The publication of ‘Che Guevara – symbol of struggle’ by the comrades of ‘Chinaworker.info’ is extremely timely and welcome. This book was first published in English in 1997 and then republished in 2005. Since then the image of Che Guevara has continued to act as a beacon of struggle against capitalism and exploitation for young people around the world. Hundreds of thousands continue to wear Che T-shirts in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. For some this will of course be a fashion statement. Yet for others, especially following the devastating impact of the global financial crisis more than two years ago, being associated with the image of Che Guevara represents something more. It is a political statement of opposition to exploitation, corruption and repression and a declaration of support for those in struggle to build a better world free of the misery and poverty inflicted on millions of people by capitalism and imperialism. Che Guevara is rightly viewed as an incorruptible, self sacrificing internationalist and socialist. Also in China a significant layer of young people undoubtedly associate the image of Guevara with defiance of the repression they face at the hands of the Chinese regime and ravages caused by the growing capitalist exploitation they suffer from in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the mistake of Guevara, discussed in this book, lay in the methods he thought could achieve his objectives and which class can play the leading role in building a genuine democratic socialist society. These remain cardinal questions in the struggle for socialism today and therefore the issues discussed in this book remain relevant.
Since the book was first published there have been major changes in the world situation. If anything these changes re-enforce the conclusions drawn in this and other material from the heroic struggles fought by Guevara. The unfolding crisis of world capitalism has posed new issues about the methods needed to fight against it and how the struggle for a genuine democratic socialist alternative needs to be conducted. One year after the publication of this book in 1997 Hugo Chávez was elected to power as President in Venezuela. The Latin American masses at that time were in the vanguard of the struggle against neo-liberalism. As the CWI pointed out the time, the election of Chávez was an extremely significant development. Following the application of neo-liberal policies internationally, his election represented a point of departure. Chávez was elected with the massive support of the poor and significant sections of the middle class. He promised what he called a ‘Bolivarian revolution’ and opposed the neo-liberal programme of the proceeding regimes which had ruled in the name of the rich oligarchs of Venezuela. This development was to mark the beginning of a revolt of the Latin American masses against neo-liberalism. Other radical “left-wing” governments were to be swept into power by the masses in Bolivia, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. The CWI has commented on and analysed these events as they have unfolded. In Venezuela and later Bolivia, a struggle between revolution and counter revolution developed in which for the first time, since the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes which ruled the planned economies of Eastern Europe and the former USSR between 1989/92, the question of socialism was once again raised in mass movements. These developments again put the issue of Che Guevara and his ideas back on the political agenda for a new generation of young fighters.
In China, the ruling regime has also continued to use “socialist phraseology” but somewhat differently in order to justify the introduction of pro-capitalist measures.
Chávez in Venezuela, pushed by the unfolding drama of events eventually was compelled to go further and dubbed his “revolution” as “socialist” not merely Bolivarian. This has posed sharply the question of what is socialism, how to achieve it and which class can build such a new society. While Chávez did not adopt the method of struggle advocated by Che Guevara which are discussed in this book, many issues related to it, especially the role of the working class, and the essential ingredient of a genuine system of democratic, accountability, control and management by the working class, are posed today in Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries if a real socialist society is to built.
The CWI welcomed the positive reforms which the Chávez government has introduced especially in health, education and food subsidies. We opposed the attempts by right-wing pro-capitalist counter revolutionaries to overthrow his government. Unfortunately, Chávez has attempted to impose his programme in a bureaucratic, top down, administrative manner. He has not taken the decisive steps needed to break with capitalism and landlordism through the nationalization of the major companies and introduction of a democratic centralized plan. The absence of a genuine system of democratic workers’ control and management has allowed a growing bureaucracy to develop which is increasingly corrupt, inefficient, and repressive in character. These are some of the issues which confronted Che Guevara following the victorious Cuban revolution in 1959/60, which unlike Venezuela, did result in the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism. These problems are also now emerging in Bolivia under the Presidency of Evo Morales and his MAS led government. These aspects of the debate around the methods adopted by Che Guevara and the consequences of them are thus extremely relevant for the struggle for democratic socialism today.
