[Marxism] Che Guevara and the Missile Crisis (question)

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Fri Nov 17 10:20:18 MST 2006

Jon Baranov writes:

   "Does anyone know what exactly Che's position was on the missile crisis"?

On the socalled missile crisis:

"I have lived through magnificent days and at your side I felt the pride of
belonging to our people in the luminous and sad days of the Caribbean
Crisis. Rarely has any statesman shone more brilliantly than you did in
those days. I feel pride, too, in having followed you without hesitation,
identifying myself with your way of thinking and seeing and of judging
dangers and motives." 

(Che's letter to Fidel, full text here:
http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/cheltr.htm )

I don't know where you got the story about the Daily Worker interview. That
interview does not appear in the 9-volume "Speeches and Writings" collection
published in Cuba in 1979. I've heard about it repeatedly over the years
from the gusanos, but I've never been able to find the actual interview
reprinted anywhere. 

The actual source of the quotes attributed to Che appears to be a Time
magazine Dec. 21, 1962, article which says: 

"What is more, said Che, 'if the rockets had remained, we would have used
them all and directed them against the very heart of the U.S., including New
York, in our defense against aggression. But we haven't got them, so we
shall fight with what we've got.'

"Guevara's more bellicose remarks were blue-penciled out by the Worker's
London editors—Moscow has decreed a softer line these days. Che, among other
things, told the Worker correspondent: 'We know that some people in Europe
are saying that a great victory has been won. We ask whether in exchange for
some slight gain we have only prolonged the agony. So far, all that has
happened is that a confrontation has been avoided.'"

Time's report suggests that the first statement it attributes to Che about
using the missiles was never printed by the Daily Worker. Since the magazine
report is contemporaneous with the interview, this means that the source was
an imperialist intelligence agency, all the more likely since Time was at
the time the all-but-official mouthpiece of the CIA under the leadership of
its rabidly anticommunist editor-in-chief Henry R. Luce.

But even if printed by the Wortker or revealed by the interviewer, the
statements attributed to Che about the missiles are highly unlikely. 

First, the Soviets not only had medium range nuclear missiles in Cuba, they
also had short-range tactical nukes and the commander of the Sovet army
forces stationed in Cuba had instructions and authorization to use them to
prevent a takeover of Cuba and especially the capture of the strategic
missiles. Since the missile site would have been the #1 imperialist target,
a U.S. invasion of Cuba would have detonated a nuclear war without Cuba
needing to launch missiles.

Second, the missiles were never under Cuban command. Nor did Cuba have under
its command people who could operate them. Nor did Cuba ask or demand of the
Soviets that they be placed under Cuban command. 

The missiles were a strategic counterbalance to the ring of nuclear missile
bases that the U.S. had deployed around the USSR. The Soviets, despite their
lead in rocketry, did not have at the beginning of the 1960's a reliable way
of retailiating against the United States in case of imperialist nuclear
attack, because ICBM's were just being developed. The missiles in Cuba gave
them a credible deterrent. That's why Fidel in giving Cuba's agreement to
deployment of the missiles advocated it be announced and done publicly, the
whole point was that the imperialists should know that they could not attack
the socialist camp with impunity.

Che knew all this. He had to know about the detailed arrangements for the
Soviet forces and their weaponry both because of his central role in the
revolutionary leadership and because he was in command of one of the Cuban
armies defending the island. And knowing this, his alleged comments sound
more like a childish temper tantrum than the considered statement of a
serious political/military leader. 

He also would know that anything he said to the London Daily Worker, even if
supposedly in confidence, would be reported to the Kremlin. One can
speculate that he *may* have said something like that if the U.S. invaded
Cuba, Cuba would have been for *the Soviets* using the missiles, but the
statement making it seem like Cuba would unilaterally use the missiles is so
absurd that it discredits the entire tale.

As it turned out, the CIA and the imperialists had talked themselves into
imagining a much greater Soviet nuclear missile and bomber capacity than
existed. The evidence suggests that both the Soviets and the Cubans believed
at the time that the imperialist claims about Soviet nuclear capabilities
were just propaganda, and that the U.S. intelligence agencies actually had
an accurate picture of their very limited capabilities. That wasn't the

This is partly why the Kennedy Administration reacted the way it did.
"Knowing" that the USSR could devastate the U.S. with bombers and missiles
launched from the USSR, Kennedy and his advisors believed the Soviets were
trying to develop a capacity for a pre-emptive attack, one that would hit
the U.S. and destroy much of the U.S. retaliatory capacity before the U.S.
could launch its own missiles and bombers. That is the ostensible reason why
for many years the U.S. kept squads of B-52 strategic bombers armed with
nukes constantly in the air.

And, at any ratew, in the early 1960's the USSR was making tremensous
strides in technology and was already deploying an ICBM force that made the
stationing of missiles in Cuba unnecessary from the point of view of a
nuclear strategic balance and deterrence.

But note also that, contrary to the gusano and anticommunist legend about a
pre-emptive strike, he is supposed to have said, "we would have used them
... in our defense against aggression." But, again, the missiles were not
Cuba's to use any more than the U.S. missiles in Turkey were under the
control of that government. Everyone knew that and understood it. Only the
rabid anticommunism of the Luce press allowed statements like that
attributed to Che be printed.

