Che Guevara: A Singular Letter

María del Carmen Ariet García

This article is taken from volume 8 of the journal Paradigma, Anuario Institucional del Centro de Estudios Che Guevara, dedicated to the Socialist Transition in Cuba, which will be presented soon. The letter to which reference is made appears in the book “Epistolario de un tiempo. Letters 1947-1967”.

“I write to you with deepest affection and admiration for your lucid and noble intelligence, your impeccable conduct and your unwavering character as an integral revolutionary”,[1] thus Fidel expresses his respect and loyalty to his comrade and friend in special circumstances and with great determination, in a letter dated March 6, 1966, while Che was waiting for his definitive transfer to Latin America.

Fidel himself had previously read Che’s “Farewell Letter” on October 3, 1965, at the presentation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, although there were others, before and after, which together with an infinitude of notes, reflections and messages -many of which formed part of decision-making in transcendental moments of the Cuban revolutionary process- explain the close relationship that always existed between the two, from the dream-filled days in Mexico that united them.

On the 90th anniversary of Che’s birth and after dramatic events, some of them exultant, it seemed important to us to share a partially published letter written to Fidel, dated March 26, 1965, just hours after his transfer to the Congo to begin a new mission that would take him, without intention, to immortality, when he left for Bolivia in November 1966, the last of his libertarian actions, but not of his legacy and example.

All that accumulation of events, among them the aborted movement in African lands until its momentary transfer to Prague, allowed an exchange of criteria and similarities of sentiments, which refer us to what Fidel expressed in the letter cited at the beginning of the work. However, there were others of apparently different content, but also essential, in order to evaluate in their fair measure how much respect there was between them for the immeasurable work of the Cuban Revolution that Che, with his creative capacity, his astute critical thinking and his constant example, contributed like no other to the implementation of a political project that transcended borders and that has characterized these 60 years of triumphant revolution, in spite of its adversities and errors.

The letter of reference was written by Che with the objective of expressing his criteria around the difficulties and problems that he understood were manifested in the development of the Cuban socialist project, above all in two fundamental aspects: one, referring to the decisions and functioning of the socialist transition in our circumstances and to some errors committed in the political practice assumed; and the other on the problems that, in his opinion, had been caused at the systemic level in relation to the evolution and development of the socialist transition in the countries that had assumed it and its tendency towards a regression that would lead them inexorably to capitalism.

These reflections were constructed within Che’s thinking and acting through a dialectical process and deep analysis, which led him to conclusions in spite of the time elapsed, by his sense of truth and foresight, which have turned him into one of the most important Latin American Marxist thinkers, in spite of the fact that in those years he was judged as a heretic for his boldness and opposition to the prevailing dogmatism.

That enormous effort of thought and action had a culminating moment, when from Cuba, it promoted a debate that transcended borders, becoming the first international debate conducted from socialism itself and, in particular, about the ways in which the socialist transition should be approached, especially in third world countries, and the contribution they could make to the cause of socialism, infusing it with new elements in its performance, and a strong measure of solidarity and support from the countries that sustained the greatest development.

Within this effort, the invaluable management of Che took place within the framework of the foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution, with speeches that remain absolutely valid, but above all that were an obligatory benchmark to understand the path that should have been taken by existing socialism in the struggle with the common enemy, imperialism, and mainly regarding the changes that should have taken place in unity to advance in common purposes to make socialism a reality in the world.

The synthesis expressed becomes a necessity to understand with greater precision the motives that led Che, before his departure to Congolese lands, to leave Fidel a set of conceptual and practical elements, which at the same time contain a series of appraisals about errors of methods and policies set in motion, which it became necessary to transform together with conceptualizations about how to make the socialist transition a true path to carry forward the dream of reaching communism from full humanism, through the struggle to obtain its total emancipation.

The letter’s introduction explains in itself the objectives pursued by Che when writing it, when he expresses to Fidel that he wishes to present some ideas about basic problems of the State and attempt “constructive criticism”. A considerable part of the aforementioned has been partially modified, influencing our development and permanence, while another, impacted by norms and conceptualizations defined in the functioning of the existing socialist system, remained until the disappearance of the system as a whole.

