The full written speech of the General Secretary:
The revolutionary movement at national, regional and international level has produced great fighters whose lives and actions have become bright and everlasting examples for the future generations. Each country has its own heroes, martyrs and popular leaders that each people distinguish and turn into symbols of their struggle for social liberation. This also happens at international, world level. The world working class distinguishes and honors its own great leaders. Our class has many such great personalities who stood out by their lives and actions.
One of these personalities with worldwide recognition and prestige is Ernesto Che Guevara. Che of the people. The revolutionary of actions.
This year, on the 54th anniversary of his heroic death in Bolivia, we decided to organize this International Trade Union Symposium entitled “The message of the life and action of Che”.
It is a duty of commemoration, honor and conclusions for the present and the future. As WFTU we use history and its lessons as a window to the future. And since the future will not come by itself, all of us, young and old, but especially the younger generations, must take an interest in the in-depth study of history. The more creatively we assimilate the positive and negative experience of the past, the more effectively we will plan and organize class struggles for the social liberation of the working class, the poor peasantry, the youth, the intelligentsia, the indigenous people and all the oppressed.
Victor Hara, in his famous song “La zamba del Che”, says: Saint Ernesto de la Higuera, he is called by the peasants. And in fact, Che Guevara’s own life and death has reached the creation of a myth. So much so, that he came to be worshiped like the saints and even in some Andean villages they light a candle in front of his image every night, as if he were Christ himself..
However paradoxical it may sound, the fact that a Marxist atheist is worshiped as Christ, it is not so strange after all. Because the simple people, those humble people of the Andean villages, may not have known what dialectical materialism was or who Marx was or what he said, but they had the instinct to understand that Che sacrificed his life so that they could have better days. So they worshiped him according to their beliefs.
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, known as Che, fought all his life and chose to sacrifice himself for freedom, the freedom of all people, realizing at a very early stage that this could only be achieved through a non-exploitative socio-economic system. Only then can people achieve true emancipation.
In a 1953 letter to his aunt Beatriz, he wrote: “On my way I had the opportunity to pass by the premises of the United Fruit, realizing once again how terrible these octopuses are. I sworn before a picture of the old and lamented comrade Stalin not to rest until these capitalist octopuses are wiped out[i]”.
His stay in Guatemala in 1954 for 9 months, until the end of the famous revolution with a coup d’état organized by the USA and under the orders of the United Fruit Company, made him see in practice that the real power is in the hands of the rich, the multinationals, those we call the big capital. It was during this period that his revolutionary thinking began to consolidate, he gained experience in guerrilla warfare and met the Cuban exiles with whom he would unite his destiny forever.
There, in Guatemala, although Argentinean, he decided to join the Cuban revolutionary struggle against a rotten and odious dictatorship. Having traveled throughout most of Latin America and seen the social inequalities, the poverty, the misery in which most Latin Americans lived, those who produced the wealth that was stolen from them by the U.S. imperialists and their local lackeys, the local “casiques”, he wanted to act to change this situation. At this particular historical moment, Cuba was the most suitable territory in terms of socio-historical conditions. And so Che became a Cuban, then a Congolese, a Bolivian, a universal revolutionary.
On November 25, 1956, 82 revolutionaries, among whom Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, began the legendary travel in the Granma yacht from the Túxpan River, in Mexico, to secretly arrive on December 2 at Las Coloradas beach, in Cuba. Later Che will tell about this experience: “The moment we left Granma, we abandoned all personal hopes. The struggle was beginning”.
In the 1960s, having assumed very important tasks in the political administration of the revolutionary government of Cuba, Che’s thought was the main theoretical formulation of the Cuban Revolution[ii].
One of the key issues of his concerns and one of the questions he persistently analyzed was the armed struggle. In his first book Che put forward three positions that he would never abandon: a) the popular forces can win a war against the army b) an insurgent nucleus can create the “conditions” that others mistakenly wait for “to mature” to initiate a revolution and c) in underdeveloped America the fundamental field of struggle is the countryside[iii].
For the rest, his philosophical conception can be summarized in the idea that conscious and organized action is the creator of social and human realities. In other words, he believed that the level of consciousness reached on a world scale allows the creation of revolutionary vanguards that, under the influence of Marxist ideology, will create ruptures and overthrow social relations through collective actions[iv]. Driven by this perception, he went to fight in the Congo and then to Bolivia, where he was finally assassinated.