The Chinese revolution
Indeed for the new generation of Chinese youth and workers who are confronted with a brutally repressive, bureaucratic regime, which has embarked on the road of re-introducing capitalism, albeit in a controlled manner, with a strong element of state intervention and control in the economy, they are particularly important.
While there were very many crucial differences between the Chinese revolution in 1949 and the Cuban revolution just over a decade later there were also some features which they had in common. In neither was the working class, at the head of the revolution. In China there were important features of a peasant war and in Cuba a guerrilla struggle which won the support and sympathy of the peasants and of the urban population as Castro’s forces defeated Batista’s regime and entered the cities. The working class, because of its collective class conscious, forged in the work places and society, is the only force, with the support of poor peasants and others exploited by capitalism, that can build a real democratic socialist society. Unfortunately, this was not the class which was at the head of either the Chinese revolution in 1949 or Cuba 1959/60.
This does not mean that Marxists reject the role that the peasantry, especially the poorer peasants can play in the socialist revolution. In countries like China in 1949, where the working class and urban centres constitute a minority of the population, the conducting of a revolutionary war in the countryside and the formation of peasant armies can play an important but auxiliary role to the working class in the cities. This was clearly demonstrated in the example of the Russian revolution in 1917 which led to the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism and the establishment of a genuine system of workers democracy and a workers’ and poor peasants’ government. However, the failure of the revolution to spread and the isolation of Russian revolution eventually resulted in its’ degeneration and the emergence of a bureaucratic, repressive regime led by Stalin.
The Chinese Communist Party, headed by Mao Zedong, an incredible civil war and defeated the counter revolutionary forces of landlordism, capitalism and imperialism. But the main forces involved were the peasantry. The majority of the Chinese Communist Party took to this road of struggle following the defeat of the 1925-7 workers revolution. Although there are very important differences between the Chinese and Cuban regimes, like Castro in Cuba, Mao’s initial objective was not the overthrow of capitalism but to establish a period of “capitalist democracy and industrialisation” before embarking on building socialism. Mao supported the idea of a “block of four classes” – including the peasants, the urban petty bourgeoisie, the working class and the so-called patriotic capitalists. This was a version of the classic Stalinist “stages theory”.
However, once in power both Mao and Castro were driven by events to go much further and ended up snuffing out land- lordism and capitalism and establishing a state own centralised planned economy. There were important differences between Mao and Guevara and the features of the regimes established in both countries. Che Guevara never adopted the autocratic, cult of the personality that Mao readily embraced. Mao imported the “model” Stalinist state machine from Russia in the 1930’s and 1940’s rather than the one headed by Lenin 1917-24. Che Guevara, on the other hand, increasingly came into conflict with and was repulsed by the Stalinist apparatus – its ideas and methods – the closer he got to it during visits to Eastern Europe and the USSR and also his experiences in Cuba.
In both revolutions the defeat of landlordism and capitalism resulted in massive benefits for the masses. When the Chinese communist Party took power four fifths of the population was illiterate but by 1976 this was reduced to 10%. Life expectancy was increased from 35 years to 65 years in a 35 year period. The scale of this task, in a complex country like China, was immense and would have been impossible but for the centralised planned economy.
However, rather than a system of democratic workers’ control and management the peasant base of the revolution resulted in a bureaucratic, top down, repressive regime being imposed from the beginning. This was not the case in the Russian revolution, in October 1917 where a regime of workers’ democracy was established until the bureaucratic Stalinist regime emerged. Workers control and democracy are the life blood to the development of flourishing of the economy and society and the building of socialism. Its absence and the existence of a massive, corrupt, repressive, bureaucracy would eventually prevent the development of the economy and society. It would eventually strangle and suffocate the development of society both economically and culturally bringing ultimately the threat of capitalist restoration. While this was always the case the development of modern techniques in communication, computers, production techniques and the internet in modern economy make the question of democratic control of planning essential. Modern production techniques are too complex to be developed by an all powerful bureaucratic caste concentrating all decisions and power in its hands. The process of capitalist restoration is now unfolding in both China and Cuba – it began earlier in China. While a layer have gained during the economic expansion which has taken place in China, millions more remain in grinding poverty and suffering horrific exploitation. In Cuba the economic crisis which has gripped the country has resulted in a generalized decline in living standards and conditions.
