Most norteamericanos feared and hated the living Che Guevara. The few who referred kindly to his romanticism, his courage, his heroism, even his intelligence, were all too often condemned at best as fools and at worst as traitors. The dead Che Guevara, however, is already something of a legend, even in North America. Many norteamericanos now claim to have respected him. Some are even making, or plan to make money by invoking his name, his deeds, or both. Che’s death brought not only a sigh of relief in North America but also a number of books and articles, a stage play, and a motion picture. Now that Guevara is no longer a threat to North America, many of its citizens are willing to admit his importance and, of course, to make a profit off his struggle.
Most of Che’s speeches and writings have always been available in North America; nevertheless, those of us who searched publications like Cuba Socialista and Progressive Labor in order to follow Guevara’s intellectual development now feel a little disappointed. Many of the books and articles on Che published in North America after his death could and should have been published earlier. This criticism, however, does not apply to either of the books under review. For obvious reasons Daniel James could not have brought out Che’s Bolivian diary any sooner; and in order to achieve maximum impact John Gerassi had to produce his collection of Che’s speeches and writings when he did. Both volumes appeared in that period when Che’s unsuccessful Bolivian struggle was still uppermost in the minds of many; as a result, both must be considered important whatever other merits they may possess. Both, however, do have other merits.
James’ Complete Bolivian Diaries is valuable in spite of his Introduction. One would think that an introduction to Che’s Bolivian diary should analyze in some detail the Bolivian political experience since Che’s failure in Bolivia resulted as much from Bolivian political conditions as from shortcomings in himself or in his theories of guerrilla warfare. Instead James chooses to concentrate primarily upon Che’s activities and upon what he considers the insidious nature of the short-lived Bolivian insurgency. In addition much of the Introduction consists of material which any intelligent reader can glean from the diaries themselves. Finally James makes several factual errors; for example, he claims (p. 19) that the M.N.R. was formed in 1949. In spite of these criticisms James’ work is of more value than the so-called authorized Ramparts Magazine edition of the diary— not so much because it contains the “missing days” as because it adds diaries by three of Che’s fellow revolutionaries. While none of these is as complete as Che’s, each sheds light on Che’s experience in Bolivia and on the Bolivian insurgency itself. In addition one must note the usefulness to any reader of James’ “Chronology of the Bolivian Campaign.”
Like James’ book Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara is valuable in spite of Gerassi’s Introduction. Given the nature of the speeches and writings included, one would hope for some kind of analysis of Che’s intellectual development and power, rather than the almost chatty life of Guevara which Gerassi provides. Nevertheless, Gerassi’s book does contain many of Che’s most important and relevant works. Included, for example, are “On Underdevelopment,” “On Revolutionary Medicine,” “On Growth and Imperialism,” “Guerrilla Warfare: A Method,” “On Value,” and “Man and Socialism in Cuba.” As a result, Gerassi’s book is a must for individuals interested not only in Che Guevara as a historical personality, but also in the recent history of Cuba and in the nature of development and underdevelopment.
To conclude, both volumes under review are valuable additions to the knowledge available on Che Guevara and of his struggle to overcome some of the wretchedness to be found on this so-called “good earth.”