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Using Che's thoughts to melt 'hardened' ideological abstractions of neoliberal era

1959: Che Guevara with Jawaharlal Nehru
By Yanis Iqbal*
Today we live in a historical conjuncture, interspersed with the morbid symptoms of a socially venomous neoliberalism, with the spheres of sociality and culture increasingly and violently being colonized by the ever-expanding logic of capitalism. With the advent of augmented neoliberalism, the situation has worsened. Neoliberalism entails the aggressive extension of profit-motive to every non-monetized areas and the concomitant depoliticized commodification of these non-economic realms.
Neoliberalization continues apace, lethally and evilly stirred in the nativized notions of right-wing populism. What this has resulted in is best captured by the growingly authoritarian tendencies within the present-day global governmental structure of right-wing populism. Protests against George Floyd’s death, the progressively worsening chaos of Bolsonarian Brazil and the brazenly brutal despotism of Viktor Orban encapsulate the deteriorating state of contemporary political territory due to the pathologized politics of right-wing monomania.
Despite what seems as the “absoluteness of a dawning pessimism”, the spirit of revolutionary optimism never wilts under the onslaught of a vicious neoliberalism. The overarching history of Marxist revolutionary thought proves that through the cohesive combination of a critical concrete-real analysis and a dialectically illuminated optimistic will, a truly emancipatory praxis is possible.
One of the most radical and undaunted proponent of revolutionary optimism was Ernesto Che Guevara who had boldly asked the oppressed masses to “demand the impossible!”. On his 92nd birth anniversary, which fell on June 14, it is imperative to analyze and assimilate his revolutionary thoughts and use it to melt the hardened ideological abstractions of the neoliberal era. This would entail focusing on his revolutionary humanism which constitutes the core of his theoretical integrality.
Through this theoretically determinable construct of revolutionary humanism, Che was able to advance a causally interwoven and multi-accented programmatic politics of revolution. Because of its strategic significance and theoretical relevance, it is important that we examine its rich internal content and utilize it fruitfully.
Che was an ardent and a critically informed follower of Jose Marti, a radical Cuban national hero who was also a prolific poet and writer. It was from the universalistic humanism of Jose Marti that Che derived his own materialistic-Marxist humanism. Jose Marti had advocated for a radical humanism which solidly affirmed the equal moral worth of every individual and based itself on an ethical foundation of human dignity.
Marti’s radicality originates from his unadulterated love for justice and a relentlessly unqualified demand for equality. For example, on the question of racism, Marti declared that “there can be no racial animosity, because there are no races.” Moreover, speaking on the fundamental foundationality of a comprehensive ethics of dignity, he said that “When you say ‘men,’ you have imbued them with all their rights”.
From these examples, it is evident that Jose Marti possessed an intrinsic desire for the actualization of an untarnished humanity, deeply rooted in the conceptual extensiveness of equality. In the words of Fidel Castro, Marti was a man “who always stood at the side of the poor and who bitterly criticized the worst vices of a society of exploiters.”
Che was internationalist to the core. Despite leading successful revolution in Cuba, he was not bounded by regional limits of a country
In keeping with the essential spirit of Marti’s humanistic cosmopolitanism, Che developed a revolutionary universalism which thoroughly emphasized the materialist-economic origins of oppression. As a Marxist antidote to a de-materialized and moralized critique of subjugation, Che re-rooted Marti’s conception in the economically-defined ground of class division and class struggle.
Through this Marxianization of a moral-idealistic humanism, a new synthesization was generated which adequately foregrounded the economic substratum as the determinative-structuring principle of the interconnected material reality. Through this, oppression came to be viewed as emanating from the inherent class structures of society.
2011: Che Guevara poster during Occupy Times Square protest, New York
The inability of masses to comprehend themselves as subjugated subjects derived from their alienated conditions and mystified consciousness. Subsequently, Che considered it as his innate duty to liberate the fragmented fields of humanity from the immobilizing integument of “thinghood”.
Che’s revolutionary humanism contained within itself the seeds of a profoundly new ethic, completely uncoupled from the alienating essence of capitalism. This ethical edifice emphasized the core centrality of human agency and untiringly urged individuals to reclaim control over their own lives. The distinctive emphasis on the world-shaping capacities of people stemmed from Che’s lifelong commitment to a dialectical theory which, like Heraclitus, believed that “Change is the only constant”.
Dialectical materialism tells us that the whole word is in a constant flux, reality itself is a process, ever-lastingly fluctuating between stability and continuous transformative variation. In this way, stability becomes what Bertell Ollman has called the “paralysis of change” and it is incumbent upon us to radically reconstruct this suffocating stasis which is forcefully compressing change. Che replanted this dialectical thesis in the soil of human beings and correspondingly conceptualized a person who was dramatically different from an individualized bourgeoisie conception.
The “man and woman of the future” whom Che imagined were not static concretions on the immovable surface of earth. Rather, they were said to be dynamic open-ended subjects, invariably in a process of becoming. Che conceived of human beings as an agglomeration of social relations, internally related with the environs of the world, reciprocally interacting with and changing the material world.
Humanity was not just an objectified thingness, sealed in the ungroundedness of alienation. Instead, humanity was apprehended as a fluid social relation, enmeshed in the flexible fabric of endless change-stability-transformation. Along with this understanding of a human who recognizes the presence of constant change and uses its inexhaustible ideality to confront the concrete phenomenality of conditionedness, Che also considered revolutionary universality as an integral component of his radical ethics.
Che was a revolutionary who was internationalist to his core. Despite leading a successful revolution in Cuba, Che was not bounded by the regional limits of any country. When asked whether he was Cuban or Argentinean, Che replied that he was “Cuban, Argentine, Bolivian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, etc… you understand." This type of communist cosmopolitanism was passionately impregnated with a revolutionary universality which was unbounded by any concrete particulars.
It was only because of this humanist universalism that Che was impelled to fight against imperialism in Bolivia and sacrifice his life for a cause which was unconstrained by any locally discernable limits. Che achieved this kind of dialectical interrelation between particularity and universality through what Pramod K Nayar in another context has termed as “affective cosmopolitanism”. Affective cosmopolitanism is effectuated through solidarity based on suffering and the omni-locationality of suffering ensures that a universal fraternal bond is forged.
Ashis Nandy, when talking about the universality of suffering, says that “while each civilization must find its own authentic vision of the future and its own authenticity in future, neither is conceivable without admitting the experience of co-suffering which has not brought some of the major civilizations of the world close to each other.” It was in this context of universally situated oppression and suffering that Che said that "Every true man must feel on his own cheek every blow dealt against the cheek of another.”
In the contemporary conditions of neoliberalism, we need Che’s ideas more than ever. His understanding of world as a changeable entity, historically transitory and capable of undergoing a revolution is indispensable in the neoliberal era wherein everything is being swathed in the veneer of permanence.
With the help of the view of world and humanity as a malleable process in which individuals reciprocally interact with material reality, Che was able to actualize a revolution which a bourgeois-minded person would have thought as impossible. His depiction of universal solidarity in terms of ubiquitous suffering allows us to build a revolutionary universality in which parochial particularities are simultaneously humanized and incorporated.
It is only through a Guevarist revolutionary humanism that we can surmount the boundaries of neoliberalism and move “ever onward to victory”.
---
*Student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, is interested in studying existential conditions of subaltern classes. A version of this article was first published in Eurasia Review

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