11 June 2006

Cum the Revolution? Guevara as condom salesman

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!


? said...

Jams, this is excellent.

"...As an advertising brand rather than as a beacon for evolution...", such a great man was never destined to be forgotton.

The following is what I will continue to say of him.

His reported last words say it all…"Shoot, coward, you're only going to kill a man". We can only hope others will continue to follow in his footsteps to conquer tyranny and oppression so evident in the world today.

An icon of socialist revolutionary movements worldwide, he is no less than legendary. In today’s ravaged world of economic and social inequality, his quest to pursue the emancipation of the poor was cut short when he was excuted without trial.

Thanks for this post.

Agnes said...


Check out the dionysusumeployed blog, they have a good article on the same topic. A pity is in pdf.

As for me, beware the T-shirt icons.

Obokun, I prefer Ken Saro-Wiwa to him, sorry. Those less iconic people contributed to the deeper changes.

elasticwaistbandlady said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
elasticwaistbandlady said...

The title alone propelled me to comment. Freakin brilliant and funny, Jams!

My favorite is the clueless young parents dressing their babies in designer onesies and T-shirts with Che's picture on it. Do they even know about his misdeeds, or is the pull of pop culture just to strong to use common sense?

I'm not sure why he was so revered, I consider him a drug addicted murderous oaf who associated himself with the wrong people(Mao Tse Dung. Hello?) and the wrong ideas, and got killed for it. Nothing special about that. It's long been speculated that Fidel himself had a hand in the assassination. No honor among thieves or "revolutionary thugs", apparently.

jams o donnell said...

Obokun to be honest I don't think the real che comes close to the idealised version. Perhaps that is the point of icons: they are frozen in time and cannot disappoint take James Dean, for example, would he be the poster icon if he had lived to become a bloated parody a la Marlon Brando?

As a revolutionary and an administrator he was pretty much a failure. As Redwine quite rightly points out there are people who deserve adultation who go unsung or, if not unsung they do not sit in the progressive consciousness.

jams o donnell said...

Good example Redwine. I would also add the women of the Plaza de Mayo and Meena of RAWA as other worthy examples

? said...

Redwine, elastiwaistebandlady and Jams, too true!

But still we got to give Che credit, its a pity Nigeria's Ken will never achieve the same legendary status despite his great worth

Plus also we are relying on what was written about the guy, despite reported failures he nevertheless achieved much.

Let us not forget, we have to understand the perspective of the writer, bias is rife in terms of its motives.

Perhaps you can enlighten me to his apparent misdeeds, elasticwaistbandlady can u help?

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Yeah, about that. I tend to stay away from throwing adoration on people who assassinate those who vocalize opposition to them and their plans for a Communist regime change. Anyone who dared speak out against Fidel and his coup, were silenced via Che. How apropos that he then found his fate in a Bolivian jungle, hunted down like a rabid animal. I find it surprising that anyone who enjoys free speech, and criticizing government, would glorify a less than luminary figure like Che.

Children shouldn't be dragged into this vitriol by their half wit parents either. The only Che merchandise I would purchase and wear would be pants featuring his detestable visage on the ass.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Oh, and by all accounts, Che was such a screwup, that Fidel purposely sent him to Bolivia to get him out of Cuba. Nothing but a drug addled follower and mercenary.

This moment in history brought to you by a very conservative American.

Jams, I do appreciate not being burned at the stake for my dissenting opinion like at Further Left Forum. Very refreshing to find a leftist who truly embraces, "tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness", instead of just preaching it.

jams o donnell said...

Obokun, I agree that picking out the truth can be difficult. on one hand you have the hagiographers who treat che's life as if he was a saint. On the other hand you have those who wish to smear him.

Picking the various strands apart it seems he was initially an unreconstructed stalinist who then became a Maoist after an ideological break with teh Soviet Union.

He who was ruthless in the way he treated the guerillas under his command during the revolution. Not unusual? perhaps not

After the revolution he was appointed commander of La Cabana fortress and oversaw numerous executions, not only of functionaries of the Battista regime but also of anti-Battista rivals opponents. One quote that is attributed to him which if true shows a much darker side:

"To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary...These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."

In his position as Minister for Industries he contributed to the collapse of the sugar industry.

After he left Cuba he went first to the Congo and then to Bolivia. The utter failure of these adventures is in part down to his shortcomings as a guerilla leader.

At the end of the day, the reality is superceded by the myth. Had he lived to old age there would be no cult of Che

jams o donnell said...

Elasticwaistbandlady in my view there are far better figures to act as an inspiration agaist injustice. Ken Saro Wiwa who was executed in Nigeria 10 years ago is worth looking at as are:

the Women of the Plaza de Mayo who protested the disapppearance of their loved ones in Argentina;

the Rosenstrasse women who faced down the Reich and save their jewish husbands from the gas chambers;

the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan who have campaigned for justice for the women in that country for over 20 years despite appalling repression.

I am repeating an earlier post I know but I do feel very strongly about this issue. I find the way that many fellow leftists lionise tyrants an utter disgrce. Those people are no better than the right wing scum that worship Hitler.

jams o donnell said...

with regard to your seconf post. I am not sure Castro was actually complicit in Guevara's demise. That said it seems that there was a fair bit of tension between them before Guevara left Cuba.

Concervative, centrist, liberal radical, at the end of the day there are many ties that bind us all. Scratch beneath the surface and you will almost certainly find that the vast vast majority of people have pretty much the same desires whoever and wherever they are.

That said I have my limits to tolerance. Watch the fluffy liberal bare his teeth if a neonazi poked his or her head here! As for ThrutherLeft that is a whole different story for another day!

? said...

Thanks elasticwaistbandlady. Also thanks Jams.

Your comments are very much appreciated and am interested to know more.

Can you please direct me to the relevant written material from which you quote.

One can only learn from others knowledge and this will make very interesting reading material.

Perhaps a post on the real Che Guevara would prompt wider readership and comments for example, there are clearly many who view him as an icon. He is potrayed as a figure head of many mordern struggles. Let those of us who doubt his apparent legendary status bring out this truth.

Agnes said...

Once I met a guy. He worshipped Honecker. (He never set foot in Germany, of course, he was 100% American). That was quite an original idea, because, I think, no one else loved the poor Oestern dearleader.

AS for Che's last words, that reminds me of Maiakovsky's last words before his suicide "Comrades, don't shooot!"

jams o donnell said...

There are plenty of good sources on the internet Obokun but it is hard to find things that are truly objective.

Che Guevara a Revolutionary Life by John Lee Anderson seems to be praised for its objectivity so that could be a good start

jams o donnell said...

Poor Honecker, not even his mother loved him?? I am sure that the american's love was one from afar. Close up it might have been naked passion!!!

? said...

Red wine you are funny...lol

Thanks Jams

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Well, truth be told, back in the day, Fidel and Che were smokin hot. I wonder how many hearts and minds are captured because simply due to the eye candy effect?

A recent poll found that there are women who are madly in love with Saddam Hussein. Even my Mom thinks he looks pretty good in his white undies. Maybe, it's that whole sex and power thing.

obokun, I stray towards conservative publications. My opinion of Che is based on cumulative works and exposure to talk radio, in addition to my Cuban neighbors and their family who fled Cuba.

? said...


Well I can certainly see the point with che but saddam hussein in white undies, is a bit scary!

I have to say its still pretty difficult to get an objective account re: Jams reference Che Guevara a Revolutionary Life by John Lee Anderson.

But I think you may be right. Personal life experiences count for a lot.