‘The Political Theory of Che Guevara’ by Renzo Llorente reviewed by Eduardo Frajman

The Political Theory of Che Guevara

Rowman & Littlefield International, London, 2018. 196 pp., $39.95 pb.
ISBN 9781783487172

Reviewed by Eduardo Frajman

About the reviewer

Eduardo Frajman teaches humanities and philosophy at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, …


Renzo Llorente’s The Political Theory of Che Guevara is an outstanding work of explanatory synthesis. Though far from the first attempt at a concise outline of Guevara’s thought, it stands out for the care Llorente takes in guiding his reader through complex and potentially forbidding material. A professor of social and political philosophy at the Madrid campus of Saint Louis University, he proves himself a skillful teacher on the page. His prose is remarkably clean, accessible and free of jargon. He patiently explains concepts upon introducing them and provides relevant historical or theoretical information when necessary, though not so much as to overwhelm the reader. Instructors looking to introduce high school and college students to the ideas of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating minds will be hard pressed to find a better textbook.

Readers, however, should beware. Llorente has chosen to present Guevara’s thought in a wholly sympathetic light, less as a response to the vituperations of the Right than to the tendency in the Left to downplay Guevara’s theories as superficial, unrealistic, doctrinaire or as artifacts of their own time. ‘I reject the view that Guevara’s thought is of merely historical interest’, he declares (3), and in the course of the book employs some questionable rhetorical tricks to support this position. On the whole Llorente is frustratingly uncritical of his subject, despite the fact that he often creates opportunities for himself to explore the ideas from different perspectives. His discussion of Guevara’s legacy and relevance for our time is particularly obsequious and simplistic, not to mention historically myopic. Instructors, especially those inclined to sympathize with Guevara’s worldview, would do well to balance this book with a less deferential account of his life and/or work.

Argentine-born Ernesto Guevara, known to posterity as ‘Che’, was not even forty years old when he was captured and executed while trying to bring about a socialist revolution in Bolivia. Brilliant, passionate, a whirlwind of energy, Guevara lived a life crammed with incident and momentous, world-ranging significance. ‘Guevara’, recounts Llorente, ‘was variously a physician, photographer, soldier, military official, banker, journalist, industrial analyst, government minister, diplomat, military strategist, management theorist, economic planner, and revolutionary theoretician’ (123). It is the very last of these roles that concerns this volume. Guevara wrote only one full-length manuscript, a manual on guerrilla warfare, but left behind a vast quantity of writings: essays, articles, speeches, interviews, journal entries and more. In them he discusses all manner of subjects concerning Marxist theory, revolutionary activity, economic policy and the future of humanity under communism. Llorente seems to have read every last letter of it. For better or worse, he ascribes canonical status to the whole lot: a published piece is of equal value as a hastily written note, an official mission statement as an offhand comment during a meeting, a personal letter as an interview on television. Llorente finds, and shows the reader, Guevara’s thought to be ‘remarkably consistent’, free ‘of any major inconsistencies, contradictions, and tensions’ (4).

He begins, appropriately, with the best-known concept in Guevara’s oeuvre, that of ‘the new man’, which Llorente for obvious reasons rechristens ‘the new human being’. Like Marx and most of his intellectual descendants, Guevara believed that human nature is not fixed, but rather a function of specific historical conditions. Since the future communist society he was fighting to bring about would radically reshape material conditions, it followed that human nature would change accordingly. The communist human being Guevara envisioned would be free from pettiness and selfishness, would embrace radical egalitarianism, would exhibit a powerful sense of social duty, a ready willingness to sacrifice self for others, and a love of work for its own sake (14-17). The question is not whether such angelic creatures are possible nor whether they will exist in the future, neither Guevara nor Llorente seem to doubt that they are and they will, but only how to bring the transformation of human nature about.