Since this book was first published events in Cuba have also significantly changed especially following the retirement of Fidel Castro making way for his brother Raul. The Cuban revolution which resulted in the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism and the establishment of a centrally planned economy resulted in huge gains for the Cuban masses. Many of these gains, especially in the health sector and education remain and are supported with a sense of pride by the Cuban masses. Yet despite the initial popularity of the revolution from the beginning a genuine system of workers’ democracy and control was not established. This is developed in this book and in greater depth in ’Cuba – socialism and democracy’ written by Peter Taaffe in 2000. A bureaucratic regime was established from the outset whose economic policies frequently included wild zig- zags and twists and turns as well as mismanagement and corruption. This increasingly undermined the gains of the planned economy. It was however enormously compounded by, the collapse of the former Soviet Union and loss of subsidies that followed. This resulted in an economic disaster in Cuba. Between 1990 and 1993 Cuban GDP fell by 34%. During this period “special emergency” measures were adopted and introduced, led most enthusiastically by Raul Castro. These included a partial, controlled, opening up of the economy and introduction of a two tier currency which enormously widened the gap between rich and poor – those with access to US dollars and those who did not. While the economy was recentralized for a period, the growing economic stagnation and decline has now allowed Raul, to begin once again to open up sections of the economy. While capitalism has not been fully restored, important steps in that direction have been taken – especially in tourism and telecommunications. Raul Castro last year announced the decentralization of agriculture and the leasing of state land. The state run sector must be efficient he argued and added that the rest of the economy must “adapt to a form of property better suited to the resources available”.
Raul Castro is attempting follow the “Chinese road” towards capitalist restoration – controlled by the party elite and the maintenance of a large state sector. Added to these economic processes is the general feeling of discontent and opposition to the stifling effects of bureaucratic rule and its denial of democratic open debate and discussion. This is particularly the case for the younger generation who are opposed to the smothering, repressive denial of expression and debate. One of the main demands of the youth in Cuba is for free access to the internet which they see as an aspect of being able to obtain information and democratic discussion. The 400 million internet users in China are also involved in a struggle against the Chinese state’s attempt to restrict and control internet access. In the modern era the youth will simply not accept the stifling restrictions and denial of democratic rights imposed by a bureaucratic regime.
These processes in Cuba clearly pose the threat of a capitalist restoration. This is re-enforced by the beginning of a more relaxed policy by US imperialism and Obama who have taken some step towards relaxing the embargo which has existed since the revolution. Should this policy be developed further it raises the possibility of the Cuban economy being flooded with goods and investments from the capitalist west.
The absence of a genuine system of workers’ democracy in Cuba and crucially the spreading of the revolution to the rest of Latin America is the underlying reason that capitalism is now re-emerging in Cuba. While, as is explained in this book, Che Guevara, from the beginning of the revolution raised the need for internationalism and the spreading of the revolution, but he could not grasp in a rounded out way how this was to be achieved and by what class forces.
The existence of corrupt, bureaucratic regimes which ruled for decades in the name of “socialism” have also discredited the idea of genuine socialism in the minds of many workers and young people. Internationally this was re-enforced following the collapse of the bureaucratically planned economies and the capitalist restoration which followed in Eastern Europe and the USSR 1989/92. This has led to political confusion and posed the need to win support once again for the ideas of genuine socialism. The use of “socialist phraseology” by the regime in China to justify pro-capitalist policies is a further turn in this process which will inevitably give rise to political confusion. In China, like other countries it poses the need for Marxists today to re-conquer support for socialism as an alternative to capitalism and a central task is to explain what genuine socialism represents and how to achieve it. The experiences of previous revolutions, such as the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and also the great Russian Revolution of 1917, need to be learnt if support for socialism is to be re-conquered in the 21st century. This is a further reason why a study of these revolutions and the lessons drawn from Che Guevara’s struggle against capitalism and exploitation are relevant today.
