Jul 6, 2010

A Critical Review of Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare (Part 2)

But for those who seek to achieve real social and governmental change within Latin America, or anywhere else for that matter, the route of guerrilla insurgency might not be the most desirable way to do so. If one looks historically at the effects of civil war and guerrilla activity, one recognizes that Gandhi’s campaign of non-violence to remove the British from India, might offer a much better path to revolution in many situations. In Critique of Modern Civilization, Gandhi argues that while armed resistance causes harm to both the participant and those who oppose them, as well as innocent civilians caught in the middle of the conflict, passive resistance only brings harm upon the participant. Not only are people killed, but there is a tremendous social and economic impact of war, leading to economic devastation and poverty as well as large numbers of displaced people . Governments often react to guerrilla insurgencies by violently repressing its perceived civilian support base, often killing large numbers of people not involved in any way with the guerrillas and causing others to flee their homes in fear of there lives. This is clearly evident in the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador during the 1980s. Some critics of these movements (the FMLN and FSLN) accuse the insurgents of conducting recruiting operations in communities so that the government would attack the town, increasing anti-government and thus pro-rebel sentiments within the peasantry. Clearly Gandhi’s rationale behind his opposition to violent resistance is well founded; one cannot deny civilians have been slaughtered on both sides in all armed conflict, no matter how romanticized that conflict or its participants may be. The motivation behind these civilian casualties does not lie in the tactical writings of Guevara, at least not those contained within the book examined in this paper. The author denounces acts of terrorism several times and spends a whole section of the book detailing the importance of the peasantry in conducting a guerrilla campaign, emphasizing maintaining good relations. Under this ideology any act of violence against noncombatant is not only morally wrong, it is tactically unwise.
With the exception of Cuba, the Zapatistas, the limited success of the Sandinistas and some others, the armed uprisings in Latin America throughout the twentieth century were largely unsuccessful and always very bloody. But since the beginning of the twenty-first century the left in Latin America to power in several countries through different means, perhaps seeing the futility and downfalls of using violence to achieve sociopolitical change.
Venezuela provides an excellent case study for this phenomenon. After participating in a failed coup in 1992, ex-paratrooper Hugo Chavez was elected president of the country in 1998 and has since become who some consider the next Fidel Castro, a socialist leaning anti-imperialist seeking openly opposed to the forces of capitalism and neo-liberalism in the region. He has survived a coup and a recall election that sought to depose him, enjoying ample support from the Venezuelan people, particularly among the disenfranchised urban poor. One reason for his success, in my opinion is that is much more easy for a political movement to gain and retain power when it does so through peaceful, democratic means as such regimes are less-likely to be opposed through violent means by other countries such as the United States . This trend has continued since Chavez’s election; the total of “left-of-center” regimes in Latin America having reached a total of eight at press time. It appears as though this is now the most effective and feasible way for the Left to make actual political and thus social changes within the counties of Central and South America. In doing so, these political actors provide a model of resistance to the ideological hybrid of unfettered global capitalism and Western imperialism known as neo-liberalism that has wrought pain and suffering upon the world, particularly the Global South.
But this “new” form of left-leaning populist politics can be seen to as an alternative to another kind of socio-political movement, guerrilla warfare. The histories of two of these leaders demonstrate this perfectly. As mentioned above, Hugo Chavez was elected president after being jailed in an attempted coup. Additionally, the Sandinista Party in Nicaragua won the most recent presidential elections in the country. The voters put Daniel Ortega and his party back in power, more than twenty years after an opposition party who had solid financial and ideological ties to the United States beat them in the 1990 presidential elections. Both of the examples provide solid evidence that suggest that electoral politics might actually represent a meaningful and powerful means of political participation for the people of Latin America.
But even this not totally contradiction the ideology of Guevara as outlined in Guerilla Warfare. Guevara considered violent resistance to be an undesirable, but necessary last resort in the struggle against capitalism and oppression throughout the world. At the moment, the fight against the forces of neo-liberalism has other mean of effective resistance available to them. Given this success, I still think that it is naïve to consider guerrilla warfare to be obsolete. But the Cold War taught us that no matter how far politics might swing to the left, there is always the distinct and perhaps inevitable swing back towards this right. As for the so-called “Pink Tide” in Latin America, it is still nascent and has yet to stand the tests of time and attempted CIA-sponsored subversion.
I subscribe to the idea that much knowledge must be gained in hopes that one may never have to use it. The knowledge contained within Guevara’s tome should be considered as much. It is obvious, by Guevara’s, and many others reckoning that violence is the least desirable means of resolving conflict or achieving positive change in the world. But it is dangerous, in my opinion to take it one step further and assume that there would never be a situation in which violence would be a necessary evil. The discourse evokes powerful emotions and ideas, such as the right to self-determination. It is a discourse that was not resolved within Guevara’s lifetime and perhaps will never be. In a world in a constant “state of emergency,” a world of never ending war, it is my hope that one day Guerrilla Warfare will truly be relegated to the realm of academic study, as it will have no other potential use.

Works Cited

Gandhi, Mohandas K. "Critique of Modern Civilization." The Peguin Gandhi Reader. Ed.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee. New York: Penguin Book, 1993. 3-66.

Guevara, Ernesto "Che. Guerilla Warfare. Bison Books ed. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Guevara, Ernesto "Che". The Motorcycle Diaries. Trans. Amy Wright. New York: Verso, 1996.

Wickham-Crowley,Timothy. "The Rise (And Sometimes Fall) of Guerrilla Governments in
Latin America." Sociological Forum. Vol. 2, Issue 3, Summer 1987.

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