London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is currently hosting a major exhibition that deals with Ghe Guevara as revolutionary and icon . As expected there have already been numerous reviews including this one in today’s Observer.
Alberto Korda’s 1960 photograph, Guerrillero Heroico, became an icon for revolutionary youth after Guevara’s death in Bolivia in 1967 finding its way on to t shirts, posters and badges and becoming at once a testament to a martyr and a symbol of hope for the future - an apotheosis if you will. Ever since, his deeds have been romanticized by leftist hagiographers. Even this week George Galloway writes the following in this week’s New Statesman:
“In his life, he set a model of the self-sacrifice that he held central to the creation of a new society.. He could have remained a revered leader of the revolution, facing the arduous task of constructing a society in the face of US aggression. Che chose instead to return to the perils of guerrilla life…And that, surely, explains why there is a resurgence of interest in, and affection for, Che. It is a manifestation of this renewed stirring of revolt - another generation standing up to imperialist savagery, articulating fresh hopes for a world of equality and justice. I hope these young people find in him what I do - that rarest of things: an inexhaustible source of inspiration, someone who did not simply theorise social change, but actually brought it about.”
Fine words indeed had Che been a success. However, his incompetence as President of the National Bank of Cuba and Minister of Industries and the abject failure of his activities in the Congo and Bolivia paint a very different picture.
It is therefore quite ironic that such an implacable enemy of capitalism has been transformed into a shill for any tawdry product you can imagine: In Spain he is emblazoned on a cigarette packet, in Mexico on a textured condom. In Australia his face is used to sell a brand of choc ice called Cherry Guevara. A cherry replaces his beret's star and a caption on the wrapper proclaims: 'The revolutionary struggle of the cherries was squashed as they were trapped between two layers of chocolate.'
The Korda image of Che is Christ-like. Perhaps this is why the British Church Action Network used a pastiche of the baby Jesus in a Guevara pose to try and dispel the image of Jesus as a “wimp in a white nigthie”
Guevara was pretty much a failure as a revolutionary but he has left a powerful image as his legacy. Despite what George Galloway and his like might have to say its greatest strength now seems to be as an advertising brand rather than as a beacon for revolution… Oh the irony!