Just a few days ago, in the city of Havana, the Ernesto Che Guevara Study Center and the publisher Ocean Sur presented Epistolario de un tiempo. Letters 1947-1967, a voluminous copy that groups and classifies dozens of letters written by Ernesto Che Guevara throughout his life; most of them known, but distributed in different books.
One has captured the attention of scholars, which corresponds to the “other” letter addressed to Fidel Castro before leaving Cuba. Written by typewriter and with several pages, we only knew fragments, titled: “Some reflections on the socialist transition”. Now we can read it in its entirety, evaluating the judgments of a mature Guevara regarding the politics and economy of Cuba’s Socialist Revolution; a piece that already promises to become a watershed in Guevara studies.
Ernesto Che Guevara was a prolific writer, of that there is no doubt. To such an extent that his more than a thousand texts – of which 431 manuscripts are preserved – were added to UNESCO’s World Memory of the World Register in 2014.
Although there were early compilation efforts of Guevara’s work, such as the one by Orlando Borrego in the Ministry of the Sugar Industry, Che in the Cuban Revolution (Minaz, 1966) -seven volumes revised by Guevara when he was working clandestinely in the San Andrés camp, Pinar del Río, training to go to Bolivia-, and that of Casa de las Américas, Ernesto Che Guevara. Obras 1957-1967 (Casa, 1970), a large part of this, for reasons unknown to us, remained unpublished until well into the 21st century, for example: Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria: Congo (Editorial Sudamericana, 1999), Apuntes críticos a la economía política (Ocean Sur, 2006), Diario de un combatiente. De la Sierra Maestra a Santa Clara (1956-1958) (Ocean Sur, 2011), Apuntes filosóficos (Ocean Sur, 2012), and now, el Epistolario de un tiempo. Letters 1947-1967 (South Ocean, 2019).
To other lands of the world
In Che’s prologue to the Cuban Revolution, Borrego points out: “The period between 1961 and 1964 was one of enriching theoretical-practical creation in Che’s revolutionary life. In February 1961, as Minister of Industry, Guevara took on the task of designing and implementing his own economic management system, the Budgetary Financing System, with an eye on Cuba’s socialist transition. An issue that led to the public arena through fraternal discussions between economists and technical cadres, partially collected in The Great Debate. On the economy in Cuba (Ocean Sur, 2007).
Certainly, the year 1964 was a watershed in the life of Ernesto Che Guevara, which culminated with the legendary speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 11, 1964. The verdict was made: “other lands of the world” claimed him.
For three months he travelled through Africa, visited Algeria, Mali, Congo, Guinea, Ghana, Dahomey and Tanzania; and met leaders of the stature of Ben Bella, Massemba, Agostinho Neto, Nkrumah, Nyerere and Kabila. With the latter he met to fine-tune details of Cuban collaboration in the Congolese liberation struggle, to which Che himself would join in the coming months.
That journey took him to China and the United Arab Republic -where he met President Nasser-, passing through Paris -taking advantage of the occasion to visit the Louvre Museum-, and finally returning to Havana on March 14, 1965. But, a couple of days before being received at the José Martí International Airport by Fidel Castro, he suffered the breakdown of the Britannia de Cubana plane that transported him, and had to stay two days in Shannon, Ireland, where he drank beer and talked at length with the poet Roberto Fernández Retamar about the need to publish in Cuba Frantz Fanon’s book Los condenados de la Tierra y Literatura y Revolución, by León Trotsky.
Fernandez Retamar was shown a document written during the trip: Socialism and Man in Cuba. This letter was published by Carlos Quijano in the Uruguayan weekly Marcha, March 12, 1965; considered by some as the “Guevara Manifesto”. Borrego confessed that after reviewing the seven volumes of his writings, Che told him: “It seems to me that the most finished work is Socialism and Man in Cuba”. To which he replied: “Of course, because you wrote that in a stage of greater maturity”.
There are several farewell letters that Che Guevara wrote to his relatives throughout his life, first, from Mexico, before embarking on the Granma; second, from Cuba, before leaving for the Congo; finally, again from Cuba, before heading for Ñancahuazú.
The recipients are recurrent, from Aztec lands, to his first wife, the Peruvian Hilda Gadea, and to his parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna; from the island, to his second wife, Aleida March, to his children Hilda, Aleida, Camilo, Celia and Ernesto, to his parents, and also to his friends and leaders of the Revolution, Armando Hart Dávalos and Haydée Santamaría, and, of course, to Fidel Castro.
