Saturday, March 11, 2006

Review: Che and Cuba

Last summer, I bought a copy of Mike Gonzalez's excellent book, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution (American comrades should see here), at a Bookmarks stall during the Tolpuddle Martyrs rally. At the time, being busy with other things (such as getting sunburnt), I only glanced at it. Over the last few days, however, I've finally had time to properly read through it. And I can tell you, walking through that crowd of recruiters all trying to sell their own party rags, just to get to the Bookmarks tent, was absolutely worth it! I thoroughly enjoyed this unique perspective on Che and Cuba.

As the book says, "Mike Gonzalez is a senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Glasgow University. He has written widely on Latin American literature and culture, and on the politics of contemporary Latin America." So far, so good - the guy knows his stuff. However, Gonzalez also happens to be a member of the Socialist Workers Platform of the Scottish Socialist Party, and is in fact on the editorial board of the International Socialism journal. So some people may be rather put off - the Socialist Workers Party not being the most popular crowd in certain circles!

Nevertheless, for such a political individual, Gonzalez does a remarkable job of presenting a balanced account of Guevara's life (including his early years), with special examination of his role in the Cuban Revolution - its background, actual victory, and subsequent effect on the Cuban state and people. Of course, Gonzalez does not pretend to be disinterested or unbiased - he is obviously a committed socialist and believes strongly in its ideals. His arguments are therefore all the more passionate.

Gonzalez does, however, also detail Guevara's flaws and how they served to distort the Cuban experiment. For example, Gonzalez is critical of Guevara's quasi-Nietzschean belief in the power of the will to overcome material obstacles. In that regard, the account remains solidly left-wing, as the criticism is directed at the obstacles to revolutionary socialism in Cuba, rather than its attempted construction per se. The book is perhaps, therefore, suited more to those who are already favourably minded of socialism.

A second positive feature of the book - to me, at least - is Gonzalez's attempt to explain the role of Che's ideals in the growing anti-capitalist movement today. As a figure that is often denigrated by commercial exploitation and mocked by the liberal left as an icon of disillusioned middle-class teenagers, it is enjoyable to see the Argentinean Marxist restored to a position worthy of his lofty goals and inspiring story of self-sacrifice and anti-imperialist struggle. In short, I would strongly recommend this book!

To those of a socialist persuasion, the following IS online article from 1980 may also be worth reading: Cuba, Castro and Socialism - by Peter Binns and Mike Gonzalez!

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