October 9, 2016

Che Guevara & the struggle of young Communists in Canada

Today, October 9th, marks the 49th anniversary of Che Guevara's assassination by the CIA. The following is an interview conducted by TeleSur with the Young Communist League of Canada's General Secretary Drew Garvie about what Che's legacy means for young Communists today. The written interview was conducted in June of 2016 and contributed to the article Beyond the T-Shirt: What Che Actually Stood For.

Can you tell me about your experience going to Cuba on the Che Guevara Work Brigade? Why did you decide to go, what did you you there and what did you think of your overall experience?

The Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade has been running annually for 24 years. It is a solidarity Brigade where between 30-50 people of all ages, from across Canada, visit and tour Cuba for a couple weeks.

I’d been to Cuba a couple times before as a tourist, but this was an opportunity to learn about Cuba in a much more in-depth way. Witnessing May Day in Cuba, where a million Cuban workers march each year on May 1st, was really moving, to see the depth of support for the Revolution by ordinary Cubans. When I went in 2015, it was the year that three of the Cuban Five were released after more than 15 years in US prisons. They led the march, which was a historic moment.

The Che Brigade has a series of meetings with all kinds of Cuban organizations and public services: the women’s federation, student unions, trade unions, youth organizations, representatives from the National Assembly to learn about the Cuban democratic system, economists to learn about Cuba’s socialist economy, and visits to hospitals and schools to see the Cuban healthcare and education system up close. This is a unique opportunity that is not available to the millions of Canadian tourists that visit the island every year. Of course we still make time for the music, beaches and the rum, which are on the tourist agenda.

The Brigade adopted the name and legacy of Che 25 years ago because they thought it captured the spirit of the Brigade. When it first started, Cuba was going through some very hard times with the collapse of the Socialist Bloc in Eastern Europe and most of the island’s international trade. US imperialism not only maintained the illegal blockade at this time, but strengthened it in an effort to make the Cuban people kneel. The Brigade was meant to show concrete solidarity with Cuba during this period. It brought material aid to Cuba, and it also started to do volunteer work, something which it continues to do today.

It was an idea of Che, in the early days of the Revolution, to organize volunteer work. Engaging in selfless labour was meant to help construct a new socialist spirit and a sense of solidarity in people. Che participated in this work on the front lines performing volunteer labour and leading by example. On the Brigade today, people from across Canada work alongside Cubans, usually doing agricultural work for a few mornings during the tour. This does not really help the Cuban economy out in any meaningful way, but it is done in order to show solidarity and build friendships between the Brigade and Cuban workers. So in this sense the legacy of Che Guevara lives on in the Brigade.

Can you tell me more about The World Festival of Youth and Students? What is it and how has it chosen to commemorate or highlight Che’s legacy next year? In the past?

Delegates from Canada & other countries
at 18th WFYS in Ecuador
The World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS) is a massive anti-imperialist youth festival that has been occurring since 1947. It has tens of thousands of participants from over a hundred countries whenever it occurs. It was born from the post-war youth movement that had played a significant role in defeating fascism. Since that time it grew to oppose the Cold War and promote friendship between youth in the capitalist West and Socialist Bloc of states, and changing again to support decolonization struggles, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In the past couple decades the Festival has been in Latin America three times: in Cuba in 1997, Venezuela in 2005, and Ecuador in 2013. Next year, in 2017, planning has begun to hold the Festival in Russia under the slogan: "For peace, solidarity and social justice, we fight against imperialism - honoring our past, we build the future".

Members of the World Federation of Democratic Youth and other youth and student organizations just met at the beginning of June in Venezuela, in order to show solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution in the context of increasing imperialist attacks on that democratic process, and to start talking about the content of the Festival. We know that some themes were adopted by the young representatives there, the centenary of the Russian Revolution which will occur in 2017 will be an important theme, but also they decided to dedicate the Festival to two people in particular: Che Guevara and Mohamed Abdelaziz, who recently died after a lifelong struggle against colonialism and for the self-determination of Western Sahara which is still being occupied by Morocco.