In the last letter to Ernesto and Celia, he reveals: “Dear people: I’m sorry, I’m sorry: Once again I feel Rocinante’s rib under my heels, I return to the road with my extension on my arm. Almost ten years ago, I wrote them another farewell letter. As I recall, I regretted not being a better soldier and a better doctor; the latter no longer interests me, I am not such a bad soldier. […] Now, a will that I have polished with the delectation of an artist, will sustain flaccid legs and tired lungs. I will. Remember from time to time this little twentieth-century condotieri”.
Farewell letter to Fidel
Ernesto Che Guevara’s first farewell letter to Fidel Castro dates from March 1965 and was read by Castro on the night of October 3 of the same year, when Cuban revolutionaries announced their decision to change the name of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba (PURSC) to the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), in addition to electing the Central Committee.
In the well-known writing, Guevara remembered his first meeting with Fidel, in July 1955, in the department of Emparán 49 Street, in Mexico City. -a property of Maria Antonia Gonzalez Rodriguez and the fighter Dick Medrano-, at which time his definitive friendship would be sealed. It also referred to the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra, to the October Crisis -“[where] a statesman rarely shone higher than in those days”-, to his family and his own future, in time to ratify his internationalist commitment: “Other lands of the world claim the support of my modest efforts. To conclude: “On the new battlefields I will carry the faith you instilled in me, the revolutionary spirit of my people, the feeling of fulfilling the most sacred of duties: to fight imperialism wherever it may be”.
The “other” farewell letter to Fidel
Ernesto Che Guevara’s recently published “other” letter to Fidel Castro is dated March 26, 1965. In Guevara’s words: “[it] tries to make a constructive criticism, in case it can serve to improve some problems that continue to be serious”.
To this end, he warned Fidel that he would develop four points: 1) Errors in Economic Policy; 2) The Budget Financing System; 3) The Function of the Party; and 4) General Recommendations.
As lucidly proposed by the scholars of Guevara’s thought of the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research in Havana, Ernesto Che Guavara’s ‘other letter’ opportunely complements Socialism and Man in Cuba and the famous speech of Algiers in February 1965, essential works to delve deeper into the legacy of the Argentine-Cuban, urgent for the times we live i.
Due to the importance of the text, below we reproduce part of it, based on the structure laid out by Ernesto Che Guevara. The complete letter can be consulted by readers on the website: https://medium.com/la-tiza
1. Errors in Economic Policy.
“I think it is clear to everyone that planning is an implicit category to socialism and also to this transition period we are living through.
“The first of them [errors], the most important, is the improvisation with which we have carried out our ideas that has resulted in a policy of lurching. Improvisation and subjectivism, I would say. In such a way that goals were set that led to impossible growths.”
“There [was] a lack of demand for responsibility in the management cadres, who are not watched, therefore, they are not criticized in time and are violently withdrawn afterwards”.
“Our entire economy lacked the concept of foreign trade as its cornerstone and in the absence of this concept came all the rest”.
2. The Budgetary Financing System.
“We intend our system to collect the two fundamental lines of thought that must be followed in order to reach communism. Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness, not reached by a leap in the void, a change in productive quality, or the simple clash between productive forces and relations of production. Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness and that consciousness must be developed in man, of which individual and collective education for communism is an inherent part. We cannot speak in quantitative terms economically; perhaps we may be in a position to reach communism in a few years’ time, before the United States has emerged from the crisis.
“We intend our system to collect the two fundamental lines of thought that must be followed in order to reach communism. Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness, not reached by a leap into the void, a change in the quality of production, or the simple clash between the productive forces and the relations of production. Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness and that consciousness must be developed in man, of which individual and collective education for communism is an inherent part. We cannot speak in quantitative terms economically; perhaps we will be able to reach communism in a few years, before the United States has emerged from capitalism. We cannot measure in terms of per capita income the possibility of entering communism; there is no total identification between these incomes and communist society”.
“The other aspect is that of technique; consciousness plus production of material goods is communism.”
“In short, eliminating the capitalist categories: merchandise between companies, bank interest, direct material interest as leverage, etc. and taking the latest administrative and technological advances of capitalism, that is our aspiration”.