Guerillaism and Maoism in Asia
At this stage in Latin America the ideas of guerrillaism have not re-emerged with the same support that they enjoyed in the past. This does not mean that it cannot re-emerge in some countries in the future if the working class and its organisations fail to offer an alternative. The desperate economic collapse which has devastated some countries and the social consequences this is having can mean that guerrilla organisations that base themselves on the peasantry or relatively small guerrilla armies can appear to offer an attraction if there is no alternative. In Peru for example the Sandero Luminoso which had been crushed in the 1990’s has recently begun to re-emerge although with far less support and ideologically further to the right than in the past.
However, in some Asian countries there has been a growth in support in Maoist organizations and insurgency – especially in Nepal and India and some other countries. Even in China, when the economy enters into a deeper crisis it is not excluded, especially in some rural areas, sections of the population could again take up the ideas of guerillaism, peasant warfare or “Maoism” as a means of fighting against their oppressors and exploitation. Indeed, Mao, for a layer has already emerged as a counter weight to the pro-capitalist policies of the current Chinese regime.
The recent experiences in Nepal bear out the analysis of the CWI and our approach to guerrillaism, peasant war and the stages theory which are usually linked together by the supporters of guerrilla struggle and peasant warfare as the primary means of struggle.
For more than a decade a peasant war in the countryside was waged by the PLA and CPN –M and conquered over 75% of the countryside. A country where 92 different languages are spoken and the population made up of 59% Hindus, 31% indigenous Janajatis and 5.5% and 4.3% Newars and Muslims, Nepal was one of the poorest countries in the world where only 15% of the population lived in urban centres.
Yet even here the working class was to play a the decisive role as the CWI anticipated in contrast to some others on the left who dismissed the potential of the working class in such countries. In March 2006 the Pakistani section of the CWI, Democratic Socialist Movement Pakistan, published the Urdu edition of this book on Che Guevara. In an introduction to that edition we argued that in Nepal the working class, although small in number had grown and was destined to play a crucial role. The percentage of the workforce working in manufacturing had grown from 1.1% in 1971 to 8.8% in 2006. Those employed in industries other than manufacturing had grown from 0.1% to 4.5%. Add to this those employed in the public sector and the working class was larger than in pre-revolutionary Russia -albeit in much smaller work places.
In April 2006 a massive general strike broke out. Many of the elements of a classical revolutionary situation existed. This movement eventually resulted in the Maoists emerging as the largest parliamentary force. However, rather than basing themselves on this movement and taking it forward to its ultimate conclusion and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government which would overthrow landlordism and capitalism they entered an interim government. They defended the Stalinist “stages” theory. Firstly, it argues it is necessary to establish a capitalist parliamentary democracy and develop the economy on a capitalist basis and only when this is achieved in the future move towards a socialist alternative.
Yet the experience of the Russian revolution demonstrated that the development of the economy, solution to the land question and the development of the society cannot in the modern epoch be achieved in countries like Nepal or the neo-colonial world by landlordism and capitalism. These tasks are linked together with the question of the socialist revolution and developing the revolution to other countries – in this case, countries like India, Pakistan and others in Asia. Through the establishment of a democratic socialist federation of these countries it would be possible to democratically plan and integrate the economies. On this basis it would be possible to develop the economies and societies and eliminate the grinding poverty and destitution which exists as a consequence of landlordism and capitalism and exploitation by the imperialist powers.
The failure of the “stages theory” is now being tragically demonstrated by events in Nepal. As a consequence of this policy Nepal remains in crisis and is currently stuck in a cul-de-sac. The Maoist Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and the United Communist Party of Nepal –Maoist, UCP-M, have resigned from the government, leaving a right-wing 20 plus party coalition in power. Any party of the left which joins a capitalist coalition will eventually have to choose between attacking the workers and the poor or being removed. The resignations followed the refusal of the President Ram Yadav, to dismiss the Nepalese army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal who had refused to incorporate the guerrilla forces into the standing army and who remains one of the former Royalist elite.