Che defined the content of the letter according to four specific themes:

Errors in Economic Policy
The Budgetary Financing System
The Function of the Party
General Recommendations

https://i1.wp.com/media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/carta-del-che-a-fidel-revista-paradigma-8-96-580x819.jpgA facsimile of the first page of the letter written by Che a Fidel, days before he left for Congo, April 1965.

Of the four aspects contained in the letter, point 2 was published partially as a prologue to his notes -most of them written during his stay in Prague-, after consultation and approval by Fidel himself, which were published in book format under the title Critical Notes on Political Economy, in 2010, for which we will refer only to brief statements, while the rest present the central ideas of the topics.

Errors in Economic Policy

He frames a set of errors that, in his opinion, should be modified, taking into account, among other aspects, his criteria regarding the importance of Planning as an implicit category of socialism:

One of the most reiterated is due, above all, to the improvisation with which ideas are executed, which has resulted in a “policy of lurching” marked, moreover, by subjectivism, resulting in the design of goals that led to a growth impossible to achieve.
The realization of unjustified investments, both in agriculture and industry, added to acquired backward technology, which otherwise had to be paid for at a very high price. Later on, he adds, the way in which these investments were carried out when establishing contracts and their fulfilment when the product was shipped and the problems that arise when the goods arrive and are dormant in warehouses or in the open air, resulting in irreparable damage.
There were false lines of action, such as import substitution and the pretence of illusory self-sufficiency. In other words, a policy that entailed a superficial treatment of the problems of the economy.
Other difficulties can be attributed to the lack of accountability in management. In general, the consciousness of the organization as one of the pillars of development has been lacking, because, although the cadres are efficient if the general organizational framework impedes it, it can only render a limited task, aggravated by the lack of definition in terms of decision-making levels. The latter is pointed out as one of its major concerns, as it leads to a lack of administrative discipline and insufficient information, which prevents greater control.
In the context of the applied structure, it analyzes the set of deficiencies present in the Central Planning Board, unable to “direct the economy”, as well as the errors present in Foreign Trade, unable to plan for the long term, lacking the economy the role of foreign trade as a cornerstone.

The Budgetary System

He bases the exposition on his considerations of a practical experience turned into theory. It elaborates some brief conceptual reflections to try to explain it, on the basis of what Marx had constructed in terms of how to arrive at communism through the transition period and a fully developed communism. In his assessments, he regrets the little time Marx devoted to the transition period, the continuity established by Lenin and the realization of that theory in the Soviet Union, “by implanting a new period not foreseen by Marx. First period of transition or period of construction of the socialist transition, that transforms later in socialist society to become the definitive communist society”.

As it is known, Che considered that this stage, despite having been declared as completed, was not so and, most importantly, it was based on the criterion that the political economy of that period had not been created or studied. In this process, the greatest difficulty was in the conversion of a series of particular and proper facts, especially of the Soviet reality, into laws that govern the life of socialist society. This would be the centre of his reflections and of the essential proposals that he left formulated in his critical notes written in Prague about the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the assumption of State Capitalism by Lenin, which led to deficiencies and restrictions to achieve true socialism.

For Che, the fundamental defect of the system was the limitation it produced when competing with capitalism without eliminating its forms or establishing new ones, aggravated even more by the fact that it was carried out within a society that in principle does not tolerate exploitation. All this hindered the development of human beings in their productive possibilities and in their development as conscious builders of the new society.

He points out the magnitude of those errors, which face a dead end, bringing as a consequence a rebellion against the system and its consequent conversion, in which nobody has looked for the root of the evil and why a regression is provoked. At this point, he reinforces his two conceptions about how to arrive at communism: because it is a phenomenon of consciousness that must be developed in man, where individual and collective education is a consubstantial part; and the other aspect is the technical aspect, by establishing that consciousness plus production of material goods is communism. It is a point where he emphasizes that:

…it is necessary to suffer very harsh blows of reality to begin to change; and to always change the external aspect, the most strikingly negative, but not the real essence of all the difficulties that exist today which is a false conception of communist humanity….

