La Ley de la Sierra: How The Revolution Ended Up On Your T-Shirt

Che Guevara is a hero. This is a fact – I read it on the internet. Never in our time has one name so encapsulated the fight against the forces of oppression as Che Guevara. An icon of strength and intelligence, and insignia for moral idealism, conviction and integrity. He’s kind of like Jesus, but with a cool beret.

Sure, you’re probably thinking ‘what about Chief Joseph or Edith Cavell or the Gulabi Gang?’, but I don’t see their faces on any t-shirts, so fuck them.

Che Guevara fought in the Cuban Revolution or Revolución de Cuba, a fine chain of Latin themed bars located around the north of England. On their website, Revolution Bars Group describe the Cuban Revolution as “For when you need to get away, but mainly when you don’t. Because you just feel like being somewhere else. And just because.”

I don’t know what that means because it doesn’t make sense, but Che Guevara must have understood it or he wouldn’t have fought for it.

Che Guevara killed a lot of people during the Cuban Revolution, but it was ok because politics.

marky-mark-good-vibrations.jpg

Political ideology is a useful tool for when we don’t want to think too much about complex situations. Politics make it easy to reduce the subtle nuances and moral ambiguity of human nature to black and white bargaining chips which bear little connection to the real world, yet carry a perceived authority that can be used to trick people into agreeing with you.

In politics, all people are either good or bad. A person or people can be designated bad for a variety of reasons; they could have said a rude word in a public place or done some genocide, for example.

Che Guevara favoured the political ideology of Marky Marksism. Marky Mark taught us that rich people are bad and poor people are good, which is unusual because most political ideology is based on the idea that rich people are good and poor people are bad.

Bad people are useful to good people because otherwise you wouldn’t know that they are good people. Good people would just be people without an enemy to align themselves against.

If you are a good person, you can kill, rob or rape a bad person and that’s ok because bad people always deserve to be killed, robbed and raped because good people are good people and bad people are bad people. If there are too many bad people then good people can just drop bombs on them which is much easier than having to kill lots of bad people manually.

Guerrillero Heroico .jpg
Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda

Che Guano was one such a good person. In a direct violation of Marky Marksist theory, he was from a fairly affluent family, but he identified as poor, so he still counts as good.

In his fight against oppression during the Cuban Revolution, he assumed command of at least a dozen known death squads in Latin America between 1957 until his death in 1967. In fact, he was so good at fighting oppression that he set up forced labor camps, infamous for their brutality and fuelled by his notorious hatred for a group of bad people called homosexuals.

Guevara had a liberal approach to execution and unlifed his own men on a regular basis. Upon suspicion of dissent, Eutímio Guerra, a Cuban peasant who had joined the Revolution, became the first to join his murder portfolio in 1957. In an emotional diary entry, Che wrote of the event: “I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal [lobe]”.

In 1959, the Revolution prevailed and Fidel Castro, having taken office as Prime Minister of Cuba, announced la Ley de la Sierra (the Law of the Sierra), commonly known as ‘revolutionary justice’. Guevara was appointed Comandante of the La Cabaña prison where it is estimated that during his five month tenure he ordered the deaths of 105 bad people who had opposed the Revolution, usually without trial.

Eventually, the US, who are definitely good people now, but were bad people back then, got confused and thought that they were good people and Che Guava was a bad person. So the CIA paid some bad Bolivians to execute him, so they wouldn’t look like bad people themselves.

Historians have never been able to agree on an exact number, but they estimate that Guevara killed between 200-700 bad people in total. If each kill is worth 100 points that would give him a maximum 70,000 points, which is a pretty good score.

Oswaldo Guayasamín, La muerte del Che No 1.jpg
La Muerte del Che No 1 by Oswaldo Guayasamín

Weird things happen when famous people die. Kurt Cobain became the greatest songwriter of his generation, Winston Churchill didn’t engineer the 1943 Bengal Famine that killed 3 million people in India and Che Guevara became the patron saint of small scale screen printing operations.

Fortunately for us, the most famous photograph of Che Guevara, Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda (proclaimed as “the most famous photograph in the world” by the Maryland Institute of Art), looked even better when reduced to a low resolution duotone silkscreen print. More counter culture, more… revolutionary.

Fewer colours and less detail makes the screen printing process much cheaper and easier, and provides a fitting analogy for the way we think about Che Guevara as a heavily quantised caricature to which we have assigned arbitrary meaning. The reality of Che Guevara, with all its blood and guts and antithetical morality, is lost in typology.

Is Che Guevara’s face on a t-shirt because he is a hero? Or is he a hero because his face is on a t-shirt?

That was a rhetorical question obviously.

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