The dedication of the 19th WFYS to Che was decided because 2017 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Che Guevara at the hands of the CIA in Bolivia in 1967. To this day when young people think of internationalist anti-imperialist figures, Che Guevara is certainly among them, and tens of thousands of youth will aim to strengthen the cause for which he also dedicated himself as a young person: the overthrow of imperialism around the world. This struggle, that binds many struggles together, is perhaps more necessary today than in the 50’s and 60’s when Che was struggling. In Venezuela this month the WFYS preparatory meeting adopted a call to the Festival that reflects this:  “Join our struggle for the overthrown of imperialism, since our prosperity and happiness cannot be found within the system that gives birth to poverty, exploitation, unemployment, that destroys the environment, and creates racial, gender and sexual orientation discriminations.”

How does Che’s life and philosophy impact the work of YCL?

Che Guevara once said: “I envy you North Americans. You live in the belly of the beast”. He wasn’t talking about wanting to move to Miami and scraping together enough money to buy a condo and a Toyota Prius. He was talking about the importance of the political struggle against imperialism in imperialist countries. Canada is an imperialist country, which is part of NATO and it has been at war since 2001, in particular wars in Afghanistan, Libya and now Iraq and Syria. These wars are part of the USA’s never ending “War on Terror”, which has led to the deaths of between 1 and 2 million people according to the best estimates of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Canada and Canadian business has participated in recent coups in countries like Haiti and Honduras. A large portion of the global mining industry is based in Canada, which commits horrendous social and environmental crimes around the world. Canada, even after the defeat of our Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper last year, continues to uncritically support the fascist coup government in Ukraine and apartheid Israel, which continues its brutal occupation of Palestine.

For these reasons and more, we agree that our difficult and sometimes lonely struggle in Canada, “the belly of the beast”, is vital to the international anti-imperialist movement. What binds young people in Canada to solidarity with the victims of Canadian imperialism abroad is the fact that we have the same enemies. Those that promote bombing abroad promote a very bleak future for young people in Canada: the introduction of part-time, precarious work, unemployment, the ballooning of student debt and the privatization of education, continued genocide of Indigenous peoples across Canada, and climate chaos that is approaching the point of no return.

For us, and Che, imperialism is an advanced stage of capitalism. To overthrow it for a world of peace and solidarity, we must fight for socialism. It is from this standpoint that we organize as young Communists in Canada, a diverse group of young people united in our long-term struggle for a socialist Canada.

What do you think is the most important of Che’s idea and should be his lasting legacy?

Che’s life embodied a spirit of internationalism and anti-imperialism that is at the core of our work in Canada. Che became convinced that there needed to be a break with imperialism after he witnessed firsthand the US intervention in Guatemala in 1954 and dedicated the next 13 years of his life towards advancing that.
I don’t think you can talk about someone’s legacy without really talking about the present as well. I think the developments in Latin America over the last decade and a half has had an impact in shaping that legacy.

There are many heroes of the Cuban Revolution. Some of the obvious ones are Raul Castro, Vilma Espin, Celia Sanchez and of course Fidel. But Che is in a different league when it comes to truly representing Latin America as a whole. He was from the South, from Argentina, traveled extensively around the continent, witnessed counterrevolution in Central America, fought for a free and Socialist Cuba, and was assassinated in Bolivia right in the centre of Latin America. He was a firm believer in the “Patria Grande” idea, a united Latin America.

Since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, there have been enormous advances towards sovereignty and democracy across Latin America, that I’m sure Che would have been very supportive of. However there has also been a reaction, led by the US government and the capitalist class that is tied to imperialism in Latin America. We now see a dangerous offensive taking place with the shock treatment that Argentina is going through under Macri, the coup against Dilma in Brazil and what is looking more and more like another coup attempt developing in Venezuela. We stand with the people of Latin America in their long-term struggle for sovereignty and with those forces that are building socialism. Che’s goals are perhaps closer to being realized today, but there are also great dangers. Our solidarity work in North America is very important to helping millions of peoples’ dreams become a reality.

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