There is no doubt that Llorente is faithful to the primary sources, both in letter and in spirit. The problem is when this attitude leads him to be too defensive about criticisms of his subject. He is adamant that Guevara’s view of the human future is not utopian, as, he argues, it ‘does not appear much less realistic, or any more chimerical, than that of other highly respected Marxist thinkers’ (21). Even when he identifies a problem in Guevara’s thought, he reminds the reader that it is ‘perfectly consistent with Marxist orthodoxy’ – which for Llorente is concomitant to being generally accepted wisdom. There is no discussion of how Guevara’s view of human nature fits or conflicts with post-Marxist thought, critical theory or many other intellectual developments within the Left that are at odds with orthodox historical materialism. The chapter ends with a coda in which Llorente wonders whether Guevara was the embodiment of the transcendent ‘new human being’. After suggesting that placing Guevara on such a pedestal ‘is both understandable and plausible’ (26), he demurs and ultimately concludes that the man was merely ‘a most exemplary communist in a noncommunist society’ (27).

So go the rest of the chapters. Llorente provides excellent summaries of Guevara’s views on work, on the international system, on bringing about the revolution and building socialism, and then communism, and, in the weakest chapter, on his economic theories and policies regarding the reorganization of the Cuban industrial and financial systems following the 1959 revolution. Each section is complemented by Llorente’s defense of Guevara from critics, and topped with the assurance that Che Guevara remains a hero, that his ideas are practical, relevant and still useful to would-be revolutionaries half a century after his death. References to Guevara’s superhuman personal qualities pepper the volume.

In Llorente’s considered opinion, there is ‘little to challenge in Guevara’s views on socialism, communism, and revolution’ (75). This, as he well knows, is not the majority view. The book returns several times to the criticism that Guevara strayed too far from historical materialism by embracing ‘voluntaristism’ – i.e., the belief that a socialist revolution can be brought about even if material conditions are not ready for it. Llorente’s case for Guevara amounts to insisting that he was no more voluntaristic than Lenin or Mao, and to providing a handful of comments in which Guevara expressly addresses the importance of material factors. This defense is not very successful. Even in Llorente’s telling, Guevara seems to have used Marxism as a justification, rather than a springboard, for his actions. He emerges from the book as a man who was certain he could change conditions by the intensity of his belief, the depth of his sacrifice and the power of his personality.

Guevara’s preferred means of political struggle was guerrilla warfare. He believed that a small group of armed warriors could, and should, violently depose sitting governments with the goal of establishing a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which would eventually lead to the redemptive era of communism. Guevara killed and died for this idea. What are we in the twenty-first century to make of that? Llorente obviously believes in the rightness of Guevara’s cause, but does he believe in the wisdom of Guevara’s actions? He is evasive about this, to the point of disingenuousness. ‘Whether or not we can justifiably speak of voluntarism in connection to Guevara’s approach to the theory of guerrilla warfare’, he announces, ‘is a separate question and one I will not address’ (115).

Although he is supposedly interested in Guevara’s historical significance, Llorente is conspicuously silent about the effects, both direct and indirect, of his revolutionary activity. Never once does he mention that the socialist government Guevara helped bring to power in Cuba was ruled in autocratic fashion by two brothers for sixty years, or that a second victorious guerrilla in Latin America (the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua) likewise devolved into a corrupt and repressive dictatorship. Never once does he bring up other revolutionary guerrilla movements in Latin America – the Montoneros in Uruguay, Shining Path in Peru, FARC in Colombia – which explicitly held up Che Guevara as a model, and then became murderous, terrorist, drug-trafficking organizations.. Grudgingly, one feels, he does admit that ‘there is, at present, little justification for armed struggle in the form of guerrilla warfare as a method of combatting contemporary imperialism’ (57).

More generally, he minimizes the dark aspects of Guevara’s embrace of violence. Guevara, for example, advocated a ‘continental’ war in Latin America – ‘it will be a protracted war, it will have many fronts, and it will cost much blood and countless lives’ (54) – a notion that Llorente accepts without qualm. He neglects to mention that Guevara was angry at Khrushchev for removing the Soviet missiles from Cuba during the October 1962 crisis and that, like his comrade-in-arms Fidel Castro, he vociferously called for a massive nuclear strike against the United States. He also has little to say about Guevara’s role as administrator of the La Cabaña detention center after the victory of the Cuban revolution. There, Guevara was in charge of officially approving all executions of prisoners found to be guilty of criminal acts during the previous regime or enemies of the revolution. Llorente finds this unproblematic (65).

