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Surely, it must be something of a dilemma in the wake of a dead hero. She was only one step removed, remember, having arrived in Cuba one year after his death in Bolivia.
In school, her older children were being taught to wish, or at least to say, that they could be like Che. Randall spends some time considering his severity, his high moral code, how it played out when set as an ideal, and what it had been like to live in the shadow of this great person. For the Cubans to have chosen him as their man to emulate, had been an mistake; it had been setting the bar too high.
I, myself, could not measure up, she seems to be saying. Would a male biographer write that? Randall gives clear, simple, often fresh, definitions. Some form of internationalism is de rigor among youth today, and goes under the name of global exchange, catholic mission, and global outreach. An insatiable need to carry the revolution to other lands clouded his vision.
Even the best-considered studies of Che, she says, focus more on his guerrilla life and do not give weight to his thought. This is only our experience, not a prescription for others. Then again, a true revolutionary has a different set of priorities.
However privileged, and despite his good looks, innate military skill, upper-class background, stable and loving parents, and good education, he never felt bound to uphold those traditions. Therein lay his power, she writes. When I asked her to confirm this, she replied: yes, but some were quite small. Like Margaret Duras, she recycles some of her subjects, looking from a slightly different angle at Haydee Santamaria, Che, and feminism.
It is her privilege to do so. Of course, like the food prepared by a grand cook, we do not mind that she follows the same recipe.
And that, of course, is what brings this academic and sometimes dense study to life, interspersed, as it is, with droll observations and ironic memories of Che from people who directly experienced his personality.
It is a testament of his dynamism in the role of part philosopher, part math teacher during the years when the country was a fledgling revolutionary nation, wanting to do it alone and desperate to get it right. These co-workers often quote as well as describe Che, and so this book presents a fresh portrait of a young man who was often funny, sometimes sweet, clearly driven.
He put together the Budgetary Finance System that is still relevant today and unique to socialism. Yaffe is a good storyteller, and however dry or tough or simply curious portions of the subject might be emulation, for instance , she finds a way to make her subject, and the situation in Cuba during those primary years of the Revolution, very real, when it fell to Che to figure out how to produce enough goods to keep Cuba going. To do that, he read, he studied, he thought, he cajoled, humored, scolded, wrote policy, and he prevailed.
Under Guevara, work would become a social duty as he tackled unemployment , and volunteering would become the norm to increase productivity. He planned for a future modern economy. Yaffe tells us, step by step, how he promoted education and training; established account, investment and supervision systems; saw all of Cuba as one big factory and demanded that all workers participate in management and vice versa.
Yaffe based this book initially, a doctoral thesis on documents to which she was given access: manuals, annual reports, personnel assessments, management board reports, factory inspection reports, economic perspectives documents, and transcripts of the internal bimonthly meetings of Ministry of Industries led by Guevara. Hers is a huge contribution to the world of scholarship. How did she get access to all those records and make contact with all those people? Being from the UK and a student of Marxist economics helped, but she found encouragement and good records management in Cuba.
While there are quite a lot of scholars and journalists who write extensively about Cuba, a good many seem to avoid consulting primary sources by carrying out research in Cuba. Some, in fact, avoid it like the plague, and receive rich contracts for their effort or lack of it.
What, you might ask, is that about? We should take our hats off to Yaffe for making a clarification. There are two camps, she writes — or, as in boxing, two corners: Cubanists versus Cubanologists.
Of course, the fact that the U. Cubanologists came first. Its objectives were to compile information for planning future actions against the Revolution and to depict the Revolution negatively for a global audience. This meant denying all positive achievements of the Revolution, deriding official Cuban sources of information and disseminating misinformation about life in Cuba.
Out of these grew academic schools of thought that preach a kind of gospel against the Revolution Cubanology which believes that history was interrupted in , and once the Castro brothers leave this earth, the country will resume where it left off. She traces the term to a conference organized by the Library of Congress.
Dissidents, on the other hand, enjoy a special status in the western academic community, regardless of their previous ideological or institutional position.
So the time has come for the advent of a new group of academics. How Cuba — how Che — crafted his economic policy might be a light that will help them build an economy or provide a guide or a path to follow. After all, it was Fidel who claims that discovering Marx was like finding a map in the forest. Well, this book might be something similar.
Che wrote a Manual for Factory Administrators, which encourages workers to get involved in management and stipulates that factory administrators visit the factory floor; and top management, himself included, must visit factories on a regular, bi-weekly basis. In the lobby, placed in an alcove so that it looked a bit like a shrine, was a machine for producing cigar boxes that was once used for Che Guevara on one of those visits. The plaque stated that he had used the machine for four hours, and, from that day onward, it had been retired from use.
It seems not to have mattered that the valuable piece of equipment had been taken out of production. Che had touched it. And like the iconic statue it had become, they had painted it silver.
Che aimed to give socialism a democratic, participatory character. In addition, Guevara established a Department of Inventions and Innovations, and would personally interview the designers with the best solutions and send it on to be manufactured. There is plenty of new film material to be found in the pages of this book, equally comedic.
They often waited until machinery parts were totally worn out before ordering mechanics to make replacements. The situation required nothing less than success.
A culture rose out of this, and moved into all aspects of Cuban life.
Today, the owner — who is probably also the driver — of one of those old, American cars used as a peso taxi, who picks up riders along a given route in Havana — perhaps starting in Playa, then along the length of 23rd Street through Vedado to Central Havana, along the Malecon, to end up at the Capitol Building in Old Havana — has no plans for retirement. He has never been just an owner, or driver or mechanic.
He has had to be a machinist as well, re-creating bits and pieces of the car as the need arises. In that man and his car is a bit of Che. Being a researcher in Cuba requires a certain amount of acquiescence to overall conditions, for it is a country that always seems to be in dire straits.
But she traded in a life of technical, architectural, and gastronomic comfort to become a researcher during those years in Cuba. I have met Yaffe and Randall — and they both know and have written about my work. No one who lives and works there gets off easily, so I doubt Alvarez found it a piece of cake, either. I worked in the libraries and archives of Havana in the Special Period, as well: no electricity, windows wide open to deal with the heat, data taken down on a laptop that soon ran out of battery, would then rapidly switch over to long hand and painfully-slow notes, written on paper that was always scarce, even hard to purchase in the diplomatic shops, and placed on a desk that, within minutes, was covered in dust once the windows were open.
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