The publication of this book is another important step forward in deepening into Che´s bibliography. This work also constitutes a very important contribution to the intellectual biography of Ernesto Che Guevara. María del Carmen Ariet has explained very well and very deeply the content of this “Apuntes” (Notes). We feel great happiness because, after waiting for decades, Che´s thinking has gradually emerged from darkness, and his sources have been put within our reach.
I thank Aleida March and María del Carmen—to Che Guevara Center of Studies—the opportunity they have given me to write the prologue to this book. Actually, rather than a prologue I did a brief introductory study, in which I intend to approach matters I consider to be critical in several levels: the general position of Che´s theoretical thinking, what it meant to himself, the conditioning he had and the formidable challenges he had to face in order to produce it, the functions his ideas had and, above all, the functions they can have. I should add that I preferred to express nothing about his thinking production processes, something that has a huge intellectual importance, but it would have meant to prolong my words too much. I won´t try to explain or synthesize my text here, I trust that you will have it too with the book. I only beg you not to act according to the habit—that can be healthy—of not reading prologues because their objective is to help the reading of the work, to suggest or incite, to arouse controversy and I wish that it also contributes to a debate that is so necessary in Cuba nowadays.
“Apuntes filosóficos” places us in front of a really big and complex group of problems. I will only note some brief comments that I´ll accompany with some fragments of the prologue.
First, there is the matter of distances that can exist between philosophers´ work and life, and the situation and concrete conflicts of their time. It is a serious mistake to underestimate the social importance that the work of philosophers can have, who have kept enough distance with their circumstances and have not got involved practically; history offers us a good number of examples in which those words influenced attitudes, motivations and events. But there is no doubt that remaining out or getting involved brings about consequences to thinkers, which can get to be big. Che is a paradigm of a militant thinker, to an extent that it is impossible to separate this theoretical thinking from his praxis and the situations he lived. It is not only about a relationship that is enunciated in a simple way with the theory- praxis peer. In his case, the thinking production itself has intellectual relations with what we could call praxis, and that is a characteristic of his theoretical conception. In my judgment, this helped him a lot as a thinker, though it took the time required to be so, and though finally his unlimited commitment to the revolutionary cause made him leave his theoretical elaboration unfinished.
Second, there are continuities in philosophy that make it possible to identify it—in general—as a specific intellectual perspective and as a discipline, but it also contains discontinuities. For example, the belief that “philosophy is the mother of all sciences” belongs to a specific time in the history of philosophy and has ideological functions in specific societies. The atemporal uses are not valid for knowledge, and they rather create confusion. The original Marxism and its time are connected to a very deep transformation of the philosophical side in the West, in close relation with the full development of Capitalism, sciences, and their professionalizing, and other fields. On the other hand, Marxism is never equal to itself: it has its history. In its existence in each noticeable period the recent thinking interrelates, in the process, with the accumulated cultural complex that the Marxist demands.
The tragedy that beat the great Bolshevistic Revolution, eighty years ago, caused, among other evils, a theoretical-ideological complex that was established in all the communist structures of the world, and in its influence areas. Within that complex, philosophy was biased, dogmatized and impoverished, at the same time that its codification was given a central place within Marxist thinking. In the Cuban conditions, the consequences of that fact prevail up to the present. Che was able to understand that evil; he faced it with determination and produced a very specific theoretical conception within Marxism.
Third, the Cuban socialist revolution of national liberation was the first anti-neocolonial revolution to succeed in the very core of the bourgeois West, against Cuba´s bourgeoisie and against the biggest and most developed imperialist power, owning the culture with more capacity to exercise its domination over the peoples, and having just recently reached the peak of its world power. At the same time, Cuba had an extraordinarily rich and complex political and ideological history, much more developed than its economic structuring. The Cuban Revolution faced, since the beginning, immense challenges, for the lack of balance between the means it counted on and the death or life tasks that it faced, first, and the formidable changes and the ambitious society project that it began immediately. One of those challenges was Marxism, because it was necessary for it to become one of the main instruments of the intellectual and moral advancement, that it concurred to the prevailing of the indispensable subjective factor for the Cuban process, that it was a socialist and communist lever. But the Marxism prevailing at that moment was a theoretical ideology of obeying, classifying and legitimizing.
Always together with Fidel and in close and absolute ideological and political community with him, Che faced that challenge in a remarkable way, because he was able to appropriate its essential elements; he knew what was at stake for the process regarding ideology and social thinking, and he had intellectual qualities to carry out that task.
Fourth, what is and where can we find Che´s philosophy? As I noted before, from Marx on, there has been a history of the philosophic thinking of Marxists—through different trends that have coexisted and held controversy—and a history, also of more than one and a half centuries of production of other philosophic thinking, with the consequent conflicts of ideas, contrasting, relations and influences. We should start from that total to inquire about the need of philosophy and to ask questions about philosophy. Instead of practicing rites and classifications, exorcising reading and distributing prizes and punishments, it is necessary to ask questions like: what Marxist philosophy? and: what is philosophy for a Marxist?