Llorente accepts Guevara’s pronouncements with blind conviction, refusing to take advantage of historical hindsight. ‘We have no reason not to endorse Guevara’s view’, he affirms, ‘that the principal agent of imperialism is the United States, whether in Latin America or in the rest of the world’ (57). The geopolitical conditions are more complex than Llorente allows and the comment is patently false regarding Latin America. Llorente was perhaps too engrossed in researching the past to notice that the last American military intervention in the region occurred in Haiti in 1994, or that today China far surpasses the United States in financial investment in Latin America. In fact, other than its unsavory involvement in the coup d’etat in Honduras in 2009, the United States has all but disengaged from Latin American politics except for its protracted and utterly unsuccessful War on Drugs.

In the rare occasions in which Llorente finds fault with Guevara’s thinking or actions, he is quick to forgive and justify. He finds that Guevara’s claims that he became a Marxist only during the revolutionary fighting in Cuba ‘highly misleading’ (68) – Guevara almost certainly considered himself a Marxist before then – but concludes that this was done out of support for Fidel Castro’s belated conversion. Of the fact that Guevara defended Stalin against criticism from the Left, Llorente comments that many other young activist during the 1960s were equally supportive (108). Regarding Guevara’s open advocacy for anti-democratic means of governance during the ‘transition to socialism’, Llorente unearths a handful of offhand comments by Guevara on the importance of a free exchange of ideas, as long as they are consistent with the aims of the revolution (72-73).

“Be like Che”, Llorente extolls in closing (123). Readers will learn much from this volume, but they should show caution and a critical attitude before accepting this advice.

1 October 2018


  1. I have two comments concerning this very hostile and biased review.
    Firstly, I would dispute the implication by the reviewer that ‘human nature’ is not socially malleable.
    The reviewer criticizes the author because;
    “There is no discussion of how Guevara’s view of human nature fits or conflicts with post-Marxist thought, critical theory or many other intellectual developments within the Left that are at odds with orthodox historical materialism.”
    I happen to be associated with a University in London, England that has a distinguished Professor who claims that all ‘human nature’ is genetically determined. This Professor claims that you are clever or rich because of your genes. He has just published a book setting out the ‘scientific evidence’ for this view. This scientific nonsense has been roundly debunked by a reviewer (Nathaniel Comfort, in Nature (2018), 561, 7724, 461-4623). Not surprisingly, this book has been mightily welcomed in the extreme right-wing, imperialist press.
    So what does compose our ‘human nature’? Clearly our biology is relevant. We all have deep instinctive drives built into our biological constitution that motivate us to stay alive and to procreate. Nonetheless, these powerful instincts can be overpowered by the power of our conscious will. Our species, like all species, have unique conjunctures of properties. For this discussion the important human property is the ability to make decisions. There are numerous examples of people who have consciously starved themselves to death in defense of their political beliefs. And people all over the world have suffered death for their religious beliefs. This behaviour completely defies our most fundamental biological instincts. And abstinence from sex is a similar contemporary example. We are certainly biological creatures, but we are also social, biological creatures and hence our behaviour is profoundly moulded by our social life. We are not what “our genes make us to be”. But we are the historical result of all the relationships and experiences we have ever experienced. I should clarify that what our genes do is to make lower and upper bounds on how we may develop during our lives. So, I have a tall parent, so I would not be 1.25 metres nor 2.5 metres tall. In Glasgow, Scotland children grew to be 12 inches taller than their their parents after 1945, because western capitalism, terrified of the example of the Soviet Union (yes, despite all criticisms, the Soviet Union was held in high regard by millions of people), allowed the Scottish working class to have a slightly higher standard of living.

    Finally, I will say that it is futile to argue what the limits of human behaviour may be in some hypothetical future. We know for certain that people are sometimes co-operative, supportive of one another and have all the desirable, social properties that are necessary for complete social harmony. It is therefore, perfectly proper to argue that people will behave in a socially impeccable manner, if provided with the most helpful social context that cultivates and encourages such behaviour.

    My second comment concerns the role of north American imperialism in the world. The reviewer seems to object to the folowing quote from the book;
    “‘We have no reason not to endorse Guevara’s view that the principal agent of imperialism is the United States, whether in Latin America or in the rest of the world’ (57)”. To deny this staement is to endorse north American imperialism. I will assert that for the last half-century, at least, every social, political and economic problem, anywhere in the world, is in the final analysis, the result of the prior activities of north American imperialism. It is this imperialism which firstly, currently threatens to annihilate all humanity and perhaps all complex biological species as well, by its dangerous pressure to start a major nuclear war. And secondly, if nuclear war is averted north American imperialism will destroy humanity by climate change. And to suggest that north American imperialism is not currently involved in South America show an extreme contempt for facts. The north American imperialists are calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. And to we cannot hide the interference of north American imperialism in Brazil and and Argentina.