This very action is what made impossible to classify him in terms of nationality. Che was Argentine, Cuban, Congolese, Bolivian, Latin American, African, Asian. But, above all, he was an internationalist. «Proletarian internationalism is a duty but also a revolutionary necessity[v] ». He admired the revolution in the Indochina peninsula and said: « Create two, three… many Vietnams, that is the slogan[vi]». Also:« a people without hatred cannot triumph over a brutal enemy[vii]».
But Che had many qualities. He was a doctor, a photographer, a guerrilla fighter, a worker, an intellectual, a minister, a revolutionary communist, a husband and loving father of five children that he never stopped thinking about, not even when he was in the mountains of Bolivia against an army of hired killers. But above all he was a Man. An altruist with greatness of soul. « If a man thinks that, in order to devote his whole life to the revolution, cannot distract his mind worrying that a son is lacking a certain product (…)under this reasoning, the germs of future corruption are allowed to infiltrate (…)Each and every one of us punctually pays his or her share of sacrifice, conscious of receiving the reward in the satisfaction of the fulfilled duty (…) conscious of advancing with everyone towards the new man that emerges on the horizon”, he himself will write one day[viii].
After all, he was a man of great intelligence and sensitivity. Charismatic. In any historical moment he had lived, he would have undoubtedly stood out and tried to change society for the better. But it must be admitted that Che, as we knew him and as he lived, was a creation of his time. We must not forget that the October Revolution, the Paris Commune and the publication of the Communist Manifesto preceded him. The Marxist theory was developed and for the first time in the history of philosophy someone set out to change the world and not just interpret it. All this was part of his study since his youth and had an absolute influence on him. But what makes him special is that, on the one hand, he had the ability to understand and assimilate all this knowledge and experience from the past and, on the other hand, the mental strength and vigor to put it into practice.
With his death, Che Guevara passed into immortality and became an eternal symbol of revolution, abnegation and internationalism. He became a universal emblem, recognizable in every corner of the world. Che served the struggle for the overthrow of this system to the end, spending every drop of his blood, never flinching in his 39 years of life.
What Che was certainly not is a romantic revolutionary who became disillusioned, as they try to present him in the West. Che was a realistic fighter, grounded in reality, with insight and unwavering principles against imperialism and colonialism.
These principles and his ideals led him to the Congo in 1965, in total secrecy, to support the revolution that he believed would ignite a revolutionary fire throughout the African continent. It is the moment when the CIA, without knowing where Che is, together with the secret services of all the western countries, fabricate and publish constant slanders, that Che is “exiled in Siberia by the Soviets…” or that “Fidel killed him”, or even that “he escaped to Las Vegas”, and many other ridiculous and paid publications. All these slanders were intended to hit Fidel, Cuba and the Soviet Union, and at the same time to sow frustration among the militants of the time. All these capitalist lies collapsed like a house of cards when Che returned from the Congo to Havana and from there appeared in Bolivia.
When asked about the conquest of power, he answered in a very realistic way, without a hint of opportunism: « If a popular movement takes over the governance of a country by a large popular vote and consequently decides to start the great social transformations that constitute the program for which it triumphed, would it not immediately enter into conflict with the reactionary classes of that country? And has not the army always been the instrument of oppression of that class?[ix]». Or elsewhere he said: «Is it possible or not in the current conditions of our continent (Latin America) to achieve it (the socialist power) by peaceful means? We answer categorically: in most cases it is not possible[x]».
Exhausted by his wounds, hunger, sleeplessness and the hardships of guerrilla warfare, sick with rheumatism and chronic asthma, alone since the CIA assassins had exterminated all his comrades, but with his head held high, he bravely humiliated his enemies. They feared him alive, they dreaded him dead. The non-commissioned officer of the Bolivian army, Mario Terán, had the tortured body of Comandante Che Guevara in front of him and, nevertheless, he hesitated to shoot him. He is overcome with fear, he is trembling. « Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man[xi]», Che tells him, encouraging him to shoot “with an absolute contempt for death”, as Fidel said about Che’s last moments. With a trembling hand, the assassin, who, according to some sources, was drunk and not fully aware of what he was doing, finally shot him in the left temple, and it is said that another shot in the heart was fired by the Cuban CIA agent Felix Ramos[xii].
