"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Can Advocates of Violence (Like Che) Become Icons for Peace?
Column by L.K. Samuels.
Exclusive to STR
One would think that those who work diligently in the peace movement would praise those who speak warmly of peace and non-violence. But is this the case for today’s peace movement? One recent incident puts that assumption into doubt.
On May 17, 2015, the Monterey Peace and Justice Center held a fundraising event in a Monterey, California hotel to promote peace. Many local dignitaries attended, including state assemblyman Mark Stone and Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker. The keynote speaker was state senator Bill Monning, a lawyer, who has had a long history of advocating peace. Monning taught international negotiation and conflict resolution at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and was the co-founder of Global Majority, Inc., which is dedicated to education, training and advocacy in the field of non-violent conflict resolution. He has spoken at a number of peace rallies in Monterey in which I had organized. He is no novice to the peace movement.
And yet, as the keynote speaker at the May 17 peace event, Monning wrapped up his speech with a jaunty quote not from Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., but from an avowed advocate of violence — Che Guevara. The quote was inoffensive—“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” Perhaps a good quote for a convention debating Marxism or revolutionary love, but it seemed rather inappropriate for a peace event.
After the speech, I talked to a leader of the Monterey Peace and Justice Center. He just shrugged when I asked whether a quote by an advocate for violence was appropriate for a peace event. When I mentioned Che’s violent and Marxist past, he said that Nelson Mandela referred to Che as "an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom.” I asked him if Marxists actually believe in freedom,” and he shrugged again. At some point I mentioned that Benito Mussolini also had a violent and Marxist past. I should have asked him if a quote from Mussolini would have been appropriate at a peace event. Mussolini did express support for freedom and freedom of the press until he rose to be a “socialist” dictator. And yes, Mussolini was a socialist who nationalized most of Italy by the mid-1930s, once boasting that “Three-fourths of Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state.” See http://fascistcontroversies.weebly.com/ or http://www.lksamuels.com/?p=156
It is not Che’s military campaigns against oppressive Latin American governments that made him what author Alvaro Vargas Llosa called a “Marxist Puritan” who operated as a “cold-blooded killing machine.” No, this occurred after Fidel Castro overthrew the corrupt and brutal administration of Fulgencio Batista. Here, under a supposedly enlightened government, Che was responsible for executing up to 500 prisoners at Cuba’s La Cabaña Fortress prison under his extra-judicial orders. He relished the almost daily firing squad that demonstrated his commitment to capital punishment. Some of the prisoners were executed on Cuban TV, personally shot in the head by Che. He was famous for shooting those within his own ranks who he suspected of being defectors or traitors. Sounds like a peaceful and merciful man easy to romanticize as a peace icon.
But Monning’s Che quote elicited an indifferent attitude from other peace activists in the Monterey area. This seemed rather peculiar; as if there is a Marxist undercurrent that tolerates violence if performed by heroic-style socialists associated with supposedly noble causes. Why would that be? Shouldn’t peace devotees have more in common with the Zero-Aggression Principle than advocates of single-party political structures that are prone to violence, and opposes democracy and human rights?
Political dictators sympathetic to the tenets of Karl Marx have murdered over 100 million people during the 20th Century, not through wars but through starvation, executions and prisons. Why would peace activists have any empathy with militant Marxism or other authoritarian ideologies? In fact, peace adherents should be the most anti-Marxist and non-violent among the population. Just look at Italian Fascism. It was Marxist-inspired and evolved from a branch of heretical Marxism and Revolutionary Syndicalism. A supporter of Lenin’s October Revolution in Russia, Mussolini was a Marxist thug who sought to violently overthrow the government of Italy. His fascist street thugs assassinated opponents, including rival socialist factions, Catholic priests and even bombed churches. He also supported revolutionary causes like “social revolution” and “social justice” up until his death in 1945. In fact, the first name of Mussolini’s political party was the “Fascist Revolutionary Party.”
But this problem goes deeper. One leading peace activist almost became an apologist for Che's checkered past by referring to his good works. It is true that Che fought against racial injustice and was instrumental in Cuba’s literacy campaign, but does this give someone the moral and legal authority to execute unarmed people without a trail or jury? Mussolini was a teacher and his public works program built thousands of new schools in Italy. He was responsible for setting up generous welfare programs for the poor and workers. So, why don’t these peace activists quote their Marxist half-brother Mussolini?
More interestingly, this peace leader also implied that it was okay for Che to extra-judicially execute Cuban prisoners because that was what the former Cuban dictator had done. So, since Batista had executed deserters, traitors and other citizens in the past, Che should have carte blanche to do the same? But wait a minute. Weren’t Fidel and Che supposed to usher in revolutionary change, social equality and egalitarianism? Where’s the change? Where’s the social mercy and equality? Perhaps Che was only interested in an egalitarianism of death and terror, leaving no deadly stone left unthrown.
I ran into this softness toward Marxism and social violence earlier with a Green Party member in another Monterey peace organization. She had no objection to having Marxist speakers at peace-sponsored events. When I informed her that Karl Marx was anti-Semitic and anti-black, and that Engels advocated genocide against the Slav people of Eastern Europe, she flippantly stated that she “takes only the good parts of Marxism.” How would this sound if the ideology was switched to German National Socialism? Who would say, sure, Hitler was anti-Semitic, anti-black and believed in the eradication of all Jews, but that they would only embrace the good parts of National Socialism? What good parts?
In order to combat this growing justification for aggression, I introduced the Zero-Aggression Principle to my local peace organization as a possible plank in their mission statement. Since I have been a member for almost 10 years, I thought they might consider it. They seemed interested at first, but soon some began to realize that this peace principle might prevent some people from getting free goodies from the government. The zero-aggression concept upset the Green Party representative so much that she said that if anyone else tried to bring it up again, they should be censured. Well, that says it all. Apparently, to talk about the concepts of peace at a peace group gathering is heresy. Fortunately, most of the members ignored her remarks.
This Green Party member also had something to say about Bill Monning’s quote of Che Guevara. She laughed over my concerns and stated that she would start wearing her Che Guevara T-shirt. It seems that Gandhi’s non-violent movement has been overthrown by so-called peace activists who are either ignorant of Che’s bloody past, or are so eager to install a dictatorship of the proletariat that executing people with a gun is completely acceptable. Sounds more like the spoof of a military buffoon who believes that the only way to stop war is to “Kill for Peace.”
So, can advocates of violence become icons for peace? When it comes to Che Guevara, his mythical image has become more than a countercultural symbol of rebellion; it has apparently fooled far too many peace activists who should know better. Fortunately, since I brought this issue to the forefront, some peace activists in Monterey area are beginning to question their definition of non-violence. Hopefully, this will reawaken their dedication to true zero-aggression peace.