Ernesto Che Guevara, one of the really relevant and transcendent thinkers of the 20th century, explored that way at the same time he carried out the formidable amount of tasks that made him reach deserved fame. Actually, he was producing Marxist theory from the moment of the revolutionary triumph, from very natural starting points for a Marxist: the analysis of politics, the economy, ideologies and theories, their content, their methods and instruments, their conditioning and the conflicts in which they take part. That makes it convenient to explain that a large part of his propositions and theoretical positions are within those written and oral products—children of meditation and circumstances—and it is in them that they must be looked for. It is a group of written structured expositions, speeches, recorded discussions, comments to the texts of the thinkers he studied. This is the group of the sources in which we can find the thinker and philosopher Che.
In these “Apuntes filosoficos” we can pursue and find an important part of Che´s avatars and philosophic and theoretical products. In the prologue, I point out some clarifications about his position, his Marxist philosophy of the praxis, a conception that is displayed in positive exhibitions as well as in debate with other facets of thinking.
Fifth, there is Che´s thinking in the period from April 1965 to his death in Bolivia, when he was already a mature thinker, who has elaborated fundamental aspects of his thesis and position. In those two and a half years, Che carries out extraordinary and very ambitious tasks in the practical field and in intellectual work. Guevara has absolute awareness of what he is doing, of the critical importance of his gesture and what he can achieve with his activity for the development of the revolution in Latin America and the world, and of his role as an individual and as a historic figure.
Che devotes his efforts to two main tasks: to fight with weapons to widen the field of the liberation and socialist revolution in the world; and to give an impulse to Marxist revolutionary thinking through criticism and analysis, so that it is able to fulfill its tasks. Those two enterprises are not alien to each other: thinking and action are forced to march together in every revolution that intends to be really liberating.
The compiler did very good work by escaping the chronological order and placing at the beginning the letter Che wrote to comrade Armando Hart—only thirteen days after starting for the tremendous experience of Congo—a personal document, very important in the history of ideas in the contemporary Cuba. There are, fully expressed, the nature and the scope of his revolutionary intellectual task.
Sixth, the teachings offered to us by Ernesto and Che in separate ways. Above all, he invites us to abominate that very common mistake of portraying great figures as if they had been great since they were children, a mistake that shows them as hollow and at the same time distances them from young people. “Apuntes...” allows us to ask the question, why this self-taught intellectual didn´t join those who repeated the dogma or submitted to the “line”. I think that this book shows us several of the factors that helped him. The group of works that you will see in the pieces published here, and their extreme diversity, throws light on the very vast information that he acquired, and his comments allow us to verify that he had an active thinking position and was able to ask questions on that torrent of ideas and works. That is a very efficient vaccine against dogmatism, which feeds its success with ignorance and simple notions.
On the other hand, Ernesto assumes a belligerent anti imperialism that will never abandon him, and he welds it accurately to anti-capitalism and to an intransigent anti-colonialism. This full identification of the enemies of humble persons and of the peoples of the Third World, still lacking practical experiences, allows him to take a stance alien to the Euro centric position in its colonizing “left” variety, and to advance in his understanding of socialism, nationalism, their combinations and conflicts, and the political and ideological children of the time he is living. The decisive aspect will be, however, that Ernesto is looking for a revolutionary cause with which he could commit his entire being, his body included, and not only the thinking, while the abstract formulations against capitalism and imperialism that he reads or listens to are not concreted in plans of political revolutionary movements. The final lesson of this first part of his intellectual life will be in the replacement of the notebook by the rifle, in the Granma Ship and the Cuban revolutionary war.
There was no quality of himself that Che didn´t want to share with others. Since the days of that war, he provides his comrades with what he knows—at the same time that he lives in a state of permanent learning—and incites and presses them to never be satisfied with what they know, to ask, to think and to express their opinions. From the revolutionary triumph in 1959 to his departure to Bolivia, he was restless and methodical in his campaign to divulge the most revolutionary ideas among the people and the most diverse collectives, and of political, technical and theoretical training of those who it was necessary to turn into real revolutionary leaders. About theoretical matters, he provided innumerable explanations to his comrades in the work meetings, the exchanges or the activities organized with that purpose, or he showed them the positive implications that theory could have in the practices that filled their lives. He recommended readings, demanding studying and stimulated others with his prestige. In the days of Bolivia, the reader of Hegel was an organizer and teacher of the different teaching levels that the fighters received, of the cultural and ideological education, and he even taught French night classes to volunteers. He was that way to the end.
I end with a call by Che to today´s Cubans. This book that contains a wide selection he made of passages of works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and other Marxists, and a set of highly valuable comments made by him, can be a link for a recovery of Marxism that, in my judgment, is indispensable to our country in its crucial present situation. In 1965, Che wrote that Cuba deserved it, today we need it imperiously. We have a huge number of factors of immense value in order not to lose the fairer and freer society that we have created with so much effort, sacrifice and heroism, and to defend it in the only efficient way, which is by appealing to the extraordinary capacities and to the socialist conscience of the workers and the people. That is the greatest wealth that Cuba can count on. Among those values that we have is Ernesto Che Guevara, who invites us from these pages to appropriate his thinking, and to use it.
(1) Words pronounced during the launching of the book Ernesto Che Guevara: Apuntes filosóficos, compiled by María del Carmen Ariet García, Che Guevara Studies Center/Ocean Sur, Mexico, 2012. International Press Center, Havana, June 14, 2012. That book is part of a series that the editors publish with the objective of divulging Che´s thinking and work.
(Translation: Yusimí Rodŕguez - Cubarte)
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