October 19, 2004
by Ronald Radosh
Western advocates of democracy were heartened and thrilled to read the reports of last summer's massive Hong Kong march in opposition to the proposed Article 23, and the overall growth of the pro-democracy protests coming out of Hong Kong, a clear challenge to the Beijing government, and a warning that its citizens will not tolerate anything but a further growth of a politically democratic model of development.
But they are confused when they read that one of the most outspoken dissidents and leaders of the movement for democracy, Kwok-hung Leung, popularly called by his movement name, "Long Hair," has proclaimed himself a follower of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, and has become most well known for always appearing in public wearing a popular Che t-shirt. Elected recently to Hong Kong's Legislative Council, the self-proclaimed revolutionary democrat upped the ante by demanding that when he takes the oath of allegiance, he be allowed to make his oath a statement of faith in democracy. Once again, appearing before the High Court, Leung Kwok-hung appeared in the familiar garb---the Che t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Style, it appears, is part of his revolutionary message.
"Long Hair" claims that he is a strong advocate of "democracy, justice, human right" and "freedom." Evidently, all he knows about Che is the glamorous photo that has spread world wide and appears on his t-shirt. The reality is something far different, and Che Guevara as a model of political democracy is so far from the truth, that one can see Che looking down (or looking up from below) and laughing incredulously at the antics of Mr. Kwok-hung Leung, who although he may share Che's style of long hair, was anything but any kind of a democrat.
The real Che Guevara was in fact a ruthless hard-line Stalinist, a sympathizer of Mao and the Chinese "cultural revolution," and an opponent of democracy who believed that the democratic system was a bourgeois delusion that had to be replaced by a Soviet style regime, in which the norm of Leninist "democratic centralism" was the guiding path of the one political party that should be allowed to rule in society. Those who adopted his name and his image in a fight against totalitarianism, he would say, were distorting his legacy and misusing his name. If anything, were Che around, he would be leading a fight against "Long Hair," and would favor his immediate imprisonment as a counter-revolutionary, if not his quick execution by firing squad.
It was Che who in the earliest days of the Cuban revolution, demanded that all opponents of the Revolution be condemned and brought before the firing squads. He called for the founding of the labor camps---that were eventually used to imprison gays, AIDS victims, and dissidents. Were he alive today, Che would commend Fidel Castro for his recent fierce crackdown on peaceful dissenters, most of whom are imprisoned for years in Cuba's brutal contemporary version of the Gulag.
One must remember, as his childhood friend Dolores Moyano Martin has written, that Che favored the concept of necessary murder. It was nothing to advocate the mass murder of opponents, once Che argued that the revolutionary's motivation had to be "unbending hatred for the enemy," so that he could transcend most people's human limitations and become a "violent, selective, cold-blooded killing machine." It's a good thing that "Long Hair" was too young to come in contact with Che in his heyday; hearing "Long Hair" talk, Che Guevera would quickly have reached for his rifle. That should not be surprising. Today in Cuba, Leung-Kwok Hung's equivalents are waging a difficult and brave struggle for democracy and human rights. They have no right to run for office, as "Long Hair" has in Hong Kong. Those who have bravely distributed the mass petition for democratic elections have been brutally suppressed, arrested, and given long sentences in prison. Similarly, the proponents of independent non State-controlled libraries, where people can take out any kind of available book without government censorship, have found that they too have had their homes raided, books confiscated, and faced imprisonment.
What Che Guevara wanted above all was to build the mythical "New Man," the perfect individual who would serve the so-called socialist system they were building. What he helped build in Cuba was what the Cuban revolutionary and future dissident Carlos Franqui wrote was a world "where the people are forced to work and to endure permanent rationing and scarcity, where they have neither rights nor freedom." When he discussed his sad conclusions with Che Guevara in 1963, he found that Che had moved from total support to the Soviet Union to support of Maoism, and become an advocate of guerrilla war as the only path to revolution. Che praised Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, which he thought was different from the Party in the USSR, "because it was not split by factionalism," and because he thought Mao was more like Lenin than Stalin.Che had become a man who now saw Chinese Communist dogma as the answer to the failure of Soviet dogma.
Such a man as Che Guevera, more the mass murderer than the rebel of "Long Hair's" myth, is hardly a suitable or appropriate symbol for those who seek a system of political democracy.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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