On a recent trip to the netherlands and belgium, I was struck by the number of items for sale that bore the image of Che Guevara. There were Che t-shirts and Che bags of various sorts available in all the tourist traps. This, of course, was not the first time I had encountered Che’s image. It is all too common to see Che t-shirts here in the states, as well, including those on the chests of self-described anarchists or offered for sale in the AK Press catalog. But it did make me think once again about the way the myths of the nobility of the marxist-leninist movement persist among so many people despite all the horrors for which it has been responsible.
There appears to be a romantic attachment to this movement which is wholly unwarranted, if not shameful. It is not uncommon to see Che’s image at demonstrations or rallies against abhorrent actions by the united states, but those who display this image seem not to remember the real accomplishments of this person and the movement of which he was an important part.
Authoritarian communists, from Lenin to Fidel and Che have been just as responsible for murder, war, and oppression as the authoritarian capitalists whom Che’s devotees hold in such contempt. They have killed their domestic opponents. They have maintained prisons that would be the envy of the worst wardens in the united states. They have held their subjects captives by building walls and fences on their borders that put the Rio Grande and west bank walls to shame. They have locked up queers, persecuted jews, “ethnically cleansed” tatars and chechens, and kept women “in their place.” Their record on redressing racism, especially in their own movement, is abysmal as well; in cuba, for instance, the rulers are just as white as those in the united states, while a large majority of their subjects are black. Marxist-leninists have been as imperialistic, sexist, racist, heterosexist, (and whatever other PC epithet comes to mind) as those they have opposed. And perhaps most ironic, they have been even more efficient, again notably in cuba, in exterminating anarchists.
The body count racked up by the international communist movement likely exceeds that of the fascists/nazis of europe, but they have been given a pass. When I go to the city market in Anchorage on weekends, there are buttons with Lenin’s image for sale. If I decide to go drinking in Cambridge, I can sit in a bar decorated with russian communist posters. But imagine the outrage were a bar to display images from fascist italy or nazi germany. Picture the self-righteous lefties trying to shut down a booth that dared to sell Hitler badges.
Authoritarian socialists, while much less powerful than they once were, still rule a number of countries and play an important role in opposition movements around the world. But there really is no moral difference between the leninists and the fascists, and until that is understood, particularly by Che-wearing (and Che-marketing) anarchists, there is no hope for attaining a free society.