‘Revolution in the Revolution’: A Perspective of Che Guevara’s Writing

Long before I heard about the Cuban Revolution and its band of rebels, during my high school, I found Regis Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution? Possibly it was around those time (circa 1997-98), the remains of Che Guevara’s body was also found after he was executed three decades earlier. I admit there are a lot of unclear concepts in Debray’s book till now.
‘I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.’ 

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (14 June 1928 – 9 October 1967)
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (14 June 1928 – 9 October 1967)
Image source:
Revolution in the Revolution? was then a hardcover that looked seminal and equally serious for two reasons. Firstly, revolutionary movements were a reality in my native place; still it is, though the degree has changed as rebels have found new glory in using patriotism as a personal investment and in putting personal interest before the purpose of the revolution — these have also fitted into a scheme of thing, which directly matches Catcher-in-the-Rye’s Holden Caulfield’s view of the entire world being phony.

However the movements cannot be neglected for the current flows unabated, as is evident from the present conflict quotient of the place. Secondly, on the cover of the Revolution, there is a blurb written by Jean-Paul Sartre that reads like Debray was arrested not for being a part of the armed rebellion but for writing this book on guerilla warfare. It was a surprise: I was too naïve and took printed words are just pieces of reading and learning and nothing exists beyond this functionality.
CheThe world symbol of the possibilities of one man’ 
So many biographies of Che Guevara have been written; a personal favourite is the The Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson. There have always been books on him, now it is about the books by him. From the Motorcycle Diaries to the Latin American Diaries, Che was a prolific writer as much as he was a doctor-cum-guerrilla at the battlefield. His masterpiece is Guerrilla Warfare, which offers an exhaustive analysis and theoretical framework of the Cuban Revolution, while professing the strategies of social revolution and the tactics of a guerrilla with great attention to detail.

Needless to say, Guerrilla Warfare is prescribed for various counterinsurgency schools and military academies; and in it, he explained the seven golden rules:
● Do not engage in a fight that cannot be won
● Move continuously, hit and run
● Use the enemy as the main supplier of weapons
● Hide your movements
● Make use of the element of surprise in military actions
● Form new columns once some power has been won
● In general, proceed through three phases: strategic defense, balance between the possibilities of enemy action and guerrilla action, and finally the total annihilation of the adversary

A couple of days ago, I found Guerrilla Warfare and Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (republished by the Left Word) in the most unlikely place at a makeshift book stall inside a religious gathering in New Delhi. No issues for the pious people and place. Significantly these were sold at a heavily discounted price (Rs 50 each, though the printed price is Rs 250 and Rs 450 respectively).
‘Better to die standing, than to live on your knee’ 
Broadly divided into four chapters, Guerrilla Warfare is categorised into (1) General principles of the guerrilla warfare; (2) The guerrilla band; (3) Organisation of the guerrilla front; and (4) Underground organisation, holding power and epilogue. Che walked the talk and did not wait for the ripe apple; he had rather made it fall. This was one of his exceptional qualities. His detractors always condemn Che’s cruelty and his job of an executioner. But he knew that revolution cannot be a dinner party. When the struggle was over, it can be noted that he was not in the military but served elsewhere like the president of the Cuban national bank. He was never tired of searching for the ideal man and continued his revolutionary activities.

Pro-Americans and capitalists will always find fault in his works and ideology but they cannot help themselves using his ubiquitous Korda image in so many commodities, including coffee mugs, t-shirts and so forth. Blind imitation and ignorance are entirely different, though.

In Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (originally published as  Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria by the Editorial Union), he documented and put down the history of the armed struggle clearly in black and white from his memory. He wrote it seeing the significance of documentation. The nearly 300-page account of their successful revolt follows a chronological order, divided into several chapters. It also has around 30 rare photographs, starting from the days in the Sierra Maestra to end of the revolution, including two pages of the original manuscripts of this book with annotations in Che’s handwriting. Like he always wished for, he did not stop with the success of the Cuban revolution. He was searching for the Ideal Man and he almost attained that status, until the Bolivian army funded by the CIA murdered him.

Further Reading

Che Guevara Internet Archive: Biography, Images and Speeches
“In the '60s, Regis Debray fought beside Che Guevara in Bolivia. Today, his obsession isn’t ideology— it’s ‘mediology.’”
‘(Debray) has seemed to be the theoretical embodiment of the Cuban Revolution and his writings are an attempt to develop a theory of the Latin American Revolution based on the Cuban experience.’

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