There was no one to close his eyes. Those eyes that he never lowered, not even in the face of the gun pointed at him. « At that moment I saw “Che” big, very big, huge. His eyes were shining brightly [xiii].…», Che’s executioner, Mario Terán, will tell us after a few years. A nun will say: “He was looking at us. He looked alive”. Another woman, upon seeing him, shouted: “He looks like Christ!”. Did he look like Christ or was he Chris himself? Our own Christ.
Eventually, Che will enter the pantheon of the heroes of the Revolution. Che lived less than his ideas, but he watered them with his blood. Just six months after his death, the famous photograph “Guerrillero Heróico” by photographer Alberto Korda becomes a poster and sells more than 2 million copies. This photo was taken on March 5, 1960 during the burial of the victims of the French ship La Coubre, which was blown up the day before in Havana harbor by U.S. agents to prevent the arrival of arms and ammunition sent by the French government to the revolutionary government of Cuba[xiv].
Korda, a communist himself, never charged royalties for this photograph, believing that it was the means to spread Che’s principles and ideas. Thus, the “Heroic Guerrilla” became “the ultimate symbol of the Marxist revolution and the anti-imperialist struggle”. The only time the photographer claimed his authorship over the photo was to prohibit its use by Smirnoff to advertise a vodka. Korda found it totally disrespectful of Che Guevara’s personality, who, among other things, had nothing to do with spirits[xv]. The $50,000 in damages awarded to Korda by the High Court of London was donated by him to the Cuban National Health System[xvi].
Che’s life is the life of “the most complete human being of our time”, Jean Paul Sartre will write when he meets him. He gave his life for the eternal springtime of all humanity, we say.
Comandante Fidel Castro conveys the meaning of the sacrifice of Che Guevara, our Guevara: He is one of the rarest examples of integrity, strength, abnegation and selflessness that history has ever known. The life of Che could impress and inspire admiration even among his worst ideological enemies. His death serves as an awakening to the realities of our time. «Che did not fall defending any other cause than the cause of the poor and the humble of this Earth (…) Che became a model of man (…) He was bearing the ideas of Marxism-Leninism (…) In his mind and in his heart the flags, the prejudices, chauvinism, egoism had disappeared, and his generous blood was ready to be shed for the fate of any people, for the cause of any people, spontaneously and without hesitation![xvii]».
The moral force of Che Guevara’s ideas and the greatness of the man who sacrifices himself not only for the happiness of the people, but also to throw off the yoke of exploitation, are so superior that they awaken the slaves, the men of labor in this long confrontation of classes until the triumph of the great ideals of Humanity.
The prophetic Comandante Che Guevara will write a poem in his youth:
Let’s go, defeating insults
with our foreheads full of insurgent stars of Marti,
let us swear to triumph or meet death.(…)
(…)And when it comes at the end of the day
the sanitary operation against the tyrant,
there, by your side, awaiting the last battle,
you will have us[xviii].
By studying the life, action and death of Che we can codify the dominant features of his personality and underline the messages that remain alive and useful for all present and future militants of the World Federation of Trade Unions.
- Che was a popular leader. A revolutionary who had a deep and solid faith in revolutionary change of the world. His unwavering faith made him bold in the struggle and fearless in the face of death.
- He hated social injustice, social exploitation, capitalists. Hatred and contempt for imperialism and imperialist interventions marked his whole life and his heroic death.
- He was an internationalist. He saw the planet as a unified whole and set the global goal of internationalism as the first priority of his action. Che was an internationalist in life, in death and after his death.
- He felt love for the ordinary people, for the proletarians, for the underprivileged. He truly loved them because he himself was modest, an equal among equals. He loved the ordinary people very much and he was truly loved by them as well.
- He had a solid theoretical and political knowledge, he creatively studied and assimilated the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism and this knowledge constantly improved him and raised his level.
- He was a revolutionary of action, of deeds. His life and action were in harmony with his beliefs and principles. There was no distance between his words and his actions.
- He was an enemy of bureaucracy, careerism and individual promotion. He put his team before his ego and rightly earned the respect of his team and comrades.
- He was a dedicated and conscious fighter. He devoted all his physical, mental and spiritual forces to the class struggle for the liberation of the people.
Dear friends and colleagues,
We are convinced that it is worthwhile for the members and friends of the WFTU, the trade union movement as a whole and its cadres, to constantly study the messages of the life and action of Che. Especially the younger generations of our cadres need to know our history. The history of our heroes, our martyrs.
