Many people recognize the iconic image of Che but how many can articulate what he stood for? At the core of his beliefs, Ernesto Che Guevara was a promoter of life. Ask any practitioner of a traditional martial art like karate and they will tell you that self-defense is about preserving life, not about violence. This philosophy of protecting life, espoused by Ernesto Che Guevara and others, is what provides the foundation for revolutionary approaches to social change. For many in western societies, the word ‘revolutionary’ conjures images of AK 47’s and masked men such as Subcomandante Marcos; however, I would argue that they are only seeing a caricature that was painted by a corporate-controlled media that wants to portray these individuals in an exaggerated context.
As Ernesto Guevara professed, the revolutionary is guided by great sentiments of love—specifically, love for humanity and justice. Che’s passion, as so many others who fight in the same struggle, is born out of the desire to reverse the social ills he saw in his society, from poverty to the lack of democracy, from coercion to corruption. These social ills do not exist because there is something wrong with the people, but because society has been shaped by a legacy of colonialism and unequal relations in a system of global capitalism.
Few stop to ask the question, “what is the true root cause of poverty?” and instead think that the issue of inequality can be solved by throwing more money at it, such is the world of philanthropy. What liberal humanists fail to realize is that only a just political, social and economic system can correct the inequities that colonialism created, and continues to maintain through coercion and corruption. As long as we continue to prop up the very system of capitalism, whether it be through corporate conceived sustainable economic development projects, or economic bailouts, we will never truly address the root causes of poverty.
Ernesto Guevara introduced a social system of learning that asked the individual to identify the contradictions within and offered suggestions on how to change them, and did so himself regarding his own actions. He understood that colonialism and capitalism have left their seed within us and it has fully matured. What he called for was that each one of us decolonize our minds. It is this contribution and example of constant reflection and ambition to become a better human being that serves as an example to so many other revolutionaries and those who struggle to end the legacy of colonialism. Ernesto Che Guevara loved humanity so much that he gave his life for what he believed in. In the town where he was assassinated by the Bolivian army, the peasant farmers refer to him as San Ernesto de la Higuera, he reached saintly status. So the next time you see the image of Che, whether it be on a piece of merchandise or spray painted on a concrete wall, ask yourself, what am I doing to contribute to humanity and to what degree am I willing to go to preserve the life of those marginalized by colonialism and the current capitalist system.