This is the text of the lecture presented in the International Conference «Karl Marx: life, ideas, influence. A critical examination on the Bicentenary». The Conference was organized by the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) in Patna (Bihar, India) on 16-20 of June 2018.

First half: OUVERTURE: Scene 1 [La Paz, 1996] Scene 2 [Dar es Salaam, 1965] - FLASHBACK: Scene 3 [Lima, 1952] Scene 4 [Rome, 1969]
Interval: Scene 5 [Sierra Maestra, 1956-58]
Second half: ORTHODOXY STORY: Scene 6 [from Havana to Moscow, 1959-63] - HERESY STORY: Scene 7 [from Moscow to Havana, 1963-65] - MARXIST STORY: Scene 8 [Prague, 1966] - FADE-OUT: Scene 9 [Vallegrande, 9 October 2017] - THE END (WORKS CITED)

First half

Scene 1 [La Paz, 1996]
At 10:30 am on Tuesday, October 1, 1996, five visibly excited people took the lift down the 30 metres to the Banco Central de Bolivia basement. Three were journalists, one a photographer and the fifth a researcher of Guevara: for the first time, the Bolivian government had given them free access to the «A-73» safe-deposit box in which the original copy of Che’s Bolivian diary was and is still kept.

However, the box contained other very important material, as Carlos Soria Galvarro Terán (1944) – my great friend, companion in research and leading scholar of Che in Bolivia [at the time together with Humberto Vázquez Viaña (1937-2013)] – was to discover with great emotion In fact, they found a) the original copy in Spanish of Pombo’s diary, which was believed to have disappeared after its translation into English; b) evaluation forms of all the guerrilla members; c) the red loose-leaf notebook with the diary pages from 7 November to 31 December 1966 (in addition to notes and drafts of press releases); and d) the German leatherette agenda with the diary pages from 1 January to 7 October 1967.

But it is exactly at the end of this agenda, in the five final pages, that Carlos made the most disturbing discovery for we researchers into Che and where from it starts this reflection of mine on the relationship between Guevara and Marx: these five pages contained a list of 109 book titles (15 of which marked with a red cross), divided by months (to be reduced in quantity) from November 1966 to September 1967. This was completely new documentation that showed the deep interest Che had continued to nurture for study and theoretical elaboration up to the last hours of his life, despite finding himself in desperate circumstances and knowing that he was by then destined to defeat (military).

Carlos let me have the photos of the list and I published it in colour (to highlight the red crosses) in number 2 of Che Guevara. Quaderni della Fondazione/Cuadernos de la Fundación [CGQF], 1999, pp. 261-3. The titles cited covered a wide range of themes and did not seem to refer to a particular bibliographic scheme. We scholars thought that they could be divided roughly into six categories: 1) philosophy and science; 2) political and military doctrine; 3) Latin American history and society; 4) Bolivian history, society and anthropology; 5) novels and world fiction; and 6) working tools such as dictionaries, statistical repertoires and medical issues.

The first group is the one of interest here and could include – besides N. Machiavelli (The Prince and other political writings), G.W.F. Hegel (Phenomenology of Spirit) and L. Morgan (Ancient society) – works on Marxism or of Marxist inspiration in the notes. [1]

A last name on the list – the only one for the month of September 1967 – was first roughly identified as «F.O. Nietzsche», bringing a sparkle to the eyes of those who were already hoping to write an essay on Che’s potential «supermanliness». However, Carlos Soria later better deciphered the name and established that it was the great military expert Ferdinand Otto Miksche (1904-1992) and his work Secret Forces [cf. CGQF. No. 8/2010, p. 273].

For many years we did not know how to interpret that list of books, so wide but also so apparently disordered as to make one suspect that instead it must have had its own order, albeit very hidden. How else could it be explained that it had been jotted down in a diary that functioned as a military diary and in a situation that was certainly not conducive to study. Moreover, the quantity of over a hundred books (some in large volumes) would have been too excessive for imagining that Che could have taken them with him during guerrilla movements. And if he had left those books in hiding places built by him in camps prepared in the early months – and thus confiscated by the army after their discovery – they would surely have re-emerged in the «clandestine» market of Guevarian objects run for years by some of the officers who had taken part in counter-guerrilla operations: the military, in fact, privately sold everything that belonged to Che, and his supposed «travelling library» would certainly have had very high starting bids.

All that remained was to think of a wish list formulated by a Marxist scholar such as Guevara, who had a wide range of interests and had already proved to be a great devourer of books throughout his life. Or, alternatively, to think that it was a precise reading plan, in which the «Marxological» sector was of particular importance.