    1. Thank you for your comments.

      First, I do not claim in the review that human nature is not malleable. I point out that both the subject and the author of this book share a very particular view of this malleability, which at least deserves critical scrutiny.

      Second, the question of how much the United States intervenes in Latin America is empirical and not a matter of opinion. For example, for the last twenty years supporters of the Chavez/Maduro governments have warned the the U.S. is about to invade Venezuela. Never happened. Your statement that “for the last half-century, at least, every social, political and economic problem, anywhere in the world, is in the final analysis, the result of the prior activities of north American imperialism” is just too simplistic and dogmatic to capture the reality of human life on the planet Earth.

      1. The question of US intervention in South America is empirical indeed! And far more worrying than a glib “never happened” can allow.

        Since at least 2009, the US has given the Venezuelan right-wing opposition at least $49 million per year, according to US budget papers. That money has not been spent of on fomenting intellectual discussion groups. It has gone into coups, attempted coups and all sorts of social disruptions.

        Edward Snowden leaked a CIA paper that stated Venezuela is the main adversary of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. The paper listed six “enduring targets for the NSA” – and Venezuela was listed.

        I don’t know what “post-Marxist thought, critical theory or many other intellectual developments” would make of such evidence. However, Venezuelans certainly feel the combined economic, diplomatic and military pressure of the US – it’s like a gun pointed at their heads.

        1. Certainly the United States gives money to the Venezuelan opposition, and certainly the United States considers Venezuela an adversary. But from that to saying that American money “has gone into coups, attempted coups, and other sorts of social disruptions” is a big leap. What coups are you referring to? When was there a coup or a coup attempt against the Chavez or Maduro governments?

          1. The only coup attempt occurred in 2004. It lasted 48 hours and the United States was not involved (despite inflammatory claims to the contrary by Chavez and his supporters).

          2. I don’t claim to be an expert on US interventions in Venezuela. But I toured the country as part of an Australia-Venezuela solidarity Network group observing the elections in 2010 and saw many things first-hand.

            I heard the US researcher Eva Golinger speak and she most certainly had an exhaustive list of US interference in Venezuela.

            It should always be noted that Venezuela has never offered any kind of threat to the USA, other than by political example.

            Events that Eva Golinger spoke of and things I’ve noted since include:

            Documents obtained under US FOI showing US official involvement in the 2002 coup. That included political and monetary support for the right-wing opposition. I stayed in a hotel right around the corner from the bridge where the snipers murdered 15 people during that coup. There’s a very moving memorial to them on the bridge.

            Following the failed coup, the opposition sabotaged the oil industry from December 2002 to February 2003. The U.S. State Department established a slush fund through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to support the opposition. USAID set up an Office for Transition Initiatives in Caracas. That Office in turn worked through a mercenary group called Development Alternatives Inc. to dole out millions of dollars to anti-Chavistas.

            All that money failed to bring down the government but it did cause $20 billion worth of damage.

            A year after that, opposition groups trained by the US-based Albert Einstein Institute organised 4 days of violence on the streets of Caracus. I don’t know how many people they killed.

            After that failure the opposition ran a recall petition campaign to force a presidential election, as provided for in the Bolivarian constitution. The NED and USAID funnelled huge amounts into the opposition campaign. It resulted in an election – Chavez won 60% to 40%.

            Following all that violence, the US started using diplomatic aggression, upping the ante in its abuse of Venezuela, slandering the government and the revolutionary process.

            In the first half of 2006, the US Navy conducted 4 “exercises” off the coast of Venezuela – AKA practice invasions. A military base was set up in the Dominican Republic and US bases in Curaçao and Aruba were built up. Curacao is right off the coast of Venezuela.

            The US embassy established “American Corners” in 5 Venezuelan states to coordinate subversive activities. NED and USAID increased their funding of the right wing.

            In 2007, Chavez nationalised a telephone company, the electricity supply for Caracas, some oil fields and chose to not renew the operating licence of a right wing broadcasting company, RCTV.

