Scene 3 [Lima, 1952]

To answer, it is necessary to step back in time to the first encounter with Marxism that the young Ernesto had personally experienced in Lima, Peru, during a period of his life in which he had already decided to engage in the search for his own path outside Argentina. That is, outside of a great country where, in the early 1950s, the ideological alternative for a young radical who wanted to fight for ideals of social emancipation risked being crushed between two main poles: anti-communist Peronism or Stalinist anti-imperialism. There were certainly no alternatives of the third or fourth type, «better» but lesser, since the homeland of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) and of the continental movement of University Reform («el Grito de Córdoba» of 1918) had offered the main culture broth for heretical or heterodox currents more than any other Latin American country, perhaps second only to Mexico. But for some time the young Ernesto had no sense of it or did not feel the need for it.

Of some interest in the history of his theoretical training is the fact that at the end of high school he had begun to compile a «philosophical dictionary», of which there are some excerpts and the description given by his childhood friend in Alta Gracia, José (Pepe) González Aguilar (b. 1928?).

The Guevara spouses were anti-Peronists but they were not Marxists, Catholics but not practising. The mother (Celia de la Serna y Llosa [1906-1965]) was a very independent woman, radical and endowed with considerable intellectual interests, which were non-conformist for the time and the environment in which she lived: her influence was decisive on Ernesto’s training and this is recognised by many, starting with the second of the brothers (Roberto Guevara [b. 1932]) who spoke to me about it with great emphasis for the first time in November 1992.

The group of friends belonged mostly to anti-fascist and anti-Francoist families, but they were not communist. An exception was university friend Tita Infante (d. 1976), with whom Ernesto maintained a long and intense exchange of letters starting in 1947, which she corresponded with feelings that went beyond mere friendship. Tita was enrolled in the Communist Youth of the Faculty of Medicine of Buenos Aires, and Ernesto sometimes communicated to her the progress made in reading the first Marxist texts. According to the testimony of Celia Guevara de la Serna (sister of Che, b. 1929) – reported by Adys Cupull (b. 1937) and Froilán González (b. 1943) (in Cálida presencia, p. 12) – it was she who introduced him to the reading of Aníbal Ponce (1898-1938), the great Argentine psychologist who died in Mexico, of whose extensive work the two read in particular the most properly Marxist works: Education and class struggle, The wind in the world and above all (and fundamental for the future development of a Marxist ethics by Che) Bourgeois and proletarian humanism.

In the circle of friends, an exception was represented by «Petiso», the companion on the famous motorcycle trip – Alberto Granado Jiménez (1922-2011) – the biochemist who since his university years had been linked to the Argentine Communist Party which was than headed by a notorious exponent of Stalinism, the Italian Victorio Codovilla (1894-1970).

And it was during the journey with Granado that the young Ernesto had the opportunity to frequent Dr. Hugo Pesce (1900-1969), the Italian-trained and internationally renowned leprologist who was a specialist in physiology, passionate about philosophy and an intellectual with a «formidable Marxist culture» – as Ernesto described him in a letter to his father (Don Ernesto Guevara Lynch [1900-1987]). Pesce was a member of the Peruvian Communist Party and in 1929, at the Communist Conference of Buenos Aires, he was one of the two Mariateguian delegates, that is followers of José Carlos Mariátegui (1894-1930), the main Latin American Marxist whose thinking from that moment began to have a considerable influence on the formation of the young Ernesto, above all in stimulating an early «discovery» of the indigenous social question, Andean in particular.

It cannot be excluded, in fact, that the theoretical interest of Ernesto for the indios (born initially from the passion for pre-Columbian archaeology and only later transformed into the theme of anti-imperialist struggle) and for the work of Mariátegui began right in the home of Hugo Pesce. He had the two young friends lodged in a hospital, but he often had them as guests at mealtimes. From their diaries we know what a positive influence the conversations with that direct pupil of Mariátegui – in turn, a man of Marxist science and dialectics – had on Ernesto. If Guevara’s Marxism really took off from there – as the main biographers are inclined to think – it must be said that it could not have had a better start in the political and philosophical sense.

«Coming at the right moment in his own quest for a guiding social philosophy, Pesce’s beliefs and personal example offered a potential structure to emulate. From then on, the idea that he should find something similar for himself began forming in Ernesto’s mind. As for Marxism-Leninism, he was interested, but he still had to acquire more knowledge before committing himself to a particular ideology» (Anderson, pp. 85-6).

The respect that Guevara was to keep until the end for this complex and fascinating figure of doctor/militant/Marxist (a clear reflection of what Ernesto himself aspired to become, finding a sort of «alter-super-ego» in Pesce), is confirmed by the words he wrote to him in 1962 as a dedication in the book La guerra de guerrillas (Guerrilla warfare):

«To Doctor Hugo Pesce who will provoke, perhaps unknowingly, a major change in my attitude towards life and society, with the usual adventurous enthusiasm, but aimed at ends which are more harmonious with the needs of America [of the American continent, ed.]. Fraternally, Che Guevara».