The film, The Motorcycle Diaries, portrays a society which led Che Guevara to engage an international revolution in Latin America. That revolution is still relevant today as people in Egypt and Libya demand radical change from oppressive governments. The ones involved in the revolution are a generation of university-educated and middle-class people. They want revolution and not just reform. In addition, they are anti-imperialists and want social justice through an end to poverty. As the film shows, Che Guevara encountered a society where working class people struggled. Guevara believed it would take a guerrilla movement (with no political allegiances) to change life for the working class, but historians said Guevara’s revolution was not successful because he did not recruit the working class and indigenous populations into his revolution.
First of all, Guevara believed working class people deserved a better future. His ideas stemmed from the Peronist era (1943-55) which he grew up in. Guevara’s family came from privileged backgrounds, but his father went from one failed business venture to another. That allowed Guevara to travel around a lot as a youth and inspired his love of travel (Elena 24). As Guevara grew up, he saw the harsh divide between the rich and poor. For instance, in the film when Guevara visits his girlfriend at her family’s vacation estate (a reminder of their high social class), Guevara is uncomfortable with the idea of staying at the estate. What he really wants to do is to visit hospitals helping the sick. His ideas of helping the poor probably was inspired by Peron, who used propaganda to document the social injustices of the poor (Elena 41). However, the Peron regime embraced poverty as a thing of the past. Guevara believed poverty was still rampant and a huge problem.
Guevara shared similar ideology with Peron. In addition to both being pro-working class, they both were anti-imperialists. Guevara said that he liked how Peron protected the workers and took power away from the imperialists (Drinot 97). In his early years, Peron had an agenda to reduce foreign investment, but by the end of his presidency, he embraced foreign investment from the United States (Elena 46). This probably led Guevara to move away from nationalism.
In addition, there were other areas where Guevara differed from Peron. He saw the downside of Peronism in its censorship of the media and harassing dissenters under the Law of Internal Security (Drinot 91). He also saw how doctors had to offer political support to Peron in order to stay employed (Elena 37). That would be extremely problematic for Guevara. He was even wary to participate in political organizations during his university education (Elena 35). Guevara did consider himself as an observer. He had no allegiance to one political party or another. Zulawski wrote that Guevara was not a communist as he had strained relations with the Bolivian Communist party (203). So, Guevara did not identify with Peronism nor communism nor any other political party.
In addition, Guevara greatly differed from Peron on the means to achieve change. Gueveaa believed a guerilla movement was the way to do it. There had to be a revolution—not just reform (similar to the protestors in Egypt and Libya). But then Peron went about social justice through dealmaking and alliances (Elena 47). Guerilla warfare means “little war” in Spanish. It is a mass movement involving no formal military. Interestingly enough, historians said Guevara’s revolution failed because it was not truly a mass movement and because it involved no formal military. Zulawski said Guevara lost because he underestimated the power of the military government and working-class people (204). Guevara is criticized for never working at the mines. By not doing so, he didn’t have real contact with working class people.
So, it was because Guevara didn’t truly capitalize on a mass movement that his revolution wasn’t successful. He underestimated the power of the working-class and indigenous populations. Historians also described Guevara as having a supremacist view of indigenous people. Drinot said Guevara viewed Indians as a “defeated race (107).” It is evident in the explorer’s attitude to the patients in the San Pablo colony. In letters to his father, Guevara wrote that shaking the patient’s hands gave them a psychological lift because people were no longer treating them like animals. (Drinot 114). Evidently, historians believe Guevara failed to notice social changes among the lower classes and made a mistake by having a revolution made mostly by middle-class people. Guevara said, “Effective change had to be brought about by a violent revolution led by people capable of emancipating those who could not emancipate themselves (Drinot 115). Historians do not agree.