            Capitalist food distribution companies started hoarding food and consumer products to create shortages and generate anxiety within the population. That behaviour has been regularly repeated since.

            George Bush accused Venezuela of not supporting the US War on Drugs and slapped on sanctions.

            In early 2008, SOUTHCOM dispatched the 4th fleet to the Caribbean and the Director of National Intelligence, General Mike McConnell, said Venezuela is the “principal threat against the US in the hemisphere” in his Annual Threat Report. Venezuela was listed as a “national security threat” in the Report on Present Threats to National Security of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

            Using European courts Exxon-Mobil attempted to “freeze” $12 billion of Venezuelan assets.

            The US accused prominent Venezuelan government officials of being drug smugglers and put others on its official list of terrorists.

            In March 2008, the Colombian army invaded Ecuadorian territory, assassinating FARC leader Raul Reyes. Colombia followed this up by saying that laptop computers taken from the FARC camp show that Chavez gave the FARC more than $300 million along with a uranium (of all things) and weapons!

            Responding to the obvious threat, Venezuela mobilised soldiers to the Colombian border. The US responded by sending an aircraft carrier for “exercises”. George Bush said the U.S. would defend Colombia against Venezuela. Bush also spoke of putting Venezuela on the same list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” as Cuba, Iran, Syria and North Korea.

            In 2009, the US began constructing military air fields in Colombia.

            In February 2010, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence called Venezuela the regional “anti-American leader”.

            Later that year, the Spanish Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue reported evidence that between $40-50 million a year was being given to Venezuelan anti-government groups by foreign governments.

            Under the Obama administration the same pattern of US meddling and opposition violence continued with increased use of sanctions.

            Obama’s Vice President, Joe Biden told Caribbean leaders that their countries should get out of the PetroCaribe Venezuelan discounted oil program because the Maduro government was on the verge of being “defeated”. This was soon followed by another failed coup.

            Since then we have seen the Trump round of pressures and uprisings etc.

            In early 2017 there were very well publicised violent confrontations in the richest 35 of Venezuela’s over-300 municipal areas. President Maduro convened a Constituent Assembly and defused the situation.

            There has been an attempted assassination since then and confirmation that US officials met with the coup plotters beforehand.

            From all of this I would say that you are correct in saying the USA has not physically invaded Venezuela. However, I think that it would be a brave person who said that American preparations for invasion “never happened”.

  2. That is a long list, and I’m not going to address every single point. As I said before, there is no doubt that the US government has financially supported the Venezuelan opposition (and opposition parties and groups in other Latin American countries). Relative to the level of material and military support the US offered to right-wing governments in Latin America during the Cold War, however, American involvement in the region is much diminished. Certainly the United States has not directly intervened militarily in Venezuela, contrary to your suggestion in your original post.

    The original discussion refers to Llorente’s assessment that American imperialism is the biggest threat to Latin America today. I think that is self evidently false.

    Regarding American involvement in Venezuela, you are correct that Venezuela never presented a threat to the United States. If anything, the Bolivarian regime happily sold its oil to the United States throughout the Chavez era. American opposition to the Bolivarian regime cannot be explained by strategic imperatives, nor can it be explained by “American imperialism”, but by an ideological rejection in the North to the policies of Chavez and Maduro.

    However, your last comment is worrisome to me. It seems to follow the narrative propagated by many on the Left that all of Venezuela’s problems are caused by American interventionism. This is simply not true. An intellectually honest account would take into consideration the mismanagement and corruption endemic in the Chavez/Maduro regimes, as well as the blatantly anti-democratic strategies employed by both leaders. It is disingenuous and hypocritical to dismiss the Venezuelan opposition as “US trained” operatives. Much of the criticism against the Bolivarian regime is legitimate, and its leaders bear a large amount of responsibility for the catastrophic conditions in the country today.

    1. Oh well, I won’t bother trying to extract a recognition from you that your dismissal of Venezuelan concerns about US invasion (“never happened”) was “glib”, as I wrote.

      But I would like to take up your statement that US “opposition to the Bolivarian regime cannot be explained by strategic imperatives, nor can it be explained by “American imperialism”, but by an ideological rejection in the North to the policies of Chavez and Maduro.”

      You are saying that countries in “the North” don’t like the policies of Chavez and Maduro. I agree!