That people like John Lee Anderson keep repeating the alleged statements
attributed to Che says more about these scribblers, thier intelligence and
honesty, than it does about Che.

*  *  *

"Did Che actually advocate that the USSR pursue a more confronational
military/nuclear policy?"

Che advocated that BOTH the Chinese and the Soviets follow a militantly
anti-imperialist policy. Of all the things he said and wrote, perhaps the
most famous is his message to the Tricontinental, where he lays this out in
some detail:

"Almost two years ago the United States started bombing systematically the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in yet another attempt to overcome the
belligerance [sicj of the South and impose, from a position of strength, a
meeting at the conference table. At first, the bombardments were more or
less isolated occurrences and were adorned with the mask of reprisals for
alleged provocations from the North. Later on, as they increased in
intensity and regularity, they became one gigantic attack carried out by the
air force of the United States, day after day, for the purpose of destroying
all vestiges of civilization in the Northern zone of the country. This is an
episode of the infamously notorious "escalation". 

"The material aspirations of the Yankee world have been fulfilled to a great
extent, regardless of the unflinching defense of the Vietnamese
anti-aircraft artillery, of the numerous planes shot down (over 1,700) and
of the socialist countries aid in war supplies. 

"There is a sad reality: Vietnam — a nation representing the aspirations,
the hopes of a whole world of forgotten peoples — is tragically alone. This
nation must endure the furious attacks of U.S. technology, with practically
no possibility of reprisals in the South and only some of defense in the
North — but always alone. 

"The solidarity of all progressive forces of the world towards the people of
Vietnam today is similar to the bitter irony of the plebeians coaxing on the
gladiators in the Roman arena. It is not a matter of wishing success to the
victim of aggression, but of sharing his fate; one must accompany him to his
death or to victory. 

"When we analyze the lonely situation of the Vietnamese people, we are
overcome by anguish at this illogical moment of humanity. 

"U.S. imperialism is guilty of aggression — its crimes are enormous and
cover the whole world. We already know all that, gentlemen! But this guilt
also applies to those who, when the time came for a definition, hesitated to
make Vietnam an inviolable part of the socialist world; running, of course,
the risks of a war on a global scale-but also forcing a decision upon
imperialism. And the guilt also applies to those who maintain a war of abuse
and snares — started quite some time ago by the representatives of the two
greatest powers of the socialist camp. 

"We must ask ourselves, seeking an honest answer: is Vietnam isolated, or is
it not? Is it not maintaining a dangerous equilibrium between the two
quarrelling powers? 

"And what great people these are! What stoicism and courage! And what a
lesson for the world is contained in this struggle!"

It is a mistake to view Che's statements as being about "military/nuclear"
policy. Military operations --war-- is the continuation of politics by other
means, and he was advocating a POLITICAL stance of complete intransigence in
opposition to the imperialist aggression. How to translate that into
military strategy and operations is a complicated discussion that he did not
take up publicly. He took up the POLITICS of the situation.

In Korea, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops as well as Soviet
advisors, aircraft and pilots took part in the conflict. The specifics of
military options and operations, and their repercussions, would need to have
been examined in the Vietnamese case. But the plain fact is that the
"socialist bloc" allowed North Vietnam to be savagely attacked while doling
out aid with an eyedropper.

We know from the Pentagon papers and other inside accounts of the U.S.
deliberations during the Vietnam War that a central consideration in all
major escalations was how far the U.S. could go with its aggression without
being met with a major Soviet response. Indeed, that is the reason why the
war slowly escalated over a period of years, as the U.S. tested Soviet and
Chinese forbearance. And each time, each new escalation of the American
aggression was met with, at most, a press release from Moscow and Peking,
and sometimes not even that. 

Vietnam eventually won, but at a tremendous cost of millions of lives and a
nation devastated by war.

How Cuba applied Che's doctrinne of militant internationalism against
imperialist aggression was shown by the wars in southern Africa that Cuban
volunteers fought in for 15 years from the mid-1970's. Again, the question
isn't one of "sending troops" or "sending planes" because each military
situation, the tactics, strategy and operational plans, have to be examined
concretely and in context. But there is no doubt that the Cuba-Guevara
approach was as day is to night compared to that of the Soviets and the

In the 1980's, we saw the same pattern repeated in Nicaragua. The
Sandinistas could easily have defeated the U.S.-sponsored contra rebels with
just a little more aid --specifically, troop transport helicopters to give
Sandinista forces mobility in cutting of forces operating in jungle and
mountainous terrain from secure bases in Honduras, and jet fighters to
interdict the contra air-supply operation. This aid was promised, even the
fighter  pilots were trained and a military airport built, but the Soviets
capitulated to imperialist pressure and did not provide planes for the
pilots nor the additional helicopters needed. 

Nor did the USSR and its Eastern European allies provide the pittance of
material and economic aid it would have taken to keep the country from
falling into economic chaos and ruin as a result of the war. 

*  *  *

There is a substantial campaign to discredit Che because of the power of his
ideas and his example. 

If you want to know what Che Guevara really said and thought, read Che's
speeches and writings, and become familiar with their historical context.
There is a significant collection online at the Marxist Internet Archive as
well as many books available. That is far better than relying on the
interpretations of biographers.


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