Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why Che Guevara Matters

When Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia in 1967, he left behind him a communist regime in Cuba, a revolutionary legacy and a bodycount in the hundreds.

Guevara's revolutionary legacy is what he's remembered best for. All too often, this legacy overshadows his historical misdeeds. The muderous and oppressive nature of the Cuban regime can be attributed as much to Guevara's influence as to Fidel Castro himself.

Yet since his death it's become apparent that Guevara's efforts have ultimately ended in failure. Communism never really took root in Bolivia. The Cuban regime has continually declined since taking power, but especially since the severing of its clintelist relationship with the now-defunct Soviet Union.

Yet, 42 years after his capture and death, Che Guevara still matters. The important question is: why?

Those who casually observed the (actually decreasing) prevalence of Che Guevara T-shirts on university campuses and counter-cultural venues would think that Guevara is merely a fashion icon.

To a certain extent, they're right.

Many of those who can be seen wearing these garments likely don't even know who Guevara was, let alone do they know about the things he did or what he stood for.

But for those who are aware of these facts, Che Guevara continues to matter, and continues to matter for extremely important reasons.

The fact is that Che Guevara is something of a political flashpoint. The debate over his iconography is fierce and combustive.

Progressives all too often embrace his image and legacy without informing themselves about what Guevara did, what he really stood for, and using their critical thinking skills to decide that perhaps Guevara isn't a figure they'd like to be associated with. Many progressives embrace his image without ever realizing that he actually stands for everything that a legitimate progressive should stand against.

Likewise, many conservatives fail to recognize the number of progressives who recognize Guevera for precisely what he was and reject him for it. As such, many conservatives use Guevara's iconography as an opportunity to denounce the progressive movement as a whole, as many did when they point to Barack Obama's campaign team's naive display of a Che poster in their office.

The debate over Guevara also provides a coherent link between the War on Terror era old the Cold War-era contentions between conservatives and progressives. Guevera can safely be villified in either era -- during the Cold War era as a communist, and during the ongoing War on Terror era as a terrorist.

It certainly helps that Guevara's actions have spoken for themselves. For those familiar with the real Che Guevara, his own actions have accomplished the act of villifying him.

But until each sides of the ideological divide acquaint themselves with the real Guevara, and recognize what Guevera truly means to each side of this divide, Guevara matters, and will continue to matter.

With any amount of good fortune, someday soon he'll matter no longer.

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