2 che questions

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 12 08:32:23 MDT 2003

Ed C. wrote:
> Hi folks:
> 1)  What's the best biography of Che--the Anderson? 

Che Guevara: a Revolutionary Life

By Jon Lee Anderson Grove Press, 1997, 814 pages

In both its monumental size and the depth of its research, Jon Lee 
Anderson's biography of Che Guevara appears definitive. Elegantly 
written and psychologically perceptive, it would reward anybody with 
even a superficial interest in Guevara. Unfortunately what it lacks is 
an informed Marxist point of view that in the final analysis leaves the 
subject something of a mystery, especially the circumstances of his 
tragic death. This review will cover both the assets and the weaknesses 
of the book as well as point in the direction of much-needed Marxist 
research into the career of Che Guevara.

Guevara's Argentine parents can best be described as déclassé gentry, 
who developed a threadbare aristocratic life-style tinged with 
bohemianism that strongly influenced Che's personal development. One is 
reminded of the stubborn desire to maintain appearances found in the 
fallen southern aristocrats in Tennessee Williams's plays, especially 
Che's mother Celia, whose romanticism and independent spirit was his 
greatest influence.

Of Irish lineage, Ernesto Guevara Lynch tried one business venture or 
another before settling into construction. Using his wife's money, he 
made his first quixotic stab at success in 1927 with a 'yerba mate' 
plantation along the Río Paraná. Yerba mate is a plant whose stimulating 
properties yield a beverage that is as much of a staple in Argentine 
society as tea is in England. Che favored this drink throughout his 
life, even after he had taken up residence in revolutionary Cuba.

This plantation was no paradise either for the workers or the Guevara 
family. Yerba plantations and logging camps often depended on debt 
peonage. They typically drew upon itinerant Guaraní Indians called 
'mensu' who were given binding contracts and cash advances against 
future work, the same fate that often awaited indigenous peoples or 
Mestizos north to Mexico. While agrarian capitalism in Great Britain 
might have been characterized by wage labor, in Latin America unfree 
labor was the norm. Armed plantation guards called 'capangas' kept watch 
over peons to make sure none would escape. If one finally did, the local 
cops would return them to captivity. Anderson notes that Guevara Lynch 
was not the typical plantation boss: "Horrified at the stories he heard, 
he paid his workers in cash."

Born in 1928, the infant Che was the target of ravenous insects that 
infested the Caraguataí region. Every night, while he slept in his crib, 
his father or the Paraguayan foreman would use the burning tip of a 
cigarette to dislodge "the day's harvest of chiggers burrowed into the 
infant's flesh."

In both the carefully observed detail about the social conditions on 
Argentina's plantations and the personal lives of the Guevara Lynch 
family, one sees Anderson at his best. It helps us not only understand 
the harsh realities of Latin American society, but the way in which they 
impinged on a family that was both typical and atypical.



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