According to its website, the mission of Campus Progress, an outfit affiliated with left-of-center think tank the Center for American Progress, is “to see that the next generation of progressive leaders is better trained, better informed, more diverse, and more united than any generation before.” Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, one can appreciate the organization’s idealistic approach to getting young people involved in public life.
But a piece by Kay Steiger on the legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara demonstrates the jejune approach that many on the Left still take when it comes to discussing left-wing totalitarians. An earnestness afflicts the entire piece, the purpose of which is to inform liberal readers that the man they lionize on t-shirts and lighters is not exactly a progressive hero, as he’s been portrayed. Steiger writes that “[Guevara] was a man of principles, to a fault.” The same, of course, can be (and still is) said about Joseph Stalin or Robert Mugabe; in the minds of many liberals, it is not the ideas of these men that were toxic from the start, just the way they were executed.
Steiger writes of Guevara’s “impatience with governing,” which is a nice euphemism for a belief in the virtues of violent revolution over the comparatively less sexy devotion to the rule of law and individual rights. Steiger is not the first writer to employ such rhetorical sleights-of-hand aimed at whitewashing the brutality of this particular left-wing thug.
Perhaps knowing that she will not be able to convince her left-leaning audience that Che was bad by virtue of his politics, Steiger pinpoints the man’s reactionary views towards women and homosexuals, who rank highly among the intended beneficiaries of 20th century liberalism. (She does, though, make a key factual error in her assertion that the gay Cuban novelist Reynaldo Arenas “was killed as the result of the government’s prosecution of gays.” He died in Miami, where he had fled, of complications due to AIDS. This, of course, is not to discount the Cuban regime’s incarceration of gays, along with other undesirables, in prison labor camps.) Steiger helpfully informs us that
At best, Guevara’s politics advocated for a mindless devotion of the working man (with an emphasis on “man”) to socialism, but left out other causes many progressives have worked long and hard for: equality for gender and sexual orientation. In fact, gays were persecuted following the Cuban revolution.
The precious, explanatory manner in which this is written (“Hey guys, Che wasn’t exactly a great dude”) characterizes Steiger’s entire article, seen here in the surprise she evinces towards her own discovery that Guevara was violently hostile towards homosexuals (“In fact”). But the hostility of left-wing regimes towards homosexuality is hardly a secret. The Soviet Union and its satellite states around the world viewed homosexuality as a deficiency that would be cured with the perfection of Socialist Man.
It’s nice to see a liberal website like Campus Progress explain to its readers why Che Guevara was “cruel and militantly dogmatic in ways that should make the Left squirm.” But Steiger nevertheless qualifies this already tepid condemnation with an assertion that “[t]he discussion of Guevara is still divisive and complicated, years after his death, and it should be.” There is nothing “complicated” about the moral character of Che Guevara; he was an evil man. And the only thing “divisive” about “the discussion” surrounding him is that so many on the Left persist in claiming otherwise. That an ostensibly mainstream liberal organization like Campus Progress feels the need to explain to its readers that Guevara was not the hero of their imaginations, 40 years after the man’s death, says a lot about the “next generation of progressive leaders.”