Trots celebrate famous golfer

While walking along Botanic Avenue this afternoon, I noticed something quite odd. There were a succession of big posters of Che Guevara adorning the lampposts. “The revolutionary ideas of Che Guevara”, they proclaimed. On reflection, this wasn’t necessarily odd. The students are back at Queens and the left will be trying to run meetings that might entice a few punters in.

But who was puffing Che? I know the IRSP claim an affinity with old Ernesto, but they haven’t done any student work in living memory, if indeed they ever did. The Shinners perhaps? Maybe in Dublin, but the Tyrone farmboys at Queens don’t go in for that sort of thing – a night of rebel music with a Wolfe Tones tribute band would be more their scene.

For a minute or two I thought it might be Militant. Socialist Youth occasionally use Che’s image in recruitment drives, which is a bit bemusing as I can’t readily think of an organisation less like Che Guevara than Militant. The kids tend to figure this out, if not immediately then when an adult SP member tells them Cuba is a Stalinist dictatorship and the CWI wants to overthrow the regime.

On close examination, I discovered at the bottom of the posters, in extremely small type, the legend “Socialist Worker Student Society”. Now this really had me scratching my head. As Mike Gonzalez will happily tell you, or at least did the last time I saw him, Che went from guerrillaism to, during his time in government, being far more Stalinist than the pragmatic Fidel, then reverting to guerrillaism during his Congo and Bolivia adventures. Neither brand of politics is something that the SWP has historically been keen on, and, much as they might recognise Che as an inspiring figure, they never much rated his revolutionary ideas.

It’s a puzzler all right. Maybe, what with the insurrection in Iraq, the comrades have revised their opinion and come out in favour of armed struggle, except in Ireland where it’s illegal. Or perhaps, with a commercial nous more Ben Dover than Swiss Toni, it’s just a matter of finding a sexy image that will pull in the punters. It’s unfortunate that I have to work tomorrow, or I might have toddled along to hear the new line. But if you’re a Queens student reading this, don’t let an old cynic put you off. Go along by all means, and enjoy yourself. Just remember to ask questions.

And no, the posters didn’t feature Che playing golf. It might have been more fun if they did.

21 Comments

  1. Phil said,

    September 25, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    I’m pretty sure I saw something similar in Manchester last term, also from SWSS (not Student RESPECT).

    Maybe, what with the insurrection in Iraq, the comrades have revised their opinion and come out in favour of armed struggle, except in Ireland where it’s illegal.

    I feel the urge to mention the lad who stood for election to the Students’ Union on a platform of ‘victory to the global intifada’.

  2. ejh said,

    September 26, 2007 at 6:41 am

    Am I stating the bleedin’ obvious if I observe that the title of the meeting doesn’t actually tell you anything about what the speaker’s views will be on the aforesaid ideas?

    People are still interested in Che. Or at least such is the impression I glean from the not wholly scientific method of having seen a bloke walking along yesterday with a picture of the late señor on his hat.

  3. Ken MacLeod said,

    September 26, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Mike Gonzalez’s views on Che are a tad more nuanced than this post suggests. His short book on Che gives the impression that Che was a sincere revolutionary who was misled by Stalinism, rather than a Stalinist.

  4. Idris of Dungiven said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:03 am

    I saw Gonzalez speak in QUB a few years back, and while I’m damned if I can remember what he said precisely, he did come across as more intelligent and personable than the average Swappie.

    As for Che, my brother was trying to chat up a Guatemalan woman recently and made the mistake of asking her about Guevara. This was a mistake because she turned out to be a card-carrying member of the neo-liberal party.

  5. ejh said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:13 am

    Scroll down to last letter

  6. Idris of Dungiven said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Is that what ‘da yout’ refer to as being ‘pwned’?

  7. Andy Newman said,

    September 26, 2007 at 10:37 am

    There is an ITV documentary on at the moment about a bunch of lads going through basic training into the marines. I was interested to see that one of them off duty bit in the barracks was wearing a che T-shirt with “revolution” written on it, so i think that to a large degree the iconograpohy has been stripped of al content (As John Berger pointed out in the context of the Mona Lisa, it is almost impossible to see the painting any more in its own terms because it is overlaid with so much social baggage)

    Chris bambury did a “Marxist Forum” in Swindon about five years ago, and it would be fair to say that it was fairly upbeat about che as a genuine revolutionary who made mistakes, due to the tragic context they were working in.