This second hypothesis turned out to be correct, but we were only able to confirm it some time later, with the emergence of a new document which had remained unpublished for a long time despite the importance it would have had «in the heat of the moment» for a precise definition of the most authentic Guevarian theoretical dimension. The wave of nonsense written after his death in books and articles on Che’s «Marxism-Lenism» and on his presumed orthodoxy could have been avoided thanks to the letter I am about to examine and which provides the explanatory key to the «Bolivian» reading scheme mentioned here.

Scene 2 [Dar es Salaam, 1965]
Holed up in the house of the Cuban ambassador in Tanzania (Pablo Rivalta, 1925-2005), recovering from the defeat of the military expedition in Congo («la historia de un fracas», as Guevara himself called it) and before moving to Prague, Che wrote an important letter to Armando Hart Dávalos (1930-2017) on December 4, 1965. Armando Hart was a historic leader of the July 26 Movement [M26-7], husband of the founder of Casa de la Américas (Haydée Santamaría Cuadrado [1920-1980]) and father of «Trotskyist-Guevarist» Celia Hart Santamaría (1963-2008), as she described herself in her last few years, before dying in a car accident.

Armando Hart was the first Minister of Education in the Cuban government, from 1959 to 1965. He was then to become Minister of Culture from 1976 to 1997 and would leave a series of theoretical works, among which it is worth mentioning here the essay on Marx, Engels and the human condition (2005). We will see why. After a premise in which Guevara informed Armando Hart of his revival of interest in studies on philosophy, the letter developed two fundamental themes: 1) desolate observation of the state into which studies on Marxism in Cuba were falling due to the lack of material except those produced in the Soviet world; 2) a well-structured study plan to be approved and implemented as soon as possible.

It should be noted that the premise contained Che’s admission that he had twice tried to deepen his understanding of the philosophy of «maestro Hegel», always ending up defeated but with the conviction of having to start philosophical studies from scratch (see point 2).

Regarding the first point, Guevara said that there was no serious Marxist material in Cuba, excluding «the Soviet bricks that have the disadvantage of not letting you think, because the party has done it for you and you have to digest». A method that Che defined as «anti-Marxist» and was based on the poor quality of available books (mostly of Soviet origin). Books that were published both for editorial convenience (since the Ussr contributed financially, I add) and for «seguidismo ideológico» [ideological tailism/khvostism] towards «Soviet and French authors». By the latter, Guevara intended to refer to the official Marxists of the Pcf – which at that time were the vogue, not only in France but also in various other Communist parties – gathered under the supervision of Roger Garaudy (1913-2012), at the time still a Stalinist, before embarking on the many turnabouts that were to lead him to convert to Islam in 1982.

With regard to the second point, it is not difficult to recognise an interpretative grid applicable to an important part of the reading plan that Che was to draw up in Bolivia about a year later, which has already been mentioned. This previous study project (which was personal, but which the Ministry should have also organised for the Cuban people) appeared divided into eight sections. And for each section some authors were indicated to be published or gone into further:
1. The history of philosophy to be set within the work of a possibly Marxist scholar (mention was made of Michail Aleksandrovič Dinnik [1896-1971], author of a history of philosophy in 5 volumes), without obviously neglecting Hegel.
2. The great dialectics and materialists. To begin with, Guevara cited Democritus, Eraclitus and Leucippus, but the Bolivian notes help us understand that he was also thinking of the work of Rodolfo Mondolfo (1877-1976), a well-known Jewish Italian Marxist who emigrated to Argentina in 1939 to escape the racial laws adopted by fascism. His history of El pensamiento antiguo (Ancient thought) had been translated from Italian and published in various editions, starting in 1942.
3. Modern philosophers. No names were made in particular, but Che did not exclude the publication of «idealist authors», provided they were accompanied by a critical apparatus.
4. Classics on economy and precursors. Adam Smith, the Physiocrats, etc.
5. Marx and Marxist thought. Guevara complained that some fundamental Marxist texts were non-existent in Cuba and proposed the publication of works by Marx-Engels, Kautsky, Hilferding, Luxemburg, Lenin, Stalin «and many contemporary Marxists who are not totally scholastic». This latter opinion was linked to point 7.
6. Construction of socialism. With particular attention to rulers of the past and the contributions of philosophers, economists and statisticians.
7. Heterodox and capitalist theorists (unfortunately collected under the same section). In addition to Soviet revisionism (for which Guevara could not but cite the Kruschev of the time), among the heterodox theorists he included Trotsky, accompanied by a cryptic annotation, almost as if to say that the time had come to take note that he had also existed and «had written» things. Among the theorists of capitalism, Marshall, Keynes and Schumpeter were cited as examples to «be analysed thoroughly».
8. Polemics. With the caution that Marxist thought had advanced precisely thanks to polemics, Guevara declared that one could not continue to know Proudhon’s Philosophy of poverty only through Marx’s Poverty of philosophy. It was necessary to go to the sources. Rodbertus, Dühring, revisionism (here referring to that of German social democracy), the controversies of the 1920s in the Ussr. This section was indicated by Che as the most important and the aim of a polemic directed against rampant conformism in the Cuban party and in the whole of the pro-Soviet world was evident. And it is no coincidence that the theme of «seguidismo» [«tailism»] reappeared in the conclusion of the letter, with a hint of veiled complicity addressed fraternally to Armando Hart against «the current makers of ideological orientation» to whom, according to Che, it would not have been «prudent» to show that type of study project.

