(Here I revel in the common irony of a book written by the anti-capitalist and revolutionary extraordinare, Che Guevara, being marketed as a collector’s item and being sold profitably at Amazon.com. Does anything mean anything?)

The book I’m reading right now, borrowed from my sister’s amazing collection, is called Guerrilla Warfare written by Ernesto Che Guevara in 1960, introduced by Marc Becker. It’s a very stimulating read; so far, I haven’t been able to put it down. In my last year of undergrad I took a class on Latin American politics so the general history is familiar to me but there is a paradox noted in the book that I find extremely fascinating. It makes my eye twinkle because of its utter im/possibility. Castro and Guevara as leaders of the Cuban revolution and hopeful leaders of the World Revolution said that armed revolution is the last option – the final measure after all peaceful means have been exhausted. But this, ultimately, is a matter of interpretation. Exalted by by “I’m a revolutionary” card-carrying young radicals everywhere, countless Socialist movements around the world, Che Guevara is the iconic symbol to the world’s poor that change will come only if we do it ourselves.

Guevara’s foco theory…

(1) hit & run tactics such as violent offensives and retreat back to geographically difficult terrain;

(2) the belief that a spontaneous attack against professionally trained military is possible and necessary for success of the revolution;

(3) the idea that peasants are not ‘a sack of potatoes’ as Marx put it in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, but a vital organ of the revolution itself;

(4) the conviction that there are no “economic” preconditions to revolution

…articulated the guerrilla warfare path to social, political and economic growth in Latin America and the Tricontinental.

The “Tricontinental”, by the way, was a term used interchangably at the time with the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL) .

Today the Tricontinental has some of the same problems it did when Che was agitating in the 1950s and 1960s. The path to economic development still remains an open and contested question – and the ‘great globalization debate’ has only made it more vague. Is this really the time for re-orientation of Third World approaches to international trade, including unprecedented openness to foreign capital and all its social and political requirements? Or is it all a mirage – the clever generalization of particular interests?

When can we say that all peaceful means have been exhausted? When can people be told that it is time to revolt? After how many WTO roundtables, after how many IMF programs on poverty-reduction, after how many land redistribution programs sponsored by government, after how much science on the spread of infectious diseases and how much politics on the price of the cure?

My intention isn’t to say we need a violent uprising but I must admit that I’m torn on this question – I’m feeling in between Dr. King and Malcom X; Gandhi and Fanon. Half of me acknowledges that violence is for the incompetent and the other half of me recognizes that competence is the biggest lie of all. Many of us in the midst of revolution would have our Holy Book in one hand and an AK-47 in the other, espousing peace and war in the same breath. The point is that violence elicits response and violence changes things immediately.

So here is the hypothetical scenario – provided that the Tricontinental were organized enough on one issue particular to the people living there – such as agricultural exports, for example, would there ever be consensus on when all peaceful means have been exhausted? On when to do it?

During the Cold War it was easier to discern when peaceful means were exhausted because of the stalemate between East and West. It was always no war no peace. But as it is supposed to seem now, there is no such bi-polar stalemate as there are only competing interests in a global market. So what does this mean for revolution?

It’s widely noted that Guevara’s foco theory has been discredited. But the thing about revolution, if Guevara was right, is that it is spontaneous. So perhaps the fact that he’s been “discredited” doesn’t matter at all. Perhaps the question of Third World revolution, his dying wish, is only a question of time?

And now I will go to my bed for a fitful sleep anticipating the dream and nightmare that is guerrilla warfare.