Stressing that the two fundamental problems that afflict us in our Budget System are the creation of a communist human being and the creation of a communist material environment, two pillars that are united by the structure that they must support.

At the end of this point a question that was always present in his condition of political leader within the revolution is raised:

How can the workers be involved? It is a question that I have not been able to answer. I consider this as my greatest obstacle or my greatest failure and it is one of the things to think about because it also involves the problem of the Party and the State?

The Role of the Party and the State

On this subject, he explains the dependence of the structure of the Party in the Soviet style and defines its concept of the Party as an apparatus that combines in itself the double situation of being the ideological motor of the Revolution because it must take the main guidelines of the Government and transform them into direct impulses on the execution organisms or on men, in addition to achieving an efficient control system because its structure is capable of framing its role in morality, discipline, in the methods of leadership, in the opinion of the people, and so forth.

“…The Party and each member of the Party must be vanguard […] The morality of a communist is his most precious reward […] must lead the care of individual morality…”

In addition, it points to immediate tasks:

Choosing middle managers and, at the same time, considering the development of middle managers, with the aim of establishing rigid systems of discipline, control and self-criticism.
Analyze its relations with the Administration at all levels, asking, “What will be the relationship that the Party will have with the Government? Which of the Provincial Directorates […] and their corresponding nuclei? This is almost the fundamental task, the central point of the discussion…”.

In short, the fundamental lines would be:

Approve the concept of what a communist should be, whatever he is and within the limits that are necessary.
Initiate the tasks of discussion of the Party-Administration relations.
Decide on the functions of the Party, whether they are those that I propose as an ideological engine and control, or those that are established and a working method that allows the division of the task into two parts…

More or less this is what I have to say about the Party, little more than a call for research, it is always within the framework of my fundamental concern which is the creation of the new human being.

On the State

[…] I think it’s the greatest mess, but I also think we have to make systematic efforts to investigate it. That’s why it seems to me that the system adopted for administrative restructuring, the fight against bureaucratism, etc., has a fundamental grave error; once again we are falling into the system of sketching the person starting from the nose, without a comprehensive scheme…

In the same manner as expressed in advance with regard to the Party, other questions arise about the role of the State in the first period of transition and what the communist person should be, how he or she should be trained and what that structure based on that political economy would look like.

He expressed the need to create a research base, as he did with the Party, that is capable of answering extremely complex questions, with the objective of beginning to structure a new socialist state of a totally different character from the present ones. “But I don’t know more about the subject: I leave it in that degree of vagueness”.

General Recommendations

Economic Policy: He proposes that a small group should devote themselves to studying the Political Economy of this period, but without expecting that it can be easily resolved. Urgent tasks must be established: the most important, to “globalize” in the good sense of the word our aspirations; to re-examine the problems of prices and salaries; to structure the organisms on a single plan; to regulate the participation of the Party; to proceed to the education of the Party cadres with a broader sense of philosophy, even a more advanced Marxist humanism; to transform the Party cadres into a conscious element, not only of the realities of Cuba, but of Marxist theory as a guide for action.

To follow the same principle in Foreign Relations.

I think these are the most important things…

They are criticisms that I make based on the old friendship and on the appreciation, admiration and loyalty without limits that I profess to you…

HOMELAND OR DEATH

https://i1.wp.com/media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/carta-del-che-a-fidel-revista-paradigma-8-101-580x818.jpg

Facsimile of the last page of the letter written by Che a Fidel, days before leaving for Congo, April 1965.

Note

1] Letter published in the magazine Paradigma, Vol. I, year 1, February 2013, pp. 90-94.
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María del Carmen Ariet García
Doctor in Historical Sciences. Researcher and Adjunct Professor at the University of Havana, where she has served as a teacher and lecturer in courses, workshops or graduate seminars. Academic Coordinator of Centro de Estudios Che Guevara.

Translation by Internationalist 360°