“We have a big gap in our system; how to integrate man into his work in such a way that it is not necessary to use that which we call material disincentive, how to make every worker feel the vital need to support his revolution and at the same time that work is a pleasure; how to feel what all of us feel up here”.
“How to involve the workers? is a question 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, of the relations between the Party and the State”.
3. The Function of the Party.
“In my concept, the Party is an apparatus that conjugates in itself the double situation of being the ideological engine of the Revolution and its most efficient control system”.
“By ideological engine, I understand, the fact that the Party and its members must take the main guiding ideas of the Government and transform them, at each level, into direct impulses on the executing organisms or on the men”.
“By control apparatus, the fact that the bases of the Party and its superior organizations, in increasing degree, are able to present before the Government, the image of what really happens in everything that does not depend on statistics or economic analysis, that is, morality, discipline, methods of leadership, the opinion of the people, etc.”.
“In order to carry out its task of ideological engine, the Party and each member of the Party must be vanguard and, for that, they must present the image closest to what a communist must be. Their standard of living, that is, the standard of living of Party members, should never exceed, either as professional cadres, or as cadres within production, that which their peers have. The morality of a communist is his most precious prize, his true weapon, and so it must be taken care of even in the most intimate aspects of his life; the practical part of this, the way in which the Party must conduct the care of individual morality, is one of the most difficult points to deal with but it is natural that neither thieves, nor opportunists, nor Pharisees… can appear in the Party, whatever their previous merits may have been”.
“The Party, naturally, must have its own organization, separate from the State, even though today there are occasionally a series of offices in which the Party and the State are mixed”.
4. General Recommendations.
“Economic Policy: I believe that a small group of people should dedicate themselves to studying the Political Economy of this period [socialist transition], but we should not wait for them or think that they can solve it easily. Very few people of that capacity will be in Cuba, if there is anyone, because these are tasks that few have done in history and perhaps Marx was the only one that made it complete”.
“However, in economic policy there are a number of conceptions that can be established of urgent tasks to which attention can be drawn. The most important thing (almost a cry to you) is to “globalize”, in the good sense of the word, our aspirations. I believe that if enthusiasm is put a small brake on reality and a comparative analysis is made with other countries not falling back into the pretensions of having growth of 15 or 20% per year, we can ask ourselves what we want for the year 80. On this basis will emerge what we will have to produce, what we will have to import, how much we will have to spend on productive investments and how much on unproductive investments and the answer to the greatest question: can we do it with the current methods and with the current development of the economy, yes or no”?
“I say this with all my conviction (regardless of what it is worth); if we dedicate ourselves to agriculture and the agricultural industry only, we are liquidated as to the real possibilities of having a harmonious development and being a rich country”.
“You have to invest in industry, within it you have to take the most modern industry; you have to have a sufficiently solid mechanical base, with at least an elementary metallurgical base. It has to be done. You have to devote yourself to the chemistry of oil, sugar, basic chemistry, including fertilizers in it; you have to chemo as much as possible. We have to automate, the only way to compete. You have to deal with the worrying problem of preventive maintenance.”
“It is necessary to follow a policy of extreme caution in investments, well thought out and unique, based on a single plan of a single organism, controlled by Juceplan”.
“It is important, as I warned earlier, that the Party’s participation be exactly regulated: if not, at least its participation at certain lower levels, in a more or less constant manner and throughout the country, is not totally possible. Proceed to educate Party cadres with a broader sense of philosophy, including a more advanced Marxist humanism. Not definitions around discrepancies, but participation in studies, or at least, in compilations of documents of the debates, attempt of analysis of the causes that are currently known. To make the picture of the Party a thinking element, not only of the realities of our country but also of the Marxist theory that is not an ornament but an extraordinary guide for action (the pictures do not know Trotsky or Stalin but they qualify them as “bad” scholastically). To put an end to scholasticism and apologetics will confine a single discipline to all the dependencies of the Party (I think of Today)”.
“To make an educational policy in accordance with all that one wants to achieve united in all its parts, congruent in its scales and congruent with what one seeks”.
“They are criticisms that I make based on the old friendship and on the appreciation, admiration and unlimited loyalty that I profess to you”.
As lucidly proposed by the scholars of Guevara’s thought at the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research in Havana, Ernesto Che Guevara’s “other” letter opportunely complements Socialism and Man in Cuba and the famous speech of Algiers in February 1965, essential works to delve deeper into the legacy of Argentine-Cuban, urgent for the times we live in.