      I agree, based on my analysis that the governments hostile to Venezuela are imperialist and the Chavez/Maduro policies they don’t like are socialistic and anti-imperialist.

      The Venezuelan people “ideologically” rejected the hegemony of the USA and took economic and constitutional measures in line with that. The imperialist governments took “ideological” umbrage followed by logically consistent, hostile economic, political and diplomatic actions.

      You are correct in saying: “Relative to the level of material and military support the US offered to right-wing governments in Latin America during the Cold War, however, American involvement in the region is much diminished”.

      Donald Rumsfeld promised US rulers that he could deliver war on two fronts, took the US into Iraq and Afghanistan and found that he couldn’t even deliver one war! Later, Obama did his “pivot” towards China. I can’t tell from Australia where Trump is leading!

      In all of that the US has been distracted from Latin America. It has not been absent, it just hasn’t been able to perform to its desired murderous standards. All of progressive humanity welcomes that.

      However, the US has performed dirty tricks of various sorts. As detailed in that last post of mine.

      But, you say: “It is disingenuous and hypocritical to dismiss the Venezuelan opposition as “US trained” operatives.”

      Wow, after I’ve just provided what you call “a long list” of evidence of US funding of opposition groups and its results in Venezuela. That list, BTW was mostly based on notes I took in 2010 and presented in an educational talk here in Australia. Like I said, I don’t claim to be across all of the details since then.

      I am not an academic like you. I’m sure you can dredge up the total amount US imperialism has contributed to the Venezuelan opposition, both the publically budgeted amounts and the off-the-books dollars.

      It must be many hundreds of millions of dollars so far, if not billions. What sort of bang have the imperialists got for their buck? If the Venezuelan opposition isn’t dominated by minions of the US government then Uncle Sam has really blown a lot of money!

      I can imagine that not all opposition forces in Venezuela are literally in the pocket of the USA. Can you name them? When I was there 8 years ago I couldn’t see any. Maybe things have changed.

      Che Guevara was an uncompromising anti-imperialist and that is why he is revered throughout the world. Of course, a book praising his thought would bring out people who choke on Che’s politics, including people who like to associate themselves with the left but who are “disingenuous and hypocritical” (I love your turn of phrase).

      I must say, I am really looking forward to my review copy of Llorente’s book when it arrives!

  3. As I suspected, your analysis of the US/Venezuela relationship is overly simplistic and guided by ideology and not by a thorough analysis of the facts.

    You have decided that the United States is evil, that all of its policies are evil, “murderous”, and impossible to explain in any other way. You have decided that the policies of the Bolivarian government in Venezuela are “socialistic and anti-imperialistic” and that, therefore, anything the Bolivarian government does is good and justified. This is nonsense.

    Yet, nothing I can say will change your opinion. All I can do is encourage you to examine carefully the behavior of the Chavez and Maduro governments. Their disdain for democratic institutions, their portrayal of their leaders as all-knowing messianic figures, their ignorance of basic economic processes, their unforgivable corruption, their use of violent repression against peaceful protest. If this behavior if socialistic and anti-imperialistic, please go ahead and keep it. I want nothing to do with it.

  4. An unfortunate aspect of structured discussion threads of this kind is that pieces of arguments can get missed or misrepresented. And brevity can lead to over-egging the pudding or to thoughtlessness.

    I stand by my belief that the primary problem facing the Venezuelan process is US hostility and subversion.

    Have I strayed into moralistic over-statement and described the USA as “evil”? If so, I should clarify. I hold to Lenin’s thesis about imperialism: “Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations — all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism.”

    Is US imperialism murderous? I won’t bother presenting evidence, I’ll just state the fact: yes, it is.

    I assert that I have presented a sufficient line of argument dealing with the minutiae of US meddling in Venezuelan affairs within a context of imperialist geo-strategic manoeuvring. At least, it’s OK enough for a few hundred words. And, heck, I’ve just moved house and my library is in boxes!

    You are correct in saying that I have not attempted to analyse weaknesses of Chavismo. I see the primary problem as US imperialism, that’s where I aim my fire. However, I am associated with the Links website and there is a wealth of left critiques of Bolivarianism there (see – http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/34). There is more at the Green Left Weekly (see – http://www.greenleft.org.au).

