Top critical review
Principles of guerrilla warfare
on August 16, 2001
Part theoretical treatise, part manual for guerilla tactics and strategy, Che Guevara, in his thesis, attempts to provide a formula for the creation and of a small, armed and disciplined guerrilla band which, he believes, would be capable of overthrowing a large organised army. The book is animated by an impassioned desire to whip up a hemispheric socialist revolution in the aftermath of his succesful invasion of Cuba in 1956, in which he, along with Fidel Castro, among others, set the stage for the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship. Guevara discusses the qualities needed by the successful guerrilla warrior, the organisation of the guerrilla band, the methods of indoctrination and training and the tactics that should be employed to guarantee the defeat of large disciplined forces. He stresses the mobility of the guerrilla band, which is a major geographical advantage over large government armies, who are limited to a relatively stationary position due to their bulk. While the enemy loses weapons, the guerrillas retrieve them, thus gaining strength by virtue of the enemy's weakness. He draws attention to the fact that, owing to their increased mobility and flexibility, the guerrillas can remain hidden, while the enemy has no option but to remain exposed. These are precepts of solid value, culled out from Guevara's own experience as organiser of a guerrilla force. His boldest theoretical claim, however, which may be called Marxist-Leninist in its orientation, is the belief that a socialist society can be realised by the peasants, Indians and rural proletariat of Latin America without any of the economic conditions that, as orthodox Marxists insist, are essential for a successful revolution against capitalism. The guerrilla forces, as such, become the vanguard of the revolution. His emphasis on the will, instincts, popular support (and, in a way that was ahead of his time, ethnic consciousness) as the key factors in causing a revolution goes against the tenor of previous Latin American brands of communism, which were more gradualist in character, in seeing that a sufficient economic and industrial base must be in place for any revolution to succeed. The defeatism of various Marxist theoreticians of the time leads Guevara to become increasingly virulent, not only against them, but against American imperialism. In his "Address to the Tricontinental" he condemns American imperialism and insists on causing "two, three, or many Vietnams" in the hope of driving a stake through the heart of American imperialism. However, Che Guevara's voluntarist practice and his theory of internationalist revolution have come to be seen as hopelessly outdated. His "foco" theory of guerrilla warfare has been overtaken by events, after it had disastrously failed to be applied in several Latin American countries. Guevara himself lost his life in 1967, after a failed guerrilla uprising in Bolivia, in which he attempted to put his theory into practice. Another weakness was that Guevara had generalised a very unique experience, -- the invasion of Cuba, -- into a normative standard for any successful insurrection. To many in the present generation, the idea of revolution has itself come to be seen as a dead-end or, at worst, a joke. Nevertheless, Che's life, a shining spark in the era of protest, violence, idealism and revolution, serves as a lesson in when to revolt, in how to refuse to be treated as an outcast and a servant, and in how dedicated a man can be in his struggle against the unjust social order that tyrannically oppresses its most disadvantaged members. It was not Cohn-Bendit, but Che Guevara whom Jean-Paul Sartre called "the most complete man of his time" in his selfless dedication, his courage, his vision and in the Christ-like sacrifice of his own life for the poor and downtrodden in whom he believed.