An invitation to «prudence» that Armando Hart took a little too literally, deciding to keep such a precious text hidden for some decades. But in addition to Che’s well-founded concerns, he had a special reason for not circulating the letter (and daughter Celia told me [in October 2006] that she could not forgive him when she came to know about it): the Cuban minister of Education had had and perhaps still had some special sympathies for Trotsky and had jealously kept it secret since it had never emerged in any of his books. But Guevara - the only Cuban leader who had occasionally been interested in the Trotsky question - had somehow learned of it. For this reason, when he named the famous «heretic» in the letter, addressing Armando Hart he called him «tu amigo Trotsky” [«your friend Trotsky”]. In the Cuba of 1965, a month before the Tricontinental Conference (January 1966), in which the concluding speech by Fidel Castro (1926-2016) was going to mark officially and definitively the passage of Cuba into the Soviet field (which had already occurred in substance some time earlier), the suspicion of Trotskyist sympathies would have been incompatible with the government post he held. This is why the letter «disappeared» for over thirty years. It would be published for the first time in September 1997 in Contracorriente (year III, No. 9) and then by Hart himself in 2005, in the book on Marx and Engels cited earlier (pp. XLIII-XLVIII), with photostatic reproduction of the original pages.

It was in this way, only after having seen a text so precious for establishing the level of reflection on Marxism achieved by Guevara, that it became possible for those of us interested in doing so to provide a valid explanation for the reading plan sketched in the agenda of the Bolivian diary. In the words taken from Otro mundo es possible by Néstor Kohan (b. 1967), the leading scholar on Che in Argentina: «This letter allows us to grasp the degree of maturity achieved by Che regarding the need to seek an autonomous philosophical and ideological alternative to Marxist ‘orthodoxy’, including both the official culture of the Soviet Union and the officialism existing at the time in China» Otro mundo es posible, p. 155).

At the time he wrote such an important letter, Guevara was going through a period of tumultuous transition, perhaps the most unstable and certainly the most dramatic of his life: he left Cuba and he had been defeated in the great economic debate; he resigned from government offices and had no citizenship; he was deprived of the support of his great friend Ahmed Ben Bella (1916-2012) who was overturned in June 1965 by the coup d’état of Houari Boumédiène (1932-1978) with which the decline of the Algerian revolution began; he had gone through the Congolese disaster; he was hostile to the Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence, and a lucid and fierce critic of the model of construction of socialism in the Ussr; he was aware of the involution that the Cuban revolution was experiencing, anxious to return to what he considered to be a genuine revolutionary practice (guerrilla war); and he was wary of the theoretical certainties touted as «orthodox Marxism» and «Leninism».

It was clear that the theoretical reflection he wished to resume in a systematic and almost «professional» form - and about which he had first spoken to Armando Hart (perhaps because he too had the faint smell of heresy...) - was in turn a product of more recent political delusions. There remained only the doubt about how ancient in the theoretical field were the «genetic» roots of those delusions which the new reflections should have remedied.

[1] Notes
C.D.H. Cole, Political organisation;
B. Croce, [with the title used in Spanish] La historia como hazaña de la libertad – (The philosophy of history and the duty of freedom)];
M.A. Dinnik, History of philosophy I;
F. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy, Dialectics of nature;
M. Gilas, The new class;
V. Lenin, The development of capitalism in Russia, Materialism and empirio-criticism, Certain features of the historical development of Marxism, Philosophical notebooks;
Liu Shaoqi, Internationalism and nationalism;
G. Lukács, The young Hegel and the problems of capitalist society;
Mao Zedong, On practice;
K. Marx, Critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right;
R. Mondolfo, Historical materialism in F. Engels;
L. Trotsky, The permanent revolution, History of the Russian revolution I and II;
J. Stalin, Marxism and the national and colonial question, The national question and Leninism, Problems of Leninism;
C. Wright Mills, The Marxists.

All the images of the article are taken from the book by David Kunzle, Chesucristo. The fusion in image and word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ, De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston 2016 (published in Italy by Massari publisher, Bolsena 2015).