    My memories of the democratic institutions I encountered in Venezuelan barrios animate me to this day. I remain in contact with some of those activists and treasure their guidance about what is happening there – their fears and hopes are mine.

    I didn’t only encounter revolutionaries in Venezuela. I met right-wingers as well. That was my first encounter with the phenomenon that has now swept the US under Trump: the decrying of fake news. I met reactionaries who would tell me the most blood-curdling things about the situation in barrios that I had just visited, things I knew to be without any foundation. It wasn’t just that they were mistaken, they seriously believed in all sorts of weirdness.

    And, in Venezuela there were ex-Marxists who, in the revolutionary tumult (and goodness, there was tumult aplenty) had become unmoored and journeyed through various intellectual conceits on a path to opposing the revolution.

    I still have yet to read the book about Che, your review of which launched this interaction! It must be a rip-snorter! My provisional opinion is that your sclerotic attitude towards a contemporary revolution has distorted your reading of Che.

  5. My “sclerotic” attitude towards the Bolivarian regime is the result of years of in depth study. Do not be fooled: in terms of style (though obviously not substance) Trumpism and Chavism are strikingly similar. See my extended study of Chavez’s populism https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-latin-american-studies/article/broadcasting-populist-leadership-hugo-chavez-and-alo-presidente/89117744E46364D478EF9C47CB642C89 .

    More generally, I do not believe that in the post Cold War world it makes sense to base one’s analysis of geopolitics on US imperialism. Marxist and socialist analyses that insist on retaining the categories that made sense fifty or a hundred years ago are doomed to fade into irrelevance. The American war in Afghanistan, for example, now approaching its twentieth anniversary, simply cannot be understood as an imperialist conflict.

    As I say in the original review, this is particularly true of Latin America. American foreign policy since the Clinton years has all but turned its back on the region. Yes, you provide lots of examples of small-scale support for the Venezuelan opposition on the part of American governmental and non-governmental organizations. Very small scale.

    I strongly urge to examine China’s involvement in Latin America in the past thirty years. Most experts, be they socialist or neoliberal, now agree that China is a much influential force on Latin America politics and economics than the United States. If your analysis of the region continues to focus on American interventionism your are obfuscating rather than clarifying.

    Finally, the “revolution” in Venezuela was never socialist, though it had some socialist coloring. The question is immaterial now, for the Bolivarian chapter of Venezuela’s history will soon come to a close, almost certainly amid violence and bloodshed. Some, like you, will surely blame the United States for it. When you do, you will be giving a free pass to those truly responsible: the political leaders of Venezuela, on both sides of the political spectrum.

  6. OK, we are a long way from Che Guevara and we are stuck at trying to get in the last word! But, at least the contours of our differences are apparent.

    Part of it revolves the relevance of the category of imperialism in general and US imperialism in particular. Anyone who is sceptical about the philosophical category of imperialism must choke on the legacy of Che Guevara and vice versa. That’s not obfuscation; that’s disagreement.

    You say US imperialism is not the central power in global politics and cite Afghanistan. I’d suggest that the very fact of the 20 years of involvement in Afghanistan shows the exact opposite. US imperialism is most certainly weakening every day, but it still has greater reach and a punch than all other nations.

    The other side of US weakening is shown by China’s sniffing around for allies in Latin America (and elsewhere). The US neo-cons imagined they could wage war all over the world and get away with it. China cannot substitute for US imperialism as yet, but in the “growing hegemon” stakes they are doing what they can.

    So, the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is tinged with socialism to some extent, you say. We disagree as to the extent. I see it as a grand, shambolic attempt to achieve a social overturn without violence. It has contradictions aplenty, which is why it is so spectacular.

    The Venezuelan opposition has tried every conceivable tactic to generate a right wing insurrection and failed every time. It is not for lack of resources, intelligence or opportunities. It is a political failing based on their social class. They can offer the poor nothing but a return to the pre-Revolution times.

    You say that there is a time of all-out violence coming to Venezuela. I hope not. The day that happens US forces will be in like a shot. You said at one point that I believe US imperialism is “evil”. If they invade Venezuela the streets will be awash with evil.

    Finally, I say that anyone who abides by the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach must stand by the revolutionary movement, not just study it like an ant heap.

  7. I’ll let you have the last word. As you say, the contours of our differences are clear. Thank you for the discussion.

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