Was Guevara a Failed Revolutionary?

Che Guevara

Che Guevara was an Argentinian-born, Cuban revolutionary who made a name for himself as a high priest of guerrilla warfare. He is sometimes bracketed along with Mao Tse Tung as an exponent of the art of guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately his name is tinged with romanticism and the facts may not be entirely correct.

Guevara and the Cuban revolution

Guevara, along with Castro, was the architect of the Cuban revolution. He led the battle against dictator Fulgencio Batista and after the success of the revolution appeared on the podium along with Castro and accepted the adulation of the crowds.

But perhaps Guevara assessed the Latin American situation wrongly. He assumed that the people in South America would be only too happy to overthrow their United States-supported regimes. In short he assumed that South America was ripe for a revolution and decided that he would head the revolution there.

Guevara’s mistakes

In hindsight this was a colossal miscalculation. He assumed that the Cuban model of the revolution would be applicable in Latin America. He did not realize that Latin America was itself different from Cuba.

Guevara chose Bolivia for his revolution. At the height of his popularity he disappeared from Havana and landed in Bolivia to lead a communist guerrilla revolution. This however was not easy as the topography of thick jungles and far-spaced villages could not sustain his movement. Moreover the CIA, fearing another Cuba, moved all its resources to eliminate Che Guevara.

Guevara also assumed that the local populace would support him spontaneously. This did not happen as the ground situation was different from Cuba which was a comparatively developed economy. The opposition troops also started a hunt for him with the single-minded purpose of eliminating him.

Guevara was thus hemmed in and realized that he was in desperate straits, and in October 1968, after being wounded in a firefight with CIA-led Bolivian troops, he was cornered in a remote village and captured. He faced death bravely, but that would be small consolation to his supporters who cannot realize that in sum his dream of a revolution in Latin America was a failure.

The Legacy of Guevara

Guevara was certainly a cut above the ordinary. But at the same time it must be said that he was not a success. He cannot be compared with Mao who led the revolution against Chiang Kai-shek and won. In a world where a winner takes everything and a loser nothing, the stark fact stands out that Guevara and his contribution to guerrilla warfare needs to be reassessed. Guevara also wrote prodigiously and hundreds of his publications are available.These show him as an erudite and thoughtful man.

However the millions of T-shirts and posters of Guevara all over the world are not a proof of his success. He is certainly a cult figure, but the myth must be separated from reality.


  1. Che Guevara, by Andrew Sinclair, Viking, 1970