miracle,” has restored and preserved the sight of thousands of people in Lain American countries and the “Yo Si Puedo” method used to eliminate illiteracy has been very effective in teaching people how to read. These are examples how revolutionary love has been used to assist others to overcome difficulties and create a better world.
After the Revolution, Che spent long hours working at his various jobs and used his day off to volunteer his services. This was admirable, but as a husband and parent he limited his time with family members. His wife and children also had needs that required a substantial time with them. The concepts of foreground and background are used in Gestalt psychology to demonstrate that one cannot focus on two things at the same time. If we focus on an object in the room (foreground), then the other things in the room (background) are diminished. The reverse is also true. This also happens in human relationships. This is a problem for great men who devote their lives almost exclusively to a career. Since marriage and family life entail certain duties and time spent with spouses and children, it is would have been better that Che was single and not been married with children.
- J. Gerassi (ed.), VENCEREMOS! THE SPEECHES AND WRITINGS OF ERNESTO CHE GUEVARA (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p.398.
- E. Fromm, THE ART OF LOVING (New York: Perennial, 1974), p.22.
- F. Castro, CHE: A MEMOIR BY FIDEL CASTRO (Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press, 1994), p.45.
- IBID., p.74.
- R. Pina Freyre, “Che Guevara y la Filosofía Combate,” MARX AHORA, No. 3, 1997, p.32.
- M. Hart and A. Negri, MULTITUDE (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), p.351.
- P. Kropotkin, MUTUAL AID (Boston: Horizon Books, 1955), p.12.
- O. Fernández Rios, “Socialismo y Democracia en el Pensamiento Político de Che Guevara,” MARX AHORA, No.3, 1997, p.26.