Notes On: "Che Guevara Speaks to Young People" by Che Guevara

This short compendium of Che’s speeches is focused on those made to student and youth groups in the early years immediately following the revolution. The main focus is the responsibility of youth, and the role they can play in post-revolutionary society. The fact that some of these speeches were given at universities, during a time when the role of these institutions was being reconsidered, also gives some insight into the early problems of the Revolution in constructing a new, progressive professional class, problems Cuba was not alone in facing.

First Make a Revolution (Medical Students)

An interesting passage about class backgrounds and the post-revolutionary necessity of changing attitudes instead of having a “fatalistic” view of people:

Some time ago, a few months, a group of students here in Ha­vana, recently certified as doctors, did not want to go to the coun­tryside and were demanding extra payment for doing so. From the viewpoint of the past, this was not out of the ordinary, at least it seems that way to me, and I understand it perfectly. This was the way it was, the way I remember it being some years ago. It is the rebellious gladiator once again, the solitary fighter who wants to ensure a better future, better conditions, and to make others appreciate the necessity of what he does.
But what would happen if it were not those boys-the majority of whose families could afford several years of study-who com­pleted their courses and were now beginning to practice their pro­fession? What if instead 200 or 300 peasants had emerged, as if by magic, from the university lecture halls?
What would have happened, simply, is that those peasants would have run immediately, and with great enthusiasm, to attend to their brothers and sisters. They would have asked for the posts with the most responsibility and the hardest work, in order to show that the years of study they had been given were not in vain. What would have happened is what will happen within six or seven years, when the new students, children of the working class and the peasantry, receive their professional degrees of whatever type.
But let's not approach the future with fatalism and divide people into children of the working class or peasantry and counterrevolu­tionaries. Because that is simplistic, because it is not true, and be­ cause there is nothing that educates an honorable man more than living within a revolution.
None of us, none of the first group that arrived on the Granma, who established ourselves in the Sierra Maestra and learned to re­ spect the peasant and the worker, living together with him-none of us had a past as a worker or peasant. Naturally, there were those who had had to work, who had known certain wants in their child­ hood. But hunger, true hunger-that none of us had known, and we began to know it, temporarily, during the two long years in the Sierra Maestra. And then many things became very clear.
We, who at the outset severely punished anyone who touched even an egg of some rich peasant or landowner, one day took ten thousand head of cattle to the Sierra and said to the peasants sim­ply: "Eat." And the peasants, for the first time in many years-some for the first time in their lives-ate beef.
In the course of the armed struggle, the respect we had for the sacrosanct ownership of those ten thousand head of cattle was lost, and we understood perfectly that the life of a single human being is worth millons of times more than all the property of the richest man on earth. [Applause] And we learned it there, we who were not sons of the working class or the peasantry. So why should we shout to the four winds that now we are the superior ones and that the rest of the Cuban people cannot learn too? Yes, they can learn. In fact, the revo­lution today demands that they learn. It demands they understand that pride in serving our fellow man is much more important than a good income; that the people's gratitude is much more permanent, much more lasting than all the gold one can accumulate. And each doctor, within the scope of his activity, can and should accumulate that prized treasure, the people's gratitude.
If we medical workers achieve this:-and you'll allow me to use once again this term I had forgotten some time ago-if we all use that new weapon of solidarity, if we know the goals, if we know the enemy, and if we know the direction in which we must travel, then the only thing left for us is to know the daily stretch of the road and to take it. Nobody can point out that stretch-it is the personal road of each individual; it is what he will do every day, what he will gain from his individual experience, and what he will give of himself in practicing his profession, dedicated to the people's well-being.

The Role of the University (University of Havana)

On how universities can be remolded to serve socialist construction, and specifically why the creation of new professionals is an important political problem:

Is this inevitable? Is it inevitable that, within a certain period of time, universities are doomed to become a brake, that is, virtual centers of counterrevolution? I reject that with all the strength of my revolutionary conviction, because the only thing we lack-ab­solutely the only thing-is coordination. Nothing more than that little word, which has become the goal of all government institu­tions, and should also be the object of attention of the student compañeros. Coordination between the students of the University of Havana and the universities of Las Villas and Oriente. Coordina­tion between the programs of study of these three universities and those of the institutes and secondary schools that will supply them with students. Coordination between all these student bodies and the revolutionary government. Coordination so that at a certain moment, for example, the students know that at some point in the future the government's plans for development will require a hun­dred chemical engineers. They will take the necessary measures to organize the training of these hundred chemical engineers who are needed. Coordination to avoid an excess of my colleagues, doctors, who would vegetate in bureaucratic jobs, instead of carrying out the great social function of medicine, attending only to the struggle for life. Coordination so that the number of graduates in those old fields of study called the humanities are reduced to the amount necessary for the cultural development of the country, and so that the student body turns to those new fields of study that technology is showing us day by day, and whose absence today will be deeply felt tomorrow.
This is the whole secret to success or failure-let's not say fail­ure-relative failure, the failure to achieve the plans of the revolu­tionary government in the fastest way possible.
Right now, together with technicians from international organi­zations and from the Ministry of Education, we are studying the basis on which to establish technological institutes, which will pro­ vide us with an average scientific foundation. That will help our development a great deal. But no country can really call itself de­veloped until it can make all its plans and manufacture the major­ity of the products necessary for its subsistence within its own bor­ders. Technology will allow us to build things, but how to go about building them, to see farther down the road, is the job of planners. This is what must be studied in quality universities, with a broad cultural base, so that those coming out of the new university we all dream of will be able to answer the call of Cuba ten or fifteen years down the road.
Today in many posts we see a number of doctors, of profession­als, carrying out bureaucratic tasks. Economic development has raised its finger and said: no more professionals are needed in these fields of knowledge. But the universities have shut their eyes to the warnings of the economic process and they have continued churn­ing out this professional layer from their classrooms and lecture halls. We have to step back and carefully study the characteristics of development and then proceed to produce the new professionals.

Against an individualistic focus on finding ones’ vocation:

Someone once told me that a profession was the result of voca­tion; that it was something innate and could not be changed.
First of all, I think that position is wrong. Statistically speaking, I don't believe that an individual example has any importance. But I began studying engineering and ended up a doctor; I later be­came a commander, and now you see me as a lecturer.
There are basic vocations, that's true, but today the branches of science are so vastly differentiated, on one hand, and so intimately tied together, on the other, that it is difficult for anyone to say at the dawn of their intellectual development what their true vocation is. Someone may want to be a surgeon and that will happen, and they'll be happy doing that their whole life. But along with him there will be ninety-nine other surgeons who could just as well have been dermatologists, or psychiatrists, or hospital administrators, depend­ ing on what an extremely demanding society enables them to be. Vocation can only play a tiny part in the choice of new professions being created or in the reorientation of those we already know. It can't be anything else, because other factors stand in the way. These are, as I said, the huge needs of a society; in addition, there is the fact that nowadays hundreds and thousands, and maybe even hundreds of thousands, of Cubans have had the vocation to be doctors or engineers or architects, or any other profession, but have not been able to do so simply because they could not afford it. In other words, among individuals, vocation does not play the decisive role.
We should always think in terms of the masses and not in terms of individuals, without believing that we are anything other than individuals and jealous defenders of our individuality. To analyze and figure out the needs of a country, each of us must be able to defend our point of view a thousand and one times, if necessary. Still, it's criminal to think in terms of individuals because an individual's needs are completely unimportant in face of the hu­man conglomerate of that individual's fellow countrymen.

Never forget, technology is a weapon (Architecture Students)

We attack and are relentless toward those who take up arms against us; it does not matter if these are outright weapons of de­struction or ideological weapons to destroy our society. The rest, those who are dissatisfied, those who are unhappy yet honest, those who state that they are not socialist nor will they ever be, to them we simply say: "Before, no one ever asked you whether or not you were a capitalist-you had a contract and you fulfilled it. We say: fulfill your contract, do your work, espouse whatever ideas you like; we won't interfere with your ideas."
That is how we keep on building, with many problems, with many leaps backward. The revolution's road is not one of continuous successes, sustained advances, or rhythmic strides forward. At times we reach an impasse, when we lose revolutionary momentum, when we get disoriented. We have to regroup our forces, analyze our prob­lems, analyze our weak points, and then march forward. That is how revolutions are made and consolidated. They are made the same way we began ours-by a group of men, supported by the people, in an area favorable for the struggle.

What a Young Communist Should Be (Anniversary of youth organizations)

After the revolution, and without the same possibility for individual heroism, it becomes a challenge to maintain the same level of energy and dedication, especially among youth. At the end of this passage he brings in a pretty interesting view of how work still continues along the old lines, and raises the challenge of how to create a new conception of work:

We still see today how the youth-heroes, almost like in the nov­els-who can give their lives a hundred times over for the revolu­tion, who can respond massively to whatever specific task they are called upon to do, nevertheless sometimes do not show up at work because they had a Union of Young Communists meeting. Or be­ cause they stayed up late the night before discussing some initiative of the youth organization. Or sometimes for no reason at all, with no justifiable reason. So when someone looks around at a volun­teer work brigade to see where the Young Communists are, it often turns out there are none; they haven't shown up. The leader had a meeting to attend, another was sick, still another was not fully in­ formed about the work.
The result is that the fundamental attitude, the attitude of being a vanguard of the people, of being that moving, living example that drives everybody forward as the youth at Playa Giron did-that attitude is not duplicated at work. The seriousness that today's youth must have in meeting its great commitments-and the greatest com­mitment is the construction of socialist society-is not reflected in actual work. There are big weaknesses and we must work on them, work at organizing, work at identifying the spot that hurts, the area with weaknesses to be corrected. We must also work so that each one of you achieves a clear consciousness that you cannot be a good communist if you think about the revolution only at the moment of decisive sacrifice, at the moment of combat, of heroic adventure, at moments that are out of the ordinary, yet in your work you are mediocre or less than mediocre. How can that be?
You already bear the name Young Communists, a name we as a leadership organization, as a leadership party, do not yet have. You have to build a future in which work will be man's greatest dignity, a social duty, a delight, the most creative activity there is. Everyone will be interested in their work and the work of others, in society's daily advance. How can it be that you who today bear that name disdain work? There is a flaw here, a flaw in organization, in clarify­ ing what work is.
This is a natural human flaw. People-all of us, it seems to me­ much prefer something that breaks the monotony of life, some­ thing every once in a while that suddenly reminds us of our own personal worth, of our worth within society. I can imagine the pride of those compañeros who were manning a cuatro bocas, for ex­ample, defending their homeland from Yankee planes. Suddenly, one of them is lucky enough to see his bullets hit an enemy plane. Clearly, that is the happiest moment of a man's life, something never to be forgotten. And those compañeros who lived through that ex­perience will never forget it. But we have to defend our revolution, the revolution we are building, day in and day out. And in order to defend it we have to make it, build it, strengthen it, through the work that youth today don't like-or at the very least they put at the end of their list of duties. That is an old-fashioned mentality that dates back to the capitalist world, where work was indeed a duty and a necessity, but a sad duty and sad necessity.
Why does that happen? Because we still have not been able to give work its true content. We have not been able to link the worker with the object of his labor; and at the same time, imbue the worker with a consciousness of the importance of that creative act that he performs every day. The worker and the machine, the worker and the object to which he applies his labor-these are still different and antagonistic things. And that has to be changed, because new generations must be formed whose main interest is work and who know how to find in work a permanent and constantly changing source of fresh excitement. They need to make work something cre­ative, something new.

The principal responsibilities of the Young Communists:

That is what has to be done, remembering that work is the most important thing. Pardon me if I repeat it once again, but the point is that without work there is nothing. All the riches in the world, all humanity's values, are nothing but accumulated work. Without that, nothing can exist. Without the extra work that creates more sur­pluses for new factories and social institutions, the country will not advance. No matter how strong our armies are, we will always have a slow rate of growth. We have to break out of this. We have to break with all the old errors, hold them up to the light of day, ana­lyze them everywhere, and then correct them.
Now, compañeros, I wanted to share my opinion as a national leader of the ORI on what a Young Communist should be, to see if we all agree. I believe the first thing that must characterize a Young Communist is the honor he feels in being a Young Communist, an honor that moves him to let the world know he is a Young Com­munist, something he doesn't hide or reduce to formulas. He ex­presses that honor at all times, so it comes from the bottom of his soul, and he wants to show it because it is his greatest pride. In addition, he should have a great sense of duty, a sense of duty to­ ward the society we are building, toward our fellow human beings, and toward all humanity around the world. That is something that must characterize the Young Communist. And along with that there must be deep sensitivity to all problems, sensitivity to injustice; a spirit that rebels against every wrong, whoever commits it; questioning anything not understood, discussing and ask­ ing for clarification on whatever is not clear; declaring war on for­malism of all types; always being open to new experiences in order to take the many years of experience of humanity's advance along the road to socialism and apply them to our country's concrete con­ditions, to the realities that exist in Cuba. Each and every one of you must think about how to change reality, how to make it better.
The Young Communist must always strive to be the best at ev­erything, struggle to be the best, feel upset when he is not and fight to improve, to be the best. Of course, we cannot all be the best. But we can be among the best, in the vanguard. We can be a living ex­ ample, a model for those compañeros who do not belong to the Young Communists, an example for older men and women who have lost some of that youthful enthusiasm, who have lost a certain faith in life, and who always respond well to example. That is an­ other task of Young Communists. Together with that there should be a great spirit of sacrifice, not only in heroic ventures but at all times, making sacrifices to help the next compañero in small tasks so he can finish his work, so he can do his work at school, in his studies, so he can improve in any way.
It will be so because you are Young Communists, creators of the perfect society, human beings destined to live in a new world where everything decrepit, everything old, everything that represents the society whose foundations have just been destroyed will have de­finitively disappeared. To reach that goal we have to work every day, along the lines of improving ourselves; of gaining knowledge and understanding about the world around us; of inquiring, finding out, and knowing why things are the way they are; and always con­sidering humanity's great problems as our own.