Viva la revolución

Among the reflections inspired by Guevara’s sojourn in the Congo, one of the strangest, the most disconcerting with regard to the usefulness of revolutions in general, and the Congolese revolution in particular, concerns the condition of the peasantry: “What could the Liberation Army offer these peasants?” Che asked himself, in the epilogue to The African Dream. “That is the question which always bothered us.” Because the peasantry, he added, at least in the region where he was attempting to set up his guerilla base, were not looking for agrarian reform, since they already owned the land or were free to use it as they pleased. Nor were they looking for credits to buy farm tools, “because the peasants ate what they tilled with their primitive instruments and the physical characteristics of the region did not lend themselves to credit-fueled expansion.” Guevara concluded from this that in order to stimulate the peasantry’s revolutionary ardor, he would have to create its nonexistent needs from scratch: “Ways would have to be found of fostering the need to acquire industrial goods,” he wrote, seemingly unaware that he was reasoning in precisely the same terms as any representative of a multinational corporation, and never questioning the appropriateness of a revolution whose principal beneficiaries felt no necessity for it whatsoever.

The Explosion of the Radiator Hose, Jean Rolin, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie.