Communist Party USA

  In the arduous profession of the revolutionary, death is a frequent occurrence. — Che It is the most reproduced photo and “the most famous photograph of the 20th century” (Anatomy Films, p. 1). It apparently surpasses da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Munch’s Scream, U.S. Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, and Marilyn Monroe with skirt billowing upward as “the most replicated image ever” (Anatomy Films, 1). The photo is entitled Guerrillero Heroico. The subject is Che — Argentine slang for “hey” or “hey buddy” or “friend.” More properly, it is Commandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna. On a damp, cold day, March 5, 1960, Cuban communist and photographer Alberto Díaz Gutíerrez Korda snapped a photo with “an ageless quality, divorced from the specifics of time and place” (Casey, 312). The Cuban people and their leaders were gathered for a protest rally after a Belgian freighter carrying arms to Cuba was blown up by enemies of the revolution. Also present that day were Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Che was notoriously camera shy, but “little did he know he was staring straight into the firing line of Korda’s trusty Leica camera” (Casey, 27). As “Che’s face jumped into the viewfinder, [t]he look in Che’s eyes startled Korda so much that he instinctively lurched backward and immediately pressed the button” (Anatomy Films, 4). Just as Korda instantly observed, his eyes are captivating: “pensive, determined, defiant, meditative, or implacable, his expression is — like the Mona Lisa’s smile — difficult to put a finger on” (Casey, 36). His eyes are “looking right through us, as if he is focused on some far-off horizon with its promise of a future utopia” (37). The blast in the harbor had killed hundreds of Cubans and suppressed the joy of the recent revolution. Che had rushed to the scene: “No wonder Korda had described Che’s look as ‘angry and grieved’. It was the face of Ernesto Guevara mad as hell and eager to avenge bloodshed, yet also aware of the immense heartache associated with the struggle he’d chosen for his life (Casey, 38). By March 5, 1960, Che was already famous worldwide, but Korda’s photo brought beatification and immortality, giving “Che his afterlife” (347). The shot certainly went global, but it’s not clear exactly how the “Korda Che made its transition into the world” (Casey, 71). The black-on-red image was prominently displayed in the streets and around the barricades of the 1968 Paris uprisings, although the source of the French Che posters was unknown (126). Marxist soldier/revolutionary Che had become Left Bank hippie Che, representing honesty and integrity and “the very thought of social transformation” (199). The “Korda Che” became “the universal symbol for the act of following one’s convictions” (262). The Korda Che is also a reminder of how capitalism swallows everything and spits it out again, commodified, packaged, and marketed: “From its very beginnings down to the present, business dogged the counterculture with a fake counterculture, a commercial replica” (Casey, 130). The image is now everywhere, affixed to posters, coffee mugs, condoms, beer bottles (Che did not drink), pillow covers, T-shirts, and “even tattooed on the torso of Mike Tyson!” (Anatomy Films, 1). Yanqui capitalism has stripped the image of its historical and political roots, including Che’s Marxist ideology so that “the historical Ernesto Guevara is irrelevant. Che has become an idea. Or an ideal” (Casey, 125). The “ultimate standard-bearer of revolutionary virtue” (Casey, 101) has been commodified. It is shameless commercial exploitation, a “breach of the integrity of Che” (Casey, 199). The image of the historical Ernesto, the embodiment of selflessness…

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The two deaths of El Che