Following their entry into the “interim government” the Maoists saw some erosion of their support as the revolution failed to advance. They are now having to send some of their cadres back to the countryside to try and rebuild their support and are threatening to launch a further rural struggle having lost the opportunity to complete the revolution which broke out in 2006. In the rural areas some of their forces are now being subject to attack in areas like Tarai through the emergence of armed groups like the Tarai Liberation Front. This is partly in response to some of the methods used by the Maoists during the civil war and also their wrong approach towards dealing with some of the national groups like the Tarai peoples. The erosion of their support escalated following their entry into the “interim government”. The “stages theory” and methods used by the Maoists forces have taken the Nepalese struggle into a dead end. The on going social and political crisis however will certainly mean new social explosions can erupt again. Significantly, the consequences of the application these wrong ideas and methods have not been lost on even some of the Maoist leaders.
The Maoists guerrilla forces in India grouped around the Communist Party of India (Maoists) have also had some significant growth in recent years. This again emphasizes the importance of revolutionary Marxists adopting a correct attitude towards guerrilla struggle and peasant warfare today. The Nepalese Maoists have declared their support for the insurgency in India. In 2009 the Communist Party India (Maoists) temporarily took control of Lalgarth in West Bengal. Locally known as the Naxalites because of the uprising they led in the eastern region of Naxalbari in 1967, recent activities have including hijacking a train where 1,500 insurgents were mobilised with them.
Basing themselves on dispossessed tribals who have lost their land they have become a major cause of concern for the Indian government. The Indian Prime Minister regards them as, “ the single largest internal security threat” and has launch a major military campaign to try and crush them, ’Operation Green Hunt’ and has banned the Communist Party of India (Maoists) as a terrorist organisation.
While based on the tribal dispossessed they have built a base in the so-called “Maoist belt” covering the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgah, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. Much of the support they have won has been based on them opposing the intervention of mining conglomerates which are driving into these states and expelling the local tribal peoples. Marxists defend the right of these peoples to organize self- defence and protect themselves from attacks from the armed thugs of the mining companies and the state. We also advocate that the defence forces that are formed are under the control of democratically elected committees and also try to forge links and solidarity with other sections of the rural poor and the working class in the cities. The terrible potential consequences, of not linking up with a united struggle of the working class in the cities, have been seen recently in Sri Lanka, where it was one of the factors which led to the bloody defeat of the LTTE and the Tamil people.
While an estimated 74% of the Indian population lives in small villages of less than 10,000 people a large and potentially powerful working class also exists with hundreds of millions living in the urban centre. India has powerful traditions of workers struggle and organisations of the working class which still need to show a way forward. It is not an accident that one of the areas the CPI (Maoists) has built a certain influence is in West Bengal. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has ruled this state for decades. The policies of the CPI (Marxist) in this state have been pro-capitalist and neo-liberal and offered some of the best deals to foreign multi-national companies. They have also used there own thugs, for example in Nardigram to carry out brutal repression against the tribal peoples and others engaged in struggle as well as used the state forces to attacks those engaged in struggle. The vacuum created by the pro-capitalist policies of the CPI(M) has undoubtedly been an important factor enabling the Maoists to partly step into the vacuum and attract the support of some of the most down trodden and exploited in the rural areas.
Internationally, India, has recently been presented as a great success story because of its economic growth and the development of new-tech industries in cities such as Bangalore. However, despite the economic growth the vast majority of the Indian peoples are left in grinding poverty. According to the World Bank 41.6% of the Indian population live on less that US$1.25 a day and 75.6% live on less than US$2 per day.
The growth of the Maoists and the methods of struggle they are adopting arise from the desperate situation which faces the mass of the Indian population. It poses the need for the working class to develop an independent alternative linking together the struggles of the rural poor and tribal peoples. These developments in India, also illustrate the need for a debate and discussion about the methods of struggle needed to fight this growing exploitation and build a genuine socialist alternative. In this context a study of Guevara’s ideas and unfortunately the wrong conclusions he drew despite his honesty and determination to struggle at the time of the Cuban revolution is extremely relevant to the struggle unfolding today.
Hopefully, the translation of “Che Guevara – symbol of struggle”, together with other material on the Cuban revolution, and the revolutions in Russia, Spain and China will assist a new generation of Chinese workers and youth reach the conclusions necessary about how to advance the struggle to build a genuinely democratic socialist society in China and the whole of Asia.