These diaries are about the military operation of Che Guevara and approximately 200 Cubans in the Congo in 1965. Che sought to give battle to the Belgian and Amerikkkan colonialists and neo-colonialists. The owners of the diaries only published them in 1999, because Cuba's role in the intervention in Congo was a secret. When the diaries came out in 1999, they were hot news because Che saw himself as serving as a military assistant to young Laurent Kabila, who finally did come to power in the 1990s before his assassination in 2001.
The picture that Che paints of Kabila is someone like many other "revolutionary" leaders who spends much time in diplomatic consultations with African heads of states. In fact, Kabila did not visit the front of the armed struggle and constantly showed up late or never to promised meetings with Che. It was apparently mostly Kabila's job to keep aid flowing to the front.
Nonetheless, of all the people he met in the Congo, Che found himself most impressed by Kabila and he said in January 1966: "The only man who has genuine qualities of a mass leader is, in my view, Kabila."(p. 244) At the same time, Che believed Kabila was not quite serious enough for a revolutionary, "he is young and it is possible he will change."(p. 244)
Che's opinion: fiasco
In Che's own opinion, the adventure he led in the Congo was a fiasco. This book is an unvarnished account of what he saw as flaws in the Congolese and Rwandan revolutionaries he met.
In fact, in the difficult terrain of the Congo, Che came to conclude that even "good" Cubans with prior experience in the Cuban Revolution were not good enough to serve in the Congo. He repeatedly said he'd rather have 6 or 8 "super-humans" to start with than hundreds or even thousands of troops who would end up getting sick, running in battle and shooting each other down.
Che's military strategy for revolution starts with the assumption that conditions for revolution are overripe and all that is needed is the stout example of heroic leaders--what he called "armed propaganda." The first group of 8 comrade revolutionaries is a "foco," and "focoism" is Che's theory; however, there is not much theory to this book. Most of it is simply an account of what Che experienced in military operations in the Congo. He gives us details of ambushes and base defenses including some of the gory details of injury and death, drinking bouts of various troops, tropical diseases, the food and the constant ideological struggle of revolutionaries required to continue with the armed struggle and not degenerate politically. It is perhaps this last existential strain that Che covers in the raw that continues to give Che some appeal to youth today. Even in bourgeois history there are heroes and Che encourages others to become one.
Che kept quiet about the Sino-Soviet split in the book and he often mentioned the Russians and Chinese together. There is much speculation about where Che stood in relation to Castro, Mao and other figures. Much of what Mao said about "People's War," Che put into a book of his own on military strategy. In both military matters in the Congo and in economic matters in Cuba, Che distinguised between "moral" incentives and "material" incentives. At the beginning of the Congo adventure, the threat to send someone back to Cuba was Che's moral threat to keep discipline amongst the soldiers. He also talked about not letting troops have weapons until they earn their "state of grace."(p. 242) The odd thing about Cuba's role is that while Khruschev in the Soviet Union was calling for "peaceful transition" to socialism, Castro always supported him. At the same time, Castro was making speeches about Mao being a "fascist." (See our web page.)
It was apparent to Che in the Congo that the Chinese had supplied the various revolutionary groups. They had the material they needed, more than what they used when it came to weapons. It was one of his major complaints that the Congolese in particular did not like to fire their weapons, especially in battle while weapons were pointed at the enemy.
In fact, by the end of the book, Che was arguing that strings should be attached to aid, because according to Che, the Congolese did have adequate weapons to fight. In fact, in a very unusual turn-about, the revolutionaries had more advanced weapons than the Belgian mercenaries and Black troops setting up the regime.(p. 229) Despite higher technology weapons and great monetary support, Che said that the Congolese revolutionaries lost from superstition and lack of motivation. Their leaders spent money from abroad on wine and wimmin while staying in hotels and traveling at the expense of China and other countries.(p. 128) Che said this had the effect of detaching leaders from their front lines.
"They [the Africans--ed.] cling to me when they feel hard up and certainly won't pay me any attention if the money is flowing freely,"(p. 129) said Che. It raises for MIM the question of why Che picked the Congo to go to if the situation was going to come down to attaching strings to aid.
Che's lack of political economy
At the end of the book in an epilogue, Che backed up from the details and explained that there was no land hunger in the area he was fighting.(p. 223) Peasants supported his struggle more as a matter of tribal history. Certain tribes backed certain political leaders and sought military protection from other tribes. Kabila had the backing of one region in the Congo and peasants in that region would often treat the soldiers well. On the other hand, when his troops lost battle and could not protect peasants, the peasants criticized him. Thus, the political capital of the revolution could be squandered by an incorrect approach to revolution.
From his conclusion that the industrial workers--the tiny number that there were--were satisfied and not revolutionary(p. 238) and from his observation that the peasants suffered no land hunger, Che said that more serious thought had to go into making revolution in African conditions.(p. 224) He suggested that the petty-bourgeoisie would have to come into play and lead the revolution, but even the middlemen of trade were hardly very developed.
Throughout the book, Che explains that the Cubans picked to go to the Congo were all Black with the exception of himself. Yet Blackness did not guarantee mixing of Cubans with Africans and the Cubans came to regard it as a mistake that they sent all Blacks. So, there was no land hunger; troops did not believe they would be fighting the Amerikkkans and race was not a sufficient motivating factor either. For Che it was already clear cut that Belgian and U.$. imperialism had to be fought in the Congo, but for the Africans he met, it was not so clear, and Che himself admitted this. What MIM does not understand is how a stout military example could overcome such a complete difference of opinion on goals. Again and again he pointed to a lack of leadership amongst the Africans and a terrible disorganization (e.g, p. 90), but it is also clear that the goals of the Africans were much different than his, and we doubt that any number of successful ambushes and battles could have changed that.
Che does not claim that he knows all the relevant leaders in the Congo and he also openly says he does not have the answer to how to adjust to the concrete conditons in Africa. While we disagree with Che's "foco" theory because it can only work in conditions where there is slight military resistance and conditions are ripe, we also don't think he should have been silent about the split between the U.S.S.R. and China. This book makes very limited claims and seems quite reasonable: for this reason it cannot be strongly condemned or supported.
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