We are living in a period in which the trade union movement is going through difficulties. It faces many obstacles and risks. The international bourgeoisie is attacking the unions. It is attacking trade union rights, gains and freedoms. The International Organizations are not playing the role for which they were founded. Therefore, the hope of the workers and peoples lies in the class oriented struggle.
Che taught us that with faith in the world working class, with internationalist solidarity, with the use of all forms of class struggle and with the will to offer and sacrifice, we can be victorious.
Today, the WFTU exists and operates in every corner of the world. In 133 countries on 5 continents, with 105 million members, with numerous sectoral and regional structures, it is the most honest and most militant part of the trade union organizations in all countries and at the international level.
The WFTU comes from far away and goes far away.
We strengthen class unity.
We strengthen proletarian internationalism.
We strengthen the class struggles.
Against rotten capitalism, against imperialist wars.
The struggle continues.
Until the final victory.
We will win.
Long live Ernesto Che Guevara!
Che won even when he fell!
[i] Claudio Pérez, Apuntes de Ernesto Che Guevara Guatemala (1953-1954) y la influencia en su trayectoria posterior, p.5, Universidad de Buenos Aires 2013 en la web : https://cdsa.aacademica.org/000-038/456.pdf
[v] Guevara 1977, p.270, en Revista Electrónica EduSol, ISSN: 1729-8091. 2011. Volumen 11, No. 35, abr.-jun., pp. 1-13. Web: file:///C:/Users/PC/Downloads/Dialnet-ElPensamientoEticoDeErnestoCheGuevaraEnLaFormacion-5822873.pdf
[viii] El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba, 1965, Colección Lecturas para reflexión, Proyecto editorial Che Guevara, Centro de Estudios Che Guevara, Ocean Sur, Ocean Press 2011. This article was written in the form of a letter to Carlos Quijano, editor of Marcha, a weekly newspaper published in Montevideo, Uruguay on March 12, 1965.
[ix] Cuba: ¿Exepción histórica o vanguardia en la lucha anticolonialista? Materiales de la Revista, Casa de las Américas, de/sobre Ernesto Che Guevara p.78 15-8-2017 http://biblioteca.clacso.org/Cuba/casa/20200419035704/Materiales-de-la-rev-Che-Guevara.pdf
[x] Ernesto Che Guevara. Obras Escogidas 1957-1967: Tomo II, Casa de las Américas
[xi] El Mundo, El hombre que mató al Che web: https://www.elmundo.es/cronica/2014/11/23/54704b50268e3eaf7e8b456c.html. There are two versions of the condemned man’s last words to Terán. The other is: Be calm and aim well! You are going to kill a man!
[xii] La CIA contra el Che, Adys Cupull, Froillán González, Google books. En la web: https://books.google.gr/books?id=Jqi1DwAAQBAJ&pg=PT114&lpg=PT114&dq=mario+teran+entrevista&source=bl&ots=nfSOBbgKCK&sig=ACfU3U2hoTLyuufNrSjoB6-ZWDszEEEF-A&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjg7rW8nOTzAhWC_7sIHceaA4cQ6AF6BAgnEAM#v=onepage&q=mario%20teran%20entrevista&f=false
[xiii] El hombre que mató al Che, op.cit.
[xiv] TelesurTV.net, La historia de la foto que se hizo símbolo de luchas mundiales, publicado 5 de marzo 2020 web: https://www.telesurtv.net/news/fotografia-che-simbolo-lucha-historia-alberto-korda-20190305-0014.html
[xvi] Tribuna de los Cabos, La historia de la foto más famosa del ‘Che’ Guevara, 5 marzo 2021, web: https://tribunadeloscabos.com.mx/la-historia-de-la-foto-mas-famosa-del-che-guevara-38618/
[xvii] Speech delivered by Commander FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government, at the solemn evening in memory of Commander Ernesto Che Guevar, at the Plaza de la Revolucion, October 18, 1967 (DEPARTMENT OF STENOGRAPHIC VERSIONS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT). web: http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1967/esp/f181067e.html
[xviii] Canto a Fidel, Ernesto Che Guevara, Poemas y cuentos, Colección memoria viva, inti Edit https://gazeta.gt/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CHE-POEMASyCUENTOS.pdf