    I do think this is a bit opportunist though, becasue I personally would argue exactly the same thing about the SED government in the DDR. And if you extend that argument to che then why not Castro, or indeed the East Germans?

    I think the SWP are adapting to the popularity of the iconogroahy of revolution, and back when i forst joined the SWP (1978) and Guevarist ideas really did still have some currency, the SWP were really hard against Che.

  8. ejh said,

    September 26, 2007 at 11:00 am

    And if you extend that argument to che then why not Castro, or indeed the East Germans?

    Because Che never got fat, lazy and bureaucratic?

  9. Ed Hayes said,

    September 26, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Che simply has an imagery thats too good to miss out on. About 10 years ago the SWM advertised a meeting in Dublin with Che’s face under the heading ‘Raging against Imperialism’ cos the kids were into Rage against the Machine then weren’t they, and they had Che’s mush on one of their album covers. Che is both still iconic for the anti-capitalista types and you get loads of surf dudes/emo (? is that right, I’m a bit out of touch, they used to be just Goths) kids wearing t-shirts or badges with him on. Lenin and Trotsky ain’t that cool, though theres a Mao resturant in Dublin. But the great helmsman would not pass muster, esepcially since the SWP have one of them already.

  10. ejh said,

    September 26, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Doesn’t Reggie Perrin have a mental conversation with Ché in Nobbs’ original novel? Or rather, asks him what he would do.

  11. Andy Newman said,

    September 26, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    ejh: “Because Che never got fat, lazy and bureaucratic?”

    Nor has castro.

  12. Idris of Dungiven said,

    September 26, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Aye, the Mao restaurant in Dublin. . . it’s like having a potato restaurant called ‘Victoria’s’.

  13. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I think Rudolf Bahro had one of the more interesting takes on the SED. Sympathy but a strong critique, as one might expect from one who was imprisoned by them. Well worth a read.

    Not sure about Che, this might be one where the SWM was broadly right all along…

  14. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Ed, do you remember the SWM’s one-issue yoof paper, The Rage? Sort of fitted with the mantra of “We are the angry party”!

  15. Garibaldy said,

    September 26, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    SWP in opportunism shock?

  16. Ed Hayes said,

    September 27, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t recall ‘The Rage’, as there was no great use for a youth paper when I was a member. A cynical ex-PC member told me once though that the height of ‘Madchester’ Kieran wanted to organise a ‘rave-on’ as he called it, as a fund raiser. 24 Party People indeed.

  17. Ed Hayes said,

    September 27, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    24 hour Party people that is, not 24 party members at a ‘rave-on.’ SWM – in the area!

  18. Idris of Dungiven said,

    September 27, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Re: Andy Newman’s post #7. Last year I saw this lad in Dublin wearing a t-shirt that had Che’s face with a thick red line through it and the slogan ‘Commies Ain’t Cool’. He had a truly scowling, defensive look on his face, as if hoping someone would challenge him about his choice of apparel.

  19. ejh said,

    September 27, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    Was he canvassing for the PDs?

  20. Wednesday said,

    September 27, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    This was a mistake because she turned out to be a card-carrying member of the neo-liberal party.

    “Mistake”? Sounds to me like an effective weeding-out technique.

    There is an ITV documentary on at the moment about a bunch of lads going through basic training into the marines. I was interested to see that one of them off duty bit in the barracks was wearing a che T-shirt with “revolution” written on it, so i think that to a large degree the iconograpohy has been stripped of al content

    I realised that years ago, when I saw a photo of Liz Hurley in a Che shirt.

  21. ejh said,

    September 27, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    There was a famous Ché boutique within a few months of his death, wasn’t there? Doesn’t mean that the iconography has no content any more than a crucifix has no iconographic content just because it’s used in non-religious ways.


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